This posting is in response to an excellent question from a reader about God’s sovereignty as it relates to pain in the world.
Five days after my fourteenth birthday my brother’s car was hit by a train and he was killed. If he had arrived at the railroad tracks two seconds earlier, or two seconds later, he would have been okay, and my family would have been spared the agony of his death and the ongoing suffocation of happiness that comes with grief.
Ever since that day I’ve thought about that. Why did God have my brother drive over the railroad tracks at precisely the time needed for him to be killed by a train? Isn’t God responsible for life and death? Doesn’t he control all of the things that go on down here?
Thirty years later I was working in refugee camps in Pakistan and was confronted by the fact that those thousands of people were born into a world of suffering and hopelessness–no access to safe water, no ability to get a job in a foreign country, inadequate food and still living in tents after over a decade. At the same time, they were all Muslim and had no access to the gospel. How could God allow people to live that way?
At the time I tried to come to an understanding of the sovereignty of God and I pondered the varied positions that theologians have taken over the centuries. It didn’t take me long to realize that a person could go crazy wondering about those kinds of questions. In matters of theology that have been debated for thousands of years, I wasn’t likely to come up with the right answer.
Perhaps God did, and perhaps God did not, cause every leaf to fall to the ground, I concluded, but he never asked me to understand problems such as that anyway. And I began to wonder if the question itself, was maybe just a distraction. Only the gospel of Jesus is the gateway to salvation and God wants that message of his glory disseminated to every corner of the world. That is something that I knew for sure and was something that should be acted upon.
The whole issue on this topic is best put forward in this verse from Romans, but it takes a fair amount of meditation to come to peace with it:
“. . . the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19-21)
I know; it’s a lot. Just hang with me.
When the apostle Paul states that “the creation was subjected to frustration,” it is the greatest understatement of all time. The creation was actually subjected to a curse right after Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:17). To give Paul credit, he does go on to describe the “frustration” that we were subjected to as groaning, like a woman in labor.
If you don’t have access to a book of witchcraft, a curse is something that you speak about a person and then they waste away and maybe die. If you do have a book of witchcraft you should burn it.
If you have ever had a baby, or have been in the delivery room, you know that being in labor is not a good and happy place. That is the actual state of the world. Although it is a state of transition, it is still a troubling place that we should naturally want to get out of.
Paul goes on to tell us that this condition was not our own choice, and by the way, it wasn’t the devil’s choice, either. God did this to us. It was “the will of the one who subjected it.”
But, most importantly, Paul tells us why God did this to us. It’s because he hopes that we will be “brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
Sure, so much of what goes on down here is painful, just like childbirth, but it will ultimately result in salvation for some of us, and never forget that that is something that none of us deserve. The Bible says we deserve his wrath.
So, did God cause my brother to drive over the railroad tracks at the precise moment he would be hit by a train or was that mere happenstance? Sure, God is sovereign; it says so in the Bible. But how involved does that make him in all of the little things that happen?
Honestly, I can’t say. But I have learned to not let myself get distracted by things like this that no human can understand and, at the same time, never let the big picture of it all get far from my mind. The world is in a troublesome place, and God did that to us as his plan to bring many of us into his family.
When will it all be over and we can quit this seemingly interminable groaning? Ahh, that answer is in the verse above, also. It is at the top in the first part: “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”
I didn’t create this blog to be talking about missions all of the time but, like Erin who sent in her question, I am really troubled by all of the hurt that I see in the world. As Christians it would be tragic if we got comfortable here and just rode the whole thing out until we ended up in heaven. Or, if we sat around in air conditioned buildings just talking about theology all of the time. The children of God are out there, scattered in countries that are cut off from the gospel, and the suffering will certainly go on until these children of God are revealed and his family is complete.