Lions are scary. They roar, maul, seem ready to devour us. To a lion tamer they are a challenge. Admittedly you mind your Ps and Qs: even a well trained lion is still dangerous. But if you know what you are doing, the king of the jungle is beautiful, and the wilder the beast the greater the enjoyment.
The human animal is equally scary. When you get close to one, or have one inside you, you get gashed one way or another. And even if the beast is tamed, its instincts are still volcanic. The challenge is knowing how to handle humans, and even enjoy the taming. People who are scared, shocked, upset by eruptions of human instinct usually go through life miserable. We need the lion tamer's eye, a vision for enjoying the animal, the powerful, the dangerous. And the first requirement is to stop feeling guilty about our instincts or angry about the instincts of others.
Sex is the human drive that just now seems most fascinating to us, and more is written about it than any other aspect of our nature. As we will see, it is only one of the powerful forces that bother us. Every instinct can suddenly menace with its own problems.
We need to remind ourselves that it is God who gave us the peculiar mix of instincts that frustrate us. We are not guilty for what is given. But like horses we need to be tamed and trained to jump the five barred fences, and God is keen to do that.
In our family we had a white cat Nika. She ate, played, hunted birds, defended her territory, hated to be alone, loved comfort, had curiosity, and sex, and she raised thirty-one kittens without losing one of them. She died aged eleven of diabetes from over eating due to our pampering. Here is a list of her most obvious instincts and the feelings connected with them:
Nika's instincts feelings are familiar to humans. In each of us particular drives may be stronger or weaker. I am more aggressive. She is lazy. He has less interest in sex. She is nosy and inquisitive. He eats too much. But similar differences exist between individual cats from the same litter. There is an infinite variety of human combinations of playfulness and curiosity, gregariousness and independence, pecking order and sex.
Our list of twelve instincts common to humans and cats could be arranged in some order of priority. Self-protection takes precedence over food unless you are starving. You don't bother with curiosity if you are exhausted. The sex and nesting instincts don't appear until a certain age, and they could be dulled by trauma or chemical means. The instinct of expressing contentedness by purring, tail wagging and smiling emerge when the other instincts don't bother us.
So we need not disagree in principle with zoologist Desmond Morris' Naked Ape, 1967, which shows how incredibly animal we really are. We know that instincts drive us, irrational fears take over, sexual feelings do unexpected things, and we get upset when our space bubble is invaded. The question is how do we deal with our instincts and the guilt we easily accept for them?
One way is the religion of Naturalism. In that model instincts are natural and they are good, so all we need to do is follow them. We should reject all man-made religious rules and other restrictions on our freedom. We should let everything happen as our instincts suggest, and be as natural as possible. Naturalism was one facet of the counter culture of the sixties, and it emerges again and again as an attractive alternative to the legalism and hypocrisy of the previous generation.
But what if our children yield to the instinct of comfort and defecate on the carpet? The instinct for sex is given and good for us, but what if some creep sets about raping our daughter? And do we let the handicapped starve because they are the weakest in our pecking order? Animals do that "naturally" and let their weakest perish. If we were totally consistent Naturalists, we would be back to the law of the jungle. But if we consider what we do to others we find that living without rules or constraints is incredibly difficult.
So Naturalists usually qualify their model of being natural, and they say we should be good to our highest human nature or Tao. The word Tao in this sense was used by Lao Tzu in the sixth century BC. But as soon as we introduce an ordering of instincts by some higher principle, we can be sure we won't live up even to the standards we set ourselves. And guilt comes in again by the back door. Often people who claim to be most "natural" are angry about others and ridden with guilt.
But, having rejected a model of total Naturalism, we can quickly brand as sinful some of the good instincts which God has given. But we do this selectively, especially in the case of others. We know that hunger is not sinful, but as soon as have feelings of loneliness or a fear of intrusion, we feel condemned. And when others enjoy comfort, play, and sexual feelings that bother us we assign guilt.
Worst of all are those forms of Christianity where instincts are not only labelled as sinful but actually assigned to the devil and to evil spirits. If he can get us to call good evil Satan goes laughing all the way to the bank of hell.
The only real freedom is to accept the peculiar mix of weak and strong instincts that we inherited genetically from our parents as given to us for a purpose by a loving God. Some of us are by nature more aggressive, or playful, or creative. Others value their territory, and some have weaker or stronger sexual, maternal, or gregarious instincts. We are to rejoice in our instincts and believe they are unique to us and perfectly suited for our work in this world and our contribution to the City of God.
That is not easy when the raw instincts, which came through the genes of our parents, were twisted, damaged, or perverted by early childhood experiences. While most of our temperament was set in the first seven years, we are taumatized by later shocks such as being raped, mugged, humiliated, unjustly fired, failing to perform in our education or social situation, being rejected in love, divorced, or cruelly bereaved. And these add to the warps our parents instilled in the natural working of our instincts. But there again we are not responsible for what our parents, or society, or life did to us.
We might find ourselves aggressive or easily embarrassed, big eaters or picky, warm and huggy or cold and reserved, adventurous or cautious, optimistic or pessimistic, highly sexed or indifferent, homosexual by inclination or too heterosexual for comfort. All this and much more is not our doing. We cannot be held responsible for what we did not choose, least of all by an all-wise totally loving God. We also remember that Jesus Christ himself had similar instincts to ours, and he had to learn to order them.
The model we have used to picture our instincts is derived from the Apostle Paul. He carefully distinguished his flesh or carnal nature and his aspirations to please God. "I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:14-15). Here the word "carnal" means of the flesh or bundle of instincts which we have received from our parents as they have been warped by our upbringing. Since we are not responsible for our instincts, or the way they were twisted by others, our flesh in itself is not sinful. After all Jesus took flesh, which included all the twists of our unruly instincts. But his flesh never became sinful by the free choice of evil.
So by refusing guilt for our instincts and their twists, we are not denying the reality of human sin. Sin is a matter of our will, not in the strange working of the instincts which we received. If we accept responsibility for these we will miss the real focus of where we need forgiveness and change by the Holy Spirit.