Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Without Counsel Plans Fail

I’ve seen a professional counsellor exactly once in my life. He was bald with a trimmed, white beard, sitting behind the big, polished, expensive desk one would expect, in a quiet, dark room. No couch. My wooden chair was not completely uncomfortable but clearly calculated to be no more so than required.

He was mild mannered and pleasant, cajoled me into spilling my guts for half an hour and then pronounced that I was a “good person”.

That was pretty much it for me. I knew everything I needed to know about him right there — if not as a man, most definitely as a counsellor.

First, he’d known me for precisely 30 minutes, probably less at that point. Nobody, no matter how perceptive or experienced, can reasonably pronounce on another person’s goodness with such a limited information base.

Second, he knew me only from what I’d told him. I could have been the world’s biggest liar. I could’ve been entirely self-deceived, recounting things I believed to be true but that anyone who knew me outside of that office would have dismissed as nonsense in a heartbeat.

Third, after hearing everything I had to say, his first inclination was to attempt to reinforce my positive self-image to ensure I was not feeling bad about myself.

That was the kicker for me.

I know, I know: he was just mouthing a platitude. It was a counselling technique, nothing more. He couldn’t have really presumed he was making a definitive statement about me. Nobody is that dull.

Affirming that someone is characteristically “good” in their behavior may be appropriate when one is talking to a genuinely decent person who’s made a solitary slip and is already feeling overwhelmed with guilt and the consequences of his or her action. Maybe.

But how useful is it when you’re talking to someone who is regularly engaged in sin and looking for help getting out of it? Or a person who has come to you stone blind to the fact that he or she is the direct cause of his or her own misery, and in need of a serious jolt of reality?

Professional counselling for non-Christians? Sure, why not. If you have never put your faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t blame you for seeking advice anywhere you can find it. Give it a shot. Notwithstanding my own experience, I don’t imagine everything that what every professional counsellor out there has to say is utter nonsense, though I suspect that it will be useful to you only in the measure in which it is, however indirectly, derived from the truth of the Bible. All truth is God’s truth.

On the positive side, the emptiness of what most secular counsellors have to offer may lead you to seek truth where it can really be found.

Of course, on the negative side, if the cause of your problems is your own sin, you will never learn that hard and necessary truth from a professional counsellor.

But for the person who has trusted Christ, I’m not sure what value there is in seeking the counsel of professionals who start from the position that human nature is essentially “good”. Since that is the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches, any logically-consistent conclusion that proceeds from such a premise is likely to point you in the wrong direction — though, of course, a stray inconsistent conclusion may help you by accident. Sometimes people are better than their philosophies.

If we have really come to know Christ and embraced the worldview of Scripture, why on earth would we ever look outside that worldview for help with our problems?

In fact, we are told explicitly that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

If the Lord Jesus Christ is adequate to deal with the question of the sin of mankind in the eyes of God, then surely he is adequate to deal with the situations we face or, more often, make for ourselves. Doesn’t that make sense?

And I think that’s what Peter is saying here: “All things that pertain to life and godliness”. That takes in, well, pretty much everything: parenting, marriage, relationships, work problems, school, sibling rivalry, racism, bigotry, disadvantages of every kind, poverty, accidents, ill-health — every single thing that “pertains to” life and how to navigate it in a godly way.

These are externals, things over which we either have no control at all, or situations where what happens, or has already happened, doesn’t depend strictly on our own actions and responses.

What about those things which assault us internally? What about depression, immaturity, poor mental health, weakness, fear, self-indulgence, out-of-control desire, wrong assumptions, obstinacy and so many other things that wear us down and spoil our enjoyment of life? These, too, constitute part of “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire”.

Outside and inside, every day, we are at war. And the solution Peter proposes is basic. So basic that it’s easy to dismiss as “unrealistic”, “simplistic” or “failing to address the real problem”.

The solution, Peter says, is Jesus Christ.

Specifically, “the knowledge of him who called us”, so that we may partake in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world.

We need to know him better. That’s the solution.

Let me propose something totally goofy, but just go with me and give it some thought. One tiny example, and of course the situation would vary depending on what problem you’re dealing with:

Suppose the next time I have trouble with my kids, for instance, instead of running to a child psychologist, I think about whether I know any Christian couples who have had success raising children. I suspect I might know one or two. And suppose they are willing to share what they’ve learned over the years. I bet they would, frankly.

It’s very possible that what they have to say will not apply to my particular situation, might not be well thought-out or prayed-over; that it might not solve all my problems. The great thing about advice is … well, I don’t have to take it, do I.

But it’s another viewpoint, one I may not have previously considered. And because they are believers, they may direct me to some portion of the word of God I’ve never considered, or to one I had wrongly dismissed.

And if they don’t or can’t, what’s to stop me from finding another godly Christian couple and trying it again, other than disbelief or discouragement?

Proverbs tells us “without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed”.

You just need to make sure they’re the right advisers.

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