This article shows the relationship between God’s providence and sovereignty in relation to human suffering and pain, showing that suffering and pain comes from God our Father.

Source: The Outlook, 1989. 3 pages.

My Father Planned it All

Does God will pain? Does God want us to suffer? Does our heavenly Father bring upon us hardship, suffer­ing, even death and sorrow? Does God will and plan these things in our lives?

The answer of some (perhaps many) people is negative. In recent conversation about this subject with a fellow Christian, she insisted that God did not will her sickness and hospitalization. When I asked her where they did come from she had no clear answer, but she was sure that they did not come from God.

Many or most charismatic people believe that all illness and adversity come from the devil. God doesn't want us to be sick, they say. But God can and does help those who have faith in resisting this kind of work of the devil. They are certain that God does not will suffering and pain for His children.

Other people, many in Reformed circles, say that God allows these things to happen. He permits them. How must we understand this? This is an important question. Suppose that an intruder wants to enter my home and attack my wife, and I would allow it to happen. This would imply one of two things. In the first case, that I wouldn't be able to resist him, I couldn't do anything about it and so I would "allow" it to happen. Is this how God lets calamity overtake us? Is it against His will, and is He unable to prevent it? This of course cannot be. In the other case, suppose that I would be able to resist this intruder, but didn't do so, and let him carry out his intentions. I would be a very, very poor husband. Who would want to say that God so allows things to happen? That the devil, adversity and calamitous things would come upon us, but God would just stand by and allow this to happen? This would al­most be blasphemy of God. We must ask the important question what people mean when they speak of God allowing this or that adversity to hap­pen to us.

John Calvin speaks of the primary and secondary causes of things. God is the first, and man (or the devil) is the second cause. Many people, also in Reformed circles, have thought this kind of language or interpretation to be too strong. But one thing is sure: God is always in complete control of all things, all creatures and all of our experiences.

Look at Scripture with me. Amos 3:6, "When disaster comes to a city, has not God caused it?" Disaster was usually brought upon people by war. In the following verses Amos speaks of what the sovereign God will bring upon Israel. The enemy will overrun the land, pull down the strongholds, and plunder their fortresses. Undoub­tedly this would include suffering for people, also women and children. And Amos says that God will have caused this. The same thought we find in Isaiah 45:7. The prophet here speaks about what God does. "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster."

Acts 4:28 is another passage that speaks of God planning and working out something extremely important. In the context Peter and John have healed the lame man by the gate of the temple. As a result Peter and John preach about the Christ through whom they healed this man. And they speak about what the Jews, Gentiles, Herod and Pontius Pilate have done. Then Peter says, referring to God, "They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should hap­pen." This says in plain words that these enemies of Christ crucified Him according to God's will. How to ex­plain this is another question. But the passage says that God willed it, quite probably the most wicked deed that men have ever committed.

Notice also a few related passages ­of the Heidelberg Catechism regard­ing this subject. Lord's Day 9 speaks about our Father being the creator of all things. And then we read in the answer to question 26, "I trust Him so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world" (my emphasis). Notice also what the Catechism says in the following Lord's Day about the beauti­ful subject of our Father's providence. "Rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sick­ness, prosperity and poverty, all things in fact, come to us not by chance, but from His fatherly hand" (my emphasis).

Questions are bound to arise in con­nection with these basic Biblical truths. How can a just God plan sinful actions and still hold man respon­sible? How can a good God will dis­aster and calamities which would include untold suffering and pain for "innocent" people, including children? How can He actually plan such things?

In trying to understand such ques­tions, let us remember first of all that if I am going to believe only that which I can understand, I am in serious trouble and I have very insecure footing under my feet. If I am going to believe only what I can com­prehend with my puny finite mind, and continue in this way I am bound to end in a world of unbelief, amid all kinds of insecurities and fears.

When we ask why God does this or that, or how He can do it, we must remember that there are any number of truths regarding God which we can­not understand or even begin to fathom. How can we, for example, un­derstand that God is eternal, never having a beginning or end? Can we, time-bound creatures, comprehend this? God created this immense universe by His mere speech. Who can understand that? Who can fathom the meaning of infinity, that there are no limits in God, or His attributes? As His children, we believe in Him and believe His Word. This does not mean that we can analyze or rationalize Him. Let us be thankful that we can't. If we could, He would be on our level, the level of mere man. We believe that God, in His purity and holiness, hates sin and is never the author of it. Was the entrance of sin into the world some kind of accident that God could have prevented? Of course not. We believe that He uses sin, the devil and all of the world with all that is in it to carry out His eternal plan. Isn't Cyrus, the great king and dictator of the world empire of the Medes and Per­sians, called the servant of God by Isaiah? Don't ask how can God do all this and still hold man responsible? I don't know. I can't understand God. But I believe it, because the Bible teaches it. He is the eternal, infinite and incomprehensible One.

That God uses adverse means is also plain from a passage like John 15:1-8. Jesus there speaks of Himself as being the "vine" and we the "branches." The branches that do not bear fruit God throws away. But those that do bring fruit, He trims and prunes, that they will bring forth more fruit. How does God "prune" and "trim" us as His branches? He often does this through trials, afflictions and adverse experiences. He does not just allow such things to happen. He brings them upon us. He is in control. In time of sharp pruning, when the knife cuts deep and the pain is sore, it is an unspeakable comfort to read, "My Father is the husbandman."

We must also remember, in this con­nection, that we are all "conceived and born in sin," so that He doesn't owe us anything. He doesn't even owe us our earthly, physical existence. Believing this may help us recognize that a just God can bring disaster upon people, including "innocent" children.

How comforting this almighty power of God should be for all Chris­tians. Remember, as sinners we have deserved no good, not in any way. But now in Jesus we are saved, so that everything must work out for our good by the marvelous grace of God. Our God is in control of everything that happens to us. Let us remember this when we experience hardship and af­fliction. And never forget that our God always reigns. Think of how many big things happen in nature, ad­verse things that are completely beyond our control. I think of the dreadful earthquake in Armenia last year. There are storms and natural catastrophes, accidents that happen in the air and on the ground. Diseases and disabilities may suddenly over­ take anyone of us. Against these events we are helpless. Before the decisions and war of nations, com­munism, of the growing Muslim move­ments, and of the materialism and secularism in our country in which we live and our children are growing up.

How must we as Christians look at all these threatening realities? First of all, we must be Christians, genuine Christians, believing and living children of God. We must commit our lives and ways to God. He as our Father is and always will be in control. He makes all things work together for our good. That means everything that we experience. And that way it will be unto the end of the world.

Our God reigns and always will!
What tho' the pathway be lonely,
And dark shadows fall;
I know, where it leadeth,
My Father planned it all.

There may be sunshine tomorrow,
Shadows may break and flee;
'Twill be the way He chooses
The Father's plan for me.

He guides my faltering footsteps,
Along the weary way,
For well He knows the way
Will lead to endless day.

I sing thru the shade and sunshine,
I'll trust Him whatever befall
I sing, for I cannot be silent
My Father planned it all.

To sing this from the heart often takes a lot of faith, especially for those who face hardships, pain, and ap­parently unanswered prayers. But we must rest in the Bible's assurance that our Father planned it all.

O God, give us childlike trust, whole-hearted commitment and total surrender.

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