Monday, June 14, 2010

Counseling and Job's Friends

The book of Job fascinates me. Between the interaction with Satan and God, God’s overarching control of everything, Job’s response in the midst of great sorrow, and the subsequent response of his friends, I have always finished Job with lots to ponder and process. We can learn a lot about counseling from the book of Job. And I found myself repeatedly praying throughout the entire book, asking God to protect me from the all too familiar tendency to counsel like Job’s friends.

There are three things about counseling that stood out to me while reading.

  1. Counseling must begin with a clear understanding of God. We see from Job’s friends that they begin counseling Job from a faulty and improper view of God and how he operates with his children. They assumed that Job must have committed some sin against God in order to be the recipient of such suffering. How often do we try and counsel our friends from our own perceived view of God, rather than what the Bible says about him? Bringing a wrong view of God to people in their suffering will not only discourage them, but it will provide no hope for them in their trial.
  2. Counseling must show empathy and care for the one suffering. Hurting people need to feel loved. More importantly, they need to feel loved by God. Sometimes that love means saying nothing. Sometimes it means showing them a bigger view of God. This is where empathy comes in. We must enter into the pain of the people we are counseling. Job’s friends started off well (Job 2:11-13), but they did not stay there. Perhaps they thought he was taking too long to get over his pain. Maybe they just didn’t understand their friend. We don’t really know. But we do know that they did not continue to serve their friend in his suffering. Often showing empathy means getting out of our comfort zone (and our opinions), but it will serve our friends.
  3. Counseling must show people that God is for them. Job continued to hold to his innocence of wrongdoing. His friends could have helped him see that his suffering was not necessarily a result of God’s discipline. Reiterating God’s care and love for a hurting brother or sister can sometimes be the very means God uses to bring them hope.

Perhaps you are reading this and feeling saddened by past failures to counsel suffering people well. Or maybe you are overwhelmed by your inability for the task. You are in good company. We all are. But God is faithful to redeem you of insensitivity and inability. Left to ourselves we cannot help anyone. We need Christ’s work to enable us to do all that he calls us to. This is why all counseling needs to be bathed in prayer and done in humility. We must entrust ourselves to the God who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine both through us and in the lives of hurting people.

8 comments:

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debt said...

Wonderful post, Courtney!!!

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts Courtney. You are so conscientous, I believe you will be a wonderful counselor.

There is another lesson from Job, one that you may find more important than the other important ones you mention.

The lesson is to beware the oh-so-human temptation to assume a one-to-one relationship between suffering and sin.

Job 2:11 may be the most cruelly ironic verse in the Bible. The friends did not comfort Job. They accused him, when he least needed accusation, multiplying his suffering!

God was angry at them for this.

Jesus addresses the same concept in Luke 13. In the fallen tower example, suffering was NOT correlated to sin but rather to God's sovereignty... period... whether we humans can understand it or not.

To tie suffering directly to sin means that the suffering person must absolutely have some hidden sin in their life causing the suffering. This leads to a cruel, twisted conclusion, that the best thing the counselor/friend can do - MUST do, to be responsible - is to bear down mercilessly to uncover that sin, save the sufferer's soul, and thereby alleviate the suffering (supposedly).

So the counselor thinks she is helping but is only increasing the pain the more she bears down. What a horrifying scenario for someone who is down and suffering due to no real fault of her own to face!

Yes, sometimes sin causes suffering. And yes, sometimes 'love must be tough.'

But no, not all suffering is caused by sin, and many times - perhaps most of the time - love must be forebearing and encouraging.

This takes discernment and a merciful spirit. Counselors must beg God for wisdom and insight, leading from the Holy Spirit, to know those rare times when they need to "dig" for hidden sin, but also when to not do so, but rather to comfort.

When in doubt, may we lean towards mercy rather than harshness, especially as we cultivate Godly feminine spirits within our own souls.

May we never treat a friend or patient or client like Job's friends treated Job.

cdt said...

Thanks, Mom!

cdt said...

Anonymous,

Thank you so much for your insightful comment, and for adding a very important point. you are so right. Job's friend assumed that it had to be human sin that caused the suffering. The link to the passage in Luke is very insightful and one of the best passages for showing that human sin is often not the reason for the suffering of God's people. I appreciate it! Thanks for reading.

-Courtney

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