On his blog Everyday Theology, professor and blogger Marc Cortez shares from a conversation that recently took place in his daughter’s middle school group. Marc adds, “I think it does a good job highlighting three mistakes that we often make when we talk about the sovereignty of God and how it relates to sin and suffering in the world.”
Youth pastor: God is sovereign. That means he controls everything that happens.
Middle-schooler: So God was in control when my dog died? Why would God kill my dog?
Youth pastor: That’s a tough one. But sometimes God lets us go through hard times so that we’re prepared for even more difficult things in the future. I remember how hard it was when my dog died. But going through that helped me deal with an even more difficult time later when my grandma died. Does that make sense?
Middle-schooler: (Long pause.) So God killed my dog to prepare me for when he’s going to kill my grandma?
Youth pastor: (Silence.)
Marc continues, “if you look closely at this quick exchange, I think you’ll see three mistakes that people commonly make when talking about the sovereignty of God and how it relates to the bad things that happen in the world.”
1. We Answer the Wrong Question. “The student asked about God killing the dog. The youth pastor skipped that question and went directly to God’s permissive will. But the student (understandably) thought the youth pastor was answering the question he actually asked. So he concluded that the youth pastor was agreeing that God did in fact kill the dog, and was just trying to explain why God would do such a thing. That clearly wasn’t the youth pastor’s intent, but by answering the wrong question, he set the student up for that misunderstanding.”
2. We Confuse Authority and Agency. “Pretty much all Christians agree that God has authority over everything that happens, even the bad stuff. (Yes, even Arminians affirm that God is sovereign in this sense.) But they disagree on precisely how to understand God’s agency. Some will say that God directly causes everything that happen. Others want to talk about different kinds of causation (i.e. divine and creaturely causation are both at work in every event, but God’s agency is somehow less direct and he is thus not responsible for sin and evil). And I could go on. The point is to recognize that different approaches to divine agency still affirm divine authority. They just unpack it the relationship differently.”
3. We Try to Make Evil Sound Good. “There’s a fine line between helping people see that God is amazing enough to use even the worst situations for his good purposes and making it sound like those horrible situations are actually good things. Yes, God can use a bad situation for good ends. He does it all the time. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and God rescued people from famine. The Babylonians crushed Judah, and God demonstrated his awesome holiness. Jesus was executed on a cross, and God redeemed a sinful world. Our God is amazing, and he is always at work in the midst of even the most horrific situations.” More from Marc here…
I’m glad that Marc took the time to share this story and to identify these “3 Mistakes We Make When Talking about the Sovereignty of God.” I’ve made them.
The worst thing that we can do is to confuse the confused even more. With such massive subjects as the God’s sovereignty, evil and suffering in the world–wisdom and pastoral care are paramount.
Like many, I, too, am often called upon to counsel and sit with those who are experiencing loss, have experienced loss, and who often continue to struggle mentally and emotionally. First and foremost, when I’m called upon, right there and then, I begin to pray for the right words to speak into the person’s situation–because I never want to mislead or confuse those who are awaiting a word of comfort or encouragement.