Each week I meet with women who have various difficulties. Some struggle with perfectionism, which makes them feel as if they can never reach their goals. Others have eating disorders consisting of self-made rules that lead to defeat and self-criticism. A few suffer from severe health problems or have health concerns about their loved ones, making joy seem unattainable. Other women feel as if they will always be single and miss out on the happiness they see in couples and mothers. These struggles begin with different presentation problems, but they each have underlying presuppositions that lead the sufferer into wrong thinking. These women join together in saying, “I feel as if God is perpetually angry with me.” As we meet with sufferers like these, let’s incorporate theology into our counseling. It’s easy to talk about what they need to do and verses to apply to their problems, all while missing their mistaken view of God. I know I find myself falling into this trap. I can stress applied sanctification and deemphasize theology. Let’s consider the reason for this tendency to teach good works and downplay theology. The best counselors are caring people who like to solve problems using the Word of God. They have seen counselees change for the better through obedience to God’s commands. This can lead to an over-use of Ephesians 4:22-24, emphasizing “putting off” bad behavior and “putting on” good behavior. It’s important to take a step back and assess the theological weaknesses of those we seek to help. It’s time to dig deeper to find the errors in their view of God, which lead to their discouragement.
1. Much Christian literature and teaching emphasizes emotional experiences but is theologically weak.This leads people to believe that difficult circumstances are directly tied to God’s negative view of His children. Instead, they need to be steered away from feelings (Prov. 14:12) and toward biblical truth about God’s ways (Prov. 3:5-6). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
2. Some counselees are confused about the unity of God in both the Old and New Testaments.A common misconception is that God the Father is an angry, wrathful God, and Jesus is the sweet and gentle manifestation of God. They have the mistaken belief in a “mean God” who inflicts punishment that we must endure. Instead, a study of the nature of God will help expand their understanding. Even the Old Testament describes the lovingkindness of God. “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exod. 34:6-7).
3. Christians can tend to tie their view of God to how they were treated by their earthly fathers.If they have/had a harsh father who often criticizes, their view of God the Father can be affected. Even the term “father” can create false associations. They may feel like they never measure up because their earthly father was never pleased with their efforts. Because they see their heavenly father in this light, it seems as if all their striving to please God only results in failure, which leads to discouragement. Instead, teach your counselee the superiority of God the Father over the best and most righteous father on earth. “For [our fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:10).
4. Some counselees lean so hard against “cheap grace” that they find it difficult to see grace at all.Somehow it seems more holy to live with a constant feeling of falling “short of the mark.” They are disturbed by words such as these in the Book of Common Prayer: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.” But their thinking and emotions linger there without seeing God’s abundant grace. Instead, they should also absorb the remainder of the prayer: “But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
5. Each Christian has an enemy who seeks to move us away from focusing on the cross and the forgiveness of sins demonstrated there.As the hymn describes, “When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within…” Instead, let us show our friends the victory Christ has accomplished through His death on the cross. Revelation 12:10-11 says, “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Hallelujah! All these sufferers need to be treated with patience, gentleness, and prayer. Wrong patterns of thinking based on a distorted understanding of God take time to overcome. Counselors may be called upon to constantly point to the grace of God, even to the extent that verses are repeated again and again as we wait for the Holy Spirit to do His work.
Let us end with the last phrases from the Order for Morning Prayer: “Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”
Questions for Reflection
- What are some other reasons that a counselee might have a distorted view of God? How can these reasons be addressed using Scripture?
- Think of some resources that can be used in your counseling to teach sufferers the truth about the Lord.