December 10, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
...and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor...
Long before the Quakers came to be associated with oats, they were known for their supreme respect of silence and the spiritual insight it could yield. Parker Palmer, in his book To Know as We are Known, describes one Quaker tradition that, while not calling for complete silence, enjoins a patient listening for the Spirit. It’s called a “Clearness Committee,” and it was created to provide guidance for those making significant decisions.
If you were contemplating marriage, or facing a vocational decision, or had some significant problem in need of resolution, you would call for a committee of 5 or 6 to gather around you and hear a summary of your issue. Then, rather than offering advice, the committee would only ask you questions. “What benefits or losses do you see from the various choices you might make?” “Why has this matter brought you to an impasse?” “What are your motivations for making either choice?”
The committee members took great care not to insinuate their own opinions. It was their belief that by simply asking questions, the respondent’s answers would unearth the needed insight. Like a seasoned paleontologist instructing an apprentice in how to brush away the detritus from an ancient artifact, the committee’s role was just to help clear away the peripheral thoughts and emotions that had obscured the truth. By hearing themselves, those seeking guidance would come to hear what they ought to do.
Quaker theology puts great trust in what it calls the Inner Light—the intrinsic capacity, given by God, to discern the truth. The Reformed tradition, while certainly believing in God’s ability to reveal His will, is far more circumspect about relying on one’s own personal discernment. Notwithstanding our being made in God’s image, we all suffer from the same propensity for self-deception. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
So are we adrift in a sea of unreliable impressions, unable to glean trustworthy insight into our given circumstance? Far from it. The Lord has convened and commissioned His own Clearness Committee—a committee led by the one who would be called Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6). Christ is that Counselor, because He sees more than we can see. He sees more clearly into our hearts than we can. He gives instruction, not ostentatiously, but for our good. He makes the way plain, leads us in that way, and encourages us to follow. He does not coerce or manipulate but rather allows us to see the most excellent way and then find joy in having walked in it.
His counsel is by committee in that, as Mark reminded us last Sunday, His Word, His Spirit, and His Church each supply, clarify, and confirm the wisdom we need for the issues we face. Listening for the Lord’s guidance demands that we let His Word “dwell in us richly” (Col. 3:16), that we “draw near to God” (James 4:8), and that we submit ourselves to the elders (1 Peter 5:5) and the wisdom they have.
What lingering questions, concerns, or issues need clarity for you? Have you run them through His committee? Whether they are relational, financial, or vocational questions, at bottom they are all spiritual. They deal with our deepest desires and therefore are grounded in our most fundamental beliefs about what is true, good, and enduring.
We’re not Presbyterians because we like committees, but because we believe the Proverb, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (11:14). Christ is our wonderful counselor because He has lived in the triune community of wisdom for all eternity; because He has supplied us with the committee of Word, Spirit, and Church; and perhaps most of all because He impoverished Himself and submitted unto death to bring us His wisdom. He is no armchair counselor. He lived what He spoke and rose again from the dead to validate it. His Wisdom must ask us the deep questions of our heart, and we must submit to its counsel.
For what matter is it time to convene His Committee?