We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic.

There is a tendency to assume that biblical principles like those found in I Corinthians 10:13 mean that all our struggles carry the same weight.

 As I am using these terms, “broken” would refer to things for which we do not bear moral responsibility but create unique challenges for us, and “toxic” would refer to persistent patterns of sin that not only harm others but we punish others if/when they bring them to our attention. From the opening paragraph, the person whose body involuntarily cycles between the extreme highs of energy-grandiosity and lows of depression would be experiencing the “brokenness” of bipolar (not just garden-variety moodiness), and the person who verbally and physically intimidates his-her family and punishes them if it is brought up is exhibiting the “toxicity” of being abusive (not just garden-variety rudeness).

 

Admittedly, this post will be as uncomfortable as its title. But, then again, counseling is about very uncomfortable things. The concern I want to discuss is the tendency to assume that biblical principles like those found in I Corinthians 10:13 mean that all our struggles carry the same weight. The unintended consequence can be that abusive relationships receive the same counsel as garden-variety arguments and instances of low impulse control receive the same guidance as manic episodes.

We’re All the Same

Let me begin with the first sentence of the title: “We are all equally sinful.” Whatever distinctions we make later in this post in no way imply that anyone needs Jesus-on-steroids or a double dose of atonement. There are no varsity and no junior varsity sinners. We are all in the same league (i.e., sinful) and in need of the same Savior (i.e., Jesus) by the same means (i.e., repentance and faith). I fear that, because we want to make sure people understand this paragraph that Christians can neglect to make the kind of assessments discussed below.

There Are Differences

Now let’s move to the second sentence of the title: “We are not all equally broken or toxic.” As I am using these terms, “broken” would refer to things for which we do not bear moral responsibility but create unique challenges for us, and “toxic” would refer to persistent patterns of sin that not only harm others but we punish others if/when they bring them to our attention. From the opening paragraph, the person whose body involuntarily cycles between the extreme highs of energy-grandiosity and lows of depression would be experiencing the “brokenness” of bipolar (not just garden-variety moodiness), and the person who verbally and physically intimidates his-her family and punishes them if it is brought up is exhibiting the “toxicity” of being abusive (not just garden-variety rudeness).

In either case, we as biblical counselors, would need to be equipped to make the necessary assessments (not just acknowledge that such cases exist) and provide the kind of counsel that fits the situation. If we get lost in the “they’re no more of a sinner than I am” logic (which is true), we will be prone to neglect the unique, acute care that each situation – or others like them – would require.

Advanced Brokenness

Things that fit in the arena of “advanced brokenness” are matters of aptitude, physical pain/limitation, or emotional regulation challenges rooted in one’s physical condition or traumatic history. Our goal, as ambassadors of Christ, in these matters is to grieve with the individual facing these challenges (Romans 12:15 as a way of embodying Matthew 5:4), and destigmatize the condition or experience so that the individual will be willing to engage the common grace remedies God has provided to alleviate such suffering.

In the example we’ve been using for brokenness, our friend who experiences the high-highs and low-lows of bipolar would be served well by our empathy as they realize their mood regulation follows an erratic pattern. They need a community where their struggle could be acknowledged without being labeled “crazy.” A desired outcome would be that our friend could receive support in important lifestyle choices that might decrease the onset of manic or depressive episodes (e.g., regulating sleep diligently, managing conflict well, avoiding drugs and alcohol, faithfulness in taking medication, additional accountability during times of elevated mood, etc.) while considering what it would mean to honor Christ even during an manic or depressed state.

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