Is it Biblical?
Author: Leslie Vernick
My husband and I were flying to Florida for a needed vacation. After we dragged ourselves through security we sat down to reassemble ourselves. Glancing up we observed an odd and troubling scene behind the airport information desk.
“Inappropriate!” I said.
“Weird” was the word my husband muttered as we watched a uniformed male employee repeatedly stroke a female employee’s face sitting in front of him.
“Is he giving her a facial massage?” My husband queried.
“No. I think he’s putting some sort of cream on her face.” I said.
We shamelessly stared. “There must be some rules against employees publicly touching one another like that. Snap a picture with your cell phone,” I said.
We stood up. Immediately we saw things from an entirely different perspective. The woman was confined to a wheelchair. Her arms and hands useless, curled tightly at her sides. Her fellow employee was tenderly rubbing moisturizer or makeup into her parched skin.
My heart sank. How quick I was to jump to conclusions and to judge his actions as wrong. How naturally and automatically I made up a story about what I saw when in fact, I did not see clearly at all.
At first glance this man’s behavior appeared unquestionably inappropriate. It was only when I saw things from a different vantage point did I discern that his actions were actually the opposite. They were kind, generous, and gracious.
In the same way, Jesus repeatedly attempted to show the Pharisee’s of his day that everything wasn’t the way they thought it was. Things are not so easily explained in terms of what they thought was lawful, or right and wrong.
For example, Rahab the prostitute was spared by Joshua because she protected the spies from being captured (by lying about which way they went) even though one of the Ten Commandments tells us not to bear false witness (see Joshua 6:25). Jesus did not follow the Jewish law when the woman was caught in adultery as the crowd expected. Instead of sentencing her to death by stoning, he said “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone” (Luke 14:3-6).
The Pharisees condemned Jesus as a lawbreaker when he healed on the Sabbath yet he challenged their deeply held beliefs by asking them, “Which one of you wouldn’t rescue a son or an ox on the Sabbath if they had fallen into a deep well?” (Luke 14:3-6). Jesus taught that doing good, helping others, and loving well was more important to God than legalistic adherence to biblical law.
What does that mean to us as biblical counselors? Each session our clients invite us to peer into a small section of their life story. At times they actually give us the power to judge what they’re doing (thinking, or feeling) as right or wrong, biblical or sinful, godly or not.
Here are a few examples I’ve recently encountered.
“Am I dishonoring my mother when I put boundaries around her contact with my children?” Or “Is it biblical for my daughter to get a legal annulment from her husband because she’s discovered he lied about who he really was? Had she known these things before hand, she would not have married him.” Or “Is it lawful for me to separate from an emotionally abusive husband? My church tells me that God hates divorce and I’m not allowed to leave unless he commits adultery.”
Sometimes when I hear these tragic stories with their question asking me what I think God says is right and what’s wrong, I imagine how Jesus must have felt when the Pharisees tried to trap him. Is there only one right biblical answer for every situation?
At times I see Christians, including some biblical counselors, use the Bible as a rule book to find what God says is permissible and/or unacceptable. But even Jesus had exceptions to his laws and the laws of love, mercy, justice, and faithfulness always triumphed.
Biblical love never implies that we always do what the other person wants or prefers, but loving him or her means we actively seek the other person’s long term best interest, including setting boundaries, implementing consequences, or initiating separation when those actions are done to help bring a sinful person to their senses and change.
How we answer these types of questions (or don’t answer), in our counseling has great implications for our counselees. It may shape our client’s picture of God as well as whether or not she learns to discern God’s voice for herself (John 10:4, 27).
In closing, ask yourself some crucial questions when facing these kinds of dilemmas.
- What is the whole counsel of God on this matter, not just one or two verses?
- What is the context? Not just the biblical context but also the client’s life story context. We can’t just take a single observation and make a judgment upon it. Just as I was very wrong in my initial assessment at the airport about what was truly happening, sometimes we can’t always discern what’s right and what’s wrong. Changing our vantage point might open our eyes to an entirely different perspective.
- What are the biblical exceptions? When were they permitted, or even sometimes commended? When the woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, the disciples judged it to be a waste of a valuable resource. Jesus thought otherwise and through this example, taught us that what seems right or even logical isn’t the only biblical way to make a good decision. Although what she did was extravagant Jesus said she’d always be remembered for her great love (Matthew 26:6-13).
In striving to be Christ-centered in my counseling, I am learning more and more that there is often more than one biblical answer. My job isn’t to judge or decide for my client what’s biblical. Part of our job is to help our client see his or her situation from different vantage points, (for example, temporal, eternal, short term, long term), talk about what God might be up to in her particular situation and how to listen to the Holy Spirit so that she can learn to walk by faith and not by sight.
Ask yourself: Do you tend to be “the biblical answer person” instead of helping your counselees learn to listen for God’s voice for themselves?
Posted on February 5, 2014