During the recent ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) Annual Conference, I interviewed Dr. Heath Lambert about biblical counseling. Questions were submitted from all over the world. You can watch the interview or listen to it through the Truth in Love Podcast.
Below is a list of the questions asked during the interview:
6:55 “If the Bible is sufficient, then why do we have a bookstore at our conference?”
8:50: “Are there any benefits in psychology that we can use to help the heart restoration of our broken counselees?”
13:26: “In light of recent events, how is you talking about the differences between biblical counseling and integration not speaking the truth in love?”
19:28: “Seven years ago I was having what seemed like focal seizures. I was tested by two neurologists and was told there was nothing wrong with me. I sought counseling from a NANC counselor who recommended more Bible study and that I should search to relieve these symptoms. My seizure activity continued and with the improvement of technology and an impatient week at Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital, it was found that I’ve had a brain tumor and a frontal lobe epilepsy deep in my brain. The scans confirmed and clearly showed the medical evidence. Here is my question or concern with your ministry: for seven years I was told that I did not need medication, but that this was a spiritual issue. How can you really know if something is medical or not? My experience has left me with bitterness for NANC counseling when it comes to what are perceived as “mental issues.” Please provide input as our church is considering being a part of your ministry and I have some deep concerns. I do appreciate your counseling ministry and have seen wise and fruitful results for many.”
26:24: “Where is the best place to start with a new church that is trying to start biblical counseling within their church?” And we had another question that’s similar: “How do you introduce biblical counseling to a church?”
29:36: “Do you feel that promoting certification creates an unnecessary bar for people who want to help other people by making them feel like they are not competent to counsel unless they have received extensive training?”
36:14: “What are some, if any, differences between ACBC and CCEF?”
38:39: “What is the role of women in biblical counseling?”
44:56: “Do you think there is a time for separation in marriage other than when there is imminent danger (i.e. emotional abuse, sexual addiction, etc.) and what would be your biblical defense for your position? If your answer is no, how would you suggest a woman can be best shepherded when extreme cases arise and there is much to sort out but there is not physical violence?”
51:02: Why would ACBC or the Bible not be supportive of trying to go and dig up suppressed memories? And if the person can’t remember abuse, they need to try to figure out how can they be healed.”
53:46: “How can we discern whether someone suffering from a transgender identity (gender dysphoria) is struggling with mental illness, a physical disorder between the brain and the body present since birth, or a spiritual identity issue? These seem like real possibilities to me.”
59:15: “What is the theme of next year’s conference?”
How do people fall in love? Why are certain people attracted to each other? How can someone become desirable?
A recent article from Psychology Today called “The Laws of Attraction” by Wendy Paris touches on these topics. The article’s subheading reads
Who we desire is driven by powerful evolutionary forces, but while most of us are drawn to looks first (whether or not we admit it), human attraction is far more complex than it appears at first sight.
I’m the first to admit that the Bible never uses the word dating. It talks about romance in different categories than our modern culture has created. However, the Bible is the most important source of information about how and why people fall in love.
After reading the article, I was struck with how superior the law of God is compared to the psychological insights Psychology Today provided. I say this not to insult the author of this article but rather to highlight the helpfulness and relevance of the Bible. The plan for romance described in the pages of Scripture is not only sufficient for a healthy life, it is able to produce a beautiful life. Which makes it superior to any other resource.
Consider the following summary of the main sections of the “Laws of Attraction” article:
1) According to the article, the driving force of attraction in dating comes from evolutionary compulsions. Behind attraction is Darwinian evolution based upon natural selection and survival of the fittest. The people who are the most physically appealing are the most sought after because of reproductive qualities, but there can be other factors that contribute.
…it’s more important to be well matched with your partner than to catch the most beautiful person in your circle. Couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, tend to fall within similar ranges of size, education, religious beliefs, values, and socioeconomic status.
2) The article attributes dating preferences to chemicals in the brain that compel people to be attracted to specific types of personalities. Chemistry is not a mere metaphor, but a driving factor in why people fall in love.
3) It concludes by giving tips and ways to improve your own attractiveness. It claims you can increase your level of attractiveness by improving how you handle your most compelling features. A person can make themselves more attractive by being confident and comfortable and by broadening social networks.
The problems of the article is not the observations from the psychologists. The psychologists have observed common occurrences and trends in romantic relationships. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the fact that attraction can develop by couples having intimate conversations or that there are a variety of chemicals in each person. The observations made by these psychologists are not wrong in and of themselves.
The areas mentioned in the article fall short primarily because they do not adequately understand how and why human beings function in romantic relationships. The psychologists have the wrong foundation (Darwinian evolution) instead of the biblical foundation which establishes humanity as created in the image of God. But it isn’t merely their foundation that is faulty. The conclusions and summaries from the psychologists fail to be beautiful. They miss the most central compelling realities of romance and blunt all the beauty behind it.
Consider now the following passages of Scripture in contrast to the three areas from the Psychology Today article I highlighted above:
1) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIV)
There are many things that could be said about the driving forces behind attraction, but fundamentally the article has “boxed-in” love. It relegates attraction to be a result of reproductive inclinations and calculations. People are attracted to the person they (knowingly or unknowingly) believe will best suite them for reproduction and survival. (I also find this perplexing because the article includes same-sex couples in its analysis and does not address the reality that same-sex relationships cannot biologically produce offspring)
When this Darwinian box is forced upon attraction, love is forced out. Real love is lost when driven by biological calculations. If the “Laws of Attraction” article is true, there really is no such thing as love – only sexual desires. The beauty of romance is removed from the box.
On the other hand, the Bible provides a flourishing framework that accounts for both sexual appeal and an authentic moral category of love. The “Laws of Attraction” assessment allows for one law – the law of self-pleasure, self-preservation, and self-gratification. Only the law of God can demonstrate the greatest and most fulfilling pleasure available to man is through self-sacrifice. Attraction is not merely a result of physiological instincts and urges. It can be a result of genuine care and self-less love.
2) “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.” (1 Peter 1:3-5a, NIV)
The person who feels “ugly” reading the Psychology Today article should despair if they take it to heart. If they believe the article, they are truly hopeless because all the action is confined to physical or social sexual appeal. The person who feels “gorgeous” should also despair after reading the article. If they believe Psychology Today, they will be fooled into thinking that attractiveness is merely outward.
The Bible provides an accurate framework that does not dismiss outward beauty (Genesis 29:17), but places the emphasis on inner beauty. The Scriptures underscore the eternal value and attractiveness of holiness. In God’s economy, godliness is the goal.
Consider the example of Fisher and his date in the article, only the body exists in this Darwinian system. Physical chemistry has replaced the conscience, the soul, and morality. This runs contrary to the better and more beautiful picture presented in 1 Peter which discusses the adornment of the heart. The Bible isn’t as simplistic as this article in Psychology Today.
3) Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30, NIV)
The practical advice on how to become more attractive misses the target because it is aiming the wrong way. The goal is backwards compared to the biblical framework of attraction. The article assumes the goal is to become more physically/socially appealing and then proceeds to give tips on how to cultivate appeal with whatever body type or skills a person possesses.
Instead, the biblical goal is to glorify God by enjoying him and serving others. When a person seeks to serve others and bring honor to Jesus, they will naturally grow in faith and confidence of their standing before God. They will become bold and brave for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As they grow in Christian love and hospitality, this might increase their social standing and reputation. This confidence and growth in warmth might then increase their appeal to others who might be romantically interested in them. But this would be a by-product of faith and obedience. This would be a result of living in Christian community and could never have been the focus.
It could also be that confidence is boosted, social skills are enhanced, networks are broadened, and attractiveness is at it’s highest possible peak, but no one ever bites. No dates take place because no one becomes romantically interested. What then?
Only the Christian who sought the Lord with their whole heart can be radiant. The Christian is secure because their goal was never to maximize their attractiveness for the sole purpose of finding a mate. The Christian knows that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a person who fears the Lord is to be praised. It is only the Christian, because of the Bible, who can obtain true and lasting beauty. The blessed (happy) person is the one who walks in the Law of the Lord and meditates on his Law day and night (Psalm 1:1-6). He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that produces fruit in due season.
In summary, if you are looking for a proper understanding into the mysteries of romance, you don’t need to read the latest in Psychology Today. Instead, you can mine the depths of the Scriptures to behold beautiful treasures. Romance is not merely about sexual attraction that is so easy to observe. Romance is about something much greater that only can be understood in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”(Ephesians 5:32, ESV)
I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken. Joni is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. She shares her story on the podcast, discusses how to love people affected by disabilities, and provides insight about how she deals biblically with chronic pain and suffering.
Joni is one of the godliest people I have ever met. She is genuine, sincere, and full of love. I don’t think it is possible to feel awkward around her. If you are nearby, she welcomes you like Jesus Christ would welcome you. I want to be like Joni and exude with the Holy Spirit’s love. I’m confident that meeting her for this podcast is one of the highest honors of my life.
I hope you enjoy this 45 minute interview that is personal, encouraging, and challenging. Personally, my favorite part of the podcast is when she sings a few stanzas in response to one of the questions.
We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.
The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:
Marriage vs. Singleness
Should We Be in a Relationship?
Do We Have a Bad Relationship?
What if I am not a Virgin?
Should I Guard My Heart?
The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:
The Length of Engagement
Till Death Do Us Part
Loving Your New Parents
Should We Elope?
On Birth Control
The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice. Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.
Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world. We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.
We are not relational gurus. Quite the opposite. We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost. We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives. We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.
In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriagethat discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.
As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.
The Bible isn’t relevant for life if the Bible can’t be applied practically. Biblical counseling must be practical or else it will be irrelevant. This is because we obey or disobey God in specific ways. Our idolatries are not vague. Our sins are not general. When we are fearful, we think fearful thoughts in our mind. When we are sinfully depressed, we neglect real responsibilities. When we act in anger, we do things with our tongues and our hands. Thankfully, the Bible offers practical ways to overcome our sin and change us in concrete ways.
The practical nature of the Scriptures for counseling can be seen in three verses in the New Testament. Romans 12:19-21 is just one example that gives us insight into the powerful and tangible ways the Bible can be used in counseling.
Verse 19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
1) Command and Motivation
The command in verse 19 is to never take revenge. This command is simple, but it is not merely a command. In Romans 12:19, the motivation for the command is given. We should not seek revenge because this is only God’s prerogative. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and we are called to trust him instead of taking matters into our own hands. To not take revenge requires faith. The command is given and the motivation to obey the command is also explained.
Verse 20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
2) One Practical Application
Verse 20 goes beyond both the command and the motivation and moves into a practical example. If your enemy is hungry, you can not take revenge by feeding him. If your enemy is thirsty, you can fight anger by giving him something to drink. This is one practical way of fighting the urge to take revenge. Instead of giving your enemy poison, you should buy him coffee. Instead of giving your enemy a mouthful of harsh language, you should give him a mouthful of food.
Verse 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
3) Many Practical Opportunities
The practical nature of the commands of God can be seen even clearer in verse 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The practical nature of doing good in order to combat revenge isn’t bound up in giving away meals or bottles of water to your arch enemies. There are hundreds of ways in which you can tangibly show kindness instead of wrath to those who upset you. Romans 12:20 gives one practical example, but Romans 12:21 allows for a thousand other acts of kindness that are in keeping with verse 19.
Biblical Counsel is Practical Counsel
How do you give advice to others? Do you talk about God’s commands? Do you explain the motivations behind those commandments and how faith is required? Do you give practical examples to implement these truths? Do you then teach others to think of new ways to obey God when faced with a variety of circumstances?
Romans 12:19-21 is just one example of how the Scriptures are powerful and practical to help people change. It is my prayer that this text is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves: Do we counsel like the Bible counsels?
Can the Bible truly address life’s most complex issues?
I am convinced it can and I believe biblical counseling is the vehicle God uses to minister to broken people. Counseling from the Bible is simply a specific avenue of discipleship and the great commission.
There are some who are skeptical of biblical counseling because it seems too simplistic. Maybe you resonate with the following concern: biblical counseling seems to repackage all their solutions into a simplistic two step formula – repent and believe.
Perhaps this is how you think about biblical counseling:
“Are you struggling with anorexia? Repent and believe.
Are you struggling with depression? Repent and believe.
Anger? One more time.
Repent and believe.”
I actually think this caricature of biblical counseling is too simplistic. It does not offer a full picture of faithful counseling. I would be concerned if this was all of the biblical counseling I received!
Biblical counseling is more than telling people to pray, read their Bible, and trust in Jesus. But it is nothing less than this. Biblical counseling is both simple and complex. In a very real way, discipleship is taking the two categories of “believe” and “repent” and seeking to apply them in all the right and varied ways. Does this bother you? It doesn’t have to.
Simplicity vs. Sloppiness
I think one of the reasons simplicity is a turn off is because it gets confused with sloppiness. Simple and sloppy are not the same thing.
If we aren’t careful and caring, lazy counseling has the potential to feel like offering a bandaid to someone who has fractured their femur. Biblical counselors must be “sophisticated” in their ability to listen, diagnose, and administer the Bible.
Our society may call this “sophistication”, but the book of Proverbs calls it wisdom. No matter what you label it, biblical counseling requires seasoned skill, scriptural knowledge, and Spirit-infused intuition.
An infinite God can be studied for one thousand lifetimes and yet never be fully known. And yet, a young child can truly have a relationship with the God of the universe. The Bible is simple in it’s message and yet complex in it’s application. (Matthew 3:2; Romans 12:2)
Is Simplicity Shameful?
I want to emphasize that simplicity is not inherently negative in counseling. In reality, simplicity indicates clarity. This is a wonderful blessing from the Bible.
The biblical counselor shouldn’t be ashamed of the truth that the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) In our quest to be sophisticated we should not seek to be accepted by the world and sound like a psychology textbook. Jesus’ mission was not to impress the elite and educated. The solutions to problems of “life and godliness” can (and should) be boiled down to issues of faith and repentance. (2 Peter 2:1-3) There are nuances to be said and complex problems to be examined, but at the end of the day we must counsel faith and repentance. This wasn’t too narrow-minded for Paul who determined to know nothing other than Jesus Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)
Simple Means Solutions
As biblical counselors, we can take heart in the simple message of the kingdom. We don’t have to go anywhere else except the Scriptures for wisdom in counseling. In reality, we can’t go anywhere else.
Our counselees don’t have to despair trying to find some secret knowledge that a psychiatrist possesses. They don’t have to wander around for years needing weekly therapy. They can be assured that change is possible and a real solution is within their grasp.
When we counsel from the Bible, we can actually be guaranteed to accomplish the will of God. We can be sure that his word will accomplish everything God intends for it to do. The mission cannot fail because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Risen Counselor. (Matthew 28:18-19)
Let us spend our lives learning how to call people to repent and believe the gospel in a wise and timely manner. We should agree with the disciples of Christ: where else can we go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)
For more information on the medical components of counseling, there are several videos on the counseling and medication from ACBC.
In life, the pressure is on. Trials, toils and snare abound for the believer. How will you fight against the intense temptations Satan will throw your way? Will you be able to endure until the end and be saved? Apocalyptic literature offers us some images to keep us in the faith.
Chapters 6-16 of Revelation contain many visions of judgment that are poured out upon the earth. The trumpet and bowl judgments are intense pictures of the wrath of God. While it is beyond the scope of this post to examine all the images in these chapters, this section will highlight a couple of images of Judgment and seek to apply them practically in counseling.
Revelation 16 can be used to provide powerful images in order to bring about repentance and to keep believers from falling into temptation. Revelation 16:2 says, “So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.” This verse gives a descriptive picture of what will happen to all of those who follow the way of Satan instead of the way of Christ. Every person who gives way to the persuasion of sin is described in this text. Those who have obtained the mark of the beast have given themselves over to sin and disobedience.
The image of a bowl that spreads sores and painful diseases is an unpleasant thought. This is an example of apocalyptic literature exposing the façade of sin. The bowls in Revelation are bowls of wrath. They are bowls filled with the fury of God. We do not want these bowls poured on our heads anymore than we want scalding hot water to be dumped on our backs. Romans 6:23 rightly says that “the wages of sin is death.” Revelation 16 gives readers a similar truth as in Romans 6:23 but it is delivered in a much more pungent manner. This passage communicates that the wages of sin is full of infected sores. Sin brings God’s wrath and in this text God’s wrath manifests itself in painful sores. Imagine green pus filled boils covering your skin. These sores are a direct cause of sin. These are wages for the wicked on their way to death. We want God to anoint our heads with smooth oil, not sour sores.
The judgments continue to pour and Revelation 16:8 describes another bowl of wrath that inflicts pain. “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.” This imagery involves a giant bowl being held over the earth by a massive angel. This bowl is filled with liquid that is poured out to ignite the sun. When the liquid touches the sun, the sun intensifies and explodes the solar system with heat and light. All the enemies of God feel the intense heat on their skin and every exposed area becomes burnt. This bowl is another picture of the consequences of sin. Instead of infected sores, God releases heat from hell. In this text, the wages of sin is sun poisoning. All the enemies of God are burned before they can even march into battle. These are the same people who are gearing up for the battle against God at armageddon and they already have a foretaste of their defeat (Revelation 16:14-16). How foolish is the battle of armageddon? Creatures are planning to attack their Creator and cannot even conquer the sun! Sin is foolishness and will only result in misery. This imagery of splotchy red soldiers with burning red boils should be brought to our minds before giving into temptation. This should cause us to pause before partaking in sin.
How should we respond to judgment?
The interesting twist in Revelation 16 comes from the response of those under judgment. Instead of crying out for mercy from the wrath of God, they actually do the extreme opposite. 16:9 says, “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power of these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.” This is instructive for counseling on two levels.
First, this gives some insight into the depravity of man. Wicked hearts are blind to logic and this passage reveals this reality. The most illogical act in response to the bowl judgments would be to curse God. Yet the unbelievers go to great lengths to mount an attack plan against their Creator and wage war against him in 16:16. Armageddon is the apex of human folly. The creatures are attempting to attack the very one who sustains their existence. The image of Armageddon should be a clear call for counselors that many people respond to correction in the worst possible manner. It shows that sin is blinding and causes people to operate in illogical ways.
Second, these passages come as a warning to believers and unbelievers. These are examples of how not to respond to the discipline of God. Revelation 16:9 and 11 indicate that the proper response to the wrath of God is repentance. When faced with the judgment of God, humans should fall to their knees and beg for mercy. Fleshy boils and burns should cause the believer to wince at the harmful results of disobedience. When the imagination brings to mind the clamor of thousands of sun scorched soldiers at the battle of Armageddon, the foolishness of sin should be brought to mind. These images, and the emotions they invoke, can be a means of grace for persevering believers in holiness. This fresh vision of judgment may become your salvation.
Are you dull to the things of God? Do you yawn at the Bible or have trouble being excited about the Christian life? Perhaps you or someone you are counseling is spiritually lethargic. A good place to turn may be Revelation chapter 4 or 5. Here is one section from these chapters.
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: (Revelation 4:1-6, ESV)
Imagery to Ignite Worship
Chapters 4-5 of Revelation contain glorious descriptions of the throne room of God. These images convey a multitude of colors and they relay a symphony of sounds. Reading texts like this can move a counselee away from self absorption and give them an eternal perspective to live for what truly matters. I agree with Dr. Jim Hamilton in his commentary on Revelation when he says that believers should not limit their imagination when encountering this imagery. He writes,
“I would suggest that at this point, as we consider John’s description of what he saw, we let our imaginations run wild. We cannot be too extravagant in our attempt to depict this for our mind’s eye. The colors we imagine will not be too vibrant. The space we allot for the throne and what surrounds it will not be too large; the sights and sounds we conceive in our brains will not be too impressive, too surprising, or too overwhelming. We are talking about the glory of Almighty God, seated on his throne in Heaven. We will not overdo it in our attempt to image this scene.” (James M. Hamilton, Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, 143)
A common theme that emerges from Revelation is the theme that only the triune God is worthy of worship.John is even rebuked at the end of the book when he falls to worship at the feet of an angel. The message in Revelation is that Jesus is to be worshipped and Jesus is clearly distinguished from angelic beings (Revelation 22:8-9) This theme is particularly evident in chapters 4-5. John describes four living creatures that simply exist to worship God day and night. These creatures never cease to cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)
John also records the twenty four elders falling at the feet of God worshiping him repeatedly. The phrase “worthy” is ascribed to God in 4:11, 5:9 and 12. In 5:11, John records that “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” praise God aloud and the scene in chapter 5 climaxes with every creature in, on and under the earth blessing God. Chapter 7 adds a new element to this divine scene when saints from every nation and language gather around the throne of God to join the eternal praise. In these passages alone, the message is clear, God demands and deserves unceasing praise.
When a person meditates upon the visions John writes about in these chapters, the spiritual experience can nearly become overwhelming. Jonathan Edwards records his experience of the overbearing delight of God when reading the Scriptures after his conversion. He writes, “I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such as refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading.” (Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 41) These passages in Revelation can certainly have this effect and can fuel the worship of believers and counselees. The images described by John open up a window of fresh air for struggling believers to look through and breathe.
Set my mind where?
Colossians 3:1-2 commands believers to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” What exactly should a counselee dwell upon to obey this verse in Colossians? Where is Christ seated at the throne room of God? The imagery in Revelation 4-5 is an answer to these questions and gives direction to those seeking to obey Colossians 3:1-2. Counselees who are wrestling with a number of issues such as pride, anxiety or fear of man can be immensely helped by meditating on theses visions of worship in Revelation. Even in the midst of trials and tribulations, God is receiving the praise he deserves and he is seated on the throne. Believers can set their mind on the images found in Revelation 4-5 of the twenty four elders crying out in joyful praise to God.
These apocalyptic visions may be particularly helpful for those who have become dull to the precious things of God. This imagery can be used as kindling wood to set cold hearts ablaze for the glory of God. These passages teach that the God’s purposes continue throughout the ages and true delight is to join in with the continuous choir of heaven. This imagery is both practical and powerful. Use this imagery to ignite love and holiness in your life.
This post is in a series on Counseling with Apocalyptic Imagery. See Post 1: Counseling Beasts
Lions, dragons and beasts – Oh my. Some parts of the Bible can be intimidating. Swirling wheels, ugly animals and books of judgement cracking open can be a bit overwhelming. All of these things can come to mind when a person thinks about apocalyptic literature (books of the Bible like Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation). Yet I have come to the conclusion that these books of the Bible are immensely practical. If Christians dive into these books of the Bible, then I believe their spiritual walk will be strengthened. I even think that these “frightening” texts can be used in counseling to fight against sin.
The Need for Apocalyptic Imagery in Counseling
Apocalyptic literature attempts the impossible. It attempts to process things that are inexpressible and full of glory and communicate them on paper (1 Peter 1:8). John Piper aptly tweeted that “Jesus is greater than I have ever portrayed him to be.” This is undoubtedly true for Dr. Piper and it is surprisingly true about biblical apocalyptic literature. The Scriptures are accurate and inerrant but even they fall short of the full manifestation of the glory of God.
The visions described in the book of Revelation will be even more glorious than they are portrayed by the Apostle John. The destruction of God’s enemies will be even more gruesome than how the prophet Zechariah has described them. Paul wrote about the message of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 2:9 saying that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” If this was true about the good news of the incarnation, how much more will this be the case when the return of Christ takes place along with the consummation of history? Paul also confirms this in 1 Corinthians 13:12 by writing, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Even with the flawless inspired Scriptures, believers are unable to fully imagine what it will be like when Christ returns. Currently believers walk by faith but soon they will walk by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Having noted the reality that God is ultimately indescribable, apocalyptic imagery is arguably the closest believers will come to seeing the throne room of God this side of eternity. Apocalyptic imagery equips and enables believers to better walk by faith and imagine what they cannot yet see. Although Jesus’ glory is more incredible and magnificent than the visions described by the author’s of Scripture, these descriptions are essential to believers and necessary for them to grow in godliness. If these texts are the closest believers can get to seeing Jesus fully arrayed in his glory, then it is imperative for believers to become immersed in the imagery and symbolism of apocalyptic literature.
Apocalyptic literature is an accurate attempt to describe the resurrected Christ in all of his glory. The dim glass of apocalyptic literature is one of the clearest pictures available to mankind of heavenly activity. In light of the need to see Jesus as clearly as possible, it should become the goal of the counselor to help others look through this glass with eyes of faith in order to be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
The Goal of Apocalyptic Imagery in Counseling
The goal of the Christian life is to be conformed into the image of Christ. One of the primary means of doing this is beholding the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” While remaining on earth, believers cannot see the glory of God face to face. However, God has graciously given his word to all believers and believers can truly encounter God through the Scriptures. Beholding the glory of God primarily includes understanding and applying the Scripture to life. 2 Corinthians 4:6 teaches that believers are able to see God through the message of the gospel. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Christians are enabled by the spirit to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus through the Scriptures. Since this is the case, believers should cling tightly to the entire Canon of Scripture and especially those passages which speak of Christ himself. The goal of beholding Christ in his glory is made possible through apocalyptic literature in a way that no other biblical genre communicates.
Images are powerful tools. As a person’s mind absorbs an image, it is digested in the heart and eventually bears fruit in the hands. Throughout history, people have been captivated by images and paintings. Artistic images have been used to change societies and impact nations. For instance, it is hard to measure the massive impact Norman Rockwell had on the American people during the Second World War against Adolf Hitler. Thousands of Americans were rallied to the cause of fighting due to his artwork that was published nationwide. Rockwell captured on canvas images of the core American beliefs of freedom. To this day, many Americans feel strong emotions upon seeing and pondering the well known paintings of Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The images Rockwell created were not simply for entertainment or artistic acknowledgement. “The paintings also toured the United States and raised in excess of $130 million toward the war effort.” (Biography of Rockwell) Rockwell intended to changed minds and lives with his imagery.
Just as Rockwell’s art was not neutral in its purpose, the imagery in biblical apocalyptic literature has an agenda. God has specifically chosen the language in the apocalyptic genre in order to stir affections for himself and to spur believer’s on in sanctification. 2 Timothy 3:16 means that all apocalyptic imagery is profitable for training in righteousness in order that the man of God may be equipped for every good work. The task of the biblical counselor is to learn how to properly harness this imagery for the growth of others. In the upcoming weeks, I will post a few practical ways apocalyptic imagery can be used in counseling and personal spiritual growth.