Reflections after the Paris Attacks: The Brevity of Life, God’s Sovereignty, and Our Solid Hope

Like all of you, I was greatly saddened to hear of the attacks in Paris last Friday. Nanci’s and my prayers have been with the people of France. Many have wept for their pain and suffering. But we’ve also wept because we know this: it could happen to us. Next time it could be me or my family. There is nothing I can do to guarantee it won’t be. (Because our loving God is in control, this is not fatalism.)

“No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). It is presumptuous to think otherwise. We often live under the illusion that our lives are in our hands. But God’s Word warns us otherwise:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).

Our life on Earth is brief—“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). Understanding this is the key to being wise rather than foolish. In the oldest psalm, Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

It might seem that acknowledging we aren’t in control would raise our level of fear. But that’s not true. Recognizing God’s in control should allow us to relax, resting in His sovereignty. A spirit of fear and timidity is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7).

Because God loves us, we can trust that His sovereign will for us is in our best interests. Where God wants us is the very best place to be, the only safe place. As Corrie ten Boom reminds us, “There are no 'if's' in God's world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety—let us pray that we may always know it!”

In a time of dark suffering and dread, David affirmed,

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?... Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confi­dent.... Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.... I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:1, 3, 10, 13–14)

The hope of God’s people’s shouldn't be the illusion that we won’t suffer. Our hope should be in Jesus Christ, and that one day God will end our suffering (Revelation 21:4). Our hope should be in the fact that nothing in this world or outside it—no tragedies or accidents or terrorist attacks or anything else—shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).

To many of us, “hope” sounds wishful and tentative, but biblical hope means to anticipate with trust. We expect a sure thing, purchased on the Cross, accomplished and promised by an all-knowing God.

Hope points to the light at the end of life’s tunnel. It not only makes the tunnel endurable, it fills the heart with anticipation of a world alive, fresh, beautiful, without pain, suffering, terrorists or war. A world ruled by the only One worthy of ruling (see Revelation 5:12). Though we don’t know exactly when, we do know for sure that either by our deaths or by Christ’s return, our suffering will end. From before the beginning, God drew the line in eternity’s sand to say for his children, “This much and no more, then endless joy.”

In Tolkien’s Return of the King, Aragorn says, “Dawn is ever the hope of men.” King David wrote, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NASB).

The night may seem long for God’s people, but the truth is this: once it comes, the morning will never end.

Neither will the joy.  

Photo credit: Bianca Dagheti via Flickr / Creative Commons

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries