Thankful That God Is Sovereign over Suffering
At TCPC we believe that God is sovereign.
I suppose to be a Christian you must at some level believe in God’s sovereignty. If He is the creator, then to some degree He must rule, reign, and control all of existence. But how far does His sovereignty reach?
We believe all the way.
At this very moment every molecule, every atom, every particle, indeed every part of creation is being controlled and sustained by the providence of its Creator. We embrace the absolute sovereignty of God. Now on the good days, nobody has a problem with this. But on the bad days, nothing could be more controversial.
This week our church is facing down the bad days. As I said in my sermon on Sunday, this is now the third consecutive year our congregation is going through the Christmas season while facing the death of a covenant child. Three years in a row we have buried a child.
What are we to do with that?
The easiest answer is to simply say, “God has nothing to do with this.” But our theology simply won’t allow for that. We cannot confess a sovereign God on the days of gladness and deny Him his sovereignty on the days of sadness. But we should not treat God’s sovereignty as an inconvenient truth we must begrudgingly confess during suffering, instead it is the bedrock hope that sustains us in the heat of suffering.
Would you prefer the alternative?
Are you comforted by a God who sees your suffering and wants to help but either doesn’t have the power to do so, or chooses not to do so because your autonomy is more important to Him than your relief? Perhaps that’s more conceivable, but it most certainly is not more comforting.
The God I want to show my people is an omnipotent God, infinitely wise, who does things according to the counsel of His own will, whose ways are not our ways but whose ways are good, who loves us and is skillfully weaving together the stories of our lives, both painful and joyful, into one story that brings glory to Him and good to His people.
This is the vision of God that we see in that famous promise of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
That’s a holistic promise not a temporal promise. Paul is not saying that all things are good; Paul is saying that all things work together for good.
Think of the best novels you have ever read or the best films you have ever seen. I guarantee there are chapters and there are scenes in those stories that in and of themselves are horrific tragedies, but the author is only using those tragedies to create a masterpiece.
When we ascribe to God ultimate control, then the tragedies of our lives cease to be pointless, random, useless, ends in themselves. Instead they become parts of a whole, a chapter in an intricate story, written by an omniscient and omnipotent Author, who is taking all things and working them together to write something that in its entirety is destined for glory.
To say that God is sovereign over all things is not to say that all things are good. Not all things are good. Things happen in your life that are bad, that are evil, that are wrong, that are unjust, and when we endure such things we rightfully lament, sometimes, depending on the tragedy, a lifetime of lament. But attending to our mourning is the confidence that this does not define my story; it is a part of my story. This is bad, but my story is good.
The classic example of this is the suffering of God Himself. Without a doubt, every detail of the crucifixion of the Son of God was foreordained (Acts 4:27-28). This means that the greatest evil and injustice the world has ever known was the outworking of God’s sovereign plan. And it is precisely because of this that God can turn the greatest evil into the greatest good. Is the cross by itself a good thing. No! It is an eternal tragedy. And yet we praise God for the cross. Why? Within the overarching story of God’s providence, it has become an eternal glory.
Now apply that same paradigm to our sufferings. If God is sovereign over the suffering and evil of the cross, what suffering and evil can He not be sovereign over? Likewise if God’s can redeem the suffering and evil of the cross, then what suffering and evil is irredeemable? The answer, of course, is none. There is no tragedy so great that it is beyond the sovereignty of God, and therefore there is no tragedy so great that it is beyond the redemption of God.
In this way alone it is possible to simultaneously weep and worship, to cry out to God for His help and to praise God for His goodness, to mourn the bitterness of this chapter and rejoice over the beauty of the narrative.
I’m willing to live with the complications, complexities, questions, and mysteries of God’s sovereignty so that I can at the same time rest in the unfailing and unshakable promises that come with God’s sovereignty.
If you want to see this doctrine played out in real life, I commend to you the Carter’s blog. As is often the case with our lovely congregation, their words have pastored their pastor.
God is good. All the time.