psychology and Jesus

Jesus, Psychology and the Holy Spirit: Don’t be the Victim

psychology and Jesus

Isn’t it interesting how you can’t really find much psychology in the Bible? Unless, of course, you really start interpreting verses in a particular (and even awkward) way?

This has often been a frustration for me because when it comes to morality I want to know how I’m supposed to live morally, not just what morals I should have. But the Bible is rather silent on this.

For example, let’s look at the case of addictions. If you have a certain addiction problem, such as a sexual addiction, there are many answers in the world of psychology to help you deal with it. But when you go to the Bible you can’t really find anything rock solid in terms of a formula. What you’re told are really a few basic things:

(1) Don’t do it
(2) Walk by the Spirit
(3) Think of things that are good and pure

But we want to know how to do all these things. Which steps do I put in place to walk by the Spirit? How do I think of things good and pure? Doesn’t God know it’s not that easy? And yet the Bible offers not much (if anything) in that department. All it says is do it.

But beneath this frustration lies something profoundly deep, yet profoundly simple and profoundly liberating. If that’s all the Bible says about something like sex addiction, it means that God really believes we can just do it. You never see Jesus offer a psycho-analysis of a problem, ever. You don’t see him say things like, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye” and continue with, “I’ll tell you why. It’s because when you were a child your parents shouted at you too much and judged you. The need to perform was ingrained into you. So now you are judgmental of others.” Rather, Jesus simply says, “Hey, stop judging others. First take out the log in your own eye.” (Matt 7:3, paraphrased of course.)

We like to shirk our faults onto others. For quite some time our Western society has punted the victim mentality. Every action of yours has a supposed psycho-analytical background and, of course, solution. It’s not your fault – it’s the fault of your parents or even, in the case of pop-spiritual-psychology, it’s because your great grandfather was a Freemason or something like that.

It’s rather typical of our society and for humankind in general, in its thirst for knowledge of everything without having accountability to God (remember the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden?) to formulate mathematical equations even around how to become a better person. This is nothing new. Except it’s always complicated. For example, to sort out a judgmental attitude we have to travel back in time to when we were kids and assess what our parents did to us and forgive them and work through the hurt they (often ignorantly) caused. Because this kind of thing involves forgiveness many people think it’s a very Christian way of looking at things, but I daresay it isn’t. It’s good to forgive our parents – when I realised they weren’t perfect and forgave them for that it was liberating – but how many times must I go back to my childhood to find the source of my attitudes, problems, addictions, sins and guilt?

Jesus says we should forgive and yet provides no reason why. It’s something we should do because God says so and He knows what’s best for us. It seems obvious that forgiveness is good and healthy and all of God’s morals bring lasting joy (some of them require pain first) but there’s not always a logical reason why we should do something Jesus commands us to do. Such as love our enemies, for instance.

And what is the point of going back in time anyway? That’s like tripping over a rock during my morning run and breaking my leg, then going back to the rock later to see how I tripped over it expecting that knowledge to sort out my broken leg. There’s obviously no point in doing that. We can’t go into the past for everything, that’s blaming the past rather than taking care of the problem in the now.

I’m not advocating a problem with psychology and with Christians who feel called to that field. Their task is a difficult one, however, as that field is in desperate need of some decent moral reasoning. It’s also in desperate need to stop nurturing the victim mentality. But more than that so is our culture.

As a generation X-er I was psycho-analysed and characterised from the day I was born and grew up in a culture when psychology really had become the new religion for many. Talk shows were and are all about it. In school it was drilled into me. The subject of ‘guidance’, for instance, never equipped me or anyone for the real world but only ever was interested in psycho-analysis and sex, at least as far as I can remember.

I couldn’t even get away from it in the Church, except here psychological ideas were tagged with an extra spiritual component. For example, you need to find where you were hurt in the past and let Jesus heal there; your grandfather was a Freemason so you are suffering from some sickness; you were laughed at in school and so you have a low self-worth, and that’s the result of your depression, but Jesus can give you a better self-worth, etc. While this may sometimes be the case(s) (although I question the Freemason thing) it’s not always the case for everyone, but the problem with our culture is it expects a blanket answer and formula for everyone. Many churches, books, pastors etc. got on board with this thinking and pop-psychology became the new religion. This is still a problem. Go into any Christian book store and it’s plain to see.

Getting rid of guilt

We do look for where we can shift the responsibility for our actions in the great quest to ease our conscience and no longer feel guilty anymore. I acknowledge this wide-ranging problem of guilt, but I believe the solution lies in the grace of God – coming under his Fathering and knowing there is grace and forgiveness there. I also acknowledge that true moral living can only be lived in reality when we have the Holy Spirit, which requires us to be born again.

But the issue is that when we believe too strongly in psychology (you need to go through endless healing ever to live morally well) and too little on what God says (you really have the ability to do this thing) we find ourselves constantly battling to live the way we want to. As I’ve jettisoned pop-psychology in my life more and more I’ve found it really is easier to live the way God wants me to, because it becomes simpler to do so. It’s liberating. My mind and my attitude aren’t hampered by a victim mentality and endless formulas for getting things done.

In parenting my kids I want to teach them very early to stop pretending to be a victim and to take responsibility for their actions and just live well. Victim mentality is not helping anyone. Pop-psychology and spiritual-pop-psychology is creating a society that doesn’t know its right hand from its left anymore, because every action has an excuse. Don’t be the victim. Walk by the Spirit. Don’t rely on psycho-analysis. Take Jesus’ word for it that we can just do it. He has given us everything for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We can do this thing.

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7 thoughts on “Jesus, Psychology and the Holy Spirit: Don’t be the Victim”

  1. Psychology has been my adult-life career; my education (BA, MA, Ph.D.) has been focused on psychology, education and counseling. My life-long motivation has been Christian. But the discovery that has been the most revealing in both those endeavors was my struggle to continually “do” the right thing which always produced a greater desire to resist “doing” the right thing. The Apostle Paul shed light on that many years ago.

    Reading through Paul’s letters, especially Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians he sheds light on the fact that the law, any law, or set of prescriptive imperatives’ that we hold as our faith will eventually bring us nothing but failure. Psychology is man-centered and becomes a set of laws in which we place our hope that someday we will be better people by practicing the precepts of that law. It is futile at best.

    We really do not have the power within us to absolve our guilt; that must come from outside of ourselves. Our tenacious grasp of any law that we cling to in order to bring ourselves to righteousness is doomed to failure even before we yield ourselves to it. That is the Wisdom of God: For our sins to be forgiven He had to forgive our sin and the only way He could do it was through His Son Jesus Christ. It is the work on the cross and His resurrection that conquers death for me and forgives me of my sins. It really has nothing to do with my past; it has everything to do with my present and to Whom I yield.

    I enjoyed your article, thanks for sharing.

    Jim Killebrew

  2. Nolan Beudeker

    Great article Ryan. What you refer to as “victim” mentality may also be referred to as locus of control. A high external locus of control indicates the propensity to blame others for one’s situation or circumstances. An internal locus of control is about taking responsibility for your own actions and behaviour. I advocate the latter and, if I understood you correctly, so do you. The challenge is whether putting your faith in God encourages some folk to adopt an external locus of control. Most certainly arguing that “the devil made me do it” is adopting an external locus of control.

    The field of Psychology, like religion, is blamed for bad behaviour and celebrated for good. Either could provide a solid moral compass without encouraging the abdication of responsibility for choices and behaviour. If I simply seek to understand my behaviour, it does not necessarily follow that my insights will result in my blaming others for who I am now, for the choices I make and for the circumstances I find myself in. For me personally, self-knowledge will help me break bad patterns of behaviour and forge healthier choices for my future.

  3. You may enjoy this:

    BBC’s Century of the Self series

    It gives a very important background to the political, sociological and ideological factors which precipitated the individualisation and self-actualisation of the early 1900’s and 1960’s in western culture, with the culmination of postmodern values, consumerism and psychoanalysis.

    The reason that there’s a disconnect between the “what” and the “how” of moral absolute law is that you need a “why” to join them. In the past this was not a problem – the answer was always “because some greater [social/family/spiritual] authority says so”. It’s only in the last century that western man has placed the individual as the highest authority.

  4. Great points, thanks Nolan!

    Murray, still got to look at that video. Will do tonight.

    In the meantime, I remember seeing this two years ago (you might have seen it before) and think it’s a great and humorous way to bring the point across.

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