March 8

What Fellowship Has Theology with Psychology?

Now we are getting to the crux of this blog.

Having introduced myself and my theme, and having presented my definition of theology and given a summary of my beliefs, it is now time to turn to a consideration of psychology and what I mean when I use that word.  Today’s post will be a brief introduction to that topic from which we will backtrack to “the beginning.”

Light and darkness?

The title of this post refers, of course, to the passage in II Corinthians 6:14-16 which includes the phrase, “…what fellowship has light with darkness?” because of the instant association of the word psychology with either the sexual overtones and undertones of Freud, or the shallow self-absorption of pop psychology, both of which offer easy targets for Christians to pick off.

However...

those associations are both too specific and too far downstream from what I mean when I speak of psychology.  I have in view the thoughts, emotions, motivations, will and resultant behaviors of humans who are created in the image of God.  I am looking at what makes humans human.  What are the causes of their behaviors?  What are the animating forces within their bodies?  Why do they operate the way they do and what is the optimal way for them to operate?  What was God’s purpose in giving them the faculties which he did?

Those pesky emotions

We are fairly comfortable talking about thoughts, will and behavior.  We can define and observe them.  The real sticking point, the concept that gums up the works and induces dyspepsia, the subject which gets us all upset and...you know...emotional...is emotions.  How should we think about and deal with emotions?

To be more specific, what is the nature of emotions?  Are they good and useful, bad and destructive, or neutral and amoral?  Can they be trusted?  What is the nature and relationship of heart, mind, soul and spirit, not to mention belly and bowels?  How can we know what our core motivations are?  Should we be guided and motivated by emotions or by reason or by God’s Spirit?

They were there from the beginning

Emotions were present in humans from the beginning, long before anyone began to study them or organize them into theoretical systems.  We have it on good authority.  First, emotions are attributed to human beings throughout Scripture.  Second, and even more fundamentally, emotions are attributed to God in whose image humans are made.

The Bible is full of expressions of emotions.  A primary biblical emotion is joy.  Joy wells up inside us at the realization of God’s grace and mercy to us while we were still in the misery and defiance of our sin.  Joy is mentioned 179 time in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  Sorrow is mentioned 35 times, sad 9 times, tears 48 times, anger or angry 363 times, fear 353 times, happy 11 times, glad or gladness 140 times, weep, weeping or wept 179 times.  The Bible also describes the tenderness of a mother or father; filial love; romantic and erotic love; anxiety; depression; despair; hopelessness.  No, the Bible does not avoid talk of emotions.  On the contrary, they feature prominently in the narrative.

Many of these mentions occur without approbation; they are simply observations of human experience.  Far from being dismissed or condemned, emotions are considered worthy of our attention and sympathy.  It is one way we connect with other human beings and especially with the household of faith.  God specifically commands his people to “feel with” others:  weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, have compassion, be angry without sinning.  Conversely, he condemns a lack of emotion for the weak and needy and calls this hardness of heart.

The emotions of the Creator

God reveals his own emotions to us.  He rejoices over us with singing; he is wrathful toward his enemies; he expresses anguish over the hardness of his chosen people and is jealous when they love something else better than they love him.  And he weeps over the death of a friend.

To be sure, there are differences between God’s emotions and ours, differences which require careful distinction in order to avoid faulty application.  We need to take into account God’s holiness and perfection as opposed to the finiteness of created beings.  And most significantly we must account for the toxic effect of the fall on every part of life, including human emotions.  And in order to do that, we must start with humans in their original state of innocence.  But those are posts for future days.  For now, my point is simply that emotions are an integral part of God’s nature and they are an integral part of our nature.

So I'd like to refine our question to this:  

What fellowship has the Creator with his creatures?

II Corinthians 6: 14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.


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