Something Better than Vegetables (Finding Comfort in Providence, Part 3)1
In the first part of this series, we examined the idea that God controls all things. We can find rest in his sovereignty because nothing is outside of his control, not even the smallest detail of our lives. Not even a hair that falls from our heads.
In the second part, we looked at God's wisdom in controlling all things. After all, what good is total power if it is used poorly? But God's wisdom is so much superior to human wisdom that, though we may not always understand it, he does all things perfectly.
But there is one more piece of this puzzle that must be in place if we are to be able to find comfort in God's sovereignty. We must be assured that God's purposes are in fact good. We need to know that he is not an evil genius manipulating history and the universe. Or, as we are perhaps more likely to think, he is not an indifferent, uncaring force that executes a perfect yet heartless will over all things.
Scripture is so clear on the point that God is loving that it almost seems unnecessary to discuss. We are familiar with 1 John 4:8, which tells us that God IS love. And his self-description in Exodus 34:6-7 begins with the declaration that he is "compassionate and gracious, abounding in love and faithfulness." Psalm 136 is thoroughly repetitive in order to drive home the idea that God's love endures forever. God is loving. God is love. It is essential to who he is.
But I would suggest that we struggle to believe that. We struggle to believe that he is always loving. We struggle to believe that his love is in everything he does. We struggle to believe that his love is more than good intentions that are sometimes overwhelmed by difficult circumstances.
And perhaps we struggle like this because we still don't understand what love is.
Just as a young child pouts when she doesn't get the candy she asked for (and is instead told to eat vegetables... VEGETABLES!!) and declares to her parents, "You don't love me!" our understanding of God's love stumbles on a definition of love that insists we must always be happy. Why would a loving God want me to be sad? Why would a loving God allow me to endure suffering? Our problems are not as trivial as the command to eat our vegetables, but the principle is consistent.
Just as a good parent has a better understanding of what is best for the child and therefore commands and requires what leads to true and lasting happiness, God knows what is best for us, better than we do ourselves. And he would be very unloving if he allowed us to achieve a temporary or insufficient happiness that is less that what he has in view for us.
Perhaps you are familiar with the words of Romans 8:28, that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and who are called according to his purposes. They are beautiful, sweet words of assurance that no matter what is happening, God brings about good. But I urge you to read it carefully, and in context:
This promise is for those who are called according to God's purposes, which reminds us that he is not orchestrating things to be good according to our plans and purposes, but his.
And as we continue reading, we see that Paul sets this promise in the context of suffering. As God works all things together for good, it may entail a passage through "trouble, hardships, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, the sword..." (Romans 8:35). And yet these do not give us any grounds on which to question God's love for us. Why? Because the greatest possible evidence of that love has already been given - the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. If God has already given us his own son, why would we expect him to withhold any good thing (Romans 8:32)?
Yes, God is powerful beyond limit. Yes, he is wise beyond understanding. And yes, he is loving beyond measure. We may need to correct our definition of what it means to be loving and not hold God hostage to our own demands. But the more we understand what it means to be truly loving, the more we will see and rest in this great attribute of our God. And we need all three of these attributes working together to truly give us peace. His love is exercised by his total power, which operates according to his perfect wisdom. And that is good news indeed.