The Word I Was Missing

The moment I knew I couldn’t be both a psychologist and a Christian, I was handing a heroin-dealing child molester a box of tissues.  My issue was “sin,” as it had been explained in my church culture. This was the “worst” person I had ever met, and I still didn’t think he was a sinner in the Christian-theology way (e.g., using free-will, choosing to run from God, worthy of hell). I saw him as lost, confused, and wanting better.  I had no scorn, only compassion, when I knew his whole life story. 

I also realized I could not deeply care for and respect my patients if I saw them as sinners. Once I knew their full stories, “sinners” didn’t fit.  So Christianity didn’t fit for me anymore. Hamartia was the word I was missing.

If you’ve missed the past two sermons, hamartia is often translated as "sin" in the bible, and it means “missing the mark because of a lack of knowledge.” When we acknowledge that ignorance is the culprit, we can look at behaviors with compassion. 

As a psychologist, I have the privilege to deeply know people, and from this vantage point I have a few thoughts to add to/repeat from the excellent discussion Sojourn is having about hamartia.

  1. Everyone’s needs are valid, and they might have learned bad ways to get their needs met.
  2. When you know better, you do better.
  3. You don’t have to understand why a person is the way they are in order to accept that there is a reason.  You can acknowledge that there is a reason even when you absolutely can’t make sense of it.

I have endless stories that have proven these truths to me, but I was asked to keep this writing short. We will talk more if you’re interested! It is hugely relieving to believe and remember that people are only doing their best, based on the lessons life has taught them, given the temperament/biology they were born with. Remembering this eases the process of giving grace, even when we think people should know better (e.g., my common thought in therapy: “You should have known not to abuse people because you were abused! You of all people know how unforgivable it is!”). They didn’t know better. If they had, they would have done better.

After finding Sojo, it was easy to be a progressive Christian and a psychologist, and I think the wordless understanding of hamartia bridged that gap for me. 


About the Author

Julie is a Staff Psychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California, San Diego.

She has been a part of the Sojo community since 2016.