Counseling From the Biblical Creation Perspective:
A Bibliographical Essay
There is today a burgeoning number of counseling services both by professing Christians and even more by non-Christians. In addition to counseling offered by people with professional credentials as psychologists, psychiatrists and pastors, much (perhaps most) counseling is being done informally by persons trying to help their friends or relatives. Finally, there is a veritable flood of self-help counseling manuals on the market both for troubled individuals and for would-be counselors. In the following paper we will review selected counseling manuals written from a professed Christian world view.
In attempting this task, it is indispensable that our evaluation itself be based upon firm scriptural truth. We begin, not with isolated parts of Scripture but with its beginning, the biblical creation record and the record of man's fall. The biblical creation record is our starting point because this record contains the first and foundational principles for biblically based counseling.
We read in the biblical creation record of the very first instance of counseling. For the very first counseling mentioned in the Bible is the grave counsel Adam receives about the consequences of eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Who gives this counsel? God Himself, the Creator of all things Who alone therefore knows all His handiwork completely. From the events that follow, namely, the fall, we know that God, the Creator of all things and of man in particular in His own image and likeness, gave man correct counseling. He gave His counsel in love to preserve man, not in arbitrary tyranny. For it follows of necessity from man's creation in God's own image and likeness that man must lose God's image and likeness if he disobeys God.
Thus of necessity, if man wills that which God Himself does not will, he must die as that created being made in God's own image and likeness. We who are God's image-bearers are truly, by definition, dead as God's image-bearers when in trespasses and sins and rejecting restoration of ourselves as God's image-bearers in Christ. Our lives our well-being our identities our "selves" can thus of necessity exist only in Christ, Who is Himself the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature (Colossians 1:15): "For by Him (Christ) were all things created, that are in heaven, and earth, visible and invisible.... all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:16-17). Any human action and counseling infected with a view of "self" apart from God is false. This is why Christ Himself said, "I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, Judge: and my judgment is just, because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me" (John 5:30).
The sequel to God's counsel to Adam in Eden our first parents' fall into sin bears this out. Again counseling is involved the counsel of the Serpent who advised Eve, "You shall not surely die: For God knows that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4-5). We read that after eating of the forbidden fruit, that is, setting up themselves in rejection of God's counsel, the eyes of our first parents were indeed "opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" (Genesis 3:7). What they first beheld was their own misery: they beheld their own "selves," apart from God, naked, in need of cover, no longer glorious and safe within their Creator's rest they had shared before losing their originally created likeness to Him. Thus they first "knew evil"; hence their fear upon hearing their Creator's voice, and their attempt to hide from Him behind fig leaves and trees.
We see from the biblical creation account and the biblical account of the fall how futile it is to look to one's "self" for independence apart from or over against the Creator. Any counsel, therefore, which in any way points to "self" primarily, or in addition to pointing to God Himself as the only source of life and health, is false.
Note also that God stripped Adam and Eve of their fig leaves and clothed them in coats of skins (Genesis 3:21), pointing forward to the sacrifice of Christ His only begotten Son as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and indicating that we can stand before Him only clothed in His righteousness by His grace, and not in the filthy rags of our own "self"-righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). Furthermore, note that Eve could not excuse herself by laying the responsibility for her sin upon the serpent, nor could Adam shrug off responsibility for his own sin by blaming Eve (or ultimately God Himself). God punished each of them according to their own deeds, a principle running from Genesis through the last chapter of the Bible, where Christ says, "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Revelation 22:12). Hence any counsel implying or allowing blaming others for our own sins is false. Whatever parents, grandparents, spouses, employers, children and other fellow people may have done to hurt us, in the end "every man must bear his own burden" in the sight of God. We are to "forget the things that are past" and press on to perfection, looking only upon Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
Keeping these basic biblical doctrines in heart and mind, we are now ready 10 evaluate a sampling of recent books on counseling by Christian authors. Let us begin with Living Be yend Depression by Matilda Nordtvedi (Bethany House Publishers, 6820 Auto Club Road, Minneapolis, MN 55438, 19781. This is a small paperback written by a pastor's wife who writes from personal experience of years of depression. She was brought to a discoverythat changed her life through reading Hannah Whitall Smith's book, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. This book (a Christian classic we highly recommendl points us to God in everything that happens, in fulfillment of Romans 8:28. `That night," writes Mrs. Nordtvedt, "this truth permeated the darkness of my tunnel . . God showed me that if He is indeed in everything that comes to me, I should give thanks for it all, the hard things as well as the happy ones. Self-pity had been my constant companion. . Should I not part company with self-pityand her cohorts unbelief, pessimism, grumbling and fear? Should I not rather entertain gratitude, faith, hope and optimism?" (p.13).
The remainder of the book gives practical examples and applications of this foundation truth of God in everything, including our troubles, for our good in His wise and all-provident love and perfect will. Over and over again the reader is reminded to look to the Lord and not to self, indeed, to forget about self altogether and to worship and praise Him, as we focus upon Him Who made heaven and earth (Psalm 115:12-15). "As I turned my eyes on Him, I too, escaped from the net of depression that Satan had laid for me. As I focused on Him I began to worship and praise. I was lifted out of myself and my circumstances. Joy and peace filled my heart" (116-117). There are many references to other Christian believers of past and present times who knew and witnessed of this God-centered, Christ-praising way, life and truth. There is life here to restore life.
This small book, written by one mercifully free from reliance upon or even reference to worldly professional counseling, but rather in simple and childlike faith sharing what she learned when personally sitting at the feet of our Savior, is altogether edifying and can be given to anyone in need of godly counsel. Helping People Through Their Problems by Selwyn Hughes (Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN 55438, 1981, pb., 192 pp. mcI. Index of Scriptures, Glossary and Index, $4.95) is written for people called upon to help counsel other people on the levels of "counselling by encouragement" and "counselling by exhortation." Athird level, "counseling by enlightenment" is according to Hughes, `~oo deep to be dealt with by untrained laymen and. must be referred to those who have the wisdom and insight to handle them." Hughes does not deal further with such "level three problems," referring them to a future book (p.3).
Along with and in spite of frequent intrusion of language adopted from worldly professionals in the counseling field (and tinged with a trace of unscientific and uncritical Freudianism), Hughes offers much solid biblical advice. In particular, his formulation of the chief purpose of counseling is deserving of praise, namely, "to help (counselees) to become more like Jesus" (p.19). He points out that "(i)f we understand the Scripture rightly, the goal of Christian living is not happiness, but holiness" (p.20), and "the goal of helping people with their problems is to move them from self-centeredness to Christcenteredness" (p. 26). We can only applaud from the biblical creation perspective.
Hughes then lays out a pattern for people-to-people counseling which is generally sound. He gives useful specific guidelines, for instance, that a counselee ought to have a complete medical check-up before entering counseling (p.34), rightly recognizing that what may seem like a "psychological" or "spiritual" problem may be a matter of physical ill health. He stresses use of the Bible as the fountainhead of true counseling and believes "the Bible, in its original form, to be divinely inspired and without error in all its parts" (p.100). Appendix A, "Scripture for Use in Counseling," divided by headings like "anxiety and worry," "discipline through difficulties, ""forgiving others," "loneliness," "temptation" and other important problem areas is most helpful. Hughes stresses the part of our thinking about or evaluation of our problems or experiences in the formation of our behavior, in accordance with the Scripture, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). He emphasizes, in accordance with the biblical creation perspective, that "every single one of us must accept accountability for our wrong actions" (p.110). There is a good chapter about "Dangers to Avoid in People-Helping" which deserves attention from anyone engaged in counseling (all of us sooner or later).
The only thread of thought surfacing here and there as a minor theme throughout this book and troubling this reviewer is the idea that "we must learn to accept ourselves" because "God loves us." Now if we mean God's love offering us salvation in Christ, and if we mean our absolute worth by virtue of God's creative intent for us in His image and likeness, then there is scriptural truth to the statement that "God loves us." But "learning to accept ourselves" cannot mean minimizing our sinful nature after the fall and our many flaws and continuing, repeated acts of sin which we must repent of that is, confess as sin and forsake by God's grace. We are to mort,fy our old man, not "learn to accept" him. The "self" we receive in Christ is in process of formation and restoration in our Creator's own glorious, sinless, perfect image and likeness; to learn to accept ourselves as other than that nei~ Christ-restored self is sin. The counsel to godly sorrow and repentance to "sin no more lest a worse thing befall thee" (Christ's own words to the man healed at the pool of Bethesda, John 5:14) is an indispensable part of the gospel, the good news of our Savior Who came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). Thiscounsel is fearfully neglected today. We need to return to George MacDonald's high and holy concept of God's love: "God loves (men) so that He will burn them clean."
The Art of Learning to Love Yourselfby Cecil G. Osborne (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Ml 1979, pb., 158 pp., $2.95) isthoroughly marred bythissame false emphasis upon the supposed "need for self-acceptance." This is evident from the book's title, from the very first counseling scene described in Chapter 1, where a woman describes a "primal experience" of rejection by her parents after the author "had regressed her to childhood" (p. 11), to ample blame heaped upon parents for causing a "weak self-image" in their children, to Appendix A on "Primal Feelings" (heavily Freudian and altogether irrelevant from the bibilical creation perspective), Appendix B listing "Some Parental Put-downs" (laying more guilt upon parents), and Appendix C "Test to Determine the Degree of Your Self-Acceptance" which might have been lifted from the pages of a gossip tabloid-cum pop psychology like the National Enqu'Yer, and which even if answered 100% "correctly" would tell the test taker nothing about his or her acceptability in the sight of God a Christian's first concern. `nough said!
Dr. James Dobson's Emotions: Can You Trust Them? (Regal Books, A division of GL Publishers, Ventura, CA 93006, pb., 143 pp., $2.50) is sound and biblical throughout. The emotions of guilt, romantic love, anger, and evaluation of "impressions" about God's will are discussed in a question-answer format. A section, "Learning-Discussion Ideas," is provided for review after each chapter. Dr. Dobson gives a good answer to counselors emphasizing "selfacceptance": "The absence of guilt feelings does not necessarily mean we are blameless before God. . . Regardless of what we feel, the ultimate test of one's acceptability to our Lord is found in Romans 8:1: `There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit' "(pp.40-41).
Dr. Dobson believes that "we should take a long, hard look at the `discovery of personhood,' which seeks to free our emotions from restraint and inhibition. The pop-psych movement . encourages us to get in touch with our feelings Reason is now dominated by feelings, rather than the reverse as God intended" (p.10). The chapter on romantic love ought to be read by every young person entering the courtship age. This reviewer was particularly well impressed with the chapter on "impressions" or "feelings" about God's will or guidance in an individual's life. Dobson lists the following ways to test an impression's validity as an indicator of God's will: (1 (Is it scriptural?(Morethan "proof-texts" search the whole Bible.) (2) Is it right? (If an impression would result in the depreciation of human worth or the integrity of the family or related biblical Christian values, it must be viewed with suspicion.) (3) Is it providential? (Do circumstances permit the implementation of what I feel to be God's wilt?) (4) Is it reasonable? (Is it consistent with the character of God to require it? Will this act contribute to the Kingdom?) (p.134).
Finally, Dr. Dobson counsels his readers to surrender themselves completely in the hands of God. He cites the example of a missionary who when a young man went to church and wrote down on a paper everything in his life he could think of as "surrendered to God," put the paper on the altar and waited for some sort of visible approval from the Lord; "but nothing happened. It was quiet, still and was so disappointed. . . Then . I felt the voice of God speaking in my heart.. . It said, `Son, you're going about it wrong . . take a blank piece of paper and sign your name on the bottom of it, and let Me fill it in' "(pp.136-i). Here is biblical counsel valid for all situations, truly coming from our Lord Himself.
Another practical counseling manual is Telling Yourselfthe Truth by William Bakus and Marie Chapian (Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis. MN 55438, pb., 185 pp., $4.95). The authors are practicing, professional counselors, and they call their method "misbelief therapy," claiming it is effective in 95 percent of cases they treated. "Misbeliefs," according to the authors, are beliefs we tell ourselves about ourselves and the situations we are in, which are not true and which lead us to attitudes and actions contrary to God's will. Misbeliefs "are the direct cause of emotional turmoil, maladaptive behavior and most so-called `mental illness.' . the misbeliefs we tell ourselves are directly from the pit of hell" (pp.17, 18). The counselor's job, then, is to make the counselee face his or her own misbeliels and acknowledge them as lies; this accomplished, the counselee must be confronted with the truth and change his course of action and attitude accordingly. Case after case is described, in which readers with misbeliefs can recognize similarities to their own situations. The authors deserve highest credit for putting the part other people play in our problems in the proper, secondary place, and for emphasizing the accountability of each of us for our own actions. This also applies to the major cause of personal unhappiness, namely, what other people think of us.
However, "Jesus never told us to go out and take a course in how to get people to like us. He told us to love Him, trust Him, have faith in Him, glorify Him, and to genuinely care about others" (p.67).
On occasion there are passages or terms which appear questionable at first sight, but which are generally explained acceptably. For example, the term "self-control" is properly put in biblical, Christ-centered perspective by showing that it is really the Holy Spirit in us Who brings forth "self-control" as His fruit (p.102). Another example is the authors' explanation of what they mean by love for oneself: "A most godly thing for you to do is to have respect and love for yourself. . In order to love yourselt you must be a lovely person; and that happens when a person allows himself to be crucified to sin (selfishness) and come alive to God through the power of the Holy Spirit" (p.111). There is an excellent section on the manipulation of others by guilt, which should be replaced by speaking honestly and in true love tothe people in our lives. There is an important discussion of "misbelief in being indispensable," a satanic lie which has harmed and even destroyed many ministries (usually first leading to pride, then to "burnout" and then to depression). When our Lord is using us, may we by His grace remember that then "(t)he Lord is demonstrating himself through (us) in the glory of love and truth. (We) are important, unique, special and beautiful, but thank God, none of us is indispensable" (p.158). Our brother in Christ, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, put it like this in one of his poems:
1,100, could transmit to mankind
a reflection of Your rays.
And as much as I must still reflect
You will give me.
But as much as I cannot take up
You will have already assigned to others.
This book is the application, in the counseling area, of exposing Satan's lying "mis-counsels" (beginning in Eden), and overcoming his lies with the truth in Christ and God's Word. It also contains an excellent definition of "happiness," so often a false, or falsely defined, goal of shallow and worldly counseling The definition is taken from Psalm 1:1, 2 (Amplified Bible): "Blessed happy, fortunate, prosperous and enviable is the man who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly.. . . But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God" (Preface).
It is no coincidence that another counseling book, Russian letters of Direction 1834-1860 by Macarius, Starets of Optino (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1975) is arranged by the Beatitudes, the "blessed's" of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. While the outward circumstances of the Russian people 150 years ago may have varied in some degree from ours, the problems with which they came to Macarius for counsel are much like our own: depression, perplexity about marriage, upbringing of children, choice of work, failure in career, poverty, illness and how to deal with our own sins of hatred, pride, giving in to temptation, and soon. Over and over again Macarius takes care to point inquirers to God Himself and to the Scriptures, not merely by direct quotes but also by the whole spirit and expression permeating his letters. (One familiar with the Bible can indeed see many more quotations from it than indicated directly in italics by the editor.) As our modern counseling books do not, or not to this extent, this little humble volume shows forth what C.S. Lewis, in speaking of George MacDonald, has called "Christ-like union of tenderness and severity . . . terror and comfort . . . intertwined. The title 'Inexorable Love' . . . would serve for the whole collection." Marcarius's following words apply to us today: "There is no occasion to think that God, although He has of course permitted your weaknesses, chose them for you or appointed them. On the contrary, He alone can help you to overcome them; He, who unfailingly helps the humble who repent and (have) grown acutely conscious of their sins" (p.114).
The question whether any counseling at all is required for people with problems (especially emotional ones) is certainly relevant. In his classic, Competent to Counsel, Jay E. Adams cites the research by Dr. H.J. Eysenck which showed that while two out of three patients got better after 350 hours of psychoanalytic treatment, the same percentage got better without any treatment at all. It is certainly true that we should ultimately rely, not upon any counselor, no matter how sound, but upon our Lord Himself. Godly counselors know and state this truth, saying with the Apostle Paul: "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith you stand" (II Corinthians 1:24). Yet at times we all look for a "helper of our joy" to help restore us; this is so from creation onwards, when God said it was not good for man to be alone and made Eve to be "help meet for him." But again, final accountability for our actions, even as Adam's for eating of the forbidden fruit, is not our "helper's" but our own, to God.
We have attempted to present a representative sample of professed Christian counseling manuals available today. To sum up, the root of all man's problems is his falling-away from God. Hence his "knowledge of evil," that is, of his misery as a naked, helpless and chaotic "self" no longer in his originally created image and likeness of God which alone can give him certainty, glory and joy. God's love for man consists precisely in patiently laboring to restore man to his originally created identity in God Himself in and by Christ. Satan's lies consist precisely in counseling man to set up on his own, either in "strong" outright rebellion, or in "weak" but no less rebellious claims of inability to obey his Creator's will. In both instances man clothes himself in the fig leaves of his own self-righteousness. The end of godly counseling from the biblical creation perspective is to point us to Christ, teaching us that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5), and that "we can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).