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The Goodness of God in Counseling

Psalm 34, verse 8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

For part of my life as a little girl we lived near Washington, D.C. Now neither my parents nor myself were Christians. One time my grandmother came to visit, and one of the sightseeing things we did was go to the National Cathedral. As a child, the building was just fabulously beautiful, and additionally, they had a bookstore. I don’t know if they still have that or not, but I remember going in there and looking at the children’s books. My grandmother bought me a book on children’s prayers that I still have. It’s kind of tattered now. It was a tall and skinny hardcover book with beautiful pictures and little, simple, children’s prayers. One of the prayers was:

God is great.
God is good.
Let us thank Him for our food.

Children can repeat that simple prayer before they eat a meal, but sometimes when they grow up, they change their mind about how good God really is. This topic is greatly misunderstood. People use it to malign God and even blaspheme Him. As counselors, we have to be fully persuaded of the goodness of God. Counselees are often in the throes of self-pity and a victim mentality or just plain angry at God because a tragedy has happened or things are not going their way. Sometimes it’s of their own doing; sometimes they are an innocent party. Two things stand out when people are not persuaded of the goodness of God:

  1. They are going to be emotionally unstable.
  2. They are not grateful to Him.

The people I see who are in this condition have emotional pain that is just horrible. It’s over-the-top. They are really, really struggling.

Let me start by sharing how I study something like our topic, the goodness of God. I get out my big, fat, old concordance and look up every verse in the Bible that says “good” or “goodness.” Then I take notes on what I learn, and I come up with biblical principles on the topic, in this case the goodness of God. It’s no secret; it wasn’t hard to do. It does take time, but you can bask in the wonder of God when you are doing something like that.

The goodness of God is a critical doctrine and a critical teaching in the Bible. In this message, I want to:

Overview of the Goodness of God

The goodness of God is a broad term that is seen in the following:

Biblical Principles about the Goodness of God

Let’s go through some biblical principles on the goodness of God. Know that as a counselor, you want to share as many Scriptures as you can with your counselee. It’s the Word of God that’s alive and powerful, that judges the thoughts and intents of the heart, and that will convict them concerning sin and righteousness. Just teaching them basic Bible doctrine like this is important. They need to know God. They’re not going to trust Him. They’re not going to think that He is good.

1. God made a new creation.

In Psalm 145:9 it says, “The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.”

2. God gives good gifts.

It’s interesting to read the book of Job and to see Job’s attitude. You know all of the things that happened to him. Then, in Job 2:10 he said to his wife, “‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

3. God uses evil and turns it to good.

In Hebrews 12:10 God talks about disciplining those whom He loves—that’s us. It says, “For they [earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” This is so astounding. How precious is that? He can use even our evil and turn it to good. Then of course we know Romans 8:28-29 in addition to Genesis 50:20 where Joseph told his brothers, “What you did, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

4. God’s promises are good.

In Jeremiah 33:9, God speaks and says, “It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.”

5. God is good.

We sing about God’s goodness. This is expressed by His creatures to God in worship. Psalm 106:1 says, “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

6. God’s name is good.

When I think of God’s name, I think of His character and who and what He is like. The psalmist said in Psalm 54:6: “…I will give thanks to Your name, O Lord, for it is good.”

7. God’s nearness is the psalmist’s good.

In Psalm 73:28, the psalmist said: “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.”

8. God’s law is good.

Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:8 that we know that the law is good.

9. God’s Word is good.

Hebrews 6:5 talks about the good Word of the Lord.

10. God’s goodness passed before Moses.

In Exodus 33:19, Moses asked to see God. Moses couldn’t see God face on and live, but God said to him, “…I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you…”

11. God’s goodness is great.

Nehemiah 9:25 says that the people reveled in God’s great goodness.

12. God’s forgiveness and steadfast love is equated with His goodness.

Psalm 118:1 reads: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

13. God’s salvation is good news.

In Luke 2:10, it says, “But the angel said to them [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people…'”

14. God’s sovereign hand is good.

Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Some of my counselees have never even heard the word “sovereignty” depending on what kind of church they are in or if their church is a weak church that is not teaching much doctrine. In those cases, you have to explain what sovereignty is. A lot of times if somebody is really struggling emotionally, one of the things that I do is take them through Arthur Pink’s book The Attributes of God. [1] Because if they don’t trust God, if they don’t love God, if they don’t know Him and really know Him as He is in the Bible, then they need to know that. The book has little chapters, but I tell them to look up every verse that he either quotes or cites, to read each of those verses and mark them in their bible, and to stop and think about what Arthur Pink just said. My experience has been that about halfway through that book, it’s like the light comes on for them and then they experience either salvation or just the relief and the comfort of God.

15. God’s goodness is shown in our good works.

Ephesians 2:10 reads: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

King David’s View of the Goodness of God

Now, when I went through the verses with “good” or “goodness” in the Bible and made a list of principles, I was very struck by King David’s view of the goodness of God. It overwhelmed me. David, who had a whole heart for God, longed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. He looked forward to being with God in heaven and he saw God’s goodness in this life on earth.

This goodness of God is a recurring theme in David’s psalms. Let me share some of them with you:

David, before he was king of Israel, was a shepherd boy. God just gave David a heart for God. He is the one who wrote “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”

Often, I will take a counselee to John 10:1-18 where Jesus explains about the shepherds and the sheep. If you do this, give your counselee some background. Explain that in Israel they had sheep and shepherds. The shepherds would take their flocks and move them around so that they could graze. But at night, they would come together to the nearest sheep pen—that would have a big wall around it and one door—so that the sheep could enter and rest that night. The shepherds could rest there because at night the pen protected the sheep from the great danger of bears, lions, foxes, or somebody just stealing the sheep. The people who were hearing Jesus talk about this were living what He was describing and seeing it play out in their life and in their land, so it would have been very vivid for them.

In John 10:1-4, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens…When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

There would have been a lot of sheep in that pen and different shepherds would have brought their sheep there. The next morning when a shepherd would show up and call to his sheep, only his sheep would follow him out the door. Jesus said as quoted above in verse 4: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him.” Then He explains starting in verse 7: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He continues to say plainly in verses 11 and 14-15: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Then, of course, this is a perfect segue into sharing the gospel with your counselee.

I read a big, thick book by Randy Alcorn titled If God is Good [2]. I want to share a quote from that book that I really liked and that I remember reading over and over again and thinking about. This can be a good way to help your counselee have a perspective of whatever trial they are in and whatever is happening in their life. He said:

“From eternity past, God planned a measured punishment for the first human sin, and that was suffering. Had God meted out the full and immediate punishment, the first humans would have died on the spot. In that case, there would have been no redemptive history, no human history at all. The fall of Adam and Eve, the first human tragedy, became the mother of all subsequent ones. We should do nothing to minimize it or pretend it mattered less than it did, yet the fall did not end God’s plan for humanity. God would ultimately use evil to accomplish the greater end of redemption in Christ. In Ephesians 1 it says God works all things after the counsel of His will. God could hate evil and yet permit it in order to carry out an astounding, far-reaching redemptive plan in Christ, one that would forever overshadow the evil and sufferings of this present world.”

“A measured punishment.” He could have killed everybody and just destroyed the earth that He had made. He did pronounce judgment on them. He cursed the earth and the earth now is still groaning in anticipation of His return. But it is not without hope and God can mix His blessings in this. In 1 Peter it says that God has chosen for Himself a people for His own possession. Why did He do that? So that they may proclaim His excellencies so that we can have a high view of God and not a man-centered view of God.

How Our Hearts Can Be Renewed to View God’s Goodness Rightly

I often assign my counselees a self-talk log. But if they’re hurting emotionally—maybe depressed, maybe frustrated, maybe sad, maybe in a trial, something like that—I’ll say, “This week when you feel that way—when you feel hurt or frustrated or afraid—I want you to write down for me what you’re thinking.” You’re going to help them to see what’s in their hearts. When they come back, then you want to take each of those thoughts and show them a biblical thought in the Bible. You want to coach them. This is a process of putting off, putting on, and renewing your mind (Romans 12:1-2).

Be sure and tell your counselees that the self-talk log is not a journal about how they feel. They could write volumes about how they feel and they’re just going to feel worse when they get through writing it all down. Instead, tell your counselee to jot down simple short sentences to answer the question “What do you think?” and to be discerning. Tell them, “When you feel that way, write down what you’re thinking. Then we’ll go over it when you come back.” If they consistently say, “I don’t know what I’m thinking,” but they’re really struggling emotionally, they’re not telling you the truth. People know what they’re thinking. If they halfway think about it, they’re going to know what they’re thinking. It means that they just don’t want to tell you. You want to be kind and patient, but you want to be clear that people can change and God can change them in clear, concrete ways. But if it’s vague and fuzzy and they’re not going to tell you what the struggle is and what’s going on, then most likely they’re not going to get better. Be nice, but be firm.

Now let’s contrast the heart of sinful man, wise in his own eyes, with the heart of David, which longs to see the goodness of God.

Heart of Sinful Man:Heart of David:Additional Comment:
If there were a God, He would not permit me to suffer like this.There is a God and He is good to comfort me in my suffering. I can—and Peter did say this—cast all my anxieties on Him because He cares for me. 
If God were good, then He would alleviate the suffering we are undergoing.I know that God, in His goodness and kindness, is using this trial to somehow make me more like Christ. It is for my good and His glory.Then I would show them Romans 8:28-29. This is how I would read those verses to a counselee (verses appear in italics for clarity): ‘We know that God causes all things…’ Now all things are the bad things that happen to you as well as the good things that happen to you. ‘God causes all things to work together for good’—but there’s a hitch—‘to those who love God.’ This promise is for those who love God. You have to be born again to be in that category and you have to be obeying His word as best you know. ‘…To those who are called according to His purpose.’ Now His purpose is His own glory. It’s a privilege to get to honor God, glorify God, and praise Him. ‘For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.’ The good that God does is to make us more and more like Christ so that you will be able to look back on this and know that God has helped you not only to get through this trial or whatever you’re experiencing, but that you are more godly than you were before it. Tell your counselees that trials are for our good and His glory, but don’t just say that and move on. You have to show them in the Scriptures and explain this to them.
There is no God. If there were, He would not permit bad things to happen to good people.There is a God and He is good. The wonder of wonders is that He did not immediately kill Adam and Eve when they sinned. Instead, He let us play a part in the temporary suffering in this sin-cursed earth so that we can long to see the goodness of God. 
It makes me so angry that God is permitting this suffering in my life!Lord, forgive me for being angry. Thank You for reminding me how much I need you. 
Why would God do this to me?This is good for me or God would not permit it. It reminds me what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.” 
I must come to the place where I forgive God for what He has done to me.God forbid that I would ever think such a thing! Thank You for this trial. Thank You that it is temporary and that being with You is for all of eternity. Thank You that You are giving me grace to bear up under this.In these cases, I would teach them and have them memorize 1 Corinthians 10:13. It is blasphemous when somebody says that he or she has to forgive God. There are Christians and even some famous preachers who I’ve heard say that. It just makes me sick. There is nothing for which we need to forgive God. It’s just the wonder that He just doesn’t kill us all.
My God is good. He would never send anyone to hell.God is good, but He is also holy. He has to punish sin. This is God’s creation. It is He that made us and not we ourselves. It is His prerogative to have “…mercy on whom [He] has mercy and …compassion on whom [He] has compassion.” He is the potter and we are the clay. What is so amazing is that He saves anyone including me! (Romans 6:23 & Romans 9:14-15) 
At least I’m being honest about how I feel.What I am doing is honestly sinning. There is no merit in thinking my feelings justify resenting what God is doing in my life. Lord, forgive me and use me for Your glory however You see fit. Give me the heart of Job when it was said of Job, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”This one I’ve heard a million times and I heard it the other day from a new counselee. That is the last verse of Job 1 where we learn about all the terrible things that happened to him. I remember that when I read the Bible and the book of Job for the first time as a brand new baby believer, I was just astounded at Job 1. But when I got to that last verse I stopped. I thought about it and thought about it again. I thought, “If my mother died or my child died or something happened, I don’t know that it could be said of me: ‘In all of this she did not charge God with wrong.'” I remember stopping to pray and asking God to never ever permit me to be angry with Him or to blame Him no matter what happened to me. We need to think about these things. We need to tell our counselees about these things.
Why would God take my loved one from me?God is good to have let me have my loved one for as long as He did. God is good to us because we don’t have to live in a sin-cursed world forever. 

Concluding Story

I want to tell you a true story that happened to our family. Around last Thanksgiving, our daughter realized that she had a lump in her breast. She went to the doctor. They did all the tests and a biopsy. It came back very, very bad. It was a very aggressive cancer. We were just reeling with this. The doctors came up with a plan of action: 20 weeks of chemo, then surgery, then radiation. According to this plan, the whole process would take almost a year. All of this happened just totally out of the blue. It was like a pop test that you weren’t expecting, but it was more than a test, it was more like a final exam.

I remember the first conversation I had with Anna when she told me how bad it was and what the pathology said. I got teary on the phone. I said, “I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this.” She said, “Mom, you are not going to cry. I’m not crying and you’re not going to cry.” I said, “I’ll cry if I want to.” I did cry, but not around her.

Several weeks passed between when I heard that she had a lump and when she started chemo in the middle of December. The emotion that gripped me was fear that she would die. I also hated the fact that she was having to go through all of that. I kept thinking, “I wish it were me.” I dwelled on that and then I realized, “Well, I’ve got to get off that. It’s not me. It’s her. There’s no benefit in me wishing that something else were happening.” Then I started praying.

In previous trials in my life—much lesser than this trial—God had taught me to cling to Him and to run to Him. Because of that, every time that I would feel overwhelmed with fear for my daughter, this was my prayer: “Lord, my request is that she can have a cure, but whatever will glorify You the most in her life and in our lives.” We can’t know what will glorify God the most in our lives. Only God can know that. Then I would always say, “Thank you for this trial.” Now, I did not feel happy about it, but I was remembering God and I was thanking Him. I thanked Him for the trial because in 1 Peter it says that He is testing our faith to see if it’s genuine. I thanked Him for reminding me how much I needed Him.

I don’t know how many times I prayed that or a similar prayer, but it was every time that I would feel afraid (and it got bad). I would pray it in the middle of the night because I didn’t sleep very well those first few weeks. I was praying and just talking to God, pouring my heart out to God, praying for Anna’s children, praying for their salvation, and that God would use this in their lives to save them. I just thought about a bunch of things like that. One night in the middle of the night as I was praying and talking to God, I was just caught by the wonder of thinking about how I was talking to God, how He was listening to me, and how He would be glorified in the situation. It is His will. First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to be thankful for all things for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us. Some of your counselees have never heard anything like this or it has never occurred to them to thank God for a test or trial.

That fear went on for a few weeks. The tears continued. The Lord helped me to function. Every time I was counseling helped me personally because I was in the Word and thinking about and trying to help somebody else. I kept teaching the classes that I was doing, but it was hard. Then the fear went away and was replaced with grief. It was a deep, dark grief. It was so strong, I felt like I could feel it. But my prayers kept continuing because I was convinced like David that even if Anna died—she knows and loves the Lord—she would see the goodness of God and that someday we would see the goodness of God for ourselves. That went on for a few weeks.

Everybody’s experience is different, but it was like one day I turned on a light switch such that the grief was gone and the supernatural peace of God was with me. He was guarding my heart. I think He just said, “Enough is enough. I’m going to help prop you up here before you really crash.” He sustained me throughout the whole rest of the process.

The rest of the story is that because of the harsh chemo they did, there was not one living cancer cell left when they did the mastectomy. As far as we know, all of the cancer is gone. It’s not a given, but it was the best possible outcome that we could have.

You have to be that persuaded of God’s goodness. Who are we to judge God? He is so high above us. We can know some things about Him, but we can’t comprehend the end from the beginning like He can. He has a plan and He knows what is the very best trial for each person in order for each person to become more and more like Christ.

A long time ago Zondra Scott made an illustration that I use a lot with my counselees. She took a piece of paper and she colored the top left side of the paper all in black to represent every bad thing that could ever possibly happen to you—including death, sickness, and suffering—keeping in mind that we live in a sin-cursed world and deserve to go to hell because of our sin. Then she drew a stick-figure person lower on the paper followed by the arm of God and God’s hand holding the black back from us. Then she said that the few little things that God lets trickle through His fingers down to us—compared to what we deserve—are mixed with drops of blessings. This illustration helps give perspective when you’re going through trials.

Another illustration that I use is from Lou Priolo. He draws a big heart and says that grief or sorrow doesn’t have to be sinful. Jesus had sorrow. He wept when Lazarus died. He wept over Jerusalem. But when we start to think wrongly in our sorrow, get angry with God, or just lose our perspective, the sorrow will fill up our heart just like Jesus said to the disciples when they learned that He was going to be killed. They panicked and He told them that sorrow had filled their hearts. Such sorrow crowds out all of the love of God, the peace of God, and any joy that a person has in the Lord. It’s not that we don’t grieve with our counselees, but we want to help them have the big picture of what God is doing. This sorrow can move back down to a manageable level.

I had great grief, but the Lord helped me and enabled me to keep functioning. Anna has seven children. I remember one time praying, “Lord, please don’t leave me with these seven children.” That was just a purely selfish prayer. Some of them are grown. I would have been okay if the Lord had let the grown ones have the little ones.

As a counselor, you must be fully persuaded of God’s goodness. If you’re not, then you need to study this. You need to read Arthur Pink’s book on the attributes of God. You need to ask God to make you fully persuaded. Then you want to teach your counselee that God’s goodness is like a cloak over all that He has done and will do. You want to help them to acknowledge that goodness and praise Him for it.

Lou used to tell me, “Tell your counselees that the Psalms are God’s tranquilizers.” They really are. Counselees can learn about God and His goodness from the psalms and especially David’s psalms. I repeat: Help them to acknowledge that goodness and to praise God for it. We are to exhort our counselees to humble themselves before God and to express gratitude even in trials and in difficult days. Exhort them to have the heart of David who longed to see the goodness of God. Remind them to never cease to be amazed at our Lord Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself in our place on the cross.

One of my favorite ways to give the gospel to my counselees is to walk them through the whole chapter of Isaiah 53. You need to read that, but you need to know what’s happening there. Explain to them that this prophecy about the Messiah, the suffering servant, was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but this prophecy was written 700 years before He came to the earth. That passage talks about the propitiation of God when the Father poured His wrath out on the Son to punish us for our sins. To teach this passage you will have to learn some big words and will have to explain to your counselee what they mean, but that is one of my very favorite ways to give the gospel.

We counselors and our counselees are to be like the little child, who simply prays: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.” But unlike that book that I have at home that my grandmother bought me when I was a child, we have to add our good shepherd’s name to the prayer: “In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.”