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The Bible and Psychology – Adam’s Sweat

A series psychological profiles of eight men in the Bible, starting with Adam

Why did the atheist materialist get to have most of the early fun with ancient themes and psychology? I will always owe a debt of initiative to Sigmund Freud for having founded Psychology. However, I feel there are improvements to make to his deep digging done with such a glum and fixated mien. William James’ comment on Freud, that he was a man of “fixed ideas”, aligns with my take on the originating Freudian bedrock for our discipline. In some sense, he is the “Adam”, or his own ‘mythical figure’ in our discipline. As such others must interact with, learn from, and accept or reject the topics and approaches he promoted. The First always gets more credit, even for being wrong. This brings me from the Adam of Psychology, to the Biblical Adam as a psychological portrait of a “first one”. In particular, this eight part series will focus on the penance and the virtue of eight men in the Bible, the ones who lead up to Christ.

Adam was the first, but this was by God’s creating him. Adam didn’t win a race, nor achieve anything, nor outclass others. He simply was the prototype of God’s very best thing: human beings. That’s a tough thing – a big responsibility. It’s also a beautiful thing. If you are going to be the first of the best, you might think you have it made. Nonetheless, trouble may be in store if you rest on your naked laurels.

The sin of Adam was to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. So much ink has been spilt interpreting this, that I won’t waste any semi-conducted electrons on it, either. However, I will focus on the penance that is assigned to Adam by God as a consequence of his sin: “cursed is the ground because of you, (...) with the sweat of your brow you shall earn your daily bread” (Genesis Chapter 3). The curse in this case is not only for punishment, it is also a prescription for healing. All good punishment is – something intended to correct a bad disposition or behaviour, and to encourage good ones. In Adam’s case, his penance was to lose the Garden of Eden, where all his needs were provided, and have instead to work hard in the great open world, where failure to labour and sweat would lead to hunger and death. He did indeed learn the knowledge of good and evil – and it was quite a bitter thing. Parents everywhere try to protect their kids from having to grow up too fast for this very reason.

The psychology lesson is: if you want to be in charge of your own life (you say what is good and what is bad), you have to work hard for it – you have to put in the sweat. On the road to redemption, Adam’s sweat taught him humility and set a sound groundwork for his descendants coming back to God.