Partnering with God as a 21st Century Psychologist
By David Craigie
If we don’t love one another, we can’t claim to know God. How partnering with God brings meaning to life and hope to others.
I became a Christian in 1994. I must pay tribute to my late mother. As a boy, she taught me I should always remember that Jesus cares and will be with me whatever I face, that if anxious or worried, I should pray and know that Jesus hears me. As a natural worrier, I threw up many of those prayers! I learned then that God cares.
A second big influence on my becoming a Christian was a close school friend. In the largely secular UK, they often see faith as private and marginalized. I heard a testimony of a woman who had been bullied and assaulted at school, merely for saying she was a Christian. I avoided the bullying when asked by a group of boys if I went to church, by replying that I did not (then whispered “regularly” under my breath). But my friend had a quality that drew me powerfully. Looking back, I can see that I was witnessing genuine love. Care and compassion flowed from his words and actions. He invited me to a Bible study. I discovered a small group of students and teachers who met over lunch, talked about God, read the Bible, and prayed for each other. But importantly, I felt loved and included in a way I had not experienced before. Through my friend, I saw God’s relational love in action.
It was at University in St. Andrews, Scotland, that I made a faith commitment. Despite a supportive and caring group of Christian friends, I had not yet decided what part faith would play in my life. I recall sitting in a Christian Union meeting when a speaker said that believing in God didn’t make you a Christian—even the devil believes in God! Those words perturbed me. Was I a Christian?
I prayed earnestly, asking God that if he really existed, to give me signs. In the weeks that followed, I felt so many nudges that I decided to sit with my Bible and decide, one way or the other. I opened my Bible at John’s gospel and read a passage where Jesus promised the Holy Spirit. These words jumped out: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).
This idea of the Father and Son making their home with me was profound. The promise was not an abstract, distant God who would one day hold me to account for my actions. This was a God who wanted to make his home with me and to enter an intimate relationship with him. I surrendered my life at that moment, offering my life to serve God in whatever way he called.
I’ll be honest. I expected fireworks. I hoped at least for an angelic host. Instead, I felt the deepest peace I have ever known. I felt connected to the Universe at that moment and filled with an overflowing love for others.
The weeks that followed were very significant for me. While I had always been a quiet, kind, and thoughtful person, something had changed within me. I saw the world differently, as if spiritual scales had fallen from my eyes. I remember two specific encounters. The first was with 6-foot-tall rugby player that a friend and I had visited. During the visit, I politely asked how he was. His reply, as all Scottish folk are trained to give, was “I’m fine.” However, I felt what I can only describe as a spiritual sense that something deeper was going on. I looked him in the eye and asked, “and how are you, really?” He broke down in tears, telling us his doctor had just told him a knee injury might mean he would never play rugby again. We sat with him in his distress and prayed with him.
A second experience was with another friend in our halls. As before, we asked how she was, and she replied with the expected “I’m fine.” I had another spiritual nudge. The tears flowed as she opened up about her struggle with an eating disorder. My friend later suggested that I might stop asking people how they were!
Meanwhile, I was studying for my undergraduate psychology degree. People fascinated me, and I loved the scientific approach to understanding the world. My course had some lecturers who were quite hostile towards religion. They had shown us the Blind Watchmaker film, presenting views of the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins. They portrayed the alternative Christian perspective as literal 6-day creationists, who were summarily mocked by our tutor. The implication was clear—we had to make a choice between believing sensible, evidence-based scientific views (atheism), or foolishly believing that God literally created the universe in 6 days (religion). I found this false dichotomy bizarre. I held neither position. Science fascinated me and felt it allowed us to better understand the world. I saw no reason to conclude that just because we understood the science behind something, God could not exist—quite the opposite. Another lecturer explained the reductionist approach to understanding human brains, which led her to conclude there was no God. Once again, I was thoroughly confused. Did understanding the neurochemistry of love mean that God suddenly ceased to exist?
It was ironically during an evolutionary psychology lecture that my love of the Bible grew. During that period of asking God for signs, I had been reading the creation account in Genesis, which I had never seen as literal science. I remember reading about the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then my atheist lecturer told us how they believed that at some point in our evolutionary past, there was something known as “a spark of consciousness” where human beings became self-aware. My worlds of faith and science collided and spoke powerfully into each other.
As I prayed about my career, I felt a calling to bring light into dark places, to mourn with those who mourn, and to reach out into people’s lives with the love that nourishes me daily. Matthew 11:28-29 cites one of the most compelling invitations in Scripture from Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
In the Christian belief that God entered our world in human form, when the Word became flesh, we see God’s relational love. In Jesus, we see God’s heart for us, but also the model for our lives as God’s image-bearers in this world. When Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, we saw that God is relational and feels our pain. We cannot read about Jesus’ life and ministry and fail to see this overwhelming love for people. We see God’s love for the needy, the outcast, the oppressed, and the excluded in the life of Christ. He confronted religious abuse and hypocrisy. He condemned placing rule and ritual above love and mercy.
This love, for me, has been a driver for my work as a psychologist. I see helping others with whatever challenges they face in life as an outpouring of God’s love and compassion for others.
Professionally, I love when modern therapies and techniques echo age-old biblical teachings. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy we teach “thought-catching.” Paul taught the Corinthians to “take every thought captive to Christ.” We know the evidence-based theories behind Positive Psychology and then read the words in Philippians 4:8 that “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” As psychologists, we teach people of the transformative effect of how we think, and it feels that we are only just catching up with Paul’s wisdom to the church in Rome, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
As a Chartered Psychologist in a secular environment, where sharing faith is actively discouraged and ethically prohibited, partnering with God is not mere theory, but a lived reality. The God I know, the Christ I follow, is relational to the core. One of my favorite letters is 1 John. In one of the shortest books of the Bible, John mentions the word “love” forty-five times. He argues that “no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” John explains that God is more than just loving. God is love. I look at my career today, on how I have dedicated my life to loving others, and recall that day, twenty-seven years ago, when I offered my life as a living sacrifice to God. The invitation is two-way. We are relational beings in a relational world, deeply loved by a relational God.
Question: They say that actions speak louder than words. How might we express God’s relational love towards others meaningfully, whether or not they believe?
David Craigie is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of a private therapy and coaching practice based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is an Elder in the Church of Scotland, where he worships with his family. David’s work covers a variety of fields, including therapy, psychometric testing, career coaching, and supporting organizations with employee well-being. He also enjoys creative writing and has written and illustrated a children’s book.
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.