Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thoughts on the dilemma of change and suffering

I just finished a class about how people change. This sounds incredibly boring, but I've been so intrigued by this topic. We easily identify our struggles, tendencies, and neuroses, but real change is very rare. I'm also at a stage of life where my friends and I are wrestling with these questions. We see struggles, and sometimes wonder if it's possible to actually change behaviors or to heal wounds?

In any case, the seminary offered a lay class (ie - not for credit) about change, and I decided to try it out. I have loved one of the books we've read:  How People Change by Lane and Tripp. Not so much the other books. I'll be writing a bit more about some things that really jumped out at me from the book, but I also have wrestled with the implications of all of this for someone who wants to do counseling as a career, formally and informally. The thing is, the book and the class are coming from the perspective that true change happens only with a step towards God. The teacher's line has been that true change only happens when we change the direction of our worship in one area of life or another.

And the thing is that I agree with that for the most part because I don't think anger, lust, pride, etc, etc are ever really beaten without having really changed something spiritually. BUT.... what does that mean as I work with people that are not Christians? There is great pain and dysfunction there too, and I want to help and work with them. Is it possible to change, really change, without having submitted your life to God? Or is it all just a bandaid covering the greater pain and greater sin? If real change isn't possible, what's the goal of a Christian counselor that works with non-believers?

I asked that question this past week and we had an interesting discussion, and some of the conclusion corresponded with something that I heard John Piper talked about at the Lausanne Conference last month. Christian organizations always wrestle with the balance between the call to evangelism and the call to humanitarian aid. What is the relationship between these things? What is truly important? Piper talked about it all being a part of the broad issue of Human Suffering. Humanitarian aid and social justice causes address the issue of physical and social human suffering today. Evangelization addresses the issue of eternal human suffering. If we miss one or the other, we have a problem. If you miss the eternal suffering part, you've got a theological problem on your hands. If you miss the present suffering then you have a problem with your heart.

I think that's true in counseling as well. Of course, our ultimate goal is to be like Jesus, and the those who know Him should continue to be transformed to His likeness. I do believe that real change is possible, that ingrained patterns of behavior and generational tendencies CAN  be broken. But for those who do not know Christ and do not (yet) want to know Him, there is immense present suffering that I will care about just as much as a doctor cares for the present suffering of his patients. I am, essentially, intending to be a doctor for the soul and spirit and emotions. Where there is suffering, I wish to do what I can to help heal and grow.

This still leaves the issue of eternal suffering for these same people, and of course it will be my hope and prayer that this suffering is also alleviated in them, and hopefully truth and healing does point that direction. The choice for ultimate Hope, though, is theirs alone and I cannot force that as I address their present suffering. It will be my greatest joy when present suffering and eternal suffering are both addressed at once.


CM said...

It is a difficult dilemma. I do think that there is a possibility for change without overtly growing closer to God. I think that God is the author of the healing, even if the person is not yet ready to acknowledge Him, but I really don't think that He will leave them without help.

In my line of work there is rarely an appropriate time to evangelize, and so I don't. I simply try to do my best to truly care for every person that comes through my door.

Young Mom said...

It's funny, I started to wonder if its almost the opposite. I've seen religion and God used over and over as excuses to ignore problems and pretend everything is "healed in christ". Since breaking out of the box that I thought God was in, I have changed alot.

Randomly, I also pretty much detest John Piper.