God’s sovereignty, his rule over all, is the bedrock certainty for a proper theology of suffering. However, his sovereignty alone is not enough: we must maintain its connection to his goodness and wisdom. If we do not maintain this connection, we lose our perspective of God as the one who intimately cares for his creation, and we thereby undermine hope. Theologians refer to this connection as providence, which is one of the most comforting doctrines in the Bible.
What Is Providence?
By providence we mean God employs his sovereign power and wisdom to continuously preserve every part of his creation and guide it toward his intended purpose. Sometimes people misinterpret sovereignty as a cold, sterile, and lifeless doctrine, but it is nothing of the sort. In his gracious providence, God carries out his sovereign rule in loving wisdom and attentive care. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe, to be sure, but he is also kind and a tender Father toward those who place their faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. This brings us great comfort when we are in the midst of suffering that appears to have no purpose or end in sight.
The doctrine of providence rounds out bold statements of absolute sovereignty, like that of Psalm 115: 3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Providence refers to the outworking of the sovereign rule of God— together with his wisdom and love— on behalf of the good of his creation, and especially for those who are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.
Providence therefore assures us that, in his sovereignty, God is at work carrying out his perfect decrees for our good and his glory. It assures us that God is not far away, but always near. He is attentive to all of our ways and needs. With the psalmist we say to God, “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:68). Or as Job testifies, “Does not [God] see my ways and number all my steps?” (Job 31:4).
God Is the Primary Caregiver
God’s sovereignty is the truth which assures us that, regardless of secondary causes of disability, God remains in the primary position. Secondary causes are endless: genetic abnormalities, disease, work-related accidents, birth defects, war and civil violence, athletic injuries, drunk drivers who run through red lights, failed suicide attempts, abuse . . . the list goes on. But the primary cause is singular: God. The good, wise, kind, sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all never ceases to watch over his creation for his glory and our good. For example,
- If disability results from individual choices, we can rest in knowing that “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
- If disability results from the harmful actions of others, we can rest in knowing that what man means for evil, God can certainly work for good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).
- If suffering has no reasonable explanation, we can rest in knowing that God is good, wise, and kind— and he does all things according to his purpose (Ephesians 1:11).
The mercy and nearness of our sovereign God bring much comfort to us. He is our primary caregiver.
Trusting God’s infinite wisdom to govern all things will enable our hearts to be planted firmly in the ground, even if our legs are shaking. Our joy can remain when our faith rests in knowing that God is using both every pleasant and every painful experience to complete his redemptive purposes. Disability provides a conscious opportunity for us, the clay, to turn to the Potter and say, “Thy will be done.”
Excerpted from When Disability Hits Home by Paul Tautges with Joni Eareckson Tada