Saturday, February 9, 2013

Que Sera Sera or God's Sovereign Purposes?

Have you wondered what the purpose of suffering is? If you have been on this planet for any length of time you have surely asked that question. Why am I going through what I'm going through? What good can come from this? What in the world is going on?

God says; I’m with you and this has purpose. However, in the midst of suffering we are blind to what that purpose could be.

Dr. David Powlison, biblical counselor and teacher on staff at CCEF, helps us to understand God's purposes for suffering by taking a look at a powerful hymn written specifically to assure us of God's presence in the midst of "deep waters". In writing about the fourth stanza of "How Firm A Foundation" he makes these pastoral observations:

“When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.”

Words from Isaiah 43:2 weave through this stanza. Your troubles are envisioned as ‘deep waters’ and ‘rivers’. Isaiah alludes to when God’s people faced the Red Sea with enemies at their back, and to when they faced the Jordan River at flood stage. No human being could carve a path through such difficulties. God restates his core promise with an eye to the future:

“I will be with you.”

That itself is significant, because the effects of most significant sufferings extend into an indeterminate future. We need much more than help in the present moment. What exactly does it mean that God will be ‘with’ you amid destructive forces? In promising this, God explicitly does not  mean that he will give you mere comfort, warm feelings because a friend is standing at your side through tough times.God plays a much more active and powerful role. This stanza fills in the meaning with four vast truths. 

God himself calls you into the deep waters in your life.
• God sets a limit on the sorrows.
• God is with you actively bringing good from your troubles.
• In the context of distressing events, God changes you to become like him.

This is heady stuff. High and purposeful sovereignty. A big God – who comes close to speak tenderly, work personally, make you different, finish what he begins.

In other words, your significant sufferings don’t happen by accident. No random chance. No purposeless misery. No bad luck. Not even (and understand this the right way) a tragedy. Tragedy means ruin, destruction, downfall, an unhappy ending with no redemption. Your life story may contain a great deal of misery and heartache along the way. But in the end, in Christ, your life story will prove to be a ‘comedy’ in the good old sense of the word, a story with a happy ending. You play a part in the Divine Comedy, as Dante called it, with the happiest ending of any story ever written.

Death, mourning, tears, and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:4). Life, joy, and love get the last say.

High sovereignty is going somewhere. People miss that when they make ‘ the sovereignty of God’ sound as if it implied fatalism, like Islamic kismet, like que sera sera, like being realistic and resigned to life’s hardships. God’s sovereign purposes don’t include the goal of getting you to just accept your troubles. He’s not interested in offering you some perspective to just help get you through a rough patch.

This stanza expresses the kind purposes of the most high God. But it does not make light of your hardships. There is no chilly objectivity in God’s words. He carefully refers to the pain of deep sufferings in every line. He speaks poignantly, not matter- of - factly: deep waters, rivers of sorrow, troubles, deepest distress’. In fact, the original hymn (with ‘thee and thou’) put the second line even more graphically: “The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow.” Woe is the keenest edge of anguish, the extremity of distress, sorrow raised to the highest degree of pain. Those rivers of woe sweep many good things away.

Your deepest distress is deeply distressing. But the God who loves you is master of your significant sorrow. 

He calls you to go through even this hard thing. Though it feels impossible and devastates earthly hopes, he sets a boundary (not where we would set it). He convinces you that this hard thing will come out good beyond all you can ask, imagine, see, hear, or conceive in your heart (Eph 3:20; 1 Cor 2:9). You will pass through the valley of the shadow of death filled with evils, but you will say that goodness and mercy followed you all the days of your life.

(excerpt taken from David Powlison’s essay “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings,” which was published in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (which can be read online for free).


  1. Hi Lori. I recently started following you on Twitter through mutual followings, and today I read your blog for the first time. Very excellent because its so God-saturated! I live in an area of very fundamental churches and very "Word of Faith" churches. We attend a church that is fundamental and struggling to discover what it wants to be when it grows up. The people are complacent to be good, moral church-goers, and we seem to shake people up with our "it's all Grace, God is sovereign" ideas. I know there are others out there that are as "radical" as we are, but I feel like they're all hiding (kind of like Elijah in 1 Kings 19!). Anyway, I've told you all this to say that it's nice to find a kindred spirit. Thank you for your writings.
    Ann Dunlap

    1. Thank you Ann for such encouraging words! God's grace is bigger than what we can hope for or imagine. He is at work and we can rest in that. One thing I've learned is that grace is attractive. Others will want it too. We are all the same - beggars showing other beggars where to find food!

      Blessings to you friend,

  2. Thank you Lori. I also believe that without a high view of God's sovereignty, we have no hope. I am often comforted by the words of Charles Spurgeon in his commentary on Isaiah 50; "The choicest of God's people, nevertheless, will travel most of their way to heaven by night."

    1. Great quote Anonymous! I am hanging on to that one :) We don't live despairingly, just in reality. We all suffer, but we have a Suffering Savior who went before us!