Helping the Counselee Suffering at the Hands of Others (Part 1)

May 30th, 2021 by posted in Suffering

America is familiar with injustice both social and personal. The news is replete with accounts of suffering at the hands of others. Biblical counselors see it regularly. Dominant husbands, manipulative wives, harsh and controlling supervisors, and abusive parents threaten happiness and well-being of our counselees. Americans see happiness as a right according to the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (emphasis mine), and relief as the answer to personal injustice. American Christians are no different in their expectations when injustice becomes personal. The feel sorry for themselves, pity their situations, and will do anything for relief.

John MacArthur describes this as a victim mentality when he writes, “Victims are not responsible for what they do; they are casualties of what happens to them.”[1] In other words, the Christian has an improper reaction to the sin committed against them.

The goal of the biblical counselor is to help those suffering injustices to respond biblically, rather than reacting emotionally.

In the American culture, even among Christians, suffering from injustice is considered negative and to be avoided. Most Christians who come to the counseling desk believe that something is very wrong in their life when they are suffering, either at the hand of others or the hand of God. These same Christians come to counseling with the expectation that, through counseling, God will relieve this injustice.

But, suffering is God’s plan for the Christian. While God hates injustice, in the context of suffering saints, Paul writes in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” and in 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” This includes suffering at the hands of others. The Christian who is suffering at the hands of injustice must realize the sanctifying work of God for his glory and their good.

Counseling is woven into the theology of the New Testament. It is in the doctrine of spiritual growth. It is in the nature of shepherding and pastoring. The church in the New Testament is the place where significant change occurs because it is the place where the Word is ministered. The concept of this counsel is found in the Greek word, neotheteo and is a compound of “nous” = mind; “thithemi” = to place. It carries the connotation of warning, admonishing, comforting, and exhorting (Acts 20:30; Romans 15:14; 1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28, 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:15; Ephesians 6:4).

The biblical counselor recognizes that godly change only occurs through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit as the Word of God is brought to bear in the life of the counselee. The biblical counselor understands what the secular psychologist does not, that every aspect of our lives is affected by sin. And so, our goal in counseling is not simply to change behavior, it is transformation toward becoming more and more conformed to the image of ChristWhile all these heart issues are true and contribute greatly to the behavior of the oppressor, the root problem is a worship problem. What is at stake is worship. Psalm 14 tells us that there is a madness that tries to live as though God is not,

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the Lord? There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

So, we must be fierce in our insistence that life is lived before the face of God, that all we do and say in the care and cure of souls has an emphatic vertical dimension before the horizontal, human relation. Our behavior follows what we worship. The pride, fear of man, and lust that drive the oppressor are all indicative of self-worship. “An abusive person is often so preoccupied with himself that he sees himself as misunderstood, not wrong… Let’s be clear: the abusive person is not a monster. Rather, he has become his own God who trusts in his own heart “(Proverbs 28:26; emphasis added)[2]

In Part Two on this subject we will look at what the counselee is expecting from counseling, and how the counselor uses the Scripture to walk the counselee through a biblical response.

[1] John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 1994), 21.

[2] Brenda Branson and Paula J. Silva, Violence Among Us: Ministry to Families in Crisis (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 2007), 42.


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