God’s Therapeutic Approach
By Jenifer R. Butler
When things do not go in a positive direction, and they will, God’s love will find us.
The book of Isaiah 55: 8-9 notes that God’s ways are not our ways, nor are God’s thoughts our thoughts. In this way, God’s love is oxymoronic. While God has the power to control God chooses to give freedom and individual autonomy. The control God uses is to not be controlling. God’s love is therapeutic. God urges, rather than forces. God’s love guides, rather than controls.
A controlling person is fearful that if they do not control a person or a circumstance, something will go array. But God does not control in this way. God has made provision, even before the foundation of the world. Therefore, when things do not go in a positive direction, and they will, God’s love will find us. God created humankind with original goodness while fully understanding the consequences of original sin. Yet, God declares that humankind is good, in fact, “very good.” God’s uncontrolled love meets us where we are. This does not excuse the evil of the world. But reveals the nature of God.
God could exert control over an individual’s rights, autonomy, and free will, but that would be a form of abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abuse is a behavior that a person, or deity in this case, uses to maintain power over another individual. God does not need to be controlling because God has ultimate power and as Paul writes in the book of Romans, brings all things together for our human good.
Further, the scientific definition of “control” notes that the control group or individual must be in competition with an opposing force, an individual variable, amid extraneous variables. While there are negative forces present, there are positive forces that appear in the form of unconditional positive regard.
The hymnologist Thomas Obadiah Chisholm writes, “In times of distress, my soul has often found relief, Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.” What joy fills the soul, with the understanding that God’s love finds us in distress tolerance. The United States Chaplain Dr. Barry Black in his book The Blessing in Adversity writes, “after gaining perspective on your troubles, meet the challenges of dark days by relinquishing control.” God’s love is made known, in the quiet stillness and God does not have to control us nor opposing forces. God’s love comforts the brokenhearted.
One of the first things I learned in the therapeutic room was that God was the God of my understanding! Yes, God was still the God of my ancestors, still a God that leans towards justice, love, and hope. God practices love, through a person-centered approach. God gives trauma-informed care to those who recognize the world is dialectical in nature, a combination of good and evil. In this person-centered, an individualistic God could understand my personal groanings. Through the form of love, God would make sense of trauma. Victory occurs when God reveals God’s self as an uncontrolling lover the soul.
God’s love always reaches towards compassion. The word compassion, in its root form means to suffer with. God may not remove the obstacle, but God finds the oppressed. Clients who have experienced trauma, seek to understand the why? While that question may never be answered, the role of the therapist is to help the client understand what they can do and how they can do it.
1 John 4:8 notes that God is love, while the apostle Paul posits in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boost, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” The truth is “love does conquer all.” God’s love reaches to the highest mountain and flows to the deepest valley. While in opposition, God’s love meets people where they are in their own language of understanding. Though the seasons of life may change, God’s love remains constant, uncontrolled by the actions of other influences. God’s love is uncontrolled by the law of human man, it is controlled by the notion that all may come to know the God of their understanding, through this evidence of uncontrolled love.
So why then, does God not intervene when tragedy strikes? When contemplating this notion, I think of Job. An individual who was morally righteous. Yet, Job found himself grieving the death of his children, his possessions, and his health. However, amid his devastating losses, Job demonstrates distress tolerance. Job did not renounce his belief in God, nor accuse God of being an uncaring bystander. Job simply notes that even during tragedy, God was still good. Job was not restored to his original position. His children could not have been replaced. Job was given a better gift, the reasoning that although terrible things happen to good people, God can be trusted to show love, by being present amid afflictions.
While God and people have individual agency. God’s agency is demonstrated by love, people’s agency can be demonstrated through other means. Nonetheless, God’s love makes provision. Prevenient love finds the dark places of our lives and calls the individual to seek peace. Considering all the extraneous factors that might affect the results; God loves speaking. While in the Lion’s den Daniel, experienced God. While in the fiery furnace, the three Hebrews boys saw God in the fire with them. While imprisoned, Paul declared God’s love. While being crucified, Jesus called on God.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Two common therapies frequently used are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). These two treatment modalities do not seek to erase the presence of trauma but seek to change the individual’s viewpoint of the trauma through various skillsets.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic modality that explores how thoughts influence behavior and seeks to reframe negative cognitive distortions in a positive manner. The theory is centralized in the notion that human nature contains the capacity to control their thoughts, feelings, and regulate their actions. With individuality and autonomy, at its core, CBT seeks to explore thoughts and feelings as separate from personhood. The role of the therapist is to actively listen for faulty assumptions and help the client reframe their initial thoughts and feelings in any given situation.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is another form of cognitive behavioral therapy which seeks to assist the client in not only identifying faulty assumptions, but also learning to tolerate distress and demonstrate emotional regulation with mindfulness. The word dialectic is defined as the synthesis of opposing forces. The universe is filled with opposing forces. Atoms contain both positive and negative particles. Likewise, good and evil can coexist given proper perspective. The role of the therapist is to help the client to recognize the activating event, and exert control of their personhood, rather than the event.
From An African American Perspective
In African American faith-based communities, the phrase “God is in control” is often used to bring a sense of comfort. The world is filled with systematic justices that are immoral and oppressive. “God is in control” is an idiom which expresses the person’s need for God to show power through love. God has power, simply put to show the way, rather than control the event! In the by and by, God’s love prevails. This does not remove other powers. It does not affect the power to make one’s own decisions, nor the power of immorality. Rather, God’s control is rooted in the notion that whatever the challenge, circumstance or dilemma God has the power to demonstrate unconditional providence. The phrase “God is in control” does not excuse the recognition that there are other forces at work in the universe. God’s love simply specializes in the care of the individual.
Jenifer R. Butler is a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor in the State of Maryland. She earned a Master of Arts Degree in Counseling Psychology from Bowie State University and Master of Arts Degree in Ministry and Leadership from Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Jenifer is seeking ordination as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. She is married and has four children.
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Love Does Not Control: Therapists, Psychologists, and Counselors Explore Uncontrolling Love