Id, ego, super-ego

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former

Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of psyche as defined by Sigmund Freud. The three are said to interact and their interaction results in our attitudes and behaviors.

The id is instincts, our uncontrolled wants. It is all the things we would do if we lived an uncontrolled life. I want cake. I’m going to eat cake till I get sick. I don’t care because I want.

The super-ego is said to be the set of controls we impose through critical and moral evaluation of our lives. The super-ego tells us that eating cake, while pleasurable, must be done in moderation. The super-ego tells us to avoid gluttony and greed, to be reasonable, to share our cake, to do the right thing so we don’t get sick.

The ego is that realistic part of our psyche that mediates between uncontrolled desires and the balance imposed by the super-ego. We can have our cake, but just the right amount.

Jesus shows us two people, coming into the temple. The Pharisee’s id is urging him on to self-righteousness. He’s blurting out all the great things he’s done. He hasn’t examined himself at all. He’s all about the cake – he knows he’s going to heaven and he’s absolutely sure about it – or so his id tells him. You’re great – nothing else matters. He is all pride and arrogance before God.

The tax collector knows that his id leads him to do wrong things. He has certainly stolen, overcharged people, and likely spent his ill-gotten gains partying. Then his super-ego – his conscience – the voice of God in his heart kicks in – and he realizes he has done wrong.

The tax collector comes back, seeks God, and desires forgiveness. He seeks proper balance in line with God’s desires for him. He presents himself before his Judge and begs freedom from his sin.

The id, ego, and super-ego are a theory. We know as Christians that we are to subject ourselves to discernment, following God’s way. We will not always control our unbridled desires; or live justly with the love and goodness God asks of us. When we fail we must listen to our conscience and like the tax collector reach out to our Judge in humility. Then, as Jesus promises, we will be justified and welcomed home.