When the storms of life wreak havoc on all you know and love, what theological truths anchor your soul? What doctrines do you turn to when the world around you seems to give way under your feet? What truths about God bring you the most comfort when life is uncertain and nothing makes any sense?
Though all of God’s word is essential for us to read, learn, memorize, and study, and though all of God’s word teaches us all that we need to know to weather the storms of life, there is one theological truth that stands out in times of trial and suffering. There is one doctrine that brings everything into perspective and provides comfort and rest for our weary souls.
The sovereignty of God.
To be sovereign means to have supreme power or authority. Kings are considered sovereign rulers over their nation. The United States is considered a sovereign nation because it governs and rules itself apart from any other foreign power or authority. God is the supreme sovereign because he is Creator and sustainer of all things. He is ruler over the cosmos and over every living thing. “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). God is sovereign over his creation.
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29)
He is sovereign over the affairs of mankind, including rulers and authorities.
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)
“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
He is also sovereign over our salvation, sanctification, and glorification.
“The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)
And nothing and no one can thwart his sovereign plans. “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35).
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty doesn’t stand on its own apart from the rest of Scripture. When we study God’s sovereignty, we have to look at it in light of what Scripture teaches us about his character, for his character and sovereignty are interwoven together. Scripture teaches that God is holy, righteous, good, faithful, merciful, steadfast, and loving.
“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’” (Exodus 34:6)
“For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” (Psalm 33:4)
God’s sovereign plan and the way he rules and reigns over all things overflows from his character. For we who have been adopted as his children, God is not just a sovereign king who rules over his kingdom; he is also our good and loving Father who does all things holy, right, and true.
A Sovereign Comfort
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty brings us great comfort in the trials and sufferings of this life. When we are knocked on our feet by an unexpected trial, we can turn to these truths to remind ourselves that nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign control. When life feels as though everything is uncertain and in chaos, we can tell ourselves, “God is not surprised by this.” It is a reminder that though the trial we are facing is a complete surprise to us, it isn’t a surprise to God. He is never asleep or caught unawares. He is never at a loss wondering what to do. He doesn’t fret or worry over what’s happening.
This truth calms our hearts because we know that there are no accidents or random circumstances. God ordains and orchestrates all things. And because God is our good, loving, and faithful Father, we can rest in his holy purposes for us. Even when we don’t understand what is happening, we can trust that God’s plan is good because he is good. He is making us holy and will use every circumstance to that end. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.”
This doctrine also comforts us when we worry about the difficult choices we have to make in life. When we stand at the crossroads in our life, we can get caught up in the complex decisions of whether we should move or stay where we are, choose job A or B, this college or that college, this house or that house. We might fear making a wrong choice that forever marks our future. The truth is, we can’t interfere with God’s plans for us. Because God is sovereign, we don’t need to second-guess everything we do. God’s sovereign plans for us will take place just as he decreed them.
This truth also means that all of God’s promises for us will come to pass. God’s word is filled with glorious promises that bring us great hope. These promises are not wishful thinking. They are not promises like those we make where we intend to follow through on them unless something happens otherwise. God’s promises will take place because nothing can stop them from taking place.
When he says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) we can be confident it will happen. When he says, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), it means that he will finish his work in us. When he says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37), we can be assured that we are secure in Christ. Because God is sovereign, nothing and no one can thwart his promises.
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is an important one to study and learn during the calm seasons of life. Then when the rough winds blow and a fierce storm enters our life, we are already anchored to the truth. Rather than flounder in the seas of uncertainty and fear, we can rest in the sure comfort that all things are under our sovereign God’s care and control.
Navigating Trials in the New America | This new book, available free of charge in three electronic formats, seeks to help Christians prepare for the coming insults and opposition for their faith. Edited by John Piper and David Mathis, with ten contributors from around the world.
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The Sovereignty of God: “My Counsel Shall Stand, and I Will Accomplish All My Purpose” | “God works all things according to the counsel of his will.” All things — from the roll of the dice, to the circuits of stars, to the rise of presidents, to the death of Jesus, to the gift of repentance and faith.