Asking The Right Questions…The Process of Biblical Counseling

Dr. Ab AbercrombieThe Right Question

Biblical Counseling, obviously involves the reading and study of Scripture. But often getting the Bible open, within the context of an emotional discussion, can be a challenge. However, the importance of using God’s Word cannot be overstated. After all, it is the Word that is powerful, superior, and sufficient in its scope and impact, not the counselor.

Biblical counselors must not rely upon the restating of scriptural themes and guidelines only. Rather the literal reading of Scripture is central to the process of salvation, repentance, sanctification, and discipleship. Statements like, “The Bible says…” or “God requires…” are valuable introductions; but they must be followed with specific, contextual digestion of Scripture, if transformation is to occur.

Asking Questions that Require a Biblical Response

Whether the counselor is involved in formal or informal counseling, the use of biblical questions is key to advancing a scriptural process. Questions that require a biblical response are effective in both matters of restoration and evangelism and provide a bridge to opening God’s Word.

Examples of this type of inquiry follow:

  • What does Scripture teach on the topic of divorce?
  • Where in the Bible are we encouraged to harbor anger and pursue revenge?
  • Do you remember any biblical characters who were fearful?
  • Have you ever examined the topic of suffering in Scripture?
  • How do your reconcile this decision with God’s Word?
  • According to the Bible, how does a person gain eternal life?
  • Do you remember the story of David and Bathsheba?
  • Are you familiar with God’s teaching on perseverance?

Clearly the potential questions are endless, but their selection must be Spirit led. Just as in the choice of Scripture, God must direct this method of inquiry. When He does, the question will always be pointed, penetrating, and revealing. These questions will invariably lead to one of three outcomes:

1. The counselee will have knowledge of Scripture and answer the question correctly.

“God hates divorce…”

“Christians are supposed to ‘put away’ anger and forgive…”

“Elijah was afraid of Jezebel and ran away…”

“Suffering is part of living in a fallen world…”

“I know my decision is not right…”

“Eternal life is a gift of God…”

“David stole another man’s wife…”

“Perseverance builds character…”

2. The counselee will not know what Scripture says about the topic of inquiry:

“I think God is ok with divorce. He wants me to be happy…”

“My anger is justified. God will understand…”

“I don’t know of anyone who was afraid in the Bible…”

“I know God loves me and does not want me to suffer…”

“I have really thought a lot about my decision. I talked to all my friends and they agree I am right…”

“I think good people go to Heaven. I haven’t done anything serious…”

“Never heard of David and what’s her name…”

“I know God helps those who help themselves…”

 3. The counselee will distort the meaning of Scripture:

“God allowed divorce when the heart is hardened; and I have a hard heart…”

“The Bible says to ‘be angry and not sin.” Anger is fine as long as I don’t express it badly…”

“God wants me to be happy. He does not want me to suffer any longer in this marriage…”

“God gave me a solid mind and intellect. He expects me to make decisions on my own…”

“God is love. He would never send anyone to Hell…”

“King David was blessed even though he committed adultery. God will continue to use me in the same way…”

“God said he would never give me more than I can bear. I can’t bear anymore…”

Using the Response as a Bridge to Scripture

No matter the response, the counselor can use the answer as a bridge to God’s Word. I will provide three case studies that illustrate the application of Scripture whether the Word is known, unknown, or distorted:

Case Example 1: The Counselee Knows God’s Word…

David wants a divorce from his wife of 20 years. He blames her for the marital problems and feels justified in leaving. In spite of his desire, David knows what God teaches:

Counselor: What does Scripture teach in the topic of divorce?

David: “God hates divorce…”

Counselor: Do you know where He makes that statement?

David: “Not really. I think maybe Jesus said it…”

Counselor: It actually appears in the Book of Malachi, but you are right; Jesus confirms the same point in the Gospels. Let’s look at it together:

“For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously” (Mal 2:16).

David: “It is hard to read this. I know God does not approve, but I really want out. I am struggling.”

Counselor: That’s why God’s Word is absolute. His commandments protect us from doing wrong.

David: “Right now I don’t feel protected; I feel restricted.”

Counselor: Let’s look at the passage in full context. Read verses 13 through 15:

David reads:

“This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth” (Mal 2:13-15).

Counselor: What is God saying here?

David (with tears): “He has been a witness of my treachery against my wife. I have not dealt with her according to my covenant.”

Counselor: And your covenant is with…

David: “God…My promise was to Him and to my wife. God is saying my conduct has brought sorrow and pain and that I am no longer acceptable to Him.”

Counselor: Is it better for you to be divided from God or acceptable and pleasing to God?

David: “Obviously…connected.”

Counselor: Then God is protecting you from this fate, is He not?

David: “I have been feeling justified…but God is showing me that I am the one who is destroying my wife, and my covenant. What am I thinking?”

In this case scenario, David’s knowledge of the Word provided an opportunity to not only review the text he referenced (“God hates divorce…), but also the greater context of the passage. God is gracious in that He not only forbids and instructs, He often explains. Here, the Scripture reminded the counselee of his covenant and responsibility to God and not his wife only. It is harder to sever a relationship with our Creator than it is to forsake human responsibility. By looking into the Word, we were able to restore David’s vertical orientation and confront his self-centered intent to divorce.

Case Example 2: The Counselee Does Not Know God’s Word…

Claire is an angry young woman. She is a new believer who just submitted her life to Christ one year ago through a college ministry. Claire grew up in an abusive home and harbors bitterness and hatred for her parents:

Claire: “My parents are horrible people. I will hate them until I die. They don’t deserve my respect or my forgiveness.”

Counselor: You have suffered greatly. Your pain is obvious.

Claire: “I think about it all the time. I can’t sleep most of the time. I just keep thinking about how to hurt them. I want them to know what my pain feels like.”

Counselor: I know. I think most people would feel a similar desire. But as a new Christian, have you ever considered what Scripture says about these matters?

Claire: “The Bible talks about this?”

Counselor: Yes. The Bible has a great deal to say about injustice, anger, bitterness, suffering and revenge.

Claire: “Really…”

Counselor: Would you allow me to show you?

Claire: “Yes.”

Counselor: (Opens the Bible to Eph 4). Claire would you read verses 26 and 27…

Claire reads:

BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and do not give the devil an opportunity (Eph 4:26-27).

Claire sits quietly, looking down at the Bible.

Counselor: What does that passage mean?

Claire: “I guess you are telling me I am wrong for being angry…”

Counselor: Read it again please…

Claire: “I guess maybe God is saying anger can lead to sin, right? He’s saying I need to be done with my anger by the time the sun goes down…Is that it? (angrily).

Counselor: Claire, how many nights has the sun set on your anger?

Claire: “Thousands…It seems like I have been angry forever!”

Counselor: And who benefits from that anger?

Claire: “According to this passage, the devil. It gives him an opportunity…”

Counselor: For what?

Claire: “I guess to make me suffer.”

Counselor: And how does he do that?

Claire: “By reminding me over and over again about what happened. I replay my childhood repeatedly with no peace. I have nowhere to take my anger. There is no relief! (Crying).

Counselor: Look at verses 31 and 32. Will you read them for us?

Claire reads:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Eph 4:31-32).

Counselor: What is that saying?

Claire: “I guess I should ‘put away” my anger. It’s not that easy!

Counselor: No it isn’t easy always…but why do we do it?

Claire: “I am supposed to forgive because I have been forgiven…”

Counselor: Right.

Claire: “But it is not fair. They got away with it. I am the one who suffered!

Counselor: Can you think of anyone in the Bible who suffered wrongly? Someone who was innocent, but badly treated?

Claire: “Jesus?”

Counselor: He is the very best example we have, isn’t He? Let’s read about Him. (Turns to 1 Peter 2). Will you read verses 21 through 23…

Claire reads:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…(1 Pet 2:21-23).

Counselor: So…

Claire: “I know, ‘What does this mean…” It means Christ is my example. I should deal with suffering the way He did. But I am not Jesus!

Counselor: No you are not. But remember Jesus suffered in the flesh…just like you. He was God and human. His pain was real, but He “entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Read this from Hebrews 4:

Claire reads:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:15-16).

Claire: “He understands?”

Counselor: (Remains silent…)

Claire: “If I go to Him…He understands?”

Counselor: He is the only One who can.

Claire: “He suffered for me…(crying). He suffered because of my sin.”

Counselor: And yet He did what?

Claire: “He forgave me?”

Counselor: (Remains silent…)

Claire: “Wow…”

Counselor: Wow indeed…

Of course this one course of dialogue did not fully resolve Claire’s pain and suffering. But it served as an important introduction to truth. This world is evil. Satan exploits, destroys, and kills when given an “opportunity.” Anger, malice, bitterness, and wrath are poisonous to the Christian heart. Believers have an example to follow and a source to go to. Christians are not immune from the tribulation of this world, but our Savior has “overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). We closed with the following passage:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:37-39).

Claire, a true believer, was held captive by her painful remembrances and the associated emotions that followed. The damage of the world was yet to meet its answer. Through the initial administration of God’s truth, the seed of hope was established. With time, this seed grew to overtake the tragic expression of evil that had become rooted in Claire’s life.

Case Example 3: The Counselee Distorts God’s Word…

Brad is an elder at a local church. After 12 years of marriage, he feels “led” to divorce his wife and marry another man’s wife. He is currently under the discipline of his church and the leadership hopes to restore Brad to his marriage and eventually to ministry. Brad knows Scripture, but distorts its meaning to accommodate his selfish ambition:

Brad: “I know in your view, my actions are not right…”

Counselor: (Quietly waits).

Brad: “I guess the elder board is my judge. I guess you know what is best for me…”

Counselor: (Quiet).

Brad: “Well you don’t know my heart and you don’t know what God is doing with me. Yes I should not have cheated on my wife, but now that I have, God has forgiven me and I am already restored. In fact, He has released me from my marriage and has given me a new ministry with Carol (the other woman). He will continue to use me. He isn’t condemning and He did not make you my judge!”

Counselor: Ok…help me understand your position. Please explain your conclusion biblically. Can you show me scripturally how you arrived at this conclusion?

Brad: “Well first of all…God is love. It says in Romans that ‘there is no condemnation’ for believers. My sin is no different than your sin and God’s grace is sufficient.”

Counselor: Can you give me an example in Scripture where God continued to bless willful sin?

Brad: “David and Bathsheba…David pursued a woman who was not his wife and even had her husband murdered. But God blessed David and called him a ‘man after God’s own heart.’”

Counselor: Can we look at that story together? (Opens the Bible to 2 Samuel 11). Would you read beginning in verse 1?

Brad read aloud the story of David’s pursuit of another man’s wife; the resulting sexual immorality; the illicit pregnancy; the lies and manipulation that ultimately led to Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) being sent to the front lines of battle, where he was killed (2 Sam 11:1-22).

Counselor: Brad you referenced this story in Scripture. Does that scenario describe your pursuit of another man’s wife?

Brad: “Yes I did pursue her…but of course I didn’t kill anybody (laughs). And…thankfully we are not expecting!”

Counselor: So your sin is even less than David’s?

Brad: Well I guess if you put it that way…yes it is.”

Counselor: Will you read verses 26 and 27…

Brad reads aloud:

Now when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house and she became his wife; then she bore him a son. But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Sam 11:26-27).

Counselor: So the Word says that David’s treachery was “evil in the sight of the LORD.”

Brad: “So now I’m evil…Who made you my judge?”

Counselor: (Ignores the question). And so David thought he had gotten away with this plan. And what happened next?

Brad: “God forgave David and blessed his kingdom. He blessed his marriage to Bathsheba by giving them Solomon who became the wisest man who ever lived. Even though David made a mistake, God continued to use him.”

Counselor: Just for clarity…Did David make a mistake or did he commit “evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Brad: “Ok I get it…according you to I am evil!”

Counselor: Well the words matter because these are God’s words. I don’t think we should ignore His description of David’s actions. What happens next, in 2 Samuel 12?

Brad looks again to the Scriptures and reads:

Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said,

“There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor.

The rich man had a great many flocks and herds.”

“But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb

Which he bought and nourished;

And it grew up together with him and his children.

It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom,

And was like a daughter to him.”

 

“Now a traveler came to the rich man,

And he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd,

To prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him;

Rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion” (2 Sam 12:1-5).

Counselor: Isn’t it amazing that David was blind to his own sin; indignant and self-righteous; feeling fully justified in what he had done. At this point David saw no parallel between his life and this story Nathan told.

Brad: (Silent…appears angry).

Counselor: Now look further; whom does Nathan accuse (Reads aloud):

Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! 9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? (2 Sam 12:7-9a).

Counselor: Brad I am fearful for you. I think you have become your own judge rather than submit to the law of God. Your problem is not with the elder board…Your problems is with God. He has taken notice of your willful sin.

Brad: “God forgave David!”

Counselor: Yes He did. But have you ever read Psalm 51?

Brad: “Of course!”

Counselor: Let’s read it again…(Opens Bible).

Brad begins to read David’s prayer of repentance. In the 51st Psalm David grieves over his sin before God. He is acutely aware of his offense before the Creator. He begs for forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration. The difference between King David and Brad was the evidence of true repentance. After reading the entire Psalm…

Counselor: Look at verse 17 again: (Reads aloud):

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit

A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Ps 51:17).

Counselor: Brad is your heart broken? Are you contrite? You remain so prideful, so sure of your actions. Your spirit is not broken.

Brad: God will forgive me!

Counselor: You know Brad, King David’s was broken. He was in misery over his sin. David’s actions were irreversible. Uriah was dead. Bathsheba was already his wife and she was already pregnant. But after his repentance, he served God with great obedience. Even still, God’s discipline was severe. David was not condemned, but his life was hard as he dealt with the residue of sin for the remainder of his days.

We continued to review 2 Samuel 12 and the earthly consequences David suffered, even though forgiveness was given. David’s son died. He was constantly under attack, in battle continuously. His family was a mess. His son (Amnon) raped his sister (Tamar). Another son (Absolom) murdered the Amnon who raped Tamar. Absolom rose up against David and tried to overthrow the king, only to die in battle. By the end of David’s life, he was so burdened with grief, he cried out for his own death before God (2 Sam 18:33).

Counselor: Brad Proverbs 13 says (reads aloud):

The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,

To turn aside from the snares of death.

Good understanding produces favor,

But the way of the treacherous is hard.

Every prudent man acts with knowledge,

But a fool displays folly (Prov 13:14-16).

Counselor: Unlike David, you can stop the continued damage your about to inflict upon your wife, your lover, and your lover’s husband. You don’t have to advance to murder. You have a choice to continue in this ‘treachery’ or repent. In my view, if you continue, there has been no repentance. And as the Scripture says, your way will be “hard.”

Brad: (Tearful) “I know what I am doing is wrong…” (Then defiantly) “But I am not going to change. My mind is made up!”

These were Brad’s last words before leaving counseling. In this case the counselor was able to properly exegete the Scripture in full context, with the support of additional references, thereby confronting Brad’s distortion of God’s Word. Further teaching included Hebrews 10 and 12 on the discipline of God and the process of restoration. Regrettably in the end, Brad did not repent but continued to in his path of treachery. And as promised in God’s Word, his way is very hard.

His second wife was unfaithful with yet another man. They have since divorced. His children from the first marriage are in disorder and conflict with many behavioral and spiritual problems. Brad has little influence in their lives and almost no relationship with them. Brad’s first wife suffers with depression, economic struggle, and spiritual decline. The fruit of his continued rebellion is sadly sour.

Summary

In conclusion we see the importance of opening God’s Word and also the avenues that are available for doing so. Biblical counselors must ask the right questions in order to bridge the movement to Scripture. We must never forget that the Word does the work…not our articulation of biblical truth only. As often as possible, the counselor must advance the literal reading of Scripture for the working of God to be full.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Chuck Steinmetz says:

    Thank you…

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