Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In a book very similar in tone to Bridges’ other works (Discipline of Grace, Pursuit of Holiness) this volulme considers the problem of suffering (from mild to major) within the context of thinking about God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love. The purpose of the book to serve as an introduction into thinking about God’s sovereignty and trusting God in adversity.
“Can we trust God?” is his intial question to tackle, but once we are convinced of God’s trustworthiness, the question becomes “How do I trust Him?”. The book is arranged into 14 short chapters in order to explore these themes, with an attached study guide.
Bridges argues in the opening chapter that we must keep three truths in mind when thinking about this subject:
1. God is sovereign
2. God is infinite in wisdom
3. God is perfect in love
He goes on to look at what it means to trust God within this framework. The first 7 chapters focus on God’s sovereignty, showing His trustworthiness, and the second 7 on His wisdom and love, helping us understand how to trust Him.
Bridges draws attention to the idea of God’s providence and how Christians often wrestle with a warped view of providence. How often do people say that good outcomes in their life is down to God’s providence? It is easy to say that you got a new job that you wanted in God’s providence. Yet how little, in contrast, do we hear of difficult and painful experiences being attributed to God’s providence? Rarely do we hear people say things like “I must thank God’s providence for my arm breaking”. Yet, Bridges argues, is it not equally true that it was God’s providence whether the event occuring happened to be enjoyable for us or not? Bridges uses a number of examples to highlight the inconsistency many Christians embrace on this issue that hinders their understanding of God’s sovereignty. In a succinct (and timely!) summary, He says:
“Nothing, not even the smallest virus, escapes His care and control” (p. 13)
With respect to sovereignty, Bridges argues that God’s sovereignty does not operate independently of the other attributes of God. In fact, he is very consistent with an orthodox understanding of the simplicity of God (i.e. that God is not ‘made of parts’). This is a very useful and pastoral observation at this point. We cannot examine God’s sovereignty in isolation from the rest of God.
A large portion of the section on sovereignty is focussed in the Old Testament. Bridges uses Old Testament narrative to show the sovereignty of God over people. Bridges makes the point that everywhere Scripture teaches how God exercises His sovereign control over both nature and people for His own glory. The God who was sovereign over leading His people out of slavery from Egypt, and the saving of the Jewish people via Mordecai and Esther’s intervention from the hand of Xerxes, is the same God sovereign over our lives today.
This necessarily leads on to a discussion of evil. I found his explanation of the problem of God and His sovereign will concerning evil to be a bit underwhelming. All of what Bridges said was true, but I felt it was slightly incomplete. Perhaps the author’s intention was not to give a deep treatment since the book is more of an introductory work, but still, he seems comfortable with saying God ‘uses sinful actions of man’ and even that God ‘permits them to happen’ but He does not say that actually God decreed them to happen. Bridges rightly says that God is not the author of sin and that God tempts no-one. However, I think he stops short of a full answer to the question. If evil is to happen, God must have decreed it to happen in some sense, since He has decreed whatsoever comes to pass.
He exhorts humility in the believer to convey this truth to others, very much in the ‘weaker brother’ spirit. Moreover, he shows the effect that trust in a sovereign God should erode our bitterness, resentfulness, and not encourage slothfulness (since we are still accountable). This was a sensitively written section of the book, and I think it necessary in all such discussions of the subject. Few authors are as conscious of the natural tendency of man to “puff himself up” in light of certain knowledge than Bridges, and he tackles this issue very well.
The examination of God’s sovereignty includes His sovereignty of both nations of men and over nature. Bridges implies that God’s isn’t judging nations by disasters or other events. By simply allowing them to happen, their purpose can not be known to us. In an ultimate sense, there is truth to the argument here, but I think it plain that God does use events and people for judgement. Whilst we must never presume to know the mind of God completely in all events, it is not true that no such judgement exists.
In the second half of the book, Bridges begins by examining God’s wisdom and love. His wisdom prevents us from badgering Him with questions of ‘why?’ Instead, as the Psalms do, we make ask ‘why?’ but ultimately rest in trust in Him.
As God is all wise, we ought not to think that when disaster strikes, that God is somehow uncaring. Bridges notes the parallel falsehoods. One is that God is good but is not sovereign. One is that God is sovereign but not good. If we affirm God’s sovereignty without recognising His wisdom in causing events that to us appear not to be good, we fall into the latter error.
When considering the love of God, Bridges begins by showing the depth of man’s sin. It is in seeing who we are that most magnifies God’s love for us. He finds the ultimate expression of the unity between Christ’s love and His sovereignty in the image of sheep and shepherd in Isaiah 40:10-11. God has both power and control over, yet tender care and watchfulness for, His sheep.
Bridges makes some excellent points about trusting God in the way we are made. Even people with disfigurements, abnormalities, and other defects are made by God in the way that He wanted them to be made. Moreover, those individuals are no less ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ than anybody else. It is worth our suffering with such infirmities in order to showcase God’s glory.
Bridges also talks about adversity and how it is an instrument of God to grow us spiritually. Through adversity, God uses the Word in ways we could not have understood or appreciated if we were not so afflicted. We should look to profit spiritually from adversity as He intends it for our benefit and for His glory.
Finally, Bridges concludes with two chapters that say that we must choose to trust God as an exercise of faith and to be ever thankful to Him as an ultimate exercise of our trust.
The book is written in a candid and personable style, as Bridges uses lots of personal experiences as explanations. Some of these explanations do feel over brief and anecdotal. In addition, some exegesis and context to verses used in argument is lacking that would make his points more robust. However, this book admirably serves as an introduction to trusting a sovereign God, and many Christians would do well to begin study the subject with this work.