Complex Intensifications of the Utterly Ordinary

Below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s foreword to The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams by Heath Lambert.

What problems impel or compel a person to seek counseling help? The answer is simple, though the problems are complex. Emotions play in darkly minor keys: anxious, embittered, guilty, despairing, ashamed. Actions run in self-destructive ruts of compulsion and addiction. Thoughts proliferate internal chaos, obsessing fruitlessly. Sufferings hammer a person down until the experience seems unspeakable.

But something important often goes unmentioned in mentioning the obvious. Such life-disabling problems are complex intensifications of the utterly ordinary. The human condition intrudes brokenness into everyone and everything. Things go askew inside all of us. We live for good gifts, not the good Giver. Our instincts run to self-serving, even with the best of conscious intentions. We invest life energies in vanities and reap confusion. We addict ourselves to follies and reap pain. Relationships disappoint, and fragment, and alienate, and isolate. Others hurt you—and you hurt them. We find ourselves without resources to face suffering and feel crushed and overwhelmed. Young or old, you suffer a cascade of losses, and then, one way or another, you die. We are more like each other than different, when you look below the obvious differences.

It is a wonder that more people aren’t in continuous emotional lockdown, in the fatal grip of panic, despair, and bitterness. The apparent stability of “ordinary life” bears an eloquent triple witness. God’s providential goodness shines in all that’s fair—Thank you for all the blessings of this life. Humankind is fascinated lifelong by schemes for earthly joy, sowing seeds of self-destruction—Have mercy on us, Father of mercies. What appears stable and ordinary is extraordinarily fragile—You alone are the way, the truth, and the life.

Failure and fragility, whether ordinary or intensified, can open a person to seek help or force a person to need help.

So why should the people of God care about these things that impel and compel people to seek counseling help? Because as ordinary people, these troubles and struggles are ours. And as God’s people, in particular, such waywardness and woe is exactly what our Bible is about. This is what Jesus comes to do something about. This is what church and ministry are intended to tackle.

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