Mr Bean and counselling
In the first ‘Mr Bean’ movie, the great American painting known as ‘Whistler’s Mother’ returns from Paris to the U.S. and comes under the ‘care’ of Mr Bean. Disaster ensues, and the painting is so badly defaced that the artist’s mother is no longer recognisable. Lacking both artistic skill, and a personal knowledge of how the old woman looked, the best Bean can do to restore the image is to sketch a caricature that while recognisably human, looks more like a joke than a serious attempt to restore the damaged image.
The same basic challenge awaits anyone who wants to help restore a broken and damaged person. If there is no clear understanding of what we should be, the result will be a caricature of true humanness. If we know what we should be, but there is deficient ability to transform flawed, hurt, and sinful people, we will also fall well short.
In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 the apostle Paul lays out at least two ways for the restoration of broken people in whom the image of God has been defaced – which is all of us, and everyone we counsel.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Firstly, it is as we behold the glory of the Lord that we are transformed into his image – the image of true humanness. This means that where counselling includes all sorts of potentially helpful things, but does not constantly and repeatedly look at who the Lord is, people will not be transformed as they could. They (and we) won’t see what they should be, so they become something else. They won’t feel a compelling attraction to the likeness of Christ rather than some distorted concept of humanity. And they can’t receive the benefits of his glory rubbing off on them so that they also reflect his glory as Moses did when he came down the mountain after talking with God. This has huge implications for how counselling should be done and where it should be done. If Christ is not central to counselling and freely revealed to the counselee, the outcome will be like a cartoon image of Christ.
Secondly, the power to be changed into the image of the Lord – the likeness of Christ or true humanness – comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Change in heart, mind, spirit and soul that is true, good, and godly is essentially a Spiritual matter. Yes there may be conversations between friends and with counsellors that are felt to be useful. But if these conversations are not richly infused with the word of the Lord and prayer, which are two of the greatest ways the Spirit brings transformation to his people, we are left with our own weak efforts – much like Mr Bean - able to draw something like a human being, but more of a caricature than the real thing.
Second Corinthians 3 has one of the greatest statements of the effects of the gospel in the here and now that Scripture offers us. It’s so good that many of us don’t dare to talk about it. ‘We all . . . are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.’ Is it possible that we don’t see the reality of this as much as we could, because we have chosen alternative pathways for transformation? Extensive resources go into people helping systems where beholding the Lord and working with the Lord who is the Spirit are peripheral or incidental to the assumed methods of ‘real’ help and change. If we counsel without looking at Christ again and again, let’s not expect great or glorious change. If we counsel while excluding the Lord who is the Spirit by neglecting to pray or let the word of the Lord dwell in us richly as we teach, admonish, encourage, and guide, let’s not be surprised when change is often superficial or little more than symptom relief or pragmatic problem solving.
My personal experience is that sometimes I do not look to Christ enough with my counselees, and I leave prayer and the word in the background. But when I rely on these two great ways of change in 2 Corinthians 3 – looking at the Lord and working with the key ways the Lord who is the Spirit ministers to us - I see much deeper and impressive change in the people I help than I do from any other range of counselling skills and techniques or medications that I or others have tried previously. It is too easy to short-change or mislead counselees with the many techniques and resources that we have that depend more on human thought and practice than they do on Christ.
Having seen glorious change again and again, it seems to me that there are too many non-glorious counselling outcomes that bear some resemblance to ‘Whistler’s Mother’ as restored by Mr Bean – not because the Lord has let us down, but because we have gone about the restoration process with our own thoughts about what a person should be and our own approaches to helping change them. (a follow up blog will try to capture in specific detail what ‘glorious change’ looks like)