I’ve heard it for years: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” But does that conventional wisdom stand up to biblical and theological scrutiny? Over at The Gospel Coalition, I’ve written against this popular saying and argue that God does and will give you more than you can handle. An excerpt:
You might not consider overwhelming sufferings to be “light” and “momentary,” but think of your trials in terms of a trillion years from now. In the middle of affliction, sometimes the most difficult thing to hold onto is an eternal vision. Paul isn’t trying to minimize your affliction; he’s trying to maximize your perspective.
Suffering doesn’t get the last line in the script. In this life, God will give you more than you can handle, but the coming weight of glory will be greater than you can imagine.
D. W. Snoke explains six points of CALVINism. Here they are in brief:
(1) Comprehensive Brokenness
(2) Absolute Sovereignty
(3) Lifegiving Union
(4) Verified Atonement
(5) Irresistible Grace
(6) Never-Ending Adoption
Read the rest here.
Here are some excellent quotes on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, with occasional application to salvation or suffering:
- John Piper: “We must simply listen to God when it comes to the sovereignty of God. We must have God tell us what it means for him to be sovereign, lest we import limitations or possibilities into God that he doesn’t find in himself.”
- Jonathan Edwards: “Absolute sovereign is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”
- Kevin DeYoung: “For many Christians, coming to grips with God’s all-encompassing providence requires a massive shift in how they look at the world.”
- Loraine Boettner: “Amid all the apparent defeats and inconsistencies of life God actually moves on in undisturbed majesty.”
- Eugene Merrill: “Any view of God that assigns him any role other than that of sovereign over all creation results either in an ontological dualism in which he is coequal with the material and/or spiritual universe or at least renders him limited in some aspects of his nature and work.”
- Bruce Ware: “The sole criterion for understanding the nature of divine sovereignty is simply this: whatever God tells us in Scripture about his lordship and sovereign rulership over the universe is what we should believe, because this alone can be the infallible truth about his sovereignty.”
- D. A. Carson: “To put it bluntly, God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of his sovereignty, yet evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to secondary agents, to secondary causes.”
- Mark Talbot: “How the Creator’s agency relates to his creatures’ agency is to be categorized quite differently from how any creature’s agency relates to any other creature’s agency.”
- Wayne Grudem: “In every case where we do evil, we know that we willingly choose to do it, and we realize that we are rightly to be blamed for it.”
- Mark Talbot: “Scripture reveals that both human agency and divine agency are to be fully affirmed without attempting to tell us how this can be, because we have no way to understand it, no matter what Scripture would say.”
- Christopher Wright: “God acts through human actions–without turning people into puppets.”
- John Calvin: “Are you prepared to believe that nothing is lawful for God that you do not fully understand?”
- James Spiegel: “…if we were blind to the higher (and now obvious) good that Christ’s tortures served, then how much more might we be blind to the higher good served by the sundry other moral evils that vex us?”
- John Piper: “There could be no greater display of the glory of the grace of God than what happened at Calvary. Everything leading to it and everything flowing from it is explained by it, including all the suffering in the world.”
- John Stott: “The doctrine of election is the product of divine revelation, not of human speculation. It was not invented by Calvin of Geneva or Augustine of Hippo. It is above all else a biblical doctrine and no biblical Christian can ignore it.”
- R. C. Sproul: “Among the mass of fallen humanity, all guilty of sin before God and exposed to his justice, no one has any claim or entitlement to God’s mercy.”
- D. A. Carson: “The problem, again, is that biblical truths are not being permitted to function in biblical ways. Inferences are being drawn from things truly taught in the Bible that are being used to disallow what the Bible clearly says elsewhere.”
- John Piper: “The teaching of Scripture on election has been controversial. But I believe with all my heart that it is precious beyond words and a great nourishment for the Christlikeness of faith.”
- Charles Spurgeon: “Cheer up, Christian! Things are not left to chance: no blind fate rules the world. God hath purposes, and those purposes are fulfilled. God hath plans, and those plans are wise, and never can be dislocated.”
It’s no secret that fleshing out the doctrine of God’s sovereignty will take you into controversial waters. My book Behold Our Sovereign God is no exception. After all, an exploration of that doctrine can hardly be helpful if subjects like predestination and God’s relationship to evil are avoided.
So I didn’t avoid them. Chapters 2 (“From the Mouth of the Most High”) and 4 (“The Rights and Righteousness of the Potter”) are probably the most controversial parts of my book.
To be sure, simply loving controversy is not a noble thing. The Bible warns against the pursuit of dispute. We should not be those who just love a good battle, who thrive on stirring the pot among fellow believers. We should love peace more than debate and prize unity more than causing division.
But consider John Piper’s words on p. 121 of his book The Pleasures of God: “Can controversial teachings nurture Christlikeness? Before you answer this question, ask another one: Are there any significant biblical teachings that have not been controversial? I cannot think of even one, let alone the number we all need for the daily nurture of faith. If this is true, then we have no choice but to seek our food in the markets of controversy.” (See the excellent article by my friend Jim Hamilton entitled “Do You Love Controversy of People?“)
In controversial teachings, then, there is nurturing to receive. There is food for the soul, light for the mind. We should want to understand what God reveals to us in his word, which must include what he reveals about how he rules the heavens and the earth. God’s sovereignty is a significant teaching in the Bible, so it must be addressed, though controversy is inevitable. Nevertheless, that doctrine (as with any other one) exists not for controversy but for doxology.
So let us sing with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!….For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33, 36).
Over the years I’ve been so thankful for many helpful books on difficult subjects, and helpful books on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty are especially important. In no fixed order, here are seven I’d commend to you:
- (1) The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner
- (2) How Long, O Lord? by D. A. Carson
- (3) The Doctrine of God by John Frame
- (4) The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink
- (5) Spectacular Sins by John Piper
- (6) God’s Greater Glory by Bruce Ware
- (7) Still Sovereign, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware
Any others you’ve found particularly useful?
I wrote the bulk of Behold Our Sovereign God: All Things From Him, Through Him, and To Him between the end of Fall 2010 and the beginning of Spring 2011 here in Louisville. With the book I wanted to mark a milestone, because 2011 would be 10 years after the wrestling match with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty began. That decade-long journey changed my life, and I reflect on some of it in the book, especially in the Introduction.
Then, in the latter months of 2011 and in the early part of 2012, I began gradually expanding and tweaking the book until it reached its final form. The subtitle, All Things From Him, Through Him, and To Him, is from Romans 11:36 and conveys what I hope the reader will conclude.
I believe the Bible teaches the exhaustive and meticulous rule of God in the universe, and I hope to persuade you of the same. I tried to keep it concise (it’s less than 150 pages!), clear, personal, and saturated with Scripture. I tried to anticipate objections, correct misunderstandings, and present a coherent introduction to what the doctrine of God’s sovereignty involves.
The book has five chapters, framed by an Introduction and Conclusion. The chapters break down this way:
- (1) A Tapestry of Majesty: The Sovereignty of God over Creation
- (2) From the Mouth of the Most High: The Sovereignty of God over Sin and Suffering
- (3) The Worst Evil for the Greatest Good: The Sovereignty of God over the Cross
- (4) The Rights and Righteousness of the Potter: The Sovereignty of God over Salvation and Judgment
- (5) From Creation to Consummation: The Sovereignty of God over History and the Future
A word about the Dedication. Behold Our Sovereign God is for John Piper, whose books and preaching have changed my life. Piper has such a zealous pursuit of pointing people to our mighty and exalted God. His passion for God’s glory has influenced me in such a deep way that I’m certainly unaware of the degree. And more than anyone else for me, Piper’s voice and pen has faithfully called his listeners and readers to behold this sovereign God who reigns in majesty over all things for His glory.
May God use this book to stir a zeal for doctrine and doxology in His people. I hope you’ll consider getting the book and giving it a read. I want you to behold Him as He is: our sovereign God.
I appreciate Piper’s view of God’s sovereignty over all things, and I think his blog post, regarding the tornado outbreak on March 2, 2012 across several states, is helpful.