In counseling those in the aftermath of sexual abuse, I am often asked to explain God’s character and ways. At times the inquiry may be motivated by defiant anger, but more often questions pour from fearful and confused hearts.
Perhaps you have heard these or similar questions:
- Why did God allow this?
- Was He there?
- Did He care that it was happening? Does He care now?
- If He saw it and hates it, why didn’t He stop it, since He has all power?
- Why would He allow such wickedness if He is good?
How can we lovingly come alongside a struggler and speak truth to such difficult issues? Here is a four-fold approach that I have found to be helpful:
Prayfully Discern the Heart Attitude
We are urged in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” In order to wisely answer a struggling person, we need to know if we are dealing with questions from a primarily unruly, fainthearted, or weak heart.
Unruly: Is this person asking questions about God in a rebellious, contentious way? When instruction is given, are they angry, argumentative, or accusing God of wrong? If so, we are to lovingly warn them of their precarious situation, being actively resisted by God due to their pride (James 4:6). It is never okay to be angry at God or accuse God of wrongdoing.
If we are dealing with an unruly heart, a call to repentance is in order. They are separating themselves from their only true hope!
Fainthearted: Is this person asking questions about God from a heart that fears further suffering?
A heart that dreads the possibility that abuse could happen again needs to hear reassurance about a God who genuinely loves them. This person needs courage—encouragement that our ever-present Lord cares for them intimately and eternally, is in control, and is working all things for His glory and our good.
Weak: Is this person asking questions about God from a heart full of doubt? Is their faith weak so that they are weighed down by guilt, feeling responsible for the abuse, or easily falling into sin in response to their horrific experience?
If so, we are to help them—come alongside and hold up, support, provide structure, accountability, and practical biblical skills to help them put off the old man and put on the new man in desires, thoughts, and behaviors.
Once we have carefully done our best to discern the heart attitude, we have initial direction for our counseling approach. Now we patiently encourage the person to engage with God, to “taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Ps. 34:8). Help the person see how God’s Word gives wisdom to deal with these questions.
First, talk about what we do know.
What We Do Know
We do know that God is good, sovereign, wise, holy, and perfect in all of His ways (Ps. 145:17; 1 Pet. 1:16). He is never the author of wrong. Genesis 3 reveals that it wasn’t until man chose the way of Satan, rather than the way of God, that evil and suffering entered the world. Therefore, the ultimate source of suffering is man’s sin. The suffering and sorrow that we face today is not the work of an unkind God; it’s the consequence of sin in the world, in other people, and in us. Sin brought destruction and suffering. We do know that.
So when we are confused or angry about what we have suffered, we must rightly place the blame for it squarely on man’s sin. In fact, suffering (rightly viewed) gives us a glimpse of just how evil sin really is, and why a perfect God hates it. Evil is completely contrary to God’s nature. Yet God uses even something as terrible as sin and suffering for our good and for His glory (Rom. 8:28-29). We do know that.
Yet there are many things we don’t know. So next talk about the fact that it is okay not to know precise answers to ‘why’ questions. God does not require us to understand things that He has not revealed.
It’s Okay Not to Know
Beyond the general understanding of suffering in the world, we cannot know exactly why God sends or allows all that He does. There are “secret things” (things God has not revealed) and they belong to God alone (Deut. 29:29). Many times we want to know those “secret things”; we want to know exactly why God would allow us to be abused. But consider this analogy:
Suppose that we came across a large anthill. If I drew a line across an ant’s path or disrupted the sand, the ant would have no idea what happened; it would just start running around doing ‘ant things’ to fix it. It wouldn’t even know I was there. It cannot fathom my life.
Now suppose I wanted to explain my life to the ant. Suppose I wanted to explain computers and air travel and stars. I can’t possibly explain those things to an ant. Why not? Because it has an ant brain. An ant is incapable of understanding the ways of people in the universe. If I could become an ant, I might be able to explain some things in their method of communicating, but I will always be limited in what I can tell them because of their imperfect capacity for knowledge. And that is okay. The ant knows all it needs to know in order to function as an ant.
In a similar way, we are creatures with human brains, so we cannot possibly understand all the ways of God. His ways are far greater than we can grasp. However, what God has revealed to us is enough to enable us to live life well, to His glory (2 Pet. 1:3ff). So finally, sum it all up by explaining that…
What We Do Know Is Enough
Scripture tells us:
- Our finite minds were not meant to completely understand the mysteries of God’s ways in the universe (Isa. 55:8-9; Rom. 11:33).
- God’s precise intent for what He allows won’t always be apparent (Job).
- Our soul should be anchored in what Scripture plainly reveals about the character and ways of God (Isa. 26:3).
- Humility accepts the fact that we live with unanswered questions (Isa. 45:9).
- God has revealed to us everything we need to know (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Using this approach helps strugglers to deal with questions that often arise in the face of evil done to them by others.
Question for Reflection
What approaches have you used in counseling to address the difficult ‘why’ questions?
 Robert Jones, “When Hardships Hit: 7 Ways God Uses Suffering to Make us Like Jesus,” Association of Biblical Counselors, October 2016, https://biblicalcounseling.com/product/hardships-hit-7-ways-god-uses-suffering-make-us-like-jesus.