In the previous article, we had surveyed three causes of suffering: the fall, sinners and consequences of sin, and Satan. In this article, we will see that ultimately, suffering exists because of God.
Even though Satan and wicked people, and a cursed creation act as secondary causes of suffering, ultimately, God is sovereign over them all. Scripture teaches us that God’s will determines everything. Nothing exists or happens without God. He doesn’t merely permit things to happen, but he actively wills them to happen. He ordains or decrees them to happen. So listen to Isaiah 46:10, “God declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times, things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” When Jesus tells his disciples why they should fear God rather than men, he points them to God’s sovereignty over every little, natural, and even insignificant event. You remember what he said? Matthew 10:29-30: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny, and not one of them will fall to the ground, apart from your father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Friends, even though we can learn a great deal about our world through science and research, ultimately, God takes credit for his sovereign control over what we think is seemingly natural. Job 37:10-13, “by the breath of God, ice is given. And the broad waters are frozen fast, he loads the thick cloud with moisture, the clouds scatter his lightning, they turn around and around by his guidance to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world, whether for correction or for his land, or for love. He causes it to happen.” And that’s why as Christians, we don’t believe in mother nature. No—we believe in Father God. He causes it to happen. God not only shows himself to be sovereign over natural events, but he’s sovereign over the affairs of men. Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
God is sovereign over your decisions, and he is sovereign over other people’s decisions. “The King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). Even though human beings make their own choices as rational beings, and are held responsible by God for their choices, mysteriously, God is sovereign over them all. If God indeed determines all natural events in human affairs, then it follows that he has also decreed the existence of evil and suffering. And yes, he has decreed your suffering as well.
Very often we hear the argument that if God is all good, and all-powerful, then how can he permit the existence of evil and sufferingय़ And therefore the logical conclusion reached by some is that either he must not be good, or he must not be powerful. But I want to suggest that there is a third option, a biblical one. The Bible teaches that God is all good, and that he is all-powerful. And if he is all good, then he must have a good reason why he ordains suffering and sin and evil to exist.
I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what your churches are going through. I don’t pretend to understand what you must be feeling or what you must be going through. But here’s what I want to do. I want to point you to the one who does know what you’re going through. And he is all-powerful. He is all-knowing, and he is sovereign over the sins of men, and Satan, and all kinds of evil.
And this is what the Bible explicitly teaches. Listen to Exodus 4:11, “Then the Lord said to Moses, who has made man’s mouth who makes a mute, unable to speak, or deaf, unable to hear, or seeing or blind, unable to see is it not I the LORD?” Friends, God is the one who shapes and forms human body parts in the womb. He is the one who gives life and he is the one who takes it away. Who makes him mute or deaf? That’s the language of causality. God is saying, I am responsible for this, I ordained this, I will this to be. You know, the text is not talking about secondary causes, like a road traffic accident, which leads to eye damage and then that leads to blindness, or a genetic anomaly that causes a child to be born deaf. This is not talking about those causes, nor is the writer denying that those causes exist. No, the Holy Spirit here in this text is talking about the ultimate cause. The Lord God shows himself to be the one who has power over disease and sickness. He is sovereign over every cell in your body.
Pastors, your health is fundamentally not subject to germs, or genetics. It is subject to the Lord. Not a single cell in your body can be infected by COVID unless the Lord ordains it. See, the Lord is sovereign over all infirmities. There is not one disease, defect or deformity that exists on this planet, without his expressed will, and purpose. Knowing that the Lord is the ultimate cause of all things ought to give us courage when we are fearful. It ought to give us comfort when we cannot make sense of suffering. And it should assure us of his power and strength when we struggle to obey when our faith is weak. Because it is this God, who gave us his son to rescue us from our sins, and from his wrath. He has proven his love for us, and therefore we can trust in him even when nothing makes sense. And so when God says no to your prayer, for healing, for your cancer, or your sick child, trust in his sovereign care, trust in His wisdom, God is enough.
When darkness seems to hide his face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy Gale,
my anchor holds within the veil
On Christ, the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
Only God in His Word, can provide you with sweet relief.
The sovereignty of God is the pillow that you can rest your head on in the midst of your trials. Nothing in our world happens without the express purpose of the Lord. Lamentations 3:37-38, “Who has spoken, and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it. Is it not from the mouth of the Most High, that good and bad come?” Or Amos 3:6, “Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has done it?” Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness I make well being and create calamity, I am the Lord who does all these things”. Think about Job’s rebuke to his wife when she urged him to abandon his integrity and curse God. Do you remember what he said to her? “He said to her, ” You speak as one of the foolish women would speak? Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And the text says, “In all of this job, did not sin with his lips”. And nor do you sin with your lips, when you confess that God is sovereign over all things, including your suffering.
You see, the Bible teaches two truths together simultaneously, concurrently. On the one hand, human beings are morally responsible creatures. They make choices: they obey, they sin, and they will give an account to God for their actions. On the other hand, God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized or mitigated. When God has commanded you explicitly in His Word, to do something, never say he has providentially hindered me. No, God has told you what to do. God does not providentially hinder the obedience of any of his children. He does however, providentially test you to see what is in your heart, to see whether you will trust and obey His Word. That’s what Deuteronomy 8:3 says. So God is sovereign, and human beings are responsible to obey God’s word. And those two truths are taught together. This is called the doctrine of concurrence.
And we see this illustrated for us in one of the most well-known stories of the Bible: the life of Joseph. You know the story. Joseph’s wicked brothers, become envious of him, and they sell him into slavery into Egypt. And we see that God preserves Joseph’s life and through several trials raises him up to a position of power and influence in Egypt. We also see that God uses Joseph to preserve the people of Egypt and his family during a severe famine. But after his father’s death, after Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers are left feeling a little bit unsettled, wondering what Joseph might do now. “Will Joseph take revenge on us for what we did to him?” And this is what Joseph says, in Genesis 50:19-20, “Do not fear for am I in the place of God. As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.” You see, Joseph recognizes God’s sovereignty and his goodness in his circumstances.
There are two things you should note about Joseph’s response. Firstly, just because he sees God as good and sovereign, does not cause Joseph to look at his brother’s actions and call them good. No, he calls them evil. We should always call good “good” and evil “evil.” Whether it is the rising sexual violence against women and children in India, or the persecution that our Afghan brothers and sisters are currently facing, or whether it’s that church member who is battling COVID in the ICU. None of those things are good. Those are horrible, those are terrible. The Bible never calls evil good, just because a good God is sovereign over both good and evil. Here’s the second thing you should note about Joseph’s response. Notice how he upholds God’s goodness, while affirming his sovereignty. This is what he says to his brothers: you hated me, you meant evil, your motives were ugly, you are culpable for your actions. But yes, God was behind it all. He was in control of every event, but with one difference. God’s motives were good. He meant it for good. He doesn’t say God used your evil, for good. He says he meant it. He ordained those very things. But with good intentions. You had evil intentions, but God had good intentions. Why? Because God is good.
You see in a very mysterious way, God distances himself from evil while at the same time remaining sovereign over it. He is not the author of sin, He is not blameworthy for sin. He is infinitely good and holy. 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Or Psalm 5:4, “For, you are not a God who delights in wickedness. Evil may not dwell with you.” This is why we can give thanks in all circumstances, because our sovereign father is always good. His reasons are always good. And it is His good pleasure to give his children the kingdom.
God is sovereign over all things, including the evil actions of men, and yet he is not responsible or culpable for sin, because his motives are always good. And in him there is no evil. We see that in Joseph’s story, but also we see it in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. When believers prayed to the Lord, for boldness in Acts 4, this is what they confess: “For truly in the city, they were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.” In other words, evil men were responsible for the cross. But then they go on to say that these wicked men gathered to do, “Whatever your hand, God’s hand, and your plan, God’s planned, had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). So evil men plotted against Jesus and killed him. And yet the Lord was sovereign over the greatest act of moral evil, over the greatest act of injustice this world has ever known. And that is the crucifixion of God’s own son. Isaiah tells us that “it was the will of the Lord, to crucify his son” (Isaiah 53:10).
If God was not sovereign over sin and suffering and evil, there would be no Good Friday. Because, what Herod and the Jews and the Romans meant for evil, God meant for good—for your good, and for his glory. Every single historical event from the fall, to the flood, to the exodus, to the formation of the nation of Israel, to the exile, every event, every sin, every consequence of sin, every power struggle, every betrayal, every birth, every death was carefully ordained by God to fulfil his eternal purpose that he has realized in Jesus Christ.
This is a God we can entrust our sorrows to. This is a God we can trust when we suffer. When there are dark clouds looming over your heads, when you feel overwhelmed with sorrow and pain, when evil seems to abound and surround you, I pray that this truth would be the pillow that you rest your troubled heads on. This glorious good news, that God has provided for us a Saviour, and it is his sovereign hand that leads his people. God providentially cares for his people because he has good redeeming purposes for them.
So often our hearts are led astray in the midst of affliction and trial. Our sin, our own sin, unsettles us. The evil around us disheartens us, and we so easily forget. We so easily forget that the one who ordains all things, ordains them with nail-pierced hands. Let us not forget that the God of the gospel is a God who is sovereign over the suffering of his Son, and he is sovereign over the suffering of his adopted sons and daughters. Therefore, for his children, he always intends good and works all things for our good. Without concurrence, this doctrine of concurrence, we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be Christians if God wasn’t sovereign over your sin, over your rebellion, over your wickedness. That should give you comfort. Praise God that He is sovereign over suffering and evil for the good of his children.
This article is the third one of the five-part article series of the transcript of Session 3 preached by Brother Anand Samuel in the AIPC 2021 Online Conference held on Sep 17-19, 2021.
Please click here to view the sermon.
Anand Samuel is the Senior Pastor of Grace Evangelical Church, Sharjah.