The origin of the biblical counseling analogy: the bumped cup

Amy Carmichael with children

Amy Carmichael with children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have heard several biblical counselors use the following story to teach about the true source of our sinful anger.

If you are holding a cup and I bump your arm and so the contents spill out on the floor, what caused the spill? You might be inclined to blame me. It wouldn’t have spilled except that you bumped me. But, really, the only reason why it spilled is that you had contents in your cup. If the contents weren’t in the cup, it wouldn’t spill no matter how hard I bumped into you. When we get sinfully angry, it is easy to blame the other as the cause. In reality, the true source of sinful anger is the one who is expressing it. The one who bumps is not the cause, only the situation that uncovers what was already there

This little analogy finds its basis in the book of James (3:9f)

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water

Origins of the cup story?

But, where did this cup story find its origin? In all of the times I heard this little story, I never heard it attributed to someone. As a result, I assumed it originated with someone in the biblical counseling movement.

While I still do not know the FIRST time it was used, I can tell you that it appears in Amy Carmighael’s little book, IF, published first in the 1930s. I have an undated copy of the book (published by CLC). Page 37 says this,

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.*

*For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water however suddenly jolted.

Is this the origin? Anyone know if someone before the 1930s used this example?


Filed under anger, biblical counseling

4 responses to “The origin of the biblical counseling analogy: the bumped cup

  1. I’ve always heard it credited to Amy Carmichael. I haven’t read her book, but I have heard a few people quote her.

    • Cynthia L. Eppley, MA

      Thanks, Phil! I use this example so much in my own counseling–Works really good with a plastic water bottle. We so often want to blame others for everything–this rather sets the record straight.

  2. Stella

    I am so glad that the Holy Spirit led me to follow your site!.
    I am praising Him for the work in our lives. You taught me aomething very important today about owning my anger. I pray the Holy Spirit will continue to convict me and teach me and empower me in this precious journey in following Him so that I can serve Him with all my heart.

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