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The Sovereignty of God in Our Suffering

No one seeks suffering and affliction. In fact, as a general rule, wise people try to avoid it. But in a fallen, broken, evil and dark world, suffering of some kind is unavoidable. Even when the world looks bright and happy, there is often invisible darkness and suffering crouching stealthily behind bright objects of our affection. Frequently, it will make itself known to us when we have sinfully used our free will to pursue pleasures and affections that are outside of what God desires for us. Other times, the suffering seems to have no direct relation to any particular free will decisions we are making at all (Job 1:1-22). Still, in other instances, it exists as our sovereign God’s tool to right us, to grow us, to direct us, and ultimately to shape us into his image, while also opening our eyes to the real delights we were always intended to enjoy. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God uses his sovereignty to forge those who love him into a brother or sister of Jesus, and that he can sometimes do this with suffering. So how should we approach suffering? With a recognition of who God is.

It is a recognition of God’s sovereignty that makes the wise children of God wise. When his wife urged Job to curse God for the suffering the Lord had allowed in his life, it was Job's refusal to do so that displayed his trust in the Lordship of God over his life (Job 2:7-10). He famously asked in that dark moment why a man should accept good from God and not bad. In moments like that, our devotion to God is displayed in such irrefutable ways that even Satan cannot deny to whom it is that we belong.

The Psalmist recognized how a sovereign God uses affliction to better us by training us toward obedience to his word. In Psalm 119:71 he argues how a terrible affliction he suffered caused him to consider and learn God’s decrees. He tells us that his affliction caused him to realize that God’s law is better than great wealth (Psalm 119:72).

So significant to wisdom and righteousness is this kind of understanding of God’s sovereignty that Jesus himself modeled it for us when he submitted to the will of God and accepted the cup of suffering that would come with his experience of the crucifixion (Matthew 26:38-46). In light of that, the writer of Hebrews makes a curious point when he tells us that Jesus learned obedience through his suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus learned obedience not because he was rebellious and needed to learn how to obey. He learned obedience as a human experience. He knows exactly what it means and how it feels to obey in human form, and he modeled the acceptance of God’s sovereignty in the midst of suffering for us. We can look to him as our example, and follow him knowing that he has felt what we feel. He was familiar with pain, suffering, and obedience.

The sovereignty of God over our lives may seem unpleasant at times, but know that it is used to make us into something glorious, and to bring us to a place of wealth, delight and genuine communion that we cannot really experience in our fallen state. Recognize the wisdom and peace that it can bring in your most challenging experiences.

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