At this season of the year we give a great deal of thought to the Incarnation, the glorious truth that the second person of the Trinity “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). This leads, of course, to all kinds of questions. “Although Jesus is man, he still is God, so how could he ever be amazed? Doesn’t he know everything?” “What does it mean to give up the ‘independent exercise’ of divine attributes?” We get so wrapped up in the questions, most of which are important, that we forget how God intended those particular passages to change us! We forget that these glorious texts intersect directly with the counseling task; with helping people change.
An Incarnation Passage
One of those texts is Hebrews 4:15, probably the most used. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This writer of Hebrews gives this “counsel” to help people suffering for Christ. We want to help sufferers too, so we typically use it to give hope by telling our counselees that we have a Savior who “knows how you feel.” But we can offer more than that as we understand the humanity of Jesus detailed here.
The Goal of Counseling
What is the goal of all counseling? Is it not that our counselees magnify Christ in their circumstances; that at the end of the process, they will look like Jesus? This text tells us that Jesus has experienced every type of temptation that we will face. I can say to my counselees, “No matter what you face, Jesus has been there. So let’s look at how he handled those situations to see how you need to think and act.”
Your colleague says to you, “I don’t get it. I’ve not done anything wrong, I work hard, I follow the company regulations, yet my boss seems out to get me! What do I do?” You respond, “I know of a person who did everything right and do you know what happened to him? They nailed him to a cross! How did he respond?” Whole vistas now open up to show how Jesus handled all of that and even how God used that situation to accomplish good.
That teenager who comes to you and says, “Why should I obey my parents? They just don’t understand me! They’re clueless, insisting on the dumbest things.” You can respond, “There was once a perfect child who had sinners for parents. Can you think of anyone who was more profoundly misunderstood? What did he do? ‘And he went down with them to Nazareth and was submissive to them.’ I’m sure he felt the same frustrations of misunderstanding you’re feeling right now, yet can you see what he did?” Again, more vistas open as you see that, even in childhood, God was at work “perfecting” Christ for the work he had to do.
What about the dear friend of yours, struggling with submission in a difficult marriage? Find Jesus in Matthew 26. See him agonizing over what his Father required of him. Watch as he pours out his heart in prayer. Hear him as he utters the words “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” This is Jesus in his humanity. Is it wrong, then, to struggle with submission? What do you need to do when you struggle? What does Jesus show you? Look at the promise that sustained him in that trying hour and let it sustain you as well “[Look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
We could go on and on, but this verse insists that you must always ask the question, “When did Jesus experience what my counselee is experiencing now and how did he glorify God in those circumstances?” I am always asking this as I listen to the stories of folks I try to help. Get in that habit and you will be able to minister God’s Word more effectively to those who need help.
A Reason for Hope
You should never say to a counselee, “I know just how you feel” because you don’t. The Proverbs say, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (14:10). But there is someone who does know how he or she feels and it is impossible that he cannot sympathize. You can say, with conviction, “I don’t know how you feel but I can assure you that Jesus does. He’s been there. His heart breaks, too.” You can communicate real hope because of who Jesus is, not on the basis of your experience. And you might as well admit it that, after spending the day listening and helping others, you can get a bit hard and find your compassion ebbing. If hope depended on you, there wouldn’t be much hope. But the Lord Jesus cannot help but sympathize and you can always offer him to those who hurt.
Right Perspective on Divine Commands
Without a doubt you find that God commands us to do difficult things, regardless of the circumstances. You must communicate the duty of loving an enemy to the one who has suffered unjustly and cruelly. You must tell your friend that she must still submit to a husband who is uncaring, distant and callous. The counselee who has been betrayed must learn to forgive. And you say these things because God commands them.
Yet, such commands come not from some far-off deity who plays games with us, who shouts “Do what I tell you to do! After all, it’s about my glory! Can’t you get that?” Rather, these commands to love, submit and forgive come from the one who walked the same path; who loved his enemy, who submitted to harsh treatment and was betrayed by his closest friends. Those commands come from the one who’s been there. They come from the one who actually sympathizes with you. These are not insensitive directives whose author cares only for his glory, but from one who cares for you! And he knows exactly what it’s like to glorify God in horrendous circumstances. Take heart!
You see then, just in the scope of this one text, that the doctrine of Christ’s humanity intersects with your counseling. So much more could be said, but at least you can start here. Find those texts where Jesus shines in his humanity. Search for God’s purpose in revealing Jesus to you that way and you will find rich truth just meant to help the people God has called you to help.