"Did God know this was going to happen!?" The question comes often in counseling in the midst of some very difficult trials, griefs and pains. And yet, the Scripture affirms God's total sovereignty and providential hand in all things. The Baptist Confession (LBCF 1689) 3.1 words it very well:
God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise
and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things,
whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author
of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered
to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of
second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his
wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in
accomplishing his decree.
Romans 9:15, 18;
1 John 1:5;
Acts 4:27, 28;
It is tempting to offer a less than accurate view of God when we seek to comfort hurting people. However, rightly shared (with gentleness, truth, love and listening ears), the understanding that God decrees "all things, whatsoever comes to pass" is not only true and theologically accurate, it offers hope. I continue to marvel at how those early Reformed Baptists were able to so succinctly, and with theological accuracy, write out confessional statements that are so rich, and yet helpful. God's decree, as mentioned above, comes with God's perfect counsel, His wisdom, His power and it also comes without making God the author of sin, or morally culpable for evil. I have shared this truth with many hurting people who have experienced hurts, particularly hurts that involve evil at the hands of other persons. God is absolutely sovereign, and He ordains all the comes to pass, but He does not delight in evil, nor is He a perpetrator of harm bent in evil. God's decree comes with God's perfect wisdom. Again, I don't read a Confession to someone in counseling sessions. And sometimes (and some readers may disagree with me here), it takes months before this theological truth may be discussed. But there is hope in the truth of God's Word. The Word matters when we speak about God, His World, His People, His grace and His plan--and Confessions help.
We must be careful that we don't miss out on truly listening and hearing a person...of weeping with those who weep. But slowly, as we process things with them (as Pastors, Counselors, or fellow believers in community) we can speak of God in accurate ways that point to His sovereignty, and blend that with His perfect wisdom, justice and goodness toward His people. I don't recommend quoting "All things work together for good" to someone right after the suffering of a tragedy. No no. However, I do recommend, in the months that follow, a gentle and careful approach to presenting God for Who He truly is. Believers worship a God Who is in control when bad things...tragic things happen, not a God Who is unaware, or worse, willfully absent. The Doctrine of God's Decree is not at odds with counseling ministry...let us wield doctrine well (sometimes a scalpel vs. a sword), but the best thing for each of us is learning about the God that reveals Himself in His Word...and this, in Christ is not against us...