It is indeed with caution that I bring into the open the topic of psychology in the magazine for the covenant youth of the Protestant Reformed Churches. But I think we can all agree that it surely is time that this discipline is seen in all its stark reality, without the hostile biases of those in our circles who have written about, or spoken of it in such foul ways.
Let us take a glance at the “impact of psychology on Christianity.”
Perhaps first we can get a better and clearer picture of the concept of the unconscious. The theory is relatively new in the realm of theological thinking. Thus it has not been completely integrated into the concepts of theological thought, although I might add that it is generally accepted.
Mental life is theoretically divided into three parts: the conscious, preconscious, and the unconscious. The conscious is much smaller than generally supposed. It is made up only of ideas and feelings present in immediate awareness. Other mental content is easily recalled to consciousness, content which is only temporarily absent from central consciousness – the preconscious.
Quite different, however, is the unconscious. It is the greatest segment of the mind, a huge reservoir which contains all of our primitive impulses and desires which we dare not express (perhaps analogous to our totally depraved nature). These forbidden or socially disapproved impulses from the unconscious constantly strive to cross the threshold into consciousness. But because the “concept of the self” (ego) is unable to cope with these unacceptable feeling, the ego pushes them, as it were, from consciousness, thus producing conflicts within, which, if serious enough, result in neurosis.
This brings us to the concept of mental illness. Not many decades ago, people believed that emotional and mental illnesses were due to the possession of demons. Psychology has taught us that demon possession is no longer found, in general, in the world today. Psychology shows us that each mental disease entity has a definite symptom complex or group of symptoms by which it can be identified and distinguished from all other disease. Many theologians contend that the demonic period existed only during the time when Christ was on earth.
Working then from the idea of the possibility of mental and emotional disorder, we may assume there are “mental laws” which govern the mind, just as there are physical and moral laws and that these mental laws must be observed to attain and maintain mental health. I think we will all agree to the idea that parents are obliged to try to bring up their children to be mature, well-adjusted persons. There have been many observations of the parent-child relationship which have given us clues to the formation of mental laws. A specialist in personality reports that excessive punishment typically results in revolt, possibly with delinquency, submission and withdrawal marked by daydreaming and other escape devices; or outward submission, with smoldering inward antagonism. All have bad effects on personality development. However, I must add at this point, that appropriate punishment with the child being easily able to associate the punishment and the misdeed will in no way affect a normal child adversely.
There are also concepts of the accepted and rejected child. In general the accepted child will prove emotionally stable, well socialized, calm, and interested in things. The rejected child, on the other hand, will show emotional instability, restlessness, indifference, and antagonism.
A mental law which indeed can be useful for all of us can be found in Ephesians 4:25, 26, 27. “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one with another. Be ye angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil.”
Can we now say “just as faith without works is dead; so prayer without proper observance of mental laws can be in many cases useless?”
It is my prayer and supplication that we may have keener insights into the processes of the mind, enabling us to praise and glorify our Almighty God with our whole being; body, spirit, and MIND.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 7 October- November 1959