I have found in my preaching and teaching ministry over the years, that there is virtually no issue or doctrine which engenders more theological controversy and conflict than the sovereignty of God, particularly as we live in a sin-cursed world that necessarily entails evil, pain and suffering.
Indeed, the reality is that many people struggle with the concept of a God who exists and is good, while allowing as a sovereign creator, evil and suffering to exist at the same time.
Headlines of late I’m sure have driven many to search themselves and the scriptures to reconcile the Bible’s teaching that God is the governor of all that occurs on earth and the events that are transpiring on it.
According to published reports, the COVID-19 pandemic as predicted by many experts, has brought a long-feared second wave of cases and hospitalizations across the globe, in conjunction with the holiday and winter season having begun in the United States for example, which is a time in which indoor socializing is maxed out.
Last week a record 177,000 plus people in the U.S. were reportedly diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 70,000 coronavirus patients were hospitalized nationwide. Although there may be some legitimate question as to the extent of the volume and validity of these numbers (including fatalities), there is little doubt that the pandemic has made a comeback as hospital intensive-care units have begun to run dangerously low on beds, leading as many as a dozen states to consider an increase in their mask mandates of every kind and stay at home, quarantine orders.
As if all of that weren’t enough to chew on in a nation still wrestling with the uncertainty of the results of its presidential election, economic downturn and civil unrest in 2020, many of us overlooked the devastation caused this week by Hurricane Iota, in central American and Nicaragua in particular.
That category 4 storm – the latest of a record two dozen plus named storms this year, has killed at least six with many more fatalities expected from the damage left behind by swollen rivers and landslides.
The cost to repair the nation’s infrastructure (99% of Nicaragua is reportedly without power) may reach into billions of dollars as thousands of Nicaraguans and nearby Hondurans are homeless and in shelters.
Could the sovereign God of the Bible (Psa. 135:6-7; Isa. 45:5,7; Amos 3:6) have actually caused all this damage himself? The scriptures would most definitely point in that direction as the Old Testament speaks of God’s providence in the affairs of man, working in and through nature, such as in his judgment of Israel over the centuries.
The prophet Jeremiah predicted that Jehovah God would bring the sword, famine and even pestilence to the nation that had rejected him and his word time and again – particularly for the sins of idolatry and empty worship.
To which, in comparing false idols with the true and living God, the prophet said, “Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things” (Jer. 14:22).
Notice the noun of the supernatural source of such ‘natural’ calamity in that text. The scriptures and the moral implications of such events led a former local newspaper columnist and friend of mine – an avowed agnostic if not an atheist, to write in the wake of another hurricane and the chaos it left behind some years ago:
Faith in a way, makes it harder to understand the maddening capriciousness of natural disasters, or even man-made cataclysms like wars and terrorist attacks. Why would an omnipotent God do this to someone?”
That is a fair and difficult question from a skeptic who at least understands the implications of this issue and joins those that feel that the above turn of events prove to be the ‘Achilles heel’ of the Christian faith. That being that if God is good then he must be powerless to stop evil from occurring if it exists, or that if evil and suffering exists and God is all powerful (omnipotent), than he cannot be good if he allows it.
It is an interesting dilemma until one comes to grips with the biblical fact that a sovereign and omnipotent God may allow and use evil, pain and suffering (e.g. hurricanes, cancer and COVID) to accomplish greater purposes in his world and redemptive history for his own glory and the ultimate good of many people.
The Sovereignty of God Over ‘Climate Change’ and the Environment
In the current preaching series we’re doing at our church right now in the aftermath of all that we have been experiencing in 2020, we have explored God’s sovereignty over the nations (including this month’s presidential election of course), our health, wealth and even the Christian’s salvation as I will argue from the scriptures this coming Lord’s Day.
One topic we won’t be addressing from the pulpit but I am in this post, is the fact that God is active and sovereign in our weather too. I sure hope so, having endured more than a foot of rain in my community from storms which rendered my lawn into a bit of a swimming pool of late.
Lest I fall into the sin of murmuring over my inconvenience, we tend to regard such things as little more than the impersonal expression of certain fixed meteorological or geological laws (i.e. low pressure systems, ‘the rainy season’, mother nature, hurricane season in my home state of Florida). In practice, even Christians tend to live and think like the practical agnostic or deist who thinks of God having created and then walked away from the universe, having wound it up like a clock, running until the alarm sounds, as it withers away according to its own natural laws.
However, that is not the God of the Bible who is alive, well and working in the day-to-day operations of His creation by his direct or permissive will. He has established physical laws by which He governs the forces of nature as primary or secondary causes, though those laws continuously operate according to His sovereign will.
Interestingly, a Christian TV meteorologist has determined that there are over 1,400 references to weather terminology in the Bible. Many of these references attribute the outworking of weather directly to the hand of God, such as when Jesus quieted the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Most of these passages speak of God’s control over all weather, not just His divine intervention on some occasions (Job 37:3, 6, 10-13).
All one has to do is let God speak for himself from his special and specific revelation to make his case for his sovereignty over his creation and the provision for it:
8 He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry.
(Psa. 147:8-9, cf. 16-18)
Jeremiah again, adds on God’s behalf, When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses (Jer. 10:13).
Take note Christian, that all these Scriptures among many others, attribute all expressions of weather—good or bad—to the direct controlling hand of God.
Ironically, secularly based insurance companies get it, when they refer to major natural disasters as “acts of God.” The truth is that the Bible teaches that God controls all the forces of nature, both destructive and productive, on a continuous, moment-by-moment basis.
Whether the weather is nice (like today as I write this post) or bad, we are never the victims or even the beneficiaries of the impersonal powers of nature. God, who is the loving heavenly Father of every true Christian, is sovereign over the weather, and He exercises that sovereignty moment by moment.
Why Does this Matter?
We sin against God when we complain about the weather, as much as anything else because we not only deprive God his glory by acknowledging his sovereignty over it, but we also deprive ourselves of the peace and comfort that comes from recognizing our heavenly Father is in control of it.
That reality serves as the motive in my wanting to preach a series on God’s sovereignty right now, in the midst of the fall of 2020. We need this truth more than ever.
The fact is, for most of us, the weather and the effects of nature are usually favorable anyway.
We tend to overlook God’s common grace as theologians call it, as he, “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt 5:45).”
What about ‘natural disasters’ like Hurricane Iota in Nicaragua?
Because God is God and we’re not, he is not obliged to, nor does he reveal to his own the precise reasons he does what he does with the weather or anything else.
But, as author Jerry Bridges pointed out: It is not wrong to wrestle with these issues, as long as we do it in a reverent and submissive attitude toward God. Indeed, to fail to wrestle with the issue of large-scale tragedy may indicate a lack of compassion toward others on our part. However, we must be careful not to, in our minds, take God off His throne of absolute sovereignty or put Him in the dock (witness stand) and bring Him to the bar of our judgment.
The sovereignty of God – over the weather or our salvation, or anything else for that matter can be a difficult truth to accept as we watch and listen to people suffer, ‘mourning with those that mourn.’ Yet as another theologian commented on Isa 45:7 amongst other parallel passages, “We gain nothing by seeking to minimize the force of the present verse. We must allow the Bible to say what it says, not what we think it ought to say.”
In summary, God’s sovereignty over his creation – including nature, does not mean that Christians will never have to suffer evil and pain- far from it. Plain experience and observation clearly teach otherwise.
But, God’s sovereignty does mean that whatever we experience at the hand of the weather or other forces of nature and bodily decay (diseases and pandemics like Coronavirus), they are all under the watchful eye and sovereign hand of our God. I for one among millions over church history, choose to praise the Lord for that and take comfort in it as well.