I’m writing to all theologians…
Now before you close out the window and say, “Well, this article isn’t for me because I’m not a theologian,” I want you to reconsider!
The definition that google returns for ‘theologian’ is a person who engages in or is an expert in theology. I believe that it is absolutely impossible to not engage in theology. You engage in theology every single day. Your agnostic and atheist neighbors engage in theology every day. And your most difficult counselees engage in theology every single day…and I’m not just talking about their meticulous detail while accomplishing the homework you assigned them.
What do I mean? Consider Psalm 14:1 which says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” What kind of comment is that? That’s a theological comment! Now, not many of our counselees will say that verbally, but our tongue isn’t the deepest place that theology lives in us. Psalm 14:1 indicates that theology is in the heart, and that theology is even in the heart of “the fool.”
Later in Psalm 14:3, David writes that “They have all turned aside…” What have they turned aside from? They have turned aside from God. Romans 1:18–19 puts it this way, “18For the wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” Paul is revealing to us that our sin—our unrighteousness means that we “suppress the truth.” And the truth that we suppress isn’t math facts, or grammar or spelling. No, the truth we suppress is the truth about God.
But by God’s grace sinners—truth suppressors—who were dead in their trespasses can be made alive to no longer suppress the truth, but to love it and live according to it (cf. Eph. 2:1–6). When the veil is removed from my eyes so I can see according to the truth, one of the truths that I come to see is that all of my words, thoughts, actions and emotions are theological at their core.
When the veil is removed from my eyes so I can see according to the truth, one of the truths that I come to see is that all of my words, thoughts, actions and emotions are theological at their core.
Paul Tripp illustrated this well when he gave the following example:
“I am on a plane as I write this. Suppose we were to hit some turbulence and I were gripped with fear. If you were to talk with me about it later—and you wanted to address the full reality and humanity of my experience—we couldn’t simply talk about survival instincts, past experiences, or statistics about plane flight. The most significant aspect of that experience would be what my fear says in relation to God. Do I believe God is near or far from me in that moment? Do I believe that he controls what will happen or that he is as uncertain and helpless as me? You never have fears all to yourself; you have fears only in relationship to God. Theologians call this coram Deo, living all of life before the face of God.”
“Living all of life before the face of God”—it’s impossible not to, which means that everything we do is theological at its core.
Now, what’s the common theology behind our counselees—and ourselves?
Worrywart Theologians – Theology of the Anxious
How about the worrywart? What is the theology of the person who is anxious all the time?
- Did I get a good enough grade on my exam? Are my grades going to be good enough to get me into the school I want or to get the job that I want?
- Did my boss know that I wasn’t the one that made the mistake in the report? Am I going to get punished for the laziness and sloppiness of my team members?
- Is the stock market going to do well this year? Retirement is coming, and I’m just not sure if I have enough to make it.
- Is my spouse being faithful to me? Is my spouse being honest with me? My spouse is later than when they said they would be home, I wonder if they’re trying to hide something from me…
Do any of those thoughts resonate with you, or have you counseled anyone like that? My guess is that most of have been there or dealt with someone like this. Their thoughts are usually running a million miles an hour, and God always seems to be very far from their thoughts. However, their tireless, anxious, never-ceasing thoughts are screaming powerful theological conclusions! Here are some of those possible conclusions:
1) God is not good.
This theologian’s controlling piece of theology is “God’s not good.” This person is looking at their life, and their conclusion is that life is not good. The problems in their life are not good. The circumstances, people or talents they have in their life are not good enough. They may never think about God once, but remember, everyone lives coram Deo—before the face of God.
God has clearly shown us in his word that he is good (cf. Psalm 106:1, 107:1,9, etc.); every good and perfect gift comes down from the father (cf. James 1:17); he also works all things together for the good of those who love him (cf. Rom. 8:28). If your counselees don’t know the Lord, then you can help them see that God’s goodness has been shown to them through his discipline and consequences, which are intended to turn them from pursuing sin to pursuing God. If they do know the Lord, then they need have their vision corrected to help them see that everything is being used by God for their good (Rom. 8:28–29).
2) God is not sovereign.
Perhaps they believe that God is good, but they don’t believe that God is in complete control of their life. Their boss that is making life miserable for them, that they are constantly consumed with trying to impress is not under God’s control in their mind. Therefore, God is good, but he is incapable of changing their situation. Therefore, instead of trusting God, they must turn to worry and anxiety.
3) God does not care.
The theology of this statement is similar to #1 (God is not good), but it is slightly different. This person may believe on a grand cosmic scale that God is good, but when it comes down to the little details of their everyday life, God has bigger fish to fry. God has billions of people and a whole lot more animals to care, so he doesn’t have time for them. He doesn’t have time for their requests and supplications. He doesn’t really want to hear from them, because he has enough on his plate. This person needs to hear that God does care for them (cf. 1 Peter 5:7). This person needs to see that Jesus walked the road of Calvary in order to take their sins. Yes, Jesus took the sins of millions of people, but Jesus knows them by name and calls them son or daughter (cf. John 1:12).
4) God has not forgiven me.
Forgiveness is a BIG issue in counseling. Worry and anxiety often times comes from a heart that doesn’t understand what forgiveness is. For example, a counselee could be working tirelessly to make themselves acceptable in God’s eyes. They could be crippled by guilt over past failures. Martin Luther was one such individual – he was plagued by worry, anxiety and crushing guilt because he didn’t understand the forgiveness of God that is offered through Christ’s death (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).
Angry Theologians – Theology of the Impatient
What about the angry and bitter counselee? What is their theology?
1) God didn’t have to forgive me for anything.
An angry person is an impatient person. Their impatience with everyone around them may indicate that the theology they function by is that they are sinless and everyone else is a sinner—even if they would ascribe to something different with their words.
You see, it’s like the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21–35 who was forgiven by the king a 10,000 talent debt—a huge unpayable debt! But as soon as the king forgave his debt, he went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denarii—a very, very small debt comparably. Instead of showing him mercy the way the king did, he demanded payment immediately and brought his wrath upon him swiftly. At the end of the parable, the unforgiving servant was thrown in jail to pay the 10,000 talent debt which he would never have been able to pay back. The point of the parable is that the person who is unforgiving and merciless is the person who hasn’t received mercy and forgiveness for their own sin. Often, it’s because their pride has blinded them to their own sinfulness.
2) God is not as important as (blank).
Fundamentally, all sin is preferring something more than God. But anger especially reveals what our heart loves, because anger is designed to attack whatever threatens what we love. For example, if I love my wife then my anger will be kindled when I see my wife threatened and I will act quickly in order to protect my wife, whom I love. Or perhaps you really love your children. Therefore, when you hear that your child is being bullied or teased at school, it doesn’t matter if it’s a little 1st grader, your first reaction is to attack in order to protect your child.
The anger of your counselee functions the same way. Their anger is aroused in order to attack whatever threatens what they love. Your job as the counselor is help them see the theology of their heart that says something like, “I love ease and comfort more than God.” Or “I love control and things done my way more than I love God and his way.”
As counselors, our job is to help people see the light. As 1 John 1:5–10 indicates, walking in the light does not mean living sinless. Rather, walking in the light means seeing our sin—seeing our deceitful, bad theology —and replacing it with correct theology according to Scripture.
Taking the extra step to evaluate the theology of the worrywart, the angry counselee, and ourselves helps us see how great God’s love truly covers and forgives my foolish and hostile theology. My worry isn’t just a sin, it’s a false theological conclusion about who God truly is. My anger is more than just an action that should be put off, it’s theology that stands in stark opposition to the God who loved me so much that he gave up his Son for me (cf. Rom. 8:32). My sin, your sin and our counselee’s sin is always more than just something we did—it’s something we’ve believed deep inside our hearts that is flatly opposed to the truth of God’s Word. May God grant all of us wisdom and grace to understand the theology behind our words, thoughts, actions and emotions and to respond with true repentance when the theology is revealed to be like the fool in Psalm 14.
Want to join in the discussion? What’s the theology that you see behind your words, thoughts, actions and emotions? What’s the common theology you’ve seen in your counselees? What homework, questions or ways have you found helpful in revealing your counselees’ bad theology? How about the theology of the counselee addicted to porn or drugs? What about the theology of the extremely passive, apathetic counselee?
 Jesus’ words are true that our mouths speak out of the overflow of our heart (cf. Matt. 12:34), but it is also true that we don’t speak everything that is in our heart. A fool spews forth his folly (cf. Prov. 15:2), but not even the worst of fools spews ALL of his hearts folly (consider Prov. 20:5; everyone has to be drawn out to a certain extent).
 Paul Tripp as quoted by Mike Wilkerson, Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 28.
 God’s forgiveness because of Christ’s death means that we are justified—counted as totally forgiven and righteous before God.
 Counselees may verbally admit to being sinful, but functionally they live as if they have no sin because 1) they never confess sin and 2) they never ask for forgiveness.
 cf. John Piper, Living in the Light: Money, Sex & Power (The Good Book Company, 2016), 26.