Monday, 1 June 2009

The Sovereignty of God in Suffering

I thought that posting all 17 pages at once was a little bit much, so I'm going to post it in sections for easy reading. 

1. Introduction 

Through this study I hope to learn the truth of God’s sovereignty in suffering, so that I may be a better witness and comfort to those who are hurting. 

The issue here is not whether or not God is sovereign; most Christians would call God a sovereign God, to some extent.  The issue is, how sovereign is God, specifically in our suffering? 

To know the sovereignty of God in suffering, we must first know the sovereignty of God. How far-reaching is it? How omnipotent is it? How sovereign is His sovereignty? 

Then we must know where suffering comes from. How did it enter the picture? Did God create suffering? And what does that mean to us? 

The good news about these questions is that God provided an answer for them. If we go to His Word, we can have a good understanding of the truth in relation to sovereignty, suffering, God and man.

2.  The Sovereignty of God 

a.  How Great? 

Was God in control when Satan rebelled? What about Adam and Eve? Cain? The list goes on. Is God in control when bad things or even things that seem to be contrary to His revealed will, happen? 

The easy way out is to say that God is not in fact completely sovereign. When the tsunamis hit, or when an earthquake kills hundreds, or when a tornado devastates an entire town, the easy thing to say, the seemingly comforting thing to say, is “God didn’t mean for that to happen. He feels just as bad about it as you do. He’s sorry, I’m sure.” 

It’s easier; but is it better? Is it the truth? John Piper said it well: 

“The evil and suffering in this world are greater than any of us can comprehend. But evil and suffering are not ultimate. God is. Satan, the great lover of evil and suffering, is not sovereign. God is.”[1]

 Some would argue that the idea of a completely sovereign God is constricting. Can I be my own person if God controls my life? The first and most obvious answer is no, until we look deeper. From the surface it certainly seems like an absolutely sovereign God is merely a puppet master controlling mindless marionettes. We may seem to be making our own choices, but really we’re just going through the motions, led along by the strings of sovereignty that are attached to our limbs.

 Is this the case? Does the sovereignty of God equal a great puppet show?  On the contrary, it seems that only with the complete sovereignty of God do we human beings have true freedom.

 “God's sovereignty is actually a very freeing doctrine for us. It frees us to obey with joyful trust, security, and peace. As a believer, we should think like this: "Since God is sovereign, no obedience can harm my relationship with God and therefore no obedience, no matter how "foolish" it looks to the world and no matter the consequences, can ultimately harm me." Isn't that how Paul used the doctrine in Romans 8:28-36? He said "all things work together for good to those who love God" in verse 28 and then proceeded to explain the security this gives us through zealous, risk-taking obedience because "nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ." ~Matt Perman[2]

 God claims He is sovereign[3], and He is truthful at all times. Since we can trust that God is honest about Himself, we can declare that God is completely sovereign, and His sovereignty reaches to every aspect of life and creation. This is why William Cowper can say in his hymn, “He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will…”[4]

 b. The Danger of a Less-Than-Sovereign God

 Some Christian circles believe that God is not completely sovereign. For example, those who hold to Process Theology consider a sovereign and unchanging God to be something of an artifact. "We know better now", they say. How unfortunate for them that they’ve defamed the name of God, and insulted His very being![5]

 Daniel 4:35 "...all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?””

 The Bible is clear about the sovereignty of God. “He does according to his will,” and “None can stay his hand.” This doesn’t sound to me like a God who can be thwarted, or one whose plans can be frustrated.

 Psalm 115:3 "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases."

 If God were limited in sovereignty, then the possibility of His will being thwarted is a very real one. There is the possibility of God making mistakes. (In fact, some would argue that this is the case.)

Perhaps one could come to the conclusion that God is not entirely trustworthy, because He’s not entirely sovereign over every circumstance.

 If God were “unsovereign”, we might imagine that He could feel worry or fear over future events. He would be as terrified of the “unknown” as we are. God and Satan would be in a dualistic battle, each one gaining the upper hand at certain moments in history. The Bible contradicts this view. 

Isaiah 14:27 "For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?"

 Lamentations 3:37-38 “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” 

We can trust in the purposes of God. 

c.  The Trustworthiness of a Completely Sovereign God

 God’s sovereignty is indisputable from a Scriptural standpoint. Those who disagree ought to stop and reconsider, casting aside their personal views and prejudices. They’re fooling themselves. 

Isaiah 45:9 "“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?" 

Job 9:12 "Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back? Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’" 

Only a God Who is completely sovereign can be completely trustworthy; praise God that He is both! 

How does this tie in with suffering? 

Psalm 31:14 "But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”"

1 Peter 4:19 "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." 

God is sovereign, so we “suffer according to [His] will”.

God is trustworthy, so we can entrust our souls to Him. He’s not going to lose us, and He is not worried about the future. He holds the future firmly in His hand, and all things are going to come about according to His plan and purpose. Our trust in Him is not misplaced. His Word is sure, and His promises are unfailing.

[1] John Piper, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, p.29

[2] Matt Perman,

[3] Acts 4:24 (Sovereign Lord); 1 Timothy 6:15 (the blessed and only Sovereign); Revelation 6:10 (Sovereign Lord, holy and true) All through Scripture there are references and allusions to God’s sovereignty. As Louis Berkhof stated in his book on Systematic Theology (p.76): “The sovereignty of God is strongly emphasized in Scripture.  He is represented as the Creator, and His will as the cause of all things.  In virtue of His creative work heaven and earth and all that they contain belong to Him.  He is clothed with absolute authority over the hosts of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth.  He upholds all things with His almighty power, and determines the ends which they are destined to serve.  He rules as King in the most absolute sense of the word, and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him.”

[4] William Cowper, “God Moves In A Mysterious Way” (1774)

[5] For more on the failure of Process Theology and Open Theism, see “Bound Only Once” edited by Douglas Wilson.

Go here for part 2

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I've said before, I believe that God knows exactly where we're going to end up. He does give us 'forks in the road' to choose from, but ultimately whatever we choose will lead us exactly where He wants us.

    Sometime our choices will lead us on a path of suffering, but if it brings me closer to God's plan for my life, then it's all good. :) Even if it's hard to see at the time.


By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach. ~Winston Churchill

Smart guy.