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The possibility of patterned behavior is basic to the idea of understanding human beings. From personality tests (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, DISC, etc.), to clinical depression (disturbance in mood/energy, sleep/eating, interest/pleasure, etc.), or abuse care curriculum (grooming behaviors, trauma responses, etc.), such assessments are only possible when there are discernible patterns of thoughts, feelings and behavior. Discerning such patterns is a core skill for counselors.
It is also a critical skill for biblical interpretation, sometimes referred to as typology, which comes from the Greek word for “form” or “pattern”. For example, Hebrews 8:5, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” Just like Moses was given a pattern which provided the discernible form of the tabernacle, knowing typological patterns helps us see the form of the biblical storyline and its multifaceted elements as it develops through redemptive history.
Whether we’re talking about biblical types or personality types, patterns are baked into the structure of reality. The crucial difference between the two, however, is that discerning patterns in human personality is not merely a left-brain book skill (which is a good skill!). Rather, the skill of discerning human patterns is especially learned through right-brain relational experience. Counselors are required to accrue thousands of hours of counseling experience for school and licensure, and continue increasing that number over time. Once you see 10 or 20 or 30 completely unique people for 12+ sessions who all share a remarkably similar problem, you learn to spot that particular problem quicker.
Of course, books can also help, and perhaps I was too quick to dismiss the skill of discerning biblical types. While it may not be typology in the traditional sense, Proverbs is all about patterns of thoughts, feelings and behavior, most notably in the types of the fool and the wise. In addition to interpersonal experience, discerning patterns of folly and wisdom requires self-reflective intrapersonal experience. Proverbs 12:16 might help me know when I am talking with a foolish person - “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.” But I could just as easily employ that diagnostic category while remaining a fool myself. Discerning patterns is not just a matter of the cognitive head or relational heart, but also the submissive will: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
Quote from Herman Bavinck
There are personal and individual sins, but there are also common, social sins, the sins of particular families, nations, and the like. Every class and status in society, every vocation and business, every office and profession brings with it its own peculiar dangers and its own peculiar sins. The sins of urbanites differ from those of village people, those of farmers from the sins of merchants, those of the learned from those of the untutored, those of the rich from those of the poor, and those of the children from those of adults. But this precisely goes to show that all those sins in each sphere are interdependent with each other. Statistics confirm this when they indicate that particular misdeeds occur in particular age groups, seasons, generations, classes, and circles, and occur with a rhythmical regularity. As it happens we take notice of only a very small portion of the sins of our limited group, and of that only superficially. But if we could penetrate through to the essence of appearances, and trace out the root of sins in the hearts of people, we should very probably come to the conclusion that in sin, too, there is oneness, idea, plan, pattern—in a word, that in sin too there is system.
The Book of Pastoral Rule by Gregory the Great. A classic text on the care of souls, Gregory advises that “one and the same exhortation does not suit all, inasmuch as neither are all bound together by similarity of character.”
Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Barrett W. McRay and Mark A. Yarhouse.
How do you balance the legitimate need to discern the character and behavior of others with the equally legitimate need to discern your own character and behavior? Is it possible to neglect one and still be skilled with the other?
Praying for and laboring with you,