In Pastoral Counseling, Genre Matters

by Mike Leake January 7, 2016

After a long silence the empty-eyed man opens up…

“I feel like darkness is my only friend. I’m enduring blow after blow from the Almighty and I just don’t know why. I’m confused. I’m baffled. I’m angry. I cry out to God but He doesn’t answer me. He’s silent. All I get from Him is wrath and terror. I don’t think I’ve had a good day in years. I’m helpless.”

You have a hard time processing this overflow of emotions. There is so much in there which is simply not true.

1. Saying darkness is his only friend is an insult to the church, you (his friend), and even to the Lord Jesus.

2. As a believer saying that God is silent simply isn’t true. Look to the Cross. He spoke volumes there.

3. As a believer you aren’t going to get an ounce of God’s wrath. It isn’t God’s wrath this guy is experiencing. Whatever it is…but it isn’t God’s wrath.

4. This guy was chipper even a couple weeks ago. Now he’s talking like he hasn’t been happy in years. So what was that good time you had with him a few Tuesday’s ago? Was it just a sham?

5. He isn’t helpless. As a believer He has the power of the Holy Spirit residing in Him. He ought to suck it up and live in the freedom that Jesus purchased instead of wallowing in this self pity.

You’ve probably got about fifty other things you could be offended by. There is so much of this guys theology that could be rebuked. His view of God in this moment is so terribly small. You see this. You know what would help him. He just needs to do a few things and you are certain he won’t be feeling like darkness is his only friend.

And so you speak truth into this guys life. You rebuke the Psalm 88 right out of him.

Here is my question for you. Have you been a faithful expositor and counselor of God’s Word? Have you spoken truth?

—I don’t believe you have, for one simple reason. Genre matters.

Any good Bible student knows that you read Paul’s letters differently than you read through the Psalms. If you read through Paul’s letters as if his exhortations are just a fine example of creative writing and holy suggestions, then you aren’t reading them rightly. He isn’t writing for poetic intentions. He’s writing to be analyzed, processed, applied, and lived out.

In the same way if you read poetry as if its intention is to give you theological precision, then you are going to emerge with a jacked up view of God. He’ll have giant chicken wings which casts a mighty shadow (Psalm 57:1 ). He’ll also have a big beefy arm (Ps. 89:10 ) and a real shiny face (Num. 6:24 ). You read poetry to feel theology not to write a theological text book.

Judging poetry with the same yard stick you’d use to judge an epistle or historical narrative makes you a faulty expositor. In the same way I believe judging someone who is spouting out a Psalm with the yardstick of theological precision, is to not be a faithful counselor.

His psalm was to help you feel with him. He was inviting you into his story. He isn’t asking you to analyze him for a theology test. Sure, a wise counselor might pick up on some of these faulty views and save them for later…save them for when he starts speaking to you in epistolary form. But while he’s spouting Psalms just hug him. Feel with him. Relate with him. Enter into his suffering. Own his Psalm as your own.

Being a good listener means respecting genre. Don’t force the suffering man into the only genre you feel comfortable with. Let him speak in his genre. If you’ve got to give counsel then do it in his language—in his genre.

Genre matters. It matters in Bible reading. And it matters in counseling.