The violence we are facing in our country feels unreal at times. So many lives have been senselessly taken and we wonder when it will end. We all grieve for the families and many people are wondering if anything or anywhere is safe anymore.
I feel that way too. It seems that evil is winning, and fear is everywhere. That fear came into sharp focus with the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic and hasn’t seemed to let up.
While evil seems untethered and the world seems unsafe, I am thankful that it is not. God is still sovereign. As we look at Scripture we know that nothing happens that hasn’t passed through God’s loving hands first. Which brings me enormous comfort when it feels as if the world is spinning out of control.
The late RC Sproul would agree. Sproul, an American theologian, reportedly told the story of an insurance salesman from the Presbyterian Ministers Fund who came to visit him and persuade him to change his policy. The salesman was busy explaining the benefits his wife would receive in the event of his premature death when Sproul responded, “I didn’t know Presbyterians believed in such a thing as premature death.”
Sproul may have been teasing the salesman, but he was thoroughly convinced that nothing in the world was random. One of his most well-known quotes was: “If there is one maverick molecule in all the universe, then God is not sovereign. And if God is not sovereign, He is not God.”
We see that principle, that God is sovereign over everything, underscored throughout the pages of Scripture. In 1 Kings 22, King Ahab wants to go into battle against the Syrians and his usual prophets tell him that he will succeed. One lone prophet, Micaiah, warns him that the battle will lead to his death. This prophet goes on to say that Ahab’s death was predetermined by God, which is why Ahab was enticed to enter the battle in the first place.
Ahab doesn’t believe the prophet and goes into battle disguised. Ahab believes that he can outsmart God and if people don’t know who he is, he will get away. He knows that the Syrians were commanded to only fight with the king of Israel, so he felt safe being anonymous. And yet Scripture says, “But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel…[and] at evening he died.” (1 Kings 22: 34-35)
This act was random on the part of the archer, who didn’t know he was aiming at the king of Israel, but his actions were anything but random. His actions accurately fulfilled God’s word to the prophet. And we know that what seems random to us is not random to God, for there is nothing random in all the universe.
If we believe that we can die prematurely, we will often live in fear. What if we make the wrong choice? Or go to the wrong doctor? Or someone else makes a mistake? Can our lives or the lives of people we love be cut short because of someone else’s random acts? Even thinking about that makes me fearful. If that were the case, I would do everything in my power to protect myself. It could be frightening to even leave the house.
But even staying at home, going to bed, and pulling the covers over our heads can’t guarantee our safety. In 2013, a sinkhole in Florida tragically opened up and swallowed a man as he lay sleeping in his bed. Even in our beds, we will only wake up to face the next day if God wills it. There is nothing we can do to guarantee our own physical safety or the safety of those we love.
While that may sound terrifying on one hand, it is enormously comforting on the other. We need not live in fear that our actions or the actions of others will prematurely cut short our lives. I appreciate Stonewall Jackson’s words about his own mortality when he said, “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me…That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
When my own infant son, Paul, died from a doctor’s error, I was angry. Paul’s death seemed premature, and I believed that the doctor’s negligence cut short my son’s life. But as I delved into Scripture, I saw that while human mistakes were made, ultimately God did not make a mistake.
Those radical words took me a while to accept. I had long felt that God couldn’t be loving and allow young people to die. It seemed more loving to believe that God would have prevented it if he could but that he was powerless to change the situation. But as I prayed, searched the Bible and considered the alternative, I realized a theology that asserts that God is not in control leaves us no security at all. It’s unbiblical and unsettling. Do we really want our future to rest in our hands?
Thankfully we don’t worship a God who is helpless, who can’t protect us, who at best can try to bring scraps of good from a bad situation. Rather we worship a God who spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1:3), who sends forth each bolt of lightning (Job 38:35), and who knows my every word before I speak it (Psalm 139:4). It is this God, the Lord of heaven and earth, who assures me that every difficult thing I encounter has been brought into my life for my good and God’s glory (Romans 8:28). I can trust him.
God knows when each of us is going to die. All the days ordained for us are written in his book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16). We will live out all the days God has purposed for us. (Psalm 138:8) No matter what happens, we need not fear the day of our death, for we know that the Lord will rescue us from all evil and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom (2 Tim 4:18).
Updated post from the archives
Used with permission of the author, Vaneetha Risner.