Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

The question of our heavenly Father’s sovereignty is actually the question of whether he’s God or not. When we wonder whether God is in control or knows about our situation, we are wondering about his nature and power. How do we answer these questions? How do we set our minds and hearts at peace? This week, Keith Holloway, Senior Director of Missions Development at World Challenge, joins Gary Wilkerson again to discuss this very matter and explore what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty.

Gary Wilkerson: Hi, this is Gary Wilkerson with the Gary Wilkerson Podcast. Hope you were with us last week as we were interviewing Keith Holloway. We were talking about doctrine and theology and how important that is in a time where people are looking for answers and hope for the suffering. Suffering is nothing new, suffering has been around from the time of Adam and Eve, there's always been, since the fall of man there has been suffering so we're trying to make a little bit of sense of it today.

When we talk about these things, we have to be careful not to just look at them from an intellectual point of view. Head knowledge is not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, nor is just emotionally effecting people's hearts, the gospel by itself, nor is telling people what to do and affecting their wills. That's not preaching the word of God.

The true preaching of the word of God affects the mind, the heart, and the will, and the emotions and all these things are affected by it. So in this podcast today, we're talking about some lofty ideas, sovereignty of God, why is there suffering, and maybe hopefully the ultimate answer we can provide today is knowing the sovereignty of God and why He allows and what is His part in suffering, the purposes of suffering.

How that can help us fall more in love with Jesus, have more trusting in the heart and nature and character of God. And so, we're going to talk about that today with Keith Holloway. And then over the next few weeks we're going to be talking about things that will actually help us understand the sovereignty of God.

If we don't know who God is, it's not going to be any real solace to us to go like, "God is sovereign." It's almost like the sheriff of your town, if you go like, "He's in control of the law and order in our town, but he's a miserable, surly, deadbeat, ne'er-do-well," you're not going to want him to be sovereign, you're not going to want him to have authority.

And so, over the next few weeks, we're going to talk about why God being sovereign is a good thing because of His wisdom, because of His goodness, because of His holiness, because of His justice, because of His mercy. He's not partially merciful, that He's sovereign makes Him all merciful. He contains within Himself all mercy.

If He was not all sovereign, He would be not all holy, He'd be partly holy, He'd be partly just, He'd be partly merciful, but He is all, and that's where we get these words. Keith, you and I studied these in Bible school and seminaries, the 'omni' meaning 'all'. Omnipresent, omnipotent, all-powerful, omniscient, all-knowing.

And those aren’t just-- I read a lot of Tozer, and Tozer says, "These aren't just personality characteristics of God." That you have that sense of like, Keith is funny and that's one of his characteristics. And Keith is pretty serious too, and Keith is good with finances, and Keith is really good at the heart for missions around the world. Those are various parts of you and some of them can be lessened at times, but with God, it's all at all times unchanging and that's all wrapped up and encompassed.

The reason we start this series, we're doing this 10 to 12-week series, the reason we start this with the sovereignty of God is because I think it encompasses all the other elements of God.

Last week, Keith, you were kind enough to give us a definition of sovereignty. Do you mind repeating those one more time? And then could you give us three or four scriptures that tell us biblically that God is sovereign? Is this just our idea or is it just--? There's Calvinist, and there's Arminiasts, and there's Methodist, and there's Presbyterians and they all have a different view.

We're not advocating for any of those, we're just wanting to preach the Bible. Yeah, so definitions and some scriptures.

Keith Holloway: Sure. Thanks again for allowing me to be with you, Gary, enjoying this.

Gary Wilkerson: Thanks Keith.

Keith Holloway: The definitions I gave last week, one came from Easton's Bible Dictionary that just simply says, "God has the absolute right to do all things according to His pleasure." Now, that is in Ephesians 1, I believe that's verse... Yeah. Ephesians 1:11 speaks about the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His own will. The other definition that I gave regarding God's sovereignty is God having supreme power and authority to govern with complete control over all things without any interference from outside sources.

He takes into account outside sources, but no outside sources can force His hand, can dictate to Him. He does all things according to His plans, to His purposes. Psalms 33:10-11, "The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing. He makes the plans of the people of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever. The plans of His heart to all generations."

So as sovereign, His plans and His purposes that originate from within Himself that display and come out of His attributes reveal Him to us as the sovereign. Again, now, people can choose to discount that, they can choose to debate that issue. Again, we're coming today as those that hold strongly to a biblical worldview and our view is from scriptures.

Psalms 115:3, again, says that "our God is in heaven and He does whatever He pleases." If you don't read scriptures that can interpret scriptures, you might read that and say, "Well, that means God can be very arbitrary. He might even have preference. He might show partiality." But of course, that's one of the rules of interpreting.

And so, I would encourage anyone that's watching us today, be careful of taking a scripture that's out of context. Be sure to do some digging, some research to let scripture interpret scripture because He does whatever He pleases. If we apply that to us, yes, we can be random, we can be arbitrary, we can be biased, but not so with God.

The Bible says that all the ways of the Lord are righteous and just. Justice is another one of His attributes. He can do no wrong, He will do no wrong, He will not do anyone wrong. Now, if you don't believe that, then you open yourself up to a wide range of thoughts, and ideas, and philosophies that can really wreak havoc with you.

It can remove any kind of absolute trust, any absolute realities to you, but if we believe what God says and what His word speaks that He is God and beside Him is none other, and He is good, and He intends good. If He intends good, why does evil happen? We touched on that a bit last week and perhaps we'll touch again, but many are wondering whether these tragedies, and death, and mayhem that comes upon our lives or this world right now, who is the originating source of that?

And you spoke clearly last week that basically we were in agreement, Gary, that there's four. It's God, Satan, the world or creation and man. And I think those hold true from scripture, but then people move past, okay, one of those four, and I'd have to agree like you, it's not always easy to discern. When we read with hindsight the Old Testament, we can see, well, God did originate tragedies opening the earth and swallowing people.

It was done as a consequence. He had to act because He's a God of justice and He can't tolerate sin, and no darkness is in Him. But if we work through those things, people still come back, I think today saying, "Okay, these things are here. There's some possible sources, but why in the world do these things happen? What's the purpose behind it? Why can't we all just love one another, get along and everything be fine?"

I think that's the follow up question to why, who causes it? And then what's the good or what's the purpose behind it?

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah, you have a good clear definition and there are some scripture references there that help us understand that and as to why we want to know this subject again so that it's not just head knowledge, is that these issues go to the heart of what God is after that He be glorified. God is for God and we are meant to hold that worldview as well, that we are for God.

We exist for God, God doesn't exist for us, and so He is most glorified when we know Him. And so, it goes beyond just mere theology. You've given the definition, you've given us some scripture verses and then we're talking, but there's a bit of pushback because it can be confusing at times what role does God play in pain, sorrows, hardship, suffering, and what role does-- is sin or the fall.

With your permission, I want to take a look at a couple of scripture verses and see if we can assess in those verses maybe the 'why' behind it. Is there a purpose behind it? And so maybe Genesis 3, first, 14, Genesis 3:14. God created a good Earth and saw that everything He created in those six days was good. And then sin enters in and all of a sudden now it's not so good, right?

So, things are not as good, but He says, "The Lord God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this.'" Okay. The cause... People ask me, "What is the cause of suffering?" You have God saying it, He's declaring decreeing something, but He's declaring also the cause is Satan, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock. You'll go on your belly, eat the dust all the days of your life.”

Put enmity or that word can be translated hostility between you and the woman. And the woman there is not just that woman Eve, but it's offspring as well, all children, all creation now has enmity with Satan and Satan with us, and there's a hostility. And Satan has again, I believe, and stop me here right now if you disagree.

I believe Satan has been given some leeway under the authority of God. God doesn't cause any evil that Satan does, but He's giving Satan some leeway to have that hostility, to have that enmity. This word here, enmity or hostility, it's not an empty word. If He's saying, "I'm going to curse you with a battle between you and man," then there's going to be some conflict.

There's going to be some of the things that Satan does is going to be done, and what he does is kill, steal and destroy. But I think where you and I might disagree, Keith a little bit here is I look at this and say, "God is the orchestrator of this. God is instigating His will." It's not Satan who is proclaiming the curse of enmity and hostility, it's God who proclaiming it, and you can go on with the pain in childbirth.

This I think is broader than just the pain of childbirth. To me, I picture this as all physical bodily pains that we have. Then it goes on to Adam and He says, "Because you've listened to the voice of your wife and eaten of the tree, cursed shall be the ground of you." I want to go to Romans 8 in a little bit, but this to me is the Romans 8 passage of God subjecting things to futility.

God in His sovereignty is the one who is saying, "This is the way the world's going to work now. It's going to have thorns, and thistles, and windstorms, and famines and things like that, and earthquakes." I think it's broader than just thorns and thistles here. And then He goes on to even speak to the last part of verse 19.

"For you are of dust and to the dust you shall return." This is death. So, for me, I look at this, Keith and I say, "Okay, it's not Satan, it's not sin, it's not man, and it's not creation, the fallen creation that is the orchestrator of all of these events. We have-- Because Satan's evil and man's sin, God in His sovereignty created now an environment where there's going to be hostility, the fallen Earth is going to groan, and moan, and rip and roar, and have chaos. Then there's going to be death.

Every death medically is a result of sickness, unless it's an accident, or a car wreck, or something like that, but even old age, a 99 year old that's laying on her deathbed puts her head back, and it's not because they just decided not to breathe anymore. I suppose that could be the case, but it's their body has gotten sick, so there's decay and death.

I look at this passage and I relate it to Romans 8, and I see the parallel here of God for... And I'm going to talk a little later about His purposes, that there's a purpose in this. And the purpose isn't just to punish, there's redemptive purposes in this. God's setting something up. And it's even seen in this because He says in here, "He will bruise your heel." How does that go?

Let me see. "He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel." He shall bruise your head, so there's the crushing of the head of Satan and there's the bruise on the offspring as well of the enmity of the hostility. When I see God, His Lordship over this, I see God's good eternal purposes over this. I don't see it being like God...

And I'm talking a lot, sorry Keith and I want to get you in on this, but I see one of the other views that contradict or a different biblical view, a worldview I would say, maybe not a biblical view of the sovereignty of God is not so much the sovereignty, it's called the open theism. Are you familiar with that?

Open theism is where God does something and He has foreknowledge, but He doesn't have knowledge of things that have not happened yet. And so, the only thing He has knowledge of is that haven't happened yet or things He decrees will eventually happen. So, He decreed long time ago, "There'd would be a cross, there'd be a second coming." So, He's decreeing these things, but He's not sure how they're going to turn out, so He's open to react to the thing.

If this makes sense to you, there's this sense of God created something that's good. Then Adam did this, so God goes, "Oh, okay, now I'll do this." Then Satan did that, so then God decided to do that. And God is constantly moving with this and not knowing what happens next. Then when it happens next, responds to it.

And I think that's how a lot of people see Genesis 1, 2 and 3 is that God wanted it this way and then this happened, and then He changed His mind or renewed, put in new processes and therefore reacted to something that He had not planned. I see that as part and parcel of God's plan. I see this as--

I don't see Genesis 1 and 2 is God's plan A, Genesis 3 is God's plan B. Now He has to change things up because we have in scripture, Christ being slain before the foundation of the Earth. We have redemption even before sin, we have redemption even before creation. Knowing that, I believe, is part of God's plan. I don't know. Push back on that point, counterpoint.

Keith Holloway: I'm following and I know that some hold to those things and listening to you explain open deism makes me a little happy that that's the one ‘ism’ I haven't spent much time on because that sounds very confusing. I think I would rather just take the simplistic approach to His revelation that He is God and His attributes are, you use the word omni. His attributes encompass all.

So, when He's powerful, He's all powerful and so forth and so on. And so, when I come to Genesis 3, we have a lot of items working here simultaneously. And this is probably not the format to go too deep into these things, but what is happening here is the simultaneous exercise of God's sovereignty and man's free will. As I said, that can be a whole 'nother study. But I'll just say in simplicity, and I was trying to think of a way to illustrate it.

I would just think like a circle in a circle. God's sovereignty is the outer circle. It's all that He is, all the omni characteristics and traits of God. Within that He has allowed man to have, or some would say created man to have, He did create man with that free will. So, man's free will, he is free within His free will to choose.

He can decide, he can think, he can exercise all of those creative components that God created him with, but the exercise of man's free will, while he is free within the circle of His own free will, he is not absolutely free. To be absolutely free would take the man circle and enlarge it and put God inside of his to where man then is in charge. Of course, the Bible would not allow that to stand.

So, what we have here is the temptation. God allowed that temptation to come. He knew it from the beginning and so we can deduce, I think from the beginning as one old Puritan said, as you read through the scriptures, he broke it down into two segments, "The greatness of man's fall and the greatness of God's redemption."

I just like to say, I think from Genesis 1 through Revelation 21 that it speaks clearly that God is a redemptive God. No matter what we think, no matter how we feel, no matter how from our position we view and the perspective we have, the reality is God is always seeking to redeem. It is His will that none perish. It's His desire to see good come to man.

And so, when this serpent, of course, we know no serpent can speak, there had to be some kind of embodiment. So, Satan as the spirit came into that serpent and spoke, I believe that God cursed Satan. The curse was upon Satan. And when Adam and Eve of their own free will chose to disobey, to resist and reject God's commands, they weren't just looking to eat the fruit.

What they were literally doing is they were demanding or proclaiming that God is not God, and that they themselves have within them as it were a Godlikeness or a God-ness to where they can decide. And this is the very challenge that Satan came to them on, "Has God really said?" He wasn't just challenging what God had said, he was really saying to them, "Is God really God? And He isn't."

He challenged that on the premise of man's free will. "Look at you. You can choose. God made you with power. He just doesn't want you to be like Him." They were already like Him, but they fell prey to that. I believe God cursed Satan. He didn't curse man, He cursed Satan and the curse of sin brought death.

It brought death to mankind, it brought death to the environment. That's why the ground became cursed. And from Genesis 3, mankind was put under the curse of sin. And of course, the Old Testament, you see that relational working where God is always trying through the law, through the prophets, through the judges, through the demonstrations of His power, His goodness, also His justice and His holiness was always trying to bring people back to Him.

And of course, Christ is the epitome of that where the Bible says that He became a curse for us. "Cursed is him who hangs on the tree." He took that curse. Man has dealt with suffering from this very beginning and I think that's why it's important to see that the very challenge that came to man in their realm of free will was, is God really God?

And isn't that what we're facing now? Humanism, and relativism, the exaltation that man is God. We worship the creation more than we worship the Creator. And so, this is how I see this, that this curse was upon Satan, when man fell by their own will, they came under the curse of sin and God has been redeeming people ever since. We can say hallelujah for that.

Gary Wilkerson: Amen. I love that. And the reason I bring up Genesis 3 there is as we're talking about sovereignty and suffering, and the purpose of suffering, does God have some purpose in mind that He planned from the foundation of the world? It wasn't an accident that there was a fall, it wasn't an accident that there was sin because God had a redemptive purpose to reveal His glory all along and that's...

In Genesis 3, I see this is part of, again, not an accident or plan B. I see it as a part of God's sovereign plan in order to manifest the fullness of God, the manifold, the many-sided wisdom of God. If there had not been a fall, if there had not been sin, if there had not been an Earth that was now groaning as Romans 8 says, if those things had not taken place, there'd be certain aspects, as we talk in the next few weeks, of the nature and character of God, attributes of God, and there'd be certain ones that could not really be fully revealed in their glory and their splendor as God wants to-- He keeps using the word Himself about demonstrating His mercy, demonstrating His...

Even in Romans 9, He mentions demonstrating His wrath to the vessels of wrath. He wants to demonstrate that, and so God is demonstrating God. Therefore, if there had not been sin, we would have not known the cross, if we would have not known the cross, we would not know redemption. If we would have not known redemption, we would not know mercy or justice in its fullness.

How could God be merciful to a garden experience that was in perfection constantly without... I say all that to comfort the heart of people by saying that when you see things that Jesus predicted in the last days, perilous times coming on the face of the Earth, and sickness, and sorrow, and disease, and famine, and earthquake. You can tremble in fear that Satan's in control and he wreaks havoc willy-nilly as he so desires.

Or you can say, there is something about the manifestation or the demonstration of the power and the glory, the healing, the redemption, the cross, the resurrection, the second coming of Christ. All of these things are part of the character and nature of God that I believe can be best demonstrated in the world the way it is today and the way it's going to be, this present age and the age to come.

And in this present age that we're living in right now, I believe it is designed by God and ordered by God exactly as God wants it to be. Not that He wants sin, not that He wants sickness, but He is allowing these things in order to most highly demonstrate it. So, for me, just to personalize this, it allows me to give thanks in all things.

Let me go to Romans 8 real quickly because I want to tie those two verses together, Genesis 3, Romans 8. I'm going to read quite a bit here, so bear with me. Verse 16, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God. And if we are children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." So far, really good news, right?

And then it switches gears here a little bit, almost like Psalms 23, you're walking in green pastures and sitting down beside streams and green rivers, and then all of a sudden now you're at the table in the presence of your enemy and you're walking through the valley of the shadow of death. You're talking about being heirs with Christ, now all of a sudden, "Provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him."

So, the goal of God here is being an heir that receives all that Christ has, and the goal is being glorified with Him, but there's no getting to the glory without the suffering. And so, the suffering here is not part of our salvation. We don't have to like, "I have to suffer a certain amount before I'm saved." Salvation is the gift of God, it's free.

But once we have that, then there's a provision of suffering, I always call the sanctification process that's born through discipline. Suffering we become... Then we moved towards the glory of God being conformed into His image, ultimately receiving the glory of God.

That's the precursor to the introduction to the real text here is, starting verse 18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." So, God wants to reveal glory to us, and it appears to me that He's using suffering as the carrier of, or the conditions that causes a greater glory to come.

"For the creation..." Okay. And then this is where I go back to Genesis 3, "For the creation waits eagerly with longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope." So, God I believe is the one. Man was not willing for him to be subjected to death; Satan was not willing to be subjected to having his head crushed.

The Earth was not willingly subjected to thorns, and thistles, and windstorms and tsunamis, but because of Him who subjected it. So, to me, that's God is the one who's doing subjecting. He's subjecting Satan, He's subjecting man to the curse. He's subjecting all these things in... And the good news is for us, Keith, you preached this before.

You can't really preach the good news unless you realize there's some bad news.

Keith Holloway: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Wilkerson: There has to be something. So, the bad news is that all the curse is the bad news, and the fallen nature is the bad news, and Satan's hostility is the bad news. But God has subjected the Earth to these things, I believe, in hope. In hope of what? Well, that's His eternal purpose, that the Son, Christ Jesus might come to have supremacy of over all things to the praise of His glory.

And Ephesians 1 says, "To the praise of His glory of grace." So, the ultimate goal of God is that there'd be this uplifting, this praise of grace. Well, again, you can't have grace without something that needs grace. Adam and Eve probably didn't really need the kind of grace we're talking about here in Romans 8 or the grace of the cross.

They didn't need it until the fall, and God actually, I believe, has subjected these things in order to bring the cross so that He could show His grace, He could demonstrate His wrath, demonstrate His mercy, demonstrate His justice, demonstrate His glory, demonstrate His power, demonstrate His forgiveness, His longsuffering, all these.

So, you and I, I think, Keith and everyone listening today, we get to know God more. We're more intimate with God than Adam and Eve were because of all this stuff that's happened. And so, for me, how can I give thanks in suffering if it's just like, Oh, I'm really thankful. I was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years back. It's gone now, but it was like give thanks in that?

It's like, well, I give thanks because the world and the condition it is in causes me to understand that Ephesians 1, to the glory of His and praise of His grace, the high calling. And so we see all these things subjected, subjected to bondage, to the pains of childbirth, to groaning inwardly, but then we see the hope on the other hand is the freedom of the children of God that we groan inwardly, but we have the Holy Spirit who helps us to groan and cry out, "Abba Father."

Again, going back to the whole passage where we started, being a child of God, being an heir of God and the suffering causes us to move to a greater sanctification and glory. That's why I say I don't consider it at this present time, they're not worthy of comparing with the glory that's about to be revealed in us.

I guess what I'm saying is this was part of God's eternal purpose. This was not an unsuspecting error that He saw. And so therefore, the way the world is, I can still say, God's got everything under control and God is good. We don't have to argue that thing of, well, if God was... The whole argument of is God good and powerful? If He was powerful and good, then His goodness would take care of the suffering.

Maybe He's good, but He's not all powerful, therefore He sympathizes with us, but He can't change it. Well, Genesis 3 and Romans 8 to me speaks clearly of a God who is both sovereign and all powerful and all good, working all things to His glory-

Keith Holloway: Amen.

Gary Wilkerson: ... that we might say exactly what you just said, "Amen." That we might say, "Praise the Lord. Let all the Earth praise the Lord. My heart cries out, 'Praise you Lord.'" I think worship comes from this whole scenario that God in His wisdom has set up. Is there anything I'm saying there that I could use your help because I'm here in my office at home and I'm looking at Romans 8 and Genesis 3.

Is there anything you hear that you're like, "Well, wait a minute. Let me tweak that a little bit. Let's say something slightly different."? Because I think iron sharpens iron and I think we need to be very careful when we're saying things that are too big for us. David said, "I don't dwell on things too high-minded for me." So, I think this is important. Anything and all you have to add to this?

Keith Holloway: Well, I don't know about tweaking it or not, but I would say that back in Genesis from 1 to 3, I think God clearly establishes that He is God, He is sovereign, He is in control, and when He creates, He creates good. And it was His intent, and His purpose, and it's still the same. Why? Because one of His attributes is He is immutable, which means He's unchanging. And so today it's the same.

Whatever we're going through, whatever circumstances might be, no matter how devastating they are, no matter how much they may confound our thinking and may challenge our perspectives, and no matter the depth of anguish that we face in these times, we still must come back to the foundation that God is good. He is righteous and is just in all of His ways.

And we cannot and should not attribute wickedness and evil to being originated from God's hand. When you look at Genesis 3, the curse upon Satan and the consequence of sin upon man, and the consequence of sin upon the creation, and yet I'd like to say that God immediately responds to that situation.

Now you got to see that situation, the relationship with God is broken, the relationship between Adam and Eve is broken. There's accusations, that spirit of that adversary is in them where they're accusing one another. Their relationship with the environment is broken and their identity, the relationship they have in the sense of their identity of being God's son, God's daughter, now that's broken.

Immediately in the midst of that painful chaos, that tremendous edict upon them because of sin, what happens? God comes right in, and I'd like to say it's a humorous way, but He exchanges skins for sins. He immediately lays out the death of a sacrifice, so the shedding of blood without such, there is no forgiveness, there's no redemption.

God immediately shows them that prior to your sin, everything was good, and right, and perfect. Your free will you chose, and the consequences of sin came upon them. Creation became under corruption. It began to decay, began to get out of alignment, out of sync with God. If you come to Romans 8 like you're talking about, Gary, I would just pull back from those verses a little bit more than you shared and just remind us that Paul is writing about how do people deal with death that comes from sin.

Through the law? Trying to keep it, trying to earn it, trying to do all of these things in order to please God, and he says, "No. no, no, no." And when he comes to Roman 8, that is talking about that in dwelling sin, not just the actions of sin, but the attitude, the condition of heart of sin. How do we get free from that?

And of course, that's through Jesus Christ, the end of chapter seven. But when you come to this of creation, I don't really see it as God originating creation, like it's God's design or it's God's plan to put creation under subjection. I think what they're under subjection to is the just dictates and judgments of God upon a fallen world, it's the consequences.

And yet even in this, he's talking about that there's going to come a time when even creation will be redeemed. So I think that's a message that we have to embrace today, that no matter what kind of out of sync-ness we may feel, no matter how we view our circumstances, surely we must come and submit ourselves to the goodness and the greatness of God and know that He is redeeming.

We may not see it today; we may not feel it today. And in the midst of this, we don't always give thanks for sickness and disease because those of course do not come from God. That's the work of the enemy, John 10:10. Likewise, John 10:10 is that He comes to give life and life abundant. We have to believe that, that He's going to redeem us, He's going to redeem the circumstances so we can give thanks.

And even Paul says this, "Give thanks in times of tribulation, times of sorrow." We don't sorrow as other men sorrow. Why? We have a hope that God is going to redeem, He's going to put all things right in His time. Ecclesiastes, He's going to make everything beautiful in His time.

So, we need to know for sure that God is God and that His attributes are good, and that He remains unchanging. And circumstances change and challenges come, and when we disobey, when we resist and reject His ways, He then has to act as a loving Father. Paul said, "If you're not disciplined and corrected by God." And when this happens, this is not pleasant.

God will not put sickness and disease on you, but when sickness and disease come from those other sources, you can know that God's going to redeem you from that, and that He's got a plan for you. And that in the midst of that, we can give thanks because we're putting our faith and our hope in that almighty God who knows all and is always present, and He's unchanging and in His holiness.

We don't talk a lot about the holiness of God in times of suffering, but it plays a part because when we talk about the holiness, we're talking about absolute moral perfection. That means that when we look at morality, good and evil, we have to know that God personifies absolute perfection. So, in Him, there is no darkness, there's no shadow of turning in Him.

And so, His holiness plays a part in our suffering knowing that... You think, well, this is bad. But one thing I always... This is just my feeble mind working, when bad things happen, people say, "Why God?" But why doesn't people say, "Why man?" Why don't we ever say, "Why Satan?" It's somehow we just by nature tend to want to blame God, and that brings me back my mind to Job.

Much of Job basically is Job saying and his friends wanting to question God. And at the end of course it becomes clear that God is God and you're not, get over it and submit ourselves to that and know that God is redemptive. When you look at the life of Job, He was ultimately redeemed. He was restored, the Bible said twofold. Why? That's the abundant life. We've got to believe that, we've got to embrace that.

If we don't like the quote I said, how do we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil if we're not absolutely certain of God's sovereignty? So sovereignty and suffering, they go hand in hand, and I know that God is always redeeming, and He does use—I don't believe He creates, I don't think it originates from His heart—but He'll use just about any circumstance if needed to teach and to train us.

He wouldn't put it on us to train, but He has that way of redeeming what the devil meant for evil, what would be the natural outflow of man's own sin, which is death, He always is seeking to intervene, always seeking to bring life. And I think that during the time that we're facing now, I think we can find comfort in knowing that as a loving Father right now, there is a discipline happening.

We know that when judgment comes, He says, "It comes first to the house of God." So, there is a disciplining happening to many believers now and we're really being put some to the test and we're wanting to see what's in our hearts. Again, if we look at things as an opportunity for growth, opportunity to know God, opportunity to walk with Him in a way to where His redemptive plans and purposes will overtake our life, then in the midst of this, in all tribulations, we'll be able to give thanks in all things at all times and let His praise be continually out of our mouth because we know ultimately God is good.

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah. That's good word, man. Encouraging me just hearing it. I love what you're saying. Just semantics, you don't want to get too in the weeds with that, but my question has been lately a little more, I've been studying along the lines of that word you used, originate. Did the God originate things that cause suffering now in the fallen world? Or did--

I guess I would have to go... There's been a little bit of shift in my understanding of the heart, nature and character of God and the sovereignty of God, and the shift is being in the sense of saying, "Well, if God didn't originate it, if He didn't originate the world the way it is with its fall." And again, I'm agreeing with you 100%, God was not the author of sin. He's not the author of rebellion.

He dwells in light and darkness, but He's not the author of dark things. But again, not to just get into the semantics, but I see this picture of a big God who did originate the world the way it is now. It was originally His plan from the foundation of the world. And I get that, you had mentioned that in in the garden, He came and man, I agree 100% with that.

He came with grace and mercy, even as symbolically picture of the blood through the covering of the skin. Right? But even before He did that, that's His reaction in time and space with man was beautiful. It's like He's right there, He's present to us. So anytime I'm sinning, He's present to me, or if I'm in rebellion, He's present to me, He's wanting to heal, to deliver, but behind me, there was something else already transpiring.

And behind the Garden of Eden, there was already not just a response, here's the sacrifice, but behind that was already the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. So, I believe God originated a world where He knew, and it was part of His original plan that there was going to be a lamb sacrificed for... In Romans 9:22 says, "God desiring."

So, this is part of His will, "His desire was to show His wrath." Why? "To make known His power. And to make known His power, He endured with patience vessels of wrath in order to make known the riches of His glory." And so, I believe He originated the world. He didn't originate sin. I'm agreeing with you, He didn't originate wickedness, but He originated a world where those things were going to be contained within it and He was going to control it.

He was going to be over it, He was going to be a shield against it and getting out of order, out of His control. To me that is not a puppet type thing. It’s not there's no free will in it. It has to do with the divine purposes of God that give me personally comfort in the fact that... Because again, God exists for God, God exists for His glory.

That's Ephesians 1:5-6 says, "God predestined us." To me, and I'm not going to get into the predestination argument of Calvinism and Arminianism, but ‘pre’ something, there was a destiny we had before. And it can either be before we were adopted, or before we were born, or it could go even back to the Revelation passage, "The lamb slain before the foundation of the world." That God had a destiny for sons of God, we would be predestined for adoption.

So, to be adopted requires that you are lost. You don't adopt a child... I wouldn't adopt your son, Ryan or Kyle because they're already sons. I adopt them because there's a loss in a sense, so God predestined, I think some loss so that He could find the glory of His grace. God predestined us for adoption through Christ Jesus according to the purpose of His will.

So, I see the things that the world as we live in today, Genesis 1, Genesis 2, and Genesis 3, and Revelation 21. All of this is part of His purpose of His will. That's how I see it. Of course, I think that's how the Bible sees it too because He just... "To the praise." Now, this last phrase is, why He's doing this, why He is predestined things for the purpose of His will.

Even in Romans 9, some of these things that are vessels of wrath, why did He desire to show that. It says, "To the praise of the glory of His grace." And then one last verse to set in context the verse before five and six is verse four that says, "God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world."

So, coming up is the question there of, when did God choose to do these things? Was it after Genesis 3? Or was it before Genesis 3? And God chose us before the foundation of the world... And even if we weren't going to argue that point, not that we're arguing, but even if we're seeing point counterpoint on that, that's secondary to this next point is, "To the praise of the glory of His grace." That's really what He's after. That's what he's after in suffering.

The purpose of suffering to me is for the praise of His glorious grace and for the good of man. Always working for His praise, His glory because His praise and His glory is for the [inaudible]... The most good that a man can have is to understand the praise, and the glory, and the nature, and the character, and the splendor, and the beauty of God most high.

When we know that, then our suffering does, as Romans 8 says, "It pales in comparison to the glory," because we get a taste of that glory. We see He's a made known His power, we see the riches of His glory. And that helps us in the context of days of suffering. Does that make any sense at all or?

Keith Holloway: Yeah, it does. Of course, as you said, when you go into that aspect of God's sovereignty and you get into these are typically not only big words for most of us, but they're big concepts, and they've been debated from the beginning and probably will till Jesus comes. You get into predestination and foreknowledge, that's opening a different realm of deeper things.

There's value in that study, there's value in learning more of God and His ways among man. But I tell you this, I know this, Gary, the Bible knows nothing at all of a frustrated God.

Gary Wilkerson: Right.

Keith Holloway: There is nothing unknown to Him, and of course, when we look at circumstances and from our perspective when we're trying to gauge does this originate with God? Or is this a time of Satan? Or is this an outflow of a man's fallenness? And is this just natural laws that are creating chaos and havoc?

We get into that mode of we're just really seeking understanding. We're trying to make sense of something that's larger than us. If not, we begin to lose ourselves, we begin to lose a sense of control, if you will. And so, people are looking, people are asking. Because the Bible knows nothing of a frustrated, unknowing God, we have to find at this time that however God operated from eternity past, whatever His attributes were and how they function, there's much in the Bible that we still need to study and need enlightenment on.

You and I, I think because if I can say we're in the occupation of ministers, we search more. People would say because it's our job. It is our job but it and our calling, but it is also a delight. It's a hunger that we have to know more, and that we can offer more than just superficial things to people.

I think it still comes down to people today is really this, what are you going to do in relationship to God? This time that we're facing now among us, if we could move past, what is the source? If we could steady ourselves in the sense of God is sovereign over the Earth and He knows all from the beginning and He knows the beginning from the end, and nothing catches Him unaware. This is what--

Whether He is the causative force or whether He is reacting to men. There's many verses that shows that God's dealings with humanity are often strongly correlated with man's choice. Man does something, God responds to that. Did He know ahead of time? Yes. Why did He... And it gets into a broader topic, but if we could steady ourselves today at least by saying this, "Whether the source, whatever it is, we can know today that God is working all things to the counsel of His own will. There is a divine plan, a purpose."

For our lives, if we believe in Jesus Christ, we have a destiny and no virus, no economy, no political schemes are going to derail God from His plans. The question is, what are we doing? That old saying that life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it. I think that's applicable for us today.

People trying to make sense and getting into the weeds, and into the minutiae, and opening their eyes and their minds to theories, and contemplations, and conspiracies when all a long right in front of us, there's an absolute truth laid out on the pages of His word that just say, "Look, He is God, He is good. He's got this." And the question is now how will respond to it?

Gary Wilkerson: That's good.

Keith Holloway: How will you react to God at this time? If we will humble ourselves, if we will say, "Lord, I don't know. I don't understand it." It's quite okay to say, "I don't like it. I don't understand this." But if we can still come and submit ourselves, and maybe that will be a topic for us to look at some time later is God's sovereignty and man's submission.

There is some tension there, but there is also a tremendous blessing.

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah. [crosstalk]-

Keith Holloway: And if we humble ourselves, we'll be the recipients of grace, which is God's mercy, but it is also a release of God's power and authority. It's His attribute dispensed to us and through us to where we can live during this time, not just making it, but we can actually not just survive, but we can actually thrive. And I think that's the heart of God for us right now.

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah, that's good. I think what I hear you saying is if man was in control, ultimately, we would be at a loss. If Satan is in control, ultimately, we would be defeated and sin, and sickness, and sorrow would be our lot in life for eternity. But we're saying today that God is in control, God is sovereign Lord, and therefore we can look to good.

And that's where we're talking about Genesis 3 and Romans 8, and we're going to wrap things up here, but Romans 8, right after that thing about, that we were just talking about the Earth being subjected by God to futility, and corruption, and to the pain, all that, that God subjected these things to that. But then He gives us the Spirit to help us in our weaknesses.

In the condition of the world right now, there's weakness in us. We get fearful, we get afraid, we get sorrowful. We groan, but that's where the famous, almost everybody has on a cup of coffee cup a little magnet on the refrigerator from-

Keith Holloway: Or something on the wall.

Gary Wilkerson: … Romans 8:28, "We know that all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose." For me the new word in there that I've highlighted is 'together' because I think if we think that all things work for good, we're going to get discouraged and disappointed, and maybe even at times start wondering, “Is God really keeping his promises because it doesn't seem like everything's good?”

But it says, "It works together." And so, to me, that word ‘together’ is powerful because it's like this happens and it doesn't look good and it feels suffering, but together with this what God's doing and covering it and pulling it and redeeming it and transforming it. When you look at the big picture of Romans 8:28, when we take the big picture all together, it worked out for good.

The cancer wasn't good, but it worked together for good together. And then he goes on to... And then verse 31, I think I hear you saying this, Keith, you didn't quote this verse, but I think I heard you saying this and I like you're saying this, you don't want to get too high-minded, or too heady, or try to figure out God, He's beyond that. He certainly has demonstrated Himself and revealed Himself, but we only know Him through a glass darkly.

And I think I want to hear you saying is verse 31 of eight, "What then shall we say to all these things?" It's like, "What do we say to all these things? If God is for us, then who can be against us?" If God is sovereign King, and Lord, and ruler, and reigns, then we don't have to fear sin, we don't have to fear Satan, we don't have to fear a fallen world, we don't have to fear a groaning creation.

We don't have to fear our subjected to futility. We know that God is in control. Just a more personalized, and I want to close with this. I want to read just one thing and then have you close in a comment about... Listen to this quote, it's by a young pastor and he's talking about why do we suffer so much. Why there's suffering, and he says, "For the past 12 years have been an extended season of trials and sorrow for my family and me.

I never imagined in my college years that would include helping care for my ailing mother, and then sitting at her bedside as God took her home. I never imagined my wife and I would celebrate our first anniversary in the hospital at the bedside of our son who was born prematurely with Down Syndrome and complex heart disease.

I never imagined caring for a son who walked through over 20 surgeries, including five open heart procedures. I never imagined I could feel so much sorrow and pain as a father watching my precious son struggle on a ventilator, struggling with a trache, struggling to be around people, struggling to communicate, struggling to eat, struggling to play, struggling to sleep, struggling to process the world around him.

I never imagined that life as a husband and now as a father of four would so constantly bring me to the end of my strength and resources. I never imagined that the Lord would bring so many tears." Then he goes on to say something quite different here. "Yet I also never imagined that life could be this beautiful, this full, this full of joy, this blessed, this grace-lavished (Ephesians 1:7-8).

This hope abounding (Romans 15:13). My refuge and my salvation are sure (Psalms 18:2). For mine is," and he quotes here, "'The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). God is truly faithful."

Keith Holloway: Amen.

Gary Wilkerson: You've suffered a lot, you've been through pain, sorrow, and heartache and stuff like that. Do you feel this is an exception like this young pastor? Or is this something that we really could grasp? Could we when we-- Like my uncle and aunt Don and Cindy Wilkerson got the coronavirus and I was just reading something from my uncle interviewed on CBN.

And I guess he was pretty close to being put on a ventilator, which when you're 80 years old like he is, that's... I think they say, "80% of people over 80, once they're put on a ventilator never come off of it." Then he talked about waking up the next day and tasting something. He was like, "I'm through this. I'm going to give thanks to God." And he talked about how he could give thanks to God in all things.

Do you think that's achievable for us? And if so, how?

Keith Holloway: Yeah, absolutely. I know that like most preachers we keep saying we're going to close, but those are wonderful testimonies. That's not an easy life to live, what that young pastor has written for us and for our consideration. It reminds me of Job 1, and I would just encourage maybe people that want to be encouraged to read that.

There's a lot of life lived in Job 1, and yet it says that when he heard of all of this sorrow, and despair, and death, and mayhem, and chaos that came upon him suddenly, it still said that Job arose, he tore his robe, he shaved his head and he fell to the ground and he worshiped.

Gary Wilkerson: Mm. Amen.

Keith Holloway: Think of that. We want to ask, why is God allowing this? I would ask a greater question is how in the world could a man suffer like that and then fall down and worship? It's just like the modern day testimony that you said of this young man, what a blessing that is and a challenge to us today. And not only did he worship, but he said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away."

He was putting it into the perspective of God's sovereignty. He said, "I don't understand it all, I don't like at all. I don't see the fairness. I can't quite fathom the equality, but I know that the Lord gave me, and I know that the Lord has the right to take it away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

And that today should be the cry of the church, blessed be the name of the Lord. And maybe there's people watching today, Gary, that they don't know that kind of relationship with a loving, good and redeeming God. They look and they just say, "Is this all there is? All I've worked for," maybe they've lost and they're at that place of immense suffering and they don't make sense of it.

The only way to make sense of it is to come and submit your heart to God, to come and come to this God who is in the redeeming business still today.

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah.

Keith Holloway: His blood has not lost the power.

Gary Wilkerson: That's right.

Keith Holloway: He's able to save, His arm is not too short. You've not gone too far. That has to be the message, right? For us today. And for those that are listening that may be struggling even to give an answer to family and friends around them. Maybe we've been able to lead them into some truths of God's word, trusting the Holy Spirit to then-- to influence, and to impress this upon their hearts.

But at the end it says, Job 1, Job did not sin, and he did charge God with doing him wrong. And maybe today, it's been our prayer, it's our heart's desire that people watching and listening, trying to make sense of all this, really just come and put your heart into the hands of God and just say, "I don't know. I don't understand it all, but I believe."

This is why it's so important for us to have faith, that we walk in faith, that we believe what God has said about himself. Forget out there. Just know that God is revealing himself to you as a loving, faithful, redeeming God, and you're going to come through it. And Paul, because he put himself in that perspective and because he operated in a faith, a trust in who God was, he was able to say, "Whether I live or whether I die, I'm the Lord's."

And we know many things are said about death to those that are believers, and we've had believers die right now, and we've had unbelievers die. And it rains on the just and the unjust, both the good rain and the bad rain, if we could say it that way. But today our message is one of redemption, to hold fast, stay the course, keep the faith, trust with all your heart.

Don't lean upon your understanding alone, but God is going to be faithful to see you through it because of who He is, because of His attributes, and because of His intense and eternal love, He's going to come out and redeem the situation for us.

Gary Wilkerson: Amen. Thanks Keith. Brilliant. We will be continuing in the next few weeks on the attributes of God and we're going to talk about His character, His nature, and His love, and His wisdom and His power, all these wonderful things about God. We're getting to know Him more. So, I want to encourage you to make sure you set your computer or your phone to receive these podcasts that come directly to you each week.

If this one has been a help to you, and we pray that it has. You might want to send a link to some of your friends to the Gary Wilkerson Podcast and get them encouraged as well, and get them to have more of a hunger for the word of God, and more of a heart for Him and that Job type of thing of worshiping in the midst of our suffering and our difficulty that we face, and remembering that these are light momentary afflictions that don't compare to the glory that God has for us.

Keith, thanks for taking the time today and we look forward to seeing you next week as well as we continue on this series. I think it's going to be really good. I'm looking forward to studying with you.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • What is God’s part and purpose in suffering?
  • Why is there pain and suffering in the world?
  • What role do Satan and sin play in suffering?
  • Can we really give thanks in all circumstances? If so, how?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

…from Genesis 1 through Revelation 21, it speaks clearly that God is a redemptive God. No matter what we think, no matter how we feel, no matter how from our position we view and the perspective we have, the reality is God is always seeking to redeem. It is His will that none perish. It's His desire to see good come to man. – Keith Holloway

"What do we say, then, to all these things? If God is for us, then who can be against us?" If God is sovereign King, and Lord, and ruler, and reigns, then we don't have to fear sin, we don't have to fear Satan, we don't have to fear a fallen world, we don't have to fear a groaning creation. We don't have to fear our subjected to futility. We know that God is in control. – Gary Wilkerson

Bible Verses Referenced in the Podcast

Psalm 33:10–11, Psalm 115:3, Genesis 3:14–19, Romans 8:16–20, Romans 9:22–23, Ephesians 1:4–6, 11

More Episodes From This Series:

About Keith Holloway

Keith Holloway is the Senior Director of Missions Development at World Challenge. Keith is a CHE trainer, facilitator, and a member of the Global CHE Network’s Representative Council. He and his wife Maureen live in Colorado Springs; they have six grown children and seven grandchildren. 

About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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