Friday, February 25, 2011

All means All and that's All All means

As I was reading "The Bondage of the Will," by Martin Luther (translated into a language I understand by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson), one thing that I really appreciated was Luther's understanding and respect for the word "all."

Now, the word "all" refers to different qualities in different contexts, and that's important to remember. For instance, saying "I am holding all the money that I own" refers to a smaller quantity of money than does the statement "My parents own all the money in the world." The word "all" is used to delineate or refer to everything within a particular set of boundaries.

Sometimes this set of boundaries is stated very clearly: "I own all the crayons in this box."

Sometimes this set of boundaries is stated in an implicit, but obvious, way: "You guys ate all the pizza (that our parents bought and brought home tonight)!!!"

No one would accidentally suppose (unless they had a learning disability of some sort) that the above remark was an accusations that the "guys" had eaten all the pizza in the whole world, or even in the whole state.

Now, if the set of boundaries is meant to be implicit, but is not clear, then it's poor communication, a bad joke, or just an attempt to get on someone's nerves:

"I rescued all of your pets from your home before it burned down. Well, no, I didn't get Jojo or Fifi, but I got Doc and Jiji! When I said 'all of your pets,' I mean 'all without distinction,' not 'all without exception.' I rescued one of your dogs AND one of your cats!"

[Note: It is equally annoying if you say "all," and people misinterpret it to say that you "really meant" just "some." For instance:

Mom -"I want all the dishes dishes in this house to be done when I get home."

time passes ...

Mom - "Why are the dishes not all done?"

Son - "I don't know what you are talking about. I did all of the dishes that were hidden in my room at the time you gave the order. I knew that you couldn't possibly have meant more than that, because you are very reasonable person."]

So, in all, if you are trying to delineate or refer to everything within a particular set of boundaries, it is your responsibility to make sure that the boundaries are plain and obvious. If the boundaries are obvious, then they can be stated implicitly, but it not, it is necessary to spell them out in explicit terms.

And all of this has to do with...? My appreciation for Martin Luther's understanding of the word "all," as referred to in his book.

"There are no obscure or ambiguous words here: the gospel of the power of God is necessary 'to Jews and Greeks', that is, to all men, that they may by believing be saved from from the wrath revealed."

"By saying 'all,' he exempts none."

"When he says 'all,' he excepts none; not the power of 'free-will', nor any worker, whether he works and endeavors or not; he is of necessity included with the rest among the 'all'."

"Speaking for myself, I am astounded that, when Paul so often uses these comprehensive terms, 'all', 'none', 'not', 'never', 'without', as in: 'they are all gone out the way, there is none righteous, none that doeth good, no, not one'; 'all are sinners condemned by the offense of one'...

I am amazed, I repeat, how it has happened that in face of these comprehensive terms and statements, others that are contrary, yes, contradictory to them should have won acceptance, such as: 'Some are not gone out of the way, are not unrighteous, are not evil, are not sinners, are not condemned; there is something in man that is good and strives after good'; as though he who strives after good, whoever he may be, is not covered by the terms: 'all', 'none', and 'not'!"

"Personally, I could find nothing, even if I wished, to advance in reply against Paul, but would be forced to myself the power of my own 'free-will', and its endeavor with it, among the 'all' and 'none' of which Paul speaks -- unless we are to introduce a new grammar, and a new mode of speech!"

"Had Paul used such an expression once, or in one place only, it might have been permissible to suspect a figure of speech and to isolate and strain the words. But as it, he uses such expressions constantly, in both affirmation and negative sentences..."

Impeccable logic! But compare this with some misguided claims of today:

Then compare those claims to what the Scripture actually says, when you allow it to speak for itself:

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9
"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" Acts 17:30
"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4
"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." 1 John 2:2

"And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world." John 12:47

"Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" 1 Timothy 2:6
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone." Hebrews 2:9
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17

'Any', 'all', 'all men everywhere', 'all men', 'everyone,' 'the world', 'the whole world.'
There are no obscure or ambiguous words here.

For those who would say "but the world only means the elect from around the world," I would say that if, when
God had the word “all” penned, He had only meant "the elect," He could have easily had that written. The word "elect" was, in fact, a regular part of New Testament vocabulary (see Mt 24:24, Mk 13:22, Luke 18:7, 1 Peter 1:2, Rom 8:33, Col 3:12, 1 Tim. 5:21, Titus 1:1) This is also true of the words "some" and "few."

Yet in the whole Bible, in the whole New Testament, not once does the Bible say that God only loved the Elect. Rather, we read again and again, positive affirmation that He loves all of mankind, and not because we deserve it; but because He is who He is.

It should be fairly clear to anyone reading the text in earnest that God loved the "world" so much that He gave Christ to die for that same "world," which is the same whole "world" that is in danger of being justly condemned. The Bible says "the world," it means "the world," and it is clearly the same "world" that deserves condemnation.

God is love, God loves the world, God loves all, and God loves all men. I see throughout the Scripture a landslide of verses that clearly teach this point. There is no one, whoever he may be, who is not covered by the terms: 'all', 'everyone', and 'all men everywhere'!" With Luther, I reason "Had [the Scripture] used such an expression once, or in one place only, it might have been permissible to suspect a figure of speech and to isolate and strain the words.” But as it, the constant use of such expressions much lead us to agree with Martin Luther on at least one point: "By saying 'all,' he exempts none."

Correct usage of the word "all":

If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.” Psalm 50:12

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sovereignty and Free Will

This is a very short blog for your consideration: food for thought, as it were. As I prepared to teach Sunday School this week, on the topic of God giving Christians the Holy Spirit as a "Helper" to enable us to obey His commands and escape from temptation, I read this fascinating passage. All passages in the Bible are excellent, and this one is especially helpful for the purpose of clarifying the way I see man's freedom and God's Sovereignty.

[This relates to the Sunday School lesson because God allows us to either give in to temptation and will discipline us, or accept His day-to-day grace and escape temptation, as He promised. God allows this choice, and yet is Sovereign.]

Consider, then, the following passage in which a messenger of the Lord delivers to David a message of discipline:

1 Chronicles 21:11-12
So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Choose for yourself, either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the LORD—the plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’”

In this, we see that God wants David to choose between three options. Yes, God, in his Sovereignty, WILLS that a person make a choice. God could choose for Himself. However, God is the boss, and if He wants a person to choose, then that person will be the one to choose. Why? Because God is in control, and He gets what He wants, according to the counsel of His will.

David gets a choice here. Does that make him in charge? Obviously not! If David was in charge, he wouldn't want to choose any of those punishments; he would choose peace, safety, and prosperity! As you can see, then, David is not in charge, even though he has a choice. God is in charge.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Demystifying Hypnosis

I had heard the word “hypnosis” tossed around a few times over the years, but I only stopped to think about the concept after I saw a stage-show in Knott's Scary Farm's “Haunt” event in 2008. In the show, a hypnotist called “the hypno-chick” chose about 20 members of the audience to participate in the show and be hypnotized. All of my life, I've been a people-watcher, and I know what responses to expect from people, given different character qualities, different moods, and various circumstances. What fascinated me about the show is that the people, in responding to the various statements given to them (IE suggestions that the onlookers were zombies who were going to attack, etc) weren't acting. I know acting. The participants were not faking.

Therefore, my observations stuck in my head, and I pondered the topic. Since that point in time, I've heard people's differing opinions on hypnosis, and for the most part they fall into two categories. Many people see hypnosis as fake: it's an act, it's a fraud, it's pretend, it's make-believe, it's people pretending to believe things they don't believe and feel things they don't feel, so that they can act a certain way or have fun or trick people. The other group of people take hypnotism much more seriously, they think that it's ominous: dangerous, mind-control, scary, irresponsible, destructive, or deceptive. Basically, most people seem to feel vaguely that hypnosis is either fake or that it will steal your mind and soul.

Now, since I was first introduced to the concept, I have been able to do my own research on the topic, including taking an online course about what hypnosis is, and how it works, from The Hypnosis Motivation Institute. Now here's the first question: is hypnosis fake? Is it just an act? A set of people pretending to be hypnotized for whatever reason? I would certainly say “no.” People find hypnosis helpful for a bunch of staple goals, such as pain reduction (even in surgery), confidence in public speaking, or breaking an addiction (for instance, to cigarettes). There is good evidence that it actually works. One could pin it all on a placebo effect, except that placebo effect can only explain a success rate of 33.4%, not anything like 75%. Additionally, the placebo effect would not be powerful enough to explain how a man, under hypnosis, would be able to skip anesthetic and yet experience a 83-minute surgery on his hand without pain.

The effects are not fake, and therefore, whatever hypnosis is, it isn't a fraud. Why do these things work, and how? Good question! I like the way you think.

Two Applications of Hypnosis

I do not think that hypnosis is mind-control, I do not think that it is dangerous, and I don't think that it could cause you to do anything that goes against your convictions. It's impossible to hypnotize a non-violent person and get them to even do so much as to hit another person with a piece of printer paper! (Yes, leading hypnotherapy professions and researchers have tried these various things, to see what the limitations of hypnosis are.) Now, there are two applications of hypnosis: short term, and long term. The short term applications include relaxation, being in a dream-like state, pain management, or reacting to hypothetical situations as though they were real (for instance, as in stage hypnosis shows). The (currently known) long term applications can include weight-loss, ceasing addiction, increasing confidence, and more healthy breathing patterns.

The Subconscious

How does it work? Hypnosis works by effecting the subconscious. Well that just brings up more questions! What is the subconscious? Is it some sort of psycho-babble concept that offers half-baked explanations of human motivations? The subconscious is actually quite simple, it consists of any function of your brain which is not consciously controlled. If you are driving along, consciously thinking about your date later that night, and then you inadvertently miss your exit, it's because you were delegating the task of “driving” to your subconscious, while you set your conscious thoughts toward whatever you're thinking about. Your subconscious keeps track of habits and memory of physical skills. You don't have to try to remember how to tie your shoe, you just do it. “How to tie a shoe” is a task stored in your subconscious, and you no longer have to consciously think about how to go about doing it. Who makes up your dreams? You do. You don't consciously think up your dream scenarios, but it is your brain inventing them. Therefore, it's controlled by your subconscious.

Dreaming is important for something else as well, REM sleep helps us to process new information and store long term memories. The Amygdala also keeps track of situations which have hurt us in the past, so that we can avoid them in the future. Without any sleep for an extended period of time, a person can actually go insane. So basically, the subconscious serves short-term and long term functions. Short-term, it provides us with dreams, and allows our frontal lobe to take a break while we rest. Long term, it keeps track of habits, activities we repeat, fears, processing memory and learning, and associations. Therefore, it makes sense that hypnosis can be used for short-term functions, or long-term goals.


One reason I say that hypnosis is not dangerous is that, unlike brain-washing, it is trust-based, in both applications. If a person does not want to be hypnotized, they cannot be hypnotized. If a person does not feel safe being hypnotized, then they won't be hypnotized. If a person does not trust the hypnotist, they will not be hypnotized. Hypnosis is a lot like guided imagery: a person makes a suggestion of what you can imagine (imagine a place which makes you feel sad), and you choose to take that suggestion and actually look at it in your mind. A hypnotist leads, and the person follows. If there is a lack of trust, the hypnotherapist can lead, but no one will follow, and so there is no hypnosis going on.

What about once a person is already in a the state of hypnosis? Is it still a trust-based lead-and-follow relationship? Absolutely! For instance, for people who are under hypnosis, if the hypnotist is repeating back to them something they want to believe (IE “You no longer feel compelled to pick up a cigarette when you are stressed, instead you feel like relaxing.”), and the person does not accept that message, it is called an “ab-reaction.” If an ab-reaction occurs, the therapist will not repeat the message, but rather will ask the subject about their reaction, once they are in a normal state of alertness. You can never force someone to believe something they wouldn't otherwise believe, in long term application.

Short-term Effect: A Guided Dream

In short-term application, you can get someone to temporarily accept a false reality and react to it as if it were real – it's like a guided dream where the hypnotists narrates what the dream is, and the hypnotized person chooses how to react to the dream. This is the point at which you can understand why a person would do, under hypnotism, something they have a conviction against doing in real life – they are still aware of the their choices and actions, just like you determine your choices in a dream, even if they forget what happened after hypnosis ends, just like people forget their dreams

Why do people forget their dreams? Well, when you are asleep, the part of your brain which judges realities objectively to see if they make sense, and the part of your brain which records memory, is off. This explains why, when asleep, we don't question impossibilities – why is it that you walk into a house, and then as you enter another room, it's your friend's house instead? It also explains why you forget dreams, unless you quickly make a conscious effort to record them into your memory when you are more awake. Similarly, through the “guided dream” sort of stage hypnosis, the same parts of the brain are turned off, and the participants may not question impossibilities, or remember what happened very clearly. Even so, while under hypnosis, they are completely aware of their thoughts and decisions. Do we make long-term changes in what we believe based on a dream, though? No. For the same reason, stage hypnotism, which is only like a guided dream sequence, does not produce lasting changes (like the other uses of hypnotism can do).

Short-term Effect: Pain Management

Another short-term use of hypnosis is pain reduction, such as in the case of child-birth or surgery with anesthesia. You do not consciously choose to feel pain; the pain is felt in your mind, but it's in the subconscious jurisdiction of the mind, and can therefore be managed through hypnosis. I do not have much further information of this, except to say that the ability to hypnotize a person who needs serious surgery when no pain drugs are available is one of the most humane ways of using hypnotism I've ever heard of.

(Continue with Part II)

Demystifying Hypnosis -- Part II

So how do people achieve this state of hypnosis? Is it simply relaxation? “YOU ARE BECOMING VERY SLEEPY...”

It is and it isn't relaxation. Which is to say, it is relaxation, but it isn't simply relaxation. The state of hypnotism itself is a state of relaxation, but to hypnotize a person, you don't start by relaxing them. You start by overloading their brain with messages. Once the conscious mind is completely overloaded with messages, the hypnotist will offer the person a chance to let go of off of those thoughts and sink into a relaxed state. Usually, after being overloaded, people will gladly accept the suggestion to just stop thinking for a bit. This is similar to the physical relaxation technique of holding a muscle tight for several seconds before relaxing it, which brings it into a state of better relaxation than it was in before it was tense.

So, at this point I've introduced the concepts of the effectiveness of hypnosis, the difference between the short-term functions of the subconscious and the long-term functions, how short-term stage hypnosis is most like the dream function of the subconscious, and I've briefly explained the trust-based nature of the practice, and the way hypnotists bring people into a state of hypnosis. Now this is all well and good, but how are long term changes brought about by hypnosis?


First of all, I would like to quickly mention one use of hypnosis which can be either short-term or long-term: accessing forgotten memories. If you have a memory, then the data is recorded in your mind. If you cannot consciously remember, then you know that it's somewhere in your subconscious that you have forgotten how to access. It's like putting a file in a cabinet and then coming back the next day and not remembering which cabinet you placed the file in. This is why it's easier to answer multiple choice questions than open-ended question on quizzes – the possible answers jog your memory so that it's easier to access memories that you always have stored in your mind somewhere. So, since memory is in the jurisdiction of the subconscious, sometimes hypnosis can be useful to help people remember things they think they have forgotten. Generally, after they remember it, they refile the information in their brain in a place which is easier to access (remember) later, and it's a long term change, albeit a small one. Otherwise, they may just “forget” it again.

The Discrepancy

Now, most everyone has heard the claim that hypnotism can help people to stop smoking. How can it do that? Well, sometimes there is a discrepancy between our conscious and subconscious thoughts and beliefs. Seriously. In the case of the smoker who is willing to pay good money to stop smoking, he obviously is conscious of a desire to quit smoking. Yet on his own, he chooses to keep smoking. This is because subconsciously, he likes smoking, which is an ingrained habit, and is associated with stress-relief. The subconscious keeps track of experiences, habits, and associations. So this man wants to quit, but has a hard time doing so because of this discrepancy between his conscious and subconscious mind. It takes 30 days of doing a particular activity to make it a habit, which is to etch it into the subconscious. Once it's etched there, it takes a lot of work if you want to erase that habit! Hypnotism is a way of aligning the subconscious mind with the conscious mind.

The man tells the hypnotist, consciously, “I hate smoking. I would rather do 5 minutes of deep breathing to relax than pick up a cigarette to help me relax when I am stressed.” When the man is in a state of hypnosis, the hypnotist repeated back to his subconscious the same messages. (If the hypnotist repeats back something the man does NOT consciously believe, his subconscious won't believe it either, and he will reject the message. An abreaction.) After a few sessions of hearing back what he consciously believes, while in a relaxed state, and accepting it as what he truly and deeply believes, the man is freed from his subconscious insistence that what he really wants is to smoke. Therefore, he is able to quit smoking through letting truth really sink in.

Hypnosis, therefore, can also apply to other mental discrepancies between conscious and subconscious mind. You want to lose weight, but subconsciously you associate sweets with comfort and happiness. You want to make a presentation and think it's a good idea, but subconsciously you fear that you will fail miserably and make a fool of yourself. People habitually seek assistance from hypnotherapists regarding these topics, and it's very publicized. The combination of regular therapy and hypnotherapy to address other discrepancies of mind does exist, but it's less well-known or widely practiced. Why? Because once you get past the simple discrepancies between conscious and subconscious, it becomes a bit more complex.

Hypnosis and Psychology

For instance, take the case of a phobia. It may be simple to resolve a phobia and assign someone's subconscious fear of pillows to match their conscious belief that pillows are pretty safe. However, what if you have someone like Monk, who has a hundred phobias? Sometimes the mind will make up phobias to explain an underlying feeling of fear and pain, such as the emotion result of a long-term attachment disorder.

When you are dreaming, and you hear a sound, sometimes your subconscious will integrate that sound into your dream by thinking up a plausible dream explanation for why the sound would be there. Similarly, the brain can think up all sort of fears, dislikes, and phobias to try to account for an ongoing feeling of discomfort and feeling which stems from a deeper issue. If you aligned this person's subconscious mind with their conscious mind – that the things they fear are actually safe – their subconscious will just go and make up some more, still in an attempt to explain the ongoing emotional state. Similarly, the subconscious of a person with Multiple Personality Disorder (D.I.D.) is divided, and if you hypnotize a person like that, you don't know which subconscious you will be dealing with. (However, hypnosis has been used to help people with D.I.D recover memory and integrate)

At this point, I believe that hypnosis is neither fake nor dangerous, can be used to help people, and therefore I plan to actually learn hypnosis myself. Then we shall see if hypnotism is everything more than I claim it might be! From personal experience, hypnosis helped me to breath properly again after months of hyperventilating (since how fast you breath is mainly a subconscious activity). In regular therapy, it sometimes takes years of repeating back to someone what they truly believe about themselves before it sinks in, but I want to be able to help people to internalize their own beliefs without wasting so much time and emotional energy.