Saturday, December 20, 2014

Countdown to Christmas Conversations: An Invitation to Consider the Character of the Christ – Part One – Wonderful Counselor

St. Sigmund? Really?!
This is the second in a series of posts discussing my belief in Jesus as the Messiah, in hopes of fostering understanding of my spirituality, and encouraging others to share their own perspectives on spirituality (defined broadly as the means by which we derive meaning from life and assign value to its elements). For more about why I find the discussion of our spirituality to be so important, especially as we countdown to Christmas, please see the initial post in the series. (Found here: http://deathpastor.blogspot.com/2014/12/countdown-to-christmas-conversations.html)    

In Isaiah 9:6, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about the Messiah, calling Him, among other things, “Wonderful Counselor.” Since I have clients who occasionally tell me that I am a “wonderful counselor,” it would seem that I should have some great insight into this. Of course, as a pastoral counselor who’s invested tens of thousands of dollars into a master’s degree for that purpose, you’d think I was a big supporter of “the therapeutic culture.” In both cases, you’d be wrong.

As a pastoral counselor, I find myself agreeing with much of the criticism leveled at “the therapeutic culture” that can crowd out more healthy forms of discipleship and ministry. It would be easy to blame the clients, of course. And often, they do want to discover external causes for their situations and circumstances. Or they want to assign someone else as the “client-by-proxy,” so that I tell the person in my office how they can “fix” the others in their lives who cause all their problems for them. Of course, some recognize their need for counseling, primarily so they can go back to those for whom they have caused problems and say, “Look, I’m going to counseling. What else do you expect me to do?”

"How's that workin' for ya?"
And that’s where the problem usually comes up. I expect my clients to do something. Homework, usually. And at least participation and cooperation in working toward the changes they claim they’d like to see in their lives. But that’s where I find myself blaming bad clients for my role as a bad counselor. Sometimes I find myself working outside my areas of expertise. (Clients “beyond my scope of practice” should be referred—more quickly than is allowed by my desire to help everyone.) I want to hold onto some clients who are doing well, just because it’s encouraging enough to balance out those who seem, at times, to be going nowhere in their counseling. And then, there’s my stereotypes, prejudices, personal preferences, and other mental and emotional baggage that keeps me from recognizing what a client needs as efficiently and effectively as I might.

No place to lay His head. No black leather fainting couch.
Worst of all, when ministry takes on a “therapeutic” modal, people become dependent upon a one-on-one, crisis-oriented approach to their walk with Christ. A thriving counseling practice, in my case, has as much to do with a lack of small-group ministry in the church I serve as it does with my excellence (or co-dependence) as a counselor. When occasional, or even long-term counseling takes the place of active participation in “the means of grace” (worship gatherings, group study and prayer, community-service ministry, etc.), we risk becoming something other than the body of Christ, ministering to one another in all but those cases where specialized focus is needed.

So, I’m not a big supporter of the therapeutic culture in our churches. And I don’t have great insights into everything it means for Jesus Christ to be “Wonderful Counselor.” But I do have a strong opinion about what that title doesn’t mean.

Not quite what Isaiah is talking about.
Jesus is not like other counselors “only much better.” He is not a counselor who happens to be wonderful. As Wonderful Counselor, He counsels by wonders, signs, miracles, and the ultimate miracle of restoring, renewing, and redeeming human beings from not only some of the consequences of sin’s damage in the world and in us. He brings us to the trust for the provision, protection, and personhood that only He can give. If all my clients could see who they were designed to be (created to bear the image and likeness of God), how that became broken (through the damage of sin in the world and in them), and the incredible lengths to which Christ has gone to bring them to the “shalom” (wholeness) of that image and likeness being restored? Well, then I’d have room in the schedule for so many others who need to find the same wholeness that they would have. And so, I’ll keep trying to be “not so bad a counselor” in hopes of introducing more and more to the Wonderful Counselor.

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