When facing loss and calamity, many take comfort in the thought of God’s sovereignty. “God is in control,” and they find solace in the midst of pain with the thought that God has some greater purpose. I can certainly understand this pain, and this way of thinking about loss. I’ve experienced it myself. The dilemma of this way of viewing reality is that through it God becomes the author of death and suffering. It can be difficult to maintain confidence in God’s goodness while remaining convinced that God has brought so much death and suffering into your life. It is difficult to have any confident expectation of healing while remaining convinced that sickness is God’s will.
I want to ask you to follow me through another way of looking at things that might be nearer to the truth and more helpful.
Colossians 1:15 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.(ESV)
In this passage, Paul is speaking about Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. We cannot see God, but in Christ God has fully revealed himself.
Colossians 1:19 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,(ESV)
Paul goes on to say that Christ is not only the image of the invisible God, but is in actuality the fullest revelation of who God is and what God is like. In Christ we discover the fullness of God.
John 14:8-9 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?(ESV)
Jesus here essentially makes this same point about himself. Do you want to know who the Father is and what he’s like? Just look at Jesus.
Now here’s the thing about allowing Jesus to inform us about God’s nature and character, allowing Jesus to authoritatively determine for us the fullness of our understanding about who God is: In Christ we discover that God’s goodness is better than we might otherwise have thought. We can’t ever find one sick person that came to Jesus for healing that didn’t receive it. We can’t find one funeral Jesus attended and didn’t ruin.
John 10:10 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.(ESV)
In this passage Jesus makes an important contrast between himself and Satan. Contextually, Jesus is talking about the difference between the good shepherd (Jesus) and the robber (Satan). The question essentially is, how can we know the difference? This verse above is essentially Jesus’ answer. How can I tell when Satan is at work? When the result is theft, death, and destruction. How can I tell when Jesus is at work? When the result is abundant life.
Now in my life, when I have faced painful loss that touches the core of my being, dare I take what Jesus is saying seriously? Dare I interpret my experience through the filter of the truth Jesus is presenting? Many refuse to, and I can understand why. The implication is that if Satan, rather than God, is the author of my loss and pain, then some things happen in this world that are not God’s will. God doesn’t exercise control over everything. The thief comes. This way of viewing things can be very uncomfortable if our security lies in the idea of God’s sovereign control over all the details of life. But what if that’s not the best way to find security in God?
Let’s think for a minute about a world in which no creature was able to violate God’s will. It would certainly be a much cleaner, neater, and nicer world, wouldn’t it? We would definitely have much better behaved creatures. But if God had created a world in which it was impossible to violate his will, we would have a world of well behaved robots, and definitely a world without love. The thing about love is that choice is essential to its nature. Freedom is an essential component of what love is. Love that is not chosen is not love. You can have loving behavior without choice, but you can’t have love without choice. To be love, it must be chosen. To be chosen, there must both be the capacity to choose and alternatives to choose between. There must be two trees in the garden. There must be a choice. To be able to choose love I must have the capacity to genuinely choose “not love”. Angelic beings have the capacity to make this choice. Humans have the capacity to make this choice. Satan, a powerful angelic being, has chosen “not love”. He has chosen pride and selfishness. He has rebelled against God. He had a great capacity to love. This means he had a great capacity to “not love”. He has chosen to not love. His choice to not love finds expression in his selfish pride that works to undermine and oppose God’s purposes and the love and life God wants to give.
Humans also had a choice. Adam had a choice. Adam chose to rebel against God, to unplug from life and plug into Knowledge of Good and Evil instead. Much of the loss and suffering in this world is simply due to the choices of other people who have chosen to not love. Much of the loss and suffering in this world is simply due to the choices of angelic beings to not love.
Could God take control? Could God put a stop to all this? Of course he could. He’s God. But at what cost? If God did that he would remove love from Creation. So, God’s answer to the pain and suffering caused by sin is not to turn us into robots. God’s answer is the cross. He answers our suffering by himself making a choice. He chooses love. He chooses to enter into the hurt, pain, suffering, loss, and death rampant in our world. He chooses to take it upon himself and there extinguish it. I believe God’s choice to sacrificially love through the obedience of Christ on the cross is a much firmer basis for comfort and healing in the midst of loss and pain than is the view that God sovereignly controls all things. He could of course, but he doesn’t. Love would not be possible otherwise.