Personality and Christianity

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” -Psalm 139:14-16

I like personality tests! As Bible believing Christians, we believe that God not only created the heavens and the earth, but that He continues to sustain His creation, upholding it in His sovereignty and intervenes in history. The foremost example of God’s rule and intervention in creation is His resurrection and His mastery over death! Because of this miracle it is impossible to believe that God just created the world and then just walked away! With this in mind, it is fascinating to think of how this creating work of God translates into the individual personality of human beings. Why am I the way I am and why you are the way you are? Let’s face it, we all have unique temperaments, predisposed moods, different ways of thinking and approaches to life.

In the Middle Ages, monastic Christians came to the conclusion that God intentionally created four temperaments; sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholy (these were based on Hippocrates’ categories of human beings from the 5th BC). Yet, they gave a Christian understanding to the following personalities:

Sanguine: (Extrovert) Tend to be lively, sociable, carefree, talkative, and pleasure-seeking. They may be warm-hearted and optimistic. They can make new friends easily, be imaginative and artistic, and often have many ideas.

Choleric: (Extrovert) Tend to be egocentric and extroverted. They may be excitable, impulsive, and restless, with reserves of aggressionenergy, and/or passion, and try to instill that in others.

Phlegmatic: (Introvert) Tend to be inward and private, thoughtful, reasonable, calm, patient, caring, and tolerant. They tend to have a rich inner life, seek a quiet, peaceful atmosphere, and be content with themselves. They tend to be steadfast, consistent in their habits, and thus steady and faithful friends.

Melancholy: (Introvert) Tend to be serious, introverted, cautious or even suspicious. They can become preoccupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world and are susceptible to depression and moodiness. They may be focused and conscientious. They often prefer to do things themselves, both to meet their own standards and because they are not inherently sociable.

These Medieval Christians’ viewed these differences between people as being not only intentionally ordained by God, but necessary for the flourishing of humanity. In other words, God created human beings with different personalities in order to work together and share their different gifts and strengths for the benefit of society. This reveals the depth and breadth of God’s creative work in humanity and that God desires humanity to have both unity and freedom, not conformity. Yes, all of our human temperaments are stained by sin and need to be redeemed. Yet, as long as our different human temperaments are motivated toward virtue and pleasing God, then God wants us to be who we were created to be. In other words, we need sanguine people to be outgoing hospital workers, salesmen and entertainers. We need phlegmatic people to be educators, librarians and counselors. We need choleric people to be builders, leaders and supervisors. We also need melancholy people to be theologians, poets and musicians. The greatest error today, is to believe that those of one temperament should seek to develop the characteristics of another. The true challenge is to accept the God-given beauty of one's own nature, and rely on divine providence to assist us in expressing it through virtue and in service for the common good of humanity. Yes, indeed we are fearfully and wonderfully created by God!

God Bless,

Pastor Joel