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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






05 December 2008

Head Shrinking or Faith Shrinking?

From the Archives

Q: How do we relate God with psychology and psychiatry?

The Doctor Is InA: Answers vary from, “Don’t trust any counsel except Scripture,” to, “Use whatever’s at your disposal, God intends it all for good.” The truth is found somewhere between the poles.

Some counselors refuse to believe in evil, personal guilt, or accountability before God. I’m concerned about anyone who categorically tries to remove guilt rather than confronting the sinful behavior causing it and bringing forgiveness. Too many counselors take the approach, “There’s nothing to feel guilty about, so let’s help you get over it.” This ignores sin and temptation of the devil, this fallen world, and our own sinful flesh. It glosses over God’s judgment of sin. Worst of all, it removes the Savior and His forgiveness won on Calvary from the picture.

Excesses of psychology and psychiatry are recorded in many places. The most thorough research — or the strongest vendetta — probably comes from husband and wife team Martin and Deidre Bobgan, founders of PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries (PAM). Their initial book, Psycho-Heresies, has been followed by others. They fill their easily read books with documentation of their claims that much counseling is contrary to God’s Word.

So-called “Christian Counseling” can involve taking almost everything the world has to offer, covering it in Christian clothes, and using it to “heal” those damaged in mind and emotions. The Focus on the Family empire of James Dobson was built in large part by doing this very thing.

FreudWe need to carefully work through what is offered for our healing. Is it necessary? Is it appropriate? Does it square with God’s Word? Would I be better served by addressing and confessing my own sins?

Ignoring all psychology has to offer is an alternative to accepting every therapy under the sun — but we risk ignoring what’s beneficial and in accord with the will of God. Counseling and medical treatment can help behavioral disorders such as addiction, depression, bi-polar disease, and more. Yet even when we are receiving medical, psychiatric, or psychological help for these afflictions, regular conversation and counsel with our ministers and other Christians about the spiritual dimensions of these problems is also needed.

We must realize that God may actually be the Author of such problems. Because of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride in his empire and his accomplishments, God punished him by making him insane: “He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:33)”

On the CouchIn 1 Samuel 16:14, we read that “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” Yet He also provided relief: “David came to Saul and entered his service.... And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. (vv. 21, 23)”

My family physician is one to whom I turn. A strong Christian, she’s also a good listener and counselor, and has a healthy streak of common sense. She knows, me, my family, and my work. Still, I also use “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” I confess my sins to God and to those I’ve offended. I use my brother pastors, as well. When they hear me confess those things for which I am sorry, they speak Christ’s words of forgiveness, healing, and peace to me — and I continue on my way in good cheer.

See the post Mental Health Help and its links for more on this topic.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Expanded from newspaper column #7:2

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