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TIL 254: Counseling and the Resurrection

This week on the podcast, I want to deal with an issue that I’ve been burdened about for quite some time. It’s something really at large in the biblical counseling movement that has been on my heart. I think in the current coronavirus pandemic, it’s really brought it back to the forefront of my mind. The topic that I want us to discuss is the issue of heaven’s hope—future hope. How do we think about what I call eschatological hope? That’s the hope that is to come.

To give some context, I think in the biblical counseling movement we’ve felt pressure in some ways to move away from what the Bible really emphasizes. The Bible emphasizes eschatological hope. I don’t think anyone’s done this intentionally, and I even find myself doing this at times. We want to be significant in the broader context of counseling. We want to have academic respectability. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make clear argumentation, have rational thought, make solid arguments about counseling, and not want anything that we say to be against what is revealed in science, and so on and so forth, but I think sometimes it blinds or at least hinders what the Bible emphasizes about our true hope.

Our true hope is not here on earth. Part of what the Scripture gives is instruction for our perseverance through all the trials here. Not that we don’t have hope here, of course we do, but our hope ultimately is in what’s to come. It’s not in the here-and-now.

I was struck this past week by a quote from Martin Luther from his Galatians commentary. He says, “If [the devil] cannot ruin people by wronging them or persecuting them, he will do it by improving them.” That comment just strikes me solidly where we are and where we live in the modern Western world. I think the pandemic has really helped us to see just how much we focus on our own self-improvement.

Not in only secular ways, but even in our religious culture, we have a tendency to do that. I fear that what Martin Luther is talking about here is absolutely true about many of us. We don’t necessarily face so much wrong in the Western world. We don’t fear persecution to a great degree, but certainly with our prosperity we are tempted by simply trying to improve ourselves. To a great degree, that can take our eyes off of the things of God.

In some of our counseling issues we consistently try to pursue a search for imminent help. Please don’t hear me out of context, I am not saying that counselors should not act immediately in situations like abuse, for example. Yes, we should act immediately. There should be imminent help and hope in that situation. So I’m not disregarding that. What I’m saying is we should always feel the tension that anything that we offer in the temporal world still has to have a view of what’s to come, because that’s where our ultimate hope rests. That’s where we long to be—to see all of this world that’s broken passing away. What we long for, what we hope for, is to consistently have an eye toward the things to come.

I think of a passage like 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul is making this argument about the resurrection, glorying in the resurrection of Jesus, and he’s demonstrating that the resurrection of Jesus sums up our hope. In fact, yesterday we celebrated Easter and I want to revisit that, but we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord—the death, burial, and the resurrection of our Lord. He is alive, and if he is alive then that has massive implications. That’s the argument of Paul here in 1 Corinthians 15. In verse 19 he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Now, I think that’s consistent here. He’s not saying we don’t have hope in this life. We certainly do. But what grounds us to have hope in this life is that Christ gives us life and hope beyond the here-and-now. Let me give you an example with where we are right now, with the pandemic we’re wrestling with. Many of you are counseling people who are struggling with deep fears and anxieties, really pressed in and influenced by our current situation. It’s not uncommon for us that we find ourselves watching the news and waiting to see what are they going to say. Has the curve gone down? Do we see it flattening out? How are the treatments going? Are we moving faster on a vaccine? What about this hydroxychloroquine medicine?

What it’s done for us is revealed how much we place hope in this life on medical advancement. Please don’t hear me wrongly on this—I’m watching as eagerly as is anyone about the hope of some of the medications like hydroxychloroquine and other things that scientists are developing to help folks who are struggling with coronavirus. But I think this is really instructive for us, because our hope does not exist in something in the here-and-now.

Can the Lord use a common grace? Yes. Can He allow a drug like this to help people who are struggling with coronavirus? Yes, but here’s the fact folks—even if hydroxychloroquine and a combination of drugs saves our life from something like coronavirus, something else will take it. There will be a point in time where our days are going to run out. If we’re hoping just in the next thing to help us get through to sustain our life, and that’s what we’re hoping in for vitality, we become hopeless. Now again, I’m not saying that this medication is not helpful potentially. We’ll see what the outcome is.

But what we see is we live under the facade that our hope in this life is based upon some sort of medical advancement. We can see that as common grace, but we cannot be bound by it to think that our life and our vitality is bound up in medical advancement. The Scriptures make clear that those things are a facade. They can be a shadow of good things to come, but they are not the good things themselves.

We hope in what is to come. We hope in the future day when sin has been removed once and for all and forever. Our tendency in biblical counseling I think has been to say, “How close can we get to that line? How close can we get to that line to sound academically respectable? How close can we get to that line so that other people will think that we accept those types of secular ways of thinking and talking about human problems?”

We have to come to the conclusion that in a naturalistic world, when you and I talk about supernatural things and hoping in things to come, we will not be accepted by the masses. That’s going to come when we make a statement like Paul, that if we have hope in Christ in this life only, that we are above all most to be pitied. We believe in what’s to come, we believe in eternal life, we believe that the Scripture gives hope to live day-by-day in the mess of the here-and-now because we hope in what’s to come, when Christ will eradicate sin once and for all and forever.

We in biblical counseling cannot be afraid that we will not be accepted by the masses because we hold to a supernatural hope. We hold to something that’s eschatological, we hold to something that’s future. There’s not scientific explanation for that. We have to learn to be comfortable with that Christian narrative. It doesn’t mean we dismiss science here on earth. Please don’t hear me say that.

But it does mean that we need to be very cautious of things like scientism. We need to be very cautious of what psychology and psychiatry often put out as being imminently hopeful, where we place our hope in this type of treatment to overcome this, and this type of treatment to overcome that. When we start to put all of our eggs into that basket, what happens is we lose the vitality of what eschatological hope is intended to do for us as we walk through the troubles of this world. Seeking imminent and temporal fixes becomes a facade can blind us to true hope.

This is not an uncommon posture, particularly of the apostle Paul, but Jesus also helps his disciples to look and long for his appearing.

In Titus 2:11-13, Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

You see that Paul’s constant posture is to fix his eyes on a hope to come. That’s what helps him to think about persecutions, difficulties, sufferings, even the consequences of sin, and all the difficulties that he dealt with. When he got to the end of his life, he’s able to say in Philippians 1, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” What gets us to a place like that and what brings Paul to confess, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” is fixing our eyes on the hope that is to come.

Our eyes are not fixed on imminent help, our eyes are not fixed on imminent hope. Our eyes are not transfixed on the things that are here, but they are longing and looking to that which is to come.

Can I encourage you as a biblical counselor that your counsel needs to be Christianly, your counsel needs to be Scriptural. And if your counsel is going to be that, then in all of the problems that we face we have to keep in view what Christ will eradicate when he returns. Do we teach our counselees to long for the glorious appearing of Jesus? In that day all the sufferings that we face will be eradicated, in that day all the consequences of our sin will be eradicated, in that day all the temptations and trials that we are faced with now will be eradicated once and for all and forever. That’s a hope that builds character, that builds perseverance, that does not put us to shame.

I tell my students this all the time. Any counsel that you give must help to answer the question that Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but he loses his own soul?” Our counsel must prepare people for the moment that they will meet their Creator face-to-face. If we’re telling them something that is not preparing them for that moment, we’re not giving biblical counsel.

We need to help them see what God is doing in their experience in the here-and-now to help them be conformed to the image of Christ. The point of Scripture is to prepare them most for the world to come. That’s the wisest way to live in the present age. We have to be unashamed to be Christianly in the way we think, unashamed to be countercultural, and against the worldly desires in us wanting to simply give imminent hope to people.

Of course, I want to do that. I want a person to feel better, but that can’t blind me to what the Scripture cries out to consistently. I’m trying to help them to see that they can persevere today because of the once-and-for-all hope that we have found in the resurrection of Jesus. Remember Paul tells us to think on these types of things Colossians 3. “Think on things that are above, not on things on the earth.”

As I mentioned earlier, we just completed Easter Sunday. I know Easter Sunday looked very differently for most of us. We were not in church together. We were not communing together as the body of Christ in a physical location, but I’m sure we were hearing the Word. We were listening to the Word. Prayerfully you celebrated that, but don’t minimize that celebration to one day. The resurrection is the reason that the New Testament says we can rejoice! This is the reason that the New Testament says we can seek remedy for all the problems that we have here on the earth.

We are all, as believers, longing for the day at which this down payment of a salvation that God has given us through Christ by the Holy Spirit will be realized in future hope. Allow this season of Easter to be solidified in our hearts that this the pinnacle of our counsel. We help to counsel people for ultimate hope, for true hope, for real hope that far exceeds and far outlasts all the brokenness of this world.

In that transcendence of hope, we can now transcend above the suffering, the consequences, and the difficulty of this present age. I encourage you, counsel with the resurrection in mind. Counsel with future hope, unashamed because it is Christian, unashamed because it is distinctly biblical, unashamed because this is what allowed the New Testament writers to persevere in all the difficulty that they struggled with—they longed for the glorious appearing of Jesus. And may we do the same as we teach our counselees to long for that glorious appearing as well.

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