Resting our Heads on the Pillow of God’s Sovereignty
Suffering is part of life. It comes in many shapes and forms, and we will all experience it in one way or another. It is painfully obvious that mandatory vaccines for COViD-19 have brought all manner of trial and suffering directly into the lives of Canadians. In my work, I hear the stories daily. Some of them are gut-wrenching. Spouses unable to visit their dying husband or wife in the hospital because they haven’t been vaccinated. Families unable to connect with loved ones because of the prohibitions on travel for the unvaccinated. Work and school opportunities missed or lost altogether because of mandatory vaccine policies. Regardless of what you think about the efficacy of the COViD-19 vaccine, there is no disputing that mandatory policies have impacted many, many people and brought trials and suffering into their lives.
A Right Response
The first response to this suffering is to call on the name of the Lord and plead for His mercy as we endure vaccine mandates alongside many other government regulations. Both personal and corporate prayer are crucial aspects of our response. But there is more to do. We have the ability in Canada to directly correspond (in many ways) with those in authority over us. We can set up meetings, have phone calls, and engage in email conversations with most of the people serving in provincial or federal legislatures. In addition to direct communication, we can also engage in indirect efforts such as petition and letter-writing campaigns.
We can also protest. ARPA Canada has been organizing lawful public demonstrations for over a decade. We believe these are an effective way to find support from like-minded people as well as educate your fellow citizens as you bring attention to the suffering that you or another vulnerable group are enduring. In short, when suffering is experienced as the result of government action (or inaction) we are not called to simply endure and do nothing about it. Rather, while our response to those God has put in authority over us needs to be respectful, it can still be persistent and incessant.
In the past week, some provinces have removed (or committed to remove) the mandatory vaccine provision, while others, including the federal government, seem insistent on keeping this policy in place for some time yet. In my home province of British Columbia, the government just last week expanded the mandatory vaccine policy to include all health care professionals that had not been covered by it yet, including chiropractors, dentists, midwives, and acupuncturists. Clearly, respectful, forms of engagement with our government have not produced the desired result. Nothing seems to change. It’s as if the government isn’t hearing us and doesn’t care about the impact of restrictions on our lives.
A Wrong Response
Not experiencing the result that we want could be a reason to alter our response. The people of Israel did this repeatedly. We read in Isaiah 40 that they responded to suffering by saying, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right hand is disregarded by my God.” In their misery and suffering, they were sure that God had forgotten about them. That is why we read of the Israelites struggling with idol worship so often, the most well-known instance being their experience with the golden calf after the exodus.
We have a tendency to act just like the Israelites when things don’t go our way. But taking matters into our own hands is not a God-honouring response to suffering. At worst this models a distrust of our Father in heaven who has promised that all things work to the good of those who love Him (Rom.8:28) and it calls into question the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, as though somehow the mandatory vaccine policies could not be part of His plan and it is now up to us to adjust the plan so it aligns with what must be His actual will.
Wrestling deeply with God’s sovereignty and will is good, but not when it pulls us away from a right response to suffering. The consequences of a flawed response to mandatory vaccine policies are resulting in Christians engaging in and supporting many forms of unlawful activity as they seek to have these policies overturned. A convoy that drives down city streets from time to time is completely defensible from a Biblical worldview perspective. It expresses respectful disappointment with the status quo and asks for, but does not mandate, change. Parking trucks on that same street (whether in Ottawa or in front of an international border crossing) until the magistrate gives in to your demands is not a right response. God wants us to engage with our authorities. After all, we are all prophets and prophetesses (LD 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism) and we need to express the truth as it relates to the public square; this is part of our calling. But when that isn’t responded to favourably, we ought not to resort to unbiblical forms of communication.
The Sovereignty and Will of God
Two years of COViD-19 has brought incredible suffering. Thousands of lives have been lost. And now thousands more are being impacted by mandatory vaccine policies that seem ineffective and unnecessary. At times we wonder where God is in all this. In truth, we don’t know why God has brought this suffering, and we don’t have to know. We won’t have to answer for what those in authority have decided to do. But we will have to answer for how we respond.
At the end of the day, we are called to rest our heads on the pillow of God’s sovereignty.* In doing so we are participating in an act of submission; submitting to the trials that God puts on our paths and growing in holiness through it.
Could it be that in God’s sovereign plan mandatory vaccinations are just a continuation of a lot more tyrannical policies that lead to an increase in trials and suffering? Yes, and we need to accept that and grow closer to God through this suffering.
Does this mean we adopt a passive posture? Absolutely not.
Does this mean we adopt a militant posture? Absolutely not.
We need to respond in God-glorifying ways that don’t employ the same coercive, divisive tactics that are being used on us. We need to recognize the sovereignty of God in the suffering that mandatory vaccine policies have brought. It is His work, and we are called to humbly embrace the uncomfortable work of God.
As Christians, our response to suffering needs to be rooted in the sufferings of Jesus.
In the second chapter of 1 Peter, we read these words, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Christ-like Christian love is profoundly countercultural. It is a love that is patient and kind, that does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13). In all our suffering we are called to look to Jesus, not only for how He saves us, but also as He guides us in how we are to respond to suffering. Like Jesus, we can confidently turn to and lean on the unchanging God who always judges justly.
*The phrase “pillow of God’s sovereignty” was used in a congregational prayer by a guest pastor when praying for my son Markus who is fighting cancer.
Mike Schouten is the Director of Advocacy for ARPA Canada.