God is in control. 2020 happened.
Skeptics contend that these two statements are incompatible. At the very least, inconsistent with our belief that God is good. In other words, is a belief in God’s control consistent with our experience of suffering in 2020? Can God be good considering a toll of over 1.7 million COVID-related deaths, the issues surrounding George Floyd’s death, racial injustice, societal unrest, and political turmoil?
I’ve noticed something growing among professing Christians. Drifting with the currents of culture, many reject the doctrine of God’s complete sovereignty. These seek refuge in a less-than-sovereign god. Much like the old “process theology” of Alfred North Whitehead, they have sought to place God in time and space. God is, therefore, subject to time and space. God is controlled, not in control. God is affected and changed, not the Affecter and Changer. Alfred Whitehead believed that his theology presented God as “the fellow sufferer who understands.” God, for Whitehead, is merely with us in our suffering, but not in control of it. He is as surprised by suffering as you may be. God’s best is to be our best friend who weeps with us, walks with us, and understands.
But does this display the pinnacle of God’s power from the pages of Scripture? Certainly not.
God is in Control
The Bible presents God as both omnibenevolent (all-good) and omnipotent (all-powerful). Deuteronomy 32:39 declares that God is in control of every death, every wound, and every healing. Psalm 135:5–7 declares that “whatever the Lord pleases, he does.” Proverbs 16:33 explains that “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” In Isaiah 41, God distinguishes Himself from idols by saying they do not know the future, but He does.
What’s more, however, is that the denial of God’s control robs God of His glory. His goodness is seen in his control. Referencing once again Psalm 135, in verses 6–7, it is clear that God does whatever pleases Him. He controls storms and strikes the firstborn in Egypt. What’s important to note is that, in verse 5, the Psalmist is arguing that the Lord is “greater than all gods” (5). The very proof that God is greater than all of the false gods is the concept of His sovereignty over all things and His ability to do all that he pleases.
Yet 2020 happened. How can God’s control be compatible with 2020?
Truth #1: Good Can Come Out of Suffering.
You and I have heard statements such as, “If cancer never struck, I would have never learned how to love.” Good has come out of suffering. This is constant with human life. We experience good through pain everyday. Inflicting pain on your body at the gym is ridiculous, if it weren’t for the good which comes of it. If good can come out of suffering, then suffering may certainly be consistent with God’s sovereignty. Can God bring good out of 2020? Absolutely.
Before I praise God for the good, please allow me a brief disclaimer. I’m not advocating that Christians go on a search for the silver lining. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen people reject God because they “don’t see any good coming out of it.” Scanning God’s work in search of the good is a mark of unbelief rather than trust. As William Cowper wrote, “Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan His work in vain.” While finding the good in all suffering is not our job, good often comes out of pain, slaps us right in the face, and leaves behind a smile. While there is no godliness in the vain search for a silver lining, Christians must recognize God’s goodness in suffering when we see it.
How can we praise in 2020?
1. Let’s Praise God for Conversions
How many testimonies will now begin with: “It was during the pandemic of 2020…” Our church just baptized two young ladies who were converted as a result of 2020 events. I’ve recently heard of many others who have experienced God’s converting grace as well. My own two teenage daughters seem to have been converted in recent months. God has been using the traumatic events of this past year to bring the sinner to his knees in repentance. Praise God for conversions!
2. Let’s Praise God for the Heavenly Hope of His People
I personally know too many senior saints who have died as victims of COVID, yet not victims of eternal death. God has used this disease to usher many home to glory. Their destination doesn’t remove our grief. Death is the clearest reminder of the curse of sin in this world. We are right to grieve their loss. Yet the fact remains: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15). God has used this season to bring many through to the other side of the river, to the Celestial City. Praise God for the heavenly-hope of his people.
3. Let’s Praise God for a Renewed Appreciation of Life
This year has renewed our appreciation of life. While social distancing and missing our loved ones comes with great cost, life’s intrinsic significance is put on display. Life is worth protecting. “What about life in the womb?” one may ask. “What about black lives? What about the lives of immigrants?” Don’t get me wrong, society hasn’t arrived. Fallen values will always prove inconsistent. As Christians, may our value of life ever expand and may Christians display a consistent value of human life. Life in and of itself is a wonderful gift. Let’s praise God for this renewed appreciation of life.
4. Let’s Praise God for a Deeper Awareness of Ethnic Oppression
I hope we can all agree that racial oppression is real, perfectly consistent with our theology of sin and the Fall, and is to be outright rejected. How encouraging it has been to see these conversations come to the forefront of public life!
For many of us, these conversations are not new. “Too little, too late,” some may add. “Too driven by pop culture,” adds another. Exposing the true evils behind real oppression has hardly been scratched. Indeed, the world will never rightly understand justice (Prov. 28:5). Even in the church, much work is still to be done. Yet new conversations are taking place. Praise God for a deeper awareness of ethnic oppression.
Truth #2: We cannot fully comprehend God’s ways.
While we praise God for the good, we are called to trust Him in the dark. It is not our job to figure out why God allows all suffering, it is our job to trust. Like the little girl who was starving: she asked her mother, “Will God let us starve?” “Of course not,” her mother replied. “But even if He does,” the girl responded, “We must still love Him.” That girl knew something of God which too often the church-folk forget. God’s ways are mysterious. We don’t judge him. We don’t try to figure out why. We simply trust him.
William Cowper continues:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
Let the suffering be comforted knowing that God has been in control of 2020 and “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Will 2021 be any better? Who knows. It could be worse. Outside of Christ, it will one day be much worse. There is no comfort for the wicked. There is no comfort for those who reject Him. Even for His beloved in this world, God has promised trials and tribulation. But He’s also promised that he will never leave us, that he is in control, and that it’s for our good. May the suffering of 2020 drive us to the Life-Giver and may all of us find shelter in the Lord Jesus Christ.