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Modern Reformation: Thinking Theologically

Finding Comfort in God’s Sovereignty

Published Wednesday, December 8, 2021 By Elisabeth Bloechl

“The world is spinning out of control.” “These are unprecedented times.” “I thought things were going to go back to normal.” Behind these common statements often lies an underlying fear and anxiety. Many of us see the chaos and unpredictability in today’s world and dread the future. We wonder, “will we face persecution, an economic decline, an increase in virus cases, a war? What will the future hold for my children and grandchildren—will they suffer?” Our anxieties only increase when we consider our daily sufferings and trials: job loss, health crises, the death of a loved one, unpaid bills, belligerent children. Despite the festive lights and decorations heralding Christmas, our spirits are burdened, and minds harried. Secretly, we wonder, is the God who came humbly to earth so many years ago still here with us today? Or is He watching helplessly in heaven as our world unravels around us? In short, we wonder: is God sovereign? Or, if He is, why the suffering, chaos, evil?

Though many of us are generally familiar with the idea of God’s sovereignty, we also often misunderstand what it means. Therefore, a doctrine that should give us great comfort, becomes a source of anxiety—even angst. I propose that, instead, if we rightly understand God’s sovereignty, it becomes a source of immense comfort and consolation amid suffering, chaos, and evil. Therefore, before we can derive comfort from this doctrine, we must understand what it is and what its implications.

Jerry Bridges dedicated a large portion of his book Trusting God to the concept of God’s sovereignty. Early in the book, he provides a helpful synopsis of the essence of God’s sovereignty. He writes as follows:

He does whatever please Him and determines whether we can do what we have planned. This is the essence of God’s sovereignty: His absolute independence to do as He pleases and His absolute control over the actions of all His creatures. No creature, person, or empire can either thwart His will or act outside the bounds of His will.

(24; italics mine)

God’s sovereignty means he is over everything, in control of all things, and beholden to none. He is the Creator; everything else, the creation. It means that nothing can thwart His will or change His plans. “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (Is. 14:27).[1] Practically speaking, this means that if God makes a promise, no power in heaven or earth can prevent Him from keeping it. Or if God decrees even the smallest thing (e.g., it will rain tomorrow), it will happen. He is not like the Greek gods who are often cajoled, enticed, or forced by other gods (or men) to act against their will. Rather, God has ordained everything from all eternity. Or as the Westminster Catechism says: “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (WCF 3:1).

Three important truths are expressed in the above statement, from which we can derive great comfort. The first is what we have already explained above: whatever has or will happen does so in accordance with God’s sovereign will. Indeed, if this were not so, we would have cause to fear. For, in the words of R. C. Sproul, “If there is even one maverick molecule[2] in the universe—one molecule running loose outside the scope of God’s sovereign ordination—we cannot have the slightest confidence that any promise God has ever made about the future will come to pass.” This is because even one molecule free from God is one molecule that has the power to thwart God’s will. But there are no such molecules. In this, we find comfort knowing that when God promises to fulfill his purpose to conform His elect to His image (Rom. 8:29, Eph. 2:10), He will.[3] Or when He promises to destroy evil and make all things new (Rev. 20:10, 21:4), He will. In the same way, we can rest easy knowing that God has sovereignly selected our president, governors, parents (Dan. 4:17, Rom. 13:1,4). Likewise, He determined beforehand where we would work, live, and how healthy or sickly we would be (e.g. Ps. 139). All things accord with God’s sovereign will. The other sources of comfort are less obvious. They look at first more like problems then sources of comfort.

When we consider what the Westminster says that God “freely and unchangeably ordain[s] whatsoever comes to pass,” two questions arise. First, if God is totally sovereign, is He the author of sin? Second, are we pawns without agency or responsibility? If we answer yes to either of these questions, serious consequences result. God’s sovereignty would imply that He is a twisted tyrant who creates evil, which he then forces His creatures to do, only to maniacally punish them for it. But God is no tyrant. The Bible clearly teaches that God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and He is good (Ps. 34:8). Therefore, everything He does it good and loving (Ps. 18:20). Furthermore, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13b). Rather, we, in our free agency, are carried away by our own desires (James 1:17). Our own hearts are the source of dark vileness. God cannot be the source of evil because “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This does not mean that we are sovereign over God. Even our dark hearts are under God’s sovereign hand. In fact, it is God’s sovereignty that keeps evil in check (both in us and in the world). He can constrain, eradicate, use it for good (e.g., Gen. 45:5, 20:6). By His sovereign power, God is able to create a clean, living heart from a filthy, dead one (Rom. 5:6-11, Ps. 51:10, Ezk. 36:26).

Here we find two more sources of comfort in the assurance that God does not author, condone, force, or fall prey to evil. First, no matter the source or extent of evil in the world, we know it is under God’s sovereign control. Second, this reality in no way makes us robots without wills. Bridges expresses this comfort well:

The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are not accident: they may be the work of evil, but the evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God. . . . All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.

Trusting God, 28

There are no maverick villains in God’s economy. Nor is the world peopled by mindless robots. Rather, God mysteriously maintains His character and man’s choice. What comfort to know that no politician, ruler, or CEO can work evil outside of God’s control. What comfort to know, too, that God does not villainously tempt or force people to sin.

Before racing to a happy conclusion, we must address a possible objection. If God can eradicate evil and protect His children, why does He allow evil at all? The short answer is, we don’t know. We do know that God is good, and all His purposes are good. That means even evil serves a good purpose in the lives of His children (ultimately to conform us to His image, as discussed above). Consider Ruth, whose widowhood and poverty lead her to salvation and a place in the genealogy leading to Christ. No, we may not know why God allowed evil into the world in the first place, but we can rest assured that our good God has a good reason for it. It is for us to walk “by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

Indeed, we only really find comfort in God’s sovereignty when we learn to trust God.[4] If we fearfully dread that one day He will break His word, or turn evil, or relinquish power, we will not have peace. Or, if we demand to know why God sovereignly acts as He does, we will grow bitter and angry. It is not for us, the pots, to demand an explanation from the potter (Is. 29:16; Job 42:1-6). Rather, if we hope to find comfort in God’s sovereignty, we must trust Him as freely as a child their father. Let us then pray for hearts of humble, childlike trust in our good Father who sovereignly rules over the world and our lives. So that no matter the chaos, suffering, trials, we can be comfortable knowing that our good God who sovereignly orchestrated His birth in Bethlehem is still sovereignly orchestrating all things for our good and His glory.

Elisabeth Bloechl is a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, house cleaner, and aspiring writer. She lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.

[1]See also Job 42:2, Psalm 115:3, Isaiah 43:13, 46:10, Daniel 4:35, Ephesians 1:11. 

[2]Or a virus? This is something Bridges noted several years before COVID-19 entered the scene (Trusting God, 13).

[3]See Bridges, Trusting God, 35-36.  

[4]See Bridges, Trusting God, 37. 

[1]See also Job 42:2, Psalm 115:3, Isaiah 43:13, 46:10, Daniel 4:35, Ephesians 1:11. 

[2]Or a virus? This is something Bridges noted several years before COVID-19 entered the scene (Trusting God, 13).

[3]R. C. Sproul, Does God Control Everything?

[4]See Bridges, Trusting God, 35-36.  

[5]Bridges, Trusting God, 28.

[6]Bridges, Trusting God, 37. 

  • Elisabeth Bloechl

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