Ed Welch takes a biblical look at psychological needs. In today’s world, man is described as an “empty love cup” needing to be filled – filled with our psychological needs of love, acceptance, thirst for impact, etc.
He points out,
As these views of psychological needs moved into the fabric of Western culture, many Christians were immediately attracted to them. They seemed to map onto life experiences, and, especially with Freud and Maslow, they seemed to offer a deeper explanation for these experiences than did the Scripture itself.
The church’s adoption to the trichotomy model of man, further anchored the psychological needs model. With the establishment of man being comprised of three parts (physical, soul, and spirit). Psychological needs found a home in ministering to the soul.
It seemed logical – a pastor for the spirit, a psychologist for the soul, and a doctor for the body. When the psychological needs were Christianized, he adds,
Notice, for example, some of the fruit of this psychological-evangelical model. It essentially creates two different Gospels: one for spiritual needs and one for psychological needs. The good news for spiritual needs is that our sins are forgiven, we are adopted as children of God through faith, and we are given eternal life.
The good news for psychological needs is that Christ fills us with identity, significance, personal respect, and self-worth. He makes us feel good about ourselves. But is that really the Gospel? Doesn’t the Gospel, in a very real sense, obliterate our preoccupation with ourselves, equipping us to be preoccupied with loving God and others?
I believe this is a consequence of having a weak grasp of anthropology and the Gospel. Humans are comprised of two parts; material and immaterial. Psychological needs are a result of our separation from God (guilt, shame, and fear).
Additionally, our collective knowledge of the Gospel is more salvation oriented. Not knowing how the Gospel applies to our sanctification left many struggling with what to do with these feelings. This allows the enemy to use our flesh to keep our eyes on ourselves and not on Christ.
To lead us away from this need’s based understanding, Welch explores the image of God in man. Instead of an inward focus on ourselves, we need to look at what God is up to in the redemption of man.
The Westminster catechism captures this well. God is working in man so man can, “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And this is done by loving God and loving others (Matt 22:36-40).
Instead of seeing ourselves as empty love cups, we need to see our true identity as image bearers. And we best fulfill this role when we are reflecting the glory of God (Exodus 34:29-32). In other words, we are most true to ourselves when we are Christ-like. He writes,
When image-bearing is seen as the way we live rather than what we want to get, it leads directly and naturally to the heart of the Scriptures: “faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6).
Where do longings come from? Welch points out that longings have much in common with lusts, and suggests they are a result of us choosing to love ourselves. The source of these feelings may be from our sin, from being sinned against, loss, etc.
Adding to our feelings of emptiness is the realization how we are incapable of atoning for our sins. But Welch directs us away from our focus on needs. He writes,
When we turn away from sin and turn to Christ, however, there is a sense of divine filling that leaves us overflowing—more than filled—with the love of Christ. What do we really need? We need to be smitten with the glory of God, ravished by His love, and faithful as we walk in obedience to Him, even in our suffering.
A big part of counseling is to help a counselee see their true identity as image bearers of God. And as such, our focus needs to be on reflecting God’s glory and not on our needs. Our fallen-ness turns us to an inward focus. Sanctification is the reversal of this process – turning us from an inward focus to an outward focus.
To help illustrate, we need to remember we are part of a different family. When we are adopted into God’s family, and become His children, we must remember,
A Christian has given up his or her own name and has taken the name of Christ. Now your identity and purpose are intimately tied to those of Jesus Himself.
The practical implications of this truth will shift the focus of our conversations. Instead of talking about feelings, conversations will focus on our responsibility before a glorious God. He writes,
How does this doctrine of the image-as-actively bringing-glory-to-God make a difference? In child-rearing it will mean that you address the child’s conscience (the innate knowledge of God and knowledge of right and wrong) more than his or her sense of felt longings.
When you call your children to obedience, you will want to speak to the depths of the heart and remind them that they are serving Christ, not themselves. With teenagers, you evangelize by pointing them to the greatness of God and their spiritual need more than how Jesus will satisfy their lust for significance.
In counseling, you take people on a path of needing less and loving more. Instead of getting in touch with longings and hoping that Christ will satisfy them all, some of those longings will have to be put to death.
Reflections – A few things stuck with me
- How easy it is for us (counselees and counselors) to get focused on longings and needs. I appreciated how Ed used the image of God in man to lead to the solution.
- Helping the counselee see how struggles can be amplified by our own lusts and longings.
- How growing in Christ-likeness leads to an overflow of love. To coin a Piper-like phrase, “We seem most satisfied when we are most like Christ.” It is counter-intuitive to today’s culture.
- Driving the conversation to our role as image-bearers. That must be the agenda for biblical counsel.