Today's sermon explored God's preservation of Jerusalem from the Assyrian king Sennacherib as an example of God's sovereignty.
An attentive listener might ask: "What about all those other Judean cities that were over-run by the Assyrians. And what about Lachish?" [Lachish was the second most important city in the nation. Its conquering was immortalised in reliefs installed in Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh (and now in the British Museum in London).]
So what about those people in Lachish? Why doesn't God's sovereignty work in their favor?
It is hard to answer that question. When we talk about God's sovereignty we are asserting that God is in control of all things. This means that God isn't under the thumb of Sennacherib, and that God isn't under our control either. God is a free agent to do as God sees fit. So what God does and what God allows is not always easily understood by us (think of the Shoah for example).
This difficulty would seem to be compounded by the assertion that the same God who is Lord of all is also said to be faithful and loving to his people. We may not have God under particular obligation to us (God is a free agent), but it would seem that his character would demand that the people he has chosen ought be shown favor.
Scripture does affirm that we are noticed and loved by God. Jesus told his disciples: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-30). Of course sparrows do fall to the ground, and while the hairs of our head are numbered, so are our days. In a similar vein the apostle Paul argues that "all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." But he continues to note how this love of God is present in the midst of trouble and hardship and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword (see Romans 8:28-35).
In the end it would seem that in the world of Jesus and the Bible the faithfulness of God and the sovereignty of God does not mean the beloved of God avoid all suffering. The faithfulness of God and the sovereignty of God does not mean we will always escape the fate of Lachish, and always enjoy the blessing of Jerusalem.
Conversely God's disposition towards us cannot be determined by our particular circumstance. It is only clearly discerned over time, and in particular through the life/death/resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The challenge of the people of faith is to maintain our faith in this 'bigger story' of in the middle of any particular difficulty; to remember that God is in control and we are loved when our present experience might suggest otherwise.
Inscription on the Lachish Reliefs. Left hand side inscription states: "Sennacherib, the mighty king, king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment, before (or at the entrance of) the city of Lachish (Lakhisha). I give permission for its slaughter," per "Discoveries Among the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon", p128 At the British Museum.