What Christianity Can Offer Psychology

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This sermon was preached by Rev. Steven Koski on Sunday, 19th February, 1995.

  • $1.4 billion dollars is spent each year in Australia on treatment services that relate to mental and emotional health.
  • 1 in 5 people will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime.
  • 1.9 million people throughout Australia suffer from a mental illness or emotional pain and do not seek treatment.
  • There are now more suicides in Australia than road accident deaths.
  • There is estimated to be about 200 attempted suicides for every so—called ‘successful one’.
  • 90% of people with a mental or emotional problem live in the community while 75% of money spent on treatment services goes on hospital care.
  • 1 in 3 visits to GP’s in Australia relate to a mental or emotional problem.

We all at one time or another find life’s journey difficult like the Gospel image - labouring against a headwind! - feeling crushed in mind and spirit - we at times struggle to find a way to manage our emotions and calm our anxieties...

I am often asked “Why Cairnmillar?” — and what does Cairnmillar have to do with the Church...

These statistics tell the story... People generally find it difficult to cope with the harsh realities of life.., find it difficult to relate to one another... find it difficult to feel positive about anything...

  • People need a helper to stand beside them -
  • People need new skills to manage their lives more constructively -
  • People need to be affirmed and told “You Can Do It!”

Someone who’s come to me for counselling asked me, “What role do ‘I’ as therapist play in this whole process.”

And I said, “it was like Dante’s Divine Comedy where he knew he had to journey through hell and his companion Virgil said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right there beside you - holding your hand, leading the way.”

Usually, the only way to the other side is through

- but you don’t have to walk alone, I’ll help you make sense of the journey, I’ll help you believe in the light at the end of the road -

We all need a Virgil to walk beside us -

Why Cairnmillar, I am asked!

Quite frankly, because generally people do not have the confidence that the church can help them.

The majority of the population out there doesn’t believe the church is able to be Virgil - to walk with them compassionately and confidently on their journey.

There was a man who used to attend the Church I was serving in Chicago. He used to say that the problem with people today is that they’re selfish and complacent — people are all too comfortable.

He used to tell me that, in his words, I should “give them hell!”

I said to him that would be easy to do if you didn’t know the people and didn’t have any feeling for them.

But I did know them and I knew that in every pew there was loneliness, grief, strained relationships, tragedy... that many of the people were putting on a brave front but underneath the mask people struggled and doubted and felt pain and emptiness.

Most people are having a tough struggle of one sort or another, and we don’t need Hell—fire and brimstone, we don’t need to be reminded of our sin all the time and told how awful we are - what we need is some of The Grace of Heaven — What we need is a life-enhancing religion that

accepts us as we are — that encourages us to what we can be — that helps us cope with the stresses of life,

that helps us build better relationships -

that helps us grow as healthy, whole people...

that helps us love and care and feel like we can make a difference in shaping a more just and compassionate world...

People have come to believe that the church can’t offer that.

Religion can be either a set of wings with which our souls can fly or a lead weight around our necks — All too often it is the latter - In fact I ran across a book the other day entitled “Religion May Be Hazardous to Your Health”.

Yet, Psychology also has its limitations — let me explain!

At age 43, Pete was an outstanding ‘success’ in his business as well as a leader in his community.

He came for therapy, pushed by an agonising crisis, the suicide attempt of his only child, a teenage son, Ted, who was in trouble at school for cutting classes, drinking beer, and smoking marijuana with two other students.

The hidden pain of the whole family came out during the second session, to which the therapist had recommended that they all come.

It became clear that Pete and his wife, Carla, were living alone together in painful alienation.

During several months of combined couple and family therapy, along with some individual therapy for Ted, they gradually learned ways to heal their family pain, which was a major cause of Ted’s self—destructive behaviour.

A deeper problem behind their marital problem emerged during a couple session with just Pete and Carla.

Each was struggling with an acute crisis of life’s meaning and priorities.

Both were feeling what Carla described as “a vacuum”, a painful inner emptiness.

Their spiritual crisis was an issue all three family members were suffering from and expressing in different ways.

They couldn’t progress any further in their healing and growth until they addressed what was discovered to be a deeper Spiritual need.

Pete and Carla’s story is a common story. In fact, Carl Jung, the father of Psychotherapy, said that two thirds of his patients were suffering from what he called SPIRITUAL IMPOVERISHMENT or NEGLECT OF THE SOUL.

We humans are “spiritual” creatures, and that includes everyone, whether the person has an interest in organised religion or not...

A famous German theologian was walking on the moors on a misty, grey day, when he came upon a little boy flying a kite.

The kite was so high that he couldn’t see it. It was out of sight in the mist, in the low cloud.

The professor said to the little boy, “How do you know it is there?”

And the small fellow replied at once, “I can feel the pull of it”.

Not long afterwards, someone asked the professor, “Why do you believe in God and in Spiritual Reality?”

And he answered in the words of the little fellow with the kite, “I believe because I feel the pull of it”.

Haven’t you felt the pull of it or sensed the depth of it?

The problem is that all too often we ignore that pull, neglect our soul, and it manifests itself in dis - ease or self-destructive behaviour.

This mysterious pull explains why humans are “incurably religious” and why religious beliefs and practices of some type have been found in all the diverse societies studied by historians and anthropologists around the planet and back through time.

  • Whether we recognise it or not, we are inherently, inescapably spiritual beings.

Our most powerful well—being need often hidden from us in our secular world is to develop our spiritual awareness and potential.

An often—hidden cause of most of the problems and painful alienations we experience is our alienation from our spiritual selves, the integrating center of our beings.

This core self includes all the things that are creative, transcending and unique about us human beings.

In traditional religious language, this core self is called your soul.

But it doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you know it’s there and you know how to keep it alive and well

  • But there’s the problem - Most therapies ignore that aspect of the self, and for whatever reason, people aren’t turning to the church for this kind of healing and growth -

And if they do turn to the church, for many, church ends up being a lead weight around their necks instead of a set of wings with which their souls can fly.

Satisfying this deep spiritual hunger in healthy ways is difficult in today’s society.

Spiritual transcendence - that awareness of the sacred which infuses the ordinary — that awareness of being in touch with the eternal within yourself is no longer a valued and vital experience for most people in today’s society.

  • The mind—boggling speed of social and technological changes has produced a massive breakdown of traditional belief and value systems.
  • Millions are flatly rejecting old authority- centered ways of defining what is really good or ultimately true.
  • There seem to be more questions than believable answers today, more options and more opinions.
  • Old ways of believing and valuing are no longer accepted or satisfying.
  • But, the catch is people have not found or developed new and more relevant ways to satisfy this spiritual hunger!!!

You may be interested to know the elders of this church had a retreat yesterday where we spent most of the day grappling with this very problem

We were seeking to clarify a vision as to how God is wanting to work through us in this unique and challenging time to satisfy this spiritual hunger that so many people today are experiencing.

Here’s the vision for Brougham Place that we came up with:

  • To offer Christ to searching minds in a relevant and caring way!
  • To encourage people to face the challenges of our changing world with insight, skills, confidence and love...

We have an exciting challenge on our hands through this church - through Cairnmillar -

  • to be relevant
  • to be life-giving
  • to offer people a set of wings with which their souls can fly

Christianity has a lot to offer to those who are searching

Let me finish with a simple image from our Gospel

The disciples are in the boat labouring against a headwind - The going is hard

  • We too, can often feel like we’re labouring against a headwind -

not of our own making frequently, not even of our own deserving

We need something to lift us — to reassure us to instil within us a strong valid sense of it all being worthwhile

Our Gospel image says it beautifully, Jesus walking towards them — In fact, that image gives four clear, crisp statements that speak to our spiritual hunger:

Grab hold of these -

It says seeing them labouring at the oars against a headwind -


God seeing us working against our headwinds does not walk away — He comes towards us.

That is central to our Christian faith — There is a love that comes to us and meets us

where we are. . .A love we all need.

The Theologian John Cobb said it all, “the spiritual life can be healthy only as it is grounded in the assurance of an acceptance that no human being can give, the ultimate acceptance that is God’s”.

Secondly at once, they were so frightened, Jesus knew he had to speak at once, at once he spoke to them...

That’s the second statement — At once he spoke to them...

A simple, straightforward statement -


That’s what the Christian faith offers, a Living

Presence who tells us — no matter where you’re headed or what the situation -

he will be there in some form or another — FEAR NOT!

There is courage given to face what we must face!

And the third, the third statement of this New Testament image, as if that wasn’t enough, he makes it all the more emphatic.

He makes a greater affirmation. Having said — “It is I, do not be afraid”.


He climbed in beside them.

Christ is our Virgil that will take our hand and walk beside us.

And the fourth statement,

knowing the anxiety and the turbulence - and the many struggles of our humanity.

He climbed in beside them.

In spite of it all, you see, he accepts us. He climbs in beside us.

And the 4th statement flows on immediately -

What can Christianity offer?

First, he came towards them.

Second, at once he spoke to them.

And third, He climbs in beside them.

And fourth, it says simply “AND THE WIND DROPPED.”