Many Christians deeply mistrust psychology and even the idea that brains can be sick and require medical intervention. As I mentioned earlier, psychology is stigmatized in a way most other medical practices are not. And unlike most other medical practices, psychology is considered by some Christians as inherently and irredeemably secular.
This reflects a larger mistrust in science which, frankly, is out of step with Scripture. The Bible says that God holds all people accountable for their response to him since “they know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom 1:19-20). The created world reveals God. How could it not?
This general revelation–and not your testimony or mine–is the primary reason people are held accountable for their response to God. It’s powerful and attributable to the work of God alone, and it’s one of the reasons destruction of the natural world and urbanization without regard for God’s creation should be of special concern for all believers. It’s also the reason I believe an honest study of the natural world will never lead a person away from God.
Sure, scientists, like the rest of us, don’t always draw the right conclusions. And when accompanied by a deep resentment of God and his people, scientific practice can be heavily biased–just as it can be biased when laced with a determination to prove or disprove a foregone conclusion. But that doesn’t make science inherently evil, untrustworthy or even secular. The study of God’s created world may be among the most sacred of human vocations.
Among the natural world he has made–through which he reveals his own nature–are our own amazing bodies. Our outrageously complex and mysterious minds, which we are only beginning to understand, are included in “everything God made.” Our brains–with their “moving” parts, diseases and astounding strength–are one alluring frontier in the quest to explore a world that only gets more complex with each discovery. And Christians never need fear the study of what God has made.
On top of this mistrust of science, psychology gets a second layer of rejection thanks to the heavily secular influences in its twentieth-century formation. As I mention in my book’s brief history of the treatment of mental illness in Western civilization, Sigmund Freud and many mental health professionals who followed him had a strong contempt for religious belief and actually believed religious expression was harmful to people. Again, this large-scale rejection of belief is changing rapidly, and Christian mental health professionals certainly find no conflict between their faith and their practice in caring for others. Even secular professionals widely recognize and respect the value of faith in growth and healing.
Some parts of the church actually gave in and bought into the fallacy that faith has no place in healing and in the life of the mind. They went for a reciprocal rejection and claimed that the mind cannot be sick, cannot affect the spirit and does not require healing. Because of psychology’s historical mistrust of the church in recent history, in return some Christians deeply mistrust psychology, including those who practice psychology in keeping with biblical truth and faithful living. They claim that a relationship with God should be all that we need to sustain mental and emotional health.
Dwight L. Carlson tackled this question in his excellent book Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?
Most people consider it appropriate to call a roofer when the roof leaks, a plumber when the sink won’t drain, or a tow truck when a car won’t start. Though God could miraculously solve each of these problems, in most instances he doesn’t. It has nothing to do with his ability or his sufficiency for the task. He is able to, but he chooses not to use that means. Rather, his sufficiency enables me to deal with these problems and get whatever help is needed to solve them. There is no question that God is ultimately sufficient.
God created the mind and commanded us to love him with all of it. We needn’t fear those who fumble and stumble around in their search for truth. Neither studying the mind nor facilitating healing are innately secular pursuits. One might say, in fact, that they are innately sacred. They can be expressions of faith and wonder in the God who created these complex organs–which are still largely beyond our understanding–and who loves us and, in his mercy, uses the healing presence of other people to grant peace to the suffering.
If you want to read more about how the church can offer better support for people affected by mental illness, you can find my book here.
© 2013 Amy Simpson.