Innocent people die in the Karachi plane crash in Pakistan, American soldiers are killed in Afghanistan, a close friend is diagnosed with cancer: under such circumstances I am often asked how it is God can let these kinds of things happen. Many people try to make sense of such events by suggesting God could not stop them. Or that He merely allowed it. However, both of these responses do an injustice to the witness of Scripture. The truth is, God is the sovereign ruler of the universe and there is nothing which takes place in this created realm He does not control. Indeed, if there were any one thing outside God’s control then there is really nothing He controls. After all, who – or what – would be able to prevent that one thing He did not control from upsetting all of His plans? Moreover, to propose that God merely allows calamitous events to take place is to say that He would rather have things otherwise. It puts God in the position of a helpless parent who allows his son to join the traveling circus even though he would prefer his child to remain in law school.
Make no mistake; God is the absolute ruler of the universe. This is the consistent witness of the Bible from beginning to end. For instance it was God who hardened the heart of Pharaoh so He might display His power in him (Exodus 7:3-4, 9:13, Romans 9:17). Through the prophet Isaiah, God says I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things (45:7). Jeremiah, in his lamentation over vanquished Jerusalem asks rhetorically, is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well being proceed? (Lam. 3:38). The prophet Amos asks; Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? (3:6). In the Acts of the Apostles we read that Jesus Christ was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God to be crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23). Likewise, the Apostle Paul tells us we have an inheritance in Christ, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him (God), who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).
Paradoxically, God is not to blame for the sinful acts of men. While the Bible teaches us that God is sovereign, it also makes it clear human beings are responsible for their own actions (Exodus 8:15, 9:34, John 3:19, Romans 1:18-20, 2 Thessalonians 2:10 and so on). Ironically, even the wicked dealings of men cannot usurp the plan of God (Acts 4:27-28, Romans 8:28, Philippians 1:12-18). Nevertheless, mankind doesn’t like paradox and so we often chose to emphasize one aspect of this truth over the other – often to the exclusion of one side altogether. Hence we have those who believe God has little or no control over the affairs of men and their counterparts who deny the existence of man’s free will. Neither position is biblically sound; neither position provides any comfort to those who have suffered tragic loss.
Because God is sovereign, all things – not just some things but all things – work together for good, for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). And that purpose is our bing conformed to the image of His Son.
Rest assured, God is not frantically pulling the strings trying to keep life from going to hell in a hand-basket. Because he is sinless He is completely trustworthy. He is not playing both sides of the fence like a hypocritical bully who devours the innocent and then wipes his mouth while claiming to have done nothing wrong. Rather, He is the omnipotent, sinless One who lovingly leads us through difficult times for our benefit and His glory. We may not see His purpose in the events we endure; yet we only find hope in Him, even when the world seems to be coming down all around us. I trust there will be someone nearby to remind you of this truth when you face hardship.