Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

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suffering and soverigntyThere is a new online Bible Study Resource that I am having a blast with right now.  If you are a student of God’s Word then this is a resource that you should have on your online tool belt.  To get started go to http://faithlifebible.com and sign up to get your free online account.

One of the coolest features is their devotionals that are scattered throughout the study notes.  I want to share this one with you today.  This is not my writing – this is a devotional by Randy Alcorn.


Suffering and Sovereignty

Is God working all things together for good, even those baffling and horrific things that involve suffering? Romans 8:28 tells us that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (esv). The Old Testament version of Rom 8:28 is Gen 50:20. In that story, Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery when he was only a boy. Decades later he told them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20 esv).

The Case of Joseph

With Joseph, God didn’t just make the best of a bad situation. Rather, He intended all along to use the evil of Joseph’s brothers for ultimate good. He did so as part of His eternal plan—for God’s children have “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11 esv).

Five chapters before saying “God meant it for good,” Joseph said to his brothers, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (see Gen 45:4–8 niv). We see two wills at work here. Joseph’s brothers successfully perpetrated evil, and God successfully brought about good from their evil. God sovereignly worked so that the moral evil they committed, and the evils that came from it, were dramatically eclipsed by His ultimately good purposes.

Romans 8:28 and Eph 1:11 clearly indicate that God works similarly in the circumstances of all His children. Countless millions of choices are contemplated every second around the globe. Our all-knowing and all-powerful God chooses exactly which events He will cause, ordain, or permit. He does not permit evils arbitrarily, but with purpose. Everything He permits matches up with His wisdom and ultimately displays His holiness, justice, love, and grace. As Joni Eareckson Tada puts it, “God permits what He hates to achieve what He loves.”

The Good of the Cross

The cross is God’s answer to the question, “Why don’t you do something about evil?” God did do something—and what He did was so powerful that it ripped in half, from top down, the fabric of the universe itself.

God does not merely empathize with our sufferings. He came into history as Jesus. What Jesus suffered, God suffered. God ordained and allowed Jesus’ temporary suffering so He could prevent our eternal suffering.

Why isn’t Good Friday called Bad Friday? Because we see it in retrospect. Out of the appallingly bad came inexpressible good. That good trumps the bad, because although the bad was temporary, the good is eternal. Had someone delivered Jesus from His suffering, He could not have delivered us from ours.

Suffering and Sovereignty in God’s Stories

The Bible makes promises we don’t want God to keep. Paul wrote, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil 1:29 niv). He said, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12 nlt). Jesus pledged, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33 esv). They may not be our favorite promises, but we should trust them as surely as we trust John 3:16.

Abel, a righteous man who pleased God, was murdered by Cain. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and nearly all the prophets suffered because they were righteous. As followers of Christ, believers routinely suffer, but never outside of God’s purposes of sovereign grace.

God loves a great story. And every character in His story serves a purpose. I empathize with characters in my novels since I am a character in God’s story—as are all His children. At times I’d love an intermission from the drama. Three months without stress would feel nice. But I realize I’m part of something great, far bigger than myself. And I trust God to complete the story beautifully and perfectly.

Given the option while facing His trials, I’m confident Joseph would have marched off the pages of God’s story. After being sold into slavery and later being falsely accused and sent to prison, Joseph had surely endured enough for one life, and at times he must have felt like giving up. Talk to Job in the middle of his story—10 children dead, his body covered with excruciating boils, God apparently abandoning him, and friends haranguing him. Ask if he wants out. I know what he’d say because he said it: “Why did I not perish at birth?” (Job 3:11 niv).

But that’s all over now. In the kingdom to come, while Job and Joseph delight in one of their Lord’s extravagant banquets, ask them, “Be honest. Was it really worth it?” I’m sure Joseph will reply, Job agreeing, “Absolutely. I’d have left in a heartbeat. I’m so glad He didn’t let me!”

Working Together for Good

Before my mother baked a cake, she’d lay the ingredients on the kitchen counter. One day I tasted each ingredient. Flour. Baking soda. Raw eggs. Vanilla extract. I discovered that almost everything that goes into a cake tastes terrible by itself. But a remarkable metamorphosis took place when my mother used her knowledge and skill to mix the ingredients in just the right amounts and bake them at just the right temperature. The cake tasted delicious.

In a similar way, the individual ingredients of trials and tragedies taste bitter to us. No translation ofRomans 8:28 says “each thing by itself is good,” but “all things work together for good,” and not on their own, but under God’s sovereign hand. I needn’t say, “It is good,” if my leg breaks, my house burns down, I am robbed and beaten, or my child dies. But God, in His wisdom, measures and mixes and regulates the heat to produce something wonderful—Christlikeness—for His glory and our good.

List both the best and worst things that have ever happened to you. The longer you’ve lived, the more you’ll see an overlap between the two lists. God has used some of the worst things to accomplish some of the best. By faith, let’s trust Him today that in eternity we’ll see, in retrospect, how Rom 8:28 was absolutely true. Let’s live with that perspective now, knowing that someday we’ll have proof that it was true all along.

 

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