“The trouble is that, nowadays, there are so many who receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, which means they will accept nothing but that which can be measured in the petty scales of their own limited capacities.” – A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, 81
Does God meet your standards? I mean, each of us possess some deeply developed presuppositions and opinions on what God can and can’t do. I’m not speaking directly in relation to the sovereignty of God here, though that discussion can and should certainly take place. I’m speaking in general terms here. Does God meet your standards that you have set for Him?
The quickest way for me to get to my point is directly in relation to the subject of healing. I know many, many, many Godly people who would tell us that God has absolutely nothing to do with sickness and that it is always God’s will that people are healthy and prospering under His provisional blessings. And I’m not just thinking of the Word of Faith type of Christians. I’m talking about many solid Evangelical Christians who happen to lean more into the Charismatic stream of the faith. But these folks have solid Evangelical theology in just about every area that one can think of. Yet they are absolutely sure that God cannot and does not have anything to do with sickness or disease. In fact, these folks often come across in a way that leads me to believe that God actually takes vacations or that the universe is ruled in some sort of quasi-duelistic fashion. Of course, they don’t really believe these statements, but the consequences of some of their beliefs demand answers.
But when I often investigate why these certain folks tend to lean towards this type of theological framework, I often come to the conclusion that they do so in an effort to somewhat defend the character of God, as if it would be absolutely deplorable that God would not only allow but actually cause sicknesses and other things that we humans deem to be curses.
Though this undermines the very hope of God’s sovereignty, it isn’t something new. Roughly 3,500 years ago, Moses attempted to undermine God’s sovereignty in this same manner. After God had instructed Moses to confront Pharaoh, Moses informed God that he did not possess the greatest of oratory skills. But Yahweh gave a striking correction to our problem. He said,
“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” – Exodus 4:11
I believe it is safe to say that God explicitly states that He Himself causes all of our situations because He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). This is not to say that God does not work through the means of His creation and that spiritual attacks cannot come in the form of sickness. But we have a radically important misunderstanding if we assume that God is not in control of the universe!
And this is the crux of my proposition. We, as the creatures, must be mindful that we do not create standards and rules that God Himself will not fit into. After all, He is the creator of all things and all things are held together in Him (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3).
This is to say that even though God’s purposes often do not make sense to my finite mind, I must accept Him at His word. He is not bound by my rules of logic or the rules that I believe should govern His justice and His will. He is free to do His will, whether I understand and agree… or not.
Paul wrote a helpful statement to the Corinthians that summarizes my point: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).
It may be a tad bit radical for our thinking here, but John Piper makes a rather strong statement regarding our understanding of sickness in relation to the life of a Christian. He states, “you will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift” (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 209). Piper then reminds us that “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). “There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel” (Num. 23:23). “The Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11).
So perhaps we need a radically renewed understanding of God’s goodness and character. Perhaps our understanding of His goodness and His character is determined by what we think His goodness and character should look like. For some, God’s goodness and character is void of discipline. For others, His goodness and character is void of troubles and persecution. And many still understand God’s goodness and character to equate to riches, fortune, and fame.
Yet God continues as the sovereign creator and maintainer of all things. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39).
I firmly believe that we cannot understand God’s goodness and His character without understanding His sovereignty over all things, including sickness and disease. This is not to deny Satan’s role in spiritual attacks or to deny that we put harmful toxins into our bodies. Again, God uses means to accomplish His purposes. But our theology must be derived from the Scriptures and not our own desires, rules, standards, and opinions.
Let us learn from Job. Even though “Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7), Job understood that Satan worked in a framework, a framework created and maintained by God. When Job’s wife called for him to curse God and die, Job replied, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10). In other words, are we to celebrate those things which we consider blessings and to blame the rest on someone else? Job had a right understanding of God’s sovereignty. And before you attempt to point out that Job simply records history and doesn’t express a correct understanding of God’s character, notice that immediately after Job states that both “good” and “evil” (Heb. ra’, bad, evil) come from God, the writer of Job records, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
I’m thankful that God is sovereign over sickness, disease, trials, tribulations, and pain. This does not mean that going through these is easy, but it is certainly much easier to do so knowing that God is sovereign over it and that nothing escapes His hand.
So fear not. God’s conduct and purposes may not always make sense to you but rest assured that He is in control. And though He may move you to pray against situations and for His hand to move… you can always take joy in knowing that at the end of the day, His glory will be had!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
i spent some time in a faith church and this issue was constantly preached against and explained away. the pastor’s days at rhema were influential enough to cause him to ignore large sections of the old testament and parts of the new testament.
but i still have questions about prayer. can i pray against god’s will if he’s causing my cold? i’m comforted to know that god is in control but how do i pray? i guess that’s where i get confused. i can’t deny those scriptures you listed because they are clear. i mean, most of them are god speaking! but i want god’s will to be done in my life and prayer from righteous people is effective, so how should i pray?
i’d like to know your thoughts on this issue, luke. i appreciated this articl but i have more questions! so thanks for allowing comments and responses. or maybe someone else can answer, since i’m sure you are busy.
Listening to a recent teaching the teacher said, “Don’t deny someone their cross that God intends for them to carry . She was speaking in regards to praying against a trial, hardship or suffering that someone is going through.
God uses these to transform or shape people’s hearts and lives. This since has made me pause to think before I pray, asking the Holy Spirit for God’s will in praying. Luke 9:23 says we are to take up our cross daily. If the situation causes us to die to ourselves, that is true life. This teacher also made the statement that the cross will always end in a glorious resurrection. This was most certainly true of our Master in whose image we are created. He suffered also. If these sufferings help us take on the character of Christ there is good in the outcome.
Many years ago I discovered Job 2:10. I understood then that God has a plan and a purpose for everything we go through.
DKotecki, I’d love to hear where in Scripture the teacher was coming from, as my understanding is different. I don’t believe that praying for someone in a trial will deny them them God’s will: Jesus asked the disciples to pray with him at Gethsemane, still fully committed to the cross ahead. Now, if anyone knew what God’s will was in a circumstance, Jesus did, yet He prayed, asking the Father to take it away, if possible. (Matt 26:39) If we sin in praying that a trial be removed, then Jesus sinned, too.
Since we know He didn’t, I believe that it is acceptable to pray — for ourselves and others — that a trial be removed, if it is His will. The cross was clearly God’s will, yet Jesus prayed it be removed while placing His will in submission to the Father. And, just so we can’t pass off Jesus’ example as being unique (given His relationship with the Father) as feel we can’t do that, the Spirit living within us knows God’s will perfectly and prays with us (Romans 8:26) so we can claim the same confidence.
God desires community, both with Him and among the Body and prayer is part of that desire. There are many places in scripture where God says he will carry out his plans through our prayers: 2 Chronicles 6 gives several examples of prayer releasing God’s blessing; Mark 11:17 tells us God intended prayer to be the purpose for the temple; in Acts 10:5; the angel tells Cornelius he came because God heard his prayers; and James 5:14 commands us to call the elders and pray for the sick. We are commanded to pray, because God wants us to join into what He is doing. Hebrews 13:3, Romans 12:15, Galatians 6:2 and James 2:16 all say God’s purpose is that we in the Body share each others burdens. Prov 25:21 say we should even do the same for our enemies! Jesus’ model prayer (“Our Father…”) says we should bring ALL of the concerns of life to God in prayer.
In my opinion, “results” are not His primary purpose, it is community. And, Steve, did you know that even Jesus didn’t get all of his prayers answered? In John 17, He prays that we (the Body) might be one as He and the Father are one. I don’t see that yet, yet I don’t believe Jesus was wrong to pray that, or that His prayer failed. Godliness does not guarantee that we get what we pray for, nor does not getting it means that we are carnal. Sometimes, it means waiting in faith for the final resolution. And while I, like Jesus, have had prayers that were not answered, I still have hope in God’s goodness so I am not disappointed (Romans 5:5) because I have His love and His presence.
we can pray for healing, if it is God’s will. Jesus is the revelation of God, and he healed…a LOT. all over the gospels he is healing people. he said he is “willing.” so we can pray with confidence for someone to be healed, at the same time understanding God’s sovereignty and desiring his perfect plan more than our desire for healing.
also, i think it is helpful to remember that our prayers do not change God or influence him. it is the opposite! as we pray, God changes us and influences us. i’ve found that i may begin prayer with a certain desire, but as i press in and pray about the matter God will reveal to me HIS desire in the situation. then i can reject my desire and join with God in his. then i am praying God’s will. this calls for deeper and more sustained prayer than a quick, tossed up “Lord heal him.” God works out his sovereign plan, using the means of our prayers, which he shapes in us according to his will, as we pray. does that make sense?
Great post, Luke! some people find God’s sovereignty over sickness & disease troubling. i personally take GREAT encouragement. it is because i know God is in complete control (never overruled by Satan) that i have confidence that he CAN heal.
Excellent post. I join Cary in taking deep, deep comfort in knowing that my God is in control of everything. As Job stated, no purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2). His purpose will be accomplished, even if it happens through sickness and disease.
Michaelz, I think you misunderstood my post which happens. I totally am a person of prayer for most of my entire life, but I believe we should seek to pray God’s will where in I agree with Cary’s post. I believe God uses our circumstances to shape us. We don’t want to deny them this, which we can possibly do through prayer by getting in God’s way. I’ve been there. I’ve learned. I don’t want to do that anymore.
Sorry if I misunderstood, DKotecki, as I thought you were saying we shouldn’t pray for those suffering, as I believe, like Cary, that we are called to intercede (to “go between”) others and their trials, both for their benefit and ours. I believe we should pray that He be revealed in the trial, His character produced in them, that we would feel His heart, that He would direct us (including how He might want us to be part of the solution) … and that He would also lessen their suffering as soon as possible.
If that’s His will, I don’t believe our prayers hinder Him. So, we should pray.
To play devil’s advocate, what about these verses:
Genesis 6:6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
Exodus 32:14 And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Deuteronomy 32:36 For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants.
1 Samuel 15:11 It repenteth me [God] that I have set up Saul to be king.
1 Samuel 15:35 The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
2 Samuel 24:16 The Lord repented of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, it is enough: stay now thine hand.
1 Chronicles 21:15 The Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.
Isaiah 38:1-5 In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah … said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. … Thus saith the LORD … I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
Jeremiah 15:6 I [God] am weary of repenting.
Jeremaih 18:8 I [God] will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
Jeremaih 26:3 That I [God]may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them.
Jeremiah 26:13 The Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.
Jeremiah 26:19 The Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them.
Jeremaih 42:10 For I [God] repent me of the evil that I have done unto you.
Amos 7:3, 6 The Lord repented for this.
Jonah 3:10 God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them.
These Scriptures are often brought up by Open Theists and I think would be good for discussions sake. Does God change His mind?
by the way, those Scriptures are from the Skeptics Bible, in case anyone was wondering why I brought them up.
Good post! These are great verses to discuss, as we sometimes walk away from these discussions as being theoretical, but not important. In reality, what we think about God has a lot to do with how we live our lives, so it’s well worth the time and effort.
I’ll offer two answers, starting with the easy answer first. 🙂 For some of these verses, different translations result in different understandings. Compare Jeremiah 15:6, for example, in the versions shown here: Jer 15:6 (KJV), Jer 15:6 (NIV), Jer 15:6 (ESV), Jer 15:6 (NKJV), Jer 15:6 (ASV). Without getting into any of the underlying Greek, there is a common thread of thought: God is patient, but not always so. The New KJV shows how language changes over time, to affect how we understand a phrase, compared to the understanding that those in 1611 had in reading the original KJV.
Secondly, in some of these verses, I see human limitation here, as well. The Jonah passage is a good one for this issue. In Jonah 1:2, God called Jonah to “go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” After a fishing expedition, Jonah finally does, calling out in Jonah 3:4 “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” They turn from their way, and in Jonah 3:10, God relented. Reading the story, I see something missing. Why would God send Jonah to deliver a message devoid of mercy, if He could be moved to mercy a few days later? Or, knowing Jonah’s desire that the Ninevites get toasted, could the real story be that Jonah “accidentally missed” part of the message God gave? If he did, then the story of Nineveh is a simple if-then, not a change in God’s will.
That’s a start, anyway. Anyone else want to tackle some other possibilities?
I had to copy this post in the Catholic debate versus Protestant….It fit well, but I initially wanted to discuss these versus. Michaelz and I just debated for about an hour, and I have to say, I do not think God changes His mind in Jonah, ….but that there is a lot going on in that book that pulling one verse out of and coming up with foolish controversy really takes away from the truth of the whole book you have to read in entirety to understand. or maybe it just makes me really try to understand the character of God that much more.
Jonah 3:10….Just the entire little book is really awesome, I haven’t read through it in a long time, and I pick this one to start with. That Jonah didn’t want Nineveh saved and even went so far as to intentionally run the other direction, God still saved them is really cool! Even if we ignore God, don’t go out and evangelize when we are being called to specifically on certain occasions, God saves. I’m not excited because now I can sit back, throw back a cold one and be lazy. I’m excited because it is a great example of how God wants us to work WITH Him , …BUT…if we blow it on purpose or out of fear or nothing even as blatantly malicious as Jonah…that God’s purpose will prevail. He wasn’t happy with Jonah for Jonah’s attitude. If you looked at works versus faith in THAT book, you could actually say Jonah wasn’t very faithful because his works were rebellious ….malicious even. The wickedness of Nineveh was replaced with extreme fasting by all, thereby looking like they were really, really faithful! So, that whole faith/works thing…eh…
But back to your question…Did God change His mind? no…He didn’t. Did anyone read the whole passage, or just pull a verse out to try to cause a sidetracking distraction of an argument to completely miss the beautiful points of God’s unbelievably far reaching love and mercy and hope for anyone, no matter how bad they think they are, or the concern that we might have missed God in something and worry about someone’s salvation hinged upon our obedience to God, only…well, God can use us to help, but its still all Him. God didn’t change HIs mind…
and I got that with a Bible with no pretty coloured letters, …just pretty pictures. 🙂 Anyone else want to jump in here???
ok, I really am getting a lot out of Jonah, alone, so I am going to just keep on squeezing the juice out of this peach…the beginning discussion around this, from Steveforal,….just say you have a cold. Its a cold. Its not cancer, its a cold. It will run its course and then go away. …If you pray about it going away, is it because you think the cold will kill you and you don’t want to die? Are you praying for it to go away because you can’t be bothered with a runny nose or be slowed down and miss any work because they can’t make it without you there, because you can’t miss a day and miss out on the money? Colds suck, and I know, its merely one example….but you brought it up so I’m using it. WHY we pray for something reveals a lot about our character, and God IS ALWAYS transforming us, ….Did Jonah slow down repentance and the city of Nineveh get destroyed because Jonah was opposed to them? Jonah tried to not even give them any messages, and God didn’t seem to be bothered that Jonah was being rebellious outright, because he had Jonah swallowed up by a big fish for three days on top of his running away. God still got done what He intended to do. That really comforts me and excites me. Comforts me that we don’t screw up our incredibly Big God!! Excites me that I get to be the kid helping out my Dad when He asks, and even in disobedience, God’s will will be done. So, pray ….be lead by God. Ask for God’swill in all circumstances, and…as Nineveh did, even when faced with wrath from God, mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation between them and God occurred….so…gee…that sort of takes the pressure of screwing up when we pray off of us, …I think anyway.