Having lived in France for many years, I have noticed that French pastries sometimes have curious names: “Floating Island”, “Religieuse” (“nun”), “Pavlova”. Names can add intrigue and sophistication. But names don’t really describe what’s in them! How do I know what I am ordering? Can’t they just call Floating Island “a soft meringue on top of vanilla custard”? A Religieuse is simply a cream-filled puff pastry with chocolate on top, supposedly resembling a nun. A Pavlova is a fancy name for a baked meringue base with fresh fruit and whipped cream on the top (named after a very light-footed ballerina). If the labels gave a more straight-forward description, I would know exactly what I want to order.
Sometimes I feel that same frustration in biblical counseling. Someone has a situation so complicated that I don’t know what we are dealing with. The labels they have been given are clinical and intimidating — “Depressive Disorder”, “Anxiety Disorder”, “Impulse Control Disorder”, “Disruptive Disorder” — and I find myself thinking, “I don’t think I can help this person. I don’t know anything about this disorder.” But God knows about all the “disorders”, and the Word of God can help the counselee as well as the counselor to sort out what is in a label and address it biblically. We can take the various “disorders” and put them into biblical terms. Then we can address them and offer biblical solutions! Let’s look at the biblical view of each of these categories of “disorders”.1A big thanks to Dr. Garrett Higbee for this instruction at Faith Bible Seminary, Advanced Counseling Issues, 2017.
Scripture describes “depressive orders” as despair. The Psalmist expresses this complete lack of hope: “O my God, my soul is in despair within me” (Psalm 42:6a). Despair is not a disease. Despair is a common human response to life in this fallen world. Life presents many causes of emotional suffering; there are real reasons to grieve and lament.
In Psalm 13:1-2a, David expresses his deep despair: “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?” We learn from David’s lament that he laments to God. We can help our counselee turn to God in their suffering. Notice David’s turning point in his despair: “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation” (Psalm 13:5). He rises out of despair because of a change in focus. David reviews the character of God and his hope is restored. As he considers the wonders of his salvation, even his joy is replenished! We must point the hopeless counselee to Christ as the source of hope and joy; He conquered sin and death and made a way for them to be forgiven and made new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Bible describes “anxiety disorders” as fear. Psalm 55:5-6 expresses this well: “Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”
Fear is not necessarily bad. It can enable us to deal wisely with dangerous situations (fire, Covid-19…). But when fear develops into insomnia or panic attacks, it is time to confront it biblically.
When David was dealing with enemies, he definitely felt fear. It was a normal reaction. But he didn’t stay stuck in it; he turned to God and renewed his trust in Him: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4). We can point our fearful counselee to the sovereign, omnipotent, ever-near Lord and remind them to Whom they belong.
Scripture describes “impulsive disorders” as foolishness: “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless” (Proverbs 14:16). When the Bible talks about foolishness or “folly”, it is referring to irresponsible behavior. It is often described as a fruit of rebellion against God and rejection of God’s wisdom, and it is often associated with pride. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15).
Until we come to a saving knowledge of Christ, we are all described as foolish, as Paul explains to Titus: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3a). Foolishness might have led the counselee into various forms of escape (drugs or alcohol) or an irresponsible pursuit of pleasure and shifting blame to others: “The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).
The solution to foolishness is to help the counselee to recognize their rebellious pride and to encourage them to humbly pursue wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Teach them to grow in wisdom through repentance, faith in Christ and obedience to His Word (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The Bible describes “disruptive disorder” as anger: “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression” (Proverbs 29:22).
It is possible to have righteous anger. But when a person allows even righteous anger to go unresolved in their heart, it can turn into sinful bitterness, aggressiveness and hostility. We must teach the counselee to resolve their anger rapidly: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). The antidote to sinful anger is to “put aside” anger and “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:8-12). Progressive sanctification is the key to victory over sinful anger.
There is Hope!
The biblical perspective of these various “disorders” offers hope: the counselee is not doomed to stay stuck in them! They can be transformed by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. But it will not be easy. Sanctification is progressive, and it requires diligence for all of us.
In addressing these various struggles with the individual, we must remember that they are suffering and we must acknowledge their pain. By asking questions and listening well, we can come to a more compassionate understanding of their past and present circumstances. And we must encourage them to get a full physical check-up to determine if there is any medical issue that is contributing to their struggle. We must remind them of Gospel hope: Forgiveness of sins and a life of obedience is possible through repentance of a life of sin and faith in the person and work of Christ.
Just as a straight-forward label will help me understand what is in a French pastry, biblical terms enable us to not only understand and address life struggles with biblical solutions but also offer hope and help through Christ.