It is one thing to watching events like 9/11 or the Tsunamis on TV and to hear stories about the effects...about the suffering...and still hold firm to my theology regarding God's sovereignty. That theology is tested and shown for what it truly is when suffering comes to my door...touches my family...things that are precious to me.
I am thankful that throughout this whole Katrina ordeal - from watching the track to evacuating to still being a part-time refugee today - by God's grace I have been able to hold on to the truth and reality of God's sovereignty and goodness. In fact, it is the one thing that has seen me through.
We have been well taken care of. My family and I have been given homes to live in, had groceries and clothing bought for us, even been treated to dinner and pedicures...our friends and family and even strangers have gone above and beyond what is reasonable to help us, and I am grateful. But, any of those things could have been forsaken and I doubt I would have missed them. I also doubt it would have effected my attitude or outlook or ability to cope. Nearly two months later, I am still living out of a suitcase...as I stay in a plantation home. As exiles go, this is a nice one, but still, it isn't the comfortable digs that gets me through the weeks.
We have been working in Baton Rouge nearly a month longer than we were told we would be, yet the hospitality of those I am staying with has not wavered and as a goodwill gesture the company is providing lunch each day. It is a very nice gesture and I seldom have to cook or buy food. But this bit of ease isn't what makes this situation more than bareable.
I could go on about all of the inconviences or deprivations and the provision that has followed...but still I would say it is not niceties or meals or FEMA money that has allowed me to continue to embrace the sovereignty of God, rejoice in His goodness and turn to Him when my heart is heavy...it is the theology of sovereignty itself.
Without being firmly rooted in that, I might question God, become angry, resentful, fearful all the time. But that isn't an option...it IS a temptation, just not an option. To give into the temptation to question, resent and worry is to say that what I believe about God is a lie...it is to say that He has lied.
I don't completely understand the whys and wherefores... and I continue to learn more of God's sovereignty each day (usually by being confronted with my desire to control things or my fear regarding some circumstance or another), I also wish there were some other way for each of us to get where we need to be without suffering...but I also know that, historically, I don't tend to pay close enough attention without it. Things that come at no cost or risk don't get me as focused and purposeful and prayerful as those that threaten something that is precious to me.
God is our maker...and He knows this very well.
Being that I am not a theologian, that is about as deep as I dare to go on this topic. But there are others far more qualified to speak on the subject of sovereignty and suffering. One of those is my favorite radio preacher, John Piper. He, and a group of other speakers, just completed a conference on this very subject...and being who he is, he has posted audio files of each of the messages from this conference on his website. You can go here:
and download them for free.
If this excerpt from John's first message is any indication of the rest, I am certain that listening to them in their entirety will challenge, instruct, convict, and bring new understanding of the theology of sovereignty. It is my prayer that this understanding will also bring change to the lives of all who listen.
The impetus for this conference comes from the ultimate reality of God as the supreme value in and above the universe. God is absolute and eternal and infinite. Everything else and everybody else is dependent and finite and contingent. God himself is the great supreme value. Everything else that has any value has it by connection to God. God is supreme in all things. He has all authority, all power, all wisdom—and he is all good “to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lamentations 3:25). And his name, as Creator and Redeemer and Ruler of all, is Jesus Christ.
In the last four years, 9/11, Tsunami, Katrina, and ten thousand personal losses have helped us discover how little the American church is rooted in this truth. David Wells, in his new book, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, says it like this:
This moment of tragedy and evil [referring to 9-11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.”
In other words, our vision of God in relation to evil and suffering was shown to be frivolous. The church has not been spending its energy to go deep with the unfathomable God of the Bible. Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil. The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand. The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like landmines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty.