Biblical Counseling

It’s Not That They Didn’t Mean Well

Far too often we sound like Job’s friends when we encounter those who suffer, whether from tragic events or physical pain. We start out strong, offering our sympathy and support. Job’s friends sat silent with him for seven days and seven nights. They even lay there in the ashes with him, trying to show him “sympathy and comfort” (Job 2:11). Yet after the accepted time of mourning was over, they clearly had expectations of progress and resolve. After that accepted period, however, Job did not finally speak into the silence as a calm stoic. No, he spoke as a frustrated believer who laments his birth, which has now led to heartbreak rather than happiness (Job 3). He lives in pain:

For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
   and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
   I have no rest, but trouble comes. (Job 3:25-26)

With this break in the silence his friends begin to speak, even aware that their words may provoke his impatience (Job 4:1-2). But they speak, and so do we. As time moves on, we expect the wounded person to get better; we expect their frustrations and questions to turn into stoic acceptance. We expect denial or victory – ongoing struggle is the option we are most uncomfortable with, yet that is exactly where most who live with ongoing pain and suffering actually are.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 65.

Remember You Are Dust, and to Dust You Shall Return

One important result of practicing an awareness of our mortality is that it can breed a greater concern for divinely given relationships. Historically, such heavenly mindedness was not meant to belittle this world but to value it, and to encourage the keeping of short accounts and always living in the present. You shouldn’t hold a grudge or harbor hostility because you never know if you might die without making things right. When someone is aware of the brevity of life, each day can be received as a gift, offering opportunities and meaning not for some imaginary future but fully living in the moments that God has provided. Knowledge of death can also liberate people to live with courage in the present, even when it is risky: all die at some point, so be courageous and do the right thing since God will not let death be the final word. A sober awareness of a person’s mortality can mean freedom from making self-preservation the highest value. In our day we often live somewhere between fear of the past and the demanding possibilities of a mythical future. The untiring call of the future – with its grand plans to be accomplished, vacations to be had, retirements to be enjoyed – can become so strong it swallows our ability to live in the now. This often means people fail to be fully present, to live in the moment. We neglect spouses and children, disregard care for our bodies, and dismiss relationships that naturally require time and attention as an impossible luxury. We fall into this trap all the more easily when we are not mindful of our weakness and mortality.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 61.

The Place for Lament

The human experience requires lament, at least as long as we live in the current world as we know it. Biblically there can be no question about the place and need of this practice – sin and sickness mean we must create space for genuine lamentation. Not because we despair but because we recognize the wounds of this world and of our hearts. God instructs us to bring to him our tears, our hurts, our confusion. Old Testament scholar Daniel J. Simundson reminds us of this scriptural tradition:

The lament allows for honest interchange between humans and God, the freedom to admit even bad theology and hostile thoughts. The lament turns to God as the ultimate source of help and, in the typical lament form, ends with the assurance that God has heard and will save. The lament does not solve all of the sufferer’s intellectual questions about the origin and meaning of the suffering, but does provide a structured way for the faithful to bring their suffering to God’s attention and to cope with it.

If we do not restore space for lament in our individual and corporate church life, our suffering will drive us not only away from others but away from God himself.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, p. 31.

Paul David Tripp – Foundational Love

I was arrested by the following section while reading through Tripp’s excellent Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.

From pp. 117-118:

I am deeply persuaded that the foundation for people-transforming ministry is not sound theology; it is love. Without love, our theology is a boat without oars. Love is what drove God to send and sacrifice his Son. Love led Christ to subject himself to a sinful world and the horrors of the cross. Love is what causes him to seek and save the lost, and to persevere until each of his children is transformed into his image. His love will not rest until all of his children are at his side in glory. The hope of every sinner does not rest in theological answers but in the love of Christ for his own. Without it, we have no hope personally, relationally, or eternally.

[…] 

Paul says [in Romans 8:31-39], “You are recipients of Christ’s love and nothing can separate you from it.” This love offers hope to anyone willing to confess sin and cry out for transformation.

Yet this is where we [pastors] often get stuck. We want ministry that doesn’t demand love that is, well, so demanding! We don’t want to serve others in a way that requires so much personal sacrifice. We would prefer to lob grenades of truth into people’s lives rather than lay down our lives for them. But this is exactly what Christ did for us. Can we expect to be called to do anything less?