A Christian Philosophy of the Psychological Nature of Man


English: Sigmund Freud

English: Sigmund Freud (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Christian Philosophy of the Psychological Nature of Man

©2002 Kimberly Hartfield

Much of Christian Theology today teaches a dualistic philosophy with the body and soul being the two components of its system.  Some philosophers have subscribed to the idea proposed by Descartes that man has a dualistic nature, that is, body and mind, with the physical being divisible, while the mental remains indivisible. The word metaphysics draws from these dualistic aspects of man.  Modern psychology also sees man as dualistic in nature, with its divisions being entitled physical and psychological.  But it differs from Descartes point of view in that it also divides the psychological aspects of man into three distinct categories, the id, the ego, and the super-ego.  These three aspects of the inner-man have yet to be fully addressed or explained by Christian Theology.

Most Christians understand the words, soul and spirit to be synonymous, but the Apostle Paul writes of a dualistic nature of man’s inner person.  In Hebrews 4:12, he speaks of the division of soul and spirit by the word of God, which also discerns “the thoughts and intents of the heart.” This two-fold division of Paul’s inner-man is a reflection of a two-fold division of man’s physical person, mind and body.  Christ in the New Testament expounded this view of man’s being.

God and Christ in the Christian Scripture seem to be aware of a tri-fold psychological nature of man much like modern psychology is viewed. The first commandment God gave to mankind recognized this tri-fold nature of mankind’s inner-personage.  St. Mark quotes Jesus repeating the command, “AND THOU SHALT LOVE THE LORD THY GOD WITH ALL THY HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL, AND WITH ALL THY MIND, AND WITH ALL THY STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30).  If these were synonymous words, why was this reiteration necessary here?  This passage can be understood to divide the outward man (strength) with a tri-fold nature of the inner man (Heart, soul, mind).  If these can be distinguished as separate realms, as Christ apparently does in this passage, then it is the Christian responsibility to discern how the aspects of man’s inner person fits each division and how they relate man, who was made in God’s image, to our Creator.

Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, also recognized a tri-fold nature of the inner man.  He divided his concept of man’s psychological being into three distinguishable parts, as previously stated. The id, Freud believed, was man’s subconscious instincts, or as Paul would call it, man’s carnal nature or man’s soul. The second aspect of the psychological nature of man is his intellect or his conscious mind, which is the equivalent of Freud’s ego.   The super-ego, Freud believed was similar to the Christian idea of our subconscious inner conscience, and which the Apostle Paul would equate with our spiritual nature or spirit.  Freud believed our conscious perceptual state of mind was like an iceberg in the ocean with only the smallest portion being seen, while the larger portion of the subconscious mind is submerged under the surface.

In Freud’s theory, the id, which is the impulses and responses of man, is more fully conscious at birth and becomes subject to the knowledge of the ego.  The ego sets boundaries on the id’s instincts, according to its knowledge of possible harms to the human body.  The last of his three divisions was the super-ego, which is the greatest portion of our sub-consciousness, and that part of the inner-man, Freud believed, where our most hideous and painful thoughts, fears, and urges reside.  Freud believed that the two subconscious aspects would strive to communicate through the conscious mind, much like Paul’s battle of the flesh and spirit.    Though Freud recognized this tri-une inner being, he did not discern the implications it held for the Christian perspective in the philosophy of man’s personage.  He perceived intellectually what his spirit could not conceive in its deadened state.  Had his spirit been restored in Christ, he may have understood man’s inner person with spiritual illumination.

I Corinthians 15: 45-46 equates the living soul with that which is natural.  The soul is that part of man’s inner being that activates the mind, bringing about the unconscious animating drives of the flesh as seen in Freud’s id.  The mind, or the intellect and will, can be equated with Freud’s ego, and is involved in the choices of conscious decisions.  The heart, which seems to be synonymous with spirit in Scripture, involves the spiritual consciousness and the innate desire of man to commune with God.  Freud’s super-ego equates this aspect of our being with our conscience, our sense of right and wrong.

One way to view this tri-une aspect of man’s psychological being is to equate the body with an object containing a battery.  The battery runs the inner-workings of the object to activate it.  The soul is the battery, which comes from outside the physical body, but is placed within in it and attached to it for the life of the battery.  The inner-workings would be the mind (brain) of the body, which is run by the battery.  The electrical impulses of the brain activate our body, making the mind subject to the chemical imbalances of genetics, but something foreign to the body gives it life, and that is the soul.  But the soul or battery must also receive its electrical charge from a greater source of energy.  That energy is the spirit of man, which is created and empowered by the Spirit of God, who made man in His own image.

God is the Creator of all aspects of man: spirit, soul, mind, and body.  He is the ultimate source of all energy.  The energy of the spirit is contained within the soul, which is contained within the mind, which is contained within the body.  Yet, as the mind is to the body, so is the spirit to the soul.  As the body is the physical manifestation of the mind, the soul is the outward manifestation of the spirit.  Therefore, the spirit and the soul are the immaterial substances, while the mind and body are the material substances.

One of the problems with dualistic philosophies is how the immaterial aspect influences the material aspect.  The Monistic view popular today sees the body and mind as material, but it does not discern an immaterial soul or spirit because they do not understand how the immaterial can affect the material.  In the great commandment, Jesus preceded the soul with the heart, the mind with the soul, and the flesh with the mind.  In the perfection of creation, the spirit energized the soul, which activated the mind, which in turn animated the flesh.  Each aspect of man’s person is simply a more powerfully concentrated form of energy than its successor.  The spirit and soul flows through and binds the mind to the body as the energy from the battery is plugged into the inner-workings of an object and flows through it to activate and animate it.

The Nature of Man 

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About mamaheartfilled

I am a mother of eight wonderful children and five grandkids, of whom I am very proud. I am also a bi-vocational ordained evangelical minister, and a Christian Counselor. I received my B.S. degree in 2004, studying primarily in the areas of Psychology, with minors in Religion and English. I received my Masters Degree in 2009 in Psychological Counseling with an emphasis in Christian Counseling. I have endeavored to paraphrase the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, for the last ten years or so and am working on a final edit, now. It is my hope that it will be of some use in the great commission of Christ. My ministry is primarily geared toward victims of sexual and domestic violence, including victims of childhood sexual abuse, whether currently or in the past. Since I have personally experienced the healing hand of God in overcoming many of the life issues that Christians may face, I feel qualified and compelled to discuss them in a truthful and open manner, as God’s word tells us that “We shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.” God has brought me through such diverse tribulations as sexual, physical, and mental abuse, being a victim of a drunk driving accident, spousal pornography addiction, adultery, divorce, remarriage, a very brief, though unjust, incarceration, and having experienced multiple miscarriages and various other trials. I have been asked to leave two Southern Baptist Churches, due to my being a female, ordained as a minister, and fired from a SBC sponsored Christian School (mostly white) for speaking out against racial prejudice in the Family of God. Through God’s merciful forgiveness of my own sins and inadequacies and God’s grace given to me to forgive those who have been a stumbling block to me, I have overcome many of these adversities. God’s word tells us that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to the purposes of God." Since I have this hope, I believe that God has blessed me with the ability to confront and relate these issues to the Christian community around the world. I hope to be able to use my personal experiences as a ministry of God’s grace and in the comforting of the people of God with the truth of God's mercy. I claim II Corinthians 1: 3 & 4 as my calling, which states: “Blessed be God, the Origin of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Origin of mercies, and the God of comfort; who comforts us in all our troubles, that we may be able to comfort those who are in trouble, by the comfort we ourselves have been given by God.” As I have received the gift of God’s healing, I hope to be able to bring the peace beyond understanding to others with the message of God’s mercy and grace. My love for the Sovereign Lord of my life, Jesus Christ, along with my passion for writing has drawn me to explore these commonly experienced crisis issues from the perspective of my own experience in the hope that I may bring an empathetic and compassionate insight to God’s people. I am now a published author and have several books in publication, including my autobiography, "A Little Redneck Theology." The views expressed in my writings are strictly my own insights, acquired from personal experience and diligent study of the related topics and God’s word concerning them. Though I am an ordained minister, my views should not be considered authoritative. I believe that the Christian community’s ultimate authority is the guidance of the human heart by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
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One Response to A Christian Philosophy of the Psychological Nature of Man

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