A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
For many years, what immediately came into my mind when I thought about God crippled me. Depression was a constant companion. Fear about the genuineness of my conversion haunted me like a ghost. I couldn’t see it at the time, but my feelings were symptoms of my misguided theology. God was small. Worse than that, he was weak. Worse even still, he was fickle in his love toward me. It led me into despair.
About five years ago, as I spent more time in the Bible, I began to see a bigger vision of God. He was not only big and strong, but merciful and steadfast in his love toward me. It changed everything. My depression started to unravel before my eyes, and I rediscovered joy in God.
My understanding of God’s sovereignty in suffering, evangelism, and salvation underwent the greatest and most needed change. For years now, this big God theology has proven to be an antidote for despair. I can’t help but think that there are some reading this right now who have been searching for that kind of comfort, freedom, and stability.
Joy in Our Suffering
The mother of my wife’s childhood friend died in a collision with an eighteen-wheeler. It was the truck driver’s fault. At the funeral, the officiating pastor offered these chilling words for her family and friends: “That truck driver robbed this woman of the long life that God intended for her to live.” The pastor meant to comfort them, but that commentary is anything but comforting.
What a nightmare to think that the plans and purposes of God can be undermined by any careless, distracted trucker at a busy intersection. When we believe this line of thinking, we make God into an absent-minded, fumbling security guard. If he had only looked up from the newspaper in time, he could’ve stopped the burglars from making off with the company’s goods. An even worse accusation might be that God simply lacked the power or authority to prevent the tragedy, even if he wanted to.
The truth is that our God is perfectly in control of all things — of our best days and our worst days, our best moments and our worst. Lamentations 3:37–38 rhetorically asks, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?”
The only truth that can still and strengthen our hearts when we suffer is the truth that our good, kind, and all-powerful heavenly Father is permitting our temporary pain for a short time to bring about our everlasting pleasure in him. When we suffer, we can remind ourselves: In Christ, all of my pain is infused with God-wrought purpose and meaning (Romans 8:28). God towers bigger and far above the blazing hot sun of our suffering. And we do well to rest in the cool of his shadow.
Election Electrifies Evangelism
In college, I was an evangelism zealot. Everywhere I went, I was handing out tracts and telling people the good news. I was also miserable, exhausted, and terrified that I wasn’t doing enough to reach the lost or please the Lord.
There’s a misguided sense among many Christians that one cannot simultaneously affirm the electing sovereignty of God and have an urgent, mobilizing passion for evangelism. That view changed entirely for me as I sat with Paul’s second letter to Timothy. From prison, he writes to his son in the faith, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
Paul felt zero tension between the doctrine of election and desire to win the lost. For Paul, God’s electing love didn’t squash his passion for gospel-proclamation; it motivated it! Imagine for a moment: You’ve been given the inside scoop by God that no matter what people group you visited, no matter what distant island you sailed to, you were promised there would be people there who would eventually respond to your message about Jesus. O, how this would awaken an excitement to go and tell, to see some respond everywhere you went, fulfilling God’s unbelievable promise.
This is the very reality we find at the end of the Bible:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10)
I have never had as much God-glorifying drive to win the lost as when I finally began believing that it was not ultimately up to me to win them in the first place, when I realized that salvation was God’s project from beginning to end — promised, purchased, and accomplished.
If ever there was an enemy of our joy in God, it is the sneaking suspicion that we aren’t secure in his saving grasp of grace. I’ve spent many years and reams of paper trying to trace my depression and anxiety back to their roots, and it led me finally to this: I was unsure whether I was firmly in the grip of God.
How many of us, if we’re honest, are struck with terror at that thought? What a relief it would be to our hearts if we knew that eternal security was real, that our adoption could not be reversed, that salvation was never ultimately contingent on our efforts but on Christ’s? It’s all true for those who believe. Perhaps the greatest by-product of a belief in a big, sovereign, choosing, decisive Savior is that we are liberated from the fear of a fickle Father.
If your faith is placed firmly in Christ, take time to rejoice in this today: Jesus has chosen you (John 15:16). You’re name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20). You have been transferred into Christ’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13). And no one is able to snatch you from God’s grip (John 10:28–29), because you are his child now and forever (Romans 8:16).
What you think about when you think about God is the most important thing about you. The bigger and more biblical our ideas of God are, the bigger our joy will become.