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5 GRACE Biblical Counseling Skills: Part 3

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Note: Developed from Spiritual Friends. Spiritual Friends is part of the ABC’s biblical counseling curriculum and the ABC’s certification process. In Spiritual Friends you learn how to develop twenty-two biblical counseling relational competencies.

This is the third in a ten-part ABC series. In this blog series, we’re learning five biblical counseling and one-another skills by using the acronym GRACE.

·         G—Grace Connecting: Proverbs 27:6

·         R—Rich Soul Empathizing: Romans 12:15

·         A—Accurate/Active Spiritual Listening: John 2:23-4:43

·         C—Caring Spiritual Conversations: Ephesians 4:29

·         E—Empathetic Scriptural Explorations: Isaiah 61:1-3

Rich Soul Empathizing: Climbing in the Casket—Romans 12:15

Biblical empathy is the ability to sense your spiritual friend’s suffering and communicate that “it’s normal to hurt.” Picture soul empathy with the phrase “climbing in the casket.” Many biblical passages urge rich soul empathizing:

·         Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

·         If one part suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Corinthians 12:26).

·         . . . who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).

·         Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).

·         For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

·         In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).  

Empathy, like connecting, is incarnational. Jesus entered our story (Hebrews 2; John 1). He is not only the Author of our story; He is in our story.

           Empathy means to suffer along with another, to suffer in the soul of another. It involves feeling yourself into or participating in the inner world of another person while remaining yourself. Through empathy, you see your spiritual friends’ world through their eyes as if their world was your own. You seek to understand their inner and outer world from their perspective.

You can picture empathy as placing yourself in the role as a lead character in Becky and Alonzo’s stories. They are the lead characters in their stories; you are their friend, their protagonist. You are no longer simply a reader of their stories; you participate with them in their stories.

How Not to Empathize with the Soul: Slamming the Casket Shut—Job’s Miserable Counselors, Part II

If empathizing is climbing in the casket, then slamming the casket shut pictures its opposite. A return to Job’s miserable “comforters” pictures how not to practice soul empathy.

1. Eliphaz: Job 4-5, 15, and 22

Eliphaz is the master of discouragement and dismay. He provides Job with conditional love while he curses God. Eliphaz teaches that God is good to the good, but bad to the bad. He does not know grace. He does know works: “You can manipulate God into being good to you by being good to him.” What a petty God Eliphaz worships. Eliphaz says to Job, “Don’t live coram Deo. Don’t tell God your heart. Be surface.” He misinterprets Job’s words as venting rage at God rather than soul-sharing with God.

2. Bildad: Job 8, 18, and 25

Bildad has a somewhat right theology with very wrong application. “The issue is your sin!” Seeing only sin, he is wrong in Job’s case. For God, the issue was Job’s response to him in his suffering. The issue was Job’s privileged opportunity to be a universal witness to God’s goodness. The issue was not Job’s sinfulness. Bildad does not know the man he calls “friend.” He labels (and libels) Job “the evil man who knows not God.”

3. Zophar: Job 11 and 20

Zophar also presents a works righteousness. He believes that good works can cover shame. 

4. Job’s View: Miserable Comforters

How does Job view their counsel? He longs for the devotion of his friends (6:14), which they aren’t. He calls them undependable brothers (6:15), which they are. They can’t handle Job’s doubts, treating the words of a despairing man as wind (6:26). He feels they say, “Forget it! Smile!” However, “Don’t worry; be happy,” does not cut it for Job. His dread remains. “If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will change my expression, and smile,’ I still dread all my sufferings, for I know you will not hold me innocent” (Job 9:27-28). He experiences their total lack of empathy. “Men at ease have contempt for misfortunate” (Job 12:5).  

Miserable comforters (Job 16:2) they are. Rather than communicating that “it’s normal to hurt,” they increase Job’s hurt. Having no compassionate discernment, they claim that his wounds are self-inflicted. “How we will hound him, since the root of the trouble lies in him” (Job 19:28). They crush Job’s spirit through their long-winded speeches, argumentative nature, lack of empathy and encouragement, failure to bring relief/comfort, and their closed-minded, arrogant, superior, hostile attitudes based upon wrong motives and a condemning spirit (Job 17:1-5).

Of them, Job concludes, “These men turn night into day; in the face of darkness they say, ‘Light is near’” (Job 17:12). They are like the counselor who says, “Don’t talk about your problems, don’t think about your suffering, and don’t remember your past hurts. Forget those things which are behind!” They have no night vision, no 20/20 spiritual vision, and no long-distance vision; so they have to call the darkness light. Job, however, has long-distance vision. His heart yearns for God and he knows that he will see God (Job 19:25-27).

Job feels no rapport with them. “They torment me, crush me with words. I sense their reproach as they shame me. They exalt themselves. I feel so alone when I am with them. So alienated and forgotten. Here’s how my ‘spiritual friends’ make me feel: alienated, estranged, forgotten, offensive, loathsome. All my intimate friends detest me; they have turned against me, having no pity on me” (author’s paraphrase of Job 19).

They are unwise. They offer nonsense answers because they’re not paying attention to life, not learning life’s lessons. “You have not wisely paid attention to how things work in the real world. Your academic knowledge, your theologizing, is out to lunch. How can you console/comfort me with your vain nonsense, since your answers are falsehood? You are wrong about life, about me, and about God!” (author’s paraphrase of Job 21).

They are “sin-spotters.” They know confrontation only. Thus, they become co-conspirators with Satan the accuser who condemns men and curses God. 

5. God’s View

What was God’s view of their counsel? After speaking to Job, Yahweh says to Eliphaz. “I am angry with you and your two friends because you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). They failed to speak of God’s generous goodness and grace. Their God was a tit-for-tat God who could be easily manipulated by and impressed with works.

Our greatest failure in counseling arises when we speak wrongly of God while we speak to one another.

The Rest of the Story

Return for Part 4 where we learn How to Empathize with the Soul.

Join the Conversation

What additional examples of non-empathy would you add?








Posted on July 16, 2011