And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good… Genesis 1:31a
I am convinced that many hold a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature and character of God. We wrestle with the doctrine of sovereignty and define it in a way that makes God both the bad guy and the good guy. We think that sovereignty means that God actively controls and determines everything, but this definition doesn’t hold up when scrutinized through a Biblical lens.
The scriptures are clear that God doesn’t always get what he wants. Jesus is marching toward Jerusalem, about to give his life for the redemption of the sin of the world and he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Mat 23:37). God desired good, protection, and shalom for his people, but they were not willing to follow him into that good. God wanted it for them, but he was unwilling to force it upon them. See, sovereignty does not mean God actively controls and determines everything so that it plays out exactly as he desires, it means God has the ability to do anything he wants, even as he leaves room for human action.
That’s a very important distinction because if God actively controls everything, he is then responsible for things like the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, and every other atrocity that has taken place. He’s responsible for the abuse that you may have suffered or the oppression that has shaped your family for generations. If this version of God is accurate, God is responsible for things that he would never allow to take place in his heaven nor in his new creation. If this view of God is accurate, there also no real damage sin has caused; it’s all by God’s design and his plan. And if that’s the case, God is both the cause of suffering and the healer of suffering. You have to ask yourself, does that makes any sense?
Maybe an analogy would be helpful. Imagine a gifted and high powered doctor who has an anger problem and his wife is often the recipient of his angry outbursts. One night, he’s unable to control his anger and he beats her within an inch of her life. She’s in such bad shape that she has to go to the hospital – the same hospital her husband works at. Her husband is overcome with love for her and wants to be the one who diagnoses her wounds, works on her, and restores her back to health. And in this analogy, he does so with nearly miraculous results. She is restored to health because of the doctor’s wisdom and skill.
Is this doctor a hero?
Is this doctor a loving savior?
Should this doctor be lauded and celebrated?
Should we encourage the doctor’s wife to run into his loving arms?
When many people think of God, they have this type of arrangement in mind. They believe that God is the one who both causes suffering and heals suffering. He’s both the source of our deepest pains and the salve for our wounded souls. I’d argue this is a logical fallacy large enough to drive a MAC truck through. No one throws a party for the doctor who healed his wife, we throw him in jail because he abused his wife. When many Jesus-followers read the Bible, they completely miss the meta-narrative. They get sucked into micro-hermeneutics and miss the larger story. They fail to ask themselves, “does this story make any sense?” If we step back and ask that question about the fictional doctor referenced above, the clear answer is “no!” We don’t even have to think twice about it – the good he did does not erase the atrocity that was done.
And so it is with God. God is not the source of evil and suffering, he’s the salve for evil and suffering. He’s the God who says, “behold, I am making all things new.” He’s the God who enters in and suffers with us. He’s the God who absorbs our evil, suffering, and pain; he buries it in the ground and rises with new life in his hands. He’s good through and through. He is love, he has always been love, and he will always be love. And because God is good and loving, we can know that when we suffer: he suffers with us, he works within suffering for our good, and we can rest assured that ultimately, he will one day heal all suffering.
By Ryan Paulson