Is God Still Working or Has He Left Us Behind?
As the first beam of light danced into the house on a warm June morning, I finished up breakfast and my grandparent’s house and looked forward to yet another day of summer vacation. This buck-toothed, elementary schooler sat looking out the huge window that stretched the length of the living room. I had already changed into my daily attire — basketball shorts, a t-shirt, and above all…wristbands (I wore them everywhere: to school, to the mall, to church, to funerals…). Funny enough, as I looked out the window at the basketball court, I knew my daily schedule and what to expect that day:
- 9:00AM – Basketball
- 10:00AM – Basketball
- 11:00AM – Basketball
- Noon – Lunch
- 1:00PM – Basketball
- 2:00PM – DuckTails, Talespin, Darkwing Duck
- 3:00PM – Basketball
- 4:00PM – Super Nintendo
- 5:00PM – Dinner
To be honest, I had a pretty predictable schedule that day. Or at least I thought so. As my mom walked into the room, and she must have noticed I was already dressed for basketball. She knew my intentions. Right around then, she uttered the most debilitating words I could think of: “David, before you go out and play basketball today, I want you to read for 1 hour!” I blinked. I thought to myself, “This must be a bad dream.” Reading? Reading is for school. Reading is for August through May. Reading isn’t for summer vacation. Not only reading, but reading for an hour? That’s 60 minutes more than I cared to read. The next hour was like being killed by paper cuts. Each minute dragged as if an anvil were attached to the minute hand as it struggled around the clock face. I stared at the words on the page, somehow knowing what each word meant but having no clue of the overall message of the book I held in my hand. Pure. Torture.
You could say that I hated reading at that time in my life. Or maybe I didn’t hate reading itself — maybe I just hated what it kept me from (i.e. basketball). A lot of things have changed since then. I’m grateful those days are gone, as I’ve become an avid reader since. I’ve discovered the role of books in growing my mind, personality, and emotional health. Funny enough, now I have the inverse problem — instead of not wanting to read, I want to read all the time. And there are so many books — but how does one choose?
As I considered the number of books out there, I am reminded of the words of Thomas Brooks, a preacher in the 17th century. In weighing what books are important for someone to read, he made an overarching claim about what he considered two books every follower of Jesus should continually read and know with all their heart. Now, I’m sure you guessed one of them: the Bible. What might surprise you is the book he named second. He called this book, The Book of Providence. Now, some of you might read this and wonder, “Is that book still in print? I’ve never heard of it.” If you did not pick up on it, the clever Mr. Brooks is using a metaphor. When Brooks speaks of providence, he is referencing God’s care and order over the world, aligning every person, platypus, and particle just how he wants it in his grand design. In short, the God of the Bible is pictured as a grand conductor bringing exactly the symphony he wants out of the everyday circumstances of life. He is suggesting that as important as reading the Bible is, one must also learn to look at God’s providence in the everyday circumstances that surround us in light of what we read.
Maybe you hear the word providence and think it really doesn’t belong in times such as ours. Perhaps you think this idea that God controls all the details in our world has been cheapened by the events of the past 15 months, or even maybe the belief belonged to a time where people were more gullible. After all, we have seen countless die from COVID-19, hospitals filled to the brim, and unrivaled levels of political unrest in varying countries. One could easily come to the conclusion God has taken his fingers off of the pulse of this word. Or has He?
One thing you can say about the God of the Bible is that he loves to act in ways that people cannot see. In other words, he claims he providentially runs the world even when things are going south. Just look at what Jesus said in Matthew 24:
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Notice some of the things Jesus lists here: wars, rumors, of war, famines, natural disasters. That’s some pretty heavy stuff happening there. These are all events that would lead human beings to naturally fear and assume God’s control must be wavering. Yet, did you notice Jesus’s response? “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet…all these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Let’s just note how absurd that sounds to human ears at first. If you look at all the ways human beings believe God should function, this blows them all out of the water. Jesus is reminding his disciples (and those who come after them) to maintain their confidence and walk with him even amid societal and economical chaos. It’s like Jesus does not even flinch. His underlying assumption? If He created the world, He certainly has no problem sustaining it (and human beings) on a day-to-day level.
That leads us to our next question: if He rules and reigns over the world, what gives with the last year and the absolute chaos that has come from the coronavirus? You’re telling me God ordained such a thing? According to Jesus, yes He did. But why?
Continuing with the music analogy, a friend and I have recently been writing and recording songs. It has been one of the most fun experiences I can remember as we bounce ideas and lines back and forth off one another. Now, I’m a little more experienced than her musically, so what happens is she often comes up with the song ideas and is really influential in the lyrical side of things. I, however, produce and write the musical parts. These include what instruments play and especially what harmonies are sung. What would shock people about writing harmonies is that they always don’t sound beautiful. In fact, if you sang four pitches together from any pop-song harmony and that’s all you sang, you’d probably cringe. It creates tension and dissonance in your ear. As I was teaching my friend how to write harmonies, I showed her how you look for the emotional part of each phrase to throw one of these harmonies in there, and then immediately release it. The result? Four notes that might sound hideous songs together, if immediately resolved to different notes, can sound beautiful and drive the emotions of someone listening to a song. That’s what tension in music does — it plays on your emotions. If there was ever a part of a country song that felt like it reached deep in your soul, I would almost guarantee you’ll find one of these harmonies. In many ways, you can see the parallel between dissonance in music and the way Jesus Christ brings dissonance through tragedy and change in our world. An isolated event that might seem heinous, when woven into his grand plan, can function in a way to bring growth and thriving to his people. John Calvin, a famous theologian from times past, put it like this: God can draw beautifully straight lines with crooked sticks.
So where to does this lead us? Is there any consolation we can have regarding the past year? Are there things we know God is doing to give us better confidence in these times? Yes. I think through God’s Word, we see three specific ways God has guaranteed to move that can give us confidence during these times.
When you hang around younger people as much as I do, you are not surprised to hear the same questions over and over again. One of the questions I get the most is, “What does God will for my life?” I think most reading this article can understand the heart behind such a question. Scanning the pages of Scripture, we never see a book that details “God’s Plan for (Your Name)’s Life,” as if God were giving us this ultra-defined instruction manual for how our life should go. However, to think the Bible cares nothing about the issue might be a little short-sighted. We actually get insight into God’s will for our life in 1 Thessalonians 4:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your _________…
Oh, snap! If you just read that right, Paul is about to give God’s plan for the Christian. He says, “For this is the will of God…” I’m listening. What is the will of God?
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
Sanctification. He lays out what this looks like: sexual integrity, self-control, caring for your neighbor, amongst other things. This is not just avoiding bad things, it is spreading goodness and kindness to the world around us. Are you disappointed? Were you hoping for something, you know, a little more…useful?
I think there is some inherent beauty in this statement for two reasons. Firstly, while most of us long for God to answer a particular request so that we can continue “in our path,” Paul reveals how God seeks to give us something better than that longing. God does not always care so much about giving us step-by-step directions as he cares about making us into a particular kind of people. What kind of people are these, you ask? The kind of people who will be equipped to thrive, flourish, and spread His steadfast love and gospel message to our fallen world, regardless of what we face. While we want God to equip us for a situation, He instead equips us for a lifetime. Secondly, Paul’s words show us that whatever circumstance we find ourselves in (poverty, sickness, cancer, persecutions, broken relationships), God is still able to bring this about in our lives.
How can we relate this to our current context? Obviously, some of us have lost jobs or a huge chunk of our income (that is my situation). Okay. Christ is still working for our sanctification. He is still equipping us to flourish even amid poverty. Amen. Some of us have lost loved ones. The touch of death has been a cold one, perhaps too familiar to some of us. Yet, Christ is still working for our sanctification, knowing that if we are in Him, we too will conquer the grave as He conquered the grave, never to die again. Through this pandemic, we see that God has not stopped running the world. He is showing us that moth and rust really do destroy, that the breath of our loved ones really does fade, that this world is not our home, and any attempt to lay down permanent roots is frivolous because it would be like painting and decorating your hotel room when you’re only there for the night.
To be continued