Christian Psycology & the Doctrine of Human Being Part 2 of 2

Posted: April 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Back and forth the pendulum swings for Christian psychologists who muse over the paradox that we as humans are in the divine image, yet fatally flawed by sin. Having Genesis 1:26 as part of the foundation, we can bank on the fact that we have been created in the image of God, but from thereon in Genesis, there is nothing but a downward spiral of sin becoming the predominate “god of this world.” Thus, so much of understanding what the Bible says about human beings and much of what Christian psychology is doing today and why it all matters rest heavily on what an understanding of “image” means. To understand we turn now to two church fathers to see what they understand to be the “image of God.”

In his De opificio hominis, Gregory of Nyssa tells us that humanity is the summit of creation. Hence, to disrupt biological science and the hallmarks of natural selection, humanity is distinctly different from other creatures, for only we can draw near to God, attempt to have morality and virtue.

Ellen T. Charry writing in The Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible comments saying:

Being the Image of God is a psychological and moral likeness, not a physical one. It means that only we resemble the beauty of God and experience the bliss that he is when we are alienated from all evil, free from unruly emotions. That we manifest the divine beauty is evident in that we have the gift of understanding and are capable of love.

Nyssa says there are three parts to this image: physical, sensual, and rational. Furthermore, he says the soul is created with the body at conception. Because God said his creation is good, there exists then the fact that the mind can attempt to return to this original “good” that it was prior to sin. As Christians we know, contrary to the Buddhists, that we cannot attain this state, but can attempt to live a life of holiness and walk with God. Hence, there is a standard by which a person mentally can aim toward daily which will keep him or her from sin, and if they depart from this standard, the mind loses its beauty and is temporarily hijacked with mental consequences. As we humans can be unstable in our emotions, our ability to understand can thus be distorted and our desires can be swayed. Nyssa calls this the

evil husbandry of the mind.

How do we handle this hijacking of the mind from happening? Living a rightly ordered life. One of my old professors use to say that “right doctrine makes right living.” His point was if we attempt to live in accordance with the Scriptures, we will live rightly toward God.

Augustine of Hippo understands the work of the mind, body, and soul to be progressively growing in sanctification, that this is one of the highest priorities of life. Charry says Augustine is calling us to understand that the human calling is to discover that we long for the goodness and wisdom that are of Christ. Here is another foundation to Christian psychology, that we exist for goodness and can only move toward this by becoming more dependent upon the only Good One. And thus Augustine’s most noted saying:

we cannot understand ourselves unless we first know and understand God.

Three points of comparison are worth mentioning between Nyssa and Augustine. Charry says Augustine divided humanity into saints and sinners. Whereas Nyssa believed that good would overtake evil naturally and that human freedom remained untainted enough to restore us to God. That is, that we in and of ourselves would choose God if given the opportunity. Secondly, Nyssa saw the struggle Augustine saw not merely in two kinds of people – the elect and non elect – rather, Nyssa saw it in the heart of everyone. All people desire both good and evil at the same time. Perhaps this is true in the sense that even an unbeliever may appreciate orphans being given food, but at the same time are very selfish. Lastly, one of these views is more dependent upon Christ, while the other does not.

Why is this important? Why does any of this matter? Today Christians are being bombarded with psychology which is at the least, wreaked with secular ideals, never mentioning God. If we are to adequately understand our current state and helps others receive healing for any area of life, we must have a place to start which is not from the opinion of men, rather under the authority of God. Hence, to be informed about the roots of Christian psychology de facto lead the Christian to know where to turn in need of assistance. Otherwise the Christian may be led down a wrong path, adhering to anything which sounds good from the voice of secularists.

Furthermore, in a world and time when our minds are having constant attempts of hijacking from external things such as media, fads, trends, and sex, lest we have a general working knowledge that our emotions and desires are easily swayed to such things, we will adhere to them. We must recollect over our call to grow in sanctification, examining our hearts and minds, and realizing are dire need for dependence upon Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.

Fundamentally, we must realize we have desires and emotions which can easily give way to evil, thus making us unable in and of ourselves to resist such things. Where does this lead us? Where do we go from here? Back to a daily, perhaps hourly visit to Calvary, at the foot of the Cross, casting ourselves on the grace of God for the restoration of our minds. I’m thankful such men as Nyssa and Augustine laid some historical framework for us today to turn to. May we diffuse between who we are, and Whose we are, and therein, live accordingly.


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