God is sovereign and God is good.
Ever since our scare with Mellie and cancer, I have been tripping out on this. The two concepts get along great while everything is sunshine and lollipops. But when life falls apart it is really difficult to believe both of them at the same time. If God is sovereign it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the things that cause our suffering are part of his design. Sickness, war, injustice, loss, misfortune—he is able to stop them, but he doesn’t. How can God be good and still let these bad things happen? How can we be comforted in our suffering?
I don’t like being hit over the head with Romans 8:28, the one about God working all things for our good. Don’t get me wrong, that verse is a great encouragement to me—when I’m clear enough to think it through. But the way it normally gets used sounds like Christianese doublespeak for saying, “Cheer up! Bad is really Good!” It’s just a flat contradiction of what I’m actually experiencing, what I’m actually feeling. Most of the time I don’t find that helpful. But recently I found, and oh how I prefer, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. The God of all comfort, who comforts us in (not in denial of) our troubles.
The real triumph of good over bad is so much richer than finding out that “bad” really was “good” afterall. The richness is fully illustrated in the paradox of the cross. “There on the cross tis fairest drawn, in precious blood and crimson lines” (thank you, Isaac Watts). The suffering and death of Jesus is the worst thing that ever happened. The suffering and death of Jesus is the best thing that ever happened. These contradictory statements are (I believe) both true. And the mystery that they somehow fit together is a deeper well of comfort for me than any attempt of mine to believe that bad is actually good. Because suffering is real—it aches, it dislocates, it grinds, numbs, destroys, it has real consequences. I am not going to pretend that revulsion, avoidance and mourning are not proper responses to bad things. I see Jesus in Gethsemane, sweating blood, desperate for a way out. But I also see Him on the other side of the tomb, with scars in His hands and side. The wonder is that instead of erasing the suffering of the cross—instead of somehow making it go away—Jesus’ resurrection redeemed His suffering. It was made new. The resurrection has such power that it transformed the foul blotch of Jesus’ shameful death into the brightest jewel of God’s glory and the centerpiece of His plan to rescue the world.
Think about that. The cross was the worst evil ever done. God knew it. But God was able to turn the tables on evil so completely that the worst Bad became the greatest Good. If that is true, what suffering is He unable to redeem? Should I not trust him with my own suffering and the suffering of those I love? Trust Him not to erase it, not to make it go away, but to redeem it.
Bad is bad. It really is. But Good is so good that it transforms the worst things into the best things. That is real cause for hope. That is sweet comfort. God is sovereign and God is good.