Sin and Misery…Connecting the Dots

People do not always appreciate the fact that the pain they experience is often due to acting or thinking in ways that are out of harmony with Scripture. As a biblical counselor, therefore, you must understand the relationship between sin and misery.

Many of the over 250 secular counseling models would agree with the humanist manifesto which denies the existence of consequences for sin. But the Bible says “God is not mocked” and “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal.6:7; cf. Eph. 4:18; Rom. 8:20; Lam. 3:39; Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9).

The Westminster Confession of Faith[1] puts it well.

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Many counselees fail to connect sin with the misery that impelled them into your office. It’s your job to connect the dots for them.

God’s laws are non-optional.  No one, regardless of his religious disposition, can violate them without suffering the consequences. If I, as a born again Christian, were to jump off the Empire State Building, God’s universal, non-optional law of gravity would impel me towards Fifth Avenue and I would suffer the earth-splattering consequences of violating this precept. And, if my Jewish or Buddhist or Hindu or atheistic friends followed suit, they too would suffer the same tragic consequence. No matter who you are, you can’t violate God’s laws and expect to avoid some degree of misery.

Part of your task as a counselor is to help the counselee to see clearly the relationship between his misery and the unbiblical thoughts and actions that cause it. Sometimes the relationship is apparent to both of you. Sometimes neither one of you has a clear understanding of the cause and effect between the two. That is why you must prayerfully depend upon the Word and the Spirit to help you connect the dots. You must, however, be sure that you do not connect dots that shouldn’t be connected. To be sure all misery is the result of sin. But all the misery that your counselee is experiencing is not necessarily the result of his own sin.

All misery, including most pain, is the result of sin, but not all pain is the result of our own sin. Christ was without sin, yet He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3; cf. Matt. 26:38). He said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matt. 5:4). He could “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). He became angry (Mark 3:5) and indignant[2] (Mark 10:14). He wept over the death of His friend (John 11:34-35) and the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).

Since Jesus Christ was perfect and could not sin, He never experienced any emotion that was the result of His own sin. You and I, however, often experience feelings that warn us about sin in our lives.

So be careful do not make the correlation definitively unless you are certain one exists and can explain it clearly. Remember Job’s three friends, the grief they caused him, and the wrath to which their unbiblical counsel provoked God (Job 42:7-9).

Sometimes you may only be able to suggest the possibility of the sin/misery dynamic, encouraging the counselee to assess for himself the likelihood of the connection. “Have you ever considered that your depression might be the result of your unwillingness to forgive your boss?” Or perhaps, “the Bible teaches that God disciplines those He loves. Could it be that you are being spanked by God and are despising (thinking lightly of) His chastisement?”

I’m fairly confident that the old adage “misery loves company” is not theologically accurate. But, in one sense, we can say with biblical certainty that “misery has company”—the sinful thoughts, desires, words, actions and attitudes that often accompany it. The next time you are counseling someone keep in mind that one of your primary tasks may well be to acquaint your counslelee’s misery with his company.

[1] Smith, M. H. (1990; Published in electronic form by Christian Classics Foundation, 1996). Westminster Confession of Faith. Index created by Christian Classics Foundation. (electronic ed.). Greenville SC: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press.

[2] In his Gospel, Mark uses at least four different Greek words to describe the Lord’s anger.


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