By Melissa McLaughlin
When the first dancing lights of summer lit up our backyard, shouts rang through the house! Lightning bugs, lightning bugs, lightning bugs! We foraged through the plastic containers to find just the right “lightning bug home”. We chased and scampered back and forth through the yard flinging our arms to capture just one firefly, one carrier of God’s serene summertime fireworks display. If we were fast enough and gentle enough, we would collect the firefly and store it in our container for a temporary home, to be set free after a bit of reverent observation.
What wonder and joy watching a firefly up close and personal! “What makes it glow?” we always asked. My parents would offer a few explanations, but in the end I would think, “Only God knows.”
Only God knows. God is Sovereign. We say this, but what does it really mean?
God is Sovereign
In the Merriam Webster Dictionary this passage is used to describe the word “sovereign.”
Sovereign has everything to do with power. It often describes a person who has supreme power or authority, such as a king or queen. God is described as “sovereign” in a number of Bible translations. In addition to describing ones who have power, the word sovereign also often describes power: to have sovereign power is to have absolute power—that is, power that cannot be checked by anyone or anything. Nations and states are also sometimes described as “sovereign.” This means that they have power over themselves; their government is under their own control, rather than under the control of an outside authority.
Sovereign can also be a synonym of supreme as in “of the most exalted kind.” In that case, the power is figurative rather than literal.
God is Sovereign. God is powerful. We say this, but what does it really mean?
God’s Revealed Will
From God’s revealed will, recorded in the Bible, we discover God’s character, God’s names, the extent of God’s power and God’s plan of redemption for humanity.
God’s power and sovereignty are at the core:
Nehemiah 9:6 – You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
God is the Creator of the universe and beyond.
That is power. Untouchable, untamable, unimaginable power.
In addition to God’s power, scripture teaches that God is also righteous, just, true, good and perfect.
If God is all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing and all-good…why do difficult, painful or bad things happen? Where is God when it doesn’t make sense?
2 Chronicles 20:6 – O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.
I used to cringe when I heard people say, “God is in control.”
I used to squirm in my seat when I heard the words, “Nothing catches God by surprise.”
If these comments are true, then why doesn’t God do something about evil, about sickness, about injustice, about poverty, about hatred, about, about, about…?
As I continued to grapple with God’s sovereignty and my frail, flawed humanity, one thing that has helped me navigate these haunting questions is to remember Jesus. God countered the greatest evil we will ever face, Satan and our own sin, with His own Son.
Through God’s masterful plan of redemption, on the cross Christ defeated Satan, hell, sin and death!
That is sovereign power! The power of grace, mercy, forgiveness and love! Unending power to heal and save!
God’s ultimate will is to redeem humankind from sin and put an end forever to Satan and all who follow him, that God’s redeemed creation may enjoy His presence and worship Him in the beauty of heaven. This ultimate will, this ultimate good, this ultimate grace, this ultimate justice will prevail. Of this we can be sure. As sure as every prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming, so will every prophecy be fulfilled at His second coming. Jesus will reign forever and ever!
Isaiah 45:22-23 – Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
Philippians 2:9-11 – Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If God is sovereign and God is good, where is God when it doesn’t make sense?
We don’t have all the answers. But we do have one answer. That answer is Jesus.
We are not in heaven yet. We live in a fallen world. Though God has ultimate control, he permits people to make their own choices. Even when those choices go against His will for us.
God’s Permissive Will
God could stop us if He wanted to. He is Sovereign. But He chooses not to stop us. In this, God is exerting His control, His power, His sovereignty, by allowing this to happen. Some people call this God’s permissive will.
In the same way that we could have kept the fireflies in plastic containers on those summer evenings long ago, instead we chose to set them free. We had power over the insects and we used that power to give freedom.
Another reason God allows difficult and painful things to happen is so that we turn to Him and press in more closely. For the gift of God Himself is the best blessing God can ever give. In God’s hands then, the worst of times can become a precious and sacred blessing.
God’s Ultimate Will
Adding to this, God has made clear to us His ultimate will – that any who will repent and accept Jesus, by faith, as their Savior and Lord, will one day be in heaven where there will be no more sorrow, tears or pain.
On the day you are told your loved one has cancer and fear imprisons your heart, remember God’s ultimate will…heaven is waiting up ahead for any who will accept Jesus.
On the day you hear that your loved one committed suicide and you find it difficult to take your next breath, remember God’s ultimate will…heaven is waiting up ahead for any who will accept Jesus.
On the day you learn that your loved one has a disability and you can’t see the next step forward, remember God’s ultimate will…heaven is waiting up ahead for any who will accept Jesus.
When the thing you have prayed for and waited for doesn’t happen…
When the addiction keeps calling,
When the healing doesn’t come,
When the spouse walks out,
When the career falls apart,
When you are broken,
When it doesn’t make sense…
Ask God to remind you that He is sovereign and He is good.
Though we don’t understand everything, we do understand Jesus.
Ask God to remind you of Jesus carrying your cross.
Ask God to help you see Jesus through the tears.
Ask God to give you a fresh vision of heaven.
That longing you feel for things to be made right?
That is a longing for heaven, where only God is powerful enough and good enough to make all things right once and for all. Let that deep soul-longing lead you to the only answer we have…the answer is Jesus.
He is the light in the darkest night. When we gain peace with God through Jesus, we also gain the peace of God through the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit. In some ways, we are still like a child asking the reason for the firefly’s light. Only God knows all things. But we can rest in His sovereignty and goodness when we don’t understand, for Jesus has said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5
One glorious day, it will be!
And because of Jesus we will shine like the stars in the heavens! Daniel 12:1-3