I don’t know whether the builder of the Titanic really said, “God himself couldn’t sink this ship,” but I do know that human arrogance daily makes foolish claims that beg to be disproven. Many centuries before Napoleon’s conquest of Britain was thwarted by a providentially timed rainstorm, another arrogant ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, made a humbling discovery. God promised to take Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom from him for a time, and told him, “Your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules” (Daniel 4:26). That’s exactly what happened, and the truly humbled king afterward insisted that God “does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).
One helpful definition of God’s sovereignty affirms that everything is under God’s rule and that nothing in the universe happens unless He either causes or permits it.
Theologian Abraham Kuyper explained, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine’!”
“Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28). Because God has absolute power, no one—including demons and humans who choose to violate His moral will—can thwart His ultimate purpose.
Paul wrote, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). What does “everything” not include?
Even what appears random is not: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from Yahweh” (Proverbs 16:33). If we believe this, our reaction to many of the difficulties we face will change. Problems will seem smaller, for although we can’t control them, we know God can—and that everything will work out for His glory and our good.
Though evil had no part in God’s original creation, it was part of His original plan, because redemption from evil was part of His plan. Therefore, Scripture doesn’t distance God from disasters and secondary evils the way His children often do. Amos 3:6 says, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” A description of natural disasters follows in Amos 4:6–12, where God says He intended these not only as punishment but also as discipline designed to draw His people back to Himself. (These passages have specific contexts in which God is bringing judgment on His people; they do not prove that all disasters are God’s judgment.)
Satan may bring about a “natural” disaster, but the book of Job makes clear that God continues to reign, even while selectively allowing Satan to do evil things.
Evil never takes God by surprise, nor makes Him helpless.
God isn’t the author of evil, but He is the author of a story that includes evil. In His sovereignty, He intended from the beginning to permit evil, then to turn evil on its head and use it for a redemptive good. God didn’t devise His redemptive plan on the fly, simply making the best of events that spiraled out of His control.
Jesus declared that some events “must” happen, in line with Scripture and God’s sovereign will, among them, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).
Because of what the triune God knew and decided in eternity past, Jesus not only might or could go to the cross, but had to. God chose.
Peter, speaking to a Jerusalem crowd, said of Christ, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). God planned His redemptive work and did what was necessary to make it happen.
Every day since 1985 I’ve had to deal with the implications of my insulin-dependent diabetes. As a result, I recognize my absolute dependence on God. This has drawn me closer to Him, and I’m deeply grateful.
Some Christians try to distance God from disabilities, arguing that if we attribute them to the sovereign hand of God, we’re making Him out to be a monster. This argument doesn’t change what Exodus 4:11 actually says with startling clarity, that God directly claims to give people their disabilities: “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?’”
I may fail to understand it, but if the Bible is my authority, don’t I have to believe it? I’ve spoken with many disabled people who didn’t find comfort until they came to believe God made them as they are.
My brilliant friend David O’Brien lived with a severe form of cerebral palsy since birth, and yet he demonstrated joy that transcended his body’s bondage.
At a conference for the disabled, David commented, “If Christ had to suffer to be made complete, how can we expect not to have some form of suffering?” Then he said something unforgettable: “God tailors a package of suffering best suited for each of his own.”
David spoke the following, in words difficult to understand, yet prophetically clear: “Dare I question God’s wisdom in making me the way I am?”
Skeptics may say of disabled believers, “They’re denying reality and finding false comfort. If there’s a God who loves them, he wouldn’t treat them like this.”
David’s audience found better reasons to believe and worship the sovereign God who purchased their resurrection with His blood—and who offers them comfort and perspective—than to believe the skeptics who’ve purchased nothing for them and offer only hopelessness.
Benjamin B. Warfield taught at Princeton Seminary for thirty-four years until his death in 1921. Students still read his books today yet few know his story. On their honeymoon, lightning struck his wife, Annie, permanently paralyzing her. Warfield cared for her until she died. Because of her extreme needs, Warfield seldom left his home for more than two hours at a time during thirty-nine years of marriage.
Warfield viewed his personal trials through the lens of Romans 8:28–29 and wrote this:
The fundamental thought is the universal government of God. …If He governs all, then nothing but good can befall those to whom He would do good.… And He will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from all that befalls us.
Really, Dr. Warfield? Only good from all that befalls us? Warfield spoke from the playing field of suffering, answering an emphatic yes to the loving sovereignty of God.
Our state of mind determines whether the doctrine of God’s sovereignty comforts or threatens us.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty.…On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings.”
Imagining that God should let us run life our way sets us up to resent God and even “lose our faith” when our lives don’t go as we want. However, that’s a faith we should lose—to be replaced with faith in the God of sovereign grace who doesn’t keep us from all difficulties but promises to be with us in all difficulties.
Nancy Guthrie writes of a speaker asking people to fold a paper in half. She then instructed them to write on the top half the worst things that had happened to them, and on the bottom half the best things.
Invariably, you’ll find things at the top of the page that are also at the bottom. Experiences labeled as the worst things that had ever happened, will, over time, give birth to some of the best things.
It’s the same with my own list. If enough time has passed since some of those “worst things” have happened, then almost certainly we’ll find an overlap.
Our lists provide persuasive proof that while evil and suffering are not good, God can use them to accomplish immeasurable good. Knowing this should give us great confidence that even when we don’t see any redemptive meaning in our present suffering, God can see it…and one day so will we.Adapted from Randy's book hand in Hand: The Beauty of God's Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice.
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