Life Preservers: Part 1
I had only known him for 15 minutes, but he already knew more about me than most. As I sat on the couch across from him, I knew he had me pegged. I came to him because I was weary, and my face showed it. I had never been to a counselor before, so my skepticism was there too. But I needed something, anything to hang onto.
He looked in my eyes and spoke with a calm but confident voice. “Do you believe God is sovereign?” As any good Christian would, I replied, “Yes.” “Do you believe God is good?” The good Christian in me spoke up again, “Yes.”
“But do you believe God is sovereignly good?”
I said nothing. He had taken a scalpel and cut right into my heart.
I knew the “right” answer. I would have passed the theology exam. But I couldn’t honestly say I believed it. What was so different about these two truths being combined that floored me in this moment? Whatever it was, I knew that I needed to take it in and cling to it for dear life.
In my last post, I wrote about what anxiety feels like using some metaphors that have helped me process. I talked about the need for life preservers in the sea of anxiety. This revelation of the truth that God is both sovereign and good was the first life preserver I discovered on my journey with anxiety.
In the Bible, we clearly see that God is sovereign, totally and completely. Put simply, this means that God is in control. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere at all times. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”
He is sovereign over the big and the small. I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon:
“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”
The Bible also makes clear that God is good, totally and completely. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” He is without sin. He is too pure to even look upon it (Habakkuk 1:13). He is perfect in every way. And all his ways are good.
God is both sovereign and good. We need both of these truths. If we forget one of them, then we sink in despair. Think about it. If God were only sovereign but not good, then he would have the power to help us but not the compassion to want to. If God were only good but not sovereign, then he would have the compassion to want to help us but not the power to do so. Praise God that he is both.
So what does this have to do with anxiety? How did two simple truths help me so much?
It’s simple. I believed them. I didn’t just mentally assert that they were true, but I really believed them. I took those two truths down deep into my soul. Because here’s what we know. What you believe impacts how you think. And how you think impacts how you feel. And how you feel impacts how you behave. A change of belief leads to a change of life.
Knowing these two truths about God did not make my pain magically go away. But I found a framework for understanding my suffering that I didn’t have before. I discovered a new way of thinking about God as he related to my misery. And I learned to trust him in ways deeper than I had ever experienced.
Here’s where all the dots connected for me. If God is sovereign, then my anxiety is not a surprise to Him. He is not unaware of my struggle and how badly I feel. My pain is not outside of his realm of authority and control. In fact, if He wanted, he could rid me of all mental suffering in the blink of an eye. But He didn’t and hasn’t done that.
That’s where his goodness comes in. His goodness means that my anxiety serves a purpose. If he is truly working all things together for my good, then that “good” must include my suffering. He can and will use my pain for my good and for his glory.
All of this meant something radical, something I had dare not think or utter out loud. But it was true: My anxiety is good.
Obviously, my sinful fear and sinful doubts and sinful tendencies to worry are not good. Those are clearly wrong. But in some mysterious way, my anxiety is a part of God’s good plan for me. He is using my struggle to teach me and to shape me into the image of Jesus. And he’s using it to help others along the way.
God’s sovereign goodness became the first life preserver to bring me above the waves. And because we have a God who doesn’t change, I know it will still be there carrying me as I finally arrive on the shore.