A Healthy Mind, and the God Who Is

Although I do missions work, and teach missions in seminary, my primary day-to-day job is as an administrator of a pastoral care and counseling center in the Philippines. As such, I read more books on counseling and pastoral care than most in missions. A recent one I have been reading is “Theology & Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach” by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger. Chapter 4 speaks of the issues of Theological Adequacy and Psychological Functionality. The chapter depends considerably on another book (that I have not read): “The Birth of the Living God: A Psychoanalytic Study” by Ana-Maria Rizzuto.

I thought I would adjust some of the materials to be more useful (to me at least) from the perspective of missions.

psychology and Theology 2The above chart would make a bit more sense as a 3-dimensional chart (cube), and would include more options (for example a person with correct views about God that are at odds with the religious environment that he or she resides within). However, the chart here appears to be adequate for most cases.

The X-axis has to do with a persons understanding with regards to God. There are three choices shown:

  • The God Who Is. The individual’s understanding of God conforms closely to the God who is (God as actuality, not projection).
  • Heterodox. God Who Is Not. The individual resides within a faith community that teaches about God, and that teaching conforms closely to the God who is. However, the individual’s own projection of God differs from his or her own faith community (and the God who is). This the person would be  thought of as heterodox within his or her own faith community.
  • Orthodox. God Who Is Not. The agrees with his or her own faith community/religion, and agrees with their beliefs. However, the teachings of that group are of a god that does not correspond well with the God who is. The individual has false beliefs but would be viewed as orthodox beliefs with respect to his or her own faith community.

The Y-axis has to do with the psychological well-being based on the individual’s understanding of God. There are two choices listed:

  • Healthy/Edifying. The individual’s beliefs about God support a healthy mind and emotional state (and social life) allowing the person to grow as a person.
  • Unhealthy/Destructive. The individual’s beliefs about God create an unhealthy mind and emotional state (and social life) creating stunted or regressive development as a person.

These axes and options covered create six options.

  1. “X”: I put an “X” through one of the options. This is, admittedly, a faith position. However, I believe that a healthy understanding of God as He truly is, will help promote a healthy holistic life. This does not deny problems… but rather assumes that a correct understanding of who God TRULY is is a key factor towards healthy mind and relationships. Since we were created by God and created to have a healthy relationship with God… it seems doubtful that a correct understanding of God would promote problems.
  2. “A”: This category is the IDEAL situation. The individual has a belief system about God that closely conforms to God as He truly is. That belief promotes a healthy mind, emotional state, and relationships. This is aided by being in a faith community that has an understanding of the God who is, and appropriate nurture, conversion, and sanctification/discipleship within that faith community.
  3. “B”: This category is covered in two squares but both involve having an unhealthy psychological condition that comes from a projected god, rather than knowing God as He is. The person may be in a faith community that teaches the truth or a faith community that does not. Regardless, correcting the falsehoods is key. The difference is to what extent one utilizes the structure of their own faith community. If they are “heterodox” within their own community (believing what is false, but in a community that believes what is true) it MIGHT be easier than if they are in a community that believes and teaches what is false.
  4. “C”: Things are more difficult here. The person has a belief system that “works” at least at a psychological level. The goal is to move them to the box marked “A”. However, careless (and uncaring) work may push them to one of the boxes marked “B” or “D”. In fact, it is quite common. People sharing faith may lead a person to question their own beliefs, but that may only open themselves up to new thoughts and allegiances that our farther from where they need to be. In this category, “C”, they are in a faith community that teaches what is true, so gently working with them and utilizing the support structure within that faith community is important.
  5. “D”: This is, perhaps, the most difficult. The person is in, and accepts, a faith community that believes what is not true about God… but the belief system “works” for the individual, at least psychologically. Again, it is important not to do damage where the person shifts into a “B” box. But then the question comes as to whether one can utilize the support system in the faith community that they reside in. In Pastoral Care, it is assumed that healing can occur in the faith community a person is in, even if the beliefs within that community are false. I think that this can be true, but some groups have beliefs that are very unhealthy and it is uncertain that they can be utilized to help the person. One may focus on getting them to change allegiance fast… to a group that teaches the truth. That may, however, move them to a “C” or a “B” box… not necessarily an improvement. Those in a “D” category box will be hard to change because their belief seems to work for them. Gentleness and understanding is important here.

No real answers in this post… just some things to think about. Looking this over… I can see now that the 3-dimensional graph may have important insights that are lost with this simplified one. But as a tentative, preliminary look… I think it works.

By the way, I am not suggesting that psychological well-being is only a function of having “Right Thoughts.” Far from it. I am simply noting the relative importance temporally of knowing God as He is in the lives we live.


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