O U R G O D R E I G N S
A Practical Look at the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of
God
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2015 F. Wayne Mac Leod
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written
permission of the author.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the New International Version of
the Bible (Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used with permission of
Zondervan Bible Publishers, All rights reserved.)
Special thanks to the editors and proof readers:
Lillian Mac Neil, Diane Mac Leod
CONTENTS
Title Page
Copyright
Preface
Definition of Terms
1 - Absolute Authority
2 - Absolute Right
3 - Absolute Control
Working out the Kinks
4 - Human Dignity
5 - Sin
6 - Injustice and Suffering
7 - Praying and Serving
8 - Continuing in Sin
Practical Application
9 - Dying to Self
10 - Surrendering Our Possessions
11 - Resting in God
12 - Unexpected Circumstances and Difficult People
13 - Boldness in Service
14 - Waiting and Listening
15 - Past History
16 - Worship
About The Author
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PREFACE
he doctrine of the sovereignty of God is one that has caused great
debate among believers over the centuries. It has been for some a
real source of encouragement and blessing. For others, it has been
an affront to human independence.
Please be aware that my attempt here is not to be exhaustive, scholarly or
divisive in this study. My greatest desire is to show the reader how this
attribute of God should affect our everyday life.
In the course of this study I have come to understand that a balanced
understanding of this doctrine will have a dramatic impact on our response
to the difficulties we encounter each day. It will change our attitude about
our past personal history. It should also give us greater confidence to step
out in faith.
The doctrine of God's sovereignty is immensely practical. It is my belief
that every Christian needs to take the time to study carefully this vital
attribute of God. My prayer is that this simple study will be a source of
blessing and encouragement for all who take time to read it.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
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1 - ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY
he doctrine of the sovereignty of God is both the most encouraging
and the most troubling of all Bible doctrines. For some, it has been
a real blessing in the midst of the storms of life. For others, it has
been an affront to human independence and dignity.
What do we mean when we say that our God is a sovereign God? We mean
that God has absolute authority, absolute right and absolute control. Let's
break this down and look at it more carefully.
Because God is sovereign, He has absolute authority. What is authority?
Authority is the power to command. The voice of authority must be obeyed.
Every society needs authority. Where there is no authority, society breaks
down. Imagine what life would be like with no laws or people to enforce
them. Imagine what our children would be like without parental authority.
Authority is necessary if society is to function properly.
Authority is not bad. It is true that many have misused it to promote their
own interests. Authority, however, ought to create greater harmony. Where
there is authority, we know our limits. Authority punishes those who disrupt
the harmony of society. Authority determines what is right and proper
within the context of our relationships with each other. It gives us a
common agenda and enables us to work as a team with common goals.
When we say that God has absolute authority, we mean that He has the
power to set the agenda. Because His authority is absolute, He commands
full obedience to the agenda He has set. There is no one over Him. He has
the final say in all matters. There can only be one person with absolute and
unquestioned authority. God alone possesses this characteristic. Let’s look
briefly at what the Bible teaches us about the absolute authority of God.
God has Authority over the Rulers of the Earth
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon boasted of his great achievements. Under
his administration, Babylon reached its height of power and influence. His
pride, however, was an affront to God. Nebuchadnezzar did not see his need
of God. He felt he was god. Because of his pride, the Lord stuck him with
insanity. For years he wandered in the fields with the wild animals. When
God finally restored him, King Nebuchadnezzar spoke these powerful
words:
All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he
pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No
one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?"
(Daniel 4:35)
Nebuchadnezzar came to realize that there was a higher authority than his
in the world. He bowed the knee to One who had a greater and
unquestioned authority. Though he was the ruler of the greatest kingdom on
earth, Nebuchadnezzar could not question the authority of God nor could he
demand and accounting from Him.
Consider this for a moment. The great king Nebuchadnezzar is stripped of
his power in an instant. He wandered like an animal in the fields. While no
other king on earth dared to stand up to him, Nebuchadnezzar was helpless
before the God of Israel. As powerful as the rulers of history have been, all
of them will have to answer to the God of heaven. He is over them all. They
must submit to Him.
God Does What He Pleases
Very few people in the Bible suffered like Job. The Bible tells us that he
was a righteous and blameless man. It is never easy to understand suffering.
Why does God spare one person and not another? Why does God give one
person a life of ease and allow nothing but trouble for another? In his
suffering Job learned a very important thing about God:
But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he
pleases. (Job 23:13, NIV)
God does what He wants. This idea is not very appealing to some. They feel
that God needs to do everything for their benefit. They feel He needs to be
accountable to His creation for what He does. They have reduced God to a
heavenly servant whose only responsibility is to meet the needs and wishes
of His creation. The Lord God does care for and provide for His children
but He does so not out of obligation but because He has chosen to do so in
love.
Job discovered that God does what He pleases and no one can oppose Him
or accuse Him of wrong. He is accountable to no one for His actions.
Indeed who could ever hold Him accountable? Were it not for the fact that
God is also good, this concept would be very frightening indeed.
God's Authority Has No Limit
There is no place in heaven or earth where God does not have authority.
Kings and political leaders have authority in their own countries but they
have no authority beyond their boundaries. This is not so with God. His
authority is absolute. It extends to all of creation. There is no place in the
universe where God is not the sovereign ruler. There is no part of His
creation over which His authority does not extend. This makes all of
creation accountable to Him. The Psalmist put it this way:
The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the
earth, in the seas and all their depths. (Psalms 135:6)
God's Authority is Final
Listen to what the prophet Isaiah told his listeners about the decisions of
God.
For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? (Isaiah 14:27)
The decision of a judge may be overruled. A company president may be
fired and his position given to another. This is not so with God. There is no
higher court to which we can appeal. He is the final authority. What He
decides will stand. No one has the right to overrule what He determines.
There is no authority above His.
God is Accountable to no one for his Authority
The apostle Paul tells us that God works out everything according to His
own will.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to
the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the
purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11)
An ambassador is given authority to speak on behalf of his country. He
must however, follow his country's agenda. He is not free to do as he
pleases. He is not free to speak his own mind. He must share the opinion
and agenda of the people he represents. This is not so with God. He works
to accomplish His own will and purpose. All of His creation must surrender
to that purpose or face the consequences.
God does what He pleases. He is accountable to no one for His actions.
What He decides cannot be questioned. He has absolute authority over
kings, leaders and everything His hands have created. Many people have
rejected God because of this. They are not sure they want to surrender to a
God with such authority. They prefer a weaker God who must listen instead
to His creation.
Whether we like it or not, the God of the Bible is a God who has absolute
authority on this earth. He sets the agenda and determines what is right. He
makes the rules and decides the destiny of all His creation. He is a God who
demands respect. Every knee will bow to Him as the sovereign ruler over
all. No one can question what He does.
For Consideration:
What do we mean when we say that God has absolute authority?
Why is it comforting to know that the God who has absolute authority is
also a good and holy God?
Why is the doctrine of God’s absolute authority difficult for us to accept?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that while He has absolute authority on this earth, He is also
a loving and good God.
Ask the Lord to teach you to surrender to His authority. Ask Him to show
you where you have not surrendered to His purpose for your life.
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2 - ABSOLUTE RIGHT
e have seen that God has absolute authority (power to
command). There is no authority above His and no one can
question what He says or does. In this next section we will
examine the fact that God also has absolute right. What is a right? We can
define right as license or privilege. When I received my driver's license as a
young man, I was given the legal right to drive a car. My marriage license
gave me the lawful right to take a wife. A right gives me legal permission.
As human beings, our rights are limited. The young man who has a driver's
license must drive his car in a certain way or risk having his license taken
from him. God's right, however, is absolute. No one can take God's right
from Him. He has the right to do whatever He wants with all that He has
created with no restrictions or limitations. This sort of privilege in the hands
of anyone other than a loving God would be very terrifying. Let’s take a
moment, however, to consider some Bible passages that speak about God's
absolute right.
In Joshua 1, the Lord God commanded Joshua to take the land of Canaan.
This land was inhabited by the Canaanites. God told Joshua to drive the
Canaanites out of the land and give it to the Israelites. Consider for a
moment what is happening here. These Canaanites had been in the land for
generations. They had built their houses on this land and settled their
families there. God was telling Joshua to drive them out of the only land
they knew.
Many people have a problem with what God told Joshua to do here. What
we need to realize, however is that these Canaanites were merely tenants in
a land that belonged to God. God had the right to give His land to
whomever He pleased. Listen to the words of the psalmist in Psalm 135:9-
12:
Whatsoever the LORD pleased, [that] did he in heaven, and in
earth, in the seas, and all deep places. Who smote great nations,
and slew mighty kings; Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of
Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan: And gave their land [for]
an heritage, an heritage unto Israel his people. (KJV)
Notice the phrase in the King James Version "Whatsoever the LORD
pleased, [that] did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep
places." God took the land from the Canaanites and gave it to His own
people. This was His right to do. No one could legally question His decision
because the whole earth is His to do with as He pleases.
Later in Israel’s history God spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the sins of
His people. He told Jeremiah that He was going to take the land from Israel
and hand it over to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Listen to what
God told the prophet in Jeremiah 27:5:
With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its
people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I
please.
God has the right to do with His creation whatsoever He pleases. Nowhere
is this more evident than in the illustration of the potter and the clay. On one
occasion, the Lord God told Jeremiah to go to a potter's house to watch the
potter at work. In Jeremiah 18:3-6 we read:
So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the
wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his
hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed
best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of
Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the
LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand,
O house of Israel.
God told Jeremiah that Israel was like clay in His hands. He could do as He
pleased with them. The shape and destiny of their lives was in His hands.
He blessed or withdrew His blessings as He pleased.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul used this same illustration when he
said in Romans 9:20-21:
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed
say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' “Does
not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay
some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
Paul made it quite clear that, as the creation of God, we have no right to
"talk back" to God and complain about how He has made us or the shape
our lives have taken.
On one occasion, the Lord gave permission to Satan to test Job. Satan
responded by killing all his sons and daughters. He destroyed his sheep,
cattle and servants. Job lost everything. Notice Job’s response to these
events in Job 1:20-22.
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he
fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my
mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the
LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In
all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Notice in particular verse 22:
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
God had allowed Job's family to be killed. God gave permission to Satan to
strip Job of everything he possessed. Despite this, God had done no wrong.
God does not sin by taking a life or allowing suffering. He has the right to
do whatever He pleases with His creation and no one can accuse Him of
wrongdoing. Job had no legitimate complaint against God. Everything he
had, he had received from God. God could reclaim or do what He pleased
with what belonged to him.
Imagine that you were an artist who painted a great work. You hung it up in
your home and enjoyed its beauty. One day, however, you decide that you
no longer want that painting so you take it off the wall and destroy it. Are
you guilty of a crime in doing so? By no means, the painting is yours to do
with as you please. You can keep it or you can destroy it and you have
committed no crime.
Imagine, however, that this painting was hanging on your wall and a thief
broke into your house, took the painting and destroyed it. Is this thief guilty
of a crime? He certainly is! He would be punished by the law of the land
because he did not have the right to take what was not his and destroy it.
God does not sin when He does what He wants with what belongs to Him.
Paul tells us in Colossians 1:16 that all things were created by God and for
God:
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or
authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Notice here that all things were created by God and "for God." We do not
always understand what this passage is saying. God created everything for
Himself. This earth was not created for us. Everything that God created was
for Himself. We have no ultimate right to anything that God has created.
Nothing is truly ours. Everything is God's and He does with it as He
pleases.
The prophet repeats this thought in Isaiah 43:7, 21 when he says.
Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made." (Isaiah 43:7)
The people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
(Isaiah 43:21)
We were created for God's glory. God formed us so that we could proclaim
His praise. God accomplishes His glory in different ways in our lives. He
revealed His purpose through Job's suffering. In the days of Joshua God
manifested His glory by taking the land from the Canaanites and giving it to
His people. Later on, He took the same land from His people and gave it to
the Babylonians. In this too, God would be glorified. All these things are in
His right to do.
What is our response to this? When Eli the priest discovered that the Lord
had declared his family unworthy of the priesthood, he told the boy Samuel:
"He is the LORD; let Him do what is good in His eyes" (1 Samuel 3:18).
This is our only legitimate response to a sovereign God who has absolute
right and absolute authority. We have no legitimate complaint. All we can
do is surrender.
For Consideration:
What does it mean for God to have absolute right?
Does God sin when He allows us to suffer or takes our life? Why?
Do we have absolute right? What is the difference between God’s right and
our rights?
What is our response to God’s absolute right?
For Prayer:
Take a moment to thank the Lord that He has absolute right to do with you
as He pleases.
Ask the Lord to give you grace to accept that He has right to do as He
pleases with you and all He has given you.
Ask God to forgive you for the times you have grumbled and complained
against Him and His purpose.
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3 - ABSOLUTE CONTROL
o far we have defined the sovereignty of God in terms of absolute
authority and absolute right. We need to add one further dimension
to our definition. It is theoretically possible to have absolute
authority and absolute right but not have the ability to exercise these
privileges. For example, a man may have the right and authority to drive a
car but be incapable of doing so because of some physical injury or
limitation. Sometimes situations, beyond our control strip us of our ability
or right. God has no such limitations or restrictions. There is never a
situation over which He is not in complete control.
What do we mean by absolute control? When we say that God is in control
we mean that He determines what is to take place and makes it happen. He
is master of His circumstances. The events and people around Him are held
in subjection to His purposes. They are contained within parameters He
establishes and used to accomplish His goals. When we say that this control
is absolute we mean that there is nothing that can disrupt the purpose of
God.
As human beings, we cannot control the circumstances of our lives. Our
influence over the people around us is limited. Many things take us by
surprise. We find ourselves facing obstacles that are too big for us to
handle. This is not the case for God. Listen to what the Lord said to the
prophet in Jeremiah 32:27:
"I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for
me?"
Jesus repeats the same thought in Matthew 19:26 when He said:
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but
with God all things are possible."
How good it is to know that there is someone with absolute control. How
much greater it is to know that this God cares for us and desires to work out
all things for our good (Romans 8.28). Let’s look briefly at the extent of
God's control.
Circumstances of Life
The Bible teaches us that God controls the circumstances of our lives. The
classic example of this is the story of Joseph. As a boy of seventeen, he was
sold into slavery by his brothers. This was a very dark time for Joseph. He
was forced to leave his family and his country. He was the victim of his
brother's cruel hatred and jealousy. In Egypt, he was falsely accused by
Potiphar's wife and was thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit.
God was in control of Joseph's circumstances. Joseph would become second
in command of all of Egypt and was used of God to save the nation of Israel
from a severe famine that would have wiped out the greatest part of their
population. As he looked back on the events of his life Joseph said to his
brothers:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to
accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
(Genesis 50:20)
God overruled and brought much good out of what appeared to be a terrible
injustice. The story is only one of many similar stories in the Bible that
remind us that God is in control of all the events of our lives. There is a
reason behind the difficulties and trials we encounter. God is using them to
accomplish His purposes in us.
Human Nature
God is also in control of human nature. God's people, the Israelites, had
turned their back on Him. They had consistently refused to accept His
word. To punish them, God sent them into exile. Even in exile, however,
Israel persisted in rebellion against God. One day the Lord told Jeremiah
that He was going to do a work in the lives of His people. Listen to what
God told the prophet:
I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will
be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with
all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
This rebellious people would be broken. Their old stony heart would be
exchanged for a new heart. The heart the Lord would give them would be a
heart that desired God. They would no longer turn away in rebellion from
their God. Their hearts would be turned to Him. Notice that this was not
something these people did themselves. God would change their hearts.
Isaiah put it this way:
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the
potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
We are as clay in the hands of a master potter. He can shape us in any way
that pleases Him. He can change our hearts. He can overrule our sinful
human nature. He took Paul, who persecuted the church, and made him one
of its principal spokesmen. He can take the rebellion of a son or a daughter
and melt it. He can break the calloused heart of a friend. God's absolute
control extends even over our sinful natures.
Wrath of Men
Psalm 76:10 is a very important verse in relationship to the sovereignty of
God and His absolute control:
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath
shalt thou restrain. (KJV)
There are times when the evil of humanity appears to be out of control.
Psalm 76 reminds us, however, that even the wrath of men will bring glory
to God in the end. We have seen horrible deeds done in the history of this
world. Believers have been persecuted and martyred for their faith. The
Psalmist tells us, however, that even in these situations, God is working out
His overall purposes. This was clearly the case in the story of Joseph
mentioned above. His brothers lashed out against him in jealous rage but
God used their actions to accomplish His glory and the good of His people.
We will not always see how these things work out for good, but we can be
assured that no circumstance is outside of God's control.
Political Leaders
God's sovereign control extends over the political leadership of history.
Speaking of the Pharaoh of Egypt in Exodus 9:16 God says:
But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show
you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the
earth. (Exodus 9:16)
Pharaoh had done much harm to the people of God. He refused to let the
people of Israel leave Egypt. He made their lives miserable. When the time
was right, God sent Moses to deal with Pharaoh and deliver His people
from Pharaoh's hand. The world saw the greatness of the God of Israel as
His plagues were unleashed on the nation. They saw how the great nation of
Egypt was brought to its knees before the power of the God of Israel.
Exodus 9:16 tells us that Pharaoh was raised up so that he could show God's
power and that the name of God would be proclaimed in all the earth. What
is true of Pharaoh is true of all great leaders. God can use even the evil of
political leaders to accomplish His purposes in the end.
Nature
God's control extends also over nature. We see how storms were calmed by
the voice of the Lord Jesus (Mark 4:39). God parted the waters of the Red
Sea to provide His people with an escape from Pharaoh (Exodus 14). On
another occasion, God brought water from a rock to quench the thirst of the
nation of Israel (Numbers 20:8-11). On many other occasions the Lord
caused barren women to give birth. Psalm 104:7-10 tells us of God's control
over all of nature:
But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they
took to flight; they flowed over the mountains; they went down into
the valleys, to the place you as-signed for them. You set a boundary
they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth. He makes
springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.
(Psalms 104)
The Lord God has set the boundaries of the seas. At His voice the thunder
makes itself heard. This world as we know it today is held together by the
sovereign control of our Creator God and responds only to His voice.
The Course of History
The course of history is in the hands of our sovereign God. Writing in his
day the prophet Isaiah says
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what
is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I
please. (Isaiah 46:10)
God knows the end from the beginning. There is no surprise to Him.
History is unfolding according to His overall plan. Nations rise and fall
according at His desire. Even the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was in direct
fulfillment of the plan and purpose of God.
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and
the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant
Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had
decided beforehand should happen. (Acts 4:27-28)
God had determined from the very beginning of time that His Son would
die for the sins of the world. The death of His Son, the Lord Jesus, was in
direct fulfillment of His purpose and plan. History is in the hands of the
Lord God. He determines the course of nations and the path of great
leaders. He also knows the details of my life.
Powers of Darkness
The powers of hell are subject to the control of our Sovereign God. We see
from Job 1 that Satan had no power over Job except what God granted him.
In the gospels, demons fled from the presence of the Lord Jesus. Revelation
20:10 shows us about the ultimate destination of our great enemy Satan:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of
burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been
thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
We see from these passages that God is in control of every circumstance of
life. Even the wrath of evil men is used of God to bring glory to His name
in the end. Nature listens to His commands. He has determined the course
of history and the forces of hell are under His control. There is nothing over
which our God is not in control. We can take great comfort and
encouragement in this fact.
The God we serve is a sovereign God who has absolute authority, right and
control. He sets the rules, He does as He pleases and we are completely
dependent on Him for life and breath. All of history is unfolding as He
allows it to unfold.
It is relatively easy to define the sovereignty of God. What is more difficult
is to work out the application of this doctrine to everyday life. In the
remainder of this book I will attempt to work out some objections and show
how this doctrine applies to our everyday life.
For Consideration:
What does it mean that God has absolute control? Is it possible for someone
to have absolute authority and right and not be in control?
What comfort do you find in the fact that God has absolute control over this
world?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that He has retained the control of this world. Thank Him
that He will work out everything for His glory and our good.
Ask the Lord to forgive you for the times you failed to see Him as being in
control. Ask Him to give you grace to trust what He is doing even through
you cannot understand it.
WORKING OUT THE KINKS
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4 - HUMAN DIGNITY
e have defined the sovereignty of God as that characteristic of
God that gives Him absolute authority, absolute right and
absolute control in the universe. If we believe that the
Scriptures teach that God is sovereign, what does this tell us about
ourselves? Does this doctrine strip human beings of their dignity, rights and
choices? Are we mere machines in the hands of God, programmed for a
certain task and destiny? It is important that we consider these questions as
they relate to the doctrine of God's sovereignty.
Human Dignity
From the very beginning, God placed great value on human life. In Genesis
9:5 He told His people that anyone who took another person's life was to be
punished by death. God reserved the most severe punishment for those who
took a human life.
Reflecting on the creation of God in Psalm 8:3-6 the psalmist said:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon
and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are
mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him
a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory
and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you
put everything under his feet.
In this psalm the psalmist marvelled at the place of humanity in creation.
God has made us rulers over all of His creation. He places more value on us
than anything else in His creation. We are the crown of all that He has
made.
Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:17:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be
arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but
to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for
our enjoyment.
Consider for a moment the beauty and vastness of this universe. Look at the
glorious sunrise of the morning. Fill your mind with the beauty of the
mountains and the waves of the sea crashing on the shore. Look up into the
evening sky and marvel at the stars and the moon. Let the beauty and
complexity of this universe fill your heart with joy and thanksgiving. All
this has been given to us by God for our enjoyment. He challenges us to
probe the limits of this beauty and fill our hearts with its wonder. All this
has been graciously given to us by God to enjoy. What does this tell us
about how He feels about us as human beings?
Who can forget the most famous of all Bible passages from John 3:16?
Here the Lord reminds us that God loved humankind so much that He sent
His Son Jesus to die so that we could have eternal life and live with Him
forever. God wants us to be with Him forever. Again this shows us how
much He loves us, values us and delights in us.
When Jesus walked on this earth He cared for the sick and the needy. He
accepted those who had been cast aside by their fellow human beings. He
was criticized because He was the friend of sinners. He treated all people
with dignity and respect. Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to lay
down His life for us on the cross of Calvary. There is no greater expression
of love than to be willing to die for another. Christ's willingness to die for
us is an indication of how much He valued us.
Listen to what Paul tells us in Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how
will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
God's relationship does not stop with the death of Christ on the cross. He
continues to provide for our every need. Listen to what Jesus told the crowd
in Matthew 6:25-30:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat
or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more
important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in
barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much
more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single
hour to his life?" And why do you worry about clothes? See how the
lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that
not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today
and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe
you, O you of little faith?
You cannot read this section of Scripture without coming to the conclusion
that the Lord God cares very deeply about us and our needs. His concern for
us is very personal. Jesus said in Matthew 10:30 that God even knows the
number of hairs on our head.
Is God's love for us not clear from these passages? We are the crown of His
creation for whom His Son died. We are His children. We are highly valued
and He cares deeply for us. There is nothing more valuable in all of creation
than human life. There is nothing God loves or values more than you and
me.
Personal Destiny
We have seen that we have great value and dignity in the eyes of God. The
second question we need to address here is the question of whether we, as
human beings, can determine the shape, flavour and texture of our own
lives. Does God allow us the freedom of choice?
Personal freedom is an essential ingredient in dignity. A slave, for example,
is not treated with dignity. All rights and privileges are stripped from him.
He is an object to be controlled. His interests are not taken into
consideration. His value is often determined by how he advances his
master's cause.
How has God chosen to treat us? Listen to what Jesus told his disciples in
John 15:15:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his
master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything
that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
Jesus tells His disciples that He had chosen not to treat them like slaves but
as friends. There is a great difference between a friend and a servant. A
friend's rights and choices are respected. While God has every right to treat
us as slaves, He has chosen to call us friends.
As friends of God, we have the privilege of approaching Him with our
personal requests. In Jesus’ day, the sick flocked to Him to ask Him for
healing. Jesus heard their requests. Joshua prayed, that the sun would stand
still so that he could defeat his enemies (Joshua 10:12-14). Solomon prayed
for wisdom to rule his people. God granted him this request and much more
(1 Kings 3:5-10). James 4:2 tells us that we don't receive because we do not
ask.
What we need to see here is that there are many things God wants to give us
but we do not obtain them because we do not ask. We have a choice to
make here. The shape of our lives is determined in many ways by our
prayer life. God's blessings are poured down on us in response to our
prayers. We can experience great blessing or great defeat. We can call down
great blessing or we can hold back His blessing by our refusal to seek Him
and His purposes. We have the dignity of choice in this matter.
We also have the freedom as human beings to obey or to disobey God. In
Genesis 2 God placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the
Garden of Eden. He told Adam that he was not to eat of this tree. If God did
not want man to eat of this tree, why did he put it in the garden? He did this
so Adam and Eve would have the freedom and dignity of choice.
From the beginning, human beings have had the freedom to choose
obedience or disobedience. Each day we live is filled with temptations for
the believer. We are forced to decide daily whether we will walk in
obedience or in disobedience. While it is the will of God that we choose life
and obedience, we have not always done so. God allows us to disobey.
Scripture is filled with illustrations of individuals making decisions. Some
of those decisions were in direct opposition to God and his will. David
committed adultery with Bathsheba. This was not the will of God but he
was free to make this decision. God gives us the same freedom. We can
choose evil or good. We can choose the world and its ways or God.
While Scripture is absolutely clear that God has absolute authority, right
and control it is also clear that man has a free will. The shape and flavour of
our lives depend on the decisions we make. We can choose to obey God or
we can choose to walk away from Him. We can choose blessings or
cursing. Speaking to the people of Moses' day in Deuteronomy 30:19, the
Lord God offered them a choice:
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I
have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now
choose life, so that you and your children may live
God gave to the people of Moses' day a choice between life and death,
blessings or curses. While He pleaded with them to choose life, He did not
force them to make that decision.
Some years ago I was teaching a Sunday school class on Joshua and the
battle of Jericho. As I taught some of the children literally got up out of
their seats and started running around the classroom like Joshua's army
walked around the city before it fell. I had one of two choices to make when
I saw this happen. I could immediately call the children back to their seats
and tell them to behave and listen to what I was saying or I could use what
was happening to illustrate the lesson. I have often looked back on that
situation and thought about God's sovereignty. You and I are like those
children with our own minds. We are sometimes unruly and disrespectful.
Sometimes we don't listen to God and we do our own thing. God, however,
has the ability to use what we do to accomplish His overall purpose and
teach us the lessons He wants us to learn.
Imagine a sports team with each individual working independently of his or
her team mate. What would be the result? Any coach knows that if you
want to win a game you have to tightly control each person's behaviour on
the field. The coach will stand at the sideline and yell out orders to the
players telling them what they need to do. What would happen if each team
member decided to ignore the coach’s orders? There would be chaos on the
field. How can any team expect to win if they don't work together?
The same principle applies to a business. What would happen if the people
in your business ignored you as boss and decided to do their own thing?
They spend your money in whatever way they pleased. They came to work
whenever they pleased. They made decisions about the business without
consulting you. Could you run a business like this?
Consider for a moment what is happening in this world. People are making
decisions every day without consulting the Lord God. They are turning their
back on Him and ignoring His Word. They rebelliously wander from the
path He has given them. Even in the church we see how believers refuse to
work together in harmony. Sometimes they fight against each other or
refuse to fellowship or work with each other. God allows us to make those
choices.
It is relatively easy to understand how God could accomplish His purposes
if He forced people to do what He required and stripped them of their
freedom of choice. It is beyond human comprehension, however, to imagine
a sovereignty that maintains absolute control while at the same time giving
the dignity of individual choice and allowing the freedom of disobedience.
God does not strip away our dignity of choice. He uses all that happens,
however, to accomplish His purpose. Even the evil and disobedience will be
used to accomplish His objectives in the end.
As human beings we will suffer the consequences of our disobedience and
rebellion but God’s overall purposes will be accomplished. As a sovereign
God, He is able to work out all things to accomplish His purpose in the end
while still giving us the freedom and dignity of choice. This is real
sovereignty.
For Consideration:
What do we learn here about how God feels toward us as His children?
What evidence is there in Scripture that we have the freedom of choice?
How has God used your failures and disobedience to teach you important
lessons?
Does the fact that God is bigger than our failures excuse our sin? What have
been the lasting consequences of your sin in your life?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord for His love and commitment to you as His child.
Ask the Lord to help you to walk in obedience to Him and His purpose.
Thank Him that even when you fail, He is able to teach you.
Thank the Lord that He is bigger than all our failures and sin. Thank Him
that sin and disobedience will not defeat Him or keep Him from
accomplishing His purposes for this world.
A
5 - SIN
nyone who studies the sovereignty of God must also deal with
the question of sin. If God is both absolutely holy and sovereign
why does sin exist? Could He simply not remove sin from this
world? Who among us has not seen the terrible effects of sin? Murder,
adultery, theft and injustice fill the headlines of our newspapers. Wars and
uprisings rage throughout the earth. A brother who receives my books
recently emailed me to say that his house was burned to the ground because
of violence in his country over a disputed election. He and his family
escaped with only the clothes on their back. They lost everything they
owned because of sin and evil. Sin is a terrible thing and has been
destroying this earth since it entered the world in the Garden of Eden. Why
does God allow sin? How are we to understand the sovereignty of God in
light of the terrible sin we see around us?
We began to answer this question in the last chapter. Sin exists because God
has given human beings the dignity of choice. While God gives us the
freedom of choice it can never be said that He is the author of sin. Let us
suppose, for example, that you loaned your car to a friend. Imagine that
while using your car, your friend was stopped by the police for going too
fast and driving recklessly. Who is at fault in this situation? It is true that if
you had not loaned your friend the car, he would never have stopped by the
police. Your friend, however, made a personal choice. He chose to disobey
the law and he alone is guilty. You are not responsible for his crime. You
did nothing wrong by loaning him your car.
This is how it is with God. God has given us life and the dignity of choice.
Listen to Joshua's final words to the people of Israel in Joshua 24:14-15:
"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw
away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in
Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems
undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you
will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the
River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But
as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Notice that Joshua called his people to make a choice. "If serving the
LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom
you will serve," he told them. The people of Israel had a decision to make.
God would not force His people to choose Him and His ways. They were
free to choose other gods.
We cannot blame God if we choose to disregard His Word and do things in
our own way. From the very beginning of time, sin has been the result of
human beings choosing to ignore God and His purpose for this world.
Speaking to the people of his day the prophet Elijah said:
"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is
God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him. "But the people
said nothing. (1 Kings 18:21)
Elijah respected his people's freedom of choice and called them to make a
decision. They were free to follow God or to follow Baal. Sin exists
because God has given us the dignity of choice. It exists because we have
chosen to walk away from God and choose our own way. The human race
alone is guilty in this matter of sin. We have brought this on ourselves. God
respects our freedom of choice but we pay the consequences of our actions.
Where does the sovereignty of God fit into this matter of sin? While sin and
rebellion fill the earth and God respects our freedom of choice in this
matter, the Bible teaches that He is also sovereign over sin. Let’s consider
what the Bible says about God's sovereignty and sin.
Sin is Restrained by God
In Genesis 20 we read the story of how Abraham and Sarah lied about their
relationship. Abraham told King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister.
Hearing this, Abimelech took Sarah into his harem. This lie could have led
to adultery. God, however, protected Sarah by revealing Himself to the king
in a dream. God told Abimelech that He would take his life if he did not
return Sarah to her husband. Abimelech reminds the Lord that he had not
yet touched Sarah. Listen to the Lord's response in Genesis 20:6:
Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a
clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me.
That is why I did not let you touch her”.
God refused to allow the king to touch Abraham's wife Sarah. God
protected her despite her lie by restraining Abimelech and keeping him
from her.
King David also experienced God's restraint of sin in his life. In 1 Samuel
25, David and his men were fleeing from King Saul. They were weary and
in need of food. David approached a rich man by the name of Nabal and
asked him for supplies. Nabal refused to offer any assistance to David.
David become very angry with Nabal and decided to send his soldiers to
kill him and his household. When Abigail, Nabal's wife, heard how her
husband had refused to give assistance to David and his men, she
immediately prepared food and went out to meet him. Listen to what David
told Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:32-35 when he received these supplies:
David said to Abigail, "Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your
good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and
from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as
the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming
you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging
to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak."
David recognizes here that it was the Lord God who sent Abigail to keep
him from sinning. Had she not come, David would have sinned by killing
every man in Nabal's household. God brought Abigail to David to keep him
from sinning.
Using the example of an unfaithful wife, the prophet Hosea shows us how
God was going to work in the lives of His people to restrain their sin.
Speaking in Hosea 2:6-7 he says:
Therefore I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in
so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but
not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she
will say, 'I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was
better off than now.'
Israel had been following other lovers. She had turned her back on God her
husband. God would not give up on her, however. He would put thorn
bushes on her path to restrict her wandering. He would hide her lovers from
her and she would find no pleasure in them. While Israel had the freedom of
choice, God would not give up on them without a fight. He would do all He
could to bring her back to Himself. Notice in Hosea 2:7 that in the end
Israel’s resistance was broken and she willingly chose to return to her God.
The apostle Paul tells us that the day is coming when great evil will be
unleashed on the earth. For the moment, however, this evil is being
restrained by God. Listen to what Paul says about this in 2 Thessalonians
2:7:
For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one
who holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the
way.
While God has allowed man the freedom to sin, He has never taken His
hands off the controls. He restrains sin. Though sin is rampant it is never
out of God's control. He continues to work to protect us and to encourage us
in the right path.
Sin is Punished by God
The second thing we need to say about sin is that God will ultimately
punish the sinner. Listen to the advice of Solomon to the youth of his day:
Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give
you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and
whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will
bring you to judgment.
Here in this verse the wise King Solomon told the youth of his day to enjoy
life but realize that they would stand before God to answer for all they had
done.
There is a day of accounting. Paul tells us in Romans 14.10:
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look
down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment
seat.
Each of us will stand before God's judgment seat. Jesus told the people of
His day in Matthew 12:36 that they would answer for every idle or careless
word they spoke:
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of
Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
God will hold us all accountable for the sins committed here below. We are
free to sin but we must also accept the consequences of our sin. We will all
have to answer to God for our actions.
God will Glorify His Name
Finally, we need to understand that our sovereign God is able to use sin to
accomplish His greater purposes. The greatest example of this is the death
of our Lord Jesus. Listen to the words of Peter in Acts 2:22-24:
"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man
accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which
God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man
was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge;
and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing
him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him
from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep
its hold on him.
Though evil men killed our Lord out of rebellion and hatred, God used the
sin of these men to accomplish the salvation of His people.
Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. God took this situation and turned it
around for His glory. Joseph became second in command of Egypt and was
used to rescue his own people from a great famine that would have wiped
them out.
The prodigal son, in Luke 15, left home as a rebellious young man. He lived
a sinful life. When his money was gone, and he had come to the end of
himself, the prodigal son realized the error of his ways. The Bible tells us
that he decided to return to his father. We can be assured that he would
never take his family for granted again. His sin taught him a valuable
lesson.
God has given humanity the freedom of choice. We have taken this freedom
and used it to sin against God. God, however, remains in control. He
restrains sin. He punishes sin. He will even use it to accomplish His glory
and teach us great lessons. God respects our freedom of choice but He is not
threatened by our sinful choices. Our world suffers the consequences of our
evil choices but God is still working to accomplish His purposes.
For Consideration:
Where did sin come from? Who is to blame for the entrance of sin in this
world?
What is the connection between sin and the freedom of choice God gives to
each of us?
How does God restrain sin? Have you ever experienced God keeping you
from sin in your life?
What lessons has God taught you through your sin and rebellion? How has
this changed your way of life?
What have been the consequences of sin in your life?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to teach you the lessons you need to learn so that you do not
fall into sin and rebellion.
Thank the Lord for the freedom of choice He has given you. Thank Him
also that he protects and keeps you. Ask Him to help you to be sensitive to
His leading so that you do not fall into rebellion.
Take a moment to thank the Lord that despite the rebellion of human hearts,
He will still work out His purposes. Thank Him that He is bigger than sin
and rebellion.
I
6 - INJUSTICE AND
SUFFERING
n the last chapter we looked at the question of sin as it relates to the
sovereignty of God. It now falls on us to examine the question of
injustice and suffering. If God is in control, why is there so much
injustice and suffering in the world?
This world has seen its share of tragedy and injustice. We have seen evil
political rulers call for the extermination of whole races of people. Wars
have taken the lives of millions. Disease, famine, and natural disasters
ravage the earth taking countless lives. Acts of terrorism have snuffed out
the lives of innocent victims. There appears to be an increase of murder and
sexual crimes. Our newspapers tell the stories of frustrated and hopeless
youth taking their own lives in suicide. Where I live in Canada, we have
heard many reports of shootings in schools. No one seems to be sheltered
from this violence. Children and teens have been abducted, raped and
killed. Senior citizens have been robbed and beaten in their own homes.
Wives have been abused and murdered by their own husbands. Aids, cancer
and other diseases threaten to wipe out entire populations. Where is God in
all this? If He is sovereign, why doesn't He do something? If He is in
control, why do these things happen?
The doctrine of God's sovereignty has caused serious problems for some.
They claim that if God is in control of this universe and has allowed these
things to happen, then they want nothing to do with Him. What kind of God
would allow a daughter to be raped or killed? What kind of God would
allow a person to enter a school with a gun and kill innocent youth in the
prime of life? Can we trust a God who allows a terrorist to plant a bomb in
an airplane or public building killing hundreds of unsuspecting people?
What should we think of a God who would take my child or allow my
husband or wife to die in a traffic accident? Can I accept a God who allows
my business to go bankrupt so that I lose everything I own?
Christian counsellors throughout the world have struggled to find suitable
answers to these questions. Ultimately, who can know the mind of God and
His ways? I do not pretend to have the answer to these questions. I do,
however, want us to turn our attention to the Word of God. It is here alone
that we can begin to find comfort and hope in a world filled with suffering
and injustice.
The problem of suffering and injustice is not new. The children of Israel
suffered greatly under the oppressive reign of the Pharaoh of Egypt.
Pharaoh took notice of their growth as a nation. He feared that the Israelites
might rebel against him. To deal with this perceived threat, God’s people
were subjected to the cruelty of Egypt. They were beaten and oppressed.
When Pharaoh saw that they continued to grow in numbers, he commanded
the midwives to kill every male child they delivered. When this did not
work, he issued a decree to all his people that anyone who found an Israelite
male child was to drown him in the Nile River. Pharaoh's heart was evil.
God gave Pharaoh, as he does with all of us, the dignity of choice.
God was not the author of Pharaoh's sin. Pharaoh made his own conscious
decision to oppress God's people. Where was God when all these events
were happening in Egypt? Why did it take God so long to intervene? Why
did He not stop this injustice and suffering right away?
Imagine for a moment that you are a military commander. Your objective is
to take a fortified enemy base. To achieve this, you are given a company of
elite soldiers. Everyone knows that there will be casualties. In order to
accomplish your mission, you will have to send your troops into a situation
that could result in them being wounded or killed. While you understand the
value of life, no one will fault you for sending your soldiers into this
situation to accomplish a greater good. In fact, we honour those soldiers
who are willing to lay down their lives for the cause they represent. There
are some things worth dying for.
We are willing to pardon our military commanders for sending our sons and
daughters to certain death because we believe in the cause for which they
fought. God too is seeking the greater good of humanity. His war is against
sin and Satan. Countless souls are at stake. They have been captured by the
enemy and risk being sent directly to eternal hell. As a great commander,
God wages war with our enemy Satan. His objective is to set His people
free. He wants us to live in the peace of His son Jesus Christ. He wants to
give us an eternal inheritance in His presence. As we wage war with sin and
Satan, some of us will be wounded. The Lord Jesus Himself laid down His
life for the cause of setting our souls free. Satan will not give up easily. God
will call on some of us to enter the heat of the battle where we will suffer
loss. This is the nature of war.
Speaking about Pharaoh as the enemy of His people, the Lord God said in
Exodus 9:16:
But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show
you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the
earth.
Pharaoh made a conscious choice to oppress God's people but God used
Him to declare the greatness of His own name. There were casualties in
Egypt but there was also a purpose in what happened. The nation of Israel
and the whole world needed to understand the greatness of God, His
purpose and His compassion for His people. The world needed to see the
power and evil of Pharaoh to understand the even greater power and
compassion of God. The suffering of God's people was not in vain. It
revealed the greater power of God. Israel would never have understood the
compassion of God had they not first seen the cruelty of Pharaoh. They
would not have understood God’s power had they not seen it against the
oppressive hand of a powerful Pharaoh.
The story of Israel's victory over Pharaoh has impacted countless souls over
the course of history. Who among us has not been strengthened in time of
struggle by this story and the lessons it teaches us about God? The suffering
of God's people in Egypt was not in vain. It would accomplish a greater
good. Their story would strengthen men and women all over the world for
generations to come. They would see the power of God and take courage.
They would stand firm in their oppression with confidence in the God who
delivered Israel from Egypt. The kingdom of God would be expanded by
men and women who took courage in this story.
Injustice and suffering happens in this world because of the sinful choices
of human beings. God could strip away our freedom of choice but He has
chosen not to do so. We are individuals who have a free will to choose
either good or evil. Our decisions have brought terrible suffering to this
world. While God allows us the freedom and dignity of choice, in His
sovereignty, He can use whatever decisions we make to accomplish good
and teach us the lessons we need to learn.
The apostles of the New Testament suffered greatly because of the decision
of the leaders of their day. They were thrown into prison for preaching the
gospel. They were stoned, mocked and threatened. Listen to their response
in Acts 5:41-42 when the Jewish ruling council ordered them not to preach
the Word of God:
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been
counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in
the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped
teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Like any good soldier they counted their wounds as an honour. These
wounds were the symbol of their commitment to a higher cause. They
considered it a privilege to be counted among the elite soldiers of Christ to
suffer for His name and advance His kingdom in the midst of the terrible
darkness of sin.
Listen to the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:71:
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
As the psalmist reflected on his suffering and affliction he realized that it
had accomplished God's greater purpose in his life. No expecting mother
enjoys the pains of childbirth. Those pains are quickly forgotten, however,
when she holds her newborn child in her arms. The affliction of the psalmist
gave him a greater understanding of God's decrees. He came to appreciate
God's ways and purposes in a new way through his affliction.
Speaking about his great suffering, Job said to the Lord in Job 42:5:
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Job's afflictions and suffering brought him into a closer relationship with
God. God was no longer distant; He was very close. God used what
happened to Job for good. He drew Job closer through His suffering.
Listen to what Moses told his people in Deuteronomy 8:2-3 about what they
suffered in the wilderness:
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the
desert these forty years; to humble you and to test you in order to
know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his
commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then
feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had
known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on
every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
God taught His people many lessons in their time of wandering in the
wilderness. He wanted them to understand His deep love for them. He
wanted them to set their eyes on eternal things and not just on the things of
this world. To accomplish this He allowed His people to be tested in the
wilderness. Their testing was intended to strengthen them and draw them
closer to God.
Athletes know that if they are going to compete, they will need to train
seriously. Training is not easy. Athletes stretch themselves beyond their
limit. There will be sore muscles and long hours of hard work. We expect
our athletes to discipline themselves. We expect that they will push
themselves beyond their limits in order to compete. Do we really expect
that there will be no pain in our spiritual training?
Pain is not always bad. The expectant mother sees pain as a sign of great
things to come. The athlete sees pain as a means of fine tuning his or her
skills. The sore back and aching bones of the labourer provides food for his
or her family. We should expect that the same will be true spiritually. There
will be suffering and pain in our spiritual life. If we are going to advance
the cause of the kingdom, we must face this pain.
Let me be clear here, while God respects human freedom of choice, He
could bring His justice in an instant. He could have done this thousands of
years ago but realized that had He done so, you and I would never come to
know Him. We would never have been given the opportunity to experience
the grace and love of God for us.
In Revelation 6:9-11 the apostle John heard the voices of the saints in
heaven crying out to God for justice.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of
those who had been slain because of the word of God and the
testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice,
"How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the
inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them
was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to
be killed, as they had been, was completed.
In this passage the saints who had died asked the Lord why He delayed in
stopping injustice on the earth. The Lord God told them that He did so in
order that others might be brought into the kingdom. Not all of His children
had come to Him. He delayed His final judgment for their sake.
God finds no pleasure in suffering and injustice. Listen to what the Lord
said to His prophet in Ezekiel 33.11:
Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I
take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn
from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will
you die, O house of Israel?'
God does not delight in the death of any human being. He does not rejoice
in natural disasters. It grieves His heart to see injustice and suffering. God
will eventually launch His final assault against sin but the time has not yet
come. Not all of His children have come to Him. He waits patiently for
them. He will not lose any of His children. Every one of them must be
rescued before He brings about His final assault.
Until God brings about this final judgement we must live in the midst of
suffering and injustice brought about by human free will and choice. In the
meantime, we can be assured of God's presence and grace to help us face
the afflictions and suffering here below. In these days we need a shelter and
solid foundation on which to build our lives. The sovereign God of the
Bible will be the foundation and hope we need. We can be confident in Him
and His purposes. When everything is ready, He will burst through and
bring the final conquest. Then all injustice and suffering will be overcome
and we will be with Him forever free from sin, suffering and injustice. May
we find great comfort and assurance in this.
For Consideration:
Is God the author of injustice? Where does sin and injustice come from?
Should we expect that in the spiritual battle before us there will be no
suffering? Explain.
How does God use injustice and suffering to accomplish our good?
Consider the example of Job in your reply.
Why does God delay in bringing justice?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that the day is coming when He will bring an end to all
injustice and suffering.
Ask God for strength to face the injustice that abounds in this sinful earth.
Commit yourself to Him and to obedience no matter what happens.
Ask God to give you courage to face the spiritual battle and its injustice
until He returns or takes you to be with Him forever.
Ask God to bless and keep those who are facing injustice and suffering
now. Pray that these people would find strength and comfort in the Lord
God who will work out His purposes.
Thank the Lord that He waits until every child has come to Him before His
final assault against sin and injustice.
T
7 - PRAYING AND SERVING
here is another important question we need to examine in this
context. If God is working out His plan, what is the purpose of
prayer? If God is sovereign, could He not accomplish His
objectives for this world without us? Could we not just sit back and let Him
unfold His purposes for this world?
These questions strike at the very heart of our God given mandate to be a
light to the world. If taken to the extreme, this position would lead us to
become spiritually lazy and unconcerned. It also threatens to undermine our
understanding of a personal God who delights in using us to accomplish His
great purposes.
The Bible is very clear when it speaks about the sovereignty of God. It
portrays a God who has absolute authority, absolute right, and absolute
control. On the other hand, the Bible also clearly calls us to prayer and
Christian service.
The Lord Jesus taught His disciples the importance of prayer. In Matthew
6:5-15 He gave them instructions on the attitude they should have in prayer
and showed them a model they could follow when they prayed. He taught
His disciples in Matthew 5:44 that they were to pray for their enemies. He
reminded them in Matthew 26:41 that prayer provided them the means by
which they could overcome the temptations of the enemy. He challenged
them to petition heaven to send workers into the harvest fields of this world
(Matthew 9:38). The apostle Paul asked for prayer in 2 Thessalonians 3:1:
Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may
spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.
Paul understood that something happened when saint prayed. He believed
that his ministry would be empowered by me