– Human suffering is real
– Earthly remedies do not satisfy
– The anchor of future hope
– Application for biblical counseling
Here is the day that we have had circled on the calendar for about 18 months. Today is the day of our Annual Conference and Pre-Conference in Memphis, Tennessee at Bellevue Baptist Church and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m delighted today that we’re going to talk in our Pre-Conference about human suffering and heaven’s hope. I want to spend just a few minutes talking about my goals and my ideas about the Pre-Conference. I want us to focus on eternal hope.
Many Forms of Suffering
I think one of the things that has happened in the world in which we live, especially in counseling, is a shift secularly. There is no question about this happening in the early part of the 20th century. That shift really took focus on earthly remedies. I think it’s incumbent upon us in the biblical counseling movement to make sure that we stand firm in our Christian convictions, and that we do not allow earthly remedies to satisfy what we pursue when we try to help people through their human suffering.
I think it’s important that we first identify human suffering as real, in a lot of different ways and a lot of different forms. Sometimes suffering is because of the consequences of personal sin. We all are, unfortunately, very familiar with the consequences of our own personal sin: the strife, the difficulty, that increases in our life. The Bible says, “The way of the transgressor is hard.” All of us are very familiar with that, even experientially. Our transgressions, our iniquities, our sins complicate life. They make life more complex, more difficult, muddier. We experience problems because of that. But also, when we talk about human suffering, I would describe the corporate effects of sin—the ways in which the world is cursed because of sin. The effect that it has on us, relative to our bodies decaying. We could talk about a thousand different ways in which we see our bodies affected by the curse of sin.
What about natural disasters? By this, we could certainly describe the corporate effect of sin on the curse of the world. Remember the Bible says that the earth, the creation, is groaning. Why? Because of the curse of sin. They are groaning for the time when we will see redemption. Natural disasters certainly affect us and can be even fatal for some. Through these things, we have consequences that come from the impact of true human suffering.
The effects of the curse are shown even in something as mundane and normal as someone offending us. That is because of the corporate effect of sin and someone’s personal sin upon us. We may not be responsible for that event happening to us, but we are responsible to respond. That’s really the crossroad at which counseling issues meet. They meet when we employ some sort of method of counseling, method of help, method of hope. What we’re doing is trying to find where those problems exist in life and how we can help people. So, when we think about biblical counseling, I think it’s crucial that we once again return to a biblical focus of hope, and a biblical focus of what is helpful for a person dealing with deep consequential human suffering.
The World Offers Symptom Relief
If we were to contrast this with the world, what we see consistently in secular ways of thinking and counseling, is a quick desire to just alleviate symptoms. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that on the surface. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy feeling sadness and darkness. I don’t enjoy feeling worrisome and anxious. But the reality is that we experience anxiety frequently. We experience depressive feelings consistently. There’s a reason in the Bible why Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow—it’s because worrying about tomorrow is quite common. There’s a reason that the Apostle Paul says to be anxious for nothing because in life there are a lot of opportunities to be anxious. So, we understand that it’s common. This is where counseling meets life.
Counseling is trying to employ a way that we alleviate those types of symptoms, those feelings that are unwanted. What we see happening in the secular world is that secularists and integrationists try to employ counseling methodology with a primary focus on the alleviation of these unwanted symptoms. Whether it be behaviors or emotions, what we see is a superficial approach. At least from my perspective, this is a superficial approach that is satisfied with alleviating symptoms in the temporal realm. And what I fear has happened even in biblical counseling is we tend to drift into that direction and we make symptom relief our primary aim. What we want to see, or we feel the pressure to do to make counseling successful, is alleviate those initial symptoms to make us valid or to make us relevant in the discussion of counseling at large. I think we need to be very cautious here.
One of the things that I’ve seen that’s quite troublesome to me, is the way in which we succumb to that mentality. Where we settle for the search, even try to use the Scriptures to accomplish immediate alleviation of the symptoms of human suffering. Now, I’m not saying that’s not a desire. We certainly want that, but we see that there is a distinct means by which that’s accomplished. There’s a distinct way the Bible says that we run toward peace and it doesn’t have an earthly means. It doesn’t have a temporal solution where we’re placing our hope in something temporal, because we all know that thing is going to fade away and then we lose our hope. Hope becomes fickle if we’re trusting in those things, even if in the immediate a person feels better and those symptoms are alleviated. It’s based upon a false hope.
In biblical counseling, we need to be unashamed about this. In the world in which we live, which is very scientifically driven and very averse to faith, it’s very averse to seeing things with supernatural eyes and hoping in what’s to come. It makes us feel, “Oh that’s too simplistic,” or “Oh, that’s not relevant in the world in which we live today.” One of the bedrocks of biblical counseling is that we focus on eternal hope, that we focus on heaven’s hope even in immediate human suffering. If you were to take a cursory glance at the writings of Paul, it’s interesting to see that the way in which Paul talks about the sufferings of people in this present age, Peter does the same, and James does the same. With the sufferings of people, in the here and now, in their daily life, what they consistently appeal to is what Jesus will do when he comes back for the sake of redeeming man.
The Foundation of Our Hope
Now, this is beautiful because this is distinctly Christian. This is distinctly biblical. What Paul utilizes to say, what provides peace in the here and now, doesn’t change circumstances. My hope is not built on these circumstances changing. My hope is built upon the sure foundation that Christ is returning to make all things new. Even Paul, within himself, we see this appeal from him regularly. What he’s longing for and what he’s hoping for is the blessed and glorious appearance of the Lord Jesus. He knows that at that moment, all the persecution that he’s endured, the thorn in the flesh that he’s had to endure as well, has been a demonstration of his weakness. He had to live with this consistently, trusting day-by-day in the sufficient grace of the Lord to provide, so that through that he could still be joyous. He could still rejoice and have hope. What he would look forward to is the day in Revelation 21:5, where Jesus would come back and make all things new. All that is broken, all that is torn down, all the suffering that we endure, all the environmental distress that we encounter on a daily basis—Jesus is coming back. And in Jesus’ coming, he will make all that’s broken renewed. Now, this is a beautiful hope, that I frequently refer to as an eschatological hope. This hope is one that needs to be an anchor for us in biblical counseling. We need to be unashamed to describe that we look toward a future hope. We know this world is broken and in it, as Jesus says, we will have trouble.
So, one of the things that I really wanted to accomplish in us addressing an issue like this in a Pre-Conference setting, is that we once again renew our commitment and our hope to not be in earthly things. Not being satisfied by the things that are temporal that wet our palette immediately, but that our hope comes from things that are immaterial, invisible, and eternal. See that’s a part of the paradox of what it means to walk in the Christian life. Even though we experience life in the flesh, even though we experience difficulty in the flesh in our behaviors in our emotions, and all that’s broken around us, where our hope lies is in that which is to come. And so unashamedly that we would once again in our biblical counseling methodology, our technique, what we hope in, what we press people to hope in, is that we can see symptom alleviation, but we see it by the means of securing our inner man. That as our outer man is wasting away, we see the inner man being renewed by faith in what’s to come, that Jesus will be strong in all our weakness, and that brings us comfort. Jesus being strong in our weakness is a demonstration, a foreshadowing, of what’s to come. That when he comes back, he will make all things new.
That’s what we’re aiming at. We want to be able to long once again, meditate once again on heaven. That this life, the Bible says, is a vapor and all its difficulties will pass away but with the hope that’s to come, we can be secure now. Our life is not determined or at the mercies of our experiences. Our life is determined by our security in the Savior who is raised from the dead and who the Bible promises is coming once again to return for us and to redeem us in full, both body and soul. We will spend an eternity with him forever in paradise. So we think about it in those terms we begin to see, not superficial remedies that we need to replace on a consistent basis, but a complete renewal of the mind where our hope is fixed, as Paul would encourage us, on things above and things that are to come, the promises that are sure in Christ.
So, let me encourage you that in the weeks to come, on our website, you will find the audio and the video for our pre-conference where we discussed this very topic human suffering in very real terms and heaven’s hope. We’re going to provide resources that will be an encouragement to you where we recalibrate our self to a biblical orientation of how we provide an eternal hope that’s lasting. A hope that overcomes the mundaneness in the difficulty, the depth of difficulty in human life.
One very exciting thing for us at this year’s Annual Conference, which will begin tonight at our first plenary session and go throughout our conference, is our live stream option. What you can do is go to our homepage biblicalcounseling.com and it will be very clear there. There will be a button that you can click on and you can join us for the plenary sessions for our live stream. In our Annual Conference, we’re discussing the issue of suicide and self-harm in the scripture. I think in today’s time you’ll recognize that this is a very relevant topic. We want to address the topic with grace, with humility, but with the wisdom that comes from Scripture. So that we make sure that we secure our hope in its proper place. And that we’re leaning in our brokenness on the correct leaning post, as Hebrews 6 would describe, the correct anchor that our souls should be anchored in is Christ. So, let me encourage you to visit our website biblicalcounseling.com and join us for our conference via live stream. We’d love to have you join us for those plenary sessions.