As we begin this year 2015, we don’t know what it holds for each and every one of us.
There is no doubt that there will be challenges and difficulties on the way which could either draws us closer to God or takes us away from Him. Whatever we encounter on the way, let us be reminded of the fact that God is in control. In the next couple of weeks, we will explore the topic on the “Sovereignty” of God. Is God really in control? This is the phrase we often use as an easy slogan when something goes wrong. We say it when someone dies, when we lose our job, when our health fails etc… But what do we mean by this?
The concept of the control of God over everything is called the “sovereignty” of God. Nothing gives us strength and confidence like an understanding of the sovereignty of God in our lives. God’s sovereignty is defined as His complete and total independent control over every creature, event, and circumstance at every moment in history. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent, God does what He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. God is in complete control of every molecule in the universe at every moment, and everything that happens is either caused or allowed by Him for His own perfect purposes.
Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book, “When Bad things happen to good People, was described as touching, heart-warming, wise and compassionate, a book all humanity needs. In the book, which is an attempt to make sense out of a tragedy in his own family, Rabbi Kushner concludes that the author of the book of Job “forced to choose between a good God who is not totally powerful, or a powerful God who is not totally good… chooses to believe in God’s goodness. In Rabbi Kushner’s view of the teaching of Job, “God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes even He can’t bring that about. It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims.
Rabbi Kushner, of course, is not alone in his denial of the sovereign control of God over the events of our lives. Christians as well as non-Christians frequently speak of misfortune and accidents, of circumstances beyond our control, of things just happening by chance. Down through the centuries, sickness, suffering, and sorrow have always raised questions about God’s control and care of His creation.
The implicit assumption in the minds of many is: If God is both powerful and good, why is there so much suffering, so much pain, and so much heartache in the world? God is either good or not all powerful, or He is powerful and not all good. You can’t have it both ways.
The Bible teaches us we do have it both ways. God is sovereign (all-powerful) and He is good. The Bible’s teaching on this subject is categorised under a subject theologians call the providence of God. God’s providence is a term we often use in Christian parlance to acknowledge God’s seeming intervention in our affairs.
There are two things wrong, however, with that way in which we refer to the providence of God. For one, we almost always use the expression “the providence of God” in connection with apparently “good” events. Like Rabbi Kushner, we are reluctant to attribute “bad” things to the intervening hand of God.
The second problem with our popular use of the expression “the providence of God” is that we either unconsciously or deliberately imply that God intervenes at specific points in our lives but is largely only an interested spectator most of the time. When we think this way, even unconsciously, we reduce God’s control over our lives to a stop and go, in and out proposition. Our unconscious attitude is that the rest of the time we are the “master of our fates” or conversely the victims of unhappy circumstances or uncaring people that cross our paths.
Historically, however, the Church has always understood the providence of God to refer to His care of and governance over all of His creation at all times. J.I. Packer defines providence as, “The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, He upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory.” Note the absolute terms Packer uses: unceasing activity,” all events…all acts,” “directs everything.” Clearly there is no concept of stop and go, part time governance on God’s part in this definition.
But, note also, the twofold objective of God’s providence: His own glory and the good of His people. These two objectives are never antithetical; they are always in harmony with each other. God never pursues His glory at the expense of the good of His people, nor does He ever seek our good at the expense of His glory. He has designed His eternal purpose so that His glory and our good are inextricably bound together. What comfort and encouragement this should be to us. If we are going to learn to trust God in adversity, we must believe that just as certainly as God will allow nothing to subvert His glory, so He will allow nothing to spoil the good He is working out in us and for us.
Finally, the only way to trust in God’s sovereign control and rest in it is to know God. Know His attributes, know what He has done in the past, and this builds confidence in Him. Daniel 11:32b says, “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” Imagine that kind of power in the hands of an evil, unjust god. Or a god that really doesn’t care about us. But we can rejoice in our God’s sovereignty, because it is overshadowed by His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, His faithfulness, and His holiness.
But we can’t trust someone we don’t know, and there is only one way to know God —through His Word. There is no magic formula to make us spiritual giants overnight, no mystical prayer to pray three times a day to mature us, build our faith, and make us towers of strength and confidence. There is only the Bible, the single source of power that will change our lives from the inside out. But it takes effort, diligent, everyday effort, to know the God who controls everything. If we drink deeply of His Word and let it fill our minds and hearts, the sovereignty of God will become clear to us, and we will rejoice in it because we will know intimately and trust completely the God who controls all things for His perfect purpose
Rev. Eric D. Maefonea (SWIM)