platitudes about God’s sovereignty

posted in: on being a captive set free | 2

I’ll admit it. I had to look up the word “platitude.” I’ve heard and read it in so many places lately that I finally had to own the fact that I wasn’t sure of its definition. Here it is: 

You’re welcome.

I’ve come across the word over and over again in relation to God’s sovereignty. For example: “We offer false comfort in the form of platitudes about God’s sovereignty.” I think I made that quote up, though it’s likely pretty close to the lines I’ve read in various places. Surely you’re familiar with the concept: someone is grieving and the only thing we can think to say is the expected, “God is sovereign.” And I get why we call it a platitude. In general, it’s likely unhelpful, because what we mean is, “Your pain makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know what to say right now. Stop being all messy and broken. Your grief is clearly evidence that you don’t trust God. Trust God and everything will be all better. Or at least pretend that you trust God so that I don’t have to be so uncomfortable.” Yes, “Trust God!” is probably right up there with “God is sovereign!”

But the more I think of God’s sovereignty designated as a mere platitude, the more grieved I become.

I remember when I first encountered God’s sovereignty in Scripture in an unexpected way. Following a conversation with my then-boyfriend (now-husband), I went to the book of Job. I had never read the book in its entirety, but I had been to Sunday School enough to know the gist of the story: Job is prosperous, God allows Satan to afflict Job with all kinds of loss and turmoil, and Job’s friends prove to be miserable comforters. I’m not sure I knew the end of the story, but that’s where Jordan sent me. How does God respond to Job when he questions God in the midst of his grief? I was certain God responds in compassion. Something like, “It’s understandable you’re so angry, Job. After all, I did take a lot from you. Go ahead and let it out.” And while God is compassionate (a platitude for another day), that was not his response (Job 38):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…

It goes on. Oh, I’m sorry, Job. I must have forgotten. Did you make the stars and the sea? Do you command the morning? Have you seen where I keep the snow and the hail?

Read about the God who is Sovereign–look at Job 38-41. Isn’t He incredible? His power, his majesty, his sovereignty–there is no doubt that He is worthy of worship. Like Isaiah we ought to fall on our faces before Him crying out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). We stand before Him in all His glory and we realize, like Job: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?” (Job 40:4)

But all of this makes us uncomfortable, because God in His sovereignty seems so distant, so heartless. His response to Job (essentially, “I am God. You’re not.”) feels so cold. And yet we know that God isn’t cold or distant. God is love. His sovereignty offers no comfort because we don’t know how to reconcile the God of love with the God who is sovereign, especially in the midst of our suffering. And that’s why God’s sovereignty is a platitude. It is no longer thoughtful or helpful, and it certainly doesn’t make the pain go away, because in our minds, it only makes the situation that much more difficult. God purposed this suffering? I don’t like that God.

But we do have a God who purposes suffering. He purposed the suffering of His very own Son to make wretched sinners His beloved sons and daughters. The God who suffers is the God who loves. There is no other way.

You know that other “platitude,” Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”?

Because of the God who Suffers, we are connected to the God who is Sovereign.

For those who love God–those who have received the gift of faith in Christ–those of us who are connected to the God who is Sovereign because of the Christ who Suffered.

all things–not some things, not just the big things, all things–every moment of suffering, every changed diaper, every shattered dream, every unexpected encounter, every ordinary moment, every mistake, every screw up, and every intentional moment of obedience.

work together for good–Good! The Sovereign God of the universe orchestrates all things for Good. No moment is just for the hell of it. Every moment accomplishes our good and God’s glory. Only a Sovereign, Powerful, Glorious God who holds the world in the palm of His hand and loves us relentlessly can orchestrate every moment–all things–for our good.

And so, “I’m God, you’re not.” is the best news ever.

God’s sovereignty is good news!

Oh, that it could never again be a mere platitude to us, but would be the sweet news our souls would rejoice to hear. 

After my second miscarriage, I really wrestled with this. I wrote about it quite a bit here, referencing J.I. Packer’s Knowing God {more than} a few times. During that painful time, and while walking fearfully through a subsequent pregnancy, God’s sovereignty moved from a “mere platitude” to my only source of comfort. When we see how big God is, we are free to stop trying to figure everything out and instead rest in the fact that He’s got this. He’s not surprised or shaken. He’s not scrambling to react. He’s got the whole world in His hands.

As Pastor Tullian Tchividjian said at the 2014 Liberate conference, “It sets us free to know we’re small.” 

When we suffer, we are tempted to lash out. Why, Lord? How could you do this to me? And when we’re met with, “God is sovereign!” we’re annoyed. We’d rather wallow in our indignation that this should never have happened to us. But the truth is, we’re deeply arrogant: we deserve far worse. And yet instead of getting what we deserve, we get Jesus.

Here is Job’s response, perhaps it ought to be ours:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
(Job 42:2-6)

Perhaps we ought to pray for faith that we could declare alongside Paul:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Phil. 3:8-11)

In the words of my husband: Faith is believing in God’s definition of good. When we are anchored in the Sovereignty and Goodness of the God who suffers on our behalf, we dig in our fingernails and hold on for dear life because we don’t know why and it hurts and we wish it could be different but we know that He is working All. Things. for our good. And He is good. And so we repent and rest and we’re quiet and trust, for there is our salvation. (Isaiah 30:15)

It doesn’t mean we don’t feel sadness or grief. It doesn’t mean we don’t pound our fists on God’s chest and scream and cry and ask why. But as we do, He holds us close. He knows suffering. He knows our suffering. He is not indifferent. Not only does he grieve the effects of sin in our hearts and sin in our fallen world, but He experienced them too.

He weeps with us even when He knows He will raise the dead. (John 11:35)

But He also whispers hope in between our quiet sobs:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

They will be comforted because the Sovereign God of the universe has already written the end of the story. And because of the God who Suffers, the end of the story is Good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

God is Sovereign.

I pray that truth becomes rich and meaningful and uttered out of a deep reverence and trust, no longer considered a mere platitude.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

2 Responses

  1. This is beautiful. Thank you 🙂