Psychologists Are at a Supreme Disadvantage in Understanding Man

Thursday Musings

Psychologist CouchPulled this from Justin Taylor’s Blog sometime ago. It’s a great quote from Bonhoeffer speaking of the nature of sin and the beauty and freedom of real Christian brotherhood.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together:

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.

Psychologist Couch (dogs)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.

Thanks to Andy Rowell for the reference in the critical edition: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (vol. 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 115.

Updated: 1-9-14

Why do people, even Christians, seem to prefer the run to the cultural counselor or therapy of the moment, rather than to the living God or even their brothers and sisters in Christ who will point them to the living God?

7 thoughts on “Psychologists Are at a Supreme Disadvantage in Understanding Man

  1. Amen Marty! I think it’s the same with love as with sin. Psychologists can’t see the emotion of love as the Holy Spirit working through us. To them its just a feeling, so they lose the opportunity to inspire us with the belief that love is so much more than that. Christians can believe that the love they feel, cling to, and dwell in, is the presence of the creator of all things. And that perspective can make all the difference in the world to ones happiness and well being.


  2. It’s the Cross that is the Great Divide! On one side all flows to perdition, on the other all flows to Glory. Before the Cross, there is no understanding, after the Cross, all is understood.
    Praise the Lord.


    1. And yet it is before the cross that we must go. The part of discipleship is the training of the heart to conform to the reality of what God has declared about us, so that God can do in us what he longs to do for us and for his glory.


      1. I don’t deny we need to ‘go before the cross’, as you put it. But my therapist helps me work through stuff I can’t work through on my own. I need both.


  3. Mental Illness is an illness that can also be a physical illness. It is a proven fact people with alcoholism have a chemical imbalance and that is “physical.” They often times need to be subscribed an anti-depressant to help with depression due to a chemical imbalance. I believe God works through people such as doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Of course, we first seek God, and then God will direct us to healing. For example, Celebrate Recovery. I’m not sure what is being said here. Are you saying that the Christian should not go to psychologists? I just want to be clear on what the intentions of this article is about…. Thanks, Marty.


    1. No doubt there is such a thing as mental illness. And of course I praise God for the ministry of Celebrate Recovery and the lives being encouraged and changed there. But our culture puts an over-abundance of trust in psychology often times when the word of God has much better and more effective answeres to most issues of life.

      Bonhoeffer’s point is that when it comes to understanding the human heart, the word of God is far more trustworthy source than modern psychology.


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