Dr. Ab Abercrombie
Thanks to the proliferation of television, self-help books, and the Internet, many counselees have researched their individual conditions and concerns before making an appointment for biblical counseling. As a result, many will enter counseling using secular, psychological, and even medical terms to describe their complaints. Often this terminology is applied to others instead of self, as the individual counselee seeks to describe his/her circumstance.
Some examples I have heard within my counseling room include:
- “I have been reading on the Internet about adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and I think it describes me perfectly.”
- “I saw a TV special on depression and now I understand that I have a chemical imbalance that causes me to be depressed. Do you think I should start medication?”
- “My wife has a borderline personality disorder…”
- “My husband has a narcissistic personality disorder…”
- “My son has an oppositional defiant disorder…”
In each situation, the counselee had spiritual, behavioral, and emotional issues that were indeed painful and chronic. Each were seeking an explanation for their struggle. However, their use of secular language and humanistic diagnostic terms led them to pursue secular and humanistic relief. Each one had discovered a term or condition they believed absolved them of responsibility; both for the problem and the solution.
Scripture relates the following truth: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is…” (Prov 23:7a). Our meditations matter greatly and so do our sources of study and research. Whenever a believer consults and relies upon worldly versions of “truth,” he/she becomes vulnerable to the intoxicating influence of humanism.
As a Biblicist, I view the Bible as fully sufficient for the counseling task and superior to any explanations offered by the world. Most Christians however value and respect the Bible and might even see it as inerrant; but few have studied Scripture from the perspective of sufficiency. As a result, most of our counselees offer distorted renditions of life that strangely employ biblical language mixed with secular opinions and terminology. But when the counselee settles upon, and believes the secular explanation (as in the examples above), we know they are seeking the world’s remedy that may, or may not, find agreement with God’s Word.
This merger of Christian thought with secular reasoning, in time, defiles the purity of one’s relationship with Scripture. Humanism is diametrically opposed to biblical truth in most, if not all, circumstances. When attempting to find agreement between God and the world, one has already conceded that the Bible is insufficient for the problem at hand. In using secular and psychological terminology, the counselee demonstrates his/her urgency for relief, without regard to God’s intent and purpose. Paul wrote concerning the overtaking of the mind and conscience:
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled (Titus 1:15).
With the ingestion of unscientific, anti-biblical notions, the believer defiles the purity of God’s truth. This defilement undermines one’s discernment so that, “nothing is pure.” The defilement of the mind causes the Christian to think wrongly and to question God’s authority which soon undermines the conscience (one’s sense of right and wrong).
Counselors must work to help the counselee move from secular to biblical thinking so their approach to Scripture will be unimpeded. Typically, it is of little benefit to debate the science of brain chemistry and the fallacy of humanism with our counselees. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome…(2 Tim 2:24a).
Our role is not to argue but to teach. Rather than confront the misapplication of language, terminology, and diagnosis, we are to flood and saturate the counselee with scriptural truth, examples, stories, characters, and instruction. In short, the counselor must not malign the counselee for his/her misunderstanding but rather correct them through the accurate application of truth, within a context that is loving and empathetic (Eph 4:15).
While the Bible does not reference contemporary psychological terms such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Scripture does indeed address impulsivity (Matt 12:36, Jude 1:11), impetuous speech (Ps 34:13, Prov 6:16-19, Jas 1:15), oppositional and rebellious conduct (2 Tim 3:1-5), and double-mindedness (Jas 4:8).
Regarding impulsivity, Jesus said:
“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matt 12:36).
Speaking of the rebellious men of old, Jude wrote:
But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 1:10-13).
Regarding impetuous, impulsive speech, David wrote:
Keep your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit (Ps 34:13).
James said this regarding a divided mind:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (Jas 1:5-8).
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (Jas 4:7-8).
Scripture makes no comment on Oppositional Defiant Disorder but speaks frequently on matters of anger (Eph 4:26-27, Col 3:8), aggression (Ps 11:5 Prov 1:19), unwholesome speech (Eph 4:29-30), and disrespect of parents and other authority figures (Ex 20:12, Rom 13:1-3).
Paul spoke often to the issue of anger, bitterness, unwholesome speech, and unforgiveness:
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).
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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 4:29-32).
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth (Col 3:8).
The Books of Wisdom address aggression and violence:
The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates (Ps 11:5).
So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence;
It takes away the life of its possessors (Prov 1:19).
Honor to parents and respect for authority are highlighted in God’s Word:
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Ex 20:12).
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Rom 13:1-2).
Depression in Scripture is never addressed as a medical illness. Jesus healed many medical ailments, but never emotional aberrations like depression, fear, anxiety, grief, etc. Depression is seen as a product and consequence of sin, as an application of godly discipline, as an expression of understandable grief and despair (2 Sam 19:4, Ps 31:9-10, Jn 11:33-35), and as providential suffering for God’s glory (Job 1:8a, 3:1-3, Heb 12:11).
When David’s son Absalom died in battle, the recorded his grief and despair:
The king covered his face and cried out with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam 19:4).
Later we see David suffering in battle and struggling with his sin:
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow
And my years with sighing;
My strength has failed because of my iniquity,
And my body has wasted away (Ps 31:9-10).
And the Bible speaks of suffering that comes under the providence of God, for the glory of His Kingdom:
The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8).
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11).
Personality disorders are not cited in God’s Word but there are volumes of instruction regarding immaturity (1 Cor 13:11), hostility (Eph 4:31-32), bitterness (Heb 12: 14-15), wrath (Ps 37:8), pride (Is 2:17), self-centeredness (Phil 2:3-5, Jas 3:13-16), sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18-20), and other sinful expressions which are considered characteristic of these conditions.
The Bible calls us to develop and grow in functional and spiritual maturity. Paul addressed both:
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Cor 13:11).
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor 3:1-3).
The Bible also addresses wrath and bitterness:
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…(Heb 12:14-15).
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing (Ps 37:8).
Self-centeredness is addressed repeatedly in the Word, and has already been outlined in this article. Sexual immorality is a product of selfishness, impulsivity, and immaturity, along with the lust of the flesh:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality…(1 Thess 4:3).
Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:18-20).
Obviously these few passages are incomplete for effective counseling and must be expanded with additional texts and studied in context, to fully impact the counselee toward change. Also the heart problems of counselees are not fully defined by the behavioral expression of sin. Therefore, scriptural admonitions to stop, alter, or begin a behavior only address the smallest part of the problem. The root sins of idolatry, unbelief, unforgiveness, self-centeredness, and others will require mining, review, scriptural confrontation and instruction.
These short examples of Scripture only serve to alert the counselor to God’s view of such matters. We must help the counselee turn from the secular reasoning that adds to their undoing and embrace the biblical definitions of sin, discipline, perseverance, suffering, and providence. Counselors should remember that we are dealing with eternal matters of salvation, sanctification, character development, and gospel oriented life. Relief of symptoms through medical or psychological approaches typically do nothing to transform and free the counselee from ongoing suffering. Only gospel centered, scriptural care can accomplish this goal.
Increasingly I see “biblical counselors” employing secular terminology in their work; a trend that should concern us greatly. Biblicists must not fall prey to the imposing features of humanism that will defile the purity of our approach, just as much as it undermines the thinking and action of our counselees.
To discuss biblical truth within the nomenclature of humanism is treacherous. Rather than borrow the words of the world, we must employ biblical language and reference to every issue encountered in the counseling room. Even though the Bible does not contain contemporary descriptions and diagnoses, we must remember Solomon’s instruction:
That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one might say,
“See this, it is new”?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us (Ecc 1:9-10).
Before Schizophrenia and other psychotic expressions of pain, the Bible recorded “madness, blindness, and bewilderment of heart” (Ex 28:28-29). The Word describes demonic activity that rendered a young man a “lunatic” (Matt 17:15).
So called “Clinical Depression” has long existed as despair (Ps 42), grief (Job 17:7, Ps 119:28, Is 53:4), affliction (Ps 25:16-18, Ps 119:50, Ps 149:4), godly discipline (Is 59:1-2, Ps 119:71, Jn 15:1-2, Heb 12:11), and the effect of sin perpetrated against the believer (Ps 18:48, Ps 31:2, 2 Cor 4:7-12).
The clinical condition of Bipolar Disorder is not new; within Scripture we see madness (Duet 28:28, 34) demonic attack (Mk 1:32), instability and double-mindedness (Jas 1:5-8), despair and grief (Ps 43:5, Ps 32, Ps 51), poor judgement (Jas 3:13-18), rebellion (2 Tim 3:1-5), etc.
Sexual addiction is immorality (1 Cor 6:18). Drug and alcohol abuse is drunkenness and bondage (Lk 21:14, Rom 13:13, 1 Cor 6:12, Gal 5:19-21). Eating disorders are defined biblically as self-centeredness and idolatry (Prov 23:6, Phil 2:3, Ps 31:6, Ps 135:15-18). Divorce is a hated treachery (Mal 13-16). Anxiety is not biochemical but a spiritual vulnerability (Phil 4:4-7).
With these references there are many more stories and examples, historical truths, human struggles and victories, described in Scripture. Biblical application requires the searching and utilization of each in a repetitive and persistent manner. Counselors often consider Scripture ineffective because they employ only an admonition or instruction that does not immediately modify the counselees complaint. But Scripture is rich and full and it must be woven into the hearts of counselees until truth overtakes the lie that holds them captive.
Scripture is not an instruction manual or collection of recipe-like remedies. It is the full revelation of God to a sinful, deceived world. The scope and depth of its truth requires loyalty and devotion, belief and faith. When the Word is fundamentally laid and ratified upon the heart of the counselor, so that he/she will accept no other definition of truth, the Word will be rightly imprinted on the hearts of our counselees. Scripture proclaims its own wonder and magnificence:
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward (Ps 19:7-11).