A few years ago, I had a teenage girl in my consulting room with a positive pregnancy test.
“What do you want to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “What would you do, if you were me?”
At this point in a conversation, it’s very tempting (especially when one’s opinions on an issue are strongly held) for the unwary counsellor to wade in and impose their own viewpoint on the counsellee. And yet it’s disastrous – because it is actually impossible to truly put yourself in the other person’s place. You don’t know their background, their circumstances, or the ins and outs of their relationships. And almost certainly (as in this case) your underlying worldview is completely different from theirs.
Ah, the pitfalls of giving advice… even when it’s asked for! We get asked, because people face genuine dilemmas, and maybe they perceive an outsider as having a more objective view of the situation than they do. And yet nobody is 100% objective. Not only is our knowledge incomplete, but we also have personal beliefs and past experiences that influence us more than we realise. If you really want objective advice, you should ask a computer (although even a computer program is probably biased by its programmer).
In any case, no human being makes decisions purely on the basis of objective reasoning – which is why we find the Star Trek characters Spock and Data so fascinating. Eighteen months ago, my daughter decided to give up her job in Berkshire and move to Derby to look for work. Now if I were her, I wouldn’t have done that (with work of any kind being so hard to find these days) – but then I am much less adventurous than she is, and I have never hated a job as much as she hated hers. Only time will tell whether her decision is right or wrong; I honestly don’t know.
But there is one area in which people can be counted on to parade their ‘superior’ wisdom. Mention God, and invariably someone will say: “If God were all-loving and all-powerful, he would put an end to suffering.” Which is another way of saying: “If I were an all-loving and all-powerful Being, I would put an end to suffering.” This seems undeniably logical – but logic, as we have seen, is not normally the only or even the major consideration for us, so why should this (hypothetical) situation be an exception? And we are kidding ourselves if we think we can really imagine what it is like to be an all-loving and all-powerful Being. We do not know what God knows or see what He sees. Do we really know better than He does?
Fortunately, God does not ask us for advice. Admittedly, when Christians pray we often make suggestions as to how He might resolve a situation – but at the same time we know that we cannot dictate to Him. He will, as always, do as He pleases. And that’s probably just as well.