The Sovereignty of God Part 2

Luck, Miracles, and God's Purposes

By Christopher Schwinger

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?"

The existence of "luck" seems to be in conflict with theology about God's "sovereignty." If God is sovereign, that can either mean He has the ability but chooses to withdraw somewhat by bestowing responsibility on people, or it can mean He is actively involved in everything. I believe it is both, but that the boundaries between what we do and what God does through us are too hard to determine, especially when we see that sometimes good intentions get used for evil and evil intentions get used for good. I don't think luck is nonexistent, though. Luck is the same as chance, and it's a law of nature: If you run often enough, you'll likely trip at some point just because you have a certain percent chance of getting hurt, depending on how clumsy you are. I personally disagree with the Old Testament practice of casting lots and think it was not as effective at telling God's will as they thought. While there's some truth to the "dispensations" idea that God worked in a different way in the Old Testament than now, I don't think that makes the casting of lots a reliable testimony in any era. It's based on a fatalistic philosophy which says the end result is predetermined, which accompanies their philosophy that every outcome must be interpreted, looking backward, as God's favor or wrath. But divine intervention indeed does override luck and sometimes our natural weakness. I believe God has protected me from dying when I had clumsiness or slow reflexes. He overrode nature in those cases. But if I had assumed He would always save me, and had been deliberately reckless, that would have been the end of me, I'm sure.

However, even ignorance doesn't protect us always from negative consequences. God doesn't give people a safety net just because of their ignorance and limitations. That's probably the hardest part to accept about His "sovereignty." There are negative consequences which people experience because of the choices of others and because of the environments they're born into. Also, their own health choices can do this. There are cover-ups by people in the medical, pharmaceutical, and soft drink industries which have led to false beliefs in the populace, and people have consumed products which were very toxic. The cause was that they listened to bad advice from the "experts." They can pray, and God sometimes does miraculously heal them. When I was at MidAmerica Nazarene University, the interim president, Jim Diehl, told of having the church elders pray for the cancer somewhere in his throat area to be healed. At some point in the following days, he suddenly felt something change there, and the doctor later could not explain what happened when he discovered it was gone. But Dr. Diehl had a much younger relative who did not recover, I think also from cancer. He asked God why He saved his life and not his younger relative's, and of course did not get an answer.

Sometimes remarkable deliverance doesn't change people's hearts, but God doesn't plan every event on the basis of how efficiently it's producing spiritual growth. In 2003, a 27-year-old outdoor adventurer named Aron Ralston was stuck in a canyon in Utah, pinned in a narrow space by a boulder which had fallen, and he didn't think he would wake up again after several solid days of surviving like that. At that time, because his mother had contacted people, there were many prayers being made to God for him to be rescued. When he woke up that last day after fitful sleeping, he felt his will to live revitalized and came up with a way to dislodge himself by amputating his own arm. When he finally encountered other people, they shared their little bit of food and water with him, but he quickly realized it would be impossible for him to climb the remaining barriers with one arm, in such heat, with so little food and water. Right then, a rescue helicopter showed up. Was this God or what?! But Aron Ralston didn't become a "person of faith" in spite of this, even though he believed God answered others' prayers on that day. His personal life hasn't been optimal since then, either. Seth MacFarlane has destroyed morality with his cartoons, failing to see that God preserved his life when he was late to the airport on 9/11 because of a hangover. In the 2016 Christian movie Miracles from Heaven, a remarkable story a girl's health problems being cured by falling out of a tree, there's an unanswered question: Why does God do miracles when we least expect them, while so many people who really have taken to heart Jesus' promise "Ask and it shall be given to you" lose their faith when God doesn't answer their prayers? Or you could ask about the shipwreck in the Book of Acts, "Why did God let the storm at sea happen instead of just making it a smooth ride? Paul had been through enough suffering already and the pagans on the ship wouldn't become Christians anyway!"

Those who never hear the Gospel become tainted easily by their own sin nature as they grow older, and it doesn't matter whether they WOULD HAVE repented if they knew, unless they were of an unusually spiritually sensitive nature and asked God to show them the truth and He'd intervened. But even most of the stories of that happening through dreams Muslims have of Jesus don't have the conversion happen until after Jesus tells them they'll meet an evangelist, who then finishes the process. Perhaps God doesn't want us to be terrified of Him, but to love Him out of devotion instead of fear of consequences, and that may be why He seems to give most of the job to us to do His work. It becomes more of a burden than we want, unfortunately.

Psalm 139 is a great psalm because the psalmist actually finds comfort in knowing that God knows everything that will ever happen in his life, was actively involved in his creation in the womb of his mother, and can see in darkness and light equally well and read everyone's minds. Job 28 is a brilliant poem about wisdom which says there are gems buried underground which God has placed for mankind to find, and we can find things which no other animal can, and are the highest of God's creation (Psalm 8), but wisdom is something we can't just find through hard work like mining underground. This lesson applies to the deepest questions we have about life, too. We have to know some things instinctually, not always logically. We can't always "figure out" how to get to the answers. Sometimes we just have to accept that the good and bad both exist, and maybe God doesn't "ordain" everything, but is at least PRESENT and INVOLVED in everything. If you analogize the wisdom poem of Job 28 to the question of God's sovereignty, we can mine underground for answers, but true wisdom isn't found through just looking for answers on our own. We have to have virtue that is found in reverence for God, not just our own attempts. As Job 28:28 says: "And to man He said, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.' " Virtue results in hope, as many psalms prove. If we pursue doing the right thing and going after our goals, based on a foundation of morality and a Biblical perspective, God will give us hope as we do so, even when horrible things challenge our faith.

Published 1-17-17