Soul Care, Not Clinical Therapy
I recently read a book which teaches about what I would term “soul care”, sort of an overarching term that could also encompass clinical psychology. I would not necessarily use this book’s teachings verbatim in clinical practice. Why did I read this book then? Because as a Christian clinical therapist, it’s important to me to understand the wider practice of soul care than simply what I would do in a clinical therapy setting, and it’s important to me to share some of these resources with you too.
Not to mention, this book hit me in the gut at a personal level, not just on a professional level.
Letting God Be Judge, a short read by Thomas J. Sappington, kneaded my heart to a more soft and tender state. The book takes the concept of “judging others” and hashes out how the judgments I make of myself, others, groups of people, and God, all have reverberations in the heavenly realms. Such judgments, Sappington believes, can create bondage and spiritual oppression for both people: the judger and the judged. But prayerfully releasing these judgments can liberate people to walk more fully in abundant life.
What the Bible Has to Say About Judging Others
Admittedly, I began reading the book with a bit of skepticism. The reason for my hesitation was that biblical injunctions not to judge are so often misinterpreted in our society. Outside the church, the masses are embracing a tolerance culture in which the only “sin” is judging others’ actions as morally wrong. Inside the church, many Christians have embraced a view that frighteningly parallels the worldly philosophy of tolerance: “Christians should not talk about sin. It’s God’s job to convict a person of sin. The church’s role is simply to show people God’s love.” To which I say, hogwash! To separate love from a discussion of sin is a false dichotomy. True and pure love acknowledges sin as that which destroys. Sin is not merely a fun indulgence! Sin erodes our selves, chains us into the bondage of lies and addiction, and forms chaos and trauma for all those in our sphere of influence. Precisely because Christians love others with the love of God, we must talk about sin. So, needless to say, I was a little nervous that this book about “not judging” would follow the same weak theological bent and advocate for a shallow “tolerance”.
After reading chapter 1, which outlined several scriptures dealing with not judging, I realized I was inadvertently dismissing the biblical injunctions because I don’t like the world’s take on them. Oops. I had to humbly go back to scripture and let it speak to me and be my guide. And it turns out the Bible does have a lot to say about judgments. Here’s what I gathered:
- Be humble. Don’t be hypocritical. Be aware of your own sin before pointing out the sin of the other. (Matt. 7:1-5)
- Whatever measure you use with others, it will be measured back to you. (Makes me want to be generous!) (Luke 6:37-38)
- Be big-hearted, gracious, quick to show love and not quick to condemn. (Luke 6:39-42)
- At the end of the day, God is our judge. We are each accountable to Him. We don’t have to judge each other in petty issues. Walking in love is more important than being right on petty issues. (Rom. 14:9-13)
- It is idolatrous and self-serving to judge the rich more favorably than the poor. Perhaps this could be generalized to all classism? (James 2:1-4)
- We don’t get to be a judge of whether or not our brother is following the Law, in the way that God does. That’s HIS job. (Which is convicting to me.) (James 4:11-12)
- Be careful about quickly pronouncing judgments on humans, because you don’t fully know their heart. Even they don’t fully know their own hearts. Only God knows. Whereas much is hidden from our human eyes, God knows all things and will one day bring to light the things hidden in darkness. Ultimately, this takes away some of the authority of human judgment as well as the authority of human commendation. Only God can truly judge the heart, so only He can fully judge or commend.(1 Cor. 4:5)
Now, armed with a new conviction about how God has called us away from judging others, I proceeded to read the book to learn how these ungodly judgments impact the judger and the judged.
How Being Judgmental Affects Us
Sappington highlights the blurry vision of a Christian who claims to receive God’s grace, and yet is unable to extend such grace to our fellow man. Such anger towards the world seems out of place if we truly understand our own sin. Are not both of us created in the image of God, and yet fallen from those great heights to which we were called? Are not both of us equally in need of forgiveness and a Savior? In the faulty thinking which leads us to judgments against others, our relationship with God also suffers. Of course Sappington is not calling our salvation into question, but with bitter, hardened hearts, how can we let God’s grace and love flow into the deepest corners of our being?
We also experience some hindrance to our effectiveness in ministry, including if our ministry is our home and family! Our judgmental attitudes can create a ripple effect in our ministries that keep others from being able to fully receive the grace of Christ themselves. And while an environment of abundant grace produces love, thanksgiving, and vulnerability, a grace-starved ministry or home naturally leads us and those around us to a poor self-image. Not one of us can stand with our head held high in a place starved of grace. It’s a famine for our souls, it erodes our self confidence, it tears down our creativity and hope. Without grace, our flaws condemn every one of us.
Ungodly judgments also open the door for the devil, says Sappington. He actually believes demonic oppression can come about as a result of these profane judgments, which may act as a sort of permission for dark powers to enter a person’s life.
Types of Judgment
Sappington points us to ungodly judgments we may hold against God. For example, a person may determine that God is not good based on experiences of suffering in her life. Sappington reminds us of the example of David, who lamented with dramatic emotion and anguish, who somehow expressed his disappointed and anger, and yet without making a judgment against God.
Judgments are frequently against other people, as well as groups of people. For instance, if my father abused me, I might form a judgment against my father, but then I might generalize his cruelty to a belief about all men. All men must be manipulative and wicked. We can easily form sexist judgments against men or women when we have had a traumatic experience with a member of either gender. Then, Sappington highlights, our behaviors towards this gender often change to begin attracting or inviting more mistreatment by this gender, sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We also see judgments such as this in racism. Sometimes we had a negative experience with a member of another race, and we generalize this experience to the entire race! Other times, such judgments are handed down to us by our parents. Either way, such judgments against individuals or groups of people corrode our beings.
Finally, we make judgments against ourselves. Trauma births numerous judgments against ourselves, such as, I’m worthless, I’m a failure, etc.
Renouncing Judgments and Forgiveness
Sappington advocates a series of steps for working through these judgments we have made. The order may vary, but the steps include confession, receiving God’s forgiveness, prayerfully asking Jesus to elucidate why we have made the judgment, and then asking Him to reveal His truth to our hearts. Next is forgiving the wrongs done. Then, Sappington encourages a use of spiritual authority to break the power of the judgment in our lives or the lives of others. Along with this, he commands any evil spirits connected with the judgment to leave. He then encourages us to try to right any wrongs done because of the judgments we have made. Finally, Sappington encourages people to resolve in their hearts to use Christ’s power not to enter into judgments against others.
Let’s pause on the forgiveness step a moment. I think forgiveness is one of the most formidable things humans are called to do. I mean, is it even realistic to ask me to forgive a person who has wronged me, changed my outlook on life, stolen my joy and peace, and broken me as a person? Yuck! The nerve! Sappington says yes, because of the mind-blowing fact that God has extended that same forgiveness to you and me. Not only are we to mentally release someone from the wrong they committed; we must actually forgive from the heart. (see Matthew 18:35). I’m supposed to dig deep and forgive wholeheartedly.
Sappington describes creating a space for the person to connect with Jesus, voicing all of their suffering and hurts, even naming specific incidents of hurt or words spoken that have etched themselves on the person’s mind and soul. Clearly, the forgiveness act is in no way a denial of the heinousness of the offense. In this way, the individual shares their hurts with Jesus, a process which can soften their heart and help them entrust judgment over to God. This prepares the person for a wholehearted act of forgiveness. As forgiveness takes place part of the process is prying opening our clenched hands and letting go of any bitterness or right to revenge that we have been clinging to.
My Impression and Critiques
My overall impression of this short read was positive. The ideas postulated therein are not necessarily ground-breaking; many other sources in the Christian world teach similar concepts. Nonetheless, the marriage of emotional healing and spiritual warfare is thought-provoking. It’s essential to read this book with one ear to ministry, but the other ear to personal growth. I found the book convicting, especially when it comes to forgiveness as an act done from the depths of our heart.
I had two brief critiques of the book.
First off, as a psychodynamic therapist with a strong focus on the unconscious, I felt that this topic was not given sufficient weight. Sappington seemed to have some concept of the unconscious and advocated for prayerful communication with the Holy Spirit when encountering roadblocks of memory or consciousness with counselees. He acknowledged that sometimes important content may take several minutes to rise to the surface. But in my work with clients, I have experienced that sometimes important content does not rise to the surface for years, much less several minutes. Sometimes Christian ministry can feel a little too cut and dry, failing to account for the ambiguity and gray areas inherent in working with human beings, and I do feel that Letting God Be Judge falls into this trap.
Secondly, Sappington has little to say about the relationship between counselor and counselee. He had some concept of counselees being resistant, but it was a concept he explored in no depth. As a therapist, I think the relationship between counselor and counselee is one of the most important aspects of healing. Retraumatization can and does occur within the therapeutic relationship, so ignoring the significance of this relationship has the potential to be injurious to the client.