Jesus and Psychology
“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father,
Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Physical, emotional and mental suffering is a familiar part of life. Throughout history, religion, philosophy and politics play a significant part in shaping social and economic environments which effect everyone’s well-being.
The purpose of this study is about how genuine, wholehearted faith in Jesus; attentions our mental and emotional well-being, and addresses the most significant and foundational areas of our heart, mind and soul; and what part psychology plays in addressing the same issues.
Overview of Psychology
Psychology can help in understanding ourselves but has no sustainable solution to life’s deep-seated problems. As a tool, psychology can address certain behavioral issues associated with emotions, thoughts, and motivations; but has no permanent remedy for soul crushing events that decay, distress and destroy our well-being.
The Greek word, "psyche" means soul, and "logia" means "study". In other words, “study of the soul” or study of the part inside us that makes us who we are as individuals.
Throughout history psychology existed in various forms since ancient Egypt and solidified with Greek philosophy after 500 BC. A new prominence emerged in the late 1800’s with a specific focus on the scientific study of behavior and mental processes.
Ancient psychology was the domain of religion until it moved into the realm of philosophy with the ancient Greeks. It played a significant role in Christian history and is now the particular domain of science. The prominence of psychology in the last 200 years has made a significant impacted as a replacement for Christian faith, as a means to the well-being of the soul.
For all intensive purposes, psychology as the study of the soul, is at best, able to provide temporary relief from certain mental and emotional disorders and help modify behaviours; but only genuine and wholehearted trust in Jesus can affectively deal with the inner turmoil and unrest of our soul.
Psychology can only treat the symptoms of mental illness and emotional disorders, and by its very definition as a science, cannot attention the root cause of moral failure. Largely because much of modern psychology has no real definition of sin and evil, and it cannot offer sustainable purpose and meaning, while holding to evolutionary principles that all life is a product of meaningless random selection.
Although psychology has real benefits for managing dysfunctions, and many valuable methodologies and insights to help us deal with our mental and emotional inner life - it is comparable to talking aspirin for curing heart disease.
Where on the other hand, genuine faith in Jesus can be compared to heart transplant surgery to remove the sin which deceives and enslaves us, and transplants a new heart to cure our terminal condition.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Therapies and Treatments
Psychology has a number of solutions for the ills of life:
Treating chemical imbalances in the body which may occur as a biological dysfunction or using medication to suppress emotions in cases where patients are at risk of self harm or harming others,
Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies focus on changing problematic behaviours, emotions, and thoughts using counselling,
Behaviour therapy involves developing positive behaviours and managing abnormal ones,
Cognitive therapy emphasizes changing thought patterns and beliefs to improve how people feel and behave,
Humanistic therapies stress the capacity of people to make rational choices and develop their maximum potential by self-determination and individual search for meaning,
Integrative or holistic therapy - any or all of the above.
Psychological therapies and treatments cannot successfully deal with foundational problems of inner peace, purpose and meaning. Although helpful, especially when physical chemical imbalances occur, it cannot provide the inner strength, motivation and life changing conviction of truth which a personal relationship with Jesus has accomplished throughout the ages, and is still the testimony of millions of Christians today.
Genuine faith in Jesus can attention true guilt, through the unconditional forgiveness accomplished by His sacrificial atonement on the cross. Jesus’ death and resurrection has dealt with the problem of our moral failure before God. When we accept His free gift of forgiveness through wholehearted faith, we can find true peace from real guilt and become transformed at the core of our inner being.
Some non-Christian psychologist acknowledge the positive benefits to mental health of a conversion experience (Jordan Peterson), and many cognitive therapies associated with alcohol and substance abuse use belief in God as part of their program for changing behavior (Alcoholics & Narcotics Anonymous).
But only Jesus can do what we are unable do for ourselves, because genuine, wholehearted faith in Jesus is the world’s leading cognitive therapy, proven to consistently achieve sustainable inner well-being throughout history, which psychology has been unable to successfully replicate.
Only Jesus can provide us with a real and tangible hope of heaven, to sustain and motivate us through the storms of life, and give us the acceptance and self worth which fill our lives with true purpose and meaning.
In the Bible, Jesus is referred to as the “Great Physician” and healed all types of sickness (Luke 4:23), and is also called “Wonderful Counselor” and “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). All pointing to Jesus’ as the One who genuinely cares for our well-being and lays down His life as a demonstration of His great love for us.
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep”
The root cause of all our ills, is the spiritual sickness of sin within our soul, as a consequence of our moral failure to obey God. It is a spiritual sickness of mind, heart and body, to which only Jesus has the power and understanding to cure (Mark 2:17).
As our Creator, Jesus is the only One who truly and completely understands who we are and what we need to become whole human beings. Jesus has proved His love and faithfulness to us by coming down from heaven and dying on the cross, taking the punishment we deserve and giving us the worth and acceptance we need to stand reconciled and at peace before a Holy God, with full confidence and great joy.
"All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the sin of us all to fall on Him" (Isaiah 53:6).
The root cause of our problems, is we are all broken human beings with real regrets, failures, unfulfilled desires, and an unexplainable longing for something more. We do not function as God designed and intended, and this causes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dysfunction.
Everyone has a drive for pleasure, purpose and peace. Everyone seeks to fulfil their desires in various ways, and hopes to find meaning in life, or at least achieve some level of inner satisfaction.
But trying to find real meaning and purpose without God is futile, and at best an illusion. It is walking through the desert towards what seems to be on oasis but turns out to be a mirage. Whether it is sex, money or career; appearances, intelligence or skill; finding satisfaction in life takes hard work and yet it never truly lives up to its promises.
Whatever we place as the ultimate object of worship to bring us fulfilment, will never deliver. Most attempts to find fulfilment and meaning are only distractions, like entertainment and ticking off bucket lists or the distractions of personal achievements which boost our self esteem but have not value it times of crisis.
If we worship sex and pleasure, the more we have the less we enjoy it. Like a drug, we need greater quantities and higher doses to feel fulfilled. If we worship a person, they will eventually let us down. Personal achievements can bring satisfaction, pride and a sense of self worth but are short lived and have no real power to deal with life’s trials and tribulations.
When depression or anxiety or sickness hits, our successes and achievements will not be there to comfort us, nor can they save us from the dark, deep hole we all at some point find ourselves in.
Even our own sense of righteousness in thinking we are good and decent people cannot save us from our man-made darkness but leads to bitter and resentful feelings when things go wrong, because we think we deserve better. Often blaming God for ills we have brought upon ourselves or become the victim of someone else’s sin.
It is hard to understand the logic which blames God for the sin and evil caused by people who disobey God. We are quick in condemning others for their sin and wrong doing, and especially when it has direct consequences on our own lives; yet we are blind to our own moral failures and wrong we inflict upon God and people.
"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. "Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.
But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:3-7).
The Storms of Life
It is inevitable for us to face the storms of life. Loss of health, friendship, and love; lose of mind, finances, and ultimately - death and judgment before a Holy God, who implicitly knows every detail of our thoughts and actions.
Without a solid grounding of genuine, wholehearted faith in Jesus, we have no foundational support for our moral, psychological and emotional well being, which is intricately linked to our spiritual life.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27).
Both the non-believer and believer in Jesus will face the same storms of life, and Jesus does not promise He will exclude those who trust in Him from trials and tribulations; but His promise is to walk with us through our difficult times and give us the grace, strength, hope and peace through the storms.
Depression, Anxiety and Guilt
Depression, anxiety and guilt are significant areas associated with mental illness and are addressed specifically through the good news of Jesus.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...” (Romans 1:16).
Anyone experiencing any of these ills is seeking salvation, and yet so many people will not consider faith in Jesus as a real solution. Because psychology can only provided limited help, many people end up living in a terrible darkness and hopeless situations or commit suicide, when they could have found acceptance, meaning, and hope in Christ.
“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).
The world is a dark place and our hearts contain some of the darkest places on earth; but it is for good reason Jesus is the light which holds out real hope, meaning and purpose; so people don’t have to live in the dark, but can have the light of life by following Jesus.
Medication to treat chemical and hormonal imbalances which cause depression and anxiety are designed to be a starting point to begin treating the mental and emotional aspects of mental illness, but many people think the right medication will cure their condition.
Nothing could be father from the truth, and it is anchored in a mentality which thinks that serious life issues can be treated by just taking pills. Long-term medication may be required for chemical and hormonal imbalances but this will not deal with the harsh realities of sinful, broken people living in a sinful broken world, which are the root cause of many mental illness.
What we truly and wholehearted believe will directly affect our emotions. Depending on our understanding, fear, guilt and hope can all be based on false assumptions but can still be just as real in our mind.
For example, depression is directly related to our hope of the future which can be triggered by a traumatic event. It also involves guilt or regret of past actions and experiences, and causes negative feelings associated with lack of hope, purpose and meaning for the future.
When we seriously consider the complexities of life, we see anxiety assaulting us because we can't "Trust" or "Believe" the future will be alright; and it is a perfectly reasonable state of mind to be in because we can't control the future, and any sane person should be scared and anxious living in a world wrought with chaos.
When we trust in anything or anyone other than Jesus, who knows the end from the beginning, and has perfect knowledge, wisdom, power and understanding of all things - then we will be anxious.
But if we genuinely place our trust in Jesus - we will have peace. Because the object of our trust is not in ourselves, but in the sure and faithful promises of God.
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7).
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (Colossians 3:15-17).
Guilt is a leading cause of mental illness and dysfunction. Our moral failures and our inability to forgive people and ourselves results in real guilt. Sin is real, and when we do what we know is wrong, we incur real guilt.
Offense and hurt are a legal issue, and a price must be paid and justice must be done, otherwise there can be no forgiveness and no reconciliation or peace. Without real forgiveness we are left with malice, bitterness, hatred and resentment which invades our peace and erodes our love for people, and robs us of joy and peace.
This is the very reason why Jesus took the punishment we deserve for our sin. He is the only One who is perfect and Holy enough, and capable to do so. Jesus legally paid the price to secure our forgiveness and it is only when we believe in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross and accept responsibility for our own sins and moral failures before God, that we can receive forgiveness for ourselves.
In turn we will have the strength, grace and understanding to forgive others - and the result is peace. Peace with God and peace with people.
"Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:34-36).
"But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it." (Ephesians 2:13-16).
This is the heritage of all those who genuinely and wholeheartedly trust in Jesus, who have seen their sin before God and have asked for His mercy and grace to forgive and save them. It is the only real solution to our brokenness and leads to a true transformation in becoming more like Jesus.
No one is alone in life. We have a responsibility and obligation to God and people, and indeed to all life and creation; and we have a choice to either make the effort and take the time to listen to what Jesus has to say to us and let that shape our thoughts and actions, or we ignore and reject the free gift of forgiveness and life in Christ and forfeit any hope of salvation from present and eternal darkness.
Jesus doesn't offer immunity from the ills of life in this world, but salvation from it and the promise He will walk with us; giving us grace and understanding, hope and strength, and the assurance and love to overcome it.
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33).
“For whoever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world -our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4-5).
Psychology can be helpful and we should use it through the filter and as a servant of the truth found in the Bible.
But make no mistake, real and eternal salvation and well-being can only be found in Jesus; the author of life and Saviour of all who call upon Him with genuine, wholehearted faith.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).