There is a long bookshelf in our living room that holds more than twenty years’ worth of photo albums. My wife is a fantastic photographer and with her camera she has chronicled the birth and growth of our children, their birthdays, softball and basketball games, family vacations and other special occasions. We will frequently pull a random book off the shelf, sit together and enjoy these great moments all over again. If the house ever catches fire, those albums will be what I grab on my way out the door.
Yet, as grateful as I am for the love and the work that has gone into preserving the photographic record of the happiest events in our family’s history, by themselves they do not tell our full story. We do not have any pictures of the car accident that totaled our car right after we got it paid off or the day we got bad news from the doctor. There are no pages devoted to stacks of bills, disappointing report cards or pointless disagreements. But all of these are as much a part of our lives together as the trips to the beach or mountains, and in each of these sadder events there are multiple evidences of our Heavenly Father’s continual sovereign care and love over us.
While I certainly have not encouraged my bride to display photo galleries of our small disasters, we nevertheless must remember to give thanks for all of these and submit ourselves to God’s purposes through them. We would be inconsistent and ungrateful if we were to rejoice only in God’s sovereignty over the happy things and then to ignore or downplay His providence over the sad. Furthermore, our theology would be incoherent at best if we were to profess that God gives us good things on purpose, but has no say in the timing or the intensity of the bad. How much better it is to agree with Job when he asks his wife “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).
Because these bitter providences reveal the Lord’s mercies to us in a way that His sweeter providences do not, we must learn to be grateful and consider them to be just as essential and good for us. There is no person in the whole canon of Scripture whose entire life story is nothing but one whimsical adventure after another. Much to the contrary, Yahweh consistently matured His people and preached salvation through the tragedies in the lives of men and women like Jacob, Joseph, Ruth, Daniel and David. The greatest evil and injustice in all of history was the crucifixion of Jesus and yet this was also His greatest triumph, all orchestrated by the foreordination of the Father (Acts 2:23). Were it not for this sovereignly-appointed tragedy, we would all be hopelessly lost.
When we find ourselves entering a period of trouble or some calamity falls on us, we must be quick to give thanks and acknowledge that this travail is good for us. It is good because God has ordained it. That does not mean that it is easy, or pleasant, but it is good. As the masterful William Cowper wrote in his hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way:”
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.