What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens? And what does Jesus have to do with psychology?
Is there a place for psychology in Christian life and sanctification?
I think so. My proof text is Psalm 24:1: “The earth is Yahweh’s and the fullness thereof.” Also Gen 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
There is a principle in Scripture called grumbling. To grumble is to be unsatisfied with God’s way and will, and to wish things were otherwise, and to try make life fit according to your own selfish desires.
Jude speaks of people who, “relying on their dreams, defile the flesh” (Jude 8) James likewise rebukes those who let sinful passions and desires drive their life: “you desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2). Peter talks about “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4).
This is describing people who are unsatisfied with God’s will and attempt to make the real world fit their make believe world.
We steal because we wish that we had things we do not have. We fail to conform our lives to the reality that God has given us, and the reality of his law. Pornography and adultery are precisely wishing that things are what they are not. We indulge in sinful imagination and try to fit the real world into the make believe world in our head, and we sin.
Interestingly, it is often the reformed community (my camp) who are the ones who discredit Christian use of psychology. Ironically, we are the ones who have a robust understanding of God’s sovereignty.
I would argue that it is precisely a robust understanding of God’s sovereignty – that he made the world, that he guides it, that he created us with personalities, with families, with communities, that nothing is a mistake or happens by chance – it is these ideas that ought to lead us to pursue some of the tools psychology offers us.
For years I wished I was Bono or Jon Foreman or some kind of rock star, and I tried to act like it. I tried to make my world fit these desires. But I ran into a brick wall and found myself drained. Some of my psychology classes in undergrad helped me think through my personality and realize that I flourish as an introvert. I love to think, read, drink beer with close friends and discuss theology, read, take contemplative hikes, write papers and blogs, read, journal, etc. Psychology helped me conform my life to the reality of my personality. I experience much more joy and peace and energy than I did before.
So recognize the irony; refusing to use the tools psychology provides to sort out personality is to resist the providence of the Father. We ought to have integrity with our personalities because we presuppose that the God who created the world and who guides our lives is a sovereign Father who loves us.
There is a reason that God made us with personalities, that he made us relational beings, that he placed us in the communities and families that he did. One tool to help us conform our lives to these realities (i.e. the truth) is psychology.
As psychologists who are enemies of our God sort out family dynamics, addictions, and personalities, they are sorting through Yahweh’s world and the relationships he created to glorify the beauty of his trinitarian nature. They are, as Lewis says, on the outside looking in.