In my opinion, Joni Eareckson Tada (the evangelical Christian author, radio host, and founder of “Joni and Friends” — an organization that accelerates Christian ministry in the disability community) is a remarkable person. I hold her in the highest respect, and love to listen to her broadcasts. Her testimony reveals that God can use our suffering to impact other people’s lives.
On July 30, 1967, Joni dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels, and became a quadriplegic (paralyzed from the shoulders down). The event caused her to suffer from anger, depression, and suicidal thoughts. And, understandably, her faith in God weakened. However, God strengthened her spirit. Today, Joni has written over 40 books, recorded several music albums, starred in an autobiographical movie about her life, and is a strong Christian advocate for disabled people.
Through her personal suffering, Joni has been able to touch the lives of countless people. Thousands have been changed for the glory of God through the power of her testimony. Her resilience demonstrates that, sometimes, our purpose is rooted in our suffering.
Isaiah 55:8-9 offers us this encouraging message: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (New Living Translation).
The Bible teaches that Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers, was sold into slavery, and thrown into prison for two years. Yet, at the end of it all, he saw God’s hand. Joseph exclaimed, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20, New Living Translation).
Our view of God will determine how we handle suffering and tragedy. Plainly put: If we honestly believe that God is sovereign, we will be at peace — even if we suffer. If we don’t believe He is sovereign, we will not be at peace.
Ephesians 1:11 informs us that “God decided to choose us long ago in keeping with His plan. He works out everything to fit His plan and purpose (New International Reader’s Version). This Scripture emphasizes that God isn’t sovereign in some hings. He is sovereign in everything (good circumstances, and painful circumstances).
Consider the ultimate evil thing that happened: The crucifixion of Christ. But, the book of Acts discloses that God was still sovereign in the midst of this abomination. Addressing God, Acts 4:27-28 states, “These things really happened when Herod, Pontius Pilate, and some Jews and non-Jews all came together against Jesus here in Jerusalem. Jesus is Your holy servant, the One You made to be the Christ. These people made Your plan happen because of Your power and Your will (New Century Version).
According to this biblical passage, why did Jesus die? Because Herod, Pilate, non-Jews, and Jews put Him to death. And why were these people able to accomplish this gravely evil act? Because God had purposed and predestined Jesus’ death. We call this an “antinomy” (two opposing statements that are both true, yet our finite minds cannot reconcile them).
In this fallen world, the things that happen to Christians are not random acts — because they are overshadowed by a loving God. But, in the midst of it all, we must never lose sight of who God is: He is sovereign, and He is good.