Tragedy and Suffering Part 3- God is Sovereign
GOD IS SOVEREIGN – “IS GOD IN CONTROL?”
This question is asked in many different forms. In Revelation 6:10-11 God is asked why He has not judged the wicked.
Revelation 6:10-11 “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
Most of us don’t understand how God can be in control when awful things happen with seemingly no consequence to the wicked (See Psalm 73). Even in the passage from Revelation above, the question is asked to God, and the response is simply to wait and know judgment will come.
God is never confused or surprised by what happens to us. He is grieved when sin occurs and when He sees individuals hurting, but He is not taken by surprise. God knows the beginning, middle, and the end of our life stories. Scripture teaches that everything that happens in this world will be used for the ultimate good of God’s people (Romans 8:28). This is not to say that all things are good, but that God knows and holds the outcome in His merciful hands. The good news for every believer is that the end of the story is written, and it ends well for God’s people. God is in control of the story. 1 Peter 4:19 “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
Even when tragedy and suffering occur in your life, God means them for good while Satan means them for evil. Perhaps there is no way for this truth to not come into question, at some level, for an individual who is experiencing suffering. In the midst of tragedy, we hurt and do not understand why the tragedy occurred or how God could use it for good. More times than not, we do not see how this can be true, yet we are to move toward believing that God is faithful to His promises and that in Heaven we will be able to see the full picture.
In the midst of our questioning, the Lord tells us He has a plan and a purpose. We are asked to trust Him in this though we do not understand. In the end, evil will be judged and our pain will be removed; until then we are asked to trust God in the midst of our pain, believing He will give us the grace necessary to go forward. 2 Corinthians 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
The process of moving through our hurts and questions takes time. May we thank the Lord for His patience with us and pray for wisdom to know when to just allow ourselves/others to experience difficult emotions and when to push towards moving through hurt. Believing God is in control does not mean that we understand what God is doing, nor does it mean that we always “feel” it to be true that God is in control. Instead, belief in God’s sovereignty is simply holding onto what we can read from Scripture to be true. Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The truth is that God is good, God is in control, and God cares about you. Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.”
Holding onto these truths is extremely difficult when circumstances and emotions push them into question. We need the grace of God and the community of believers around us to hold onto these truths for us when the pain of tragedy is too intense for us to hold onto them ourselves.
PARADISE AWAITS THE BELIEVER – “WILL THE PAIN EVER STOP?”
Hebrews 12:1-3 “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”
These verses from Hebrews can be encouraging to the suffering soul. When tragedy hits, we feel excruciating pain and often wrestle with difficult questions. The resulting weight can feel like too much to bear. We are encouraged in Hebrews to “run with patience” the path that is before us. Healing after tragedy means restarting daily tasks and reengaging in life.
It also means shifting our focus from our circumstances to our hope, Jesus. We are not to avoid or discount the pain but to purposefully shift our focus from what has happened toward where we are headed. Jesus gave us an example of how to walk through tragedy.
He hurt -> He questioned -> He overcame -> He is in Paradise
One of the most comforting truths in Scripture is the destination that awaits the believer. Scripture paints Heaven as an unimaginably wonderful place where God’s people are in perfect communion with Him and each other. Knowing the end of the story can give us strength and motivation to endure in the midst of great difficulty. One way to think about this truth is to consider how your current situation will look in 30, 50, or 100 years when you will have been ushered into eternity. For the believer, this means we will be in a place so wonderful that words cannot fully describe it. This reality leads the Apostle Paul to write the following in Romans: Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
We cannot imagine a place so wonderful that it would so greatly diminish our current pain, but the Word of God tells us we have such a place to look forward to! Knowing Heaven is our destination does not take away the pain of tragedy, but it does give an anchor of hope we can hold onto. We hurt and are invited to express our pain to the Lord who welcomes us into His presence (Hebrews 4:15-16). We trust that according to God’s grace and mercy, we will one day experience the fulfillment of Revelation 21:4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Tragedy is not the end of the story for the believer. While we hurt today and see so much suffering around us, we anticipate the reality of eternity in a place where tragedy, suffering, and pain do not exist. Can you imagine the wonder and excitement of being in a place where we no longer have to wrestle with Satan, the flesh, or a fallen world? All that will be left is peace, harmony, and joy. The only questions we will have are ones that lead us on a journey of exploration of Heaven and the excitement of seeing “face to face” and “knowing and being known” (I Corinthians 13:12). We will be in God’s presence and rightly know His goodness all of the time, which is the essence of Paradise.
YES! GOD IS GOOD
The goodness of God is often what comes into question when tragedy and suffering occur. We wrestle with questions like “How could a good God. . .” or, “If God is loving why would He. . . .” Perhaps the wise answer to these questions is to weep over the pain and circumstances that stirs such questions. After doing so, it would be wise to contemplate if a more helpful question would be to simply ask, “Is God good?” After all, that is the question at the core of the other questions.
Scripture answers the question of “Is God good?” with a resounding, “Yes! God is good. Even when circumstances are not.” Scripture gives us truths about God, but we are not always told how two truths fit together. For example, we are told God is good, but we sometimes have difficulty seeing the goodness of the Lord in our specific situation. Instead, we are asked to trust what we are told about God in the midst of circumstances that seem contrary to the truth we read in Scripture.
Psalm 100:5 “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”
1 Chronicles 16:34 “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”
Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.”
We started in Lamentations, and it seems fitting to end there as well. We serve a good and merciful God. Even so, we dwell in a fallen world where we see and experience suffering. When Satan tries to convince us that these realities bring into question God’s existence or goodness, let us cling to the promises and truths we have been given in His word. Take a moment to scan the statements in the headings above as a reminder of some of the promises and truths we have from God related to tragedy and suffering.
Lamentations 3:21-26 “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. 26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”
To view the complete PDF, click here.
- Dobson, James When God Doesn’t Make Sense.
- Jackson, Tim When Tragedy Strikes: Finding Security In A Vulnerable World. RBC Booklet
- Lewis, C.S The Problem of Pain. An intellectual Christian response to questions about suffering.
- Lewis, C.S A Grief Observed. A personal account of struggling through grief and loss.
- Yancey, Philip Where Is God When It Hurts?
For Further Information:
Where is God When It Hurts?
Author: Philip Yancey
Using examples from the Bible as well as the author’s personal experiences, this expanded 298-page edition speaks to everyone for whom life sometimes doesn’t make sense. It shows us how we can learn to accept without blame, anger, or fear that which we cannot understand.