BY WESLEIGH ANDERSON
O n 10 February 1675 [came] the Indians,” begins Mary Rowlandson’s captivity in The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Published in 1682, her narrative recounts her ordeal in which she was kidnapped along with her children and forced to walk across colonial Massachusetts in midwinter, losing her infant daughter in the process. Throughout, she struggles with why God would allow a virtuous and godly woman like herself to experience such suffering.
This question is not new in the world: the book of Job tells of a man who undeservedly loses both wealth and family. As Job demonstrates, trials are not always punishment for sins, but neither is God always testing us: His will is inscrutable, and in His omnipotence and omniscience He is not obligated to explain Himself to us. No one can ever hope to interpret His will entirely, but we can recognize His sovereignty and our own sin, and then trust in His comfort and strength, for all His works will turn out for His glory. With this understanding, we can realize that earthly hardships do not imply injustice or malice by God, so that we can comfort others in their suffering and defend our faith when people hate God because of their afflictions.
Because God has sovereignty over all things, it is not our place to question His actions; as Daniel tells us, “He does according to His will in […] heaven [and] earth,” and no one can “say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ ” (Dan. 4:35, NKJV). Job understands this well, when he responds to his troubles by saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” He does not qualify that statement by asking the Lord why, but instead continues, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Because God created the universe, everything belongs to Him, whether it be riches, health, or our lives. Eventually, He will ask for all these back, and we must relinquish them with a joyful heart, as Job did.
We must also acknowledge that we are all sinners. Though we are not told of Job’s sins, God assures us that “all have sinned and fall short of [His] glory” (Rom. 3:23). Because He is blameless, all sins are equally reprehensible to Him, be they murder, blasphemy, or a “little” white lie: and any sin will cast us from His presence. Thus, as Christians, we can only praise God, because we look forward to an eternity with Him in heaven, despite our sins, and earthly trials are far less than we rightfully deserve. Earthly fortune would also be a poor reward for following the will of the Most High. As Alexander Pope asks in his Essay on Man, “Will Heaven reward us there / With the same trash mad mortals wish for here?” (IV. VI. 7–8). Why should we wish for comfort here on earth while we are building up eternal rewards in heaven?
Through all our tribulations, we may be confident that all things will turn out for God’s glory. He tells us that “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). This does not mean that only good things will happen to Christians, but rather that through our suffering we will become more Christ-like, something to which we should all aspire. In addition, our comfort comes from our knowledge that God is always with us, and that He will take care of us. In Isaiah the Lord tells us, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” (43:5); David proclaimed in his most famous Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (23:4). Paul, knowing these to be true, asks rhetorically, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). As these verses profess, we do not know what will happen, or why it will happen, but no matter what, we can rest assured that the Lord is always on our side.