“Why would God let this happen?” It was one of those rare occasions where the man asking me that question was not accusing God, he was genuinely asking. He had lost his daughter a year prior to our conversation and he was broken, searching for answers, and deeply confused. He did not know God, but he wanted to know God. Knowing God better was, I believed, going to help him grieve and find peace. The attributes of God can be a great resource for all of us in our struggles against sin and suffering.
When we talk about the attributes of God we are describing His character. God wants us to know Him, to know who He truly is. He wants us to know Him because He wants to be in intimate relationship with us. As Heath Lambert writes:
One of the most wonderful things about the Bible is that it does not merely describe that God exists or what he does. The Bible tells us what God is like. It tells us about his likes and dislikes, the things he values and loves. It teaches us about the kind of being he is and what motivates his actions. This is so wonderful because God is under no requirement to tell us who he is. That God would give us so much information about himself is an indication of his desire for a relationship with us. He wants us to know more than facts about him. He wants us to know him. (A Theology of Biblical Counseling, 105)
Knowing God means being in relationship with Him, and in that regard knowing God changes your life. To be in relationship with the sovereign Lord of the universe is to have access to His power and His love for us. When I know that God loves me and is at work in my life these realities change the way I wrestle with problems. It is worthwhile, then, to meditate upon the character of this God.
In counseling I have often pointed people to the attributes of God. Meditating upon His sovereignty, or His compassion, or His omnipresence, or His justice can reorient us towards truth and reassure us of hope. The character of God can serve as a solid foundation in the midst of chaos. It can serve north star in the sea of aimlessness. It can serve as a guarantee of hope in the midst of disappointment. So, I encourage others to meditate upon the character of God as they struggle with sin and sorrow.
An example may be useful here. Sarah (not her real name) was feeling overwhelmed and anxious. We had met for several weeks and I listened as she described her world. I was having particular difficulty connecting her anxiety to anything specific and began to wonder if perhaps she needed to have a physiological exam, maybe that would identify some biological causation. Then, it came out: I feel like God is going to let me have it any day now. The language was rather shocking to me. Sarah was a Christian and new the gospel well, but her perception of God was faulty. In fact the more we talked, it became apparent that it was modeled on her perception of her father, who was a very angry man and would fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. So, we spent some time looking at the doctrine of the Impassibility of God. I explained how God is not overcome by His emotions. God is always in control of His emotions, and though He feels deeply He does not “fly-off” or let His children “have it.” The more we delved into this aspect of God’s character the more confident Sarah became of God’s love and care for her, and the more at peace she became. There were other issues we had to work through in her life, but this meditation upon the character of God was a huge starting place for her progress. What happened for Sarah can happen for all of us as we seek to meditate upon the character of God.
In this series I am going to explore nine attributes of God and seek to demonstrate how they can be used and how they can be useful in counseling situations. Some posts in this series will use real-life counseling situations as examples; others will use possible applications for specific types of scenarios. There are, of course, any number of attributes that I could have explored. The list of God’s attributes is extensive and each is worthy of its own reflection. I chose ones that I was interested in writing about and that I have found particularly useful in my own life and in my own counseling. So, we will explore the following nine attributes of God: omniscience, eternality, compassion, peace, justice, patience, wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness. I hope you will join me for this study and see how the character of God can be a tremendous resource in your own life and in your ministry to others.