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The first lesson in problem-solving begins with God. He is your starting point, but more than just starting with Him, you start with what you know about God. The Lord is your starting point, and good is what you know about Him: God is good. That, my friend, must always be your starting place when working through any problem.
And it must be the lens through which you interpret, process, and work through what is happening to you. Remember that your starting point will determine your ending point.
If you begin problem-solving with the goodness of God in all things, you will end with the goodness of God in all things. If you start with evil, anger, fear, revenge, demands, or unforgiveness, you will end with a plate of bitter herbs and broken relationships.
Biff and Mable came to counseling. They wanted to work through Biff’s illicit affair with his intern. The adultery had been going on for 18 months before Mable found out about it.
She was struggling with unremitting fear, occasional anger, bouts of worry, plus an added temptation of revenge on both Biff and his intern. She was hurt and could not see any possible good that could come out of what he did to her.
Marge got drunk one night at college. That was 14 years ago. Rather than asking someone to drive her home, she buckled up, choosing to drive herself. The next 20 minutes changed her life forever. She veered off the road and over-corrected. When she over-corrected, she went into the other lane and clipped the back of an oncoming car.
The car spun around, hit the ditch, flipped, and abruptly stopped against a utility pole. The driver died three days later due to multiple injuries. God has forgiven Marge. Others have done the same, but the weight of what she did still weighs heavy on her soul.
There are few things in life harder to overcome than what Biff, Mable, and Marge have to work through to find the Lord’s peace. Though their interactions with evil are different, all three of them must begin at the same place: God is good, and He is working good into their lives.
Biff has sinned against God and Mable. He needs to repent to both and accept their forgiveness. He can do this because of the punishment the Father meted out on His Son. Once Biff has done this, he can live in the freedom of that forgiveness.
Mable needs to forgive Biff for what he did—assuming he has genuinely repented—and not punish him for a sin that the Father has punished Christ on Biff’s behalf. She should not “re-punish him” for a previously punished crime.
If Biff has not repented, Mable needs to forgive Biff in an attitudinal way. This action on her part will release her from the considerable weight that his un-repented sin is heaping upon her. Christ prayed this way on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
Christ was not releasing them from their sin, because they were not asking Him to do so, but He experienced release from their sin in His heart. Because of his humility, He was not angry, bitter, vindictive, or controlled by their foolishness, which is why He was able to humbly pray for them, even though they had not repented.
Will Mable find rest in the goodness of God as she applies the gospel to her situation? God forgave her for more than what Biff has done to her. Will she share the goodness that God gave to her with her husband?
Will Biff live in the freedom of the gospel, not just being free from the condemnation of his sin because of his repentance, but be free from the regret as he thinks about the consequences of his sin?
God and others have forgiven Marge for her sin. Will she apply the redemptive power of the gospel in a way that releases her from the ongoing condemnation she experiences because of the consequences of her sin.
These two points need more than a courtesy nod. This moment is a crucial time in their reconciliation process with God and others. Most people struggle with the fact that they do not have to do anything to merit God’s good favor. They believe that relief and release from their sin must cost them something.
Or in Mable’s case, she could easily believe she must punish her husband for what he did rather than helping him get to Christ, the one the Father punished for his sin. It takes biblical maturity to live out the gospel authentically.
If they don’t bring the gospel to bear on these sins, they will seek to pay for what they did through different forms of punishment like regret or guilt. Though they may not articulate it this way, they are saying that grace is cheap or easy.
What they do not understand is that grace is never cheap. Their sin cost Christ His life. Though it is as easy as believing, it was a painful ordeal because the Father executed His Son for the sins they committed. Someone had to pay; someone did pay, and that person was the Savior of the world.
To not accept God’s plan for forgiveness is to make oneself a god, the one who decides how a person receives forgiveness from sin and how a person must pay for sin. This kind of anti-God thinking mocks the cross. It says the Father’s punishment of His Son on the cross was not enough.
What I am describing here is a twisted form of self-righteousness: my sin is more significant than God’s ability to pay and satisfy. Therefore, I must pay, at least in part. I add my good works, even if those works are ongoing guilt and pity or, in Mable’s case, she will punish her husband until she is satisfied that he has done enough.
In either case, they add good works or reasonable effort (righteousness) to Christ’s righteousness, and between the two, there is satisfaction for the sin committed. The Father put the Son on the cross. There is nothing else for anyone to do but accept this truth. It was not free or cheap. Christ paid for all of your sins, past, present, and future. Do you believe this?
The process of problem-solving always begins with this truth: God is good. When evil comes into your world, like with Biff, Mable, and Marge, you must anchor your soul in this one truth: God is good. That is the first step.
Step number two in problem-solving is the removal of the guilt, as illustrated in the section above: Good forgives evil.
Now that you have experienced forgiveness, you have to interact with the consequences of the sin, whether someone did it to you (Mable) or you did it (Biff and Marge).
You cannot interact with the consequences of sin until you remove it through the process of confession and forgiveness. If you don’t remove the sin, you will be trying to process it with an angry, hurt, or bitter heart.
You deal with the consequences of sin from a position of strength and clarity (forgiveness) not from a place of weakness and opacity (unforgiveness). Let’s suppose that forgiveness has been granted and received all around. If so, now you can effectively interact with the consequences of a person’s sin. Note the process of problem-solving:
It is tough to fully see how God can use personal tragedy or sinful events for good. Because we don’t have omniscient minds, we struggle with understanding what God is up to in our problems. His thoughts and our thoughts do not always intersect:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9
This struggle is why it is essential we begin with God is good. Too many people in our world do not have this view. We live in a conspiring, cynical, every-man-for-himself kind of society, and this has affected our thinking. It is hard for us to believe God is always working good, for our good, and His glory. This problem is a faith-belief-trust issue. Will we find God in all things and all ways?
Here are a few considerations when it comes to trusting our good God doing good things, even with our disappointments and personal tragedies:
Mystery – There will always be an element of mystery when trying to understand God. Are you a person who can be “comfortable with mystery,” or are you a person who needs to know the details?
Explanations – If God explained everything to you, to where you understood what He was up to so you could trust in Him, you would not ultimately be trusting in Him. You would be resting in His explanations and answers that He gave you.
Faith – When Christ asked Peter to step off a boat and walk on water, He did not explain how it would all work. He wanted Peter to exercise faith in Him rather than His very cool anti-gravity miracle (Matthew 14:28).
Accusation – When we live under a cloud of regret, we are saying that God made a mistake. “I would not have this regret if things would have turned out differently.” This kind of thinking is a covert charge against God’s character. It is saying, “He was not on the job.”
Arrogance – Not only is it an accusation against God, but it is a clear statement that you know better. If you were in charge, you would have done things differently, which is a competing-God-worldview. Who will be God: you or Him?
I think once a person starts trekking backward through life’s most regrettable moments, they will eventually run into Adam. If Adam had left that fruit alone, Christ would not have had to suffer, and we would not need a cross or a gospel.
While I am sad for Adam’s blunder and do not justify or “play down” his actions and most certainly have felt the impact of his sin, I’m amazed at how God has graciously overcome Adam’s sin and used that regrettable moment for His glory.
At some point in our thoughts about our most regrettable moments, whether we initiated them or someone perpetrated them against us, we have to see them through the lens of God’s sovereignty, providential care, and desire to bring good to our lives.
Many times there is a difference between how God responds to sin and how we respond. God uses sin redemptively. The cross is the most profound example of this. To the Greek, it was foolishness, but to God, it was wisdom and power (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
Sin is a context that God uses to show His goodness, provide grace, and to bring change in our lives. We sin, and we’re the product of the fall of Adam, and there is no way around this reality in our lives. God does not expect or hold us to a level of sinlessness.
This perspective on sin does not mean that God will allow us to use it in purely sinful ways without consequence. But somehow and in some way, God weaves the sin of this world into His redemptive purposes. Again, I remind you of the gospel: God permitted sinful people to crush His Son.
We may be sad for our sinful choices, but God can give us a bigger view of Himself, even when we sin. He comes alongside us and those who have been hurt by our sin and redeems these situations for His glory.
If you know someone overly fixated on past sin, let me encourage you to help minister grace to them. Give them God’s perspective on sin rather than reminders of their fallenness. Discern their focus: are they more focused on the sin or the cross? This assessment will be your clue as to what they want—God’s glory or self-seeking.
It would not minister grace to them to look backward and regret God’s activity, God’s guiding, God’s providence in their lives. Yes, even to reflect on the sinful allowances that He has allowed. If you agree that God uses sin sinlessly, you need to move past the sin—after authentic repentance—and work redemptively rather than regrettably.
To respond otherwise is to accuse our Sovereign God. Sin is part of His plans for us: learn the story of Adam and the gospel. This worldview is not to make much of sin, but to make more of grace. The gospel is the most profound illustration of the tension between God and sin.
Problem Solving Primer 101