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How can I understand unless someone guides me?

How can I understand unless someone guides me?

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

In Acts 8, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The wealthy Ethiopian had been worshipping in Jerusalem.  Upon his return home he began to read aloud the words of the prophet Isaiah. Intrigued by them, he sought the help of someone who was capable of interpreting that text. The Ethiopian found an interpreter of Scripture, but also an interpreter of life. Philip’s interpretation was not only a Messianic interpretation but also a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:14-15, which promised that Yahweh would sprinkle the nations. The Ethiopian was sprinkled/washed clean from his transgressions. He began to see that Messiah suffered so that he might have life.

This passage establishes in many ways the need for biblical counseling. Counselees are asking Philip’s questions. Their lives torn by a host of events have clouded their understanding of life, and sometimes even the Bible itself. It is incumbent then, for counselors, to come alongside the hurting and the needy and provide an accurate view of their lives through the lens of the Bible.

Jesus is the starting point of all healing. He is the suffering servant, who received no justice, according to Isaiah’s prophecy. The interpreter/counselor begins by pointing to Jesus. He guides the counselee to see that Jesus is the answer to his despair. But he is not simply pointing him to a concept, but to a Person. Jesus, as Person, died and suffered. Jesus, as concept, offers no hope.

Notice that Philip ran to him. Philip understood the pain and despair of the eunuch. Philip was troubled by the eunuch’s lack of knowledge. The Spirit guides us to those who are most troubled, whether rich or poor. Philip, the counselor, then asked a question.

A few observations concerning the text above:

Notice that Philip asked him a question. Counselors are in the question-asking business. A porn addict may benefit from a stern rebuke, but the porn addict has already been rebuked by his own conscience, which is why he is seeking interpretation. A porn addict needs to probe his motivations and his justifications behind seeking his sinful habits. He needs to think through his worldview before he can see that it is deeply flawed. Questions will bring these assumptions to the surface.

The counselee needed help. Counselors cannot help those who do not wish to be helped. The counselee acknowledged that his answers, his attempts to be good, his efforts to get away from certain habits were not paying off. He realized that unless someone guides him his efforts will all be in vain.

Guiding someone is a form of life interpretation. The counselor needs to take the counselees’ assumptions about the world and dissect them so that the counselee can see the context surrounding his sins. He may be oblivious to his own environment. He may not know that the culture he is imbibing is causing a greater urge to immerse himself in those sins. He needs guidance to see that his interpretation is flawed.

Finally, notice that the eunuch invites the counselor to come and sit by him. This is not always the case. The work of the Spirit, of course, was already humbling the eunuch. His worship experience had already softened his own mind to seek wisdom. In some cases, the counselor needs to make aware to the counselee that he needs help and guidance. At times pride will keep the individual from seeking any help. He is certain that his lack of knowledge of the text and of his own life is not a problem and that in time he will learn to deal with it. This is where community life becomes crucial to the individual. If sins are simply seen as separated acts from the community, then they bear no weight on anyone else besides the individual. If, however, sins are communal by nature, then making known to the addicted man that he needs guidance becomes a necessary component of community life. The hurting has little hope of finding a right interpretation if he has no one willing to point out his need of one.

The eunuch was baptized. Philip’s interpretation offered him a perspective that changed him and caused him to act upon it. Counselors offer interpretation that will change the course of action of the counselee. Counselors, by God’s grace, will offer a message of hope. Jesus is that hope. The One who received no justice offers justice in the sight of God to those who humble themselves and seek his guidance. Jesus sat with us and offered us an interpretation of our lives that made us whole.

Dear Sister: Response on Forgiveness

Dear sister,a

You have stated that the common view of forgiveness indicates that you are supposed to forgive the man who harmed you physically, psychologically, and perpetually as you go about your day. Though you are no longer under his control–thanks be to God–you still suffer the immense pain and agony by re-living those moments every time–or almost every time–someone uses certain language, when someone jokes about abuse, when someone sounds like an abuser, and when someone trivializes that abuse. So, you are told, suck it up! Live with it! Move on and forgive him.

My responses to these requests are meant to be brief, but to the point. Forgiveness is not a dispensing machine. An abuser cannot simply press a button and demand that you act accordingly. So, principle number one is that if the abuser demands forgiveness from you and acts as if he deserves it, tell him that you are a human being and that you will not be treated like a machine. Forgiveness, if you wish to be theological, is covenantal.

Forgiveness is complex at this level. Not all relationships are created equal. At the very least, this conversation between victim and abuser can only be initiated if said abuser has changed his ways, proven that he has suffered the consequences of his actions, has placed himself in a community where his sins are known, and if the case involves sexual abuse, that he not be working near any children. If those conditions are met, then by all means begin the conversation if you are prepared. But though he may be ready to proceed and though the conditions are met, make sure that you are surrounded by a safe community, with a pastor (s) that understand the severity of the damage done and have agreed to walk with you through this process.

Dismiss any comment from counselors who make you feel guilty for suffering such abuse. Better yet, run away from them.  You may think you have found an advocate, but you really are dealing with someone with little capacity to understand the depths of human pain. I pray you will find a voice of reason in a sea of miserable counsel.

Yours truly,

Uri Brito

  1. These names will remain anonymous  (back)