Trusting God, Even When Life Hurts, by Jerry Bridges of The Navigators begins with the universal question of “Why does God, if he is good, allow bad things to happen?” The question of the ages. Why indeed. Of course as Christians we understand that sin entered the world and not only affected the first people and relationships among people ever since but also affected the whole world. Forever more the world itself lurches towards decay and destruction; natural disasters happen, nature is wild, in many ways un-tamable and from the day we are born we begin to die.
But we continue to ask why, if God loves us, do we suffer? Jerry Bridges sets out to answer this question by going straight to scripture and exhorts us to trust God even when we don’t understand. He even goes so far to say that if we are not trusting God we are disobeying God
In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense. And just as the faith of salvation comes through hearing the message of the gospel (see Romans 10:17), so the faith to trust God in adversity comes through the Word of God alone. It is only the Scriptures that we find an adequate view of God’s relationship to and involvement in our painful circumstances. It is only from the Scriptures, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit,that we receive the grace to trust God in adversity.In the arena of adversity, the Scriptures teach us three essential truths about God truths we must believe if we are
to trust Him in adversity. They are:
•God is completely sovereign.
•God is infinite in wisdom.
•God is perfect in love.
Someone has expressed these three truths as they relate to us in this way: “God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.”
I read this book about 15 years ago and it changed the way I thought of God and how I thought of my life in view of God’s sovereignty. I have long since given or lent this book away and can’t seem get my hands on a copy of it but I found the first chapter on line here. This I hope is enough to jog my memory, but I may misrepresent the book as I’m working on lasting impressions that have been mingled with other books of the same topic and years of teaching in the reformed tradition.
What I do remember though is that this book was instrumental in teaching me about God’s great omniscience, his loving care of his creation and his part in the affairs of men. It also gave me peace about my own sordid past as necessary to God’s good plan for me. That’s the positive.
While I believe truly God does work all things for good to those who love Him I don’t think it is as simple as God ordaining all the bad to ultimately show His goodness. A negative outworking of this way of thinking for me was to harden my heart somewhat to the world. Whenever life was hard, disasters happened, people sinned and hurt others I chalked it up to God’s sovereignty. Even though I was taught about mans responsibility this teaching ultimately always pointed back to God as the orchestrator of every detail of every event of all time and kind of releases man from their responsibility. Reformers teach that God is not the creator of evil most will say that He allows evil, yet reformed thinkers have to go that one step further and say he has actually ordained evil. Don’t they?
This way of thinking also begs the question of salvation and the idea that before the beginning of time God had preordained, is sovereign over, who and who would not be saved. I bought this one hook line and sinker. There is a certain fatalism that comes with this way of thinking, it’s easy to write people off as doomed without hope.
For a long time I thought this must be true and while I tried to see all these events as part of a much bigger scheme to bring about good in the universe it’s difficult to really look at the suffering of the world and the future suffering of unbelievers and say yes, God is sovereign over that. To say God was not sovereign over events meant he was somehow impotent to change the trajectory of the world in general and people specifically? Doesn’t it? That is what I held onto. I didn’t want to tred on thought that God was unable to relinquish control of any aspect of His creation or people’s salvation, free will not withstanding.
Honestly, as is probably obvious, I’m still grappling with this one.
But it’s a healthy grappling.God’s ways are far above my own.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the Lord
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Yet He wants me to press in and know Him, draw near to Him and rest in Him.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
He is trustworthy even in his mystery:
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.Psalm 62:5-8
I believe in Jesus whom God sent and who lived and died and atoned for my sin (and the sins of the world) and made a way for me (and all people) to draw near to God. My faith is not shaken it’s strengthened as I grapple, because in the grappling I draw near. In the questions I am challenged to think deep and long and hard and this has only given me hope.
While I wrestle with complete and utter sovereignty, I don’t wrestle with the God who is, the God who loves, and the God who cares. I do as Jerry Bridges exhorts me to, view my adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith and seek to trust God in adversity- through the Word of God[alone]… though maybe not exclusively through the Word of God.
Maybe in the end I really do believe that God is sovereign, I will continue though to seek out answers and look at varying view points even the very controversial ones.
After writing this I looked up what Rachel Held Evans says on the topic. Rachel Held Evans wrote the book A Year of Biblical Womenhood, which I will probably discuss in a future post. She is an engaging writer and has some alternative views on traditional Christianity while maintaining that she is a Christian.
If you don’t know of Rachel Held Evans let me give you a warning, she is somewhat of a sensationalist tackling the most difficult and controversial topics in Christianity for, seemingly, the sheer shock value. I think she’s been good for the church, but not everyone agrees and some think she’s just plain wrong. She is a refreshing voice though in that she welcomes dialog and differing views and truly seeks to represent Jesus’ love, mercy and justice rightly.
Here are a couple of her posts about the sovereignty of God: