- Before Death
How to Use Biblical Texts in Psychotherapy
For many of us Westerners the Christian way of life seems to have lost its meaning. We no longer look to the Bible for solutions, and a great treasure is going to waste. This book opens up a new doorway. It will give readers access again to that ancient source of human transformation – without any preconditions. To use it and even to enter into that transformation does not call for any special belief; the passageway this book is opening up is built upon our everyday understanding of the world. It will lead you as you are and from where you are into the world of Jesus. And, perhaps for the first time, you may be able to understand Jesus’ intentions. You will not only get a completely new view of the New Testament’s accounts of resurrection, you will also see the implications of this new understanding for your daily life – but, no there’s no need to be afraid, you won’t have to make any unwanted commitments and the consequences will be quite favorable in every respect!
The book also points to parallels in other cultures. And these too will become accessible to you, thanks to a whole series of meditations and exercises throughout the text.
The book begins with a brief general introduction to the symbolism of Biblical narrations. Using two examples from the Old Testament, I demonstrate that the stories contained in the Bible are not intended to be understood literally in the same way as factual reports or newspaper articles. The authors of the Bible had already processed historical characters and events into archetypal images. These images reach into the deepest regions of our soul and can transform each of us into a new person if we are ready to accept that transformation.
But we still all want to know “how it really was” – and you, the reader, will see what most likely did take place.
The Bible has in essence only one theme from the very first page to the last, and it doesn't matter whether one calls it healing, becoming whole again, transformation, rebirth, or resurrection. In the New Testament, the topic of starting a new life comes up time and again, climaxing in the story of Christ’s resurrection. This book will convey an understanding that goes far beyond the literal historical meaning of the stories, and even beyond the realm of understanding, it could even lead you to a personal and existential experience of Jesus’ resurrection – in other words, to your own transformation.
In the first large section of the book you will come to “see” “the resurrection” from the point of view of our own time and culture. You will become almost an eye-witness of Jesus’ resurrection. In other words: you will come to understand the Biblical narratives on the basis of your own personal experience.
How did the apostles, embedded in their historical context, see Jesus? What exactly was it that they experienced, when they experienced the "resurrection"? And what did the experience do to them?
Obviously, the crucifixion of their master leaves them in a state of shock. They cannot cope with this catastrophe. Their whole world crumbles. But in the midst of existential annihilation a new way of being arises within them and takes control of their lives. Seen from a perspective of our days: in the lower depths of their desperation, the essence of their being takes over – as it had done for Jesus himself long before – and at that moment they see Jesus, alive. What has happened? Despair has freed them of all concepts constructs and conditioning and prepared them to encounter human nature in its purest form, the "son of man". This is what Jesus had been – but this is what they themselves are, too. As long as Jesus was among them, they could not see that. But now they can and so now they know: they too can do what he had done. And with that realization, they already have become his true successors.
At the moment of that realization Jesus became alive for them as never before. He was spiritually present in every one of them, as real as in his physical body yet without the restrictions of space and time.
From that starting point, Easter, the disciples made still further progress, and in a matter of only seven weeks they had completely transcended their old world: by Pentecost, the spirit that had determined the life of their master governed their lives too.
And you, reader, will have the option of truly sharing the transforming realization of the disciples as they undergo this process – and you will see that the transformation of Pentecost is not unique to Christianity. In different forms, it can be found in many cultures.
The next section of the book will enable you to witness an incident in which Jesus describes this process of transformation to some bystanders. What he is saying about “the end of the world” and “the last judgment” archetypically anticipates the transformation of the apostles – and your transformation: "this" world, he says, will crumble, and then the "son of man" will appear. Jesus explicitly points out that this is not an event in the distant future of world history: several of his listeners, he says, will experience this transformation before their physical death. Like Jesus’ metaphor of “rebirth”, these “events” are not events in the physical world, but the beginning of the process of personal transformation. At this point you will penetrate the old spiritual truth of humankind: your true essence will be able to take command only after all the supposed certitudes of your personal view of the world have given way and you have accepted reality in its full depth. And in that instant, for you, you yourself and the entire world will be transformed. This is the transformation the Apostle Paul is talking about.
In light of the foregoing, we can answer the questions about the empty tomb and the appearances of the resurrected Jesus in a new way. It becomes clear that the disciples will not be able to find their master in the tomb, the essence of Jesus has been resurrected – in the Apostles. The Apostles lived this resurrection with such a tremendous sense of reality that the later authors Luke and John described it in physical terms, even though there is no mention of this in the older account of St. Mark.
And there is one more aspect to this: when we consider how Jesus himself spoke of the topic of resurrection, we shall see that he did not stress a personal life after death. We rather find a Samurai-like attitude: Jesus’ death is no accident, it is intended. The giving up of his life was needed to trigger the transformation of his disciples – and of many people in the countless generations to follow. Jesus did not look at himself, he looked at them.
A similar Samurai-like attitude we find in the Apostle Paul. Although he repeatedly speaks of the fate of those who pass away, he emphasizes the transformation of the living. He even says that only "fools" believe that existence simply continues after death. Paul has clearly seen the intention behind the death of Jesus, and that is why he equates the historical Jesus with the archetypal "Christ," the Messiah, the savior – who, for him, is now neither a physical nor a psychological but a spiritual entity.
As in the previous sections, you will be provided with exercises and meditations. They will make it easier for you to re-enact the transformative experiences of the Apostles, to see "Christ", and to perceive that Christ has a counterpart within yourself, which is your own human essence. Thus Jesus, the "son of man", will become your most intimate friend. And he will take you to your own transformation.
The salvation will then cease to be some theory which you know of by hearsay –you will experience its reality as it springs forth from your own inner essence – if you have travelled the whole way and striven to know who you really are.
You will see: salvation is a natural feature of being human; so it will not be restricted to any one religion, but can be found in many cultures throughout history.
And this insight you will even find in the Epistle to the Hebrews in which Jesus is referred to as the "mediator of the New Testament". You may be surprised to find that Jesus’ death is not viewed as a magical transaction, and that salvation is not promised solely to those who accept the historical Jesus as their Savior.
The second part of the book points to the difference between the power of redemption as it was present in Jesus and his immediate disciples and its portrayal in subsequent centuries and millennia. History is a continual wavelike movement between death and resurrection, and the Christian religion itself is subject to that movement: Every attempt to codify “the New Covenant” in an orthodox gospel must end in another "old covenant" no longer appropriate to any given present time. Christians have become past-masters at such attempts. When Jesus' image of “the end of time” is understood in the sense of external time, it loses its spiritual meaning, becoming just a story of some time in the distant future of mankind. As a result, in Christian teaching, an entire system of "life after death" came to replace – instead of complementing – the transformation of the living.
The disciples’ understanding of the teachings of Jesus emanated from the transforming realization which they called “the resurrection of Christ”, but after some time this existential experience became overgrown by a merely intellectual understanding. Powerful individuals who knew resurrection only by hearsay, came to pass it down as a myth.
The religious concepts of leaders who had not experienced personal transformation had cost many a prophet’s life, such notions led to the execution of Jesus – and, later on, to many atrocities committed in his name, such as the crusades, the inquisition, the burning of heretics and of so-called witches.
In the next section of the book, you will experience how, on
Jesus experienced his rebirth and resurrection long before his death. His whole life is already "Eternal Life." Jesus spoke of eternal life, but how can we understand what he meant? Jesus says that eternal life is not governed by human perceptions, but by "the Father." If you enter the realm of the Heavenly Kingdom you no longer live for yourself. You are a direct result of your origin and therefore you are in constant contact with the needs of yourself and of those around you, and will be able to do whatever is needed – as Jesus did when he accepted to die for his friends.
In the last section of the book, I discuss the effects of salvation on people’s lives. After the transformation, we naturally are one with what St. John called “the Logos”. Borne beyond our usual judgmental world we become aware of that loving intelligence that created man from mere dust. We shall realize that this intelligence is ever present, and that it will reveal itself only to the ones who risk trusting it – surrendering their egotistical calculations.
An archetypical witness to that process is Gideon in the Book of Judges: upon receiving this spirit, so it is said, he was able to defeat an army of thirty-thousand men without taking any losses of his own.
The book will enable you to re-enact all that by empathy. Thus you will also realize how man lost Paradise: we ate from “the tree of knowledge”, in other words we allowed ourselves to be misled by our limited and limiting concepts into believing that we could have all the good and avoid all the bad, while in reality exactly that very idea caused us to lose Paradise. Consequently you will see that redemption comes to people who put their trust in the Creator. Following the Creator will lead you back to immediate perception of the one real truth, which is the truth that is touching you here and now. In order to enter the Creator’s eternal presence you will have to allow yourself to let go of your everyday world view and identifications. That “death of the ego” will be followed by the birth of your inner being – your resurrection before death. And thus Christ is back – once again – to stay.