6.12.2011

Sin and Psychology

"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 also 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: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community)

2 comments:

steven hamilton said...

While I am personally a huge fanboy of Bonhoeffer, and I wouldn't just endorse the holistic conception of psychology to replace the concept of "sin" or "sinner", I currently struggle with people using "sin" and "sin-talk", after being challenged on the topic of "sin" both by Winn Griffin's SVS paper, and another challenge from a friend, where we went and studied it in the OT and NT. I don't have an issue with being someone in need of a redeemer, a savior...Jesus I need you today and always. But biblically-speaking, what the English translates as one word - "sin" - both the Hebrew and Greek have 3 or 4 words for, which make it much more specific and relatable, I think. One word is the most common, "missing the mark", which can basically translate as "short-comings", we all come up short...I've found that people relate to that more holistic idea than the word 'sin'. Another Hebrew/Greek word means "transgression or out-of-bounds", which a more specific translation used today would be: "Hey, man, sorry, I was way out-of-bounds with (insert whatever happened)". I find that that too is relatable. Then, another Hebrew and Greek word is "rebellion", and even with that, I find if I talk "rebelliousness" with people, it's much more relatable that the mere word "sin". Thus, I wonder if we might be more biblical if we actually used differing words that were much more specific, then we might be better understood with "sin-talk"?

Steve S. said...

I am with you with one caveat...

While I agree that 'sin' is often misunderstood (as are so many of the terms we use) and we would do better to explain what we mean in language that better conveys the details, the word sin has one thing going for it...

...we don't like it!

The word sin makes us feel icky. I think this is exactly what Bonhoeffer is getting at.