Psychological or spiritual condition?

I was never a fan of psychology. I even discouraged my eldest to pursue her interest on this field claiming that psychology is NOT an exact science. But I recently learned in a very personal manner that there really are mental conditions (or frame of mind) that make it hard for others to do as most others would (i.e., neuro-typical vs neuro-diverse mind).

If some of the sins are really psychological conditions (e.g., kleptomania, gender dysphoria, etc.), are they guilty of the sins they are committing? Or are they just ill that need praying? Does insanity merit the same judgment as the the innocence of infants are judged in the Judgment Day? (Assuming you hold that belief.)


Hello, Dennis!
I’ve been sitting with your question for a couple of days, and, sorry, I’ve only just had the chance to sit down and compose a reply. This question seems to reflect your desire to do right by the people you come into contact with, and I respect and applaud that.

I would be curious to know what others think, but, to me, this question, does not have a simple answer because, chances are, the issue will most likely not be as either-or as you frame it. That is, with any of us – as humans – none of us can claim to either be completely insane nor can we claim to be completely in control of our faculties and able to understand with 100% accuracy what is going on in a given situation.

A lot of times, we in the church are quick to determine that someone else in a morally/ethically questionable situation knows exactly what they are doing. They know that what they are doing is “evil” but they do it anyway. And, while that can be the case, there will also be an element of them being driven by “forces” (for lack of a better word) that they are rather unaware of. So, on another level, they do not “know what they are doing”.

You mention two “psychological conditions” in your post – kleptomania and gender dysphoria. These are in two different categories, so perhaps looking at each one individually would be helpful.

First, kleptomania is related to impulse-control. It is a condition defined by a specific action, namely stealing. More specifically, it is where a person has the impulse to steal little, inconsequential things that they don’t necessarily need. So, if they take something that isn’t theirs, are they guilty of stealing? Well, yes. (“Thou shalt not steal.”) But, if one wants to actually help this person not steal again (that is, control their impulses), then one needs to focus not on the surface issue (the symptom, the stealing), but on what is below it…what is behind the often unconscious, uncontrollable impulse to take. In this case, we work from the symptom down.

Gender dysphoria is a different ballgame altogether; if we’re dealing with it, we’re already “down” into into psychological things. For, it is not about impulses, but about internal distress specifically regarding one’s body. It’s about working from the internal distress outward rather than the other way round. With this being the case, the outward “sin” that gender dysphoria can lead to is less obvious, because it doesn’t always lead to the same action. I find the guilt part of the question much more difficult to engage with here because it is unclear what there is to be guilty of.

Overall though, I would say that, as much as we like to do so, compartmentalizing conditions – whether biologically, psychologically, spiritually or socially – is incredibly unhelpful. Because it’s all intertwined. That’s why it’s complex. That’s why we’re complex. The system in which we exist is complex. So let’s not just merely pray; nor just merely write someone off as insane. Let us walk with each other, giving each of us room for our own complexity.


As a further sidebar here, it is true that the social sciences are not exact sciences. (Exact sciences deal with systems “whose laws are capable of accurate quantitative expression”. This is namely mathematics, physics, chemistry, and astronomy…and there are probably a couple more.)

I do think it’s important to remember that when doing study in these social science realms, but that doesn’t mean that non-exact sciences are not valuable. I would say theology (a non-exact science) is incredibly valuable…as is sociology, psychology, geography, ecology, philosophy, etc. If value were limited to merely exact sciences, it would be a sad world, indeed. :slight_smile:


Hi @dennis ,

I too have been thinking about your question some but as I started to write, I felt the same as Kathleen did that this a complex question. Your question seems to be about the extent to which a person is morally culpable for actions that may be out of one’s control.

This is difficult to determine in our society due to our limited human perspective and multiplicity of factors involved. Were the actions in line with what a person actually thinks is morally good or bad? Was the person born in such a way as to not be able to make good judgements about a situation? What role did the environment play in shaping a person’s views on morality? Was a violent action in self defense over a perceived threat? Was it due to external deception? What were the other circumstantial factors?

God however has the complete picture. There are some hints on how God will judge. It appears our knowledge, opportunity, ability, authority will come into play in how judgement plays out ( Matt 10:15, Matt 12:42, 2 Peter 3:9, Matt 25: 14-30, Luke 12:48, James 3:1 ). These are just a few verses that came to mind.

When it comes to neurodiverse individuals, I have had some personal experience to say that there may be times they get themselves in trouble because of difficulty judging a situation, judging motivations of others and expressing themselves clearly enough so as not to be misunderstood but they are perfectly capable of understanding morality. Some instances of violence may be related to a lack of ability to communicate, their social experiences and other secondary mental health issues.

One can be guilty of doing something purely based on external behavior. But just as other factors are considered when determining blame and sentence in law, God too would take it all into consideration.

In general, as christians we believe the soul is separate from our brain and must be held morally accountable. Do genetic conditions interfere with our moral agency? Theologically the answer may be No, as morality stems from our soul. Yet, not all of us are given the same physical ability, which is influenced by our genetics. So equally moral individuals may look different in our society.

So overall, I agree with @kathleen on her recommendation.