Psychiatry vs. the Cross


No God vs. Being Beneath the Cross

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards,according to what their actions deserve.

Jer. 17:9-10 (NLT)

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is.

Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this.

In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.

The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness.

The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), 155.

HT: Between Two Worlds

2 thoughts on “Psychiatry vs. the Cross

  1. Fr. Matt M

    Admittedly modern psychotherapy has a world view that is not biblical. However when therapeutic services are needed for someone with serious psychological ills a good psychotherapist is sometimes better than merely calling the ill person to repentance. And better still is the science of the desert fathers as represented in the Philokalia as well as the Spiritual exercises and principles of St Ignatius. The church has a long history of curing the soul, of plumbing the depths of the human heart and bringing healing. While we may reject modern psychotherapy, if we do so we need to reappropriate the rich tradition of soul care in the church that goes beyond a simple reading of the bible.

    God bless brother. Good meeting you in Orlando a month ago.
    Fr. Matt

  2. GlennDavis Post author

    Dear Fr. Matt:

    It is good to hear from you. I, too, enjoyed our time together at the CEC Theological Summit in Orlando. Bonhoeffer’s father,

    “Karl Bonhoeffer was the leading Berlin psychiatrist and neurologist from 1912 until his death in 1948 . . . He turned the city into a bastion against the invasion of Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis . . . In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s later work, it cannot be overlooked that psychoanalysis–even when relevant to his own field of pastoral care–either plays no part or is dismissed with contempt. Underlying this, of course, were theological prejudices in the spirit of Karl Barth, but his father’s quiet influence on him is undeniable.”

    Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (rev. ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 21-23.

    Karl and Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw what I have seen in my own family, college training, and pastoral experience that psychoanalysis fails to address the real issue and problem of the human heart–sin. Though I may suffer from struggles with depression, my tendency to withdraw into self-centered introspection cannot be healed until my heart is changed within me. At Calvary’s Hill, the power of the Cross is made known, the love of God manifested–Christ died so that I might be healed from myself. The power of the Cross restores the human heart through the (instantaneous and continual) work of the Holy Spirit, the love of a grace-filled community of believers, the healing contained in the sacraments, and the cleansing of the soul provided by the Word of God. As the Apostle Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom. 1:17). God’s glorious salvation not only forgives my sin but heals my soul which was broken, wounded, and marred by the Fall.

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