The Sovereignty of God Part 1

Hardships and the Pool of Siloam

By Christopher Schwinger

The Sovereignty of God, The Series

The Two Siloam Passages
Luck, Miracles, and God's Purposes

The meaning of God's "sovereignty" is a major concern for anyone who has experienced a personal loss. I love the candid way a questioner worded his question which was assigned to me: "As I understand the Bible, we are born into a world of sin. It's the sin, not God, who causes diseases and evil. So if you get a disease is it just luck of the draw? And does that make good things also just the luck of the draw? When we pray from the heart, good things can happen, but sometimes good things happen without prayer, so is that just luck of the draw? Also, does the Bible say everything happens for a reason?"

Romans 8:28 is the verse most quoted by those who say life is like a tapestry, and all the seemingly meaningless and terrible parts of life are what we see on the back side of the tapestry as it's being sewed, but on the front, it's a beautiful picture: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." There are also the two Siloam passages in Luke 13 and John 9, which stress that no one's suffering can be directly linked to the severity of their sin over another person's:
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Luke 13:1-5

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. John 9:1-7
There's always the possibility that God will directly judge a person by causing suffering for the purpose of bringing that person to repentance, but it would never be just as punishment, but always a productive kind of judgment. Discipline is productive rather than just vindictive. But we can't take God's punishing acts in the Old Testament and think God is punishing us for everything we did wrong. That just leads to a guilt complex. While I think it's great that American pastors and political leaders established thanksgiving and fasting days so that they could confess their sins and remain on good terms with God, I also think those proclamations should've been more about praying that God would help us love one another better, because only then do you escape the selfish tendency to manipulate God with your humility.

The problem I've run into is that there are very few Biblical promises which apply to everyone. Some do, like if we belong to Him, God is always present with us and will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we're able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). But without a guarantee that the things we really care about in life will go the way we hope, there's no easy way to remain confident that God has a master plan and cares about us. Even desires which feel so noble that they must've been from God don't always happen. I think C. S. Lewis was right that God allows us to feel dissatisfied with life so we would see that we need a perfect eternity with Him after we die. I'm coming to feel that way more and more.

It is natural for us to doubt whether He just put us here to "use" us, a taskmaster who only keeps us alive so we can "serve" Him. The Gospel of John helped me with that struggle by showing me that Jesus viewed His goals and the Father's goals as the same because they both came out of good character, the goodness of their heart, and their love. But that didn't mean Jesus could escape suffering even though He asked the Father (which means He asked Himself, basically) to let the cup of God's wrath pass Him by. So if we acknowledge that suffering is inevitable, and that our sufferings are not always our fault, but God can bring good out of them (John 9's lesson), we have a further dilemma about just what it means to "trust" God and whether our first thoughts when we're struggling should be WHY we're struggling, HOW to end it, WHAT God wants us to learn from it, WHO we should talk to about it, HOW we should pray, etc. In John 9:2, I interpret "so that the works of God might be displayed in him" as a RESULT clause, not a purpose clause. It's the good outcome God alone can create, but I don't think it's saying that's "why" God "caused" it. If you use John 9 as your blueprint for how you should view suffering, Jesus addressed these issues:

Why we're struggling: He avoided talking about the unfairness of it all;

How to end it: He did a miracle, which we unfortunately can't expect, or we'll almost always be let down;

What God wants us to learn from it: He used it to communicate ideas about spiritual blindness and enlightenment;

Who we should talk to about it: God mainly, but other people if they care;

How we should pray: Not specifically addressed in John 9, but a good way to pray is "If you're able, please end this, or otherwise help me learn something valuable from it until it can be endured" — and don't be afraid God will be mad if you express doubt about His ability, but also be willing to obey instructions that are clearly from Him which don't make sense.

Image Credit: Unsplash; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Christian-Life  |  God-Father  |  Hardships

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Published 1-10-17