A few years ago when I began my theological studies, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty became real to me in a way it never had before. Oh, I had always know that God was sovereign, if by that you mean he’s more powerful than anyone or anything, but then I began to realize that IF God is more powerful than anyone or anything, then He is always in control. And if He is always in control, then He is there when I’m wounded, hurting, and even when I’m failing Him. He is there when I’m tempted to do evil . . . and he allows the temptation. He is present when the storm comes and when the storm ceases. He is always there, and he has my life firmly in his hands. He knew when I would be born; he knows when (and how) I will die. “All my days,” writes the psalmist, “are recorded in his book.” The psalmist was still living when he wrote that, so even my future days are preplanned and recorded.
This idea messes a lot of people up because they don’t understand or can’t accept how God can let bad things happen to good people. I’ll admit, it’s hard for a young mother who’s just lost her child to realize that God was there all along–so I tackled this subject in THE PEARL. And at the end, I had her remember bits of Scripture she’d heard in church the week before. I didn’t use book and reference, of course, because she was remembering the words, but I actually had a reader write to tell me that what I’d written was WRONG, because that was impossible. God did not kill people.
I can’t find the response I wrote to her, but I covered the same topic in this old blog post:
In my daily Bible reading this week, I came across this passage:
“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would really obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people need more than bread for their life; real life comes by feeding on every word of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. So you should realize that just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you to help you.
“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with springs that gush forth in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley, of grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, olives, and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut 8:2-10).
One of my doctoral classes was “The Problem of Evil and Suffering” and in it I studied several complicated theodicies–defenses of the goodness of God in a world where evil exists. By the time I had finished, I had come up with a theodicy of my own, but as I read the above passage, I realized that these verses pretty much sum up my theodicy, but as a metaphor.
What is the purpose of life? Why do we suffer on occasion? It’s all in the above passage. “He did it to teach you that people need more than bread . . . and the Lord your God disciplines you to help you.”
You could almost come to the end of a man’ life, substitute the number of his years for the number “forty” above, and read that passage as a metaphor about life in general. We walk through the wilderness with the Lord, we learn, we grow, and yet he takes care of us. And then he leads us to heaven, a “land flowing with milk and honey.”
I like that a lot.
If God is in complete control of our lives, if He’s writing our script, then how can we have free will? Easy. I have free will to do all the things I can humanly do. But I don’t have the free will to do everything. I can’t exercise free will to do everything I want to do, or I’d be skinny, able to fly, and able to multitask without breaking a sweat. I exercise my free will on my plane of existence while God exercises His sovereign will on HIS plane of existence. He sees–and creates–the Big Picture that I can only catch glimpses of now and then.
So he is with me when I’m hurt, no matter who hurts me. He not only allows that hurt, I believe He writes the script of my hurtful situationt. Not to be cruel or vindictive, but because He is the author and finisher of my faith and my life. He is molding me to be more like Him, and less like my flailing self.
Remember the story of Joseph? A bit cocky in his youth, he brags to his brothers about his dreams, and they toss him into a pit, then sell him to slave traders. Joseph journeys in chains down to Egypt, where he is sold as a slave, works as a slave, and is falsely accused as a slave. He spends YEARS in a prison, probably doing menial chores, and then God lifts him up and allows him to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Pharaoh is so taken with the young man that he has Joseph arrayed in fine robes and gives him a golden necklace as a sign of the king’s favor. Joseph becomes the king’s number one man.
And seven or eight years later, when the world is gripped by a terrible famine, Joseph’s scheming brothers arrive in Egypt to buy grain that was stockpiled by their younger brother, now wearing the face paint, wig, and wardrobe of an Egyptian ruler. Joseph tests their loyalty, and when they have proven that they would not harm their remaining younger brother, he reveals himself to them by saying, “I am Joseph, What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”
Notice the active verb–intended. Not allowed, or settled for, or even turned into. God fully intended for Joseph to endure the pit, the prison, and pinnacle of power. God used those years to turn the cocky young man into a wiser man, one who would not only save the civilized world from famine, but save his long-lost family in the process.
So as you think about your hurts, particularly if that hurt has come from someone in the church, know this–God was not taking a nap during your situation. He was there, he had planned it, and he has his purposes, even though you cannot see them now. Our duty is to trust him through the pain as well as through the praise.
I will continue this series, but the weekend’s coming up and I don’t know how much time I’ll have to put blog posts together. But I’ll be back, Lord willing. Talk to you soon. 🙂