Therapeutic Theology for Hurting People

by Robertson McQuilkin As I thought about my inner responses to external circumstances, I was drawn irresistibly to the theology factor. What I truly believe seems to have set me up–both for success and for failure.

I've spent my life working at theological reflection, not psychological…  I realized my life story might demonstrate the interface between the two, a connection theologians seldom consider and counselors might be tempted to bypass.

Theology Provides Protection

More than therapy to heal the broken, perhaps, theology builds an immune system to keep a person from breaking in the first place. Here's how it worked for me.

I believe I'm finite!

in my early 20s, I entered the dark tunnel of agnosticism–from knowing “everything” to knowing nothing for sure, especially about God and his book. I wasn't …affirming that no god existed, just that I, .. couldn't find him. When by God's grace I emerged from that dark tunnel I had great confidence in the basics: that God is, that the Savior actually saves,… But I was shorn of any pretense of infallibility about the details. My expectancies–for myself and others–were lowered to the realities of human finitude. … Besides lowered expectancies of oneself, the acceptance of finitude is a doorway to making room for others. Maybe they're finite, too.

I believe I'm fallen.

And so are others. So I expect them to behave that way and that helps me make allowances for their failures, which doesn't come to me naturally. What comes naturally is to be easy on myself and hard on the other fellow. …that doctrine has been a powerful deliverer in my life.

Here's how. The whole of creation is under the curse of the Fall and I'm not exempt, by being loved of God, from the consequences of living in a world of vicious cancer and violent winds. Nor am I exempt from a world of finite and fallen people who inflict harm on me, wittingly or unwittingly. I expect the worst and rejoice when, by God's grace, it usually doesn't happen! ...Why not me? That's the only reasonable “why” question for one who lives in a fallen world.

… Not “Why me, Lord?” when trouble strikes, but “Why not me, Lord?” when it so often misses.

…The bottom line is this: we live in a fallen world–what else did you expect? Theology protects from destructive inner turmoil.

Yet I believe I'm of value.

… We need a reality check, for only recognizing true value will liberate and open the way to fulfillment….

  • Created on the pattern of God, not a monkey.
  • Purchased by the most precious commodity this world has ever known, the blood of God.
  • Living a life planned by the master Designer of the planets, the suns, and every atom.
  • A constant companion of the King of kings

 Indeed, theology can liberate and fill a person full.

 I believe in God.

I may not know what God's purpose is in sending or permitting difficulty in my life, but that he has a purpose I am confident. And a God with wisdom to know what is best for me, love to choose that best, and power to carry it through, I can trust. I can never be a victim, except a “victim” of God's love. … How often, when I've tried to untangle the reasons God seems to have abandoned me, have I returned finally to Calvary and whispered, “Dear Jesus, how could those hands pierced for me ever allow anything truly evil to pass through to touch me? …

Theology does indeed protect from the ravages of ungodly responses!

I believe in love.

I know that anything of merit in me comes as a gift from God, to be sure, but I love Muriel because she's altogether lovable. I can't not love her…  

Theology seems to have built up my spiritual and psychic immune system. But when that immune systems fails, I've discovered theology also has the power to heal, to correct wrong thinking, to renew.

Theology Rehabilitates

I believe in grace.

But somehow I had a lot of growing to do in understanding grace. Two areas come to mind: (1) lack of passion in my love for God, sort of settling for a formal correctness, and (2) forgiveness–not God's forgiveness of me, but my forgiveness of others.

(1) … it was two decades after my salvation encounter before I ever shed the first tear over my own sin. I was reflecting on Calvary and suddenly realized it was my sin that nailed Him there–not Hitler's, not Stalin's, but mine, my very own sanitized, civilized, damnable sin. And it broke up the hard granite of a semi-grateful heart. Then, for the first time, I exulted in his grace….

… a thought broke through: Try praise. I was so out of practice in praise, I ran out of thanksgivings and praise in five minutes. But my soul was uncaged, and I discovered that the weary spirit rises on the wings of praise.. And no wonder–to focus on God sets me free from my own finitudes and fallenness... Theology helps rehabilitation.

(2) Forgiveness. One of the greatest pains of life is betrayal…

But it took years to face the fact that though I wanted to forgive and forget, I didn't want God to! Father, forgive them . . . I found no echo in my soul for the gracious response of Jesus on the cross or of Stephen under assault. I might not seek retaliation …. Don't let him off the hook, God! I realized that I wasn't so Christlike after all and asked God to cut out the cancer that was eating away at my soul. … I was doubting God's ability to handle the situation properly. When I turned it all over to him, asking him to let my “friend” off the hook, healing began.

Once again I found that theology does indeed rehabilitate. It taught me of grace. God's grace, yes. But also how I must grace my brother.

I believe in victory.

When I became a new person in Christ, I was given new potentialities. Whereas before I could do right but couldn't consistently choose the right, the new me can choose wrong but need not….Oh, I'll not be sinless till I meet him in person, but in the meantime I have power to say “yes” to God and “no” to sin whenever I have the conscious choice… God didn't give me the instant deliverance I longed for and begged for. But he did do what he promised and transformed me “from one degree of glory to another by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthains 3:18). I believe in victory.  

I've shared a sampler from my life… to demonstrate how theology works to help hurting people see themselves and their world more nearly from God's perspective. … It has protected me from wrong feelings and attitudes, and it heals when I fail. I call it “therapeutic theology.”

Robertson McQuilkin, M.Div, is a homemaker, conference speaker, and writer.He served for 22 years as president of Columbia International University until his resignation to care for his wife, Muriel, who had advancing Alzheimer's Disease.  (Reprinted from: Christian Counseling Today, 1999, Vol 7, No 2., pp 21-25.)

JB:  I believe in "standing on the shoulders" of wiser men than I. The original article quoted here is long. But I think it is so rich with wisdom for hurting people. I’ve been aggressive with a knife to cut it down to the size you see here. If you can’t find the whole article, let me know and I’ll send you a copy.