Suffering and Sovereignty
Every year, the month of June marks the anniversary of an event that occurred more than 50 years ago that radically affected the life of an incredible woman named Joni Eareckson Tada.
If you don’t know her story, let me encourage you to google her name or better yet, read one of her many books that God has used to impact millions around the world. I'm sure you will find her story quite hopeful and encouraging.
A bit of Joni’s story in her own words:
I was a 17-year-old in the 60’s, just fresh out of high school graduation and ready to go to college. I decided to go on a trip to the Chesapeake Bay with my sister, Kathy, for a swim. We went to the beach, put down our towels, jumped into the water, swam out to this raft, and took a dive into what I thought was deep water. Immediately, my head hit the bottom and it snapped my head back and crushed my spinal cord at the 4th cervical level and I became a quadriplegic, unable to use my hands or legs.
It was a fateful dive that completely altered my life. At first, when doctors told me I would be a quadriplegic, I sank into a deep depression. Thankfully, Christian friends were praying for me and, eventually, I began to take a closer look at the Bible to see what exactly God had to say about my circumstances. I learned that the God of the Bible is not sometimes sovereign. He does not occupy the throne one day and vacate it the next. He is supremely in charge, often for purposes we cannot understand this side of eternity.
But as we trust Him, some of those purposes can become plain. And for me, His purpose has meant giving the love of Christ to thousands of people with disabilities here and abroad. That is worth decades of life in a wheelchair.
I want other disabled people to see that when God chooses them for the furnace, it’s a calling. It’s a privilege.
Joni often speaks about the people that have helped her arrive at a place where she can say those words and truly believe them. Two of the individuals that she credits are both Pennsylvanian pastors/authors: Steve Estes and RC Sproul.
10 Life-Changing Words
Back in the ’70s, my Bible study friend Steve Estes shared ten little words that set the course for my life: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” Steve explained it this way: “Joni, God allows all sorts of things he doesn’t approve of. God hated the torture, injustice, and treason that led to the crucifixion. Yet he permitted it so that the world’s worst murder could become the world’s only salvation. In the same way, God hates spinal cord injury, yet he permitted it for the sake of Christ in you—as well as in others. Like Joseph when he told his brothers, ‘God intended [my suffering] for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” (Gen. 50:20).
and God’s Sovereignty
Her most touching memory of RC Sproul was in regard to his granddaughter Shannon. Born with multiple disabilities, Shannon had seizure disorders, could not talk, and required constant care.
It would’ve shaken the faith of most grandparents, but R.C. held fast to the goodness of his sovereign God. Shannon’s disability opened his eyes to a world of other special-needs families, and his rapport with them moved me deeply. His grandfather’s heart broke for Shannon, but he would often echo the words of Jesus in John 11:14: “This sickness . . . is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And he was right.
The story of Shannon Sproul has been used to counsel many who struggle with navigating through the choppy waters of human suffering and God’s sovereignty. Allow me to share that story with you with a word of caution. I find it hard to watch this without breaking down emotionally. It may affect you in a similar fashion. However, I ultimately find it immensely hopeful, therefore I’d like to share it with you.