Psychology and Spirituality: Are God’s Commands Written On Our Hearts?

January 28, 2020

As a Christian therapist, I often ask myself what is distinctive about Christian counseling.  This is especially on my mind with the ever-increasing discoveries in brain science which describe the marvels of our brains, our ever-changing brains, our brains which God created.  How does Christian counseling differ from secular counseling?  Is there an interface between the spiritual and the psychological, between the divine and the human?  Do they impact each other?   

Much of the scientific work focuses on the emotional woundedness we all carry with us through our lives, based on the all-too-human reactions we have from our interactions with others.  This is the psychological, human aspect.  On the other hand, the spiritual aspect concerns how we respond to God and His revelations to us.  His revelations are clearly expressed in the ten commandments.  Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17), and again, He advised a rich young man to obey the commandments if he wished to enter eternal life (Matt 19:17). 

Is there an interface between brain science and the ten commandments?  Are God’s commands written on our hearts as St. Paul tells us in Rom 2:15?  The answer is yes!  It is easy to find examples of how our hearts respond to sin.  Dostoevky’s classic novel “Crime and Punishment” tells about the torment that Rodya Raskolnikov suffered after murdering the pawnbroker Alyona and her sister Lizaveta, until he finally admitted his guilt and confessed.  Many of us go through similar but lesser torments — maybe after hurting a friend’s reputation by lies, then finding out we have lost a friend.  

On a deeper level, many women and men experience torment for years and years after an abortion, yet ignore the pain and bury it deep inside, all the while trying to believe society’s lie that abortion does not violate God’s commands.  Like Rodya Raskolnikov, their heart cannot rest until they confess the sin and seek healing – maybe through a Christian counselor or maybe through attending a post-abortion healing retreat.   On a brighter note, many find tremendous joy when opening their heart to Jesus, receive Him into their heart, and begin to honor the first commandment to love God above all else.

The ten commands, written on two tablets, have three commands on one tablet exhorting us to love God, and seven on the other teaching us how to love one another.  They are also written on the right and left sides of our hearts.  The first three commands are written on the right side of our hearts, because this side of our heart pumps blood to the lungs to receive life-giving oxygen before returning it to the left side of our hearts.  As we obey the first three commandments and love God with our whole heart, we receive life and peace and can live in the oxygen-rich atmosphere of God’s Holy Spirit.  The left side of our heart receives the oxygen-rich blood and pumps it through our entire body – to our muscles, brain, and internal organs.  In the same way, after obeying the first three commands to love God, we go filled with God’s Spirit to love others in a life in conformity with the final seven commands. 

The good news is that when we pay attention to all God’s commands, we find healing, freedom, and a path in life that honors both our brain’s need for healing and our spiritual need to be right with God and others. 

John photo

John O'Brien has experience in a variety of mental health circumstances. Before joining the Meier Clinic in Maryland, he has worked in an inpatient behavioral health unit, a community mental health clinic, elder care case management, a shelter for homeless men, a day program for adults with special needs, and nursing homes. Since graduating from the University of Maryland School of Social Work in 2002, his work has been informed by training in Accelerated Expressive Psychodynamic Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Spiritual Direction, and specialized courses in suicidality, psychosis, and autism.

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