Immediately after Joel was murdered, the one thing that most comforted me was my belief in God’s sovereign control over our lives. Joel’s life had not been cut short. God had ordained the number of his days from before he was born (Psalm 139:16) and intentionally allowed Joel to be murdered that night for His good purposes. The young man who shot and killed Joel had evil intentions and will be held accountable by God for what he did, but God’s intentions and purposes are always good.
“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”Romans 8:28
We live in a fallen world that has been very broken by human rebellion and sinfulness, but it is not a world abandoned by God nor outside of His control.
We should hate the sin and the results of sin that destroy the lives of those around us and love and bless the God who has not cast us into the utter darkness that we deserve, but sent His beloved Son to humble Himself being made in human likeness and live as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, Who though sorrowful to the point of death, accepted His Father’s will and endured rejection, beatings, crucifixion, the wrath and abandonment of our Heavenly Father and even Hell on our behalf. We should praise the God who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), Who offers redemption through the resurrection of His Son, the God Who is compassionate and not slow in keeping His promise, but patient with us not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but that all should come to repentance and be saved (2 Peter 3:9).
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Yahweh, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber.
4 Behold, the Protector of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Yahweh is your keeper; the Yahweh is the shade on your right hand.
6 The sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Yahweh will guard you from all evil; He will preserve your soul.
8 The Yahweh will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore.
Yahweh, Maker of heaven and earth is our Helper. Our Protector was not asleep at 9 PM the night Joel was murdered. He kept and guarded Joel and guided him from the presence of evil into peace and rest (Isaiah 57:1-2). He watched over Joel’s coming and going and preserved Joel’s soul. This is who God is. This is what God does. I have seen God help, work, protect, and watch over us throughout our lives. His love never fails. He is sovereign. All power and glory and honor are His.
Though Joel’s death broke my heart and I did not understand God’s ways that night, I knew that nothing could separate us from His love, not “trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword,” not a stranger with an AK57, nor “death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38-39).
While interacting with others through the months that followed Joel’s death, I began to realize that not everyone believed in God’s sovereign control the way I did. In their minds, the devil had won a battle, God’s hands were somehow tied by a mere human’s choice or the devil’s schemes, God’s good and perfect plans for our lives had been derailed, and he was powerless or had chosen not to do anything about it. It comforted them to believe that life and death was left to mortal whim while it was unthinkable to me that Joel could have died outside of our sovereign Heavenly Father’s will.
I don’t believe they thought through the implications of their beliefs. If God is not sovereign over all, then He cannot be sovereign. If God is not sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, wise, good and kind then He cannot be trusted to keep His Word and verses like these offer no real comfort:
“But I trust in You, O Yahweh; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands.”Psalm 31:14-15
“Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge.”Psalm 16:1
“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”Psalm 17:8
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.”Psalm 139:16
“Even to your old age, I will be the same, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you.”Isaiah 46:4
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.”Matthew 10:29
“And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”Luke 12:7
How can God be faithful and true to His Word if a mere human’s will or the devil’s schemes can prevent Him from preserving, keeping, ordaining, sustaining and delivering us? How can He be trusted to keep His promises? How can we know He is preparing a place for us and will one day return to rescue us? How can His ways be higher and His plans never thwarted if He is not sovereign over all? How could I take any comfort in God or His Word at all?
I wrestled while they slept. God’s sovereignty, man’s meaningful choice, and the problem of evil became a topic I needed to study and continue to study. Reading the writings of fellow Christian sufferers like Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, John Piper, Paul David Tripp, Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, Philip Yancey, and others confirmed what I had originally believed. Reading through their logic and the scriptures and seeing how comforted others were by God’s sovereignty over all things comforted me. My husband and I are currently reading Randy Alcorn’s “If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.” We highly recommend Randy’s books regularly. If you are looking for a book specifically on how God’s sovereignty works with meaningful choice we recommend his, “hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice.”
I believe in meaningful human choice that includes repercussions, responsibly and accountability and I believe in God’s sovereignty over all things. I believe the wisdom and lovingkindness of God’s character shine through every bit of His sovereignty though I lack the perspective to see and understand it all now. I believe that though I have to “live by faith, not by sight” (1 Corinthians 13:12) now, “then we will see everything with perfect clarity” (2 Corinthians 5:7). “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end He will stand upon the earth. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I will see Him for myself; my eyes will behold Him, and not as a stranger. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27
In the “coming ages” God will “display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). And I will be amazed at the beautiful way He has been “working all things together for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4:6
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory, far beyond any comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-182 Corinthians 4:16-18
A few resources:
An article written shortly after Joel’s death and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that I found especially helpful: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/confronting-the-problems-of-evil
Randy’s “If God is Good” chapter summaries:
A few quotes I often re-read:
“Either God rules, or Satan sets the world’s agenda and God is limited to reacting. In which case, the Almighty would become Satan’s clean-up boy, sweeping up after the devil has trampled through and done his worst, finding a way to wring good out of the situation somehow. But it wasn’t his best plan for you, wasn’t plan A, wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. In other words, although God would manage to patch things up, your suffering itself would be meaningless.”Joni Eareckson Tada, When God Weeps p 84
“It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”C. H. Spurgeon
“The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.”C. H. Spurgeon
“When terrible things happen, there are two choices, and only two: We can trust God, or we can defy Him. We believe that God is God, He’s still got the whole world in His hands and knows exactly what He’s doing, or we must believe that He is not God and that we are at the awful mercy of mere chance.”Elisabeth Elliot
“I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things that happen to us that do not belong to our lovingly assigned “portion.” (“This belongs to it, that does not”)? Are some things, then, out of the control of the Almighty? Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are canceled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter. A quiet heart is content with what God gives.”Elisabeth Elliot
“Number one, God brought me here. It is by His will that I am in this place. In that fact I will rest. Number two, He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child. Number three, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Number four, in His good time He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows. So, let me say I am here.”Andrew Murray
“When my plans crumble and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his immeasurable love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.”Vaneetha Rendall Risner, The Scars that have Shaped Me, page 73
“There’s great clarity in seeing the sovereignty and wisdom of God held together. We learn that nothing happens by chance, or passes outside God’s plans. Everything filters through His wisdom. This helps weary sufferers to remember that our pains and afflictions are not pointless.”Erik Reed, Uncommon Trust, page 46
“So while it is not inaccurate to say that God allows evil and suffering, it is inadequate, and perhaps misleading, to limit God’s involvement in suffering to this word, suggesting that he only passively (and perhaps reluctantly, we hope) gives permission. In fact, there are only a handful of scriptural passages where the text itself says that God ‘allowed’ or ‘permitted’ difficulty or harm, while many more indicate that God sent, intended, brought about, planned, caused, or gave experiences of suffering to his people for some purpose (Deuteronomy 32:39; 2 Samuel 12:15; Psalm 66:10-12; Isaiah 45:7; Jeremiah 46:28; Jonah 2:3; Matthew 4:1; 1 Peter 3:17).”Nancy Guthrie, Hearing Jesus Speak in Your Sorrow, Page 78
“Although the sovereignty of God is universal and absolute, it is not the sovereignty of blind power. It is coupled with infinite wisdom, holiness and love. And this doctrine, when properly understood, is a most comforting and reassuring one. Who would not prefer to have his affairs in the hands of a God of infinite power, wisdom, holiness and love, rather than to have them left to fate, or chance, or irrevocable natural law, or to short-sighted and perverted self? Those who reject God’s sovereignty should consider what alternatives they have left.Loraine Boettner
Leave it in the Hand and Mystery of God.
“I was preparing to go to Nyack College. Before I left there was one burning question I had in mind, and I went to Dr. Tozer and said, Could you give me some advice concerning the problem of Calvinism versus Arminianism?
“And I’ll never forget the advice he gave me. At the time I thought it was rather inconclusive and not too helpful. But I listened carefully. He said, ‘My son, when you get to college you’re going to find that all of the boys will be gathered in a room discussing and arguing over Arminianism and Calvinism night after night after night. I’ll tell you what to do, Cliff. Go to your room and meet God. At the end of four years you’ll be way down the line and they’ll still be where they started, because greater minds than yours have wrestled with this problem and have not come up with satisfactory conclusions. Instead, learn to know God.’”The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, James L. Snyder page 132
A few Scriptures to consider:
As for you, you thought evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are this day.Genesis 50:19
See now that I am He; there is no God besides Me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.Deuteronomy 32:39
The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.Psalm 33:10-11
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevailsProverbs 19:21
The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; He guides it wherever He pleasesProverbs 21:1
I know that You can do all things and that no plan of Yours can be thwarted.Job 42:2
Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and ancient times from what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and all My good pleasure I will accomplish.’ I summon a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far-off land. Truly I have spoken, and truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, and I will surely do it.Isaiah 46:9-11
He [Jesus] was delivered up by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, and you, by the hands of the lawless, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross.Acts 2:23
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”Acts 17:24-28