“Having now reached mid-life,” says Thaddeus Heffner, “it is safe for me to say that I have experienced a few things, and maybe know a little more than I did when I was nineteen years old. Not much more, but a little.”
Through these past four decades, Thaddeus Heffner has occasionally come across people of faith who have an aversion to therapy for any number of reasons. A common excuse is that, “Christians don’t need to go, or shouldn’t go to therapy. It’s not biblical.” Although he is usually not sure where this belief stems from, he says that usually the root is so deep that no amount of pulling will ever make it see the light of day. And so, Thaddeus Heffner chooses to honor that person for their belief. He says, “I may disagree, but I can certainly honor and respect them.”
In a recent conversation with Information Nation, Thaddeus Heffner commented, “Why do I disagree with their thinking that counseling is wrong? One might suggest that I disagree because I am a counselor and therefore to agree with them would be to shoot myself in the foot and not have a thriving practice. While this would be a rational conclusion to draw for my opposition, it is not the foundation of my devotion.
“I believe God is the model for all things good. And I believe He is/was the Great First Therapist!”
The story in Genesis 3, according to Thaddeus Heffner, is an age old one of the man and woman in paradise, Eden, and a serpent that succeeds at tempting them to disobey God and eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, only to finally be cast out of the garden. Adam and Eve talk about being “ashamed.” Certainly, one might even conclude that God shamed them because He sent them out of Eden, and curses were spoken. “But let’s take a closer look at this Great First Therapist,” invites Thaddeus Heffner.
The first words out of God’s mouth come in the form of questions (not accusations).
- Why are you hiding?
- Who told you that you were naked?
- Did you eat of the tree I told you not to eat from?
- What is it you have done?
According to Thaddeus Heffner, Adam and Eve felt shame. They finally realized they had made a wrong choice – in a healthy state this would be called guilt but they took it to an unhealthy state of shame. God never shamed them, but they chose to feel shame. Also going on here is that they realize that they are naked. To be naked is a picture of complete authenticity and vulnerability.
As a therapist, Thaddeus Heffner is always seeing clients play a tug-o-war game with authenticity and vulnerability on one side often being outmuscled by shame on the other end of the rope. And so he eventually must ask people “why are you hiding?”, “who told you that you were this way?” and “what did you do?”. Slowly, methodically, and many times messily, people begin to lay down their burdens in his office and hopefully shame is shown the door – sometimes without consequence. Sometimes there are still consequences they will need to face outside of the office. Outside of “Eden” (his office).
And that brings up the final point of this First Great Therapist, points out Thaddeus Heffner. Before the temptation ever occurred, God put into place “boundaries” – If you choose to disobey, then a consequence will occur. So sending them out of Eden was not a punishment, says Thaddeus Heffner. In fact it was more than “NOT” a punishment. It was Grace. (See the end of Genesis 3 to verses 33-34.)”
There was also another tree in the Garden, recalls Thaddeus Heffner, the Tree of Life. This tree they were free to eat of. The inference, according to Heffner, is made that this Tree of Life acted as some kind of seal, and whatever state you were in at the time of you ate of it, this would seal your present state forever. So, eating of the Tree of Life before disobeying and still in a state of perfection – good; eating of the Tree of Life after disobeying and stepping out of a state of perfection – bad.
And God said, “…he might stretch out his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat and live forever” – therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden…and at the east of the garden of Eden he stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way of the Tree of Life.”
Later on in the story, in a book called Revelation, the Tree of Life is mentioned again, notes Thaddeus Heffner. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. And so the man and woman were sent out of the garden, the tree was protected from them so that someday they might come back around to it again at the end of their journey – and be healed. This is Grace.
By chapter 3 of Genesis (the Beginning) there are unhealthy choices being made, boundaries being overstepped, authenticity being hidden, and for the first time shame takes the throne in the hearts of human beings. However, affirms Thaddeus Heffner, on “Stage Right” we see God entering in the cool of the day, and asking good, honest questions, hoping for authenticity. God holds space for this couple’s therapy. And God reminds them that with hard choices sometimes come hard consequences. But if we are willing to do the hard, painful, messy, emotional, work concludes Thaddeus Heffner, at the end of the journey we can find Life. And that is why God is the First Great Therapist.
Thaddeus Heffner is a licensed marital and family therapist practicing in Brentwood/Franklin, Tennessee. To contact Thaddeus Heffner, visit thaddeusheffner.com.