Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith

I just re-read “Psychology through the Eyes of Faith,” by David Myers and Malcolm Jeeves. This is maybe the best book I’ve ever read that reflects on mainstream psychological science from a Christian perspective. These are some points that struck me on this reading.

“. . . men go out and gaze in astonishment at high mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad reaches of rivers, . . . the stars in their courses. But they pay not attention to themselves.” (Augustine)

I always have loved how Myers and Jeeves describe their understanding of the relationship between religion and science:

“It’s like viewing a masterpiece painting. If you stand right up against it you will understand better how the paint was applied, but you will miss completely the subject and impact of the painting as a whole. To say the painting is ‘nothing but’ or ‘reducible to’ blobs of paint may at one level be true, but it misses the beauty and meaning that can be seen if one steps back and views the painting as a whole.”

Similarly, these authors suggest, science only provides information on “what” and “how” questions. Religion, on the other hand, deals with questions of meaning, questions of “why.”

Myers and Jeeves at one point discuss research on meditation, which since the time of their writing, has exploded. In fact, research increasingly shows that meditation helps people physically and psychologically, and increasingly is being incorporated into psychotherapy. However, this doesn’t have to be a solely Eastern practice. As these authors point out, there are Christian forms of meditation as well. “‘Sit down alone and in silence,’ advised the fourteenth-century mystic Gregory of Sinai. ‘Lower your head, shut your eyes, breath out gently, and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. . . As you breath out, say Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. . . Try to put all other thoughts aside. be calm, be patient, and repeat the process very frequently.'”

Given the degree to which humans have problems thinking accurately, Myers and Jeeves discuss the value of doubt a great deal. For instance, they say:

“. . . it’s okay to have doubts. Doubt reveals a mind that asks questions, a humble mind, one that does not presume its own ideas to be certainties, one that checks its presumptions against the data of God’s creation. Indeed, the intellectually honest words belief, faith, and hope acknowledge uncertainty. . . One need not await 100 percent certainty before risking a thoughtful leap across the chasm of uncertainty. One can choose to marry in the hope of a happy life. One can elect a career, believing it will prove satisfying. One can fly across the ocean, having faith in the pilot and the plane. To know that we are prone to error does not negate our capacity to glimpse truth, nor does it rationalize living as a fence straddler. Sometimes, said the novelist Albert Camus, life calls us to make a 100 percent commitment to something about which we are 51 percent sure.”

In another section, they write, with a similar theme:

“‘Christian religion,’ said C. S. Lewis, ‘is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in [dismay], and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay.’ The first step toward wholeness and inner peace is to acknowledge that self-interest and self-deception taint every corner of our lives. The insights gleaned from psychological research on illusory thinking and self-serving pride therefore have deep Christian significance, for they reinforce the biblical view of our human limits and our spiritual poverty.”

Sometimes, the authors explicitly discuss psychological research findings in light of Bible stories, such as the wisdom of Mary, who was willing to enjoy the moment with Jesus, as opposed to Martha who always was someplace else psychologically.

I love how Myers and Jeeves connect Carl Rogers ideas about what he termed “necessary and sufficient conditions” for change – empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard – with grace. As they suggest, “What better definition of grace than unconditional positive regard – knowing someone as he or she truly is and valuing the person nonetheless.”

Most of the time, Christian psychologists really are not psychologists as much as they are applied theologians. In closing, what I like most about this book is that the authors are both fully psychologists and fully Christians and do not think that there is a problem with integrating the two. I agree. As they close, all truth ultimately is God’s truth.

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