Psalm 57:1-2: Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, To God who accomplishes all things for me.
I met “Caroline” a few years ago and though I haven’t seen her since, I pray for her regularly. My heart went out to her as I learned of the hurtful trials and great sorrows the Lord had taken their whole family through. The Lord has been kind to minister to them in the intervening years since I met her. It appeared that they were healing up and gaining their footing again, which is why I was so surprised and sad to learn that she now spurns the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. I’ve seen this happen before and though I can understand how she got to this place, it grieves me greatly.
When trials become so overwhelming, painful, and unending we run smack-dab into the mountain of God’s sovereignty. We appeal to Him, asking Him to intervene, “Lord, You can do anything; please rescue us, please help us, oh Lord, please deliver us.” And yet when it appears that our prayers remain unanswered and seem to bounce into the abyss, we then appeal to the love and compassion God has toward His children. We tend to choose one over the other instead of letting them remain as they are—in perfect harmony with one another. And in the case of my friend, it seemed inconceivable to her that God would allow another painful trial for their already hurting family so she hardened her heart against God’s sovereignty. "How can God be loving if He orchestrated the events of the last few years?" she wondered. And so, rather than testing those thoughts next to the Scriptures, she dumped the Scriptures and now clings to a god more accessible for her. There are long-term problems in pitching out different parts of the Scriptures when our experience just can't seem to support them. The problem is in using our experiences to validate the Bible, instead of letting the Bible reveal the truth about our experiences.
- The Bible attests to God’s sovereignty. In every major and minor event, the Scriptures affirm God’s sovereignty over the world, over nations and kingdoms, over individuals, and even over the thoughts of man’s heart. Proverbs 21:1 proclaims, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” To flat out deny what God Himself declares in His Word is rather foolish as it puts us in opposition with Him.
- Discounting any of God’s attributes creates a domino effect. My friend couldn’t imagine how a loving God would orchestrate the catastrophic events of the past years, so for her the answer seemed to be that though God is loving, He is not sovereign, and subject to the designs of men and even Satan. This relegates God to playing clean-up to the events in our lives. Not only does He become subject to events, rather than the One who ordains all things, but removing one aspect of God’s character effects every other attribute. If we say God isn’t sovereign over the details of our lives, then the ooze begins to spread. Soon confusion about what we can even believe in the Scriptures will hamper us. A real crisis of faith is the result.
- Choosing one of God’s attributes over another puts us in judgment of Him. This actually happens all too often, frequently without our being aware of it. We actually pronounce judgment on God by saying, “This is not good. This can’t be right. Therefore, God is not sovereign (or loving or just or powerful).” [Click here for a great quote on this.] Job discovered the foolishness of this when he demanded that God answer to him. God responded by recounting the deeds of His power and might in creation. It was painfully obvious to a humbled Job that the same God who designed every detail of Creation, also designed and allowed every painful event in his life as well. God is not sovereign in creation and impotent concerning the circumstances of our lives. He is all the way, completely sovereign and powerful over every detail in the universe. As one preacher said, “There are no maverick molecules.”
It’s good to remember all God’s attributes reign supreme in His being and no one attribute takes precedence over another. All of God’s attributes work in harmony together though we may “experience” or clue in to certain aspects of His character at times. All that to say that when we struggle in our experiences to reconcile God’s sovereign design for our lives with His infinite love and care, we tend to choose one over the other. Yet the Scriptures know no such disharmony. God’s ordering of our lives is undergirded by His great love and mercy—neither attribute supplants the other.
It’s also good to remember that every one of us can fall prey to this kind of thinking, especially in times of trial. The grinding stone of affliction has a way of squeezing out thoughts and attitudes we never knew existed or would ever have considered. The time of squeezing happens to all of God’s children, not just once, but many times in the course of our journey to heaven.
So, how can we guard against this kind of soul-crippling response to trials?
- Remember there are no mistakes in the Scriptures. God's Word is complete and everything we need to know about Him and about our circumstances is contained within the pages of our Bibles. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” 2 Peter 1:20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
- Recognize your need for good doctrine (which is nothing more than the study of what the Scriptures say about God and any other subject). Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Well-rounded and complete teaching about the Scriptures and from the Scriptures creates mature and steadfast believers.
- Recognize your need for good Bible study methods. Many don’t realize it, but there are actually right ways and wrong ways to study the Scriptures. Uninformed ways of studying the Scriptures can increase our despair and discouragement when undergoing trials. One of the most important and easy rules to remember is “context is king.” Applying this one rule will save you from many a grief. Any time you study any passage or verse, always look to see what the surrounding context of the verse or passage. If you’re not sure where to start I would recommend Unlocking the Scriptures by Hans Finzel or How to Study the Bible by Richard Mayhue. Both books are straightforward and practical.
- Recognize the soul-defiling nature of discounting God’s Word. The author of Hebrews warns us about the dangers of unbelief, which if left unchecked can lead to a hardened heart and even greater sin. “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Hebrews 3:12-14).” Paul has a similar caution in his letter to Pastor Timothy, warning of the dangers of departing from God’s Word. In 1 Timothy 1:18-19 we read, “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.”
2 Corinthians 7:11 provides us with some astonishing insights into what happens if we shun God’s Word and spurn His promises—doing so results in a defilement of our flesh and spirit. That’s why the Apostle Paul encourages the Corinthian believers to heed God’s promises and repent of their unbelief. He writes, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We need to guard against even the most subtle responses in our hearts where we reject or shun God’s Word. To reject an aspect of God’s character is to reshape God into an idol of our own liking.
- Take God at His Word. This is such a simple admonition, but it can be desperately difficult to do at times, especially when our hearts are sore and weary. Yet, believing God over our circumstances is the fork in the road that every believer faces almost daily. Yet that fork in the road is the exact point in which we choose if we will live “by faith” or “by flesh.” Just this morning I was praying through Psalm 57:2, “I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.” If I’m going to take God at His Word then I will pray and remind myself throughout the day when I feel anxious that God will accomplish what concerns me. I’ll remind myself that He knows all about it and is faithful—and able—to bring my circumstances to their conclusion. The timing I will leave to Him, but the promise that He will accomplish what concerns me, I’ll take with me.
- Faithfully apply God’s Word to your circumstances, in your circumstances, and through your circumstances. Besides taking God at His Word, we also need to use that Word to fine-tune our response in trials. So for me this morning, in addition to thinking on the encouragement of Psalm 57:2, I still needed help. I still found my thoughts wandering into the realm of darkness and fear and worry so Philippians 4:8 became my guide to ask myself, “Is what you’re thinking true? Is it honorable or right or pure? Is it lovely or of good repute? What about being excellent or worthy of praise?”
No trial is so terrible that we have to turn our backs on God and the Scriptures. There are many trials that may tempt us to do so, but, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).” Pray for those who are hurting and in much affliction that even though they are tempted to deviate off the path of Scripture, pray they would still remember that the Lord is near to help (Psalm 34:18), to heal (Psalm 41:4), and strengthen them along the way (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
Below is an excerpt from one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons on God’s sovereignty and the comfort it provides for every believer:
“The design and purpose of God are fixed, not fickle. He knows what He intends. You and I often begin with a design from which we are bound to deviate as we see something that would be better, or as we see that our better thing is not attainable, and we are obliged to be content with something inferior. But in God’s case there can be no defect of judgment which would require amendment, and there can be no defect of power which would drive Him from His first determination. God has a plan, depend upon it: it were an insult to the supreme intellect if we supposed that He worked at random, without plan or method.
To some of us it is a truth which we never doubt, that God has one boundless purpose which embraces all things, both things which He permits and things which He ordains. Without for a moment denying the freedom of the human will, we still believe that the supreme wisdom foresees also the curious twistings of the human will, and overrules all for His own ends. God knows and numbers all the inclinations and devices of men, and His plan in its mighty sweep takes them all into account. From that plan He never swerves. What He has resolved to do He will do. The settled purpose of His heart shall stand forever sure. Of what avail could the opposition of angels or of men be when Omnipotence asserts its supremacy? As you walk down your garden on an autumn morning the spiders have spun their webs across the path, but you scarcely know it, for as you move along the threads vanish before you. So is it with every scheme, however skillfully contrived, that would arrest the fulfillment of the Divine purpose.
The will of God must be done. Without the semblance of effort He molds all events into His chosen form. In the sphere of mind as well as in that of matter His dominion is absolute. One man cannot immediately operate on the will of another man so as to change its course, although intermediately He may propound reasons which, by their effect on the understanding, may completely alter the inclination of His fellow-creature; but this is a trite proverb—“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.” God can bend the thoughts of men as easily as we can lay on the pipes, and turn the water into any cistern we choose.”
C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 28 “My Solace in My Affliction” (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1882), 233.