SUFFERING AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
At the conclusion of my Sunday morning message titled “Where is the GOD of Justice in This Unjust World?” from Malachi 2:16-3:6 , I shared a very “heavy” and tragic story of the sudden passing of Tim and Aileen Challies' 20-year-old son, Nick. I used this illustration as a model of how we as Christians must attain to a level of faith this couple has manifested in order to avoid the temptation of questioning GOD when severe adversity strikes.
As a follow-up, I wanted to share Tim Challies blog that he posted today as he “wrestles” with the issue his 20 year-old son Nick’s death and the doctrines of GOD’s sovereignty and GOD’s goodness. I believe Tim's comments are a meaningful and helpful follow-up to the blog/story I shared with our church family on Sunday morning. You can read Tim’s blogs at challies.com.
“The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.” So said the inimitable Charles Spurgeon. Or did he? He might have said, “When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.” Or maybe he said both, or maybe he said something halfway between. Either way, it’s clear that in Spurgeon’s dark hours he found comfort in a particular attribute of God: his sovereignty.
Sovereignty speaks to power and the right to reign. Gregg Allison says it’s “the divine attribute of being all-powerful as the King and Lord who exercises supreme rule over all creation.” He goes on to explain that this supreme rule includes, among other things, God’s decrees regarding “creation, providence, redemption, and consummation; the infallible, meticulous outworking of that plan in each and every aspect of it; and the sure salvation of genuine Christians.” God’s sovereignty is a sweeping doctrine that touches every aspect of life across every moment of creation and every corner of the universe. There is no moment, no spot, no deed, no death that falls outside of it.
God’s sovereignty has, indeed, offered comfort in these dark days. It has assured us that there was no earthly power, no demonic power, no power above or below, that had its way with our boy, that interrupted and superseded God’s plan for him. There was no moment in which God turned his back, or got distracted with other affairs, or nodded off to sleep. There was no medical deformity or genetic abnormality (or whatever else could cause a young man to collapse and die) that had been overlooked by God. God’s sovereignty has assured us that it was ultimately no one’s will but God’s that Nick lived just 20 short years. Young Nick, like old Enoch, walked with God and was not, for God took him.
But while God’s sovereignty offers comfort, it offers comfort only if we know something of his character. After all, God might be sovereign and capricious. He might be sovereign and selfish. He might be sovereign and arbitrary. He might be sovereign and evil. So for this reason we’ve had to take a harder look at God. We’ve had to ask, “What else is true of God?”
If there was no moment in which God stopped being sovereign there is no moment in which he stopped being good
If we are laying our heads on any pillow in these days, it is the pillow of God’s character, and especially God’s goodness. We keep saying it: “God is good.” We may be saying it with sorrow and bewilderment and something less than full faith. We might be saying it as a question: “God is good, right?” But we are saying it. We don’t necessarily understand how God is good in this, or why taking our son is consistent with his goodness, but we know it must be. If Nick’s death was not a lapse in God’s sovereignty, it was also not a lapse in his goodness.If there was no moment in which God stopped being sovereign there is no moment in which he stopped being good—good toward us, good toward Nick, good according to his perfect wisdom. God can’t not be good.
Wayne Grudem says that “the goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.” Those things that are good are those things that God deems good, that God deems fitting, that God deems appropriate. For something to be good is for it to meet the approval of God and for something to meet the approval of God is for it to be good. If that’s the case, then who are we to declare evil what God has declared good? Who are we to condemn what God has approved? It falls to us to align our own understanding of goodness with God’s, to rely on God’s understanding of good to inform our own. Ultimately it’s to agree that if God did it, it must be good, and if it is good it must be worthy of approval. To say “Thy will be done” is to say “Thy goodness be shown.”
Many years ago Aileen and I staked our lives, our souls, our eternities on the claims of the Christian faith. We declared that this God was not only the God, but our God. We acknowledged his sovereignty and his goodness, his right to rule in the ways he deems good, in the ways he deems best. We have never doubted that God’s sovereignty and goodness were displayed in giving us our boy. We are fighting right now to never doubt that God’s sovereignty and goodness were displayed in taking away our boy. He was a gift we received with such joy, such gratitude, such praise. He was a gift we are releasing with such pain, such sadness, such sorrow. But, as much as we can, we are releasing him with confidence that somehow his death is an expression of the good sovereignty of a good God. This is the God who does all that he pleases, and for whom all that he pleases is good. As we blessed him in the giving, we will bless him in the taking.