Thursday, March 19, 2015

Counseling & How We Speak About God

Christian Counselors (both pastors and vocational counselors) meet people on the road of suffering.  As often is the case, counselors speak about God.  They may quote actual Scripture passages, connect a point of theology, mention a Scriptural principle, or sometimes, they may give their opinion on what God is: like, thinking, feeling, wants...etc.  Of course, we must affirm that suffering people need to look at their God; they must gaze at Him and how He has revealed Himself in His Word.  But how we speak about God, particularly in counseling situations, is crucial.  What is crucial in this endeavor is to speak about God in ways that are accurate to His own description of Himself in His inerrant Word.  Veering off course can be disastrous, and it is particularly tempting in counseling situations to rest on personal feeling and emotion rather than on accurate Scriptural truth.  Open theism becomes tempting when someone has suffered a tragedy ("God just didn't know...").  Prosperity "gospel" is particularly tempting to suggest to someone who is considering divorce ("God just wants you to be happy...").  The idea of Divine mutability is tempting to dole out when we are sitting with someone wrestling with sexual sin ("That was the God of the Old Testament...").  Denying Divine Impassibility is tempting when it seems more palatable to present God simply as happy and sad rather than to get into God's "otherness" from creation for fear that God will appear stoic.  And on and on it goes.  How we speak about God is always important, and it is always important to ground how we speak about God in what He speaks about Himself.  Historic Confessions help.

The Baptist Confession (LBCF 1689) 2.1 reads: "The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty."

Do we speak about God in counseling sessions like this, albeit with appropriate grace and acumen?  Imagine the believing Counselor who has training in attending to people, who has experience in sitting with hurting, troubled and struggling people, who also has a clear understanding of interpreting Scripture and an understanding of historic systematic theology as laid out in Confessions coming out of the Reformation. By no means would he or she be perfect, or always right, but clearly informed in how God speaks about God, and how that changes everything--even in the midst of human pain, suffering and sin.  Or, do we want a counselor to learn theology "at church", but represent God any old way during the week in counseling sessions?  We need to hear about God as He desires to be spoken of.  Of course, we do not simply quote historic confessions in counseling moments, but those confessions can be a training ground for how we speak about God in the midst of counseling ministry. Working to weave in theologically accurate truths into counseling conversations is ultimately to speak of God aright. 

Practical Examples abound.  What about the adult who loses a believing loved one suddenly in death?  The question often comes in hurt, disbelief and anger: "where was God when this happened?!"  Imaging God as absent, or unable to control what occurred, or picturing Him as slightly paralyzed just won't due...and ultimately, it doesn't aid a person's grief and fears.  However, what if the Lord, specifically Jesus, was portrayed as "holding all things together" "upholding all things by the Word of His power" as Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 describe--speaking to His sovereign hand ordering each detail in the sudden death of a loved one.  This would not be spoken as "Jesus did this"(coldly) but rather, for example: "The Lord was completely sovereign every single second that your loved one was dying, and there was not one single second where the body and soul of your loved one was outside the providence of the Lord."  What helps more?  A paralyzed, anxious picture of God?  Or, a demonstration of the God who was so in control at the moment of a loved one's death, that no feeling, emotion, body cell, heartbeat, or flat-line was outside His precise, and perfect control.  Of course, the latter...and the latter is the biblically accurate portrayal.  So we counsel by: Slowly inserting comforting words--Listening carefully--Being present--And... speaking of God aright. And we speak gently, and slowly, not needing to rush every sentence into theological topics, but by seeking to speak of God accurately, every time we do speak of Him.

Counselors, let us speak about God the way He speaks about Himself...this is not at odds with comfort and the contrary, it is very much the center of it...