Lately, I’ve been wishing for a magic wand. Nothing fancy or obnoxious, just a simple little wand that I could wave and voila! All better! I’d start with my toddler’s bruised-beyond-recognition shins, and then move on to my 4-year-olds giant knee scab she keeps reopening.
But then I’d move on to the big stuff. Like those few marriages in my church that seems to be withering on the vine. Then I’d wave it over the homes of the family that lost their son in his prime. Next, the young retiree who got that terminal diagnosis and the family who lost yet another baby to miscarriage.
If only there was a wand like that. In the bleakest moments of our lives, we look for solutions, for miracles, and if that fails, at least answers, reasons why. Why did we lose that baby? Why did our marriage fail? Why did he get sick? Why? As if an adequate explanation will make it okay, the pain less intense.
Since we have no magic wand, preachers often opt for the next best thing: God-talk. You have heard it, we all have. The “God had a purpose for this, so just trust” comments, or the “God has a plan, you just don’t know it yet.” And every time we hear this God-talk, our stomach twists and our fists clench because something does not ring true. Maybe we can’t name it, but there is a falseness in the speech that grates against our souls.
But isn’t God sovereign? I mean, who's running this joint?
WHO'S IN CHARGE
God’s sovereignty. Oh, we stand at the top of a slippery slope, do we not? As we try to put to words the significance, the implications, of God’s sovereignty, his ultimate rule and reign? In our darkest hours, we often treat the sovereignty of God as the fix-all to our pain, questions, and doubts. It’s the theological duct tape to hold all the pieces together when everything seems to fall to apart around us.
But the problem with slapping a “God’s sovereignty” sticker on every broken, painful, and wounding thing, and dismissing the hurt with platitudes about “God’s plan” is that it does not take seriously the problem of evil. Walter Brueggeman calls this the danger of certitude. “Certitude alone leads to romanticism for then we only know the victory but image we are immune from the battle.”
And let’s be clear: we’re not immune from the battle, the hurt, the wounds, the carnage of this embodied life. We all bear the wounds on our bodies and spirits from the battle.
We treat God's sovereignty like theological duct tape to hold all the pieces together when everything seems to fall apart around us.
And yet. And yet…the “and yet” that is the Gospel: the tomb is empty. Death is defeated. And thus we kick fatalistic realism to the curb right alongside our defunct certitude because it leads to crippling despair in which we only know the danger but neglect the outcome, which is resurrection. Always resurrection.
So, what can we know about God’s sovereignty in all this stuff of life, the mess and the hurt, the pain and the brokenness? We can know this: God is good. His purposes are good. They are for our good. And nothing, not scheming enemies, a corrupt empire, or a bad diagnosis can thwart God’s purposes for good, for redemption, restoration, and salvation. We know God has given us freedom, because without freedom there is no love. But even our freedom does not thwart God’s purposes. God can take any and all brokenness and put it to good use for his purposes. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. God is just that good at redemption.
I walked into her hospital room, not knowing if she would be conscious. She seemed to be lingering in that space between Now and Forever more frequently and at longer intervals. But there she was, serenely awake and graceful, even as her body diminished day by day. She was a precious woman, a faithful follower of Jesus for decades and, as is so common in the very elderly, she longed to be at rest with her Lord. She prayed for death.
As I sat holding her hand, childlike in size but heavily marked by years of life as a mother and potter, she expressed her fatigue and disappointment at waking anew each day, wishing to enter the life to come. But even as she said the words, she shook her head and said, “But, nothing is wasted. Nothing is ever wasted.”
She went on to tell me how she used her conscious hours praying without ceasing for her children, her grandchildren, friends, her nurses and doctors, the patients alongside. She embraced her vocation in the midst of her suffering.
Tears streamed down my face. My son, Jack, was really little at that point and I had been struggling to juggle it all: a teeny baby, an active 3 year old, a vibrant congregation on the move. And I had been feeling sorry for myself, for the load I was carrying, almost bitter about the countless hours I was spending getting Jack to do basic human tasks like, I don’t know, SLEEP. And then Joy’s words: “Nothing is wasted.” Nothing is wasted.
Joy knew something I did not know, or had at least forgotten in my sleepless stupor. True trust in the goodness and utter trustworthiness of God’s good purposes does not lead to abdicating trust, blind certitude that imagines we somehow get an exemption from the battle. True trust in God’s good purposes leads to vocation, joining God’s redemptive works according to our gifts and graces, even as we anticipate for God’s ultimate redemption of all things.
And so we wait. And sometimes it feels like waiting in a coffin or a hospital bed or a broken marriage, for God’s ultimate redemption. But we don’t wait passively. We wait actively, leaning into our vocation to be God’s people at home, at school, at work. We wait in full trust of the good purposes of God, remembering that NOTHING IS WASTED. God is just that good at redemption.