“A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?” (Proverbs 20:24).
God’s sovereignty is both a comforting and a mysterious concept. We express our confidence in His sovereignty when we make statements such as, “the Lord knows” or “His will be done” or when we sing songs like “God Is in Control” and “He Reigns.” Yet we often wrestle with the idea of God’s sovereignty, especially when events that take place in our life appear random. When a family that loves Jesus is hit with tragedy, or when disease strikes a close family member in the prime of life, we can quickly move from the confidence that “God is in control” to a deep cry of “Why?”
I have experienced the paradox of being genuinely convinced of the Lord’s care and control, while at the same time wrestling with the reality that “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45b). For our family, ALS is more than an ice bucket challenge, breast cancer is more than wearing pink, and trisomy 18 is more than a mysterious chromosomal disorder. All of these have touched our family in what look like random ways. Other close friends have experienced sudden death through an accident, suicide or heart failure.
So are we simply mortal pieces in a cosmic chess match? Does sovereignty mean that everything is ordered to occur as it does when it does? Or is there latitude in how the events of life play out? Is an accident an accident? Is there a dimension of randomness to the divinely ordered lives we lead?
Rarely can these questions be answered with a simple yes or no. When I read the biblical narratives and the writings of other Christians, I recognize how natural it is to struggle with our thoughts and emotions in the face of such experiences. As the writer of Proverbs 20 puts it, “How then can anyone understand their own way?”
There is a tension we must acknowledge when we speak of sovereignty and randomness, control and chance, order and accidents. Consider what the wisdom writers describe as a pattern in life: we take steps, but the Lord directs those steps. The biblical expectation is that we are to take obedient steps every day—steps that exhibit the character of Jesus in how we love, work, think and live. Some of these steps are highly practical. We buckle up before we drive. We use wisdom when we eat and drink, sleep and exercise. Other steps are moral choices. We choose to be loving, gracious and forgiving. We avoid addictive and immoral patterns of living. We keep in step with the Spirit. In a lifetime the choices we make and the steps we take are many, and they do bear fruit. Often they lead to a long and purposeful life.
Yet, in the complexity of life, one plus two does not always equal three. Stuff happens and expected outcomes change. But we know that we are never out of the watchful care and direction of a loving God. Ultimately, He does ensure that all things work together for the purpose we are created for. Our obedient steps even in the face of the inevitable trials of life, plus God’s divine actions, will culminate in His sovereign will being accomplished. We will be transformed into the image of His dear Son. What seemed random, full of mystery and, at times, full of pain will all become very clear. We are His, and He watches over our steps.
The frank but liberating truth is that sometimes we have to stop doing the math and simply trust the One who is far more qualified to work things together for our good.
Sovereign Lord, we bring the struggles and questions of our life situations to You today. In faith, we choose to put these matters into Your hands. We worship You because You are good, just, merciful and all-wise. When the path before us looks random, mysterious and painful, we ask for an overflowing experience of Your presence and power. Comfort us with the knowledge that our lives are in Your hands. For your glory. Amen.