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Posts tagged ‘God’s mysteriousness’

God’s Ministry of Disappointment

SOURCE:  Amena Brown/Christianity Today

In pain and confusion, I’m finding that God is, indeed, close to the brokenhearted.

I thought I’d be pregnant by now.

Full stop. Hard return.

I will sit a few minutes after writing that sentence. I want to highlight and delete. I want to press backspace, as if a button on my laptop can keep that sentence from being true. I imagined my mid-30s differently. I thought my guest room would be a baby room. I thought I would have smiled at my baby shower by now, gentle hand on a round belly. I thought by this time, I’d have a calendar full of playdates and plenty of funny kid stories to tell.

Instead, it’s just my husband and me. This isn’t a bad thing. This is in fact enough. My husband and I are a family. Having a child doesn’t start our family. These are the things I tell myself when people whose manners exist somewhere between well-meaning and none of your business search the torso of my shirts with their eyes, trying to discern if I am hiding a pregnant belly from them. These are the things I remind myself of when enduring conversations that start off as small talk and turn to the dangerous territory of statements that stab you right between your heart and your unanswered prayers.

“Are you pregnant yet? Are you trying?” they ask, followed by intrusive suggestions and weird home remedies. “Don’t wait too long,” they say, as if we are waiting this long because we want to. “Have you thought about adopting?” they say, followed by a story of a random couple who adopted a child and then surprisingly had a biological child. As if we haven’t walked beside our friends as they journey in the honor of adoption, as if adoption is a consolation prize or busy work while we wait for the “real thing,” as if adoption should only be plan B.

Mostly we smile. Nod. Change the subject. Sometimes we get angry and frustrated and not so polite. We don’t tell anyone how these conversations make us cry when we are alone. How we hold our breath until the awkward conversation is over, until the dinner has finished and the plates have been wiped clean. We say less and less. We don’t even make comments about the future children we dream to have. We realize we are too fragile for the pointed questions and the oversimplifications.

A journey through heartbreak

I ask myself all sorts of things. Does true womanhood really hinge on a woman’s ability to become a mother? Why do I hold myself to this ticking biological clock and some ridiculous social media standard that says I should have children by now? Is my identity wrapped in checking off some arbitrary list of achievements? Does my life not matter if I am not married with kids, with a certain income bracket, with a house in a certain neighborhood, with a list of ways to describe my cool life to people I meet at parties?

Our journey to one day having children has not been blissful, innocent, joyous, or as easy as I expected it to be. It has been a journey of loss, heartbreak, delay, doctor appointments, test results, delays, stress, frustration, more appointments, more delays. Hope seems to be a liability too expensive to carry in the face of so much disappointment.

My relationship to God and my feelings about prayer became tumultuous. I found myself wincing in my faith, praying cautiously because I don’t want to deal with asking God for something when I think he will disappoint me. How do I keep going to God and asking when it seems like his consistent answer is no or wait? How do I keep believing the God who says no or wait when he knows how much that no or wait hurts me? How do I believe that God actually has my best interests at heart?

I spent the first year of this journey saying things like, “We are not these people. We are not the people who watch all of our friends around us get pregnant and have babies while we have no idea when it will happen for us.” I learned there is no such thing as “these people.” We don’t get to choose. Everyone carries a load; we don’t get to say what load, how we’ll carry it, when we’ll get it, or how long it will last.

The painful truth

I grew up as a church teen in the 1990s. In my church context, it was an age of believing the gospel could be connected to prosperity, that in the name of Jesus we could not only find love and peace, but also Benzes, McMansions, future husbands (also known as Boaz), future wives (also known as Proverbs 31 women), land, larger paychecks, and awesome shoes. Whether you named it and claimed it or marched around it six times in silence and the seventh time while blasting your loud trumpet, believing these things would bring you the answers to miraculous prayers became a way of life.

Sometimes I watched those prayers work. I watched people of faith pray for the sick, and the sick were healed. I watched church members move into houses the lender had nearly laughed them out the door for attempting to buy. I watched Boazes and Proverbs 31 women find each other, marry, and have pretty babies. So for years, I assumed this was the walk of faith. You see something you want, you pray and ask God, and you quote God’s Word that applies to said request. You focus your positive thinking on the fact that God is powerful enough to answer and that he will do all in his power and with his unlimited resources to fulfill your request.

Then I grew up. I am learning the painful truth that even when you pray and ask God, even when you quote back to God the applicable Scriptures, even when you walk around the object you are praying for six times and play your trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer the way you want him to.

What do you assume about a God who does this? He must be mean, cold, distant, unloving, inconsiderate. He must be more human and less holy, right? He must care about other people more than he cares about you. He must not see how hard you’ve tried to be good/honest/righteous.

Sometimes God is the great leader in the ministry of your disappointment. Sometimes you don’t get the job you prayed for. Sometimes the Boaz/Proverbs 31 woman you thought you were supposed to marry doesn’t even want a second date. Sometimes you want a Benz and you can only afford a hoopty. Sometimes God allows you to be disappointed. Sometimes you learn through tears, heartache, anger, and frustration that God is not a yes person.

God is near

I didn’t want to write my story this way. I wanted to have a happy sitcom ending. I wanted to be able to tell you this story from the lofty place of prayers answered. I wanted to spend a short time telling you this hard time we had and spend most of the time telling you the amazing story of how that all changed. But I’m not there yet. I don’t know when I will be. I don’t know if I will be.

Some people said this would be a season, and maybe it is, but it hasn’t ended yet. It’s gone on longer than I thought I had the strength to walk. Sometimes I get so weary all I can muster in prayer is “God, help me.” And sometimes no words come, and I trust he hears the things my soul wants to say when it hurts too much to gather the words to express.

I’m learning to accept this mystery of God. There are many things about God I will come to know or understand, and there is plenty I will never know, never understand, never be able to put words to. I’m learning the truth of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” This means that when my pain hurts me deeply, God understands, God listens, God is near.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could predict the future. One of the limits of humanity is knowing only exactly what we know right now, right where we are. One thing I want my soul to remember is that life isn’t always good, humans aren’t always good, but God is good. Always.

I don’t say that because it’s convenient. I don’t say it to silence the frustrations, doubts, and questions. I say it because our tears and frustrations and doubts and hurt feelings and anger matter to God. I say it because I know how scary hope can be when you’ve lived with disappointment so long. I say it because I’m living every day trying to hold the tension of fully trusting in a God my humanity will never completely understand. As I sit in that tension, my heart still wants to believe in the God whose love is found in prosperity and poverty, in answers and in questions, in disappointment and in miracles.


Taken from How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown.

 

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God Doesn’t Have to Explain Himself

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll/Insight For Living

Psalm 139:1–6

Even in the midst of disappointment, surprise, and mystery, you will discover an amazing thing. You will discover how very reliable and trustworthy God is—and how secure you are in His hands. And oh, how we need that in this day of relativism and vacillation, filled with empty talk and hidden behind a lot of semantic footwork.

In the midst of “Spin City,” it is the Lord who talks straight. It is the Lord who has preserved Truth in black and white in His Word. And it is the Lord who has the right to do as He wishes around us, to us, and in us.

Puzzling as the process may be to us, He stays with His plan. There is no need for us to know all the reasons, and He certainly doesn’t need to explain Himself.

If we’re going to let God be God, then we’re forced to say He has the right to take us through whatever process He chooses.

Let Him have His way with your life, for nothing is worse than resisting and resenting the One who is at work in you.

 

Why does God allow tornadoes, tragedy and suffering?

SOURCE:  Fox News

The agnostic philosopher David Hume claimed that tragedies in the world such as the tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma last week constitute prima facie evidence that God is either evil, impotent, or non-existent.

Admittedly, reconciling the reality of suffering with faith in a loving, all-powerful God is difficult.

The late rector John Stott claimed that the existence of suffering in the world posed the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.

If there is a God, why would He allow this unwanted divorce, undeserved termination from a job, or unexpected illness?

When Lee Strobel was preparing to write his best-selling book “The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity,” he conducted a nationwide survey asking, “If you could ask God anything what would you ask?”

The top response was, “Why is the suffering and evil in the world?”

As a pastor for more than 30 years, I realize that when people pose that question they are not as concerned with suffering in the world in general as they are with the reality of suffering in their own lives.  If there is a God, why would He allow this unwanted divorce, undeserved termination from a job, or unexpected illness?

One night my wife and I were traveling on an interstate highway in the middle of West Texas in a driving rainstorm when our headlights went out due to an electrical malfunction in our car.

We could not see two inches in front of us, but we were hesitant to pull over to the shoulder of the road for fear of being hit by another car.

Thankfully, we spotted an eighteen-wheeler in our rear-view mirror.  We allowed it to pass us, and then we simply zeroed in on its tail lights and followed it safely into the city limits of our town.

Although there is no pat answer to the question, “Why does God allow suffering in the world?” the Bible does offer three truths (or “lights”) we can depend on to lead us safely through the storms of adversity that unexpectedly blow into our lives.

God is loving. The psalmist declared, “The earth is full of your loving-kindness, O Lord” (Psalm 119:64).  Even apart from the Bible, the world is filled with the evidence of a benevolent Creator.

Yes, occasionally floods and tornadoes bring indescribable heartache and even death.  But such disasters are the exception rather than the rule.  Most of the time rivers stay within their banks and winds are held in check.

The outpouring of help by first responders and the financial support for those whose lives are destroyed by the occasional disaster are a reflection of the goodness of God in whose image we are made.

God is all-powerful. Again, the psalmist claims that God is in control of all His creation (Psalm 103:19).  Some people find this truth troubling.  If God has the ability to prevent natural disasters and human tragedy, why doesn’t He?

In an attempt to acquit God of responsibility for evil in the world,  a growing number of  people think of God as a loving but impotent old man who would like to help us, but is incapable of doing so.

But do you find any comfort in the belief that you are simply a victim of random events and people?  Fortunately, the Bible assures us that there is a God who is in control of everything that happens in our lives.

God’s ways are beyond our understanding.  One of the most famous analogies about God’s purpose in suffering is that of a bear caught in a trap in the woods.  The hunter, wanting to help the bear, approaches him, but the bear won’t allow it.

The hunter, determined to help, shoots a dart full of drugs into the bear.  The bear is now convinced that the hunter wants to hurt him.

The drugged animal, now semi-conscious, watches as the hunter actually pushes the bear’s paw further into the jaws of the trap in order  to release the tension.

The bear has all the evidence it needs to conclude the hunter is evil.  But the bear has made its judgment too soon, before the hunter frees him from the trap.

At some point God will seem unfair to those of us trapped in time, but we make our judgment too soon.

One day, perhaps not until heaven, we will understand what the Hunter was up to in our lives.  Until that time, God says “Trust me.  I have a plan I’m working out in your life, even though in the darkness of the storm you cannot see what that plan is.”

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Dr. Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  His daily radio program “Pathway to Victory” is heard on 760 stations nationwide. He is the author of 20 books including, “How Can I Know: Answers to Life’s 7 Most Important Questions.”

[Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/05/26/why-does-god-allow-tornadoes-tragedy-and-suffering/?intcmp=features#ixzz2UPIzKO57]

When God Pulls the Rug Out

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

Has this happened to you?

You read all the signs that were so blatantly from the Lord—“yes, this is the path, go this way, I am with you.”

You have been amazed at the way he opened doors—you were scared but you walked through them.

The Lord confirmed his will for you through other people too—they were excited that God was doing this.

Finally, you were on board. You were excited. You were all in. You had peace about your decision.

And then, splat, he pulled the rug out from under you.

How will you be able to trust God again?

This, I think, is a common experience. Very common. It happens with all kinds of decisions: business, vocational, financial and relationships. You pray earnestly, you see God moving, you are amazed, and then…  it looks as if he simply vanished and left you on your own. You especially see it in broken relationships. That is, you seek the Lord about a marriage or relationship decision, it starts almost too well, and then the relationship takes a sudden and tragic turn, and there is no explanation for it.

You want to know why

Some problems are universal, but this one is for those who are spiritually mature. It happens to people who are earnestly seeking God, and only the mature do such things. And though anger toward God might flash occasionally, it isn’t the real issue. The real problem is that you feel you no longer know him. You want to know why God did this, yet he is silent. It doesn’t make sense: he gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

“Why?”

When no response comes, you start filling in the blanks. Maybe you deserved it. Maybe you have done wrong and you need to figure out what it is. That’s what maturity gets you; you see yourself as the culprit. This approach is understandable and—misguided.

Not a scavenger hunt for sin

“Why, O Lord?” is a recurring question in Scripture. In response, God does not send anyone on a scavenger hunt for sin, and does not fill in all the details that the asker might want to know either. Instead, he reaffirms that he does see trouble and grief (Ps. 10:14), and he will strengthen those who are weak (Is. 40:27-31). With these words he is revealing to us what we really need to know.

Check your assumptions

But there is another matter to consider.

All this started with our assumptions about how God works—we had confidence that we could know the will of God. We could discern the “open doors” and had that “peace.” Even more, we were confident that those open doors would lead to blessing, according to our definition of blessing. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate.

The Apostle Paul held very different assumptions yet he believed that he knew plenty about God’s will. The King reigns, the Spirit has been poured out, the nations are ripe for the picking—that was enough for him. The times he received specific direction, he was confident that it would mean blessing for the larger church and hardships for him. He knew that if God was in it there would be challenges—challenges that reveal weaknesses and test faith.

God is not playing games when he pulls the rug out from under you. He is up to something, but it is probably not what you think it is.

YOU are NOT the GOD I would have chosen!

SOURCE:  Michael Card

God’s Disturbing Faithfulness

What in the world is God up to?

“You are not the God we would have chosen,” Walter Brueggemann prays in his book Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.

That troubling prayer resonates in my heart. For the truth is, most often I would have chosen (and indeed do choose) a god other than Him.

Most often, I would rather not learn the hard lessons the hard way. I would rather not have to worship in the wilderness, where God continuously calls me to find and be found by Him. I would rather God simply meet my expectations, fix my problems, heal my hurts, and be on His way.

I want a God who is faithful to me in ways I understand and expect, who expresses faithfulness in the ways I choose.

The good news is, there is such a god. In fact, there are many of them. Constructed of small snippets of Bible verses, glued together with human reason and need, these gods always move in expected ways, according to the given formula. Their faithfulness always feels good. It almost always ends in bankable results. That is the good news. The bad news? None of them represent the God of the Bible.

This is faithfulness?

The faithfulness of God is celebrated throughout the Bible, especially in Psalms. It is one of the psalmists’ favorite reasons for praising Him (36:5; 71:22; 86:15; 89:1-2, 5, 8; 100:5; 138:2). And why not praise God for His faithfulness? When we think of all the wonderful promises He has made and realize that because of His perfect faithfulness He will perfectly keep each and every one, how glorious! Who wouldn’t want to give their lives to such a God as this? Who would not choose Him to be their God?

Yet as we enter more deeply into a relationship with the God of Scripture, we increasingly discover—to our great annoyance—that, despite the reports to the contrary, most often God refuses to act in simple, easily understandable ways that coincide with our definition of what His faithfulness should look like.

We ask Him to be faithful by answering all our prayers for healing. Isn’t Ps. 103:3 crystal clear? He “heals all your diseases,” it says (emphasis mine). So we beg and plead, and yet the cancer rate among Christians remains virtually the same as among those outside the faith. We respectfully request financial help; after all, Phil. 4:19 explicitly promises that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). When the looked-for check does not appear, what are we to think? Either God is not being faithful to His promise (unthinkable!) or else we do not understand what that faithfulness means.

So what is the missing piece of the puzzle? What is God’s faithfulness supposed to look like?

This is surely the question that troubled Job.

The religious world he inhabited believed God’s faithfulness should look like doing, fixing, judging (even cursing), answering, healing, and ultimately providing. That, at least, was the point of view of Job’s friends. In return for their works-righteousness, they believed that God was obliged to make things right for His people.

Yet Job, whom God Himself declared righteous, is beset with every sort of suffering and loss. A thousand years or more before the man of sorrows, Job became acquainted with all our grief. In return for his righteousness, Job received unimaginable suffering. Where was God’s faithfulness? Had He forgotten His promises? Was He hiding? Was He asleep? As I spend more and more time in the book of Job, I begin to wonder if the deepest source of Job’s pain was not the murdered children or his wrecked health, but rather the terrifying prospect that the true God might indeed be nothing like the god of his old definition.

In Job’s world, God was a question-answering god who faithfully provided wisdom. Yet when the God of Job finally appears, He only asks more questions. How disappointing for Job’s friends. The God of Job clearly has more in mind than meting out justice. His faithfulness is expressed in a way that no one could ever have imagined: He showed up! Nothing could have been more disturbing for the lot of them.

“My ears had heard of you,” stammers Job, “but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5).

A God whose faithfulness is more a matter of presence than provision. A God whose faithfulness is made visible simply by showing up . . . sound familiar?

Faithfulness Incarnate

In His own time, as well as ours, many who came close to Jesus were disappointed by His disturbing revelation of the faithfulness of God.

There were those who wanted Jesus to judge and condemn. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees hounded Jesus for a judgment against an adulterous woman. If Jesus were to be faithful to their notion of God and the law, they reasoned, He had no other choice but to pronounce her fate. After all, she was caught in the act.

Others wanted healing, and certainly Jesus healed people by the thousands. But faithfulness for Jesus didn’t always look like healing. In John 11, after hearing of the life-threatening illness of one of His closest friends, Jesus appears to loiter for two more frustrating days. As a result, Lazarus dies. Martha and Mary appear with the same disappointed accusation on their lips (though I believe in different tones of voice). “If you had only been here, he would not have died,” they both say. If only . . . you had fixed things, healed him, answered our prayers the way we wanted them answered.

But, like His Father, Jesus has come to show us that God is faithful to us in ways we never could have dreamed. Jesus refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery because, as Frederick Buechner once said, He knew He would be condemned for her (Jn. 3:17, Ro. 8:1). “I pass judgment on no one,” Jesus will say to His critics (Jn. 8:15). Later, in the face of His hearers’ disbelief, He will declare, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (Jn. 12:47). The disturbing faithfulness of Jesus does not look like condemnation. Instead He showed up to save!

And before Jesus moves on to the tomb of his friend Lazarus to call forth the “dead man” from the grave, He enacts what most of us never regard as a miracle. But it may be the most miraculous miracle of the whole story. The miracle? Jesus wept.

He showed up and entered fully and painfully into the suffering of His friends. Moments later He would indeed provide the resurrection miracle none of them could even have imagined asking for. Yet Lazarus would eventually die once more, wouldn’t he? Death would remain a reality, even as it is for us today. But what had changed forever was the image of the face of faithfulness. Not judgmental; not with anger in its eyes but rather a tear. God incarnate enfleshed and gave form to faithfulness.

Faithfulness was Jesus fully present.

Present in their redemption and ours.

Present in their suffering and ours.

Present in their loneliness and ours.

Acquainted with their griefs and ours.

This was a faithfulness no one expected—so deeply personal, so fully satisfying. Jesus didn’t always faithfully give people answers or healing or judgments, but He did give them Himself.

The Promise of Presence

Who is God for you? What do you think His faithfulness should look like? Is He a predictable theological entity, frozen on the throne? Is your greatest hope for Him that He might appear someday and pass judgment on your enemies? Or could He possibly, unimaginably, be the God we meet in Job who descends from the throne room where He has been dealing with the accusations of Satan, the God who shows up, having been moved by Job’s tears.

Who is Jesus for you? How is faithfulness written on His face for you? Is He merely a caricature walking three inches off the ground? Or might He impossibly be the very image of the God whose disturbing faithfulness looks like simply showing up to make His name “Immanuel” true in the fullest way it could ever be true. Could it be that the best show of faithfulness is not the healing or the unexpected check that saves from bankruptcy, but the unthinkable truth that God has chosen to be “with us” through it all? Could it be that the miracle is not provision, but presence?

Faithfulness most resembles the God who showed up and, in the process, became acquainted with all our sorrows. His promise of faithfulness is heard in His parting words, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20, emphasis mine). It is the best promise any bridegroom can possibly make to his bride.

In our frustration we cry out to the heavens. We shake our fists at the sky, demanding that God act, move, fix, heal. We insist that He be faithful according to our expectations of faithfulness. My mentor, Dr. William Lane, used to say,

We want the God of the magic wand. The God who makes the cancer go away. But more remarkably, He is the God who comes alongside us and suffers with us. He is the God who never leaves us.

Ask yourself, how did God Himself speak of His faithfulness? What are the words He most often used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe what it would look like? How about:

Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.

—see Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5

Now the dwelling of God is with men and women, and He will live with them.

—see Ex. 25:8; Rev. 21:3

No doubt I will go on forgetting all this and doggedly keep demanding God to provide.

I need money.

I need health.

I need happiness.

And when the sky remains silent I will likely fume at Him in frustration, “Where are You?” I will doubt Him and His promised presence with and in me because what I think should be His provision has not shown up on time.

And He will continue to pursue—passionately and patiently—my foolish, forgetful self.

If, like me, you find yourself disturbed by what sometimes appears to be a lack of faithfulness on God’s part—if you, too, are beginning to feel that He is not the God you would have chosen—then perhaps it is time to wonder if God is up to something else, something other than trying to become our pie-in-the-sky god.

Just maybe He is working a more miraculous miracle than we ever could have asked for or imagined. He, the God of the universe, has determined to do a work in (not for) us. Paul declares in Phil. 1:6 that He has promised to do this interior, spiritual work until He is finally finished, and that will be on the day Jesus shows up fully, finally, and completely, once and for all time.

Brueggemann is right.

This is not the God we would have chosen.

But neither could we have dreamed up nor imagined such a God: a God the immediacy of whose presence is incarnate in us by His indwelling Spirit, a God who is committed to the throes of completing this labor of indwelling us, of being born in and through us. It is His deepest desire. It is the greatest of all His wordless miracles.

He is not the God any of us would have chosen but, as Brueggemann marvelously concludes, He is the God who has chosen us.

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MICHAEL CARD is an award-winning musician, performing artist, and songwriter. His many songs include “El Shaddai” and “Immanuel.” He has also written numerous books, including A Violent Grace, The Parable of Joy, and A Fragile Stone. A graduate of Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biblical studies. Michael lives in Tennessee with his wife and four children.

“Your life is a vapor”

SOURCE:  Comments by Matthew Henry as posted by tollelege

“‘What is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.’ (James 4:14) God has wisely left us in the dark concerning future events, and even concerning the duration of life itself.

We know not what shall be on the morrow. We may know what we intend to do and to be, but a thousand things may happen to prevent us. We are not sure of life itself, since it is but as a vapour, something in appearance, but nothing solid nor certain, easily scattered and gone.

We can fix the hour and minute of the sun’s rising and setting tomorrow, but we cannot fix the certain time of a vapour’s being scattered. Such is our life: it appears but for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

It vanisheth as to this world, but there is a life that will continue in the other world. And, since this life is so uncertain, it concerns us all to prepare and lay up in store for that which is to come.”

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–Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, as cited on: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc6.Jam.v.html (accessed March 23, 2012). Henry is commenting on James 4:14

God Governs All Things: Good & Evil

Why I Do Not Say, “God Did Not Cause the Calamity, But He Can Use It for Good.”

SOURCE:  John Piper

Many Christians are speaking this way about the murderous destruction of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. God did not cause it, but he can use it for good. There are two reasons I do not say this. One is that it goes beyond, and is contrary to, what the Bible teaches. The other is that it undermines the very hope it wants to offer.

First, this statement goes beyond and against the Bible. For some, all they want to say, in denying that God “caused” the calamity, is that God is not a sinner and that God does not remove human accountability and that God is compassionate. That is true—and precious beyond words. But for others, and for most people who hear this slogan, something far more is implied. Namely, God, by his very nature, cannot or would not act to bring about such a calamity. This view of God is what contradicts the Bible and undercuts hope.

How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

This “all things” includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure—God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son’s house, Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).

Oh, yes, Satan is real and active and involved in this world of woe! In fact Job 2:7 says, “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” Satan struck him. But Job did not get comfort from looking at secondary causes. He got comfort from looking at the ultimate cause. “Shall we not accept adversity from God?” And the author of the book agrees with Job when he says that Job’s brothers and sisters “consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him” (Job 42:11). Then James underlines God’s purposeful goodness in Job’s misery: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:11). Job himself concludes in prayer: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Yes, Satan is real, and he is terrible—and he is on a leash.

The other reason I don’t say, “God did not cause the calamity, but he can use it for good,” is that it undercuts the very hope it wants to create. I ask those who say this: “If you deny that God could have ‘used’ a million prior events to save 5,000 people from this great evil, what hope then do you have that God could now ‘use’ this terrible event to save you in the hour of trial?” We say we believe he can use these events for good, but we deny that he could use the events of the past to hold back the evil of September 11. But the Bible teaches he could have restrained this evil (Genesis 20:6). “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). But it was not in his plan to do it. Let us beware. We spare God the burden of his sovereignty and lose our only hope.

All of us are sinners. We deserve to perish. Every breath we take is an undeserved gift. We have one great hope: that Jesus Christ died to obtain pardon and righteousness for us (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and that God will employ his all-conquering, sovereign grace to preserve us for our inheritance (Jeremiah 32:40). We surrender this hope if we sacrifice this sovereignty.

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