Long ago, Solomon wrote, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
Could this ancient proverb offer insight not only for hurting people but also for the family members and pastors who are called upon to help them?
So many of us have within our own families and close friends those who are living with the pain and confusion of addictions, Alzheimer’s, autism, clinical depression, marital abuse, or life-threatening eating disorders. We can only imagine how many others are struggling with posttraumatic stress, gender confusion, panic attacks, schizophrenia, or obsessive-compulsive disorders.
These are only a few of the sorrows that need the wisdom of Solomon and the Spirit of the One who said He came into the world not to condemn, but to rescue (John 3:17; 12:47).
The sting of criticism
It’s important for us to think together about how we respond to those who are struggling with issues of emotional and mental health. If we are not careful, we can unintentionally add to their pain by suggesting that their struggle reflects a lack of faith, prayer, or time in the Word of God—unless there is an underlying organic or physical cause.
But how can we determine whether there are physical factors at work? How many of us understand the intimate connection between body and soul when it comes to trauma and memories that sear the soul like a hot iron? How many of us have the insight or time to deal with those whose hearts and minds have been devastated by pornography, sexual abuse or rape, the frontlines of war, or a long history of domestic violence?
The pressures of faith
When pastors are called upon in such crises, they can feel overwhelmed. Many realize their limitations, but feel compelled by their congregations or other leaders to act as if the Bible, prayer, and fellowship are the only God-honoring ways to deal with emotional and mental problems.
The tension between what we think of as biblical solutions and secular resources are understandable. As followers of Christ, we don’t want to make the mistake of treating a spiritual condition as a physical or mental illness. Nor can we afford to treat a physical or mental illness as a spiritual condition.
In pursuit of answers
Together we agree that our dependency needs to be on God alone. But within what boundaries does the God of the Bible provide for His people? Don’t we thank Him every day for our daily bread even though it comes to us through the efforts of farmers, manufacturers, and retailers, many of whom never darken the door of a church?
In a similar way, haven’t many of us also thanked God for the help of health professionals and social workers who have walked with us through medical problems, mental illness, addictions, and the trauma of war, rape, or poverty?
If our intent is to find help that reflects the wisdom of God, what do we lose if we ask a doctor to look for organic factors that might be clouding our minds? Or what part of our faith suffers if we ask professional specialists to help us explore our thoughts, emotions, and choices?
No pastor, troubled individual, or family should have to bear alone the weight of spiritual problems complicated by the possibility of real mental, emotional, and physical illness. Nor can we safely assume that our desire to trust God needs to be kept separate from the combined counsel of pastoral and health professionals.
The need for perspective
No counselor, doctor, or support group can ever replace our individual accountability to God. Nor can medical or professional counseling ever replace the need for pastoral and congregational care.
None of us can afford to walk away from the people who are praying for us, teaching us the Word of God, and encouraging us to remain dependent on our Lord. We would be better off dying early, in Christ, diseased in body and troubled in soul, than to live long, peaceful, and healthy lives without a daily awareness of our reliance on Him.
But, if through the safety of many counselors, God gives more—how can we, to the praise of Christ, insist on less?
Christ, the King of creation, is the Lord of all truth. He gives us pastors who open the Bible to remind us that the God of creation provides for His people through countless men and women, whether they know Him or not.
Yes, there are dangers. It has always been possible to get bad advice that does not reflect the wisdom or words of God. In the time of King David, a man the king counted on for spiritual insight ended up betraying him and giving terrible counsel to David’s rebellious son (2 Samuel 16:20-23).
Along the way, any doctor, counselor, or spiritual leader might unintentionally mislead us. Yet that’s why we need to pay special attention to the wisdom of Solomon. It is because bad advice can come from some of our most trusted sources that we need to hear the Word of God when it says, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
And so we pray to the One for whom nothing is impossible: Father in heaven, when we are over our head in trouble, please show us how and when to weigh the perspectives of our pastors, doctors, and counselors. Help us to listen even to our critics—not to avoid what You have said to us but to better understand our own hearts and the wise counsel of Your Word. —Mart De Haan