In the realm of counseling books, Dr. Larry Crabb is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. This is the second book which I’ve read by him. I picked it up one evening planning on doing some light reading before bed and ended reading the book through in one sitting, simply because I didn’t want to put it down.
As the cover text notes, the book is organized into four parts, each dealing with a one of a sequence of questions that hurting people ask: What’s wrong? Who can help? What will the helper do? What can I hope for if I do seek help?
In going through these questions Dr. Crabb doesn’t simply address one technique, but rather develops a narrative which discusses a handful of approaches present, each addressing an apparent cause of the pain, to include: spiritual warfare, psychological dysfunction, sin, biochemical disorders, undisciplined living, and deficient spirituality. Dr. Crabb notes the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches while also offering his own insights – it is these insights which will help the individual dealing with pain, while the overall discussion on the approaches will be helpful both to the one in pain as well as the potential counselor looking for which avenue to deal with their patients.
Dr. Crabb’s position might best be summed up in the notion that: “If some problems have no adequate explanations, and never will have, then we must come to grips with confusion and learn to live in mystery… We want to reduce mystery to a usable system. Mystery requires us to connect with someone, to trust. System allows us to follow a plan, to control… Unexplained problems put us out of control. As a result, the urge to explain becomes stronger than the urge to connect, so strong that it may be getting in the way of developing deeper levels of trust… I worry that, once we have a system, we’re in danger of placing more faith in a manageable plan with predictable results than in God, who is neither manageable nor predictable…
“The philosophy of individualism, in which noting is more important than the individual’s needs and rights, runs today’s world, at least in the West. God’s deepest passion, however, seems directed not towards individuals (though he numbers the hairs on our heads) but towards individuals-in-community… Individual fulfillment is never the point. It is the by-product of yielding oneself to the greater good of a community, first the community of the triune God(who is served by receiving glory) and then the community of God’s people…”
This is perhaps the key message to those who are hurting. The world is fallen; our pain will not fully cease in this life, and often we will not know the cause; it is this mystery in the case which drives us to trust in God and connect with fellow Christians in community and worship and pursuit of that God. When we simply seek an explanation or a cure then “we approach God, not to know him, but to secure his cooperation in solving our problems.”(p35)
Under-girding this discussion of pain is a discussion of which approach we should be searching for, which is the best to suit or needs, and what part the church should play in all of this. A main thesis of Crabb’s is that ideally, most counseling needs can be met “through the local church, through communities of God’s people relating meaningfully and healingly to one another as together they search for God.” (p10)
Or more fully:
“Those two realities – a hunger for connection with God and a resolve to satisfy that hunger elsewhere – lie at the very center of our souls. But we have taken those two realities and made things too complicated. We have gone beyond the idea of an image-bearing but fallen soul hungry for God but resistant to him and become enamored with the idea of a psychological self capable of being damaged, abandoned, manipulated, and unwisely defensive on it’s own behalf.
We no longer call the soul of a person to pursue God and forsake idolatry: instead, we now work to develop a healthier self… But if the internal roots of our personal problems lie simply in our unaroused hunger for God and our unadmitted arrogance that says we don’t need him, if dealing with life’s problems require that we face these two basic realities of the soul rather than all the complex dynamics of the self, then, I suggest, the community of God’s people is back in the healing business.”(p176)
This is Crabb’s underlying thesis, that of a need for a community centered and God centered drive for dealing with individuals within the Christian context, that is, not simply as individuals isolation but as children of God created for community and worship. On the one hand the ideas presented by Crabb here are meant to be of use to those going through pain themselves, and on the other hand they are meant to help instruct those working with people who are going through pain.
This is one of those texts which is absolutely littered with great quotes, here a few of them,
-“Speaking the truth in love does not give anyone license to share whatever he happens to think or feel.”(p14)
-“The principle is worth more thought: the problems we face, even big ones, aren’t so bad. It’s the unexplained ones that scare us to death. We’re not nearly so bothered by the size of a problem as we are by its degree of mystery. It’s not knowing what’s wrong that arouses the worst terror. Mystery scares us because it puts us out of control and leaves us with an option we don’t naturally like – to trust someone besides ourselves… Once we know what’s wrong, we feel back in control… Knowledge is the key. Explanation becomes our hope. We don’t need a person if we have a plan. Trust becomes unnecessary, a nice concept to talk about in church but one we don’t have to practice in real life.”(p22)
-“People can be divided into two groups: those who think that life works (or could work if certain principles were followed), and those who know it doesn’t.”(p23)
-“It is crucial to accept the limits of help… More often than not, the limit is due to the tension that we are made for heaven and all help is time bound and incomplete.” (p86)
-“Idolatry is not the by-product of forgetting God; it is the means by which we forget him.”(p96)
-“Our worst human relationship will determine the quality of our relationship with God, says John. In human relationships we see most clearly our deepest struggles with God.”(p99)
-“The real killer of the self and the real cause of all addictions is shame… Shame causes us to see our identity as flawed rather than seeing ourselves as having flaws.”(p107)
-“Love honors the other with a heart to do her good; it is not the avoidance of conflict, nor compliant servitude. Love is not making someone feel good; it is not avoiding conflict; it is not merely getting along. Love is a commitment to see Christ grow in the heart of the other by offering a strength that disrupts patterns of idolatry and a tenderness that invites reconciliation and hope. Love will be tender and long-suffering; it will also be bold and wounding. If it involves one without the other, then it is an offer of something less than God’s character. We are told that God is a God of mercy and strength (Psalm 62:11). To love other is to give them a taste of the full character of God.”(p113)
-“The soul will not be healed without relationship.”(p117)
-“When we understand who we are and what goes wrong in our lives, it becomes clear that we are not damaged things that need repair; we are rather disconnected persons that must depend on the gospel to reestablish connection.”(p170)
I really can’t say I have any criticisms of this book, it is an excellent, insightful and moving read, and I suggest it to anybody whether you’re dealing with pain or not (though really, I’m not sure if anybody is ever not dealing with pain of some form or another).