A friend of mine has felt chronic high-level pain every single day for the last decade. Her tears flow. Some are from pain, sure. Most are deeper: tears over the loss of her God-given ministry and thus confusion . . . at God. She simply cannot see the why.
But the Creator of light and sight opens blurry eyes and focuses them. And by his Spirit he provides lenses of divine sight to show that he is more than sovereign.
More Than a Monocle
Christians confess “God is sovereign.” He is high king of heaven and earth (Dan. 4:34–35; 7:9–10; Rev. 4:2–11). Our circumstances don’t change this. And God truly does “work all things according to the council of his will” (Eph. 1:11).
Simply put: God is sovereign. He does whatever pleases him.
But we often stop there. We use God’s sovereignty as a monocle. While it truly does enhance our vision—even significantly—it’s not enough.
A few years ago, my dear friend and I paused on one of our walks—one of our hobbles, really, because of her pain. Through tears she opened up:
I understand that God is in control. People keep telling me, “God is sovereign in this.” I get it! But why would he choose this? I can’t see any rhyme or reason to why he would give me such opportunities for ministry and then strip them away by pain and sickness—for years. I can’t see it.
I wiped at the mist clouding my own eyes as a memory flashed. I was 18. In the space of a year, a 16-year-old friend died from cancer, an 18-year-old friend was killed in a truck accident, another 18-year-old friend overdosed, and my grandmother was beaten to death. “Well, God is sovereign. He works all things together for good, you know,” my young friends had counseled.
I didn’t want to offer to this dear friend’s deeply hurting heart the same well-intended counsel. While technically true, it also tends to be poorly timed, wrongly toned, and scripturally limited. Her real struggle was about why he would choose this, not his sovereign right to choose or ability to act. The monocle of God’s sovereignty is simply not the fullest picture of necessary reality. Many people worldwide, tragically, have known what it’s like to live under a foolish and evil tyrant. Imagine if that sovereignty were omnipotent!
God’s sovereignty apart from his wisdom and goodness would strike unholy terror. But he doesn’t want us to wear a monocle. That lens is necessary, but he wants us to wear glasses with at least three lenses.
God’s Trifocals for Us
God is sovereign, wise, and good. This cluster of divine attributes has a mental, emotional, communal, and pastoral power that deserves special focus.
Cling to the triune Sovereign One, yes! But also:
God Is Wise
He always knows and does what is best. God is, in fact, the source of all wisdom (James 1:5), withholding or giving it as he wishes (compare Job 39:13–17 with Eph. 1:17). And no one can understand the depths of his perfect knowledge and understanding (Rom. 11:33).
Amid her loss and confusion, this hit my friend hard that day.
As we resumed our shuffle, we discussed God’s wisdom, how he “predestined wisdom before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7). And what is God’s wisdom in the context of this passage? “Christ having been crucified” (1 Cor. 1:21–24).
The cross, which my friend has clung to for 40 years, stopped her in her tracks. “Why would God decide before he created light or mountains or humans,” she asked, “to bring you and me glory through his pain and shame and loss?” Regardless of our answer, that is key to God’s eternal decision-making, which he executed even through the most confusing and painful event in history of the world (Acts 4:24–30, esp. v. 28).
How then shall we respond to his sovereign wisdom in our pain? After a few minutes of silence, my friend said, “Not only is God in control. But he knows what he’s doing. And he cares, even to his own detriment!”
Something had shifted. This brings up the third trifocal lens.
God Is Good
He always has good intentions, does what is good, and produces ultimate good. Cling to the triune Good One. A sovereign and wise God might still be an all-powerful and infinitely clever tyrant. We would still face terror and hopelessness—unless he is also good.
A sovereign and wise God might still be an all-powerful and infinitely clever tyrant.
Since the very beginning, God has been producing perfect goodness. (See Genesis 1’s sevenfold “good” as part of Scripture’s first divine portrait.) God alone is good (Mark 10:18), and his goodness is his glory (compare the request of Moses and God’s response in Ex. 33:18–19). He has a good purpose in everything (Phil. 2:13).
And he produces good things for others for the sake of his name (Ezek. 36:22–32), for his people (Ps. 84:11; Rom. 8:28–30; Heb. 12:10–11; 2 Pet. 1:3), and for his world (Rom. 8:20–21).
See God and Life More Clearly
It has been five years since that hobble. Every time we meet she works in how glimpsing God’s goodness and wisdom in beautiful tandem with his sovereignty changed her vision of both God and life.
This is not formulaic. She still has pain, as do I, and you. She still has tears, as do I, and you.
But God helps us polish these trifocals in and through our pain. He wipes away the tear-streaked blurs. And we see that he is worthy and worth it.