Some people picture God as an old man with a beard. William Paul Young in The Shack pictured God as an African-American woman. Christmas reminds us that we can — and should — picture God as a baby in a manger.
As for me? I often picture God as a counselor. A lady in a turtleneck, maybe 60 years old, sitting in a swivel chair, holding an over-sized yellow notepad, and looking at me with just the right balance of calming and compelling.
Compelling me to consider facts about my life that I’d rather not consider. Calming me with the reality that she’d be considering them with me.
I think I picture God this way because, especially at Christmas time, we read in Isaiah 9:
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
What does it mean that Christ shall be called “Wonderful Counselor?” Let’s break this down…
Not just competent but wonderful. In the field of professional counseling, areas of skill required for licensure are referred to as “competencies.” But “competent” sounds so negative, so…mediocre.
And mediocre we are. A friend once told me about meeting with a therapist at a university counseling center to discuss her process of aging out of foster care. The therapist suggested that my friend might try the “Family Issues” Support Group. After an awkward silence, the therapist admitted: “Although that might be more for students who…uhh…” And my friend finished the sentence: “…who actually have families?”
I think of all the times I’ve said something insensitive or unnecessary, all the times I’ve been told something quick and clichéd to a hurting friend, and I thank God that His ways are “higher than our ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9). That He says what is right and true (since He created Truth, after all), and He can’t be surprised by what we say (since He created us, after all), and He has absolute patience with our long processes of grieving or recovering or learning (since He has eternity in mind, after all). That He is wonderful. That He is God.
Not only is He God, but He is God with us.
A counselor’s goal is to sit with us, to listen with us to the content of our lives. They talk about “therapeutic alliance,” meaning that their primary goal isn’t for clients to “word vomit” all our feelings (although that happens) or for counselors to “knowledge vomit” all their sage solutions. Rather, their primary goal is for a trusting relationship to be built, from which feelings and solutions can emerge.
As I heard a psychology professor once say, change doesn’t happen because of the counselor or because of the couch but in the space between the two, the space where the words pass back and forth from one person to another.
Maybe, too, change doesn’t happen because of a wonderful God tucked away in heaven or because of competent people laboring away on earth but in the space between the two, the space where heaven meets earth.
The little space in the manger where a heavenly child is born on earth — “and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor.”