Discerning Erroneous Theology about God and Suffering
God’s Word clearly exhorts us to test the teachings of men (and women) because there are many false doctrines in the world and, sometimes, more commonly, in the church (1 John 4:1). Applying this exhortation includes being diligent to follow the example of the Bereans (Acts 17:11), who checked out all they were taught against the balance of Scripture. On Monday, I will lift up their example to us as well as correct a common misconception about just who these diligent students of the Old Testament were. But for now, let’s think about a common example of erroneous theology concerning suffering.
Yesterday, I directed your thoughts to one songwriter’s background explanation for the musical message she had written to minister compassion toward those suffering miscarriage. The key part of her explanation that I want to address here is a subtle, but erroneous theology of suffering that is prevalent today. To comfort herself, and others, she came to the conclusion that the loss she experienced was not part of God’s will. She had fallen prey to the idea that God cannot truly be compassionate toward us in our times of deepest grief if He planned, i.e. was sovereign over, the event that caused the grief. Though she is correct to conclude there was no evil and suffering in our world prior to the birth of sin in the Garden of Eden, she is wrong to make sin the ultimate cause rather than the secondary. By doing so, she has unintentionally robbed God of glory by making His will subservient to sin, instead of the other way around. Here’s the portion of her explanation that I want you to think through again.
Not everything that happens to us is God’s will and we need to know this, BUT He can turn anything out for our good because again, He is all powerful and we are His children who love Him. There is so much in creation that does not reflect God. Creation is not only finite, but also fallen. After the fall of man, sin, disease and destruction entered the world where the God given authority we once possessed was handed over to Satan in being subject to him by obeying him (Adam and Eve). We must locate the origin of natural and man-made disasters to the right place, and not blame God by abdicating responsibility for these things to Him, when again it is simply the effect of a fallen world.
By submitting to God’s plan and His ways in the midst of our suffering—no matter how painful our losses may be—is not “abdicating responsibility,” or blaming God for what is really sin’s fault. Instead, the Bible teaches us that our God is completely sovereign and has purposes which cannot be thwarted by man, or fully understood. Indeed, His plan for each of our lives was set down before we were even conceived (Ps 139:16). This does not mean man is not truly a free moral agent who makes choices and must accept the consequences of them, but affirms that whatever men (or the devil) may do, God is in control (read Job 1-2 for a refresher course in God’s sovereignty over all suffering). Even sin and Satan submit to God’s good and perfect plan that ultimately brings more glory to His name than we can imagine. Redemption in Jesus Christ, through His sin-conquering death and death-conquering resurrection, will be the subject of our praises for all eternity. It is all to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:6,12,14).
Begin to Develop a Biblical Theology of Suffering
If you are interested in studying more about the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human suffering, or you are a new reader to this blog, let me give you a few places to begin.
- Click on the category “Suffering” (in the column at right) for many articles that will clarify your thinking and build your faith in our sovereign God.
- Read this related post: Open Theism & Biblical Counseling
- Listen to this audio sermon from John 9. In this passage of Scripture, Jesus has absolutely no problem giving God all the glory for this man being born blind.
We must understand something here! In an attempt to alleviate our pain in suffering, Jesus would never say to us, “Not everything that happens to us is God’s will.” In fact, He tells us the very opposite. Biblical compassion toward those who suffer is not enhanced by leaving our view of God “open” to the possibility that He lacks something in His foreknowledge or planning; it is undermined. There is no lasting comfort in saying to someone who is suffering, “Take comfort. God did not mean for this to happen.” Instead, this response erodes the biblical foundations of faith and produces a false comfort. It leaves people with a God who is completely incapable of helping them in times of trouble for our suffering catches Him by surprise, forcing Him to switch gears to Plan B. Biblically speaking, there is no greater, more rock-solid comfort for those who suffer deep loss than the fact that God indeed reigns. “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps 103:19). Let us fall down and worship Him.