Biblical faith affirms that God heals and transforms believers in this life and the next. In the natural realm, healing is associated with medicine and related physical sciences. In the last sixty or so years, western cultures have turned to psychotherapy and counseling for healing and often with a religious fervor that can overshadow God’s transformation and healing in the lives of Christians.
Christian Holiness and Healing
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Co 5:17).
God creates us anew. From beginning to end, it’s a work of God. The transformation is subtle, and we often appreciate the depth and breadth of it when we remember who we used to be. His Presence so permeates us that we are like the proverbial fish who when asked about water, responds, “What’s water?” God’s work in us is that intimate and essential.
We put on the new self when we seek his righteousness and holiness. Christians worship holy God, study his Word, and obey his commands. We love the unlovable and pray for those who persecute us. We experience deep sorrow for sins and profound regret for not trusting God with the most intimate concerns of life. In faith we pray, forgive those who wrong us, tell people the Good News, and care for those who cannot fend for themselves. The Holy Spirit woos us to love God more deeply. As we seek his holiness, God transforms us. His amazing grace shines through as he changes us to reflect the righteousness and holiness of Jesus.
Christ enables Christians to overcome bondage to such things as lying, stealing, gluttony, sexual immorality, drunkenness, idolatry, and consulting the spirits. He replaces these sinful behaviors with self-control, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and gentleness. (Gal 5:19–23)
We are not ignorant of Satan’s strategies. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one (1 Jn 5:19). The Holy Spirit enables us to resist his temptations.
Christians are more inclined to talk about dramatic outpourings of the Holy Spirit such as miraculous healings than this deep work of God. Mostly, we walk by faith that God is in and with us. We heal. We change.
Yet another kind of healing dominates our culture that can seem more trustworthy, expedient, and relevant to everyday life.
Psychotherapy and Counseling
In the mid-sixties, I worked as a psychiatric nurse at a state hospital for the mentally ill. In addition to group and community therapies, we used the theories of Sigmund Freud. He believed that human beings were born morally good and mentally healthy, but traumatic relationships and situations during formative years caused mental illness in adulthood. He further theorized that people had an unconscious mind that stored repressed memories of these traumas. They “ran in the background,” and broke through in dreams, “Freudian slips,” and destructive impulses, desires, and thoughts.
Freud prescribed a catharsis of abreaction to eradicate the disease. He encouraged patients to permit memories to enter the subconscious and conscious mind. In the light of day, patients could revisit and talk through traumatic situations and relationships and choose healthy ways of thinking and behaving. His theories made sense! A damaged root produced a twisted a tree. A damaged child failed to thrive in adulthood.
But researchers later revealed that diseases such as schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorders, bipolar disease, and severe depressions ran in families and had genetic etiologies. Psychotropic drugs dramatically improved the lives of the mentally ill. I received another degree and opened a private practice in individual, marriage, family, and group psychotherapy that I conducted for many years.
Freud and Christian Faith
Freud soundly rejected Scripture and biblical faith. He believed God was a myth, and he gave no credence to sin, Satan, heaven, and hell. He rejected the biblical mandate to repent and forgive those who wrong them. Instead he proposed that people could heal themselves—their soul, mind, spirit, heart, and will—aspects of a person that heretofore had been the domain of religion. The Bible supported none of his theories—neither the unconscious, role of repressed memories in adult mental illnesses, nor the catharsis of abreaction as the instrument of healing.
The Limits of Psychotherapy
Two situations forced me to acknowledge the limitations of psychotherapy and counseling. The first occurred in my mid-thirties. My psychotherapy practice thrived, and I had come to terms with my past. But a persistent, unsettling vacuum existed at my core that no personal effort filled. I realized that psychotherapy had overstated what it could do—it could not heal the innermost parts of me. I decided the problem was spiritual. I read books on spirituality, practiced meditation and yoga for an hour each morning, and joined a spiritual development group at a spiritualist church.
The second more serious challenge occurred seven years later when I attempted to withdraw from spiritualism. Evil spirits took control of my inner life which upended everything I believed. They used my mind and emotions to express their evil.
Though I could refuse to act on or speak aloud their evil, I could not complete a thought. I lived by rote. Among other tortures, they produced visions of my life. I stared at everyday situations from my early childhood through adulthood that I knew were true. Sometimes they twisted memories into horrendous visions of people doing dreadful things to me. They lied. But their ability to know private thoughts and details of my entire life horrified me. Had my life ever been my own? No. People were not independent, autonomous beings.
Even midst the horror, I knew this abject evil could not have the final say, lest no good or beauty could exist in the world. Spirit beings were destroying me, and only a superior spiritual source could make them leave. But how could I find it and how wrong was I?
Two and half years later Jesus Christ saved me. In the instant of salvation, Jesus revealed that the Bible was his Word, and I was to give it authority over my mind. When attacked, I reached for Jesus and prayed God’s Word back to him.
I worshipped, repented, forgave others, studied his Word, served the church, and told others about Christ. When demons pummeled me, I moved closer to the Savior, listened to praise music, and spoke aloud his Word. The demons receded. Generations of Christians and I testify that Jesus saves and heals his people—not only their hearts, but their entire lives.1
The Sufficiency of Christ
Psychotherapy and counseling can help people. A few examples are when mental health professionals support and educate women and men on the toll of accommodating abusive relationships and help them get to a safe place. Additionally, they offer help in managing conflicts, dealing with debilitating grief and anxieties, and overcoming addictions. Medical research and treatments have vastly improved the lives of people suffering from severe mental illnesses.
But my goodness, how did seeking help from professionals become the go-to solution instead of turning to God and his Word, the church, and Christian fellowship. Sometimes I wonder if there is a functional atheism when it comes to God’s ability to heal and change us.
Paul asked God to remove his “messenger from Satan” and God replied, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Co 12:9).
God uses trials to transform us. But we must draw closer to him, replace lies with biblical truth, and trust God to show us what to do. He meets us where we are and leads us out. Christ reveals his sufficiency and transforms us to reflect the holiness of Christ. He heals us. This is the gospel. This radical faith can seem silly in light of sophisticated human theories of change, but it’s true.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Co 3:18).
1 Sharon T. Beekmann, Rescued and Redeemed: How To Discern Demons From The Divine (Littleton: Illumify Media Global, 2018).