God is in control of what happens in this world. “He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Even the roll of the dice and wicked events of this world ultimately fall under his orchestration (Prov. 16:33; Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23, 4:27–28).
In other words, God is sovereign.
We are terrible at interpreting his sovereign plan as it unfolds.
Every Christian can take comfort in knowing that at every moment, “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). So however unpredictable or devastating your circumstances, God knows, he sees, and he is weaving it all together into a beautiful tapestry that will one day illustrate true good, true glory. That is something we don’t have to second-guess. It’s a promise we can count on.
But we often go further than trusting the promise. We want to know what it all means. It’s not enough to know that God is doing something in our circumstances, we want to know what he’s doing. So we interpret. “I lost that job because God wanted me in this other career.” “She broke up with me because God wants me to be single for awhile.” “I was late and missed the interview because God wants me somewhere else.” “We were the only two people who showed up at that group event because God wants us to get married.” God is sovereign.
But God’s sovereignty is not an excuse. Maybe you missed the interview because you’re a lazy procrastinator. How do you know God is telling you to switch careers? Maybe he’s showing you the consequences of your decisions so you’ll pursue discipline. Similarly, taking an unexpected one on one conversation with a member of the opposite sex as a sign from God that you should be together is sketchy.
When we over-interpret life events, saying that this or that circumstance means that God says _______ or God wants ________ , we’re doing something very similar to (or exactly like) putting words in God’s mouth. And he frowns on that:
“I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.” (Jeremiah 23:21)
“Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! …They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them… Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?” (Ezekiel 13:3, 6–7)
We all do the best we can to discern the Lord’s leading day by day. It’s not wrong to wonder whether or not this or that turn of events means that God is directing you. He is certainly working in your life circumstances. But be careful about how much weight you give to your interpretation of events.
Joseph didn’t have a clue what God was doing through his twisted life story until his brothers walked into the room asking to buy grain. Job never got an explanation for the cataclysmic turn of affairs that struck his life—but his friends proved to be fools when they over-interpreted his circumstances and Job himself was rebuked for thinking he knew what should have been happening.
God’s sovereignty is a reality, not an excuse. It is a source of comfort, not a palm-reading. God will reveal what he’s up to when the time is right. Until then, trust that his plan is perfect, and that you know only what you need to know. God knows, and that’s enough.