God of Hope: Sovereign and Good

Years ago, I was part of a teaching team that led a Christian “basics” class. One particular session offered discussion prompts around the idea of God’s lordship, such as: “God runs a kingdom not a democracy.” “In a democracy, the leaders represent the people; in a kingdom, the people represent the king.” For many, this was revelatory – maybe because Americans have only, ever known democracy, so we tend to impose that onto our faith, onto God.

The discussions, issuing from these talking points, varied but almost always landed on the fact that God is in control. He has the plan and the power. He has absolute authority. And, in His wisdom, He has given us free will, so we can choose to follow His ways. Or not. But His ways remain. Always. No matter how we might make our case. 

Most people in our class wiggled in their seats with the utterance of “absolute authority.” Our American sensibilities seem opposed to such, well, sovereignty. We’re used to having a say. We rankle with the realization we’re under someone’s rule.

When we dig a little deeper, we can get to the source of such aversion to authority: trust. Think on it – in America’s relatively short history as a nation, we’ve fought a Revolutionary War to break free from a king’s tyranny. We’ve battled against Czars who imposed their might unfairly on people (Russia), as well as Chancellors who led their nation (Germany) into atrocities against humanity. Our track record with “sovereigns” has always been with bully dictators, so our trust factor is low. 

We’re beginning to understand why the idea of living in God’s kingdom rattles us a bit…or a lot. We like the idea, albeit an illusion, of being in control of our own lives. We distrust anyone who tries to exert control over us.

Yet, as followers of Jesus, that’s exactly what God expects of us – to trust Him in His sovereignty over creation, countries, and our own little corners of the world. To trust God’s ways and will, it’s imperative we know His heart. We must know that the Sovereign One is good. We must trust that He only desires our good. Even when other people cause harm; even when our fallen world produces disasters, disease, and death; even when evil runs rampant, spreading its lies and spewing its hate, GOD IS GOOD.1 

Peeling Back the Layers

To fully trust God with our lives, we need to discern why we believe Him untrustworthy. James Bryan Smith would suggest we mine the layers of our false narratives of God’s character, digging into our experiences and assumptions to get at the truth of how we view God.2

One layer to our reticence might be that we see God as an angry judge – a Sovereign who blesses the good and curses the sinners. James suggests that this way of viewing God not only fits the false narrative many pastors have preached for decades but also fits tidily into our desire for control. In other words, we’ll strive to do all the right things so the bad won’t happen.

To see how this false narrative about God needs adjusting, we must ask ourselves: “Is this understanding of God consistent with the God Jesus revealed?”2 

So, we look to Jesus, God incarnate, knowing His words will reveal much about God. And, we hear Him say, “There is only one who is good:” GOD (Matthew 19:17). From His own lips, Jesus attests to God’s goodness. 

Jesus’ actions also demonstrate God’s nature. When His disciples see a man, blind since birth, they ask Jesus, “Who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2-3). And, going against the typical Jewish way of thinking, Jesus refuses to affirm that anyone’s sin caused the blindness. In fact, He heals the man, demonstrating not only His authority over the natural but His belief that no judgment was necessary.2  

Jesus reveals to us a God who is both sovereign and good. He shows us that God does not walk around with lightning bolts in His hands, eager to zap each person who does something wrong. That’s not to say He couldn’t (because He is sovereign). It’s just not who He is (because He is good).

So. What layers of your own false narrative about God do you need to peel back in order to believe that God is trustworthy? 

More Layers

Closely related to this errant picture of God as “angry judge” is our assumption that God causes everything that happens in the world. How many times do we hear God “given the credit” for judging a city or country after a devastating natural disaster? How often do we hear ourselves blame God for taking away something or someone?

Other false narratives about God that can seep into our psyche might be that we think of Him as fickle or capricious, not really caring about individuals – maybe even picturing Him as using us as pawns in His heaven-sized chess game. 

Yet, none of these are accurate pictures of a Sovereign who is good. 

The truth is God knows the number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30). He is not clueless about who you are – He’s familiar with all your ways (Psalm 139:3). He cares for all the little details in your life, not wanting you to worry about what you eat or drink or wear (Matthew 6:25-26). God is present in your life (Matthew 28:20), knowing what you need before you ask Him (Matthew 6:8). He has known everything about You since your moment of conception (Psalm 139:13-16), and He thinks about you so often that those thoughts cannot be counted (Psalm 139:17-18).

Layer by layer, we can burn off all the false notions we have of God’s nature. And, we can add all the promises He has made as a means for building our trust in Him.

Promise Keeper = A Good and Faithful God

One way to build layers within us that help us trust that God is only ever out for our good is to look back. When we obediently look back over all the hills and valleys of our lives, we can see where God was present. We can recognize where He placed the just-right people in our lives, provided the timely funds or food, gave us much needed rest, or carried us through the greatest losses we’ve ever faced. In doing so, we feel the goodness of His presence and provision. 

Looking back to see God’s faithfulness in the past helps us believe He’ll be faithful again, now. It also builds our confidence that He is, indeed, present and powerful and Promise Keeper (Psalm 145:13). Therefore, our confidence in Him grows, and so does our trust. 

Isaiah gives us words to cling to when it feels like God has abandoned us or failed to do as He promised:

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.

Isaiah 40:28

Isaiah wants us to know that our sovereign God never grows tired – not ever. He’ll never get tired of our needs, our ongoing circumstances, or our failure to trust Him fully. He won’t get tired of us – He created us! He loves us! He is good.

And, in case we’re tempted to doubt that He’s present and working in ways we cannot see or feel, Isaiah reminds us that God’s understanding is unfathomable to us. God sees the big picture, the beginning to the end (Isaiah 46:10). His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). In other words, this God of ours, He is the one in control. Even when it doesn’t look like it from our vantage point.

Friends – there’s. our. hope!!!

God rules. He reigns over everything seen and unseen, in our homes and nations, in our workplaces and schools, in the darkest places conceivable. He has not given up on us (1 Corinthians 1:7-9 MSG)! He has not turned His back on the world! He loves this place that He created and the people He made in His image (Psalm 145:9). He is in control.

We can trust that. We can trust Him. 

God is sovereign and He is good. The impossibility of those two words belonging together stirs within our hearts a doubt, but it is a learned one – because we live in a fallen, broken world where people are given free will and our enemy free reign – but that doubt is not based in truth  (Joshua 24:15; John 12:31). 

Our truth lies in Jesus, the Word. The way, the truth, and the life. Our hope.

Take heart, my friend. Rest in knowing you’re part of a Kingdom that is led by a mighty and merciful, commanding and compassionate God. Our King reigns on His throne in heaven – not as a distant, fickle, powerless puppet, but as One who knows you intimately, loves you fiercely, and longs for good in your life. So, let’s put our hope in the One who holds the reins.

Father God, we nearly quake at the realization of just how powerful You are. We know that You created everything and everyone in all the universe, yet it somehow shocks us to think about the absolute authority that you possess. We thank You for your mercy when we fail to acknowledge your will and way, and we ask your forgiveness when we doubt your ability to act with incredible power at any moment. Lord Jesus, You are our King of Kings. We awaken to this idea that WE represent YOU. We are humbled that You reign on the throne as One who understands every single aspect of our humanity – our fears and fury, our grief and glee, our temptations and tailspins. You rule with compassion and control, and that awes us. We’re humbled – and grateful. Holy Spirit, we look to You for help in peeling back the layers of our disbelief and doubt. We ask that You would lead us in uncovering the false narratives we hold about God so that we can align ourselves to your truth about who He is. And, we implore You to ignite within us a trust in God that carries us through every season so that we never, ever forget that He is sovereign and good. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(Inspired by Romans 13:1; Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 2:4-5; Revelation 19:16; Hebrews 4:15-16; John 14:26, 16:13; Jude 1:20-21; Psalm 135:6-7, 34:8)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations. (The first four are resources noted in the post.)

  • 1-This Got Questions article has a great analogy to help us understand God’s sovereignty and how that holds space for free will — it’s about a man and an ant.
  • 2-James Bryan Smith’s book Good and Beautiful God^ was a pivotal study for me years ago. It was the first time I realized how skewed our view of God can be — and how that view can hinder our sanctifying journey with Him.
  • Our God of Hope playlist continues to sing to me throughout my day. If you need some encouragement in your trust of God’s goodness, turn up Andrew Peterson’s song, “Always Good.”
  • Friends, many times our “looking back” isn’t limited to our own lives but the lives of those who have gone before us — like Moses. It helps so much for us to know the stories that have come before us, so I cannot heartily enough recommend The Devoted Collective‘s brand new study on Exodus (I’m so honored to be a writing contributor). This eight-week study includes reading chapters of Exodus, corresponding devotions in the book,^ and/or journaling^ your responses. I hope you’ll take part!

Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:

  • The anchoring passage for this series is Isaiah 40:28-31. This week we add the last two lines of verse 28. In my moments of overwhelming doubt or grief, I literally read this verse out loud, hearing Isaiah’s imploring tone. He wants us to remember these truths about God — so let’s put this to memory:

    Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
    The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

    He will not grow tired or weary,
        and his understanding no one can fathom.

    Isaiah 40:28a-b, NIV
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others — especially as Easter approaches! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light into the world! 

Featured Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash. Bits and Pieces photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova on Unsplash.
^ Affiliate link, with which I may earn a bit.

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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