X. COUNSELING FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
Subjects reviewed in this chapter:
Backgrounds of Psychological Counseling – The Development of Christian-Psychological Counseling – Jesus as Counselor: He was identified as a counselor, He was available, He identified with the people, He was word oriented, He used an eclectic approach, He was not judgmental, He was optimistic about people, He believed in the freeing power of truth, He avoided being manipulated, He was always consistent, He prized purpose, He loved people, He was committed to the power of love, He felt with others, He reinterpreted the stimulus, He was a spontaneous counselor, He was disciplined, He was well developed socially, He modeled a servant spirit, He emphasized the blessings of productivity, He was a man of emotion, He taught individual responsibility, He believed in individual freedom of choice, He followed up on His contacts, He gave greater importance to the spiritual – Conclusion
It is clear that any attempt to deduce principles of counseling from the Gospel of John will be to a great extent subjective. The basic document of the Judeo-Christian religion, the Bible, was not written specifically as a guide or text on counseling. However, it is equally clear that it does offer a great deal of insight and guidance that can be useful in the counseling process.
The Bible is a book about people and their problems . . . problems of the family, of the workplace, of adjustment, of human loss and misery, of purpose and meaning, of motivation . . . in fact there is hardly a contemporary situation which is not in some way reflected in Biblical life. Those who have believed in Jehovah have been convinced that Divine solutions to the human predicament were better than purely human solutions.
Since the prophets of the Old Testament had so much to say about how people were to live, it would seem to follow logically that the ultimate prophet so frequently depicted by them (Deut. 18:18) would have something to say of a counseling nature. The records of the life of Jesus do indeed picture him as a helper and guide to people in trouble with their lives.
The Gospel of John has been a favorite of believers through the ages precisely because it offers such comfort and help to those who read it. Therefore, in the following pages, after first giving a “style of the art” resume of psychological counseling and something of the development of Christian psychological counseling, concepts will be drawn from those portions of the Gospel of John which seem best to apply to the counseling situation. Emphasis will be placed upon the figure of Jesus as a counselor, and upon the methodology that he used.
Backgrounds of Psychological Counseling
The most frequent words for counsel in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures may be translated “advice.” While it is probable that most people today think of counseling in terms of giving advice, the contemporary technical definitions tend to include much more. English and English lament the limited view of counseling as advice giving, stating: “Counseling is a two-way affair involving both counselor and counselee, Unfortunately, both noun and verb counsel retain an older meaning of advice-giving, which is now conceived as only part of the counseling process.”1
It would be possible to fill many pages with various shades of meaning given in the terms counsel, counseling, or counselor. It appears that most of them can be included under two headings: those which center upon the counselor or the counsel given, and those which center upon the quality of the interaction of the participants. Williamson and Foley illustrate the former. Counseling is: “. . . a face to face situation in which, by reason of training, skill or confidence vested in him by the other, one person helps the second person to face, perceive, clarify, solve and resolve adjustment problems.”2
Wren’s definition of counseling is one which stresses the quality of the relationship of the participants. “Counseling is a personal and dynamic relationship between two people who approach a mutually defined problem with mutual consideration for each other to the end that the younger or less mature, or more troubled of the two is aided to a self-determined resolution of his problems.”3
While counseling as a specific discipline is relatively new, the resources used are as old as mankind. Almost since the beginning of human history the constructive influences of human beings upon each other have been known and appreciated. Hiltner suggests that the first recognized counselor was Jethro the father-in-law of Moses, who became Moses’ advisor.4 Those with a more negative view of counseling might see the beginning of counseling as a Biblical subject in the influence of Satan upon Eve, or of Eve upon Adam. Whatever the opinion may be, all must admit that counseling and counselors have been around for a long time, and the outcome of counseling may be either good or bad.
The twentieth century will certainly be remembered as that point in time when both the number of counselors available to the public, and the number of theoretical approaches to counseling, made a quantum leap. Today, there are literally hundreds of approaches to counseling, whose varied and sometimes contradictory theoretical approaches leave the public confused, to say the least. One writer, echoing frequently expressed misgivings, states, “. . . there has been a bewildering proliferation of theoretical orientations to psyhotherapy. Each new system of therapy has faulted its predecessors on one ground or another and has claimed superiority to them. These schools, often lacking a base of research evidence, have presented an array of oppositional definitions, objectives, and therapeutic methods.”5
In view of the above, it must be admitted that the development of psychology as a discipline has been the result of both subjective and objective factors. On the subjective side, there has been injected a mixture of folk-wisdom, intuitive insights, and often untested theoretical constructs. Usually these constructs were an outgrowth of personal philosophy or belief as to the nature of life, the role of human kind, and what constitutes successful living . . . all intermingled with opinions as to how individual personalities and qualities develop. A good example is the individual who has served more than any other to bring psychology to its present state, Sigmund Freud. Notice the following assessment of his work: “. . . psychotherapy has never reached the stage of a truly causal science. From the beginning, classical psychotherapy stressed its own truth. Emerging out of a biological background, psychotherapy acknowledged causality as well as it could. At base, however. Freud’s focus was on the degree of consonance between a patient’s ‘reality principle’ and his or her neurotic denial of it. Had the patient failed to become master of his existential options and limitations? Freud wanted to make his patients accountable for the mature planning that leads to reasonable enjoyment of life’s potential – and to do it essentially from the patient’s own vantage point.”6
On the scientific side, in as far as possible (given the uniqueness of every individual) extensive effort has been made to approach psychology scientifically . . . to make it in fact a science. English and English define science as any body of organized knowledge which has been gathered through the use of systematic methods of investigation.7 The terms “systematic methods of investigation” are usually applied to the traditional triad of description, prediction, and control. It is safe to say that almost every claim of psychologists has been subjected to the scientific scrutiny of others in the psychological community, no matter how sacred the memory or how broadly acclaimed a particular theorist may be. In fact, among American psychologists, there appears to be a trend away from “great leaders” and particular schools and a movement toward a “creative synthesis” or a “systematic eclecticism.”8 The just mentioned source further indicates that the longer a therapist has been working as a professional, the more likely that he or she is in transition toward an eclectic approach.
This mix of subjective and scientific elements sometimes makes people a little uncomfortable. For the general public, it is probable that the terms “science” or “scientific” usually describe something more exact than that which the discipline of psychology affords. Also, the working of the scientific process itself has sometimes raised doubt as to how much actual help may be forthcoming from professionals in the field of psychotherapy. In the past several years, there have been numerous studies designed to test the claims of various forms of therapy. Some of the general conclusions on the basis of these studies are reviewed in a contemporary popular textbook in psychology. “There have been many studies showing that approximately 66 percent of clients show improvement with psychotherapy. However, of this 66 percent, only a small percentage show impressive results, most show only some type of positive results. Moreover, approximately 33 percent of clients treated with psychotherapy show no improvement or, in a very small number of cases, actually get worse. There are also studies of people who have problems but do not seek psychotherapy. Of these, approximately 33 percent report improvement without therapy.”9
As might be expected, given the rather tentative state of much of the discipline of psychology, this area of study has not been without its critics. Within recent years, numerous titles have attracted attention to some of the excesses and problems of modern psychology in its practical application (The Psychological Society by Martin Gross, The Myth of Psychotherapy by Thomas Szasz, and Psychological Seduction by William Kirk Kilpatrick, to name a few). One author, with tongue in cheek, was moved to comment that counseling is “. . . an unidentified technique applied to unspecific problems with unpredictable outcomes. For this technique we recommend rigorous training.”10
Care must be exercised not to throw out the baby with the bath water! As research has shown, 66 percent of those seeking psychological help do benefit by it. The ongoing challenge to professionals in psychology centers on the discovery of ways to benefit the 33 percent who at present seem to show no improvement in therapy.
In the above paragraphs, an effort has been made to depict the present state of psychotherapy. What is seen is a sometimes uncomfortable mix of subjective and scientific approaches to human problems. Much of psychology appears to be in transition as many of the theoretical structures of the past are put to the test and found wanting. Consequently, some of them are modified and put back into the arena for further testing, while others may be discarded entirely. In the meantime, occasionally, here and there, progress is being made, and individuals are thereby better served.
Additionally, the subjecting of the theoretical substructures and claims of psychology to scientific investigation seems to be creating a greater spirit of humility and openness on the part of those who ply their trade in the field of psychology. A few years ago, some were making outlandish claims about the potential of psychology for an almost religious salvation of mankind.11 For example, a former president of the American Psychological Association claimed that only a “rigorous, tough-minded psychology could save mankind and guarantee the survival of the human race.”12 Another former president of this organization urged a very evangelistic “giving away” of psychology, which he claimed to be potentially “one of the most revolutionary intellectual enterprises ever conceived by the mind of man.”13 More recent appraisals recognize that real help in psychotherapy appears to come more from the personal qualities of the therapists than from a supposed “life-giving” body of psychological knowledge or insight. Comparisons of effectiveness of various approaches to dealing with human behavioral and emotional problems have shown approximately equal beneficial results. The conclusion has been that non-specific factors have been the key to improvement. In other words, while therapists have held varied and sometimes contradictory approaches to psychotherapy, they have been very similar in their personal qualities such as approachability, warmth, ability to listen, optimism about human potential, love for people, and empathy.14
The Development of Christian-Psychological Counseling
In an earlier period, there was frequently a spirit of diffidence and sometimes of competition between psychology and religion. This was largely due to the influence of Freud who considered religion a centering on an unreal father figure created by mankind as a result of the sense of impotency exacted by the overpowering negative forces of life.15 Also in the development of his theories of the id, ego, and superego, which resulted in the unreasonable inhibiting of the id . . . the root cause of much emotional trauma. As a result, the efforts at disinhibiting the id (centering on weakening the power of the superego) seemed to the church to be little short of the work of the Devil.16
In the ensuing years, the climate has warmed, and today many ministers are trained in psychology, and see counseling as an important component of their spiritual ministry. The word “psychology,” comes from two Greek terms: psychē, which means “soul,” and logos, which means “word.” Literally then, “a study of the soul.”17 Germane to this definition are the com- ments of Szasz. “The soul is the essence of the human personality; it distinguishes persons from animals or things and ‘causes’ them to be moral agents. . . . Actually, psychotherapy is a modern scientific-sounding name for what used to be called the ‘cure of souls.’ The true history of psychiatry thus begins not with the nineteenth-century psychiatrists, but with the Greek philosophers and the Jewish rabbis of antiquity and it continues with the Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, over a period of nearly two millennia, before the medical soul-doctors appear on the stage of history.”18
Given the “soul” nature of psychology, it is no marvel that those preparing for marriage, the elderly, the young, those experiencing difficulties with their marriage, the depressed, those with drug and alcohol problems . . . in increasing numbers find their way to “soul specialists” (ministers) in their quest for aid. One older study showed that about 42 percent of all individuals seeking help in the United States turn first to the church for that help. This same study reported that 65 percent of those who were counseled by ministers felt they had improved as a result (this as compared to 45 percent reporting improvement who went instead to mental health professionals.)19
While hardly a groundswell, ministers and psychologists/psychiatrists have begun to work together more closely. Clinebell, in a volume he edited on community mental health, includes a section on the role of ministers as active participants in mental health clinics.20 Across the nation, a variety of programs are being instituted by which ministers can be trained for the important supportive contributions they can make to sound emotions. One of the earliest of these was the “Lilly Kokomo Project” held at the University of Chicago in 1950.21 Since that time, such offerings have proliferated greatly. In addition, this relative “newcomer” to psychology called “Pastoral Psychology” has already begun to make its own important contributions to the broader field, including some very fine journals.22
Meanwhile, on the side of the secular practitioner in psychology, there appears to be an increasing awareness of the importance of the spiritual side of mankind. In part, this awareness of the need of psychologists and ministers to work together may be related to the complaint of clients themselves who bemoan the fact that while their religion forms a very important part of their lives, their analysts often completely ignore the subject.23 Also, in the living experience of offering psychotherapy to clients, the ongoing interrelationship of the physical and the spiritual cannot escape notice. This important truth was penned centuries ago by king David in one of his confessional statements. “There is no soundness in my flesh because of thy indignation, there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head, they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning, for my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:3-8 RSV).
One must be impressed with the number of theorists who are presently stressing ideas similar to king David’s. Mowrer, a past president of the American Psychological Association, related all emotional problems to sin and accused the church of having betrayed mankind in turning the treatment of the mentally disturbed over to those outside of the church.24 Jung, formerly an associate of Freud, worked to bring religion back into legitimate relationship to psychology and psychiatry25 Allport, perhaps the greatest American psychologist, also wrote and lectured widely in an attempt to bring about a rapprochement between religion and psychology in order that both spiritual and mental health practitioners might benefit from each others’ areas of accomplishment and expertise.26 Glassar, the developer of “Reality Therapy,” underscores the destructive nature of irresponsible behavior, and holds that if man refuses to live responsibly in terms of what he believes to be right, he will not be able to cope satisfactorily with life.27 Frankl has developed Logotherapy (which Carl Rogers calls one of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years) on the premise that mental health is inexorably intertwined with purposes and ideals that are of sufficient value to merit the cost and the pain of living. In his experience, this leads many to search for the super-meaning that can be found in God.28 Blazer, a psychiatrist and leading gerontologist, reports a study showing that 40 percent of American psychiatrists believe in God and attend church either regularly or occasionally, while 53 percent send their children to religious schools.29 Pullias, widely respected as an eminent professor of psychology and education, and as a practicing psychologist for almost 50 years, gave the fol- lowing recommendation in an open letter to his former students: “The important things in life are the things of the spirit. Whatever one may achieve in material possessions, in worldly prestige, in physical power is as nothing compared with those qualities of heart and mind which partake of the nature of God. All other things come and go with the uncertain turns of fortune. But true greatness of spirit cannot be moved. Material things are good when they are kept in their place – that is, subordinate to the spiritual.”30
Jesus as Counselor
In the foregoing paragraphs, an effort has been made to establish two principles: the first is that due to the varied nature of human kind, a strong element of psychology has been, and will no doubt continue to be, subjective and intuitive; the second is that the soul nature of psychology, and the spiritual nature of persons, legitimizes a spiritual approach to the treating of human problems. Now some indications will be offered from the Gospel of John centering on Jesus as a counselor and upon the methodology that he used.
In one of the important Messianic passages of Isaiah, one of the titles given the one who was to come was the term “counselor.” “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isa. 9:5 [Heb.]; Isa. 9:6 [Eng.]) The Hebrew word which is translated “counselor,” connotes “one who gives counsel.”
In the body of the Gospel of John, Christ is never referred to specifically as “counselor,” although this term is applied repeatedly by Christ to the Holy Spirit (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). However, in John 14:16 it is implicit that Jesus also considered himself to be a counselor. Notice his statement: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth . . .” Jesus, in the larger context, is discussing his impending departure with his disciples, and is attempting to prepare them for his absence. In stating that “another Counselor” will be given, it is clear that he considered himself to be their present counselor. “Parakletos . . . is primarily a verbal adjective, and suggests the capability or adaptability for giving aid. It was used in a court of justice to denote a legal assistant, counsel for the defense, an advocate; then, generally, one who pleads another's cause, an intercessor, advocate, as in 1 John 2:1, of the Lord Jesus. In the widest sense, it signifies a succourer, comforter. Christ was this to His disciples, by the implication of His word ‘another’ (allos, another of the same sort, not heteros, different) Comforter,’ when speaking of the Holy Spirit . . .”31
Kittle and Friedrich go somewhat more extensively into the history and background of the term parakletos, but their conclusion is essentially in agreement with Vine’s. “The use of the term parakletos in the New Testament, though restricted to the Johannine writings, does not make any consistent impression. . . . In 1 John 2:1, where Jesus Christ is called the parakletos of sinning Christians before the Father, the meaning is obviously ‘advocate,’ and the image of a trial before God’s court determines the meaning. . . . The Spirit, however, is not the defender of the disciples before God but their counsel in relation to the world. . . . What is said about the sending, activity and nature of this paraclete (16:7, 13-15; 15:26; 14:16ff., 26) belongs to a very different sphere, and here (cf. Jesus in 14:16) parakletos seems to have the broad and general sense of ‘helper’.”32
He was identified as a counselor
Jesus was seen as a source of help by those who had need. There was something discernable in him that struck people with the thought, “Here is a person who can give the assistance that I seek.” When the disciples of John were brought into contact with Jesus, they immediately used the term “rabbi,” which means “teacher” (1:38). His demeanor and teaching were so electrifying that very soon huge multitudes were following him wherever he went (6:1-2), so much so that at times he would separate himself from them (6:15-21), only to have the crowd search him out again (6:22-25). Eventually, Jesus' fame and popularity became so great that he began to pose a political problem to the religious and political leadership in Jerusalem. “The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after Him’.” (12:19). It is interesting that a sort of final summation of the qualities of Jesus as a “people helper” is given by John toward the close of the Prologue when he declares, “And from His fulness have we all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (1:16-17). Counseling is as much a gift as it is a skill, and people seem able to individuate those who have this gift.
He was available
Jesus made himself available to the people who needed and desired his help. He did this by being in their midst. John depicts Jesus encountering people in the public streets (1:35-39), at a wedding feast (2:1-10), at a well by the side of the road (4:3-26), by the seaside (6:1-14), in the temple area (8:1-11), in a private home (12:1-3) . . . in short, wherever there were people, there we find Jesus in their midst, always open to being approached by those needing help.
He identified with the people
Jesus had the ability to identify with people in all their areas of living. He grew up in a family where sometimes he had to encounter contrasts with those who were his own kindred (7:1-5). Eventually, perhaps the bulk of his own physical family, and certainly the majority of his fellow countrymen, rejected him and his claims (1:11). He had to deal with considerable vaciliation on the part of his closest friends and followers (18:25-27), with one of them eventually betraying him (18:2-13). He knew what it meant to be tired and thirsty (4:6-7). In fact, the writer of the book of Hebrews makes the claim that no human problem or trial eluded Jesus, because that was a vital part of his identification with humankind in order that he might become the succorer of those who are in trouble (Hebrews 2:14-18). A summation of the degree to which Jesus understood the human condition is presented by John in these words, “. . . He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man, for He Himself knew what was in man,” (2:25).
He was word oriented
The Gospel of John begins with the much discussed Prologue, where John centers upon the Eternal-Word nature of the Messiah (1:1-18). It is not the purpose of this writer to delve into the various possible meanings that have been attributed to Jesus being characterized as the Word. What is important for this writing is the fact that the Bible presents God as the source of lan- guage (Genesis 1 and 2), and as one who communicates by the spoken word to humankind (as the Bible itself evidences). While thoughts, deeds, and feelings constitute the heart of humanity, the spoken word is invariably the medium by which such are interpreted for the benefit of the understanding of others. Even the most thorough-going Rogerian finds it necessary to rely upon words in the process of psychotherapy. Little wonder, then, that the Counselor of the ages would personally be referred to as the Word, and that he would use the word as the means by which his counsel would be made known to all persons (17:7-8, 20-21). Counselors who are effective are always good communicators. In fact, it may be said that counseling is communication.
He used an eclectic approach
In present day language, Jesus appears to have used an eclectic approach in dealing with people and their problems. It is clear that he varied his manner of intervention in terms of his interpretation of the need. However, it is interesting to see how often he used a confrontational approach, especially with those who were attempting to avoid facing up to their own reality (4:16-18; 6:26-27); or those who were not being honest with themselves or with Jesus and needed to be shocked into facing up to the seriousness of their circumstances (8:44); or those who just needed a very direct-loving reminder of the course to follow (5:14); or finally, those who were in danger of making a serious error and needed to be warned in very clear terms (13:38).
He was not judgmental
We feel confident in saying that an aftermath of teaching counseling at the graduate level for a number of years, is observing that one of the most difficult aspects of counseling, perhaps especially for ministers, is that of learning to withhold judgment. A most human tendency is the feeling that in every situation one must decide if he or she is for or against something, or if something is good or bad, or if he or she likes or dislikes the thing in question. The predisposition to be judgmental has been documented in a well-known study undertaken at the University of Illinois, where Osgood and others demonstrated that the majority of the meaning content of words is evaluative (an instrument called the Semantic Differential resulted from this research).33 Early in his ministry, Jesus made it very clear that he did not come into the world to judge humanity, but to show all how to live successfully (3:17). A notable example of his intent to heal rather than to judge or condemn is found in the case of the woman caught in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus for judgment. After having dampened the ardor of her accusers for making a scapegoat out of her by reminding them of their own personal sin (some suggest that he may have been implying that they had all been guilty of this same sin) he then encourages her to sin no more and tells her that he does not accuse her (8:1-11). Jesus always made it clear where he stood on moral and ethical issues, and he never left people with the feeling that he somehow approved of their wrong actions. However, he came across as someone who wanted to understand, who was very sympathetic with human weakness, and who held out forgiveness, acceptance, and help, rather than condemnation.
He was optimistic about people
A key characteristic of Jesus as a counselor was his ability to see clearly the potential of the persons with whom he came in contact. It was his practice to urge them on to their potential rather than evaluate them and be turned off by their present circumstance. He very obviously had a basic optimism about people. Nothing could illustrate this better than his selection of his disciples. Imagine one who intended to initiate a world movement that was to last until the end of time, deciding to do this with the likes of those whom he chose to be his apostles . . . a tax collector, a politic activist, barely literate fishermen . . . if Jesus had had a public relations person working with him, he would probably have resigned over such choices. John tells about the call of Simon, the impetuous fisherman. As he was presented to Jesus by his brother Andrew, Jesus looked at him and told him that he was going to change his name from Simon to Cephas or Petros (Aramaic and Greek words for rock) (1:40-42). What a marvelous prospect and challenge for this rough unstable man to be informed that in Jesus’ view he had the quality to become something as strong and consistent as a rock. Interesting too, is the fact that the very writer of the Gospel of John, widely heralded as the “apostle of love.” was at the time of his call so anger- prone and combatant that Jesus calls him a “son of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Jesus knew that this intense energy which early on could have been so destructive (Luke 9:54) could later be rechanneled into equal intensity for the noble and for the lovely. One of the most important qualities of the successful counselor is the ability to project this kind of optimism and hopefulness in order that the client, too, can catch the vision of the possible in his or her life.
He believed in the freeing power of truth
Jesus believed in and was irrevocably committed to the power of truth. It was the truth that would set one free (8:32). He himself was the source of truth (14:6). His purpose in coming into the world was to make truth available to God’s creation (1:17). He dramatically set forth the difference between the life based on untruth which would shun the light and seek to live in darkness, and the life based on truth which would seek the light because his or her deeds do not need to be hidden (3:20-21). Those who have worked very extensively with emotionally distressed persons will have noted the degree to which deeds of darkness often lurk in the background of such problems. Jesus also demonstrated how one can walk toward one’s destination and goals without stumbling when truth and openness and light characterize his or her conduct (11:9). He implies that his own mission was to offer the light by which his disciples would be able to walk successfully (12:35). Jesus indicated that his own consistent walking in the light of truth made it possible for him to go ahead unafraid of the threats that surrounded him personally (11:8-10). In counseling, it is especially the case that only those who seek honestly to find the truth of their situation (regardless of what this may mean or demand) have the opportunity of becoming free.
He avoided being manipulated
Jesus did not allow himself to either be manipulated by or forced to play the games of the people with whom he associated. On one occasion, a large group of persons that in his view were not sincerely interested in his message, but rather were looking for the easy handout, had this brought to their attention in no uncertain terms: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life; which the Son of Man shall give to you . . .” (6:26-27). When the politically minded began thinking how advantageous it would be to have as their king one who had such marvelous powers, they decided to try to force Jesus to become king. He promptly withdrew himself from them and literally headed for the hills (6:15). Every counselor has felt the pressure at times to say what people want to hear, or to do what they want done when in his or her heart it was obvious that this would not be best and would be a sacrifice of principle. Jesus’ example is a marvelous demonstration of how important it is that counselors maintain integrity at all times.
He was always consistent
There was a perfect consistency between Jesus' standards, words, and actions. His challenge to those who questioned his claims was that until they could find some inconsistency in his life, they should accept the truth of his statements (8:46). His stinging rebuke of his distractors was that they had more interest in peer acceptance than in living up to the standards of Abraham or of the Law of Moses (5:44-47; 8:39). John includes an unhappy note on some of the main Jewish leaders who, while being convinced of the truth of Jesus’ claims, valued acceptance by the Pharisees more than personal integrity, and therefore refused to act upon their faith (12:42-43). By way of contrast, Jesus, in the presence of the priestly court, claimed that all he had taught and done had been out in the open with nothing being done secretly (18:20). The failure to be consistent with one’s beliefs or standards . . . to live up to what the individual perceives as “right,” is a major issue in mental health. It is not only legitimate but essential as well that counselors insist that clients’ deeds be examined in the light of the clients' own belief systems.
He prized purpose
The famous logotherapist, Viktor Frankl, is fond of quoting Neitzsche’s statement, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”34 He also draws attention to research done in France which indicated that 89 percent of those polled stated that people need something to live for. Additionally, 61 percent admitted that there was either something or someone that was so important to their lives that they would even be willing to die for that person or thing if necessity demanded it. He quotes a similar study undertaken by researchers from Johns Hopkins University involving some 48 colleges. They found that 78 percent of the students participating said that the number one goal of their life was to find purpose and meaning.35 The experienced Christian therapist Carl Mitchell wrote: “After 21 years experience as a therapist, my conclusion is that what is lacking in many lives is precisely a cause that is important enough to them that it will at least match the personal investment demanded by life. What is for the moment unsupportable can become supportable when one's cause is upgraded.”
Jesus knew that his own personal death was a part of his progress toward the successful completion of his mission (3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32-33). He was careful to specify that he would not be constrained to die by the hand of others, but that it was his choice and that he would do so voluntarily because his cause demanded it (10:17-18, 27-28). He made it very clear to his disciples that following him would (for at least some of them) eventually lead to their death as well (15:20; 16:1-3). From his viewpoint, the most critical problem was not the fact that one must suffer for a cause, but rather that many would find no cause greater than physical life itself (12:24-25). Those who would successfully embrace whatever trials or suffering lay in the way to their goals as followers of Christ were assured that the subsequent reward would be great (12:26). There is, in fact, much joy to reward those who stand by their purposes through whatever trials until their goals are achieved. The writer of the book of Hebrews shows how Christ was drawn toward the cross by the anticipated joy that lay beyond it, and from Jesus' example encourages his followers to be similarly steadfast “. . . let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us; looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted,” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
He loved people
Jesus had a genuine love for and concern for people. In fact, it may be said that the total investment of his life hinged on two great laws: to love God with all of one's heart, soul, and mind; and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Matthew 22:37-39). He was the good shepherd who lived for the benefit of his sheep . . . and who would eventually die for them (10:1-15). Those who are experienced in the art of counseling say that it best proceeds as a sort of love affair between counselor and client (a serving rather than exploiting love). It is in the climate of such care and concern that individuals are frequently emboldened to dig out long denied or hidden realities about themselves or others. Emotionally detached cold psychological specialists may make a living but they will not be able to lead to life.
He was committed to the power of love
Jesus was thoroughly convinced that love is the most awesome and invincible power available . . . that there was no weapon known to Satan or man that could withstand it. His own record demonstrates that. As Durant wrote, “Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.”36 Jesus based the continuity of his mission on this particular virtue. He commanded his disciples to love each other as he had loved them (15:12, 17) . . . not a superficial casual, costless love, but a deep burning commitment love that would give one the power to die for a friend (15:13). In a personal way, Jesus designates love as the key to whether or not his will would be respected by his followers. Those who did not put Jesus' will into practice, even to the point of preempting their own will, could not claim to be his disciples (14:15, 21-24; see also I John 2:3- 6). The sweet aftermath of such loving obedience would be that both Jesus and the Father would make that person their dwelling place (14:23). The badge of distinction of his followers would be that they loved each other. In Jesus’ view, this would authenticate their claim that they were his followers (13:34-35). The finished work of Jesus was intended to be a demonstration to all persons that God loves them and that his greatest desire and joy (and that of Jesus as well) was that Jesus' followers eventually be with him to participate in his glorification (17:22-26). Perhaps a conclusion of all the above for counseling is that love will pay the price. Christ is of course talking about agape, the freely offered, non-exploitative love which comes from the free choice of the individual, and can therefore be commanded. This writer has seen repeated instances where such a choice and commitment to love has held persons steady in the most trying of circumstances, and made it possible for them to conquer in battles with persons and with conditions.
He felt with others
Jesus was a man of empathy. He was touched by the plight of an embarrassed host and was moved to turn water into wine (2:1-11). He was angered by those who exploited people for their own gain and misrepresented God the Father in the process (2:13-17). He wept at the death of a friend as he beheld the misery and the grief of the family (11:33-35). He was touched by the anxiety of a father whose son was grievously ill and healed the son (4:46-54). As elsewhere observed, such personal qualities as empathy and understanding are the distinctives of successful therapists even more than the particular theoretical framework used by the therapist. A study that was made of the counseling ability of hairdressers, bartenders, family lawyers, and work supervisors showed very positive results, no doubt due to just such personal qualities.37
He reinterpreted the stimulus
The thrust of at least some of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples fits the psychological concept of “reinterpreting the stimulus.” (See for example his discussion of how one should respond to violence or to an enemy in Matthew 5:38-48). The basic idea involves going beyond the immediate stimulus (word. act, mood, attitude) to try to understand the motivation or cause that lies behind it. This, then, affords one the opportunity of responding in either a more satisfying or a more appropriate way. Until this is done, the interaction between people is often like that of two sparks bouncing off of each other. The original stimulus thus has an almost dictatorial power to set the response. By reinterpreting the stimulus, it is possible to respond to others in terms of either their needs or what is best, as opposed to what they may seem to deserve. A good example would be Jesus’ treatment of Peter after he had repeatedly denied being Jesus’ follower (21:15- 17). Even though Peter had failed him miserably, Jesus reinstated him as an apostle and commissioned him to “feed his sheep.” In a broader sense, Jesus exercised this principle in dealing with the people generally. Even though they had rejected him and demanded his death, he was willing to die for them because they had acted in ignorance (Acts 3:14-17), and even while on the cross he prayed for their forgiveness (Luke 23:34). It was Jesus’ hope that after his death and resurrection many of those who had momentarily rejected him would come to believe in him through the teaching of the apostles (17:20-21). The very writing of John was calculated to fulfill that hope (20:30-31). It is frequently true that in interpersonal conflict power shifts from the one presenting a destructive and disruptive stimulus to the one who has the insight and the will to go beyond the immediate stimulus thereby giving a different and more constructive reply. One can make a difference!
He was a spontaneous counselor
There are of course many ways to categorize counselors. Some counselors (one would hope it is the bulk of them) have a genuine concern for the well being of their clients. To the best of their ability they attempt to relate to their needs. There are others (one would trust that they are few in number) who enter into a counseling relationship primarily for their own benefit. This may be referred to as the “spontaneous” versus the “impulsive” approach to counseling. The spontaneous counselor does not try to solve his or her own problems at the expense of the counselee . . . nor does he or she project either personal problems or personal solutions onto the client. The spontaneous counselor has sufficient insight into self to be able to keep his or her feelings, needs, solutions and experiences separate from those of the person being served. Special care will be taken to do this when the counselor begins to register similarities between self and the client. If he or she should arrive at a point where it was very difficult to maintain such a separation, he or she would refer the client to another therapist. The impulsive counselor makes the mistake of mixing his or her own personal baggage with that of the client, so that it becomes unclear as to who is being helped. As a result, indications, solutions, or attitudes of the counselor may be imposed on the one seeking help. Jesus was definitely a spontaneous counselor. In reference to his own mission, he was able to make a distinction between his own glory and that of God who had sent him (7:18). In reference to others, he was the “good shepherd” who would lay down his life for the benefit of his sheep (10:11) . . . this as distinguished from the “hirling” whose only interest in the sheep was for whatever personal gain might be forthcoming. The “impulsive” shepherd would very readily abandon the sheep in the face of danger (10:12-13). Occasionally, we have been called to the assistance of persons who were used, sometimes even sexually, or otherwise manipulated by the very person they had gone to in trust for help.
He was disciplined
Jesus modeled personal discipline as a concommitment of life. Any who have been involved in counseling know the trials and heartaches (brought on self and others) by individuals who lack personal discipline. To leap and then look, to decide and choose primarily on the basis of feeling, to initiate without carrying to conclusion, to fail to have a well- thought-out plan and purpose for life, to fail to have some thoughtful means of prioritizing . . . are all disastrous and hopelessly complicating for life. It is frequently true that a lack of discipline (impulsivity) is the key to depression, hostility, nervousness, and assorted other personal problems. Jesus had a blueprint for his life. He had chosen to fulfill God’s plan for the redemption of the world, a plan which involved words, deeds, and eventually Jesus himself being offered as a sacrifice for sin; and he held to it unswervingly (8:14, 26-29). Furthermore, he carried God’s purpose through to its completion. His words on the cross, “It is finished,” almost certainly carry a greater meaning than just indicating the moment of his death (19:30). Jesus was a hard worker who was diligent in the fulfillment of his obligations (4:35). Before his death, he claimed that he had done all the work assigned to him (17:4). Because he had a clear purpose and plan, he was able to prioritize in a meaningful way (4:31-34). What he knew to be first really did come first in his life. Jesus was a man of discipline and was able to teach his main clients (the apostles) to be so as well, as their later lives showed.
He was well developed socially
Jesus was human in the best sense of that word. He was friendly, social, and appears to have had a good sense of humor (His humor is not as visible in the Gospel of John as it is in the Synoptics . . . see for example Matthew 19:24; 23:24; Luke 13:32). Humor has long been noted as a sign of health. On the other hand, the loss of humor accompanies the development of various forms of mental illness. Frankl, in his description of the fight for survival in the concentration camps under Hitler, refers to the value of humor as a symbol of somehow being able to rise above the momentary circumstance, of not being defeated by it.38 Being an attractive, sociable, optimistic, and humorous person is very important to the counseling process. Jesus was all of these.
He modeled a servant spirit
People who seek counseling are often confused as to the purpose of life. The media have helped many to erroneously believe that the fundamental goal of life is to be happy, or to be successful, or to be assertive, and on and on. From the Biblical perspective, the question of purpose is easily answered. Jesus penpoints servanthood as the highest position available to a human being. One of the last acts of Jesus before his death was the washing of his disciples feet (13:3-17). Notice his words in verse 15, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” John does not include scenes described in the Synoptics where the disciples are vying with each other for position in the coming kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-27). Jesus responds to their selfish ambition by affirming that the greatest in the kingdom will be the one who most perfectly becomes the servant of others. Trouble in homes and throughout society characteristically grows out of a selfish desire to be served. Even those who spend their time serving others have sometimes been so brainwashed by contemporary ways of thinking that they end up feeling reduced and bitter because they are servants. Once a person begins to realize the divine status of serving and starts to experience the joy and satisfaction of serving, a lot of tension subsides and life becomes sweeter. Paul recalls the precise words of Christ. “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35). When tried, it works!
He emphasized the blessings of productivity
Every person in the world would like to experience inner peace and joy, although many are extremely disillusioned as to the prospect. Jesus, as a counselor, in fact promises peace and joy to those who follow him and his indications. By identifying with Jesus, it is promised that peace will result, even though life will always present its challenges and difficult times. Jesus can promise peace because he has met and overcome the world (16:33). He encouraged his followers to not be intimidated by the world. His peace, which is freely given, differs from worldly peace in that it has the power to calm the heart even while external turmoil may continue (14:27). Realistically, he promises adequate help in time of need (16:7, 13). Joy is promised to those who ask and receive in his name (16:24). In part, this joy is related to being productive in one's own life (15:1-11). At the conclusion of the passage just indicated where Jesus stresses the urgency of a fruitful existence, he says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” One does not have to live very long in this world to realize that there is not much fun in just being a consumer. As the years pass, there is very little satisfaction in looking back at an essentially parasitic life . . . but there is a great deal of satisfaction in looking back at work well done, at the meaningful development and use of potential, and at persons who have been served (these all seem basic to the concept of self-actualization). Jesus also encourages the joy of anticipating his future reward. Isaiah had prophecied that the “suffering servant” would divide the “spoils” of his victory with others (Isaiah 53:12). Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus promised that troubled hearts can be eased by contemplating his return and the sharing of his heavenly home with those who believe in him (14:1-6).
He was a man of emotion
Jesus was an emotional man (11:34, 38), but he was not controlled by his emotions. It can be learned from the life of Jesus that the more consistency there is between one’s deeds and principles, the more spontaneous it is possible to be in the displaying of emotion. Jesus’ displays of emotion were always perfectly suited to the occasion. His love for his disciples was expressed in everything he did which involved them (13:1). While he was not foolhardy, his courage is clearly evident (18:3-8). His anger flamed hot against those who by their evil actions misrepresented the Father and discouraged the believers (2:13-17). On the other hand, he knew how to dominate emotions which, if acted upon, would have carried him away from his purpose (12:27). A very significant part of being a person consists in the emotional makeup of humankind. It is important to express emotion in as much as it is consistent with personal faith and purpose. However, some potential emotional response is not appropriate because it may be incorrectly motivated, or because it may be damaging to another person. While one does not have direct control over one’s feelings, it is possible to choose whether or not a particular emotion should be expressed, and in what way. Eventually, the only real control possible over emotions is achieved by monitoring one's thoughts and actions. It is possible to think and act one's way into different and more appropriate ways of feeling (see Genesis 4:6-7).
He taught individual responsibility
“Several years ago, I took a graduate class in ministerial counseling to visit a mental hospital. There, we had the opportunity to sit in on a small patient-led group. At a certain point, almost as one person, the group turned on one of their fellows who had been in the hospital the longest, and told him he should leave the hospital and begin taking care of himself. When he tried to excuse himself, the group stayed on his case. Finally, he said, ‘You are saying to me that unless I become responsible for myself, I cannot be a person’” (Carl Mitchell).
Psychology has been through a long dark night in which it (in at least some of its elements) flirted with the idea that people are not to be held responsible for themselves and their actions. Thankfully, the few who still hold to this concept appear to be a vanishing breed. While it is clear that many persons (and especially one’s own family) exert tremendous influence upon him or her, in the final analysis, if there is to be any progress, an individual must accept responsibility for self and for what one can do. Jesus warned that all must finally appear before God to answer for their lives (5:28-29). Even in what is a favorite scene for most, the case of the woman taken in adultery, Jesus stresses both forgiveness and responsibility: “Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on, sin no more,” (8:11). The bottom line appears to be that until one accepts responsibility for oneself, that person is destined to either be a perennial babe, or a perennial victim of life’s circumstances. Jesus, however, did not follow the erroneous practice of his contemporaries who foolishly attributed blame to persons for conditions for which they were not responsible (9:1-3, 34).
He believed in individual freedom of choice
The Judeo-Christian religion is a teaching religion. In both the Old and the New Testaments, God appealed to the minds of those who were willing to hear him. Jesus draws attention to this truth when he quotes from the prophet Isaiah, “And they shall all be taught of God,” (6:45). Elsewhere, it is stated that God’s will is that none perish, but that all be saved (2 Peter 3:9). It is obvious that so far as salvation is concerned, God will not have his way. While it is his desire that all be saved, few will be (Matthew 7:13-14). The reason . . . God created humankind with the freedom of choice, a freedom which he will not preempt! Jesus regretfully acknowledged this when he said, “. . . you are unwilling to come to me, that you might have life,” (5:40). Yet, he encourages that right choice by saying, “If any man is willing to do his will, he shall know of the teaching . . . ,” (7:17). Even though it may be so deeply hidden as to be almost lost, counselors must believe that some degree of choice remains for their clients. An important part of the route to mental health involves the thoughtful exercise of that choice. This usually will demand the often time-consuming process of teaching and leading toward personal discovery of wiser and more successful ways of responding to one’s situation. Experience will show that this is the way to growth and to autonomy. Counselors who make decisions for clients lack respect for the God- given right of choice and promote dependency rather than autonomy. While Christ very emphatically spoke the truth and laid out alternatives, he never violated individual right of choice.
He followed up on his contacts
Jesus, as occasion demanded, followed up on those whom he had helped. After his encounter with the Samaritan woman, he remained for two days to work further with her and with the people of her city (4:40). He sought out the lame man whom he had healed shortly before at the Pool of Bethesda, and gave him further indications as to what he should do (5:14-15). The man who had been born blind, who was healed by Jesus, soon found himself in contrast with the local religious authorities as a result of his having been healed. His own parents refused to come to his aid out of fear of these same authorities. John states that Jesus, “having found him,” came to his assistance (9:13-39). It is frequently the case that genuine care is shown by taking the time to make a phone call, or write a letter, or even to make a personal visit just to see how a client is doing.
He gave greater importance to the spiritual
The distinctive of Christian counseling is the holistic approach that is used. Not only is the spiritual part of persons recognized and given attention (along with the social, physical and intellectual) but the spiritual is considered the most important. When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, Jesus went immediately to the spiritual, insisting that unless there is an encounter between the Spirit of God and the human spirit (He called it a rebirth of water and of the Spirit) then one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (3:1-10). When conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, he bypassed her interest in the purely physical water, counseling instead that she give attention to the spiritual water which he was prepared to offer her (4:13-14). To the physically hungry people who were following him for the “loaves and the fish,” Jesus countered that there was a spiritual food that they would do well to seek above the physical (6:27). There appears to be an increasing number of therapists who believe that a great deal of human problems are primarily spiritual in nature and to some degree must have a spiritual solution (Mowrer, Jung, Frankl, Allport, Oates, Clinebell, Tournier, Blazer, Faulkner, Dobson, Peck, et al.). The world is filled with spiritually hungry persons, and Christian counselors believe there is a spiritual food for the soul that is curative and satisfying. Wise use of confession, restitution, repentance, prayer, Scripture reading, forgiveness, and worship (both corporate and private) are viable aids to emotional health and furnish a firm foundation for a better future.
Many years ago, a student wrote the following words: “There is a sense in which the aims of . . . counseling are the same as those of the Church itself – bringing people to Christ and to the Christian fellowship, aiding them to acknowledge and repent of sin and to accept God’s freely offered salvation, helping them to live with themselves and their fellowmen in brotherhood and love, enabling them to act with faith and confidence instead of the previous doubt and anxiety, bringing peace where discord reigned before . . .”39
Even as the religiously oriented counselor should not separate the spiritual from the physical, social, and the intellectual; it is equally inadvisable for others to separate the physical, social and intellectual sides of humankind from the spiritual. While a counseling session is not a church service or an occasion for preaching, it is certainly a proper place in which to explore the spiritual and ethical values of those clients who acknowledge their importance. As one psychiatrist has stated: “It is a classical distinction between the preacher and the therapist that the former preaches, and the latter does not . . . the former professes himself to be an advocate of a formal morality, whereas the latter, theoretically at least, considers matters pertaining to morals and ethics as irrelevant to his detached and scientific pursuit of psychological understanding. In the actual practice of psychotherapy I have long found this classical distinction to be both irrelevant and inapplicable to the chief business at hand, namely, the assistance demanded by the patient and required of the therapist . . . Perhaps we have underestimated the importance of morality to the individual . . . Unlike the preacher, we do not advocate any particular code of ethics, nor, by and large, are we to prescribe any particular course of action. But, we must, I think, insist with our patients that they consider the right and wrong of their actions carefully in the light of their own standards; that they expose their standards to the buffeting of diverse opinion; and that they try hard to identify and dispel excuses and rationalization and to arrive at the essential truth of their position . . . Integrity is, I submit, the goal of all therapy. In its attainment, moral issues, for from being treacherous bogs to be avoided, are the proper arena for our therapeutic battles – battles which will require of the therapists on occasion a far more active intervention than is provided for in the psychoanalytic model.”40
The Christian counselor takes what Allport called a “step beyond” the above position, seeing in Jesus and his teachings essential truths for successful living. Such truths (counsel) are particularly evident in the Gospel of John. As Allport has written: “We may rightly ask, ‘After tranquilizers, what? After energizers, what? After electroconvulsive therapy, what? After psychoanalysis, what?’ Here, religion enters its claim. When the psychiatrist says, ‘We must integrate this life,’ religion replies, ‘I am the potential integration you need’.”41