A man and his wife, seeking help for their troubled marriage, sat down with me in my office recently. Both of them were intent on sharing with me a litany of complaints about the other.
“Why Are You Here?”
I was glad they came, but my opening question to the man caught him off-guard. “Why are you here?” I asked.
Having already delivered to me his Intake Form, and in light of the obvious, he wasn’t sure what I was asking him; so he began to tell me about his problems, the majority of which were focused on his wife’s alleged failures.
I stopped the man mid-sentence, and asked him to think about the question again, keeping his profession of faith in Christ in full view. Seeing that the man wasn’t prepared for my ambush, I began to explain what I meant.
Together, we agreed that he was all of the following:
1) A man created in the image of God
2) A professing Christian
3) A husband, and
4) A father
Each of these realities, I explained, were created, given, and sustained for him by God.
These truths carried with them unique responsibilities that were supernaturally bound together for one overarching purpose. But, before I led him in that discussion, I wanted him to know that this purpose would be the plumb line by which we would judge any, and all potential solutions to the marital struggles they’d been experiencing.
When people arrive at that place where they’re emotionally ready for counseling, they’re often at “situation critical,” and simply want the hurt to stop. And, that’s understandable.
The trouble is, in that place, utilitarian ethics can rule the day, which is to say that when our pain is at its worst, the ends often justify the means, or so we feel.
Our Plumb Line
In biblical counseling, we’re guided by something that transcends the mere alleviation of symptoms or the modification of behavioral problems, even as important as those goals may be. The plumb line in biblical counseling and all forms of discipleship is found in God’s purposes for creating humanity, which is according to Scripture, His eternal glory (Psalm 19:1; Isaiah 42:8; 48:9-11; Romans 1:20-21).
A popular, evangelical pastor recently tweeted, “God didn’t put you on earth to judge you, but to enjoy you.” On the surface of it, and in a culture that exalts happiness above holiness, this sentiment feels good. To the untrained ear, it seems to ring true.
Unfortunately, this thought is painfully short of a biblical understanding of God’s purposes for us (and the rest of creation), and therefore is of little use in biblical counseling and discipleship. It asks the right question (i.e. Why did God create us?), but arrives at the wrong conclusion (i.e. God created us for His enjoyment). It elevates God’s pleasure in extending us grace (i.e. enjoyment), at the expense of His justice (i.e. judgment). There’s no biblical warrant for this.
This is no trite matter. It’s not akin to engaging in “ignorant controversies” (2 Timothy 2:23).
Pastor John Piper, in a sermon preached on September 12, 2012, said this:
“This world—this history as it is unfolding—was created and is guided and sustained by God so that the grace of God, supremely displayed in the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners would be glorified throughout all eternity in the Christ-exalting joys of the redeemed.”
Unlike the former quote, Piper’s statement clearly calls us to consider the creative power, sustaining work, and magnificent grace of God for His glory, and the joy of Christ followers.
In fairness, Piper’s thought is greater than the 140 characters allowed by Twitter, but if it can’t be said with some manner of theological precision, then perhaps it shouldn’t be said at all.
Why God created humanity and what we say about our attending responsibilities carry the weight of eternity. We must handle our words with care.
If I understand that God merely intends to “enjoy” me, the choices I make in response to the difficulties of life might look entirely different than if I understand that the glory of the living God is somehow at stake in my life.
In short, the idea that God intends not to “judge” me, but “enjoy” me, may make me feel good, but not in any way call me toward repentance and faith. These are irreplaceable components of biblical counseling and discipleship (Mark 1:15).
Implications for Counseling
By the conclusion of my session with the couple mentioned above, the husband knew that his role in the counseling process was deeply connected to God’s purposes for his life. The difficult circumstances he was facing could in no way be divorced from this truth.
He understood that the decisions he would make in the sessions to come would speak to the truth of his profession of faith, his love for Jesus, and commitment to his marriage. His entire view of marriage counseling changed as God’s purposes for his life came into view.
Reflecting on this counseling case and the associated Scriptures, I’m persuaded that when the purposes and glory of God are the non-negotiables of discipleship, we avail ourselves of His power, hope, and promises.
In very meaningful ways, “What must I do to make the pain go away?” becomes, “What must I do to please God?”
Join the Conversation
How do these two questions alter the focus of counseling?
- “What must I do to make the pain go away?”
- “What must I do to please God?”