Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When Sovereignty Stinks

As always happens when there is a “natural disaster” of some sort we see a lot of soul searching and question asking, especially as it applies to God. Many people seem eager to put God on trial, as if He needs to answer to us when something horrible happens in a world that is polluted by man’s sin. This is of course happening right now with the tornado in Oklahoma and it inevitably raises the question: if God is sovereign, why did this happen? I don’t have an eloquent, theologically deep answer but I wanted to throw out some thoughts as someone who relies on Christ as sovereign over everything, from my salvation worked out and predestined before the world began (Eph 1:4) to a dear friend and co-laborer in Christ looking for a house.

First and foremost, we are not in a position to dictate to God. I don’t get to ask God why He permitted or ordained something I don’t like. My position is not an innocent man hauled in before a kangaroo court where I might be justified in demanding that the judge answer why God is infinitely and perfectly good and as such He is not only incapable of doing evil, anything He ordains to do is by definition good. When God slaughtered all of the first born males of Egypt, He actively killed children. He didn’t just “permit” it to happen, He did it. Is that evil? Well we consider killing children to be evil but God cannot commit an act that is evil so in this case no it is not. Further it is dangerous ground at all to even entertain that idea. In our hubris born of privilege and cultural arrogance Christians in the West and especially America have often gotten too big for our britches and deign to stand in judgment of God. Let me take it a step further. God would be justified, simply because He is God, if He destroyed the world in fire today and incinerated every single human being. Thanks to His forbearance He chooses not to but if He did it would be good because God and God alone is the standard of what is good.

If we lose sight of this foundational truth, we run into the question of whether God is able to stop evil from happening and chooses not to or He wants to stop it from happening but is unable. Either way God comes across poorly in our eyes. I find it helpful to look at every event through the lens of God as infinitely sovereign, omnipotent and omniscient and then to ask: what does God want from His people as a response?

I want God to do things. I want God to heal people of cancer and I know He can. I want God to stop terrible things from happening at places like Sandy Hook and Boston and Moore, Oklahoma. The real question I should be pondering is: what does God want me to do in response? Our acceptance of God as sovereign doesn’t mean we don’t suffer along with those who suffer and show compassion and minister to them. It doesn’t mean we don’t pray for healing or intervention. It means that we trust in God that all He does is good even when it is precisely the opposite of what I want. That is so hard. We want God in a manageable format. We want a God who will do what we want and not do what we don’t. God doesn’t work that way and I am glad He does not. What we should want is what God wants and how we react says a lot about how we view God. I liked an article from Tony Reinke writing for Desiring God, God’s Sovereignty and Personal Compassion in Public Tragedy. Below is his summary:

Maybe I will just close with one of the most practical illustrations. It says in Acts 4:27 that God predestined what Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews brought to pass when Jesus was crucified. In other words, the worst sinning that has ever happened in the history of the world was planned and predestined by God, for the death of his Son, that we might be saved. The murder of the Son of God is the worst act in human history, and it was planned by God according to Acts 4:27.

Now God wills that evil for the sake of thousands of good responses. He wants us to be saved by it. He wants us to trust this Jesus. He wanted Mary to come to the tomb with compassion in her heart. He wanted to show that Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus were men of courage and godliness because they were willing to take the body and put it in their own tomb.

God had millions and millions of good and holy purposes in willing that this happened. And the same would be true of everything he wills in this world. So we should determine how we respond, not by any false, human, logical deduction that we are drawing from the sovereignty of God. We should determine it from what the Bible says should be our response, namely compassion, and outrage at sin, and efforts to be involved in bringing relief.

Exactly. Our question shouldn’t be “why”, it should be “what”. What do I do when bad things happen in a sinful world? How do I honor and glorify God in the midst of tragedy? If we focus there and not on the “why” we will do more to honor and glorify God and after all is said and done that is the chief end of man.

1 comment:

dle said...

I'll be honest when I say that this response seems to fly in the face of the traditional response from Desiring God online, since that question of "what" comes down to "what I do," and "what I do" never seems to find a comfortable place within Reformed theology.

So bad things happen so that God allows Christians a chance to address them with good actions and responses? That is SO not what Reformed theology contends, yet that seems to be what Reinke is hinting at.

Color me, as always, confused by that conflicted response.