A modern phenomenon is the role counseling plays in the lives of people. Some have held regular sessions with counselors for years. One person told me that he didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have his weekly session with his counselor.
In this issue I will explore the need for counseling in light of the Scriptures, especially as it relates to grace. The grace of God relates to His Sovereignty and should impact the believer in the area of his need for counseling.
A group of secular intellectuals gathered at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado, last summer to discuss the role specialists play in fostering the need for counseling. The technical term, “iatrogenic,” means “a doctor-induced illness, the solution that causes additional problems.” Richard Farson, a psychologist in attendance, was quoted as saying, “Where do we get the idea that our marriages should have perfect communication, hot, kinky sex and fulfill our every need all the time. Psychology. Psychology is probably the single greatest reason for divorce!”
I suggest that although psychology feeds the problem, the problem itself finds its origin in man’s quest for autonomy. This desire to run one’s own life first finds its expression in Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As noted in the September, 1990, issue of the Dear Co-Laborer’ letter, the Temptation of Genesis 3 had nothing to do with knowing right from wrong, but with deciding what is good (i.e. what is in my best interest) and what is evil (i.e. what is not in my best interest).
God said that man can have anything he wants, but that He wants to define man’s best interest. Man’s rebellion is a quest for autonomy.
NECESSARY INGREDIENTS FOR AUTONOMY
At least three things are necessary for man to succeed in being autonomous:
1) Egalitarianism. The philosopher Rousseau, in his autobiography Confessions, argued that in order for man to achieve his potential he either had to live in isolation or, if in community, practice egalitarianism by sharing the common good with the common man. Without believing in either the God of the Scriptures or the depravity of man, he understood that man is capable of hurting his fellow man. The fur trapper living in the mountains of Colorado a hundred years ago didn’t “sin” against his fellow man; he never saw people. Egalitarianism was the only solution to man’s quest for autonomy while at the same time living in society. This makes socialism an attractive philosophy to the intelligentsia.
2) A lack of accountability. True freedom is possible only if man is not held accountable for the consequences of his actions. We will take a closer look at this later in the article. However, by way of example, promiscuous people are insistent that AIDS is a disease that is not tied to aberrant behavior, believing rather that it claims its victims indiscriminately.
3) Control. Events over which a person has no control threaten autonomy. This is why a great deal of time is devoted to self-protection and why we have become a litigious society. When others hurt us in any way, such as a doctor, auto accident, or break of contract, we sue.
You can see that “a lack of accountability” and “control” are contradictory. I want others to be held accountable for the consequences of their acts while not wanting to be accountable myself.
Autonomy is a fundamental drive. Its presence in Adam and Eve before the Fall makes it obvious that God created us with this desire. At the heart of all interpersonal relationships is volition, i.e. what makes the relationship meaningful is the fact of choice. God wants man to voluntarily surrender to Him.
But God has also designed life in such a way that the failure to submit is the path to self-destruction. Society has always known the importance of authority. Institutions of every kind have at their core the need to submit. People who make a god of their freedom tend to self-destruct. We all know people who defy every form of authority, refusing to learn from their pain the need to yield to leadership.
Autonomy produces broken relationships and “dysfunctionalism,” which in turn produces a further lack of trust in authority. Thus the problem feeds on itself. The personal hurt that autonomy produces substantiates the need for autonomy.
The intelligentsia are smart enough to understand their need to submit to authority, but are
committed to creating a system in which they are in charge. Like a friend of mine once said, “I am against bishops unless I can be one.”
A friend who has his Ph.D. in psychology said that the counselor has replaced the pastor as the confidant of the people. He is the high priest of the secular society. Many seek him for instruction on how to have autonomy without accountability. Calling a character defect a disease accomplishes this.
An article by Erica E. Goode, in the February 10, 1992, issue of U.S. News and World Report, entitled “Sick, or Just Quirky?” points out that in 1917 the American Psychiatric Association included 59 forms of mental complaint. In their latest version of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” the list has grown to 292.
The author continues, “Cynics question how heavily such decisions are influenced by factors that have nothing to do with science – for example, social mores, psychiatrists’ wish to be seen as “hard” scientists, economic motives or the idiosyncratic views of prominent experts. As one psychologist says, ‘It’s a very political process.”’
Goode uses the illustration of the removal of homosexuality from the psychiatric manual in 1973 and inclusion of “nicotine dependence.” “ The splendor of human diversity thus runs the risk of becoming simply a collection of syndromes and disorders.”
One of the author’s most telling comments is, “Not only does it suggest that any departure from happiness is abnormal, it also shifts responsibility away from the individual, encouraging people in the questionable belief that life’s difficulties are readily fixed by experts. And, of course, creating a new diagnosis gives doctors one more condition to treat.” (Emphasis mine.)
Counseling seeks to answer the “why” of the “what.” For example, if I am a co-dependent, the counselor can help me by showing that my symptoms are the product of an abusive father. Having understood how I came to develop my problem, I can confront the cause by talking about it with my father. Understanding why I am the way that I am, steps to correct my problem can now be taken.
I remember reading an article in which the author suggested that only about four percent of the population is mentally healthy. Ninety-six percent are dysfunctional to one degree or another. Although you may be a bit dubious, as am I, we know that in one sense a malady infects 100 percent of the people. If this were not true, the death of Christ would be unnecessary.
Anyone with eyes to see knows that we live in a world of hurting people. You cannot be in the people business without encountering evidence of the carnage of sin. A lot of people’s time and energy is spent trying to deal with the product of bad decisions, both in their own lives and the lives of those that impact them.
Counseling can provide a tourniquet for these people, but it cannot provide a cure. Only Jesus can cure. If the pain is the product of personal sin, then repentance and restoration are necessary for a cure. Since it is against God that we have sinned, only He can forgive and heal. (We will explore this further in the next issue.)
If the pain is the product of the sin of others, then we need to understand that God authored the pain. God does not delegate our destinies to others. He is to “blame” for the hurt that comes into our lives, even though other people seem to bring it upon us. As God said to Satan in Job 2:3:
And the LORD said unto Satan. “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.’
We return to the two foundational pillars in the believer’s relationship with God: In His sovereignty He is in control, and in His goodness He has our best interest at heart. Only by believing this can a cure of our malaise be obtained.
For the purpose of the argument, let’s imagine that I have an alcoholic father, my mother was a whore and my uncle sexually molested me as a youth. Spiritual and emotional healing can only take place when I acknowledge that God in His providence gave me my parents and uncle. God gave them to me because He is a good God and understands that living in that crucible is for my benefit, best preparing me for an eternity with Him. In short, my family is an expression of God’s grace!
In II Corinthians 12:9 Paul says:
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
In the midst of suffering, is the grace of God sufficient?
A friend of mine went through a hurtful divorce. Although there are always two sides to a conflict, I think it is safe to say that the sin was primarily that of the partner. My friend said that never again would he trust another person. The intensity of the pain made him feel the need to insulate himself from the possibility of it happening again.
Maybe God wants him single the rest of his life. A cursory reading of I Corinthians 7 affirms this possibility. But to isolate one’s self in order to escape pain is an unbiblical motive. God wants us in the people business. However, when becoming intimately involved in the lives of others there is no way to escape hurt. Only by believing that God orchestrates such pain can I experience the sufficiency of His grace.
Another friend experienced financial disaster. He said that the pain was so severe that he was going to work his way out of debt and never allow himself to be exposed to it again. Maybe God wants him debt free, but never as an excuse to avoid pain. Nor does God want him to retreat to the mountains in quest of the simple life style. The quest for the simple life is to hide his talent, as did the unfaithful steward in Matthew 25:24-30.
God doesn’t want us to retreat from pain. He wants us to grow in our suffering. This can only happen by understanding that God brought this pain into our lives as an expression of His grace. Satan and the actions of evil people may function as agents of God, but Biblically they are never the first cause. God is!
Nor does God want you to vent your spleen on the people who have brought pain into your life.
Nothing good is served by your reliving the past and reviewing your pain. Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14:
“This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Grateful for His leadership,