Friday, April 20, 2007

Sovereign Over All, Even the Tragic

I've been thinking this week about how our belief in the sovereignty of God is tested during times of tragic events, like the tragedy at Virginia Tech. The sovereignty of God is a blessed and encouraging doctrine, one that reassures us that our Lord is completely and absolutely in authority and control of all that happens in the universe. It's a doctrine that we cling to, that gives us confidence in our salvation and the future. God's sovereignty is the power and reality behind the great promise in Romans 8 that tells us that He causes all things to work together for the good of those whom He has called and that love Him. I for one am totally sold out to the doctrine of God's sovereign grace. Apart from it, and from Him, all is lost.

But when we see events like this happen, that seem so senseless and evil and that are not so far away that they seem distant and isolated, then our belief in God's sovereignty and our confidence in His character are easily tested and in some cases shaken. How can the God that we know and love and serve, the God that has saved us because of His love and self-sacrifice when we didn't deserve it - how can He allow something like this to happen? Indeed, if He is sovereign as we say and believe, how can He decree such a thing to happen? How do I reconcile what I know to be true of the character of my Lord and Savior, and the evil of such an act of violence? The unbelieving world struggles with this greatly, and for many it is this seeming dichotomy in the nature of God that they cannot accept. But if we're honest, even we Biblically-enlightened evangelical Christians have the same nagging questions.

There are a lot of ways to answer this question Biblically, but for me I see it as one of perspective. From our human-centered view of the world and events, this is a great tragedy. It is evil, and resulted in the sudden snuffing out of 32 lives for no apparent reason. We see these people as innocent, having committed no deed deserving of this treatment. We view the event from our relative value viewpoint, with no possible way that this tragedy could accomplish a good purpose.

But God calls us to look at the world and the events around us from His perspective. And His perspective is much different than ours. Even a cursory look at the Bible shows us that God has purposes that are far beyond what we can see, and that He decrees and uses events and people that are evil to accomplish these purposes. His value viewpoint is not relative like ours, but absolute and true. And His character is righteous, so that all His purposes are good. And those good purposes find their ultimate objective in bringing glory to Him.

Consider the perspective of the writer of Lamentations: "Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?" (Lamentations 3:37-38). Or that of the psalmist: "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." (Psalm 115:3). Or consider God's statement that Paul quotes regarding His purposes accomplished through the person of Pharaoh and the tragedies of plagues and judgements: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Romans 9:17-18). God can and does ordain that evil people and evil deeds will come about to accomplish His purposes. Does He view them as evil and sinful? Absolutely, because they are. Are they beyond His control? Absolutely not, as He decrees them to come about. Is this an easy perspective for us to get a grip on? No, not really. But it's the one that we need in order to continue trusting in the goodness, the faithfulness, the righteousness and sovereign grace of our great God and Savior.

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