Jan 8, 2021 in Counseling
Introduction to Messianic Jewish Counseling
In Proverbs 11:14 Hashem (God) gives some insight into the importance of counselors
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BIBLICAL COUNSELING RESEARCH PAPER
Rabbi Harel Frye
Villlage of Hope & Justice Ministry
In Partial Fulfillment
Requirements for the Course
Introduction to Messianic Jewish Counseling:
in the Division of Rabbinical Ministries
IMBI Perugia, Italy, November 30, 2020
- Introduction 1
- Overview of a Biblical Counseling 2
- Basic Counseling Skills 6
- Bereavement, Grief and Loss 13
- Conclusion 20
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 22
In Proverbs 11:14 Hashem (God) gives some insight into the importance of counselors, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”1 This is a good general statement about the need for counselors. As with every good thing that Hashem (God) gives, humans have a way of misunderstanding and distorting them because of their sinfulness. This does not stop people from needing and seeking counsel. On the contrary, the fallen nature of people calls out all the more for a need for counseling. Hashem (God) has given fallen people inspired Scripture, like the Proverb above, within their sinfulness as a guide through which we may serve one another.
Like many things in life there is more than one way to do biblical counseling. The Bible records a history of Hashem (God)’s people in which He uses different means for different people in similar circumstances. Messianic Jews seek to rely on Hashem (God) the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) to better understand and apply inspired Scripture that we may better help each other live up to Hashem (God)’s standard of holiness by trusting in Yeshua alone. Of course, Messianic Believers do not always agree on which model is the best or most faithful to Scripture. Interestingly enough, these disagreements often take place in situations where the agreed upon outcome sought is ultimately finding one’s wholeness and meaning of life in Yeshua alone.
This paper will be divided into three sections. Section one will offer an overview of a one approach to a biblically-based counseling model. The general concepts of the counseling model will be viewed in light of a general conservative biblical understanding in areas such as world view, understanding of people as Hashem (God)’s creation and counseling.
1 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture citations will be from the TLV Version of the Bible.
Section two will provide an overview of basic counseling skills. These skills will be considered in an assessment of the author’s personal strengths and weaknesses. This assessment of the author’s skills will come from a spiritual gifts and abilities test and from the author’s personal experience from recent counseling sessions.
Section three will briefly examine the interrelated areas of bereavement, grief and loss.
This section will offer Scriptural situations in the selected areas and consider the biblical insights provided in those situations. This section will continue by assessing the stages of grief along with new more helpful methods of counseling that embraces the story of a patient’s life in whole rather than sequential stages.
- Overview of a Biblical Counseling
The Biblical Counseling movement was spearheaded by Jay Adams in the 1960’s.
Adams, along with and John Bettler, started the Biblical Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).2 Some of Adams teachings were criticized by others involved in CCEF. He, in turn, left CCEF in the 1990’s.3 Today, CCEF and the Biblical Counseling view have become popular under the leadership of people like David Powlison. An overview of Powlison’s biblical counseling view as presented in Psychology and Messianic Judaism: Five Views4 will be given.
Powlison’s basic anthropological premise begins with Hashem (God) and ends with mankind. He sums up his view in one sentence. “Maker, Judge and Savior orient us as we seek to make sense
2 Tim Lane and David Powlison, “CCEf History, Theological Foundations and Counseling Model,” CCEF, http://ccef.org/ccef-history-theological-foundations-and-counseling- model (accessed November 20, 2010).
3 Eric L. Johnson, ed., Psychology and Christianity: Five Views (Spectrum), 02 ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 32.
4 David Powlison, “A Biblical Counseling View,” in Psychology and Christianity: Five Views (Spectrum), 245-62.
of the psychological functioning of creatures who are made, judged and redeemable.”5 This view makes sense in light of Scripture where one finds creation, the fall and the promise of redemption all displayed in the book of Genesis. In Yeshua is found the fulfillment of that promise of redemption and it is through Him that we find the most tangible of expression of God’s love and care for mankind.
Building on this biblical anthropology, Powlison’s starting point is to interact with an individual’s entire life situation which includes the “dynamic interplay” between the individual and “the living God.”6 This starting point sets up the counselor to understand where the patient is relation to his or her life situation, but most importantly in relation to God. This starting position allows the counselor to a big picture of the patient’s life from the material to the spiritual. This is similar to when Hashem (God) sought Adam and Eve in the garden. Hashem (God) sought out their physical location as well as their spiritual state when addressing their sin.
Powlison’s next step is a more specific understanding of the patient through “an organized knowledge, to close observations and systematic descriptions of human functioning.”7 He gives many sources through which patients (and people in general) may be understood which include the Bible to culture to psychological research. These types of observations may be seen in biblical narrative. This approach is especially apparent in biblical interpretation where the reader must understand the various cultural aspects in the story to reach a clear understanding.
5 Ibid., 248.
6 Ibid., 249.
7 Ibid., 253.
Interestingly enough, not only does Powlison not rule out secular research, but he claims that “we can learn, should learn, and do learn from anyone and everyone.”8 While not all Messianic Jewish counselors would agree with this position it is not uncommon to find Hashem (God)’s truth in secular sources. In looking back through Powlison’s own Calvinistic theological roots we find that John Calvin himself found truth in unbelievers or profane authors.
“Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of Hashem (God) is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.”9
The ultimate question for the biblical counselor may not be as much about questioning facts as it is about how those facts are to be understood. Powlison’s positions is that an individual’s entire life along with the data collected must be understood in an “interpretive and explanatory model that organizes and weighs” such experience and information.10 The biblical foundation for such an interpretive approach may be seen in Scripture in various instances where the gospel is presented. The gospel is presented; some believe it and some do not. Both the believing and the unbelieving are interpreting the gospel message differently. One party understands the gospel from God’s perspective as life changing truth. The other party denies the gospel as an insult which is how the unbelieving world understands it.
8 Ibid., 255.
9 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 2.2.15.
10 David Powlison, “A Biblical Counseling View,” in Psychology and Christianity: Five Views (Spectrum), 256.
Perspective is important and effects how one interprets facts and experience.
Interpretation as such is a matter of authority. The idea of how one’s worldview influences one’s interpretation of the client data is the key difference between Powlison’s views of counseling versus a secular approach. This is true of the Messianic Jewish life in general since Hashem (God) has given special revelation through Scripture it must be upon His authority and revelation through which the Messianic Judaism must interpret life.
Powlison applies the above positions to the realm of counseling which he understands as “practices and strategies [that] are designed to facilitate change in beliefs, behaviors, feelings, attitudes, values and relationships.”11 Powlison’s position is very similar to a secular definition of counseling which describes it as “the application of mental health, psychology or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioral or systemic interventions, strategies that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology.”12 The goals of the biblical counselor and the secular counselor are to help the patient yet it is the authority from which they counsel that sets them apart.
This brief overview of David Powlison’s counseling approach certainly has a biblical frame work. He assumes a more balanced approach than his processor Jay Adams as he is willing to use information from all sources. The willingness of Powlison to use such information is also biblical in that it captures God’s truth as found in general revelation as well as the imago dei that is found in human nature. The main thrust of Powlison’s view is that gathered facts and experience must be interpreted through the biblical revelation which is, in this author’s opinion, what makes Powlison’s approach one to be considered.
11 Ibid., 257.
12 Samuel T. Gladding, Counseling Dictionary, The: Concise Definitions of Frequently Used Terms (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2000), 32.
- Basic Counseling Skills
In order for any counseling model to be effective the counselor must have basic skills in place in order to work within a frame work. This section of the paper will consider some basic counseling skills and assess the author’s own strengths and weaknesses in the given areas. The assessment of the author will be drawn from a spiritual gifts test and four short counseling sessions he conducted.
Skills in counseling are important and are necessary whether used within a Messianic Jewish or secular frame work. The counselor and patient must be able to work together regardless of the approach. A Messianic Jewish counselor can learn from a secular view that emphasizes empathy and authenticity.13 There must be a level of true caring and if the counselor does not possess such skills a productive relationship will be difficult if not impossible.
Other skills are needed in order to work within a caring attitude. Empathy and authenticity alone are not enough. Gary Collins provides some basic techniques in which a counselor may carry out his or her tasks. He lists five general categories: attending, listening, responding, teaching and filtering.14 Collins lists subcategories under responding which help the counselor understand the different ways to respond given the patient’s situation. His work referenced here is two decades old and is listed to show consistency among Messianic Jewish counselors.
There is a more recently proposed skill set that compliments Collins list above that may be more readily accepted by Messianic Jewish counselors since it comes directly from Scripture. Clinton, Ohlschlager and Centore focus on key Greek words taken from1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 and build a set of counseling skills from them. The English words that most Messianic Jews would be
13 Kia J. Bentley, Social Work Practice in Mental Health: Contemporary Roles, Tasks, and Techniques (Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks Cole, 2001), 80.
14 Gary R. Collins, Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide, Revised ed. (Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 42-45.
familiar with are urge, warn, encourage, help, and patient.15 Additionally, the authors’ include the following compatible skills: 1. Active listening which includes verbal/nonverbal encouragement, silence and patience, 2. Attending involving eye contact and positive body language, 3. Empathetic response which includes reframing and focusing, 4. Probing which involves asking various questions such as open, closed and clarifying and 5. Goal setting which includes action steps to help the patient function and draw closer to Yeshua.16
Drawing from the above skills my own (the author) strengths and weaknesses will be evaluated. First, my spiritual gifts test has concluded that my top five strengths, in order from strongest to weaker are discernment, knowledge, wisdom, evangelism and shepherding.17 The meaning of this assessment is that I accurately assess motives and teaching. I am analytical, desire biblical answers and am practical in biblical application. I present the gospel confidently and people are drawn to my desire to nurture and guide them. It is my opinion that this accurate in so far as these traits are stronger than others I possess.
Additionally, this same spiritual gifts test also assessed my abilities. I came away as being investigative, social and conventional.18 These conclusions make sense given my propensity to be analytical, nurturing and practical. It is another task all together to understand how my personality profile helps me to fit as a counselor.
15 Tim Clinton, Archibald D. Hart and George Ohlschlager, eds., Caring for People God's Way: Personal and Emotional Issues, Addictions, Grief, and Trauma (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 38.
16 Ibid., 38-39.
17 James McSwain, Finding Your Place in Ministry (Alpharetta: MDC Today, 2000), 76.
18 Ibid., 100.
All five aspects of the gifts assessment would seem to compliment a counselor.
Discernment would allow me to listen, attend and probe well. It is important to listen and understand the patient’s situation which is the essence of discernment. However, it is possible to be too discerning and to over analyze the patient’s situation. Wisdom and knowledge would benefit the counselor by having a good understanding of Scripture and its application to the various situations which may arise. The caution that comes with these two gifts may be that there is such a tendency for truth that empathy is not employed. Empathy should come with the last two gifts of evangelism and shepherding. There is certainly care for another’s soul in evangelism. The same can be said for shepherding. Both of these characteristics would fit a counselor well. These would also work well with discernment as far as knowing when to evangelize and shepherd.
The next step is to understand how my abilities assessment may help in biblical counseling. The investigative ability seems a good one for counseling as it involves abstract problem solving and understanding. The downfall may be that the patient’s issue may be very simple and the tendency to over think the situation may come to light. The social outcome of the abilities test may also be seen as a positive if properly directed. This ability allows one to get along well with and be concerned for others. However, being too social with too many people may bring need to guard against betraying the patient’s trust. That is, if the patient happens to be in a place common to the counselor such as inside the same church. Being conventional is the final ability to assess within a counselor’s traits. This may suit a counselor well in that it provides stability within the counseling relationship. The downside may be that the solution for any given patient may not be a conventional one. Human lives and emotions are not necessarily conventional.
The more important assessment of my own counseling abilities to date may better be seen in how they worked out in actual sessions. I will use the model from Clinton, Ohlschlager and Centore to move through and comment on my strengths and weaknesses. To date, I’ve only conducted four sessions which may be described as unofficial, mini-sessions.
The first of the five key counseling words from 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 is urge. This has to do with being there for someone and encouraging them. This is an area where I could use improvement. I certainly understand being in the moment with the patient and have empathy for them. However, I’m not sure well I am at this point in comforting them in the proper way. For example, my focus in the counseling sessions was on uncovering issues and encouraging the patient in areas where they needed improvement. I would need to develop this skill so that I may encourage the patient to continue working through issues rather than trying to get them to the solution.
The next key word is warn. I had no problem confronting and warning patients of their sin. I believe this would be a strength of mine. I am very sensitive to how I might point out sin. In one instance I was counseling a man struggling with pornography. Although I did not have to convince him of his sin, I did have to find a way to show the seriousness of it and help him express his own reaction to it. I reframed the pornography problem in a scenario where one of his sons was the one dealing with pornography. This allowed him to see a much fuller image of his pornography problem. He was also able to understand more clearly himself which actions may be wise for him to follow in dealing with his sin.
Encourage is the next word used. This word goes along with urge. However, it goes deeper in the sense of helping someone who is grieving. The closest session I had with someone grieving was that of someone who lost their job. There was certainly grief and bitterness present.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to comfort them at this point. I certainly need more work in this area. The patient understood that they needed to move on and not hold onto these emotions, but they were not ready yet. I just was not sure of how to sooth them in their ill feelings towards a job loss.
Help is the next key word. My sessions themselves were ways of helping others. This is an area where improvement is needed. Generally speaking, I was helping those whom I counseled. I was able to encourage support networks within the patients’ lives, but I not exactly sure how much help I was personally during our time together. It may be that I would need more sessions with the patients so that I might understand just how helpful even another person’s presence can be. This is an area where I would need more feedback to more clearly understand how a patient is progressing.
Finally, be patient is the last word or phrase. I know that this is an area in which I need to grow. I have patience, but I need more of it. I need to learn to read the patient better in the counseling session to understand just how far to push versus not pushing at all. In the session with the man dealing with pornography he understood his sin so it was not overly difficult to push a little bit in the area of sin. It was easy for me to see an open door where we could deal more directly with his sin. In another session with a female who was still upset about losing her job I did not do as well. I pushed too far and too quickly on her feelings. I was not as patient as I should have been and she told me I went a little too far.
This is where the other set of skills come into play for the counselor. Had I been a better active listener I would have noticed pushing the lady too far. I could have held off on my questioning and reflected more with her. The skills involved here dealing with verbal and nonverbal communication need to be improved upon. I believe I did improve in these areas as I help more counseling sessions. The active part of active listening is certainly important and it is something that needs to be very intentional in the sessions.
This skill goes right along with attending. It was difficult at first to attend to the patient while trying to figure out how to reply next. This was my biggest challenge at first in this area. I listened and tried to give all of my attention to the patient. However, a few times in the beginning I might get caught up trying to come up with the right words with which to reply. I can also use some work with body language in this area. I use my hands when I talk, but that’s not quite the same as using my body to show interest. Actually, my hands may be too distracting at times and not necessarily comforting. My eye contact was good, but I would need more practice to discern, as a whole, this area of attending in myself.
The skill of empathetic response is not entirely lost on me. I am able to rephrase and summarize the patient’s situation. I am not always sure though exactly what to follow up with. Maybe the rephrasing and summarizing themselves with words such as “I understand” are enough to consol the client. I am not sure at this point. I certainly need more training in this area. It does seem that my general demeanor is one of care and empathy though.
Empathy is very helpful when it comes to probing the patient. Very direct questions at the wrong time may seem invasive rather than helpful. I experienced this when I probed too far in one session. It seemed that the therapeutic aspect of questioning can run its course quickly if the wrong questions are asked at the wrong time. Probing helps understand the big picture of where the patient is in their needs. One area of probing that I need help with is to understand how to begin a counseling session. During my sessions I was not comfortable with my lead off inquiries. Even after praying with patients there was an awkward silence. I would then try to gently start a conversation.
The skill of goal setting is one I need to study more thoroughly. This may be my weakest area, partially, because I lack using this approach in my own life. I understand where the patient is and where they should be. I am just not always sure how to get them there. For the patient with marital problems and the one with a pornography addiction, I knew some practical steps to give them. Even with the patient who was grieving about her job loss I was able to express to them that there is much more life to come. However, in all of these situations I was not sure of which goals to help them set. Nor would I have known how to set a plan to reach those goals. Maybe I am trying to understand goal setting in light of giving the patient a full blown treatment plan.
Some of the feedback from the counseling sessions was that the prayer and Scripture reading did help. Even so, I offered no agreed upon time line nor formal goals.
Overall, my personal assessment of myself is that I have the basic skill frame work to build upon to become a counselor. Going through the mini-counseling sessions and assessing my skills has made counseling attractive. These are certainly skills that every Messianic Believer could benefit from on some level. Pastors and other church leader would especially benefit. I plan to continue assessing and improving my counseling skills. At this point, I desire to get outside advice so that my bias does not cloud the personal judgment of myself. I need to caution myself so I do not make a rush judgment on my future. I do not desire to add myself to any list of poor counselors that may be out there. I truly desire to help people and if it turns out that my self-assessment is wrong, I may best help people by not becoming a Messianic Jewish counselor. As one who desires a career in vocational ministry, the possibility of becoming a Messianic Jewish counselor is now on the table.
- Bereavement, Grief and Loss
Bereavement, grief and loss may be the most difficult emotions that a person may face during his or her life time. Understanding how to treat these issues is very important for pastors since ever person may be touched by them either directly or indirectly through personal relationships. Bereavement is the grieving that takes place after a death. Grief may also be experienced due to “divorce, life transition, disaster, or misfortune.”19 These emotions are normal human reactions.
This section of the paper will provide biblical examples of grieving and some possible ways to deal with grief in counseling. It is important to understand that Hashem (God)’s people are not strangers to grieving to do away with the misnomer that the Messianic Jew is somehow immune to such emotions. Messianic Judaism does not offer an escape from grieving, but a way to grieve with hope. Grieving can be found in both the Old and New Testaments. It may even be argued that Yeshua Himself grieved. He certainly wept as stated in chapter 11 of the gospel of John.
In Gen. 37:34 in the Tanakh (Old Testament), when Yaakov (Jacob) was lead to believe that his son Joseph was killed he “mourned for his son many days.” Jacob’s reaction went beyond mourning. He reacted in a way that any person in this situation may react. “All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him,” states Gen. 37:35. Jacob was withdrawn and refused help from his own family. Jacob was the patriarch of his family. He was strong and yet his emotions overcame him so much so that he wanted to follow his son to reside with him in his place of death. This is a great example of just how strong one’s emotions can be regardless of one’s status. Even the strongest and most highly respected are not immune to the effects of grieving.
The effects of bereavement may also be seen in the biblical story of King David. There are examples of God’s judgment and sovereignty in David’s story. In 2 Samuel 12, David sinned against God and was judged for it by God taking the life of his son. While David eventually found comfort in God’s actions a bereaved person may not find immediate comfort in the example of David’s story. One might be cautious to turn to this area of Scripture for the first line of comfort. There are implications in David’s situation that need to be carefully considered.
David sinned and did not think much about it until the prophet Nathan clearly revealed it to him. David then took responsibility for his sin. Nathan also revealed that God’s judgment against David was to take the life of his son. This allowed David to mourn the coming death for seven days. After his son had died David had finished grieving, accepted the outcome, and moved on.
While David’s situation offers comfort that Hashem (God) is in control of life and death, a bereaved person may be tempted to think they are being punished for a particular sin. However, without direct revelation from Hashem (God), which David had through the prophet Nathan, it would be speculation to think Hashem (God) has taken another’s life due to the sin of the bereaved. This may lead to anger toward Hashem (God) and a fear of living for fear of committing another sin that may result in someone else dying. It must be understood that David had a special relationship with Hashem (God) and that his situation is descriptive rather that prescriptive for the Messianic Jew.
Of course, Messianic Jews too have a special relationship with Hashem (God) through Yeshua. It is a relationship that all people may have through faith alone. It is important to understand that not only is this relationship available through the gospel, but that Yeshua, Hashem (God) the Son, can sympathize with those who are grieving. One Tanakh (Old Testament) prophecy about Yeshua, the coming Messiah, is found in Isaiah 53:3 which states, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Yeshua Who came as a man was rejected by people and knew what it was to grieve. The very Hashem (God) who came to mend His relationship with sinful people was despised by them. This is an important aspect of Messianic Judaism that allows the counselor to bridge the gap between Hashem (God) and man with a Hashem (God) Who understands what it is to be human and experience human emotions.
The Messianic Jewish counselor may be able to connect with the patient using the experiences of Yeshua Himself. Using the biblical examples of Jesus’ experiences is a way to show empathy from Hashem (God) Himself to the patient. This expresses that Hashem (God) is engaged and concerned about each individual and their struggles instilling hope through their grief. 1 Thess. 4:13-14 is a well-known passage about Yeshua giving hope through bereavement, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Yeshua, Hashem (God) will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” This passage goes beyond comforting one’s temporal grieving into the heart of the Messianic Jews’ ultimate hope found in the gospel.
The gospel offers comfort now while in the earthly realm, but the Messianic Jews’ hope is in waiting to be with Hashem (God) in a perfect state with a new body in the afterlife. Once passing from this world the Messianic Jew will experience no more earthly emotions such as grief. However, Scripture should not be used in such a way as to give a pat answer to those who are grieving. The very reason the Apostle Paul wrote what he did in the above Thessalonians passage is to remind those who were grieving of their ultimate hope. It was an act of care and love that he was offering the Thessalonians in his reminder. Notice that the Apostle Paul did not discourage grieving, but explains how a Messianic Jew should grieve.
There are commonalities in the above biblical references to grief and loss. In none of the passages was grieving discouraged, rather it was expected and understood. A belief in the afterlife is present. Of course, the fullest understanding of hope in the afterlife is most clear in the New Testament. The big picture of similarities for the counselor which may be easy to overlook in seeking to learn from the details is that surrounding details and the relationship with God is understood in each scenario. This may be an important first step for the counselor to understand the grieving person being counseled.
Gaining a full-orbed understanding as of an individual’s life and details surrounding their grief falls in line with Powlison’s approach as noted in the first section of this paper. When dealing with one who is grieving, the grief is not the problem, but a reaction to a problem (loss). In learning the details of the patient’s life it is very important for the Messianic Jewish counselor to not overlook the patient’s relationship with Hashem (God). While one’s relationship with Hashem (God) is important, one can believe in Hashem (God) and still experience real hurt. Believing in Hashem (God) does not automatically erase emotional suffering. It seems wise that the Messianic Jew counselor understands and communicates this to the patient.
While the details of one’s life may be good starting ground it is just the beginning to finding out what aspects of a person’s life may be affecting their grief or effected by their grief. The Messianic Jew counselor may find Mary Kübler-Ross’s well known stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – to be helpful. However, modern scientific studies have concluded that these stages may not occur in such an easy to understand process. “At the most obvious level, scientific studies have failed to support any discernable sequence of emotional phases of adaptation to loss or to identify any clear endpoint to grieving that would designate a state of “recovery.””20 Kübler-Ross’s stages then may be helpful not as a system, but as a way to understand the stages individually.
Interestingly enough, the scientific conclusions about these stages is not outside realm of Messianic Jews thought in the process of sanctification. Sanctification in the Messianic Jew life which has the goal of making the believer more Yeshua-like is an ongoing process in which one does not arrive at this transformation until death. In other words, there are many elements involved in making the Messianic Jewish spiritually whole, yet there is not a specific process in which to compare one’s life against to move any given person along to the next stage. The Messianic Jewish sanctification process is one involving many complex facets. While each part of sanctification may not have a specific discernable sequence, there are observable similarities in each person that may manifest themselves differently according to the circumstances.
Furthermore, since stage theory may not be seen to be as useful as it once was, it may be helpful to learn what other approaches have emerged instead. Three new approaches are being used: 1. Cognitive combined with interpersonal cultural awareness, 2. Identifying biological changes, and 3. Narrative therapy.21 The Messianic Jew counselor may find these three approaches useful and complimentary to a biblical counseling method. Elements of cognitive therapy may be seen in the fact that Messianic Jews are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds as written by the Apostle Paul in Rom. 12:2. A fuller comprehension of a patient’s thoughts may be found in
20 Robert A. Neimeyer, ed., Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss (Washington: American Psychological Association (APA), 2001), 3.
21 Bruce A. Demarest James R. Beck, The Human Person in Theology And Psychology: A Biblical Anthropology for the Twenty-first Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006), 104-5.
understanding the various aspects of their cultural relationships. It would be important for the counselor to understand what exactly is influencing their beliefs.
The helpfulness of a patient’s biological changes help the counselor understand a person’s attitude given any hormonal changes or medications used. Though a biological change may not be something a Messianic Jew counselor can correct, it is important to work with the patient’s doctor in these situations and accept the use of Hashem (God)’s gift of medical science. Medicine may be needed in the event of a biological change which may help the patient function physically and mentally so that they may attend counseling sessions.
Narrative therapy in the area of those grieving from a loss seems to fit well within a biblical counseling framework. One pragmatic observation is that each person’s life is a story. People tend to remember their past experiences in narrative form. Children are taught through narrative. The Messianic Jewish faith is the story of Hashem (God)’s creation, man’s rebellion and God’s redemption through Yeshua. In a sense, this is the story of individual lives. Life problems are created, volitionally or not, they are reacted or rebelled against, and then some sort of redemption is sought. Narrative would seem to allow an individual’s life story to be placed in the biblical narrative which ultimately guides and finds the solution in Yeshua. As noted above, Jesus is one Who can relate to His creation in all ways. This allows the narrative parallels of Jesus’ live and the patient’s to line up. This approach seems very beneficial to the Messianic Jewish counselor.
There are factors of grief and loss that are not readily apparent regardless of the counseling model employed. The time and intensity of the grief vary from person to person. While the reader of the biblical examples of grieving given above can understand the context of the emotional pain there is no indication of how long that pain should last. Although there are reactions of witnesses recorded in those scenarios there is no clear indication of just how intense the grieving was for each person. “A person may not feel strong emotions for a period of time, only to have them come rushing back, like an unwelcome visitor.”22 This is an important aspect for the counselor to understand and for which to be prepared. Scaling questions may help the counselor to better understand the intensity of the patient’s emotions as well as the closeness the patient feels toward Hashem (God).
“It’s not easy for a grieving individual to determine when the journey is done, when the person has completed the grief process.”23 Much like trying to understand the intensity of grieving, the duration is also not easily measured. King David grieved for seven days under the judgment of God taking the life of his son. Yet, this time frame is not a standard rather it is a record of the event. A patient needs to understand this aspect of grieving also. The time and intensity of a patient’s grief are variables that should be considered in a treatment plan. There are no guaranteed quick clear routes to recovery and the counselor must be sympathetic to this.
An important aspect of biblical counseling is how the facts of loss and grief in the patient’s life are interpreted. The biblical counselor may draw important insights from secular research, but the Messianic Judaism worldview has the advantage of the meaning of life on his or her side. Even if one never quite understands the meaning of their grieving they can ultimately find comfort in Yeshua and the future that is to come. The Messianic Judaism worldview offers an understanding that the world is a fallen place which exists amongst sinful people. The Messianic Jewish expects to suffer and may have insight into how grieving may bring them closer to Hashem (God). Absent the biblical understanding of Hashem (God)’s purposes one is left with no meaning on his / her grieving.
22 Scott Floyd, Crisis Counseling: A Guide For Pastors and Professionals (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), under “1075-81,” Kindle for PC.
23 Ibid., 1083-92.
The facts in a patient’s life are just bare facts of observation without Hashem (God). A patient’s outlook without Hashem (God) may reduce to self being the most important part of that person’s life while at the same time self is exactly where the problem lies. This may create a vicious cycle of helplessness.
The biblical view of life starts with Hashem (God) Who is transcendent yet personal and concerned with individual lives. The Messianic Jewish understanding of life is not an individual one, however. Just as people are relational beings Yeshua builds His body as a single body made of individuals. A patient may find comfort in their church family which is not something the unbeliever counselor can offer. The body of the Moshiach is to be a picture of the gospel and to bear one another’s burdens. There are many duties Messianic Jews are to do for one another that may aid in a patient’s recovery.
The three in One understanding of Hashem (God) offers the basis for love and relationship. These are characteristics of Hashem (God) that were passed onto His human creation. For the Messianic Jewish counselor it is Hashem (God) who gives meaning to both the counselor’s work and the patient’s problems.
There is much to consider for the Messianic Jewish counselor, especially, for those just beginning in the field. Whether the approach is secular or sacred there is a common goal for the common good of humanity. The image of Hashem (God) cannot be erased, even from the secular, unbelieving side of counseling. That said it seems important for the Messianic Jewish counselor not to simply dismiss secular insight because of its label. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1 that all people have a natural knowledge about Hashem (God), but “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” A Messianic Jewish counselor can help others understand this truth with the help of the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit). In the same
manner the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) can help the Messianic Jewish counselor understand the usefulness and truth that is found in secular theories.
When it is all said and done, for the Messianic Jewish counselor, it is Yeshuathrough His gospel that gets all the glory. He may use whatever means necessary to achieve the healing and saving of souls. If Hashem (God) can use a talking donkey and a whale to change people’s lives, surely He can use ignorant, yet reasoning humans too. All persuasiveness aside, Yeshua is the ultimate example of caring for others in action. Matt. 14:13-14 gives a great insight into the caring that Yeshua had even as he had just learned about the death of his cousin as “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
Messianic Jewish counseling seems to fall in line with the rest of the Messianic Jewish life. There will always be work to be done to sanctify the counseling practice. People will continue to be a work in progress until Yeshua returns. As Messianic Jews look forward to being with Yeshua there are people to minister to in the meantime.
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Clinton, Tim, Archibald D. Hart, and George Ohlschlager, eds. Caring for People God's Way: Personal and Emotional Issues, Addictions, Grief, and Trauma. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
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