My wife, Ono, is someone who has been through quite a bit of physical distress and lives with some measure of disability. In one of her old Bibles is a fading scrawl that she made during one of her bouts of illness. It is a quote by Joni Eareckson Tada: “When we learn to lean back in God’s sovereignty, fixing and settling our thoughts on that unshakable, unmovable reality, we can experience inner peace. Our trouble may not change, our pain may not diminish, our loss may not be restored, our problems may not fade with the new dawn. But, the power of those things to harm us is broken as we rest in the fact that God is in control.”(1)
As is well known, Joni Eareckson has lived with unimaginable handicap for the most part of her remarkable life. In the book Indelible Ink, where 22 prominent Christian leaders discuss the one book (apart from the Bible) that has most influenced each of their lives, Joni Eareckson’s pick was Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.(2)
The epigraph that Joni Eareckson used for her chapter in Indelible Ink is also from Boettner’s book: “History,” Boettner says, “in all its details, even the most minute, is but the unfolding of the eternal purposes of God. His decrees are not successively formed as the emergency arises, but are all parts of one all-comprehending plan, and we should never think of Him suddenly evolving a plan or doing something which He had not thought of before.”(3)
For Boettner, God is in ultimate control of, and has decreed, everything—not just the larger scheme of things, but also the minutest details and the apparent happenchance of our lives, including the mad, the bad, and the sad. It is in knowing and believing this that lies the secret of rest and strength in the midst of life’s vicissitudes. This is the existential implication and practical application that Eareckson draws from Boettner’s work—and, presumably, Ono from Eareckson’s words. Stumbling upon Ono’s scribble of Eareckson’s words has, however, given me a different (not necessarily contrary) perspective on handling pain and suffering—a perspective that Eareckson or Boettner’s words do not exactly state or bear out.(4)
We humans, not least we Christians, often draw a straight, linking line between our lives—our conditions within and our circumstances without—and God. That is why, faced with suffering and misfortune, we are wont to ask: If God is good, why is my health failing? If God is great, why is my wealth flailing? If God is, why am I not?
We need to learn to delink our existential realities and circumstantial instabilities from God’s eternal reality and essential stability. Why of course, sooner or later our health will fail; why yes, one time or another our wealth will flounder. We may be distressed when—not if—they do; but we should not be surprised. Indeed, we should expect them to fail: for they are not God. Only God will not fail. Only God is God.
That is why the prophet Habakkuk says:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.(5)
For Habakkuk, the reality and stability of God is conceived wholly apart from our contingencies and variabilities. Preaching on this passage from Habakkuk, George Muller says:
What is it that brought this man of God [Habakkuk] to the decision that though he should lose everything, though he should be reduced to a state of the greatest poverty and difficulty and affliction, yet he would rejoice in Jehovah? What was it that brought him to this? Because the Living God has given Himself to every one of His children, so that whatever they may lose, in regard to the things connected with this life, God remains to them; in other words, their ALL remains to them. They are not, and they never really and truly can be, losers of anything that is worth anything, for God remains.(6)
When all is not, God is—“I AM WHO I AM.” When all is lost, God remains— “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” The LORD, alone, is God. Realizing and remembering this must have helped Habakkuk and Muller. It helped me and my family too during the last three months or so.
Kethoser (Aniu) Kevichusa is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Nagaland, India.
(1) Ono is unfortunately unable to recall and pinpoint the book out of which the quote was taken.
(2) Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination in Scott Larsen, ed. Indelible Ink: 22 Prominent Christian Leaders Discuss the Books That Shape Their Faith (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2003).
(3) Cited by Eareckson Tada in Larsen, 5.
(4) The perspective I’m developing here is, it seems to me, subtly different from Joni Eareckson or Boettner’s in the following respect: If their emphasis is more on divine sovereignty and ability, mine is more on divine stability and reality; and if their words have a ring of divine fated-ness, I would like to think of mine as more inclined toward divine faithfulness.