Sometimes I ponder what values I hold most central in my life. I think of things like family, honor, health, effectiveness in the community and other things that are good, but somehow selfish. What resonates with God’s character is when we value lovingkindness, justice and righteousness most central, because He “delights in these things” (Jeremiah 9:24). While I can quickly agree that these are godly traits, they seem elusively abstract. So I ask, “How can I work these attitudes into my life?” and “How do these things look when I practice them?” and “How do these three concepts fit together.
I studied the words. Interestingly, in the Old Testament, “justice” (Hebrew mishpat) and “righteousness” (Hebrew tsaddiq) are virtual synonyms. They carry the notion of “straightness” in the physical sense. Their meaning develops into a standard of reference, like using just balances, weights and measures fairly. So, since I am God’s child, I should deal justly and fairly (straight) with others I encounter, reflecting the character of my heavenly Father. But these exacting standards of a holy God could be harsh. I could never measure up. I will always be found lacking if judged by God's high standards. But in Psalm 51:5, the idea of God’s righteousness goes beyond the basis of his exacting punishment. David, following his sin with Bathsheba, says that he will rejoice in God’s righteousness. This is redemptive, not judgmental. One of my students pointed out that both justice and righteousness come out from God’s holiness and they need not be contradictory (i.e. one punitive and the other forgiving). For me, then, when I act justly, I don’t have to be judgmental. And when I act righteously, I need not be simply forgiving as though no wrong had been done. It is the third concept, love (Hebrew hesed) that ties them together. I can graciously call something wrong or offensive and still pursue restoration, growth and harmony through love.
This evening, I was reading and essay by Richard John Neuhaus in which he reflects on Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, issued in late January. It appeared in the latest issue of First Things, my latest subscription that contains a lot of challenging thoughts. In the article, he quotes the Pope as saying that God’s passion “turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” That really bothers me. His love and justice as well as his righteousness are totally consistent with his holiness in my mind. The Pope is referenced as saying that justice is the “alien” or “left-hand” rule of God . . . while love is the “proper” or “right-hand” rule of God. I don’t think God can contradict himself or be inconsistent with himself. I see my goal as pursuing congruence, that is, keeping all my parts lined up consistently — my thoughts, my feelings, my actions, my discernment of wrong and my grace.
So what does this have to do with counseling? When an individuals are out of sorts with themselves or when a couple is out of sorts with each other, they tend to be adversarial, oppositional, and litigious. They need grace. What will be the source of grace that will soften their interface and promote healing and growth? I think a good counselor needs to be an instrument of grace. A counselor can soften the interface of warring factions and bring peace and harmony and understanding. I think that if I devote my energies to this goal, I won’t have much time to be judgmental.