BY RENEE WILLIAMSON
When I say I study psychology and am a Christian, other Christians sometimes assume I want to be a biblical counselor. I tell them I don’t. They give me a weird look as they ask how a Christian can otherwise study psychology. Similar to the question in psychology of where the brain ends and the mind begins, it is often asked where the mind ends and the soul begins. These terms are often used interchangeably. When treating the mind, are you playing God? Where is God in psychology?
Studying psychology illustrates the complexities of the mind God created, which leaves us humbled by how little we know about the human brain and in awe of God’s creation.1
Even though we can make pretty fMRI pictures of a brain lighting up, we cannot fully explain why that region is lighting up. And even though we know that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, quickly increase the amount of serotonin in the brain to treat depression, we don’t know why it takes six weeks for the person to feel the effects of the medication in their mood. We cannot sufficiently understand the mind without God.
Psychology allows us to see the depravity of man and the need for hope and a savior. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God cursed the ground and the environment,2 and it is quite possible that some psychological disorders appear because of this curse, as the environment a person finds himself in can trigger the onset of a disorder.
People can be overcome with psychosis and lose themselves in it. They can be so impaired by anxiety that they can no longer leave their homes. Many other people can suffer from these disorders to varying degrees. They sometimes cannot function on their own, but there is hope.
There is therapy, yes, but more importantly there is a savior who died on the cross and overcame death and the world to give us the option of a direct relationship with God—an act through which we can be spiritually healed.3
God can absolutely heal whomever he wills—of this I have faith4—and God can use medication and therapy for healing.
Growing up, my dad was the pastor of an inner-city church that served a lot of people with various psychological disorders and addictions. But there were some people in our church who could serve in the church and understand the Gospel only when they were on their medication. When they went off it, they could not function in their day-to-day and would often end up with a stay in the hospital to get balanced again.
Medication and therapy are not incompatible with Christianity. Sometimes they can bring people to a place to be able not only to function but also to understand what it means to be a Christian and who Jesus is. I study psychology because I am considering becoming a clinical psychologist, as I see people in their brokenness and want to help them get to that place of functioning and understanding.
Sometimes I joke with my friends that we have the wrong major because there are few job options that do not require further education. But there are so many facets of psychology, like social work, clinical psychology, behavioral economics and social psychology, or research like mine that uses psychology of decision making to encourage changes to the judicial system. These are only a few examples. It is a humbling field, learning how we are influenced by our environment, our peers, and our genes. It equips and empowers us while showing us our need for a creator and savior.
1 Job 12:7-10
2 Genesis 3
3 Ephesians 2:4-5
4 Psalm 107:19-21