“I have wanted to believe that my son’s death caught God by surprise,” she said through tears. “But now I realize he was not surprised at all.” She and her husband had come to our most recent Respite Retreat, a retreat for couples who have faced the death of a child, and we had just finished discussing Jesus’ words about himself in Revelation 1:18, “I hold the keys of death and the grave.” In other words, no one goes through the door of death unless and until he opens that door.
We sang, “He gives and takes away, he gives and takes away, my heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be your name.’” To stand in a circle with twenty-four people who feel that God has taken away what is most precious to them and yet choose to bless his name is to stand on holy ground. Their tears evidence a breakthrough to trust.
Many of these couples, though they may have been in church their whole lives, come from traditions that do not embrace or celebrate the sovereignty of God. But the death of their child forces them to reckon with it if they want to come to peace with God. In my own experience, and as I interact with grieving people, I find that the sovereignty of God can initially be a very hard truth to accept—because if he is in control of everything, we wonder why he has allowed this universe to be ordered in a way that causes us such significant pain. Yet when we begin to think that “the God I know would never allow this,” we have taken our first step toward discovering that God is not who we think he is. That is when we can begin to explore the wonder of his sovereignty seeking to know him as he is and not as we have reduced him to be.
Though God’s sovereignty can be initially hard to accept, ultimately it is the only solid ground to stand on in this broken world, and eventually we realize that it is really a soft place to land. His sovereign power to redeem the suffering we experience in this sin-sick world is our only true hope and comfort. Without confidence in God’s sovereign oversight of the universe, life becomes meaningless, hope for justice fades, and everything seems random. The truth is, if God is not sovereign, then we’re in trouble. The sovereignty of God is a rock underfoot when the winds blow in our lives. It confronts what seems absurd in our existence. God’s sovereignty is our greatest hope as we face an uncertain and unknown future.