In a conversation with a medical doctor about anxiety and depression, he expressed frustration to me over the number of times he will diagnose significant levels of anxiety or depression only to be told that a patient’s pastor or friend warned against medicine and suggested a spiritual solution.
“This kind of five Bible verses and you’ll be better approach,” he said, “is far more common than many realize.”
Sadly, the doctor is right. Yet he acknowledged the common and misguided tendency among doctors to reduce these challenges to medicinal solutions. Over-prescription is a serious problem, but Christians should not react by choosing another extreme. Those who take the “five Bible verses and you’ll be better” approach risk discrediting the very Scriptures they offer. They also fail to leverage a great advantage available to Christian counselors.
We need more teaching on this subject because far too many Christians are quick to sound like an authority on a subject simply because they know a Bible verse or two about it. This approach is causing Christians to lose credibility in an area where they actually have far more to offer.
I told the doctor that when I counsel people I start with an assumption that they have a full line of moral credit. I treat them as individuals who can accept and pay for their debts. Out of respect for their dignity as beings made in the image of God, I view them as capable, responsible and accountable.
Yet I remain aware that life is not always easily reduced to raw choosing. We need to guard against a tendency within the Church to make all of life a matter of choice — of obedience or disobedience. We should counsel others with compassionate consideration toward the complexities that so often shape life.
This means (among other things) that we must take seriously the multidimensional nature of life in a fallen world. Christians must resist the tendency to approach people one-dimensionally — as if they were only spiritual beings in need of spiritual solutions. God created us as more than spiritual beings. Scripture itself reveals four dimensions of human life. We are…
- Physical beings with bodily needs.
- Social beings with relationship needs.
- Psychological beings with cognitive and emotional needs.
- Spiritual beings with a need for God.
Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being able to approach people holistically based on these dimensions. I say advantage because many other disciplines will not consider the spiritual dimension of life.
If I consider it inadequate when counselors or doctors leave out the spiritual dimension, why would I do the same with other dimensions? It is disrespectful to the truths revealed in Scripture to approach people one-dimensionally.
Scripture also reveals (what is empirically verifiable) that humans are fallen or sinful beings and that each dimension has been corrupted by our fallenness. This is why Christian counselors cannot accept idealized views of human potential apart from God’s grace and power. But it is also why the human body fails.
We should be grateful for the medical discoveries that help us with our physical needs. The most complicated human organ is the brain and it too can benefit from medicines that have been discovered.
A thorough Biblical understanding of humanity ought to protect us from simplistic reductions of life’s challenges. God has made us physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings and each dimension should be considered when counseling others.
We also must understand the dimensions of growth in spiritual maturity. While approaching people holistically, our ultimate aim should be to assist them in a life-process of bringing their lives into conformity to the will of their Creator. This involves our intellect (as we use our minds to explore God’s truth), our will (as we increasingly yield to God’s authority), and our emotions (as we cultivate godly affections).
Christian counselors do not treat people as products of impersonal chance. Since we know that there is a personal Creator, we call people to more than horizontal perspectives about life in a temporal world. Scripture reveals this amazing truth about Jesus Christ that, “all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Our counseling must always point people to the Lord and sustainer of life.
The Church of Jesus Christ is called to show neighbor-love and true care for one another (Romans 12:10; 13:9-10; Galatians 6:1). Yet we must resist an all too common tendency to be overly zealous in offering quick and easy answers for the issues that trouble others. I realize that we’ve been told that the Bible speaks to every issue of life. And Scripture is a treasure of truth to guide us in a broken world.
Is it adequate, therefore, to share a verse or two of Scripture with a person who tells you about his struggle? This might be just what a person needs to hear — in some cases. Yet it is rarely all that is needed.
The approach that troubled the doctor is often guilty of careless listening that is more focused on answers than understanding a person’s problem. We need to practice patience and grow in mercy.
The virtues of gentleness and wisdom should be on full display among us when counseling others. Let us treat people respectfully and compassionately based on the four dimensions of life. This is a great advantage of Christian counseling.
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