Psychology! Already you are probably skeptical and suspicious, aren’t you? Usually when one hears that word he immediately thinks of the psychiatrist and his couch. But really psychology is much more than that. Even in its simplest form it enters into our lives every day. Children use psychology on their parents and parents use it on their children. If a child wants to ask his parents for something he “automatically” knows when the most opportune time has arrived. Every time you try to convince someone of something you are actually using psychology on him. So, to categorically condemn psychology is to condemn methods and techniques that you employ yourself nearly every day.
But psychology is more than just such an elementary concept as mentioned above. It is formally defined as “a scientific study of the behavior of living organisms.” This includes the systematic knowledgeable approach required of all sciences. As a science, it attempts to explain the WHY of the behavior that we engage in unconsciously. Just as medical science can explain how the digestive processes slow down when you are engaged in strenuous activity, so can the science of psychology explain how you will act under situations of stress. However, each person acts differently to the same extent that each person’s bodily processes are somewhat unique. That unique “something” in each person is called his personality or his psychological make-up. It consists of the totality of the characteristics (likes, dislikes, desires, needs, etc.) that influence his behavior. Just as your body needs food, water, and air, so does your personality need certain things. It needs, among other things, love, understanding, friendship, and a god to serve. Some people feel the need for these more than others and will go to greater lengths to acquire them. Perhaps an actual example will serve to illustrate the idea.
Just a short time ago I was engaged in a counseling session with a juvenile delinquent from Detroit who had been committed to Boys’ Training School for robbery. When we discussed why he had gotten into trouble he told me that in the neighborhood in which he lived every one of his “friends” committed these various crimes and that in order to be accepted as one of the gang he too had to steal. Upon further questioning it became evident that he had a tremendous need for acceptance and that rather than lose his friends he would steal instead. I am sure that we are all agreed on the fact that he stole because he is sinful. He is surely responsible for his actions but (whereas the ultimate cause may be his total depravity) the human cause is his need for acceptance by the peer group. His environment placed him in such a position that he was faced with the temptation to steal. Then some aspect of his psychological make-up pulled him in one direction and his natural knowledge of right and wrong pulled him in the other. Many people are placed in similar situations and never yield to the overt act of stealing because their psychological needs are not as great as this boy’s were. However, in a case such as the one mentioned above (assuming for the moment that he is unregenerate) any decision that he might have made would have necessarily been a sinful one because his unregenerate heart is incapable of making any decisions that are not contrary to God’s commands. His whole being is at enmity with God and he desires only to disobey Him.
The next question that we may logically ask is, How do the children of God differ from the unregenerate and in what different way are their decisions influenced by their personality? Except for their true love for God the personality structures are basically the same. They too have their likes, dislikes, desires, and needs, just as the unregenerate do. The old man of sin is still in them and their behavior is affected by it. Perhaps one more illustration will help to make the difference somewhat clear.
Assume that in the school that you are attending the day has come for the big test. Assume also the very real possibility that you are faced with the temptation to cheat, either by looking at someone else’s paper or by letting them look at yours. Now YOU are faced with the responsibility of sinning or of saying no and not cheating. The choice is yours to make and you will be held responsible for it, before God and man. Will you say no and run the risk of having your “friends” turn against you or of getting a very low grade on the test, or will you take the seemingly easy way out and cheat and then rationalize by saying that it wasn’t really so bad because everyone else did it too? Does sinning by groups make it less wrong? Here too each person’s psychological make-up enters in to pull against his knowledge of right and wrong, only in this case it is more than just a case of natural morals. It should now be a strong conviction against sin. If your need for acceptance or for high grades is so strong that it overpowers your desire to restrain from sin, then you will probably give in and cheat. The fact that this need overpowers you is due to your own sinfully weakened human nature and in no way excuses you from the seriousness of the sin. You still have the responsibility to say no.
One last thing to consider now is how one can say no to an overpowering need in his personality that he may not even realize is present. First, we must admit that a sin has been committed and this sin needs forgiveness. Prayer for strength to restrain at a later time is also necessary, but how does one pray for strength to fight something that he doesn’t even know is present? So, in addition to prayer, one must also recognize the reason that the situation brings about a temptation within him. He must have an awareness of his internal and unconscious weakness. Why is it such a temptation for him to cheat? The answer to such a question is not very easy to arrive at by oneself. Unless you have a tremendous ability of introspection (looking within yourself) you probably won’t be able to recognize your problem without help. But to whom should you go for help? A counseling psychologist? Perhaps. But first why don’t you try your minister or if the problem is one that the minister really can’t help you with, then see your school counselor (if you are fortunate enough to have one in your school). Talking to a good listener will very often help you to help yourself understand your problem. But always remember that solutions to your problems can only come in direct connection with prayer. The Lord’s counsel is the best and it is ultimately He alone who can help you through your struggles.
. . . overseers or rulers are set over the churches, to reprimand sin, not to spare it. Nor is a man fully free from blame who is not in authority, but who notices in those persons he meets in social life many faults he should censure and admonish. He is blameworthy if he fails to do this out of fear of hurting feelings or of losing such things as he may licitly enjoy in this life, but to which he is unduly attracted.
— St. Augustine