The Problem with the Human Condition – Man is Conflicted with Himself.
It is hard to speak in generalities because the field of psychology is very diverse, even within Christian circles. The brevity of this paper requires generalities, and I do not pretend to speak for all orientations. I do not want to be accused of building a straw man and pretend I represent all secular or religious counselors. I am painting with very broad strokes, and I ask for your grace as you read.
At the center of a discussion of secular and Christian views of psychology has to be a clarification of the human condition and where pathology originates. Our views of the source of man’s condition will greatly influence the treatment of his condition. Secular and Christian psychology are built on very different foundations, and a consideration will go a long way in helping one understand the differing views between them.
The age-old debate between “nurture” and “nature” continues and will always be with us – are people a product of their environment, or their genetic nature? From both a secular and a Christian perspective, therapists seem to be comfortable in recognizing both nurture (relational environment) and nature (genes) as contributing factors to the “human condition,” that man lives in conflict with himself and with others. We are products of our environment, and our genetic make-up predisposes us to susceptibility to certain “pathologies.” When our unhealthy relational environments interact with our genetic predispositions, our emotional, spiritual, and mental health suffers. I think most therapists are in agreement here.
Secular philosophy and psychology are, thankfully, abandoning previous notions that man is born “good” and the environment is the only contributing factor to emotional and mental pathology. Many theories have been long discarded, such as the influence of the “schizophrenogenic mother” supposedly creating schizophrenia in her children through the use of double-binds. It is encouraging that psychology has been moving away from the notion that people are unhealthy because of parental influence exclusively. Parents are no longer being solely blamed for all of the choices their children make. There are other factors in play along with parenting styles. And the vast differences among siblings raised in the same environment cannot be ignored.
A secular and Christian approach to therapy might both include educating the client to gain understanding of both nurture and nature. The therapist might educate the client as to their natural predisposition toward any given pathology, and how their choices and unhealthy relationships are making their life experiences more troublesome. Secular therapy can aid the client in making better choices, and building healthier relationships, but has no answers to the nature or the genetics of the client.
A Christian understanding of “nature” goes beyond one’s genetic make-up. Our genes cannot be changed, but the Christian therapist understands that there is more than genes that influence nature. There is a spiritual element in our make-up that also predisposes us to “pathology.”
When mankind sinned against God, our pathology began. People have a “sin nature.” But unlike our genetic make-up, this spiritual natural element can be changed. A supernatural “divine nature” is promised to the believer. A secular counselor may not have an insight to the internal transformation that a client can experience.
The Bible teaches clearly that man has fallen away from the good graces of God. Man has rejected the leadership of the Lord, and this choice changes the “nature” of man. Man is not born good, but rather with an inclination or predisposition to self-destruct, live rebelliously, selfishly, and self-centered, which is the Biblical definition of sin. Christian clients seeking psychotherapy understand their spiritual condition before God, and need a therapist who also understands. (Romans 3:10–12; Psalm 14:1–3; Jeremiah 17:9-10)
The resolution to this fallen or sinful condition is found in a newborn relationship and reconciliation with our Creator. This results in a regeneration or conversion of one’s heart. This new life is found in accepting Christ’s death on the cross as the atonement for our sins, our selfishness. His resurrection brings new life to the believer. (II Corinthians 5:17, 21; Titus 3:5)
A client who is a believer in the Lord Jesus understands he is indwelled and sealed by the Holy Spirit (not a mystical deity of our own making). The Spirit within assists the believer in experiencing newness of life which grants victory over a life of selfishness and failure. When one wins victory over selfishness, relationships become healthier. The Spirit of God changes nurture and nature. This supernatural experience is not available in secular counseling. (John 14:16–17)
When a client is walking in harmony with their spiritual values, internal conflict subsides. Many Christians are not living in harmony with the Lord. Understanding the client’s spiritual convictions are essential to their treatment, to bring them to a place of peace.