I am re-reading David Powlison’s book Seeing with New Eyes for my doctoral cohort on pastoral counseling coming up at the end of January. This book has profoundly impacted how I view pastoral ministry. Powlison has helped transform how I approach teaching, counseling, and countless other pastoral opportunities. In the first few pages Powlison cites a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that exposes what makes for a deep understanding of human nature.
The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search mt heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearn for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
– From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together in the chapter on “Confession and Communion”