Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Looking for Safety or Confirmation?

In an abundance of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).

It is a common and wise practice to seek the advice of knowledgeable people about particular courses of action, particularly as the stakes of a particular decision increase.

However, I think there is an all too frequent tendency for some to ask too many people, and people of the wrong type.

There are people that I call "opinion shoppers." They are not seeking for safety in counsel; they are looking for confirmation of what they have already decided. They are simply looking for a "footnote"* for their life—someone that they can point to as agreeing with their predetermined course of action.

I think this happens with two types of people (and perhaps more, but these two come to mind).

The first type is people who are genuinely sensitive to the Lord and his Word, and who lack sufficient clarity about a course of action. They are paralyzed by fear, a paralysis of analysis. They usually have a direction in which they are leaning, and they keep asking in hopes that someone they respect as godly and wise will confirm that course of action for them. Sometimes they are genuinely confused, swaying back and forth between two opinions. Often, they are seeking to avoid responsibility for their decision by amassing a group of people who will agree with each other.

The second type is people who are genuinely sensitive to themselves and their own ideas. They have decided what to do, but their desire for approval and their fear of man leads them to seek the opinions of others in hopes of self-defense and a clearing of their conscience so that they can pursue what they want to do anyway. They are confused only by the fact that there are some who disagree with them. They will discount the views of any who do not tell them what they want to hear.

I remember a conversation one time where a man, going through a particular struggle of life, came to me to inquire about assurance of salvation. I asked him what was going on in his heart that led him to seek assurance (and such seeking was well-justified, I might add). He said that he had decided what he wanted to do, but he wanted to make sure he was right with God before he did it. His course of action was, in my judgment, a sinful one. He needed repentance (and perhaps salvation as well). He was opinion shopping, and using salvation as currency with which to do it.

I typically do not like to waste my time with opinion shoppers. So I often try to discern either by listening closely or outright asking them who else they have talked to about this. That's not because I think my opinion is the only one that matters, but because I want to try to understand where they are coming from and what they really want.

So, in the abundance of counselors there is safety. But remember that no one else will answer for your decisions, and "he told me it was okay" will not sound good at the judgment.


*Footnotes are often used to strengthen a position or conclusion by citing other respected and well-known sources that also hold the same view. It is an acceptable form of "name-dropping."

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