Man has never needed science to inform him that he is far above all other things living and nonliving. Our physical and our mental capacities are too obviously superior for man to miss this point.

Yet the scientific approach to the study of man has taught us much. From physics, from chemistry, from biology, from psychology, from sociology, from anthropology came an outpouring of information, and it seemed for a time that we would soon learn all we needed to know to understand everything about man, his nature, and his world.

Many people of today may yearn for the balmy years late in the last century and early in this one when science reigned supreme; when the delightful enlightenment notion of the perfectibility of man was still tenable; when the myth of the progressive evolution of man to higher and higher levels of attainment was assumed by all; and when the religious faith of scientistic determinism remained a vibrant option in the marketplace of Weltanschauungs. Every day, in every way, things did seem to be getting better. Man could seem secure in his sense of autonomy and unafraid of his future. He was in control; God was no longer needed.

This secular and materialistic world view dominated the academic and professional communities during the early decades of this century. And under the guise of scholarly “higher criticism” it also penetrated very deeply into the Christian churches.

This profound change in the thinking of the intellectual elite could be borne for a time by Western society without undue harm. From the Judeo-Christian tradition a rich matrix of assumptions about the nature of man and ethical guides for living had permeated the people, and many continued to hold this tradition in its entirety. Even those in the intellectual community who sniped and sometimes sneered at the sacred took for granted the Christian anthropology of man, even when they denied the Christ who gave this high view of man its substance.

Then unsettling things began happening. A kind of uncertainty started to appear in physics, the queen bee of all the sciences. With the work of Maxwell, Planck, Einstein, and others, that which had once seemed firm, secure, mechanical, measurable, and ultimately verifiable now appeared much more ephemeral. The basic datum of physics became energy rather than matter. With atomic physics it became apparent that at the very core of nature the observer must become a participant in what he was observing and that this affected his findings. The notion of the fully objective scientific observer could be held no more. Heisenberg’s “principle of uncertainty” and Bohr’s “principle of complementarity” became much more relevant to the new knowledge in physics than were the more deterministic models of yesteryear. Bertalanffy’s concept of “open systems” became more congenial to the intellectual temper of the modern hard sciences than the idea of uniformitarianism within a closed system so dominant only a hundred years ago.

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What is more, in Germany, where the spirit of Nietzsche had waxed its strongest and where science had flourished as in no other land, a spirit of evil arose that revulsed the entire Western world. Hitler did much to take the sheen from secular humanism.

Then, horror of horrors, the greatest technical achievement of modern science was exploded over Japan. With this the security that so many had till then found in the religion of materialistic determinism faded away. Then came the woes of modern man. The rape of planet earth. Changes and more changes. More and more for the body, less and less for the nurture of the spirit. Feelings of alienation and meaninglessness. “Future Shock,” as so clearly described by Toffler, was upon us. And we were without the living hope of the Christian faith to carry us through these woes.

Just when the technology of science had reached its maturity and the discoveries of science had reached their zenith, scientism failed as a world view (though its death rattles are still sounding loud and clear in academic and professional circles). And some eternally important questions that had seemed stilled for a time again came to the fore. Who am I? Where am I going? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of suffering, of defeat, of death? What is the basis for the dignity and worth of myself and of my fellow man? What is our ultimate destiny?

Jesus of Nazareth in Judea, the son of Mary, is a very real figure in space and in time. While he was here on earth, he asserted that he was the Messiah, the Christ long before predicted by the prophets of the Jews, and he declared that the miraculous deeds he did validated this claim. He suffered the agonizing death of crucifixion under the charge of blasphemy, i.e., calling himself God. This charge he in no way denied. Rather, he claimed for himself identity with a unique sonship to the very God who had been revealing himself to the Jewish nation for the millennium and a half before that time.

This uniquely remarkable man gave full credence to the Jewish scriptures as God-given and God-inspired. He discussed the wonderful account those scriptures gave of the creation of man by God and the subsequent fall of man in Adam. This account was important and informative in regard to both the nature of man and the reason for Jesus’ own sojourn among us. And this teaching, unique to the Jewish scriptures, of man wonderfully and perfectly created and man woefully and terribly fallen, is of singular importance to the subject we are considering.

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In that remarkably short book known as the New Testament, we are informed—by eyewitnesses—that this Jesus of history, who had died and had been buried for three days in a tomb, broke the bonds of death in a bodily resurrection from the grave. Forty days later, like Enoch of the Old Testament, he was “translated,” and taken into heaven. After that, we who are in space, in time, and in history saw him no more. But his short visit among us changed the course of history, altered the map of the world, and changed the hearts and minds of men as no other historical incident before or since has done.

Belief in this man Jesus does radical things to one’s perspective of himself, to one’s ideas of his own nature, and to one’s appreciation of himself in relation to his fellow man.

The Bible says that Jesus “led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men.” What sort of freedom did he offer? What kinds of gifts did he give?

Jesus made extreme and even, some would say, absurd claims. “I am the light of the world,” said he. “I am come that ye may have life and have it more abundantly.” He saw himself not only as the liberator of man, but as the giver of life to man. “God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, and of love and of a sound mind,” said the Apostle Paul.

Now what are the particulars of claims like this, and how do they apply to the work of those of us who are counselors and therapists?

First of all, the cardinal Judeo-Christian doctrines give us a place to start as we seek to serve and to liberate the potential of our fellow man. Consider these three great biblical teachings: (1) man and woman are created in the image of God; (2) man is a being of such a nature that the everlasting God himself would choose him as the place for his own habitation, as he did in Jesus; and (3) each person is of such worth in the eye of God, his Maker, that God himself would suffer on the cross to enable man to have life here and eternal life hereafter. These three teachings combine to establish man as a being of worth, of unique dignity, and of responsibility.

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Amid the endless galaxies surrounding us, man is not an insignificant being. Despite his seemingly limitless capacity for acts of folly and perversity, man remains a being of infinite worth. Despite the degree of his physical or mental handicap, his emotional disorder, his mental retardation, his social deviance, his criminality, his schizophrenia, his learning disability, the person coming to us for help, this our fellow man, remains a being of such dignity and worth that he demands our very utmost in respect, love, and service. His God-likeness cannot be denied him.

Through doctrines like these Jesus liberates our potential by giving us a firm basis for believing in the inherent worth of ourselves and of our fellow human beings.

As created beings we are necessarily dependent beings. Created in the image of God, we are made in and for relationship and for family. As the triune God is in family, so we created in his image are in family; we are complete only in relationship to others. God in his revelation of himself to us in the Old Testament, God through the Christ, God through his revelation by the apostles, repeatedly informs us that without him we can do nothing. Only in him, in being rightly related to him and to our fellow man, can we find ourselves.

Having recognized man’s dependency as central to his true identity, we find ourselves in a position to examine the uniquely Christian orientation to human freedom. The Christian knows that true freedom is found only in subjection, that this is the only way to avoid the worst subjection, subjection to the self. “Whosoever loseth his life for my sake,” said Jesus, “shall find it.” We are “bound yet free,” said the Apostle Peter. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” said our Lord, and this “truth” of which he spoke was himself, a person in space, in time, in history, one with whom we can establish a personal relationship.

Jesus also frees us to fulfill our human potential by making it unnecessary to pretend either to ourselves or to others that we are autonomous, self-sufficient, and heroic beings. There is real freedom in being accepted by the living God as the helplessly dependent beings that we know ourselves to be, and that we are surely known to be by those nearest to us.

Jesus knows that we need—not “want” but “need”—to be related to others. God told us this long before Ribble, Spitz, Bowlby, and others so fully demonstrated it scientifically. Alone and without love we die. Life itself is as dependent on relationship with others as it is on food.

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Man, created in the image of God, is not only a dependent being but also a responsible and accountable one. In his revelation of himself in the Bible, God never hesitates to face us with profound paradoxes. Indeed, the biblical view of the nature of man is the only one capable of measuring up to the utter complexity we find in our scientific study of man, and in the persons we psychiatrists deal with in our professional practice.

Having been made in the image of the God who has created him, man is a being capable of independent thought, freedom of choice, and the ability to decide between right and wrong. In short, man has freedom of the will. In all God’s dealings with man, as recorded in both the Jewish and the Christian scriptures, he approaches him as a being with free will. As such God holds man responsible and accountable for his own acts.

This is both a glorifying and a terrifying perspective on man. With the freedom to choose goes the responsibility for choice. Along with the capacity to sin goes the expectation of judgment. But, without this very dreadful accountability to a sovereign God, man would be demeaned. If he could not sin, neither could he do good. Freedom cannot exist without accountability.

What has this discussion of free will and of sin to do with our professional lives as psychiatrists? Much. Again and again we are forced to say to our patients, “The responsibility to decide rests with you.” This approach (which is very helpful to patients) rests squarely on the Judeo-Christian presupposition that man has freedom of the will and can change his behavior.

An agnostic colleague of mine told me a few years ago that he gave up psychiatry because he could no longer say to his patients with any degree of honesty, “You must decide that for yourself.” He no longer thought his patients had this capacity. Therefore he was right to give up clinical psychiatry.

Medicine, counseling, all the helping professions, drive from and are dependent upon these inherently Christian presuppositions about the nature of man: that man has inherent dignity and worth; that his identity is found in dependency and relationships; that he has freedom of the will. While our professions have done much to increase the true freedom of man, let us never forget how dependent we are on the revelation of Jesus Christ for our working presuppositions.

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God in Christ liberates our potential not only by telling us who we are but also by giving to our lives a sense of purpose and a sense of destiny—that is, a reason for being and an ultimate end that is more than nothingness.

He wants us to emulate his limitless love for us in our love for others. As he, God himself, suffered on the cross because of his love for us, so he would have us to suffer, to spend ourselves, and to be spent, for others. As he reached down and touched and healed us who are poor and weak and broken in spirit, so we are to reach out to others who are also despairing and hurt, wounded and depressed. As he loved us who had alienated ourselves from him, so we should love our neighbor. He wants us to love even our enemies. And he knows that as beings created in his image we are capable of doing just that. “We love,” said St. John, “because he first loved us.” When we have learned to take and to give love, even when we don’t want to, then we have learned to live indeed.

The love I speak of here has both chest and heart in it. It is love that will even dare to seem unkind in order to work for the benefit of the other precious human being. This kind of love the Greeks and the New Testament call “agape”; unfortunately, we don’t have a good English equivalent. This kind of love, love that dares to put the other first and that operates without seeking its own reward, is what Jesus offers us as the high road to happiness. And every time we come even close to loving like this, we again learn full well that he’s right, that we are then at our very best, and are living up to our God-created potential. At times like this happiness comes to us as a boon, an unsought and often unexpected companion.

God, in Jesus, wants us to devote our days to the fruitful purpose of glorifying him and serving our fellow man. And beyond that he offers us a high and glorious destiny. Life does not stop with death. He who rose from the grave has conquered death itself. Death becomes not the end of life but merely a transition to a new, a better, and an eternal life. As surely as Jesus transformed the cross from a symbol of hatred to a symbol of love, he transformed death from a time of fear to a time of hope. When you have lived for a few days in the shadow of death, as I did after a major heart attack some years ago, you realize that the victory over death given us by Jesus has very real meaning in life. Jesus increases our potential for living by enabling us to die in peace, in comfort, and in hope.

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Jesus further liberates us to fulfill our human potential by giving us absolute moral codes to live by. As a Christian I believe that God has given us broad but clear guidelines as to what we should do and should not do, if we are to live our lives successfully. And as a psychiatrist I can see that those who follow his way of love and his laws do lead richer, fuller, and more useful lives than those who do not. A system of absolute values provides a structure to our lives that gives us a basis for working out the problems we meet day by day.

Among the many aspects of life in which the absolute ethical principles revealed in the Bible have a liberating effect, let us look at sex. Most people do not regard the Bible as a sexually liberating book. They are wrong. From the creation account in Genesis—where it is reported that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them … and God looked upon everything that he had made and saw that it was very good”—until the very last page of the Revelation of St. John the divine, the Bible encourages the full enjoyment of sexuality within marriage.

The Song of Songs is a fullsome expression of the sexual joys an engaged woman anticipates in her marriage. It’s interesting to speculate how the average congregation would react to a Bible-thumping sermon with Proverbs 5:18, 19 as its text: “Rejoice in the wife of thy youth, let her breasts satisfy thee at all times and be thou ravished always with her love.” That is pretty sexy stuff.

The openness of the sexual embrance is a powerful lever toward openness in interpersonal relationships and communication, and God’s absolute injunction against fornication and adultery recognizes this. Sexual communion is too beautiful and too bonding to be entered into lightly. God tells us plainly in Genesis that in the consummation of the sexual act the man and the woman become one flesh, a new unity. This wonderful reality, well known to true loves, of two becoming one flesh in sexual union is used by Jesus as the basis for his teaching on divorce. It is also the basis for the teaching on the free expression of sexuality within marriage given by the Apostle Paul. In recent years Paul has often been accused of being a male chauvinist. Most assuredly, this he was not. Please read the seventh chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church. There you will find that Paul gives the priority of place in the fulfillment of sexual needs to the woman. “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence,” as the King James version quaintly renders it. The husband has really no choice in this matter—he is not to defraud his wife of her sexual pleasure. When she says, “come,” he is to come whether he wants to or not. The same thing is true of the wife to her husband. Each is no longer master, or even owner, of her or his own body. In matters sexual they are now to be in total subjection to each other.

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Just as we find true personal freedom only in subjection to Christ, so we find true sexual freedom only in subjection to our mates. God is not one to separate body and spirit. He knows that when we give our bodies as the plaything of the other person, we make our very persons his or her plaything. And God knows that our persons are not things to be played with frivolously by the other. With this personal pleasure-giving should go personal commitment to the giver by the taker, whether male or female.

In God’s treatment of our sexuality, we can see the wonderful way in which his absolutes give structure, and through structure richer meaning and liberation of action. Add to this God-given sexual freedom within a disciplined situation the wonderful Christian idea of “agape” love and you start to get the stuff of which real marriages can be made, marriages in which man and woman can find personal fullfillment and children can find a true home. This love enriches life. It liberates us to be the fully human, sexual beings that God created us to be—richly male and richly female.

Another way in which Jesus releases the potential of man is by freely offering him total release from the pangs of guilt. Everyone in the social sciences recognizes guilt as a major problem to man. Whether objective or subjective, rational or irrational, guilt is an ever-present burden for man. It appears that we are born with an innate sense of “oughtness”; it seems also that we come equipped with an earnest expectation of punishment for our transgression of our own moral code—whatever the code might be. All societies possess a moral code that they are unable to live up to. As one person expressed it, “to exist is to be guilty.”

Who among us is not objectively guilty again and again? Who among us has not hurt his neighbor, demeaned or injured himself, and given offense to his God in acts of either omission or commission? And who among us is not burdened by irrational guilt as well—guilt related to oedipal or pre-oedipal conflicts, guilt related to our faulty perception of ourselves and of other persons? Who in the counseling professions has not seen in patients the inhibiting effect of guilt—real or imagined—on their growth and development as persons and on their ability to express and to give of themselves? Guilt and its close companion, self-abasement, bind us in fetters as real as bands of steel.

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It is necessary and right that a large portion of the many hours we spend in professional counseling should be devoted to the resolution of irrational guilts of our clients. But far above this in importance is the good news (the Gospel), announced on God’s behalf by the Church, that through Jesus Christ God can accept us fully just as we are. God has reached down to us sinners and set us free. We human beings, reeking with the stench of sin and filled with guilt both real and imagined, are reconciled to our Creator through Jesus the Christ, seen as just in his sight, counted as his adopted children, liberated in him.

God in Jesus has delivered the Christian from the bondage of his guilt, as surely as he delivered the Jews from political bondage in Egypt. Those who accept this deliverance find themselves freed from the threat of that very judgment and condemnation they so richly deserve. This is the great promise of the gift of God, given first to Abraham and fulfilled 1,500 years later in Jesus Christ.

The Christian theses of human worth and dignity, of human dependency, of man’s free will, of man’s proneness to sin, of man’s need for purpose and meaning in his life, of man’s absolute need for love, of man’s need for a sense of ultimate destiny, of man’s need for absolute moral precepts, of man’s need for surcease from the pangs of guilt, and of man’s desire for ultimate acceptance—all these are ways in which the Christian faith frees men and women to fulfill their glorious potential as human beings made in the image of God.

Paul D. Steeves is assistant professor of history and director of Russian studies at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. He has the Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and specializes in modern Russian history.

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