Sunday, November 25, 2012

UGW 12-15: Things Work for Good, God's Sovereignty

            12.  I used to take comfort in the fact that God does whatever He wants to do and that God causes everything to happen for a reason.  But if that’s not the case, what then?       
            I once heard about a mom and dad who were going away for vacation.  They had to leave their nearly-adult teenager at home.  They knew that he might end up making bad decisions; he might throw a party and do things that they didn’t want him to do.  And they had the power to prevent that.  They could have stayed home or sent Grandma over to watch him. 
            But in their wisdom, they knew that he was going to be an adult and on his own in college in just a year or so.  And they realized that this was a good opportunity to test him and to see what decisions he would make.  They encouraged him to choose wisely, and they hoped that he would choose wisely.  Because they knew that was the best for him. 

            Now, if he chose to make mistakes, they would not have caused him to do it.  They were allowing him to do it, but they weren’t causing it.  But they allowed him the opportunity to make mistakes because they knew that they could use it to teach him life-lessons.  Since he was still at home and under their care, they could use his mistakes to challenge him and grow him and help him find the right path, before he was let go into the world. 
            And that’s kind of how I believe God works with mankind.  God gave us this world, told us the best way to live, and then let us decide to listen or not.  But He does not cause our disobedience and the consequences of our bad choices and of the Fall.  While it’s a fine distinction, I think that it is more accurate (in many instances) to say that God allows things for a reason, instead of causing things for a reason.  And whatever God does allow, He allows because He knows that it can be can used for His good purposes, whether for us, for others, or for mankind, in general. 
            So, He might not cause it for His purpose, but He can and will use it for His purpose.  And He can do this since He sees all of history at one time and can see how things can be used to accomplish His goals.  Of course, He wants us to choose the best way the first time around (and that will spare us a lot of heartache and trouble), but He can and will use our mistakes to make something good and He will incorporate them into His overall plans for us.  And just because He allows something bad to happen (say, cancer or a tornado) doesn’t mean that He always and necessarily wanted it to happen.  It’s a part of living in a free-will, fallen world, but He knows that He can take it and use it for something good.  (Yet let's not fool ourselves.  He can and does cause things to happen that we don't like, when it serves His purposes.  As God, He has that right!) 
            And if I may point out, God is definitely a God of healing in the Bible.  We read so much about how He wants health for us and how Jesus healed and how the disciples were sent to heal.  About how He desires that we have well-being and abundant life, as opposed to pain, illness, and heartache.  But pain, illness, and heartache are a part of living in a fallen world.  He didn’t plan or desire these things for us.  (Not that He can’t or doesn’t ever cause them for a reason.)  But they are consequences of our decisions and of Satan’s influence.  But God does promise to work all things, even the pain, for good . . . for those who love Him.  And this is the promise that you can take comfort in. 
            “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).  (And I think that this is the verse that people are misconstruing when they say, “All things happen for a reason.”) 
            This is the promise that we should be resting on.  No matter what happens, God will redeem it in the end and use it for good.  Whether He caused it or allowed it, whether it seemed to have a reason or was seemingly senseless, we need to decide if we will turn our backs on God or if we will trust Him, if we will believe Him when He says that He will work it out for good.  Although, we may never get to see the good that comes from it until eternity.  So we have to go forward in faith, taking God at His Word. 
            And even if He does cause bad things to happen, we have to remember that we are the creation and He is the Creator.  We are limited and He is all-knowing.  We are full of sin and He is good and loving and just, whether or not we understand Him.  And as Creator, He is certainly allowed to do whatever He wants with His creation, for whatever purposes He deems worthy. 
            And if we don’t like that arrangement, we don’t have to choose to be on His side.  But in the end, we will miss out.  We will be missing out on the loving, peaceful, restful, Heavenly eternity that He desires for us.  And our eternal destination matters more than anything we go through on this earth, and it will make our time on earth seem like the blink of an eye.  Now, I know that knowing this in our heads won’t take the pain away.  But it should give us hope that, in the end, God will redeem it all.       
            But I do want to add a caution here.  We should not use God’s promise to “work all things out for good” to be lazy and to let ourselves make mistakes.  Ah, so what if I mess up?  He’ll use my mistakes for good, and it will all be alright in the end!   If we want to live the most abundant, God-glorifying life possible, we should be diligent about living as righteously and obediently as possible.  But when we do make mistakes, we should not beat ourselves up about them.  We should return to God fully and trust that He’ll make something good come out of them.  For those who love Him!   

            13.  But aren’t you limiting God’s power when you say that He’s not in total control of everything?
            No, I don’t think so.  And yes, He is in control of everything as far as everything that happens to us has to go through Him first.  And I am not saying that He’s not all-powerful.  I believe that He is indeed all-powerful.  If He chose to wipe out the earth in a second, He could.  He could do whatever He wants to do.  But I don’t think that He does do whatever He wants to do.  Because I think that when He created the world, He decided to make man with a free-will that He (generally) will not override, even though He can.  
            And if you still aren’t sure if it’s Biblically accurate that He voluntarily limits His use of power and that He allows people to make choices that affect His Will for them, if you still want to say that God will do whatever He wants regardless of us, here’s a few examples from the Bible: 
            In 1 Samuel 8, we read how Israel asks for a king.  This was not God’s desire for them.  He even says that they are asking for another king because they have rejected Him as “king.”  But after warning them of what a king will do to them, they demand one anyway.  And so He provides one.  But He makes it clear that this is not best for them.  It’s not His Will that they have an earthly king, but He gives them what they asked for.
            In Genesis 16, we read how Abraham took it into his own hands to fulfill God’s promise to him to provide an heir.  Instead of waiting for God, he slept with Sarah’s maidservant and she conceived Ishmael.  Was it God’s Will that Abraham didn’t wait and took matters in his own hands?  Did God cause Abraham to do this for some reason?  Of course not.  We never see that God instructed Abraham to do this or that He agreed with Abraham’s decision.  The promised child was Isaac.  But God allowed him to sleep with the maidservant.  And God, in His supreme wisdom, will take whatever happens (even those things that He doesn’t cause) and work them out for good.        
            Exodus 15:25-26 gives us another example of how God works, as He gives these instructions to the Israelites:  “There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them.  He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
            What happens hinges on what the Israelites do, on their obedience and whether they listen to the Lord or not.  God doesn’t say that He does what He wills, regardless of what man does.  He says that we have an influence on the direction of our lives.  Think about how many times that you have read things in the Bible like this:  “If you obey . . . If you listen to My voice . . . I put before you blessings and curses, now choose.”  
            Once again, I’m saying that He voluntarily limits the use of His power by allowing man to have free-will.  And instead of overriding man’s free-will (and the consequences that come with it), He tries to get man to work in cooperation with Him to get His Will done: by calling us to righteousness through His Word, by growing our faith, by helping us to be more like Him, by prayer, and by teaching us to get our will in line with His.   
            At least, He does this with those that are willing to.  We are not puppets on a string, under the control of an all-powerful God that has orchestrated every event and detail of our lives.  He made us with minds, free-will, responsibility, and the right to have an effect on what happens in this world and in our lives.  Scary, sobering thought! 

            14.  So what about in the Old Testament when we read things like God sending a nation to destroy another nation as a punishment, but then He turns around and punishes the nation that He just used as a tool of discipline?  How could He cause this - force a nation to be His tool of discipline - and then punish them for it?  Isn’t that unfair?
            I have a hard time understanding this, too, to be honest.  I’m not totally sure how He works or how much free-will overriding He does here.  But keeping in mind His justness, His sovereignty, His fairness, and His decision to allow us free-will (and the consequences), this is the best way I can understand it.
            Let’s look at Isaiah 10 as an example.  In verse 5, God calls Assyria the “rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”  And God uses Assyria to punish His people who have turned to idols.  And then in verse 12, He says that when it is finished, He will punish Assyria for their haughtiness and pride.
            So how can God cause a nation to attack another, and then punish them for it?  Personally, I think that it comes down, once again, to the difference between “cause versus allow”.  Or in this case, “cause versus use”.  I think it’s not that He caused Assyria to be a certain way and forced them to do what they did.  It’s that He used them. 
            He looked ahead and knew what that country was going to be like, and so He saw how they could be used to accomplish His purposes.  And so He took them as they were (not forcing them to be the way they were) and worked it into His plan to discipline Jerusalem.  And then, since the Assyrians were responsible for the way they were, for the kind of people and nation they had become, God could righteously punish them, after He had used them to accomplish His purposes.
            Imagine, as an imperfect illustration, an undercover sting by police.  Let’s say that they need to get Big Man X.  And they know the best way to get Big Man X is to use Little Man Y, the crummy toady.  And so they work out a plan that uses Little Man Y to get access to Big Man X, though Little Man Y is unaware that he is being used to mete out justice.  And when the plan works, they arrest Big Man X and Little Man Y. 
            Now, they didn’t cause Little Man Y to be the way he was, they didn’t force him to be a criminal and do illegal things, they just used what he was to their advantage and to administer justice.  And so he could be fairly punished, after being used to catch Big Man X.  This, to me, seems to be the best way to view it because it factors in God’s justness and sovereignty and our free-will.                

            15.  So, you believe that He is sovereign over all things? 
            Yes, I do.  I believe that all things are ultimately in His hands.  And all things have to ultimately pass through Him: what the enemy can do to us, what situations and trials we face, what consequences we reap from our choices, etc.  It all has to go through Him, and He will only allow what He is willing to allow.  That doesn’t mean that He desires all these things to happen, but in deference to our free-will, He does allow it.  And He allows what He knows He can use for our good, for mankind’s good, or for His glory in the near or distant future.  But we still have free-will, and God can use the free-will choices that we make to accomplish His purposes. 

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