You Do All Things Well (Finding Comfort in Providence, Part 2)
In the first entry in this series, we looked at the essential doctrine of God's sovereignty - the belief that God absolutely controls all things. He is not a God who only intervenes in history and our lives now and then, but has instead ordered every movement of every atom. If his promises are to be in any sense meaningful, then he not only needs to be able to make a promise, but he must also be able to guarantee every one of the infinite factors that affect that promise.
But sovereignty alone is not enough to give us comfort. We also need to be assured that the one who controls the universe also knows what he's doing. Control without wisdom is chaos.
This is easy to accept and believe in the abstract. If someone asks you, "Do you believe that God is perfectly wise and that all his decisions are good?" what else would you say but "Yes! Of course!" Where this becomes hard to believe is in the difficult times of life. When a loved one dies tragically, when a marriage crumbles around us, when we learn of unspeakable abuse. In such times, we find it hard to confess, "God, you do all things well." We would rather say, "This must have been outside of his control."
The assumption that underlies our struggle to accept God's wisdom is that we, his finite creatures, would be able to understand his wisdom. We need the reminder given to God's people in Isaiah 55:8: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD."
God does not always explain to us the reason he works out events in the way that he does, but he instead simply reminds us that he has a different perspective than we do. That, however, could be said of anyone - we all have a different perspective on things. However, God continues in Isaiah 55:9 to remind us that, not only is his perspective different, it is qualitatively better. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." God's understanding of things is on a whole different level - his thoughts are higher than ours. He understands things in a way that we aren't able to.
Very often, when we say God is wise and that he does all things well, what we really mean is "Yes, that is what I would have done if I was God. That is what I think should happen." But when circumstances do not happen the way we desire (think of Peter rebuking Jesus for predicting his death or Jonah sulking over God's mercy to Nineveh), we must confess that the reason events went differently from how we would choose is not because God is unwise but because our wisdom is finite and insufficient. It is for this reason that the Proverb urges us to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Trust is easy when things make sense. When circumstances baffle us, we cannot lean on our own understanding of things.
If we are to find comfort and rest in God's providence, we need not only to believe that he controls all things, but also that he controls them well - that he does so according to a perfect wisdom that at times will be beyond our grasp. But that is not all. Because as any fan of comic books can tell you, super-villains are usually both powerful and intelligent. But they are not good. God's sovereign control and perfect wisdom are only comforting if he uses them in a loving way. In the next post we will continue examining these attributes of God in the expectation that we will find in them rest for our souls.