Does God or psychology provide the cure to emotional problems?
Every week I see Christians who are suffering from a whole range of emotional problems: anxiety, loneliness, grief over broken relationships, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy. Often they have been struggling with these problems for years. They are people in pain.
The church is split on how to deal with these hurting people. Those on one side of the issue say that people who struggle emotionally are “in sin.” They “don’t have enough faith,” are not obedient,” or “don’t spend enough time in the Word.” These people tend to blame the hurting person for his or her pain.
These answers sound a lot like the ones Job received from his friends. “God is trying to teach you something.” Look at the blessings you still enjoy.” “God is testing you.” “Give thanks in spite of your circumstances.” The speeches of Job’s three friends contain elements of truth, but do not often help the person in pain.
A despairing person should have kindness from his friend, said Job, “lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14). Job recognized, as only a person in pain can do, that simple answers not only fail to relieve pain, they can literally drive a person further away from God. The hurting person who takes this sort of advice to heart often has two problems instead of one: the pain she originally had, plus the guilt over not being able to apply the answers she was given.
The help offered to Christians in emotional pain over the years has done untold damage and has led many to reach the conclusion Job did: “You smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13:4-5).
Faced with this kind of help, sufferers either learn to fake healing to remain in the church, or leave the church, deciding that their faith provides little solace for their emotional pain.
People on the other side of the issue reach out and try to touch the pain of hurting people. Looking for answers that work, and not finding them in the church, they turn to psychology. Often psychological methods succeed, and hurting people find relief. But now these people are in a quandary. Was it God or psychology that provided the cure? They know that the relief is from God, but there seems to be no biblical system by which to defend it. They just know that “it works.”
As a Christian, a psychologist, and a fellow struggler, I have stood on both side of this fence. I have tried the “standard” Christian answers for others, and myself and have come to Job’s conclusion: they are worthless medicine. I have also tried “baptizing” psychological insights so that they would somehow feel “Christian.” This didn’t work either.
Several years ago I found myself saying to God, “I quit. I really don’t know what helps. God, if there is something that does, you will have to show it to me.” Over the next few years, God led me on a spiritual journey in which he graciously answered that simple but desperate prayer.
It is not my purpose to get enmeshed in the church’s debate between psychology and theology. I have a different goal in mind. I want to show you that there are biblical solutions for your struggles with depression, anxiety, panic, addictions, and guilt, and that these solutions lie in your understanding certain basic developmental tasks—tasks that you may have failed to complete when you were growing up and tasks that bring changes that heal. These tasks involve growing up and into the “likeness” of the one who created you.
From Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud; Zondervan, 1990, 1992.
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