This comes from Frank Lake’s Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling. In this section, entitled, “The Use and Misuse of Religion,” Dr. Lake discusses the age-old propensity of religion and religious language to become either a self-defensive shield between a person and their much-needed comfort; or, on the flipside, for religion to become the “bad thing” upon which all of their collective discomfort–past, present, and future–is projected. This is not the time for apologetics, Lake argues. In a time of such opposition, it is better to listen. This great story illustrates his meaning:

I never find myself threatened by hostility to religion in those who consult me: quite the reverse. The ‘God’ they are refusing to believe in is one I would not like to have to believe in myself…So I desire in some way to declare my conviction about God’s revelation of our true humanity through Christ. My philosophy of counseling, which derives from that belief, approves, nevertheless, the primacy of listening. Hurt people have a greater need to meet a God who hears and groans, who struggles for words, than a God who has much to say to them.

41qvh6mBdvL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_I remember, for example, a neat belligerent woman, who spoke and moved as though she might have left her horse in the drive, warning me at our first meeting that if I dared talk about God she would walk out. I agreed pleasantly that she was free to talk express her disapproval that way, just as I or anyone else was free to talk about it, or not talk about, anything under the sun or beyond it. On the second day of one our conferences she was reliving the oppression of her spirit as a child by a particularly insensitive and seemingly obnoxious father. The character reference she gave him was in no way complimentary. It struck me that her father was showing all the defects she had attributed to God; but I said nothing of this. Suddenly, with a cross between a chuckle and a guffaw, she broke out, “It’s this father of mine I have been complaining about. I have got to be fair. Let’s get God off the hook, shall we?”

On the third and final afternoon we were facing the ‘re-entry’. Having lived in a real, mostly honest, and caring community for three days, the unreal world, often unkind and generally too busy to listen, was at the home end of a few hours’ journey. As I had not noticed her mounting impatience it was quite an unexpected moment for me when she suddenly blurted out in front of the group, “For goodness sake, why don’t we pray? We’re going to need God to face this lot. Get praying, will you!” This spirited woman had meant to put me in a tight corner by her initial injunction to keep God out of my speech. My respect for her freedom had not included intimidation on either side. This dénouement was a delight. The whole group, with her at the centre of it, broke into laughter, enjoying the joke played upon her former self by the good gift of true insight.

This healing moment would never have been possible, in Lake’s opinion, by dogmatic or moral exhortations. As a counselor, even as a Christian, Lake finds the gospel move to religious animosity/skepticism to be a generally passive move. Ministry, in this moment, is about having the faith to shut up and let the truth speak.

At the other end of the spectrum, though just as importantly, the need for religious lingo and doctrinal palliatives often belies a deeper unwillingness to see the truth in their situation and in themselves. This is the exact same problem as the woman who wants nothing to do with God-talk. Sometimes, Lake argues, to hear the truth, one must let God use human–and not religious–language again.

s1215473e321c4efd54b246d9ea99374a9e329b4d9It is important to many of those who consult me that I base my own life and thought on what they believe are Christian realities. It is important to me, in my turn, not to be expected to drag God into every second sentence in order to reassure the weak in faith that God has not been forgotten…It does not seem to me that God requires us to advertise his presence by frequently referring to him. As spiritual teachers have constantly said, God obscures his presence. Living with this silence is as important to maturity as obeying his word. I therefore resist the demand of those who want me to console them with some form of fashionable words held in high esteem in their particular wing of the church. Such words have become shibboleths and doctrinal passports to what is only, after all, a cultic acceptance.

In marital problems one discovers not infrequently the partner who interlaces the conversation with continual allusions to biblical texts  and scriptural phrases to be the one who is refusing to look at the simple realities of his human relationship; while the partner who has become allergic to God-talk is in fact the one who understands the real difficulties that lie between them.