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Psychology

The Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche describes the forbidden love affair between a god and a beautiful woman. Cupid is wrapped in mystery and only allows his ladylove to approach him under cover of darkness. He warns Psyche never to illumine his face—when she does, the castle in which their trysts take place and Cupid himself will vanish forever.

For a long time, Psyche resists the temptation to look on the god's beauty. Instead, she enjoys the mystery and the god it hides, and both of them are happy. But it's a Greek myth, and eventually Psyche holds a candle above Cupid as he sleeps, beholding the deity in all his beauty. As promised, everything vanishes forever.

As the true God is Lord of all and ordains all things for his own glory, it's not to much to suppose he's left a lesson for us in this odd little story. Is it a mistake that Cupid is the god of love? or that he cannot be apprehended or known through anything but mystery? or that Psyche (translated soul or mind) loses the god as soon as she tries to understand him?

It doesn't take too much imagination to interpret these details. In fact, the whole Greco-Roman worldview is contained in this story about divine-human relationships. God can only be known through mystery, non-rationally; the minute Psyche tries to understand him rationally, she loses him. God, then, isn't knowable through propostional truth, only through subjective experience.

Modern secular psychologists would go the myth-makers one better: not only can God not be known rationally, he can't be known at all because he doesn't exist. It's supremely ironic that their discipline, psychology, is a word that best translates as "the study of the soul." How can you study the soul if there isn't one?

Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, didn't try. Instead, he formulated theories of the human mind rooted firmly in his materialist worldview, a worldview that admitted of no divinity, no soul, and no spiritual realm. Psychology as he understood it was simply an attempt to explain human experience and action in a cosmos thus drained of meaning and purpose.

For Freud, William James, C. G. Jung and those that followed them, their ideas were Psyche's candle come to illuminate with the light of pure reason what had formerly been darkened by superstition and "mystery," which became no more than an illusion to help keep the ignorant masses under the thrall of an invisible and imaginary god.

The study of the human mind didn't begin with Freud, however, and it didn't end with him. Though the Academy has been dead-ended ever since with endless (and increasingly perverse) discussions of human sexuality as the key to understanding the human mind and predicament, there have also been genuine steps forward, albeit fewer and further between.

For Christians, all answers to the questions raised by psychologists are found in the Word of God. This does NOT mean that the Bible is a guide to neurology, mental disease, emotional trauma, depression, etc. Not for one second do we want to denigrate or ignore these issues, nor do we believe that scientific research is wrong because it's not in the Bible.

What it does mean is that we understand human nature. Not wholly, of course, not exhaustively, but we know that all men are born in sin and rebellion against God, that our hearts and minds are proficient at developing evil, and that only the grace of God keeps the nations from disintegrating into chaos and anarchy.

Now, this is a bleak picture, as bleak as a god who hides himself in mystery and darkness. But it's not the whole story: God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, lived perfectly for His creation, died at the hands of His own people, and rose from the grave to give life eternal to all those who have faith in Him.

There are two psychologies in the world: those that are lost in sin (which is a kind of madness), and those that are torn between their desire to sin and their desire to serve Christ (which is a kind of sanity). Paul discusses both in Romans, the first in 1:18-32 and the second in 7:13-25, and thanks God that through death He will save the apostle from the strain of double-mindedness.

Now, the modern psychologist is preoccuppied with death, and at first he might see Paul's desire to be freed from his flesh through death to be a nihilism similar to his own. It is not. The release Paul speaks of is from his body of deathto a life everlasting in a body that has been fully redeemed.

Christian psychologists will inevitably find themselves in a similar tension within their own discipline. It is right for Christians to study the problems and intricacies of the mind, but they must do so in the context of revealed biblical truth, a task that is both difficult and discouraging within a discipline so dominated by ideological humanists and philosophical materialists.

But it is not impossible. Many of the books we carry on psychology are written from a distinctively Christian perspective, self-consciously adhering more to biblical truth than to merely human wisdom. This doesn't mean we ignore what secular psychologists are saying or have said, but we offer these books more by way of contrast and for educational purposes than for any particular wisdom or insights they offer.

Some will doubtless decry the Christian psychologist's position as privileging mystery over reason, but this is to fundamentally misunderstand that position, and to confuse the secular psychologist's own position with that of his believing counterpart. It's the secularists who believe reason dispels mystery; it's the Christians who believe reason and mystery are necessary partners, and that either is incoherent apart from the other.

Psychology from a Christian perspective isn't primarily a man-focused discipline. It's God-centered, because only by knowing God and what He's revealed in the Christian Scripture can we hope to know ourselves. The books we offer by Christian psychologists reflect this conviction, and are therefore much better able to help us than the soulless reflections of pagan psychologists.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

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