Do you want to get well?
When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’
John 5:6 (NIVUK)
Does the thought of counselling (advising, helping) a fellow Christian make you feel anxious? Perhaps you worry about making a mistake. Or that you have to ‘fix’ the problem. I mistakenly thought this, too. Theology helped me understand the priority in counselling is to ‘be present’ and let the Holy Spirit move in His ways. The Holy Spirit, not a counsellor, transforms lives.
The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1 called it ‘place-sharing’: counsellor, counselee and Jesus (who shares the place of all people via the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son) together. So it’s not what we do for God, but with God in participation in Jesus’ ministry. Even in formal counselling, despite the different psychological approaches taken, the prime consistent measured positive outcome – fascinatingly –is the relationship between the helper and the person getting help. That would be the place-sharing!
The philosopher and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s 2 observation of Jesus asking the invalid at the Sheep Gate (John 5:6), ‘Do you want to get well?’ is intriguing. Frankl illuminates that Jesus knew the seed of the solution was already inside the person: Jesus was helping the person to help themselves. Otherwise He could have simply healed him without questions!
And Jesus still heals, alongside the Holy Spirit, through you when you counsel. Human dysfunction (‘dis-ease’) can be approached in participation with Jesus – and when we don’t understand, Jesus understands perfectly and brings healing presence.
However, Paul advocates respecting limitations: ‘…do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…’ (Romans 12:3). We are to exercise gifts and allow others to do the same – for example doctors, dieticians, accountants, psychologists… specialists in their fields. In areas of high risk, specialism and complexity, we demand humility of ourselves for the sake of the soul in question.
Counselling is embarking in Jesus’ ministry as He works to remember (re-member) the wounded counselee. The imago Dei (image of God) in which we are made is not carried by ourselves, however it is evident in relationships, broken and unbroken. Although in broken relationships God’s image may be marred it is not lost because God is not finished with those relationships. We can rely on this and be unafraid in caring and counselling.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics (New York: Touchstone edition, 1995, *first published 1937 as ‘Nachfolge’).
2 Viktor Frankl, The Will To Meaning, Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy, (New York: New American Library, 1988).
Heavenly Father, may the Holy Spirit prompt us to reach out in moments of need, and to sense the moments in which to listen and be present and be used for healing for one another. Amen
Study by Andrew Montgomery
About the writer:
Andrew Montgomery is a Deacon in the Edinburgh congregation of Grace Communion International.
Gilmerton New Church
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