Friday, October 28, 2011

Personality and Perspective: Counseling, Theology

How can people be helped? What do they need in order to start making better decisions, to change directions? Here are three kinds of answers:
  1. There are deep longings, which they are pursuing with wrong strategies, and we help them by exploring the deep longings, exploring the wrong strategies. They change by recognizing those longings and changing those strategies.
  2. The problem is simply the will; their first need is for exhortation, and the second need is for accountability.
  3. People are insecure; they don't know deep in their souls that God loves them unconditionally. Once that fact is a constant part of their awareness, they'll be freed up to choose wisely; we help them by providing community (this is the chief way that God loves us -- through others).
No doubt there are other "mental models" of problems and counseling, but the thing I wanted to say was that the model, the sort of theory in our minds is influenced largely by our personality.

So if you're an angry kind of person and like to tell people what to do, you'll tend to think #2 above is the way people change. If you're into group hugs and you think of "warm and fuzzy" as an honorific, you'll probably like #3. If you like figuring things out and analyzing things--if you like crossword puzzles or computer programming, your mental model is likely to be #1.

This just about follows from the adage, "If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Of course these things tend to be self-reinforcing; if you yell at people and things happen, you'll tend to believe it more. As you believe it more strongly, you'll tend to yell more often and so on. So there's a sort of chicken-and-egg question, but I tend to think it starts with personality—because it seems so insightful and because Larry Crabb said it.

Theology and risk-taking

How about the propensity to take risks, to live on the edge? Tell me the verses you like and I'll guess whether you naturally are a risk-taker or a careful planner. Do you like Proverbs 6:6-8 (Go to the ant... it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest)? Or "The prudent see trouble coming and take cover; the simple keep going and suffer for it" (22:3)? I'll bet you're risk-averse. I don't mean you don't trust God; you believe that part of how God provides for our future is by giving us enough today to give, to spend, and to save for future reserves.

But if you prefer verses like "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy..." (Matthew 6:19) or "Whosoever he be of you, if he forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33) or "Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ ..." then I'll guess that you believe we shouldn't have much—that God provides for today's needs today and tomorrow's needs tomorrow.

Something that's important here is (sorry for sounding PC) that we embrace diversity! See, if you're a Proverbs 6:6-8 kind of guy, the temptation is to think of the Matthew 6:19 crowd as being imprudent. You might read this story and think the person profligate or wacky. And if you're a Matthew 6:19 kind of guy, there's a temptation to think of the Proverbs 22:3 crowd as being stodgy if not downright deficient in faith.

But the Apostle Paul tells us, "Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind" and ""with humility of mind let each of you consider others as more important..."  Right? How about Romans 15:7?

Let's think a little more about the visionary without food in the refrigerator. If we all lived like that, who would God move to write the big check? And if nobody dared anything like that, a lot of good things wouldn't happen. Really, it's not for the eye to say to the foot, "Because you're not an eye, you're not part of the body." If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? (1 Cor. 12:17)

Because, like it or not, our views on how Jesus treated people, what he expects from them, and even how people change—our views are influenced more by our personality than by the Scriptures, so we must hold them with humility.

So here's a bit of my view on counseling. (Prayer and the Holy Spirit play important roles in our spiritual and psychological health, but I mean what we do to help people.) I believe that people get into trouble because they use wrong strategies to try to fulfill their deep longings, and that a big part of helping people is to explore those deep longings and wrong strategies. But some are more in need of confrontation and accountability than any exploration. Some need more reassurance, more warm&fuzzies, before they can do anything else. And some may need lithium before anything else.

And risk? I believe that ants (Proverbs 6:6-8) are wise and prudent, not faithless (though I did think for a time that savings accounts were sin!)—but I also thank God for visionaries like the 72 who went into the villages without "a purse or bag or sandals" (Luke 10:4) and people like Hudson Taylor and the founder of Jeremiah's Promise (referred to above).

I hope that what I now think I understand about these things is closer to what God wants me to think, but no way can this be the ultimate truth.

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