Sovereignty and Consolation
God is in control of our world and yet our hearts still yearn for something more.
In uncertain times, Christians often try to take refuge in their belief that God is sovereign. “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” goes the old spiritual. God is in control, so what have we to fear?
I am not so sure that this is our best response.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that God isn’t in control, or denying that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). I do believe that God sees every sparrow fall and that God has a plan.
But I think that in my own life, God’s sovereignty has been less comforting than God’s companionship. And if God’s companionship has been more efficacious in my own life, I suspect it would be more helpful in understanding how to deal with the bigger challenges that face us at the national and global levels — things like nuclear proliferation, global warming, economic crises, religious persecution, issues of war and peace, and the denial of basic human rights and freedoms.
In my distress, I seek out the person of Jesus...who walks with me along the way, and who calls me not only His.
I study the Middle East, an area fraught with problems of theology and politics. It’s a place where the idea of God’s sovereignty is frequently abused. Divine sovereignty is a potent force in Muslim theology. The will of God is viewed as a sort of fate that is already written. You must simply surrender to the inexorable workings of the Divine plan, which is essentially inscrutable to mere mortals. One is reminded of this view in countless conversations. Will you come to visit me today? “Insha’allah, yes” — if God wills it, I will come. Will there be peace today? “Insha’allah.”
But I’ve often found that Christians have the same general attitude, sometimes with a toxic twist. We adopt the attitude that God is sovereign and that there is a spiritual battle afoot, so we overlay that spiritual battle on the political fault lines of the world. Major political players become tools in the hands of either God or Satan, and the victory of one actor or another is seen as a setback of sorts for the Kingdom.
Or perhaps we project God’s plan for the world onto the pages of history. It’s all going to burn anyway, so why worry about global warming, pollution, or the environment? God will take care of His elect, so why worry about the economic downturn? The politics of the Middle East will all end in a massive battle at Armageddon, right? So why work for peace? We shouldn’t worry about nuclear war on the horizon — doesn’t Revelation tell us the earth will still be around to be annihilated in the end? Besides, aren’t such dire concerns really the purview of God?
To be honest, I have found that when catastrophes have hit my own life, the statement that “God is in control” — though true — doesn’t help me in my distress. Instead, I seek out the person of Jesus, who knows what it is like to go through such difficulties (Hebrews 4:15), who walks with me along the way (Psalms 23:4), and who calls me not only his “servant,” but his “friend” (John 15:15). When I face the loss of people or important relationships, when I’m forced to deal with financial setbacks or the like, I’d far rather the open embrace of a friend than the cold comfort that it will all work out to God’s purposes in the end.
If that’s true for me personally, what might it say for the “big” problems of the world? Perhaps it suggests that God, while sovereign, wants to work with and through His children in the world. Perhaps it provides us with the confidence to know that God stands by all of us in our troubles and asks us to relate to one another as He does to us. This ministry of consolation is described in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, where he says that Jesus “consoles us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Let’s look upon global problems as opportunities to extend this ministry of consolation and let God’s sovereignty work its way out through us.
by Paul S. Rowe, Ph.D.
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