Christian Counseling and the Life of Jesus

counseling image 2This is the fourth in a series of posts which examines the 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling published by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and authored by Dr. Heath Lambert. I offer this critique from my perspective as a psychology professor and mental health counselor. For prior posts in the series on the first fourteen theses, click here. Today, I examine thesis 15.

Is Jesus the Standard for Everything?

This section focuses on Jesus as a standard for Christian mental health.

  1. Counselors require a standard to know what changes must be pursued in the lives of the troubled people they wish to help and, because the Bible portrays Jesus Christ as that perfect standard for human living, it is impossible to accomplish authentically Christian counseling without reference to him (1 John 2:5-6).

I can’t tell what this statement means in a practical sense. Knowing that Jesus is perfect in every way doesn’t tell me what kind of changes human beings should pursue in counseling. Three possibilities occurred to me which I will frame as questions:

  • Does Lambert mean Christian counselors should always pursue change in every dimension of personality (i.e., behavioral, emotional, cognitive, moral)?
  • Is he referring to the outcomes of counseling? Does he mean that Christian counseling should lead to clients being perfect as Jesus is perfect?
  • Or does he mean that counselors should only deal with issues depicted in the Bible’s accounts of the life of Jesus?

Each of these questions deserve a separate article for a full response. For the purpose of this post, I will briefly reply to each one.

Symptom v. Personality Change

Historically, counselors have debated the scope of counseling. Should counseling focus on symptom removal or on deeper personality change? Modern approaches aim for symptom relief while older approaches such as psychoanalysis focus on personality change.

I see nothing in the Bible which requires all counseling to deal with every level of human functioning. I believe counseling may properly deal with one aspect of functioning (e.g., symptom reduction versus deep personality change). In fact, Jesus at times healed diseases without any obvious attention to other areas of life. The needs of clients should guide counselors in planning their interventions.

Can We Be as Healthy as Jesus?

Although Jesus healed diseases in others, there are no recorded instances of Jesus suffering with medical or mental disorders. Does that mean he lived in such a way that he never suffered health problems? Or did His divine nature prevent those effects of a sinful world? Many theologians believe Jesus was unable to sin.* In like manner, could it be that Jesus was unable to experience mental or physical disease? Since He healed others, perhaps He healed Himself at the first sign of any disease. Or, on the other hand, is it possible that Jesus could have gotten cancer or suffered with bipolar disorder? Charles Spurgeon did not believe Jesus was ever ill. In his sermon, “Help for Your Sickness,” Spurgeon said no “disease was upon him.”

Spurgeon on sickness

Is Jesus a Perfect Standard for Every Aspect of Living?

Jesus is an example of obedience to the Father, holy living, and sacrifice. He modeled a life of virtue and was the substitute for our transgressions. He is our example for moral conduct and virtuous reflection. About this, most Christians agree. However, there is much Jesus didn’t cover during his short time on Earth.  Jesus’ teachings are the standard as far as they go.

We don’t know much about the life of Jesus outside of His mission to rescue people from sin. While the New Testament speaks in general terms about the humanity of Jesus, I don’t think it is possible to know with certainty what that means for mental health treatment.

Jesus didn’t deal with much of what we need to know to live today. He never chose a college, a spouse, or a profession. He never invested in a retirement account or purchased insurance. He didn’t play sports or watch movies. What He taught us we should emulate. However, on many aspects of human living, He offered no specific example or teaching.  We must use our minds in community with others to figure out how to pursue the rest.

For the earlier posts in this series, click here.

 

*This is certainly true of theologians who teach at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where Heath Lambert also teaches counseling. In a 2015 article, Denny Burk wrote:

Jesus’ impeccability in this regard has provoked some people to wonder whether his experience of temptation can ever be as intense as that of the sinners that he came to save. Can he really have known our weaknesses when he himself was not capable of sinning? (p. 104)

Burk believes Jesus did know the temptation but was unable to sin.

The text plainly says that God cannot be tempted by evil. In what way are we tempted by evil that God is not tempted by evil? Verse 14 gives the answer. We face temptations that arise from our “own desire” (1:14). By contrast, because Jesus never desired evil, Jesus never faced temptations arising from “his own sinful desire.” His heart never in any degree fixated on evil. Temptation had no landing pad in Jesus’ heart nor did it have a launching pad from Jesus’ heart. The same is not true of sinners, who are often carried away by their own desires, as James describes it. (p.105)

 

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