Lecture 1: God's Sovereignty Over Suffering
Ten aspects of God's sovereignty over suffering, and Satan's role in it.
God's Sovereignty Over Suffering
The great aim of Satan is to prevent and weaken and, if possible, destroy faith. In 1 Thessalonians 3:5 Paul says, “For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.” If he can do this, he can destroy the mission of the church and the people of the earth. Jesus said in John 8:44, “He was a murderer from the beginning.” Destroy faith. Destroy missions. Destroy people. And thus dishonor God. That is his aim. Satan uses pleasure and pain to do it. Pleasure: to make us doubt God’s satisfying greatness. Pain: to make us doubt God’s sovereign goodness. To triumph over Satan (in pleasure and pain) we need to know the Word of Truth that teaches God’s sovereignty over Satan. By the Word of God we will triumph. “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). May God teach us now his Word, that we might triumph for our own souls and for the sake of our neighbors and the nations.
What follows are the texts that form the skeleton of discussion when I teach the seminar on suffering as part of The Bethlehem Institute at Bethlehem Baptist Church. This is not a book on suffering. It is a collection of Biblical passages with some occasional comments. The interpretation of these texts happens orally in the presentations that I make as I use overhead transparencies of the Scriptures. I hope that, even if you are not able to take this course, these passages from God's Word will help you forge your own strong convictions concerning God's wise and gracious sovereignty in our suffering. I pray that God will make us all better ministers of mercy and truth in times of affliction.
2. God’s Sovereignty over Suffering
Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in It
1. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Delegated World Rule
Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. "Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours."
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Daniel said, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; he removes kings and establishes kings.”
The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men.
1 Chronicles 21:1
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.
2 Samuel 24:1
Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah."
The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever He wishes.
And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.
2. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Angels (Demons, Evil Spirits)
Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.”
They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."
And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” . . . And He said to them, "Go!" And they came out and went into the swine.
3. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Hand in Persecution
1 Peter 5:8-10
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
1 Peter 4:19
Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
1 Peter 3:17
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness are yours. (See also Hebrews 12:3-11)
4. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Life-taking Power
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning . . .
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
1 Samuel 2:6
The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
1 Corinthians 11:29-32
For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
Lazarus, come forth!
Young man, arise!
5. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Hand in Natural Disasters
The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him." . . . [A messenger to Job:] "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans attacked and took them. They also slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three bands and made a raid on the camels and took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you." Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
Out of the south comes the storm. . . . [God] disperses the cloud of His lightning. It changes direction, turning around by His guidance, that it may do whatever He commands it on the face of the inhabited earth. Whether for a rod . . . or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen. . . . Stand and consider the wonders of God!
The LORD is great. . . . Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth. . . . He makes lightnings for the rain, and brings forth the wind from His treasuries.
Praise the LORD from the earth, sea monsters and all deeps; fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word
There arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat . . . And Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. Isaac Watts: There’s not a plant or flower below, But makes Thy glories known; And clouds arise, and tempests blow, By order from Thy throne. (“I Sing the Mighty Power of God”)
6. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Sickness-causing Power
You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?
The LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause." Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face." So the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me - to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
"Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly." Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!" Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked.