When I was first learning about God’s sovereignty 15 or so years ago, every book I read made sure to emphasize the point that God’s control over all things is not an excuse for inaction. When we see someone in need, for example, we are to not EVER to say “that’s God’s will, so I’m not going to help.”
The fact that God is sovereign, including over sin and evil, does not make sin less sinful or evil less evil. God has “two wills”–his will of decree and his will of command. His will of command is what he loves in and of itself, and commands us to do: love him, love others, do good to all. His will of decree is what he ordains will happen in the world. Since we are in a fallen world, sometimes (often) his will of decree is that sin and evil happen. His will of decree, in other words, is sometimes different from his will of command.
But our duty is always spelled out by God’s will of command, never his will of decree. God’s will of decree belongs to the “secret things” that are not made known to us (Deuteronomy 29:29). Hence, the fact that a person is suffering does not mean we are to let them suffer because “God is willing it.” Rather, while God, for good and righteous reasons, has indeed allowed the suffering, his command to us (that is, his will) is that we fight the suffering and help. In doing so, we are not “working against God,” because God is behind good and evil differently. God actively causes good, but permissively (yet purposefully) allows evil.
So, even though God is in control of all things, we are never to allow that to be a reason or excuse for not helping another in need or fighting evil with all our might. (Indeed, it’s God’s sovereignty which is our best cause for hope.)
I’ve always taken that as basic, foundational, essential, and non-negotiable.
However, I’ve recently seen some people apparently have a different view. I’ve seen some people not help others in need who seemed to be basing this in the notion that “the Christian life is hard” and “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” and that God ordains suffering for his children.
That application is an abuse of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. I’m sure most Christians, or hopefully almost every Christian, knows this. And, those who refused to help may have not been clearly communicating. But, seeing that was enough to point out to me that we can’t take it for granted that everyone knows this. And, regardless, we all need to be reminded of it.
So, briefly, let me point out two texts. First, notice how in Matthew 7:13 Jesus outright says that the Christian life is super hard: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Likewise, Paul and Barnabas stated clearly that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
So, what are we to do when we encounter a Christian who is suffering or in need? Do we say to him “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” and move on? No. That is an important truth that we do need to remind one another of. But the rule of the gospel is that whenever we see a brother or sister in any need and we are in a position where we are able to help, we must help. This is the point of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” As Edwards has said on this passage, “when we see our brother or sister under any difficulty or burden, we should be ready to bear the burden with him.”
This also comes right from Jesus’ own teaching, for he commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). How do we love ourselves when we are suffering? Do we say “well, it’s good for me, so I’m not going to do anything about it.” Not in the slightest. When we are hungry, we get something to eat; when we are thirsty, we get something to drink; when we are under any burden or difficulty, we seek to resolve it. That’s how we love ourselves. And that’s how we are to love others.
And the sovereignty of God does nothing to change that in the slightest. Rather, it is instead the very thing that gives us hope that our efforts to serve others will actually help in the end.