God is in control of what happens in this world. “He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Even the roll of the dice and wicked events of this world ultimately fall under his orchestration (Prov. 16:33; Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23, 4:27–28).

In other words, God is sovereign.

But…

We are terrible at interpreting his sovereign plan as it unfolds.

Every Christian can take comfort in knowing that at every moment, “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). So however unpredictable or devastating your circumstances, God knows, he sees, and he is weaving it all together into a beautiful tapestry that will one day illustrate true good, true glory. That is something we don’t have to second-guess. It’s a promise we can count on.

Magic 8 BallBut we often go further than trusting the promise. We want to know what it all means. It’s not enough to know that God is doing something in our circumstances, we want to know what he’s doing. So we interpret. “I lost that job because God wanted me in this other career.” “She broke up with me because God wants me to be single for awhile.” “I was late and missed the interview because God wants me somewhere else.” “We were the only two people who showed up at that group event because God wants us to get married.” God is sovereign.

But God’s sovereignty is not an excuse. Maybe you missed the interview because you’re a lazy procrastinator. How do you know God is telling you to switch careers? Maybe he’s showing you the consequences of your decisions so you’ll pursue discipline. Similarly, taking an unexpected one on one conversation with a member of the opposite sex as a sign from God that you should be together is sketchy.

When we over-interpret life events, saying that this or that circumstance means that God says _______ or God wants ________ , we’re doing something very similar to (or exactly like) putting words in God’s mouth. And he frowns on that:

“I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.” (Jeremiah 23:21)

“Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! …They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them… Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?” (Ezekiel 13:3, 6–7)

We all do the best we can to discern the Lord’s leading day by day. It’s not wrong to wonder whether or not this or that turn of events means that God is directing you. He is certainly working in your life circumstances. But be careful about how much weight you give to your interpretation of events.

Joseph didn’t have a clue what God was doing through his twisted life story until his brothers walked into the room asking to buy grain. Job never got an explanation for the cataclysmic turn of affairs that struck his life—but his friends proved to be fools when they over-interpreted his circumstances and Job himself was rebuked for thinking he knew what should have been happening.

God’s sovereignty is a reality, not an excuse. It is a source of comfort, not a palm-reading. God will reveal what he’s up to when the time is right. Until then, trust that his plan is perfect, and that you know only what you need to know. God knows, and that’s enough.

SHARE
Previous articleReading Scripture Cross-Eyed
Next articleOn Incest & Homosexual Relations
Mark Beuving
Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the post, Mark! I have often thought through the pastoral implications of one’s understanding of providence and sovereignty. In these regards, how would a person “take comfort in knowing” that God orchestrated the death of their child(ren), spouse or friend? Or take comfort knowing that God orchestrated the rape of an individual? Or take comfort in any other definitive tragedy? I know you are warning against “interpretations” of events (e.g., God killed my child so that…), but one cannot escape the fact (if I am understanding your view of sovereignty correctly) that God “orchestrated” or caused the event (permissively or primarily). In short, how is a meticulous view of God’s sovereignty (i.e. “Even the roll of the dice and wicked events of this world ultimately fall under his orchestration”) comforting when the extent of the tragedy is virtually beyond “repair”? You don’t literally need to answer every question i posed, I just wanted to present the typical questions of people who honestly struggle with a meticulous view of God’s sovereignty. Perhaps you could speak to these concerns in a more general manner. Thanks for your post and I look forward to your thoughts.

    • Yeah, good questions, Colby. Honestly, I don’t know that there are great answers to some of those questions, or at least not answers that everyone in a tragic circumstance would be satisfied with. There’s tons that could be said here.

      On the one hand, the over-interpretation can sometimes cheapen the tragedy: “God took my child’s life so that I could share the gospel with the doctor” may be true, and it may be part of the whole thing, but it also seems to cheapen what an infinite God may be doing in his infinite wisdom.

      As far as how the meticulous view should be comforting, all I can really say is that the Bible sometimes presents God’s sovereign control as a comfort, so we should take it that way. It’s really not trust in a doctrine, it’s trust in a person. I think this makes it different than saying to a bereaved mother, “Don’t worry, God is sovereign.” There is an appropriate place for grief, and satisfactory answers may not come this side of eternity. So the comfort in God’s sovereignty isn’t about pacifying hurt people, it’s about directing people to a God who is all good and all powerful, and who promises that our pain is not wasted.

      Everyone needs to be comforted differently at different times, but it really is about entrusting ourselves to a God who intentionally allowed himself to be murdered for some glorious purpose (that’s where verses like Acts 2:23 and 4:27–28 come in). He’s not a God who promises avoidance of pain and grief, but he’s a God who has embraced both more fully than we could ever imagine, and promises to be creating something good in all of it.

      So to me, the personal nature of trusting God makes it far more comforting than trying to comfort someone with an impersonal doctrine. God has involved himself in the pain of this world and promises to carry us through. It’s not about “getting over” grief, but God does promise that one day he will wipe the tears from our eyes.

      That’s how I see the sovereign God as a comfort. But having said that, God’s sovereignty often gets glibly applied like a band aid, and we can insensitively apply it as a reason why someone needs to suck it up and move on. I don’t condone that approach.

      • Thanks for the comments, Mark! Sorry I haven’t been able to respond; I have been swamped with Fuller stuff, but it is finally nearing home this quarter.

        I think we would beat the same drum on most of the things we would be wary of in walking people through tragedy vis-a-vis God’s sovereignty. I think it is extremely important to have people fixate on God and God’s presence, rather than some doctrine of sovereignty amid their pain and loss.

        On the other hand, and this is where we may be in slight disagreement, I would also make it known that there is not just *one* way to understand sovereignty. Of course, from God’s perspective, there is a correct view of sovereignty. However, exegetically-, theologically-, and metaphysically-speaking there are ways to understand and articulate the sovereignty of God that is not deterministic and meticulously controlling . In fact, one could articulate sovereignty in a more dynamic and relational way that is far from deterministic. (A view that I would be more sympathetic with.) Moreover, because I would consider such beliefs about God in this order of doctrine as non-essential—not falling under the category of “dogma” (whether it is a deterministic or non-deterministic view)—what is most important is that people connect with a crucified God amid tragedy, not a “right belief.” Oftentimes, when the word “sovereignty” is used, it typically has the connotation of “determinism,” which need not be the case. “Sovereignty” can mean many things depending on one’s Christian tradition or exegetical, theological and metaphysical commitments. Thanks again, Mark.