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What comfort, joy, and strength believers receive from the truths of divine providence. Nowhere else are we given such assurance that the One who perfectly knows the past, present, and future, the One whose wisdom can never be challenged or excelled, the One whose power reigns and accomplishes all that he wills, governs all the affairs of creation, fulfilling in all respects what he alone knows is good, wise, and best. What may seem to us as “accidents” are no such things in the universe governed by the providence of the true and living God. Prayers may be directed to this mighty and reigning King knowing that while he tenderly and compassionately hears the cries of his people, he “sits” in the unique position of knowing perfectly what is best and possessing unthwarted power to bring to pass what he wills. the world is not spinning out of control; in fact, not one atom or despot or demon acts in any respect to hinder the fulfillment of what God has eternally ordained. To know this God, and better to be known by him (Gal. 4:9a), is to enter into the security and confidence of a lifetime of trust in his never-failing arms.
~Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory, p. 15.
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises dead. 2 Corinthians 1:9
The suffering Paul and his companions were experiencing at this time felt like a death sentence. The burden of their suffering had drove them to the point that they had believed the time had come for them to lose their lives. This was suffering near its highest degree. It was painful and hard for Paul and His companions. Despair had gripped their hearts hard and attempted to drag them down.
In the midst of the despair and sorrow that surround Paul and his companions the God of all comfort came to them. The experience does not end in despair. Though, it does not end in immediate physical deliverance either. Comfort comes by the means of truth. There is a truth attained by the experience which Paul explains in the last sentence,
“to make us;” This tremendous burden of suffering had a purpose. There was an aim, a goal that it was set out to accomplish. No suffering is purposeless. This world in not random molecules bouncing around making chain reactions which cause suffering to come upon us. Far be it from that! Instead the very creator and sustainer of ever molecule has a purpose in every affliction in our lives. What is that purpose?
It is theological in giving us a correct vision of God
“to make us rely not on ourselves;” The first aspect of this correction is in making us see that we are not God. We are not lords over our lives. We like to think that we are. We like to think that we are in control of each and every day. But suffering is the clearest demonstration that this is not the case. We are not in control. We do not have any real power over the events that happen among us. Thus, suffering erases the false vision of self-sufficiency. We cannot rely on ourselves.
“but on God;” When suffering removes our reliance from ourselves the only place that is a sufficient rock is none other than God. Suffering brings us to the place where the only stable and sure foundation is the Lord of the universe. This is why God brings suffering, that it might drives us to Him! That all our hope and reliance would be on His love, His faithfulness, His sufficiency. In this we hope the truth that God is for us.
“who raises the dead.” It is not: rarely, maybe, sometimes. Our Lord always moves and works for His children. Our God is one who does mighty deeds and glorious works for His children. He never leaves them behind, but always fulfills the plan which he set out to do for them. Now, His plans are not our plans. Faith is holding on to this truth while waiting for the glorious plan of God to come to fruition. the glorious works of the Lord might be in raising one who was killed for His name sake. Or it could be in raising the dead soul of an unconverted friend to new life in Christ. But whatever the outcome, God will do wondrous deeds for His children.
Suffering is hard and painful, yet by faith we can hold to the truth that the purpose is more glorious than a life of ease. Let suffering drive us to Christ and His love!
Does God’s sovereignty remove the need to work hard. Take the last post as an example, if God fulfills His promises whether we are on board or not why do anything? God is just going to stir our spirits and do what He intends to do, right? What can I say to such things?
Here are some of my thoughts on the question.
First, we are Biblical people and must let the Bible shape our thinking when we meet paradoxes in it. Just because we run up against mind benders in Scripture does not mean that we start preforming hermeneutical gymnastics to erase the verses. Yes, there are times the verse must be understood in the fuller context of the Bible and shaped accordingly. We can’t pick out one verse and have it run contrary to what is clearly revealed in the rest of Scripture. However, we should not also in turn construct a theology from select verses and then deny the clear teaching of other verses because it relieves a tension. We go where the text leads us even though we have to say with the Psalmist, “such things are to wonderful for me, there are too high I cannot attain them.” The Trinity is probably the best example of reading the Bible like this. We don’t have two camps: the three gods camp and one god camp. We see all that the bible teaches and hold it in tension, One God in three persons. And so, if the text leads us to a tension we must wrestle with it and not take an easy route in erasing it.
Second, the Bible reveals a compatiblism in regards to Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. One example can be found in Acts 13. “And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47). Paul new the command which he had to follow. He was called to preach the good news of Jesus Christ He gave the gospel to the Jews first but after they rejected the good news He knew he had to take it to the Gentiles. this was the responsibility given to Him by Christ. Yet, everything rested on divine sovereignty. “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48). And this is not a strange thing in the Bible; example upon example can be given. For starters, Gen. 50:15-21; Ex. 4:21, 8:15; Rom 9:16-18; Eph 1:11.
Thus, there is this compatibalism that exists in Scripture. God calls us to go, and says that everything rests on Him. Both truths are some how compatible with one another.
But how can we live in this tension?
I will say two things. 1. Being able to live in the tension rest on our trust in the Lord. 2. In the end, there is no better place to be then living in the tension.
1. When it comes to my understanding of God on this matter I believe it all boils down to this: trust. Do I trust completely in my Lord? Do I trust that He is good and just in commanding me to do that which He, Himself is the cause of its performance? Do I trust in the righteousness of my God when I proclaim the gospel to my co-worker when I know that he will only come to faith if God chooses to save him?
“But isn’t that pointless?” you ask. Isn’t that God just making a promise like the politicians make? Making a promise which he never intends to fulfill?
I can say with absolutely certainty, “no.” Why? Is it because I have understood the mind of the Lord and can completely discern His thoughts? Absolutely not! Why can I say no then? Because I know my Jesus. Jesus, who looked upon a young rich man, who would not come to believe in Him, with compassion. Jesus, who could never be blamed for any wrong doing. He was completely righteous and just in everything He did. This is the Jesus I know. And I know what He has revealed, we are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom while knowing that no one comes to Him unless the Father draws them.
How can I reconcile these? I can’t. All I can do is trust in who my Lord is and enjoy His glory. I can’t give you a nice, neat little box which encapsulates the exact workings of God on this matter. All I can do is see what my Lord says on both sides of the tension, and then trust that He has everything worked out.
2. When it comes to my day to day life I find that there is no better place to be than in this tension. Crazy right? Wouldn’t it be a better life if it was a simple answer? Either I do the work or God does the work. With the first one I know that I need to be out their striving and sweating for the kingdom. With the latter one I could know that everything is going to work out and that I don’t need to worry about it.
Here is amazing thing about living in this tension: I get to experience both realties! Because I trust in the words of Christ I can hold both and experience the benefits of each side of the tension while letting each side hold in the other.
I simply trust in my Savior’s word that my choices matter and so I can press forward and strive for the kingdom. I have a call to preform and a purpose in life. I can’t just sit around, my Christ has summoned me to follow Him. I cannot give the pathetic excuse that “God will do it all so I can do nothing.” I don’t remember Jesus giving that option to excuse myself. Even while He is saying such things like, “Without me you can do nothing.” Instead he calls me to follow Him with a cross in view.
Yet, what rest and peace is mine in knowing that the salvation of the world does not rest in my hands. My God is the one fighting this war, and nothing can stand up against His sovereign might. The fulfillments of the promises will happen, Christ will win! He will win in the relatively small battles like providing for me. And He will win the ultimate battle against sin and death. Nether the will of demons or men can stand against Him. All of history is being moved by His hand towards its final destination. Thus, I cannot say that my workings and striving are bring the kingdom to earth. I am not making the new creation take place in human hearts. I am not conquering the darkness of this world. It is my God alone who is achieving the victory. All glory will be given to Him for this.
In the end, living in this tension is the best place to be. Even though I can’t figure out how it works it proves to be most satisfying to my soul. I don’t have all the answers. But He does. And I can trust Him with them as I follow the answers He has revealed to me. And in the end I find more joy and delight in Him.
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah’…
Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1-2, 5)
When it comes to fulfilling the promises, God takes all the initiative. Israel completed her time in exile; the time for the return of the people had come. Yet, God did not wait around for the people to decided when they wanted to come back. He had a promise to fulfill and a mission to complete. He was going to bless the nations through the seed of Abraham and make the Davidic king rule forever. Thus, the people of Israel had to come back from exile. And so God moved both king and people to come back to the land of Israel. God didn’t wait on Israel to fulfill the promises, He would fulfill them Himself.
How comforting to know that God is still completing His mission and fulfilling His promises today. He is not sitting around waiting for perfect churches full of perfect people that follow His leadings perfectly. That is because He is the one taking the initiative to fulfill the promises. He works with our weaknesses and is not bound by them. Even though we are not strong or focused enough to follow Christ perfectly, He shows Himself to be absolutely sufficient to do what He has promised.