[Eric Johnson is our guest blogger for December. Eric is the Director of the Society for Christian Psychology and professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is his fourth post].
Last week I began a discussion based on a distinction borrowed from the great 20th century Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, that glory is composed of both form and splendor. I will assume the reader has read that introduction as we explore this week the implications of that momentous distinction.
In art, physical form has to do with spatial arrangement of the features, say, of a statue. A beautiful statue looks good. But we are interested in psychological or spiritual form-something invisible-and therefore not something we can see with the physical eye, but something we arrive at by means of inference and wisdom.
God is the source and measure of glory; indeed, glory is the biblical term for the beauty of God. God\’s glory is the \”sum of his attributes,\” his greatness and goodness, his meaningfulness. God is the essence of perfect, infinite form and splendor. So God\’s form is the perfect configuration of psychological and spiritual features: God knows everything (including absolute self-awareness); always thinks clearly; is completely content, but has emotional richness that corresponds to the rest of reality perfectly (including true empathy); acts determinedly and wisely; and (in the Trinity) consists of strong, loving persons-in-communion.
Last week we defined splendor as the depth dimension of a form, its inner radiance that \”shines out\” from the form. God is also the essence of perfect, infinite splendor, so he is the deepest of beings: he loves that which is lovely-himself supremely and all creatures, especially insofar as they resemble him-and he hates that which is ugly-sin; he regards all things in proportion to their true value with respect to himself; he always acts according to his preeminent values; and he \”sees through\” mere appearance and promotes depth in those made in his image.
Being the Son of God in human form, Jesus Christ is the perfect human representation of God\’s form and splendor. The Gospels are important because they provide narrative descriptions of his glory, \”glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth\” (Jn 1:14). Jesus Christ shows the human race flawless human form and consummate depth of splendor. Being increasingly conformed to Christ (in his form and splendor) is the goal of human life (Ro 8:29; 2Co 3:18).
So it is God\’s intention that humans made in his image are created to realize the greatest form and splendor of which they are capable as finite creatures. Having good form means having healthy thinking and emotions, well-functioning memory, the ability to freely act so as to realize one\’s realistic goals, and good relationships. Modern psychology has explored many of these features.
Having a high degree of splendor means being deep, rather than superficial, being focused on the important things in life: supernatural reality more than natural, people more than things, being and doing good more than simply looking good; but also having regard for the weak, hurting, broken, and sinners, and all creatures in proportion to their actual value before God, yet hating sin. Obviously modern psychology has not focused much on splendor.
This doxological focus (doxa = glory, Gk) makes human development central to God\’s purposes. Children obviously manifest God\’s glory, but it is good to develop into increasingly well-formed creatures with greater splendor. Because of their limited formal capacities, children necessarily act with less splendor than adults, because adults can do what they do intentionally for the glory of God; children cannot, at least not as fully as adults.
Glory of course is not the possession of anyone except God. To be human is only to be a means of God\’s glory; by grace God permits humans to participate in his glory. The more well-formed our souls and the more splendorous their form, the greater glory we are capable of receiving from God in worship, love, and gratitude and expressing in our voices, lives, and relationships.
This glory framework gives Christians a different way of viewing psychopathology. Sin is the worst kind of psychopathology because it radically compromises our ability to participate in God\’s glory. Sin\’s essence is anti-glory. Part of sin\’s effects was the damage of the soul\’s form evident in distorted thinking, inappropriate emotions, and personality disorders, so this kind of damage should be of concern to Christian counseling, since it can inhibit our ability to participate in God\’s glory. However, sin\’s effects are most evident in the compromise of splendor. The more sinful we are, the less devoted to God we are and the more focused we are on this creation as an end in itself (so it becomes an idol), so those who live lives distracted by the superficial (fame, fashion, power, possessions) lack splendor. Low levels of splendor, then, is a greater problem than poor form in Christian counseling. Interestingly, having damaged form leads to increased suffering, but suffering promotes our deepening and so our splendor.
Christ came to earth and died and was raised to heal our form and deepen our splendor. Some healing in our form is possible in this life, but its complete healing is reserved for heaven. However, in light of the foregoing, we might expect more healing on earth in our capacity for splendor, as we grow through suffering in worship, wisdom, faith, hope, and love. Christian psychotherapy and counseling is doxological as it participates in the glory of Christ\’s salvation by helping to bring healing to the human form and increase human splendor through the resources of Christ\’s life, death, and resurrection.