Helpful but Hopeless
In times of tragedy and suffering, well-meaning pastors and friends frequently offer a religious word that momentarily appears helpful but proves hopeless in the end. As sufferers wrestle with how a loving, good God could allow such painful, wicked things to occur in our lives, people want to say, “God didn’t have anything to do with this.”
After the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, a pastor spoke on a radio program about how we make sense of such evil. The pastor declared that God had nothing to do with these attacks and said to listeners, “Satan is still the prince of this world.”
A colleague of mine heard the same sentiment expressed at the funeral following the suicide of a middle-aged woman. The pastor spoke directly to her family from the pulpit and assured them, “You need to know that God didn’t have anything to do with this.”
I listened to the podcast of a parent who had tragically lost a young child through an accidental death. She said that her pastor reminded her that God is not a “grand puppeteer,” sitting in heaven orchestrating all of the events of the world.
The witness of Scripture testifies to a God who remains sovereign in every moment.
But as a friend, let me sit down with you and tell you the immediately hard, but ultimately hopeful, truth about your Worst: God did and does have something to do with your tragedy. I know this sounds like a cruel statement, but stay with me. There is hope in the end.
There is both a fundamental and a practical reason why the notion of God’s limited involvement in suffering breeds harm and hopelessness.
Let me tell you what I hear when people say, “God didn’t have anything to do with this.” I hear . . .
God’s hands are tied.
God took his eye off the wheel when your Worst occurred.
Satan is just as great, mighty, and sovereign as God.
God just isn’t that powerful. He’s impotent.
God is not in control.
God is weak.
The Bible Tells Us So
None of these statements resemble the God of the Bible. The witness of Scripture testifies to a God who remains sovereign in every moment.
The Bible says that God controls the forces of nature (Ps. 147:15–18). His providence rules over plants and animals (Jonah 4:6; Matt. 10:29). He ordains random events (Prov. 16:33; Act 1:23–26). He reigns over rulers and nations (Job 12:23–25). He controls major disasters (Lam 3:37–38; Amos 3:6). He has power over the spiritual forces of evil (1 Sam. 16:14; Matt. 8:31–32).
If God controls all of these elements of existence—all of which are far less significant to him than you, his child—then certainly he reigns in the story of your life, even in your Worst.
A story my mentor Rev. Frank Limehouse labeled as the most significant moment in his early ministry career illustrates why the sovereignty of God is so instrumental in maintaining hope during the season of your worst nightmare. Frank, as a seminary student, was shadowing a hospital chaplain, when they were called to a room where a woman’s son had been pronounced dead after a tragic car accident. The woman lamented over and over again, “Why did God do this to me? Why did God do this to me?”
The chaplain, trying to be helpful, inserted, “Ma’am, God didn’t have anything to do with your son’s death.”
To this statement, the ailing yet wise woman pointedly looked the chaplain in the eyes and replied, “Don’t you take away the only hope that I have.”
God’s Sovereignty Is the True Comfort
Behind the grieving mother’s remark lies the hope that the sovereignty of God enables. If God is not fully sovereign in your suffering, then you cannot trust that he is fully in control of your healing and recovery. If God’s hands are tied when the Worst enters your life, then maybe his powers are also limited in helping you.
Moments will come in your Worst where it feels as if God has left the building. The scriptural word concerning the sovereignty of God assures you that even in the moments when it feels as if God has abandoned you and your plight, you can know objectively that God remains in control.
This article is adapted from Therefore I Have Hope: 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy by Cameron Cole.
- How Suffering Can Be Our Teacher (David Powlison)
- A Common Misconception about Suffering (David Powlison)
- An Open Letter to the Suffering Christian (David Powlison)