The last post in this series may be found here:https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/introduction-to-biblical-counseling-week-six-inspiration/
The audio for the lecture for this lesson may be found here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.calvarybiblechurch.org/audio/class/biblical_counseling_2014/20140406.mp3
INTERPRETING THE DATA
Biblical counseling differs sharply from other forms of counseling in understanding the data. Any counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist would find out about the counselee’s [I hate that phrase. We do not see patients, we are speaking with brothers and sisters] history, present status, health, et cetera. Any of the various schools of psychology (and there are many) would typically look at such things.
A point of data means something only with respect to some other concern. Take for example, the data point: Lois wore an orange baseball cap. If we are concerned with college sports, this might “mean” she is Tennessee Volunteers fan. If we are concerned with style, we may be shocked or pleased when she showed up wearing the cap. If we are the police investigating a crime, we may be looking for someone wearing an orange cap (and thus Lois might be a suspect). All three things might be true at once.
Biblical counseling is the process of looking at a life in the context of the Scripture to determine what it means. A Freudian psychiatrist may look at a behavior or belief and understand it to have something to do with one’s weaning as a child. A Jungian might see some tie to the collective unconscious. A behaviorist will see stimulus/reward. One following after Bradshaw will see a hurt inner child. Our question is, What does the Bible see?
The Lord tells us that what we see in the life comes from the heart (Mark 7:21). Proverbs speaks of the heart as holding the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). Therefore, we must consider the circumstance in light of the manner in which the human heart functions.
As discussed in previous lessons, the human heart is wired to worship, and thus, we must understand the life before us as a worshipping life.
The Bible sees outward conduct as proceeding from desire:
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:14–15 (ESV)
The power to move one’s will does not exist in the object of temptation but in the desire for the temptation. (See, also James 4:1-3).
Use Biblical Categories
The first step in interpreting the data is to consider the correct categories, because the categories will in large part dictate one’s understanding.
For example, addiction as a “disease”:
Let us consider someone who has the “disease” of alcoholism. “Disease” indicates something which is beyond one’s control and thus something for which one cannot be morally responsible. If someone contracts cancer, we do not consider them to be morally responsible when they become so weak and tired they cannot work.
Compare that to being enslaved by alcohol. The Biblical category sees the trouble as arising from the heart’s desires which have not mastered the human being. None of this denies that habitual use of alcohol will not affect one’s body; nor does it deny that certain people may find alcohol a more powerful draw than other people (this draw may be affected by one’s physiology). There may be many things which work together to create the desire to drink alcohol. However, it is still a matter of one’s volitional conduct.
For understanding of this from a biblical perspective, consider the following blogpost by Michael Graham on the Gospel Coalition website:
Crack, Meth, Addiction, and the Puritans
In a fascinating piece in The New York Times, “The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts,” Dr. Carl Hart presents his research on how crack and meth addicts choose future monetary rewards instead of another high. John Tierney writes:
Like other scientists, he hoped to find a neurological cure to addiction, some mechanism for blocking that dopamine activity in the brain so that people wouldn’t succumb to the otherwise irresistible craving for cocaine, heroin, and other powerfully addictive drugs.
But then, when he began studying addicts, he saw that drugs weren’t so irresistible after all.
“Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamines don’t get addicted,” said Dr. Hart, an associate professor of psychology. “And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.” . . .
When the dose of crack was fairly high, the subject would typically choose to keep smoking crack during the day. But when the dose was smaller, he was more likely to pass it up for the $5 in cash or voucher.
“They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste,” Dr. Hart said. “When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.” [emphasis mine]
When methamphetamine replaced crack as the great drug scourge in the United States, Dr. Hart brought meth addicts into his laboratory for similar experiments—and the results showed similarly rational decisions. He also found that when he raised the alternative reward to $20, every single addict, of meth and crack alike, chose the cash. They knew they wouldn’t receive it until the experiment ended weeks later, but they were still willing to pass up an immediate high. [emphasis mine]
This piece is really interesting on multiple planes. First, it challenges many of the sacred cows of neurological science and behavioral psychology. Second, it highlights some intriguing spiritual truths.
Rationality and Irrationality of Sin
Sin is simultaneously rational and irrational. Sin typically has a “payoff” associated with it—whether the release of neurochemicals to the brain for some illicit or risky behavior, or the temporary and fleeting gratification of revenge, greed, lust, or hatred. It makes sense, then, that if one’s joy in Christ is minimal, then the payoff of sin would seem more attractive.
But the payoff of sin over-promises and under-delivers. Sin is deceptive—it promises one thing and gives you something else. Sin is always irrational because the payoff is always a lie. Sin promises you the true/good/beautiful and gives you gravel in your mouth instead. Therefore, when our joy and pleasure in Christ is superior to the payoff of sin, we choose Christ over the sin and its payoff.
Puritans and Crack Addicts
So what do the Puritans and crack addicts have in common? In this instance, quite a lot. When a superior pleasure is presented, we choose the superior pleasure. In the case of Dr. Hart’s study, the addicted participants chose the promise of future money over an immediate high. This is like what the Puritan Thomas Chalmers meant when he spoke of the “expulsive power of a new affection.”
And this is what Jonathan Edwards meant when he spoke of the human pursuit of happiness:
It is not contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man’s love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. . . . That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being. The saints love their own happiness. Yea, those that are perfect in happiness, the saints and angels in heaven, love their own happiness; otherwise that happiness which God hath given them would be no happiness to them. (Charity and Its Fruits, p. 159.)
Though not a Puritan, Blaise Pascal argued similarly:
All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions. However different the means they may employ, they all strive towards this goal. . . . God alone is man’s true good, and since man abandoned him it is a strange fact that nothing in nature has been found to take his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, plague, war, famine, vice, adultery, incest. (Pensees, #148.)
Worship Rules All
Because all men seek happiness, all of life is worship.
What you want is what you worship.
What you worship controls you.
How is your worship of God today?
Data as Evidence
When you look at the information concerning your brother or sister, you must first consider what the Scripture says about this circumstance. That information will give you insight into what the data means.
Evaluating it as Evidence
Do not think that just because the counselee has said something that it is necessarily true or complete. I am not suggesting that you begin with the idea that everyone is lying to you. Love does believe all things.
However, the Bible is plain about some matters. First, you must hear both sides of the story before you can make an honest evaluation:
17 The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)
Second, do not make a conclusion based upon insufficient evidence.
15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. Deuteronomy 19:15 (ESV)
This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 2 Corinthians 13:1 (ESV)
In Insight & Creativity, Jay Adams explains that a counselor must give his attention to that data which is most important:
Selectivity is important because it allows the counselor to strip away all those things that might keep him from focusing on the real issue or issues. It keeps him off sidetracks, it protects him from becoming apprehensive about consequences and allows him to test his judgments about the counselee. There is more to selectivity than this….
Adams goes on to give matters which one should eliminate from consideration: Psychiatric and psychological jargon; guesses and speculation on the part of the counselee; victim themes; blame-shifting; repetitive material; unnecessary or unrelated details; self-pity; [possibly] questions from the counselee; and a structure to the counseling, “I only want to speak about ….”
For example, guesses and speculation are not evidence of anything beyond the counselee’s heart and understanding. Thus, the guess may be important to understand the counselee but not the situation. Victim language may often be used to deflect responsibility for one’s decisions – however, in other circumstances, one may very well be a victim (such as an abused child). The selection process takes skill and experience. However, if you don’t engage in selectivity, you may very well end up missing the entire problem facing your counselee.
Sin, Sight & Judgment
It is a common theme throughout Scripture that the one who sins thinks that no one – particularly God – knows:
1 Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God
before his eyes.
2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. Psalm 36:1–2 (ESV)
Here the psalmist attributes one aspect of continuing transgression to the false belief that the sin is not known. This is tied to the additional ideas of God knowing and judging the sin: (1) there is no fear of God; and (2) the iniquity cannot be hated.
This goes back to the Garden. In Genesis 3:8, we read that Adam and Eve tried to hide from God. In Genesis 4:9, Cain denies any knowledge of his brother’s condition. In Proverbs 7, the young man goes out to sin “at the time of night and darkness”. All three seek to hide to avoid judgment.
We see this combination in the prophets. For example, Amos unveils the wealthy oppressors in the following language:
10 They hate him who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate. Amos 5:10–12 (ESV)
First, there is the suppressed thought of judgment; “they hate him who reproves”. There is the sin, “you trample on the poor”. There is the false belief that their sin is unknown: “For I know how many are your transgressions”.
This mechanism is spelled out boldly in Romans 1: There is the fact of the knowledge of God’s judgment – which knowledge is suppressed (Romans 1:18). There is the pretending that God does not or cannot know.
So, when you look into the counselee’s life (if there is a pattern of sin), look to see how they are attempting to suppress the knowledge of God’s judgment.
Common Ways to Suppress the Knowledge of God’s Judgment
Thomas Brooks in his work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, provides a helpful list of common ways in which people seek to suppress the knowledge that God does not know (or care) about the sin:
- By presenting the bait and hiding the hook.
- By painting sin with virtue’s colors.
- By the extenuating and lessening of sin.
- By showing to the soul the best men’s sins and by hiding from the soul their virtues, their sorrows, and their repentance.
- By presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy.
- By persuading the soul that repentance is easy and that therefore the soul need not scruple about sinning.
- By making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin.
- By representing to the soul the outward mercies enjoyed by men walking in sin, and their freedom from outward miseries.
- By presenting to the soul the crosses, losses, sorrows and sufferings that daily attend those who walk in the ways of holiness.
- By causing saints to compare themselves and their ways with those reputed to be worse than themselves.
- By polluting the souls and judgments of men with dangerous errors that lead to looseness and wickedness.
- By leading men to choose wicked company.
Motivations Behind the Conduct
Here is another place where Scripture gives clarity into a counseling situation.
Consider sexual immorality:
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:3–4 (ESV)
When we see the external behavior (immorality), we may immediately jump to the conclusion that the sexual immorality stems from a desire for sexual pleasure. However, that may not be so. Paul here seeks to defeat sexual immorality with an appeal to thankfulness: “but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Think this through: sexual immorality is merely a
In Philippians, Paul deals with a church split. Yet rather than directly address the content of their church dispute, Paul speaks at length about Christ, his incarnation and the resurrection to come. Paul works out the implications of the facts of the Gospel before he gives the direct command to stop the bickering.
In laying out the doctrine of Christ, Paul seeks to show the people how they are misunderstanding both themselves and God:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:12–18 (ESV)
Paul has just spoken of the work of Christ in the incarnation. He therefore commends that they work out their salvation with fear and trembling. He then explains to them who they are, what they are doing: “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world”. Their lives are not their own, but rather they are to exist to give glory to their Savior.
In chapter three, Paul explains how he gave up all of his privileges so that he could attain to the resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). In 1 Corinthians, Paul also deals with a divided church. In that letter he also culminates his argument with an extended discussion of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).
From these things we could conclude that conflict among Christians may (at least in part) indicate a failure to understand what we are doing and where we are going.
In the book Redeeming Church Conflict, the authors – who have great experience in handling church disputes – explain:
Redeeming church conflict is less about resolving specific problems than it is about seeing conflict as a means by which God is growing his people into true saints, true eternal children who are being continuously conformed into his image.
The Bible speaks extensively upon many subjects. Not every instance of sexual immorality will hinge ultimately upon thankfulness – you may find the motivation for the sin lies in fear of man. Not every church conflict will be tied directly to the question of the resurrection. Before you say X means Y, you must make sure that you fully understand what the Bible has to say on a topic.
The process of interpreting data will point you backwards toward more data gathering and forward toward instruction and inducement. As you gather information, you will begin to see things upon which the Bible speaks. This will lead you to seek more information in a certain area. It will also effect what and how you teach.
For instance, if you have a matter of sexual immorality which you begin to understand in terms of thankfulness as a remedy, you want to investigate how the counselee understands what God has given to them. You’ll want to understand what stands in the way of their understanding of God’s gifts and their response.
Your teaching and the response may again change your interpretation, which leads to more data gathering and an adjustment to your teaching.
 The blogpost contains the following notice respecting the author: Michael Graham serves as associate pastor of administration for Orlando Grace Church. He got his BA from the University of Florida in religious studies and Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He blogs at Modern Pensées. You can follow him on Twitter.
 Jay E Adams, Insight (Woodruff: Timeless Texts, 1982), 11.
An electronic copy of the book may be found here: http://gracegems.org/Brooks/precious_remedies_against_satan.htm
 Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling, Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis Into Compassion and Care (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 55.