Psychologists, cultural anthropologists and philosophers now generally agree that there is no such thing as an ‘independent, rational self.’ All of us are products of our genes, our upbringing and the pervasive, continual influence of the culture we live in. We cannot escape what it means to be human. As St. Paul said so well, “I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I want to do.”
But this ‘scientific’ view leaves grace out of the human situation. We are more than mind, desires and emotions. Jesus added to the conventional view of man and said, “Trust in God. Does he not feed the birds of the air? How much more then will he feed you?” if we see ‘feed’ as a metaphor for giving what is necessary for life, then God feeds us with His own life — obviously more than mind, emotions and culture — which we Christians call grace.
So, is our escape from our prison of nurture, nature and culture automatic? No. God also made us free as He is free, to create ourselves and our future unencumbered by grace if we wish. Jesus is right inside our ‘prison cell’ with us, and appeals to us to trust in God. We need to choose to take the first step.
In my experience, this need to choose generally happens when our life in the prison becomes intolerable. We encounter a crisis and learn that nature, nurture and culture doesn’t give us what we need. When we experience this, we stand helplessly by the walls of our cell, until we realize the door is actually open. When we experience that, we arrive at the edge of a new expanded world and a new Self. When we go through the door, we begin to ask, “What happened? What (or who) opened the door?”
The grace to answer that question enables us to begin our personal journey of transformation. My own personal experience was that, when I had exhausted my own personal capacity to live ‘successfully’ and had arrived a point of near-despair, grace came to me and rescued me from my self-created prison. That encounter changed my life.