If God is sovereign, why do people suffer? If God is good, why are there storms? Luke tells a great story that answers those questions. It’s his story—one that he experienced when he was accompanying Paul, who was a prisoner on his way to Rome. They were on board a ship sailing on the Adriatic Sea, when “a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.”1  It was so violent that the sailors were instructed to throw cargo and the ship’s tackle overboard to lighten the load. But even after that, Luke writes “when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”2 When they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up and shared with them this message: “Take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.”3 He told them he had been visited by an angel of God who promised him that he must arrive safely in order to stand before Caesar, and, therefore, all who traveled with him would arrive safely as well.

     The storm continued for fourteen days though. And some men, afraid for their lives, lowered a lifeboat to try to save themselves. But Paul discovered their mission and reported to the centurion, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”4 So, the other sailors cut the ropes of the lifeboat and let it float away.

     But wait a minute! What would it matter if these guys got in the lifeboat? God had already promised Paul that no life would be lost. Now he says that unless the guys got back on the ship, the centurion (and the rest of the crew) would die. If God is sovereign and he promised no one would die, what difference would it make what the sailors chose to do? Is God sovereign (have all authority) or not?

    The answer is yes, God is sovereign, and yes, it makes a difference what people do. God’s will will be done. What he wants to happen happens. So . . . that means it does not matter what we do because nothing can stop God from doing what God wants to do, right? Wrong. We have the choice of being in God’s will or not being in God’s will. If we want what God wants, God’s will reigns in our lives. If we do not want what God wants, our will reigns in our lives. Our sovereign God gives us the option.

     The sailors trying to escape in the lifeboat did not trust that God would be faithful. God, in fact, appeared to be absent to them in the midst of the storm. Therefore, they stepped out of God’s will. And almost caused the death of everyone. God loves all people and wants us to trust him with our lives. Those who trust him are saved. Those who don’t, perish. So, what we do impacts God’s will for our lives. God is still in charge, but he will not force his will upon us. That’s partly why there is so much suffering in the world—so many people are out of God’s will, not doing what they were created to do.

     After Paul told the sailors that they would not perish, the storm continued for fourteen days. If God is sovereign, he could have calmed the sea immediately. If God is good, why did he allow the storm to continue? Lots of reasons. During their storm, the sailors were forced to “undergird the ship”5 to keep it from falling apart, and so we will be forced to strengthen our foundation to withstand the storms of our lives. Here are our instructions: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”6 And just as the sailors “lowered their gear (anchor)”5 to keep from drifting, so will we be forced to rely on our anchor to keep from crashing into the rocks. Here is our promise: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”7  During their storm the men had “to jettison the cargo”8  and we will need to do the same. Here is our task: We must “also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”9 Storms are where we discover our weaknesses, our limitations, and the depth of our faith. The storms are where God seems absent, but we become faithful. And usually, later on, we discover that God was present after all!

     But here’s the hardest part of the story to read. What saved these sailors? Cutting the ropes of the lifeboat and letting it float away. This is the essential part of our journey. Although we want God’s will in our lives and trust that God loves us with an unending love, we all have lifeboats handy—just in case things don’t work out. It’s our “plan B.” In order for God’s will to really be played out in our lives, we must cut the ropes to our lifeboats and eliminate every other safe route. And only trust in God. Trusting in anything else is disastrous.  Here is our reminder: “In God alone, oh my soul, wait in silence. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”10

     So, to sum up this paradoxical message—God is sovereign; our choices matter; storms can be beneficial; lifeboats can be dangerous.

1Acts 27:14   2Acts 27:20   3Acts 27:22   4Acts 27:31   5Acts 27:17   6Matthew 7:24-25   7Hebrews 6:19   8Acts 27:18   9Hebrews 12:1   10Psalm 62:5-6




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