Years ago, right after I was released from hospital having broken my neck, I kept pushing the replay button on my dive off the raft. I kept wondering what went on in the heavenlies when I went head-first into the murky waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Where was God when it happened? Did he assume a ‘hands-off’ approach, allowing me to take a stupid dive of my own free will? Did Satan go before God to ask permission to shove me off the raft? Did the devil then have to twist God’s arm until the Lord gave in? Or maybe God himself pushed me off the raft as he held back protecting angels. The sovereignty of God felt scary to me.
Understanding God’s sovereignty more clearly
A friend then showed me Lamentations 3:32-33: “For if [God] causes grief, then he will have compassion according to his abundant loving kindness. For he does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.” (NASB) In the span of two short verses, God causes grief, and yet, he does not willingly cause grief. So, which is it? We know for sure that God is completely in control, for the scripture says that “he causes grief.” He’s even in control when young girls break their necks.
Does this mean that God took delight in my injury? Was he happy when I dived off the raft? Of course not. Romans 8:28 may say that God works “all things” together for my good, but that does not mean that a broken neck is, in itself, good. When whole populations starve, or infants die in their cribs; when bus accidents leave people brain-injured, or young girls break their necks, God weeps. Lamentations says: “[God] does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men;” that is, he takes no joy in any of it. He permits awful things to occur, but it gives him no pleasure.
When this started to sink in; when I began to understand God’s heart, I was able to take great comfort in his sovereignty. From then on, whenever I pushed the replay button on my dive, I could ask: “Was my diving accident God’s fault?” and be assured that, although he is sovereign, God is not to be blamed – after all, he allows all sorts of awful things he doesn’t approve of. I could also ask: “Was my diving accident an assault from the devil?” Yes, perhaps, for God often allows the devil to do what he would never do himself (as in the case of Job).
Sometimes I might ask: “Was my accident the consequence of living in a fallen world and not the direct assault of either the devil or God?” Possibly so, for, as I said, the world is terribly broken. Whatever scenario played out in the heavenlies that day does not matter. What matters is that I can trust God. For when it comes to his sovereignty, he has proved himself trustworthy. If he sent his own precious Son to die for me, then he has shown himself worthy of my confidence… even when awful things happen.
I share this because God’s sovereignty has become the platform of my gratitude and thanksgiving to the Lord. There really are more important things in life than walking. A rugged reliance on Christ through every distressing trial makes for a heart of gratitude in all things. So, if you ever push the replay button on your own tragedies, first consider the measure God used in demonstrating his love for you at the cross. Then allow your thankful heart to overflow and sing…
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us, to keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills of this world in the next.*
Joni Eareckson Tada is an author, speaker and advocate for people with disabilities. She partners with the UK organisation ThroughTheRoof.org
*(Verse 2 of ‘Now thank we all our God’)