Editor’s note: Dr. Kellogg is offering a course in Counseling this semester at NEST.
Most of us don’t give much thought to the topic raised by the title of this article unless we, or someone we love, are faced with a major problem, crisis, or difficulty. Usually, we manage to handle most of life’s problems on our own or with the help of our family, our friends, or a self-help book.
Hopefully, most of us recognize that counseling is something many of us can benefit from at some point in our lives. It’s not just for crazy people anymore! It’s a way for us to gain a new perspective on our problems and to access resources in ourselves, our families, and our communities that can help us solve problems and overcome various difficulties or challenges we may be facing. If nothing else, it can help us gain a greater understanding of ourselves, something that John Calvin recognized as a necessary step in coming to understand God, claiming in fact that without knowledge of self there is no true knowledge of God, and vice versa (Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 1).
But what about Christian counseling in particular? How is it different from what you might find at the local mental health center down the street? For one thing, it is important to realize that every psychological theory of how people function (and the disorders that are then described based on that theory) arises out of some fundamental worldview. By that I mean a view or understanding of who we are, how we came to be, why we are here, and where we are going. Usually, this worldview is left unspoken and you have to read between the lines.
For example, Freud’s worldview was based largely on the work of Charles Darwin. This work attempted to explain the existence of creation without reference to a divine creator. For Freud, human beings are nothing more than the most highly evolved animals on the planet. All human behavior could therefore ultimately be explained as a desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain – like the rest of the animal kingdom. All of Freud’s intricate theories and psychological techniques are based upon this worldview.
As Christians, our world view rest on the belief that there is an ultimate divine being who created the universe and who continues to sustain it and be involved in it. We believe this divine being, God, is a personal being (and not just an impersonal cosmic force) who has revealed Himself to human beings over the course of time. The record of that revelation and interaction with the human race is contained in the Bible.
It is through the Bible that we learn how we came to be (created by God), who we are (God’s children, made in His image) why we are here (to honor and love God as well as those who have been made in His image), and where we are going (to be with God forever in paradise). All of this was made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man, who came to set creation back on track after it was disrupted and distorted by Adam and Eve’s willful disregard of God’s rule over them. Such rebellion has been reenacted in all of our lives ever since. It is only by turning from our self-centered ways, accepting what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and allowing His Spirit to enter into our lives that God, with our cooperation, can begin transforming us back into the types of people He originally intended for us to be.
Obviously, we must recognize that Freud’s starting place is incorrect. That does not mean Freud did not have some helpful or insightful things to say about human behavior. After all, we recognize that although we are more than just animals, we do share much in common with the animal world. Nonetheless, if we went to a counselor who saw us only as highly evolved animals, an important element would be left out of the picture. That element is our standing before God as creatures made in His image, gifted with the Holy Spirit, having eternal value and significance that goes beyond this present life on earth. It includes not only that we are loved by a Being totally above and beyond us, but also that we are held accountable to the same Being for how we chose to live our lives and the decisions we make. Will we spend our time and resources seeking to build our own kingdom, or will we seek to build the Kingdom of God?
That’s where Christian counseling comes in. We understand that as mortal beings, we share much in common with the other animal species on this planet. We have similar urges, needs, desires, instincts, and fears. It sometimes helps us understand ourselves better by studying the behavior and reactions of monkeys, dogs, and mice. But we must never lose sight of the fact that there is something about being human, and then being a Christian beyond that, that sets us apart from all other creatures and makes us quite distinct. We are the only ones made in God’s image; the only ones called into relationship with God; the only ones held accountable for our actions; the only ones that need to be, and have been redeemed by the death of Jesus on the cross. God did not become a dog or a chimpanzee. God became a human being and lived among us, a fact revealed to us in the Bible. Trying to fix faulty human functioning without a working knowledge of the Bible is like trying to fix a machine without the manufacturer’s operation and repair manual. For one thing you wouldn’t know what normal functioning was supposed to be, and you wouldn’t know how to fix it if you thought it was malfunctioning.
If this truth is not taken into consideration during the counseling process, it’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing. You may make some progress, but the end result will be disappointing. I will conclude with a quote from one of Freud’s earliest disciples, Car Jung, who later split away to found his own school of thought: “Those psychiatrists who are not superficial have come to the conclusion that the vast neurotic miseries of the world could be termed a neurosis of emptiness. Men cut themselves off from the root of their being – from God – and their life turns empty, inane, meaningless, without purpose. When God goes out, value goes, and life turns dead on our hands.”
In the end, if counseling is going to be truly helpful, it must lead us (or at least prepare the way for us) to reconnect with the “root of our being”, with God. For it is then, and only then, that we are able to reach our full potential as children of God.
By Dr. Duane Kellogg, Jr.
Thoughts? Please comment!