I was seven when I encountered my earliest disenchantment with the idea that everything would work out how it was supposed to.
Seven was a big year for me. I auditioned twice for musicals during that year and didn’t quite make the cut either time. I tirelessly rehearsed my solos for the lead role of Mama Bear in the first grade play and was distraught to learn that Rachel D. had gotten the part in my stead. I still like to think it was a close call.
When everyone told me “everything was going to work out just how it was supposed to,” I took that to mean that either Rachel would flee the country before the show’s premier, or I would get to star in an equally epic part.
When neither of these came to pass, and I stood and sang four lines in the rejects choir, I felt deceived. “What about all this ‘working out’ business?”
And then it hit me—perhaps I was being summoned to a higher calling, something more reputable, something more seasonal and classic.
Thus, I took it upon myself to audition for The Nutcracker for the role of Cast Rat. Though I would be one of many rats, which was an obvious downgrade from Mama Bear, this classic play made my elementary school’s bear musical look like cheap noise. This, surely, was God closing the Mama Bear door and opening the Cast Rat window.
I was confident that this was how things would work out. I believed myself to be a shoo-in for this stock varmint role. So, naturally, upon receiving my rejection letter in the mail, I was genuinely offended.
To be rejected as the lead maternal bear was one thing, but to be deemed unfit for a lowly stock rat was more than my formidable self-esteem could handle. Much to my dismay I found that my mother also offered me the same familiar, shoddy consolation I had heard before, that everything would work out how it was supposed to.
Thus I found the phrase “everything works out how it’s supposed to” to be synonymous with not getting what I wanted, and occasionally associated with public humiliation.
Sovereignty isn’t a spiritual junk drawer.
This became one of many euphemized phrases that I’ve learned to translate over the years. We have phrases like this, don’t we? They’re the ones we keep in our deck and play as a sort of last ditch, blanket consolation—to cover our bases and provide a sort of insurance, just in case things don’t shake out quite how we would like them to.
This “working out how it’s supposed to” business, when translated into Christian jargon, sounds a little something like “God’s got a plan” or “Let go and let God.” The gist is that God is ultimately in control and things will “work out” as he so chooses.
Christians believe God to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present, and we’ve adopted the term “sovereign” to describe this encapsulating trifecta. Just as we say, “God’s got a plan,” so too we say, “God is sovereign.”
I find this very peculiar. Not so much that we acknowledge God’s absolute rule and reign on the regular—I am very much about that life—but rather how and when we acknowledge it.
It seems that we play the “God is sovereign” card in the same way we play the “everything will work out how it’s supposed to” card. It feels vague and consolatory, like a last resort, like spiritual PR spin.
But a true picture of God’s sovereignty is built to bear the weights of the world, not brush them off. It’s anything but a comforting consolation.
It is God—the one who is not bound by time or space, the one who spoke forth a vast something out of a vast nothing, and in doing so, the one who engineered the minutia that comprise the cosmos, the genetic composition of mankind, and intricate phenomena like photosynthesis and tectonic plate shifts—this divine author himself, that’s who is in control.
Dare I say that God reigning and ruling is the most comforting, invigorating, and exhilarating news any of us could ever ingest?
But God’s sovereignty, like his goodness, does not terminate on our circumstances. Let us not cheapen it by using sovereignty as a positive spin on an inevitably hopeless outcome, but rather let us exclaim it with confident hope that his ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and it is the king of glory who has written our days in his book and guides our steps as we watch the story unfold one page at a time.
Cover image by Ryan Grewell.