|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 14: Secure in Every Circumstance
“ We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose ”
(Rom 8:28 )
In the last chapter we considered the security we have in our calling (the 2 nd half of the above verse), and now in this chapter we'll consider being secure in all circumstances (the first half of the above verse). What happens when things go wrong in life? The Church is full of people who can testify that life has been tough on them. Perhaps that's you. So how can we be secure in God's love when these sorts of things happen to us? Let's focus our thinking on this subject by some of the things that DO happen to Christians. In the following examples, all the individuals were Christians:
14.1 A Catalogue of Disasters
A lot of people in anguish. Why? Where is this God of love I've talked about in this book? If you identify with one of these people it's quite likely that your heart is in anguish. Unless someone has been through what you've been through they can't understand the anguish you feel. We can talk about, discuss it and intellectualise it but we still can't feel your pain. The only one who really can is Jesus.
With that in mind, why am I writing this chapter? Why if you're in pain and logical words won't ease the pain, why bother to write? Because it's just faintly possible you are looking for answers that make sense, even if they can't dull the ache. So just in case you are such a person, here are a few thoughts that I hope may bring a ray of understanding.
14.2 The Problem of Sovereignty
In the last chapter we considered the fact of God's sovereignty calling us to Him and we considered the ‘problem' of when He called us, when He knew us. But now, in this present context we need to consider aspects of God's sovereignty in respect of the bad things of this world.
For instance some of us have been taught a rigid sovereignty of God whereby EVERYTHING that happens to us has been brought upon us by God. The extreme form says that we had nothing to do with our salvation. The only problem with this is that when a disaster hits our lives we end up HAVING to blame God. When a child is born to us with a serious heart defect, when we are involved in a serious car crash, when our teenage son turns to drugs and then commits suicide (and these things DO happen to Christians!), we are left having to attribute it to Almighty God. We mistakenly take Paul's corrective words in Romans 9:18-21 as meaning that God, the Potter, makes everything happen.
I would suggest that this viewpoint stems more from our own psychological outlook brought about by our own upbringing, rather than the revelation of God. So what is Paul saying in that passage? He's basically saying the same thing that God said to Job, don't be stupid and try and blame God or argue against God, He's too big and you're too small. The fact that God doesn't destroy all of us is purely down to the mercy of God, it's nothing to do with the sort of person you are.
Many Christians have been greatly damaged and many non-Christians have been turned away by the teaching that says the God who is love (1 Jn 4:8,16) is also the God of horror. Yes God does discipline but that is a far cry from bringing some of the catastrophes that I mentioned just now.
Ultimately all such disaster or catastrophes are the result of Sin (in you or in the rest of the world), or from Satan through other people. That God allows such things does not mean that He is happy about them. Everything that Jesus did was to combat these things, to bring healing, reconciliation and restoration to people's lives. He chided two of his disciples who wanted to bring fire on others (Lk 9:54 ). We'll consider this more as we go through the chapter.
If you have been wresting with this, wrestle no more. The bad that may have come into your life has probably come more because we live in a fallen world than because you deserve it! God is there to bring goodness and blessing to you in the thing, that's what the verse at the beginning of the chapter is all about. It's about God being able to bring good out of your worst circumstances, because of Jesus.
14.3 Facing a Fallen World
When God made this world as recorded in Genesis 1 it was very good (Gen 1:31 ), yet today it is far from perfect. What has happened? We need to be quite clear about this because it stops us wrongly blaming God. The Bible shows us that God gave Adam and Eve free will and the ability to decide what to do. He gave them all the fruit in the garden of Eden to eat (in the area we call Mesopotamia ), with the exception of that from one tree (Gen 2:16 ,17). They were free to choose whether to obey or disobey. He also warned them that there would be serious consequences if they disobeyed.
Now we must be quite clear that some mystical cloud called ‘evil' didn't waft over them. The Bible indicates that in the experience of all Creation there are living creatures, living organisms and inanimate objects. We could categorise them as follows:
a) Living Creatures:
b) Living Organisms
c) Inanimate Objects
Now please note in this classification, and this is important to note, there is no amorphous substance called ‘evil'. God didn't ‘make' evil. We can't blame God for making this substance that causes us harm!
I am aware here of treading on places where angels fear to tread and where philosophers have trodden in droves! Can I start from some very simple thoughts. When we assess something as evil, we usually mean something that causes us harm. In the above categories harm seems to come as follows:
Now the Bible seems to indicate that these last three groups did not cause harm when God first made the world. There is indication that the ‘natural' world changed when sin entered the world (see below). However God's mandate to man was to subdue the earth and rule over all the creatures of the earth (Gen 1:28) which, one would suppose, being before the Fall, simply meant bringing order to and enjoying and ensuring peace on the earth.
What is usually meant by the Fall is the action that is recorded in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve fell from a place of innocence, a place of communion with God and a place of blessing (God's continual decree of goodness for them). When, at Satan's prompting, the woman and the man disobeyed God, this had distinct consequences. It brought:
a) Relational Change
b) Physical Change
Perhaps because the blessing of the Presence of God was separated from man, there were also physical consequences:
We may assume that the general upheaval of the earth (earthquakes etc.), are also part of the effect of God's presence withdrawing, and of Satan's influence increasing.
Rom 8:20-22 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
These verses from Paul appear to speak very much to this subject. They remind us (v.21) that the world is subject to death and decay because it has been put into this condition by God (v.20), and it's been as if the world has been groaning and waiting for something better to come (v.22) which has been promised by God. It's important to understand that the world is like this today because of the effect of Sin in mankind and the activity of Satan. The only ‘blame' that could be laid against God is that He allowed this to happen.
So what is Sin, what is Evil? Sin is that tendency within each one of us to ignore God and live out his or her life in their own way, contrary to God's decreed ways. Evil may be physical evil, as we considered in the Romans verses above that causes harm as a result of the Fall, or moral evil which is wickedness by men. The Bible describes God as utterly good, perfect, love. If we were able to see the being and person of God we would not be able to detect a fault in Him in any way.
If, when we get to heaven, He allows us to view all of history, we will never be able to find one thing in all of history whereby we could criticise Him. When He made Adam and Eve, the first two human beings in His likeness, with a spirit with which to communicate with Him, they also were good. They had never done wrong. There was no evil in them. Yet they had the ability to choose, and choosing to reject God and the way He's made things to be is what we call Sin. So they chose to reject God and this Sin existed for the first time in the human race, that failure of relationship, and so it has existed ever since.
Does this take away the sin? It deals with the penalty of it, and it breaks its power over us so we no longer have to sin, but the choice is still there in us. More than that the effects of sin are in our body, we still suffer sickness and illness. So when things go wrong in your life, illnesses, accidents, mishaps, don't see these as God punishing you, see them as simply characteristics of the Fallen world that affect all of us. If you go back to the beginning of the chapter and apply these things we've considered so far you'll see the following:
Go back to the previous chapter and read my comments about free will. Seriously, this is not merely academic stuff, this is the stuff of truth! You either have a horror-God who inflicts us with all these terrible things (the extreme view of a sovereign God), or you have free will and people who choose to harm people.
We've said previously that the Bible shows us that God knew, even before He made the world and made mankind with free will, what the outcome would be. Couldn't He have stopped it ever happening? Where do you want Him to stop things. You want Him to stop the child abuser from wrongly touching that young child? Well why not the mother simply screaming at her children? You might say that's not quite so bad. Well why not stop the children being rude, fractious, unkind to one another and all those other anti-social things we so often find in children? Where do you want Him to stop?
No, once you start you can't stop and you have to end up saying He's got to completely take away free will, and that simply leaves you with subhuman automatons, beings who are unable to love, unable to be individually creative, expressive and all that ‘being human' entails.
Yet through salvation we find the wonder of wonders, that these self-centred, sinful, self-ruling, godless beings surrender willingly to the Lord of the Universe and enter into relationship with Him as His children, loving Him, adoring Him, obeying Him, and all that voluntarily. That is the wonder of God's salvation plan.
Stoics believed you had to just grin and bear it without emotion but that is far from the Christianity of the Bible. God is a God of feelings. Jesus, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), got angry, wept, felt compassion when faced with people's needs. Christianity is a ‘feeling religion' where there is little room for the stiff upper lip of emotional death. There is “ a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance ” as the writer of Ecclesiastes says.
When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, for a variety of reasons, he wept (Jn 11:35). As Jesus approached Jerusalem at the beginning of that last week, he wept over it (Lk 19:41) as he saw the awful things that would happen to it. Again and again we find that Jesus was “filled with compassion” and was thus moved to minister.
It's all right to feel. It's all right to weep - even if you're a man. When you've lost a loved one, it's all right to grieve. When you see injustice, it's all right to feel angry. When the Holy Spirit moves in great beauty it's all right to weep at His gloriously beautiful presence. When something funny happens it's all right to laugh - even when it's in the middle of a “service”!
We're to be a people of truth, and that means being real. If someone collapses on the floor in a meeting, don't pretend it's not happening. Stop and look after them. If someone breaks down in tears of anguish, don't look on in an embarrassed way doing nothing; go and put an arm round them. Be the human being God has made you to be.
14.4 An Involved God
Although God allowed this world to be like it is for the sake of love and free will, that doesn't mean He stands aloof from it. When Israel were slaves in Egypt , God came to Moses and said, “ I have indeed seen… I have heard…. I am concerned…I have come down to rescue them ” (Exo 3:7,8) and that was true again and again in Israel 's history. God didn't stand afar off but came down and intervened in history. That's what happened two thousand years ago. God came down and shared in our humanity.
He knows how you feel, He understands, and He's come down to help you. In this whole area we face a mystery, and it will probably remain a mystery. Why is it that so often we can see the hand of God intervening in our affairs, guarding and protecting, keeping us from harm, and yet on other occasions the harm comes and pain and anguish follow. The mystery is not that harm comes but that sometimes God does come and protect us from it.
When we're in this area we must be careful not to use Scripture abusively. Let me show you what I mean. Throughout this book I have been using Scripture and I've been quoting verses, yet I hope I haven't given them a meaning that is not there in the context. But it goes more than that. We can use odd verses that are fine in context yet they don't show the whole picture. Let me illustrate this:
Psa 12: 7 O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people (those who speak wrongly)
Now if you snatch this verse out of the Bible you might unwisely build a doctrine on it that God will keep us from people ever saying wrong things about us, yet when you read other psalms written by David you find him being slandered all the time it seems. So what is he saying? He's saying that although these things DO happen yet they will not actually harm us if we allow the Lord to keep us.
There are times in the psalms when David speaks out in great faith that God will keep him and he's sure of that, and the historical accounts show that in the midst of trials and tribulations that did come to David, the Lord did preserve him. There are many other times in the psalms when David cries out in great anguish and is not full of faith - but he's still loved by God!
Some times and in some situations the Holy Spirit will take such a verse and apply it into our hearts by way of confirmation that He will prevent us running into such a crisis. At other times He speaks to us in the midst of the crisis. The important thing for us to realise in all of this, is that God has come down. He is there alongside you, even if He feels a million miles away. In it, His grace is there for you. You may think you're on your own and there seems to be no resource, but if you were able to stand above your circumstance (and you may not be able to do that until you're through it) you might be able to see the invisible hand of God made visible, there working for you, for that is the truth of your situation.
14.5 On Display
There is a verse of Scripture that's sometimes helped me in all of this:
Eph 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms
This verse seems to give us a glimmer of an amazing reality, that heaven looks on and sees what we do and they glorify God because of us. When they see how we respond to the adversities that come our way, they marvel that we are what we are because of the wisdom of God that brought salvation to us through the Cross.
Many Christians put themselves down because they don't see this reality. Consider this: heaven watches to see what will happen while we act out the drama of the ages. They see you:
Come to Christ and surrender your life willingly, and they marvel and worship
They saw your earliest steps as a new Christian, they saw your frailty as a new child of God and they marvelled as, in your new found love, you kept going despite the cynical comments of friends.
They saw you fumbling into the reaching out for guidance, they saw you respond to the whisper of God, and they saw increasing glory come, and they marvelled and worshiped.
They saw someone berate you verbally and to the surprise of all, including yourself, they saw you respond with a gentle reply instead of anger, and they marvelled and worshipped.
They saw you afflicted and in pain, and they wait, expecting grumbling and bitterness, but instead they find the fruit of patience, endurance and gentle love growing in you, and they marvel.
They see you damaged by the ravages of personal history, but instead of fleeing in pain and growing ever more hostile towards God, they see you allowing the Lord to confront you and bring healing and they marvel yet again.
They see the enemy come subtly to lay a snare of temptation before you, and they see you reject it and remain pure, and they marvel and worship.
They see the enemy rise up in power against you and they see you dwarfed by his opposition and circumstances, and they see you bring his fall like lightning as you slay him with a word of faith, and they marvel and worship.
They see the enemy bring members of your family down, stir friends against you, cut off your support, and to their amazement they see you praise the Lord and rejoice in your circumstances, and they marvel and worship.
They see you alone on your death bed facing the greatest unknown. They expect fear and doubt, but instead they find a serene peace and contentment, and they marvel and worship.
They saw your earliest days of rebellion, selfishness and godlessness, but now they see your entry through the doors of heaven dressed in splendour in robes of righteousness, and they worship!
You are on display and all heaven looks on. You may not understand it all, you may have pain which is very real, you may have questions, you may wonder why, but as you allow the grace of God to uphold you and keep you in the midst of the sinful fallen world, all heaven marvels and worships God - because of you!
What did that verse at the beginning of the chapter promise us? That in the midst of all the things that happen to us, God will be working for our good. When we are in pain or anguish, upset or confusion, doubt or despair, it's very difficult to see the divine hand, but it is there. Why? Because He's promised it, He loves you, He's called you, He's got a purpose for you and He's going to bring it to completion (Phil 1:4).
14.6 And So?
So, as we come to the end of this chapter, rather than ask questions, how about some suggestions?
Why not take some time out, in peace and quiet, where you will not be interrupted for half an hour and ask the Lord to help you bring to the front of your mind all the times when you've wondered why, the times when it has been hurtful and confusing.
Then lay each of them out before Him as an offering and give them to Him. Thank Him, by faith, that even though you were not aware of it at the time, He was there working for your good.
Where there is still pain, ask Him who is the God of all comfort to comfort you. He saw, He heard, He knew and He's come down. He's there for you.