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Counseling with Psalm 19

God has revealed Himself through creation and Scripture. How do these twin truths inform our counseling?

Nov 6, 2020

Psalm 19 is all about divine revelation, which is to say that it is all about how God has communicated Himself to us. In terms of divine revelation there are two types: general/natural revelation and special revelation. General revelation is a “term used to declare that God reveals something about the divine nature through the created order.”1Grenz, Guretzki, and Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, page 54. Special revelation is “God’s manifestation of himself to particular persons at definite times and places, enabling those persons to enter into a redemptive relationship with him.”2Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, page 201.

The beauty of Psalm 19 is that it speaks to the benefit of general revelation (vv. 1-6), while showing the superiority of special revelation as encountered in the Word of God (vv. 7-11). As we think through Psalm 19 there are three applications I want to consider in regards to biblical counseling: (1) God desires to communicate Himself to us through both the created world and the Word; (2) What we learn about God from His Word takes priority over what we learn about God from the world He created; (3) God intends for the revealing of Himself in His Word to produce holiness in us.

1. God desires to communicate Himself to us through the world He created (vv. 1-6).

As we read the opening lines of Psalm 19 we begin to sense that perhaps David is gazing into the skies and breathing in the vastness of God. He sees the stars, moon, sun and he assesses that the “heavens declare the glory of God” (v. 1). David recognizes that although these created things do not have a literal voice (v. 3), there is a sense in which their voice is heard throughout all the Earth (v. 4). Along with Paul, David takes notice that creation is designed to communicate God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20).

What David teaches us as counselors about general revelation is that we need to recognize the spiritual benefit of God revealing Himself to us and our counselees through creation. This is not a call to take expensive trips to remote locations but it is a call to step outside and become a student of God’s creation and consider the lilies (Matthew 6:28).

On my desktop computer there is an incredible picture of the towering granite walls of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. I would love to visit Yosemite but logistically this is difficult. However, God’s very good creation is all around me. Even as I walk down the cracking sidewalks of my Midwest neighborhood and hear the hum of cicadas (loud bugs), the power and beauty of God are being revealed to me. It’s not quite Yosemite, but it will suffice because I was designed as a human to learn about God in these moments. Psalm 19:1-6 teaches us that God’s creation is useful for teaching us and our counselees about God and therefore should be engaged.

As biblical counselors we are right to uphold the Word of God (special revelation) as essential to spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical wellness. Without the Word of God there is no hope because there is no other way of being in relationship with God. As a result, our first instinct in assigning homework is often to get counselees into God’s Word. This is right and good. That being said, we should not be uncomfortable with assigning the kinds of homework which pushes the objective of revealing the spiritual benefits of engaging the created world. This could look like encouraging a counselee to take a daily walk and account for how God is good in creation. This type of assignment is certainly helpful in someone gaining a greater sense of God’s power and majesty. Perhaps, in glimpsing God’s glory in creation, our counselees will be more eager to hear and obey God’s revealed will.

2. What we learn about God from His Word takes priority over what we learn about God from the world He created (vv. 7-11). 

As Psalm 19 unfolds David continues to speak of divine revelation but we notice a shift in subject starting in verse 7. As good and necessary as general revelation is, the focus of David’s attention becomes the Word of God (which is special revelation). David is not attempting to diminish the value of general revelation but is instead highlighting the superior value of God’s Word when both are considered. This value is articulated as David makes six bold statements concerning the benefits of God’s Word. There are a few broad observations about what David says which help us not to miss the big point:

First, Allen Ross explains that David “uses all the major terms for the stipulations of the covenant [law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, rules] to call attention to the mercy and love of God.”3Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, page 469. What Ross is getting at here is the key difference between general revelation and special revelation. This difference is that the content of God’s Word is about the covenant faithful God and the salvation He provides. This is not the case with general revelation. Herman Bavinck correctly points out that general revelation is “insufficient for human beings as sinners; it knows nothing of grace and forgiveness.”4Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, page 313. We can look at the world around us and learn a lot about God but it can never bring us to the point of knowing God.

Second, Ross goes on to say that “Because of these clear references to the covenant, the covenant name of Yahweh is used seven times.”5Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, page 469. In the first section of Psalm 19 (vv. 1-6), David uses the name El for God (v. 1). Whereas El is a more general name for God in the Hebrew, Yahweh is the more personal name for God (Exodus 34:6). It is no surprise that David chooses this more personal name for God when discussing the Word of God, again because it is the Word of God which makes it possible for us to be in relationship with God.

Third, David’s statements about the spiritual benefits of God’s Word are exclusively true of God’s Word. There is nothing else in this world which can revive our souls, make us wise, cause true rejoicing in our hearts, or enlighten our eyes. The Psalmist views the Word of God as something uniquely precious and rightly so. The benefits of Scripture are unparalleled.

The application that the Psalmist’s high regard of God’s Word has in the counseling room is straightforward. If we want to be people who feel and experience God as He is then we must be people who are engaging with the Word of God and people who are doers of the Word. Likewise, we cannot consider ourselves to be doing the work of biblical counseling until we busy ourselves with helping people engage God’s Word and the life giving hope of God’s Word. In the counseling room we want to be men and women who speak the Bible, demonstrate a life changed by the Bible, and call those who are hurting to be helped by the Bible. Again, this is not David calling us to abandon the value of general revelation but is rather an emphasis on the absolute necessity of God’s Word.

3. God intends for the revealing of Himself in His Word to produce holiness in us (vv. 10-14). 

The psalmist concludes by teaching that God’s Word is to be more desired “than gold” and is “sweeter also than honey” (v. 10). This bold claim flows from the truth that God’s Word guides the believer into holiness for the glory of God, which is God’s goal in revealing Himself. God reveals Himself uniquely and exclusively in the Word because He desires for struggling sinners to be “blameless” (v. 13) and “acceptable” (v. 14) in His sight. There is nothing more satisfying than being transformed into the people that God has designed us to be.

The question which Psalm 19 leads us to reasonably ask ourselves as counselors is: what do I hope to see accomplished in the life of my counselee? If the answer is something other than holiness, we have veered from the straight-forward teaching of Psalm 19 and we should reassess our goals in counseling. What makes biblical counseling ‘biblical’ is not only that we use the Bible as our source for instruction but that the God of the Bible sets the agenda for counseling.


This blog was originally posted at Gospel Mercies, view the original post here.