I love to talk about the sovereignty of God. I love to write about it and preach about it. The sovereignty of God in creation, the sovereignty of God in salvation, the sovereignty of God in evangelism, the sovereignty of God in everything. I love God’s sovereignty, and I’m convinced this is good, because it reflects and describes who God is. He is a sovereign God.
In his sovereignty God has decreed that to this point I will have quite an easy life. I live in a first-world nation and have freedom to be a Christian without fear of persecution. I have never missed a meal or a bill payment, my children are healthy and my marriage is solid. I have a job I love and a hobby that has given me some rare privileges. God’s sovereignty toward me has been expressed in ways that are undeniably good.
I recently preached through the book of Jonah, a book that is meant to be a clear display of God’s sovereignty. “Appoint” is a key word in Jonah. God appoints things that delight the prophet–a giant fish to swallow him when he has very nearly drowned and a plant to shade him when he is hot. God appoints things that infuriate Jonah–a hot wind to scorch him, a worm to destroy the plant that makes him comfortable, and above all, the great awakening in the city of Nineveh. Jonah delighted in God’s sovereignty when he liked the way it impacted him and hated God’s sovereignty when he did not like the way it impacted him. The book ends with a question and I’m convinced that a facet of that question was this: Jonah, will you love my sovereignty even when you don’t see it as good? Or will you trust my sovereignty only when it gives you what you would have chosen anyway?
And as I have been reading the Bible and considering my own life, I think God has been asking me the same kinds of questions. He and I have been conversing in and through the Bible and having a conversation kind of like this:
You’re one of those Reformed people, one of those Calvinists. You say you love my sovereignty. That’s great! But I want to ask you a few things…
…You’ve told me how grateful you are for the ministry, the testimony, of Joni Eareckson Tada. You believe it was my sovereign will that she would have that accident, that she would suffer with joy, and through it be a great display of the beauty and power of the gospel. She has been to you a powerful example of godliness through trial, of patience through disability. You’re proud that she’s on your team. I’m proud of her too. Will you still rejoice in my sovereignty if I decree that you will be like her, if I call you to be the next Joni Eareckson Tada? Or are you quite certain that you can best glorify me by serving with an unbroken body?
…You are thankful for John and Betty Stam, for their willingness to go to a dangerous country so they could bring my gospel with them. I’ve seen you weep as you’ve read of their bravery in the face of danger and their steadfastness as they died the martyr’s death. Will you still love my sovereignty if I call you to be one of those people who loses his life for the gospel? Or do you think their example is powerful enough and enduring enough that the church wouldn’t be blessed by yours as well? Will my sovereignty still be good if your neck is bent to the sword? Will you still praise me for it then?
…I know you marvel at the steadfastness of Helen Roseveare. I’ve seen what has gone on in your mind and heart as you’ve read of her willingness to put herself forward to be gang raped–even that–in the hope that by sacrificing her body she might protect others from befalling the same fate. She put forward her own body trusting in the One who did the same. I hear in your prayers: “Please don’t make me ever make that great a sacrifice–to bear scars for your name that will bring shame and endure for the rest of my life.” Will you still declare your joy in my sovereignty if I sovereignly decree something that painful, something that shameful, for you or for someone you love? Do you have faith to believe that even that could work together for good, for one who loves the Lord and is called according to his purpose?
…Last week you read the story behind “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” the story of a Christian in India who was told to recant his faith or to watch his children and wife die. He stood firm and watched the deaths of the people he most loved in the world. As he saw them pierced by arrows he declared, “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” Will my sovereignty still be good and praiseworthy if it leads to you to make that decision, if the people you value most can be spared with a simple “I take it back!”? On that day will you be a consistent Calvinist and still say, “He is a sovereign God and I love his sovereignty.”?
…You read of the martyrs, tied to stakes and drowned in the tides, tied to stakes and burned with fire. You read of Thomas Cramner plunging his “unworthy hand” into the fire and marvel. You thank me for Martin Luther who before all the world and at the risk of his life had to say, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” You read of my hard providence and see my hand in it. You love their examples, but it looks for all the world like you would resist being an example. You want to continue to live a quiet life where you can type my “here I stand” into a keyboard in the safety of a first-world country.
…My sovereignty has been expressed in such gentle ways in your life. Will you rejoice in my sovereignty if my good and perfect plans for you include suffering that seems senseless or meaningless? What if you have to suffer like Joni, but without being able to tell your story and have all the world tell you how much your example means to them? Do you rejoice in my sovereignty only because you would have chosen these things anyway?
What I have had to consider is that perhaps my view of God’s sovereignty is almost flippant, that I speak of it lightly because it has been applied to my life in such undeniably good ways, in ways I would have chosen for myself. It’s not a question of wishing or praying bad things upon myself, but of so trusting in God’s goodness–God’s goodness expressed through his sovereignty–that I am truly willing for that sovereignty to be expressed in ways I would not wish upon myself unless God is glorified through them. It is a desire to see God glorified that overwhelms my own desires for safety, comfort and ease. It is a willingness to suffer long and hard and without answers if that is what most glorifies God and if that really is for my good. Will I still rejoice in his sovereignty in that day?