Results tagged “Sovereignty of God” from Reformation21 Blog

What Will They Do When I'm Gone?

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This morning I was reading a well-written and edifying article about cancer, the sovereignty of God and facing the reality of an uncertain future (humanly speaking). I think most parents have, at some time, gone through this thought process: what will happen to my children if something happens to me?

We can plan, and we should plan, for such eventualities, both spiritually and materially. I have life insurance for myself and my wife; we are working on finding guardians for our children should both of us die. Our financial plans are in place, more or less. Material planning is so very important. It is not, however, as important as spiritual planning for our children and loved ones.

I frequently speak of death and resurrection to our children, indeed in family worship last night, the subject came up again. I hope, by the drip-drip of teaching on death, resurrection and eternal life my children will become accustomed to the idea of all three realities. My third son, already, tells me he wants to be in heaven already. I also prepare my boys for the eventuality of my passing, or my wife's passing. We have told them about both material and spiritual needs and how they will be met by God.

I do wonder how they will fair if God calls me and or my wife home. I have fears for them. Will the be looked after? Will they walk with the Lord? Will they trust him all their days? Will they be spared the sins and mistake I made? How will they cope with the loss of a parent?

The above article caused me to realize this important truth: my children's need for God is greater than their need for me. That's right. How could it not be? We believe in an almighty and sovereign God who "ordains whatsoever shall come to pass" - of course their need for God as their Heavenly Father, for Christ as their Savior and the Spirit as their Comforter is greater than their need for me! They need to see and believe that God, should He take me or my wife, is simply enacting a just, wise and righteous plan. They need to know and believe that the God who they all profess to love is able and more willing to care for them than I ever could. They need to know, in a real and true sense, they will be better off without me, simply because that is the perfect will of God. (Jesus said the same to his disciples, John 16:7).

Is that not one of my great tasks in life? To teach them, by example and by the Word, that they are to long for God more than for me? To teach them that their need for God and reliance upon his grace and mercy is more than an earthly parent could ever give them? Yes, I believe my children need to know that we are made for eternity, and they must know this truth in the days of their youth. They must know, that to be with the Lord is better (Phil. 1:23), even if that means separation in this life.

Yes, they need to learn that their need for God is greater than their need for me.

But what if the shoe is on the other foot? Frankly, for myself, this is even more fearful option than the earlier one, if I am honest. What will happen to me if something happens to them? How will I cope with the sorrow and brokenness that some of us know and live with daily - the death of a child?

I would suggest that we can also reverse the principle above. Not only is my children's need for God greater than their need for me, my need for God is greater than my need for my children.

Should God take one or all of my children from me, it would most assuredly break my heart, but not my faith. I would have to learn, experientially, the truth of my own belief - I need God more than I need my children. If it were God's will to take those whom he has given to me, that will remains good, just and wise. I know it is for my good because God is good (Rom. 8:28). I know it is tailored for me perfectly because God is wise (Rom. 16:27). I know it is just, because God only does what is right (Gen. 18.25). I could go on...

The reality is that while God has given us many, many, great blessing, we ought always remember two things: first, he gives and he takes away, and both actions are perfectly consonant with his excellent character. Second, his blessing is in both giving and taking away: he gives to show us his great love for us, and he take to reveal our great need for his excellent character and provision.

And so, in days of blessing, let us situate these truths in our hearts, to be ready for the day of hardship: we need God more than we need anything or anyone on this earth. It is the same God who gives and takes away and His name is always to be blessed.


Matthew Holst is the Pastor of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. 

Why Ask Why?

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One of the most difficult things for a Christian worker to do is to wade into the midst of grief with a congregant. There we sit, feeling helpless and disarmed, watching the person across the table from us fall into pieces over their loss. When they gain the composure to speak, almost certainly they will ask:

"Why did God let this happen?"

If you catch a counselor in a more candid moment, we will admit that this is the kind of question we dread the most in the wake of a tragedy. It's not that the question lacks a straightforward Biblical answer (Cf. Rom. 8.28 or Gen. 50.20). Nor is it that we lack the courage to speak hard truths about God's sovereignty in a crisis. Rather, it is that the question "Why?" has a more nuanced Biblical pedigree than meets the eye, and answering without care to this can have devastating effects on the person sitting across from us.

To put it another way, there are more unhelpful answers to the "Why?" question than there are helpful ones. In fact, the question often presents a kind of Scylla and Charybdis to the Christian worker, with danger on either side. On one side, we might be tempted to think that our calling in the aftermath of heartbreak is to see it as an apologetic teaching moment. Proof texting, simplistic answers, recommending sermons or books, and waxing eloquent about the hidden counsels of God can be helpful but often run the risk of putting us in cahoots with Job's companions. On the other side, we can be shipwrecked by the much more dangerous temptation to actually answer the question. This kind of response can range from the sophomoric to the tragically comic. Either way, such a response exceeds human knowledge and numbers us among those who darken counsel without understanding.

Scripture guides our response to this question in a more Godward way. In fact, our Lord famously takes an interest in theodicy on the cross. Face to face with the judgment of God on the sin of the world, Jesus "cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt. 27.46, ESV).

This of course is a quote from David in Psalm 22. Here we are offered a rare glimpse into the agony of Jesus, the cosmic weight of sin, the inter-Trinitarian dynamics of salvation, and the love of the Godhead. And if this weren't enough to captivate our minds for a millennia, we are also given insight into why we ask "Why?" in times of loss and how to biblically respond to this question. Let me suggest that these two passages teach us at least four things about why we ask "Why?"

First, and perhaps most simply, Jesus here validates this question for His people. By asking this question, He gives us permission to ask it. Perhaps it can be said that He models it for us, for if the Son of God can ask the Father why evil befalls Him, then so can we. And this reality is bolstered by other passages that reveal God's faithful servants doing just the same--consider David in Psalm 22, Jeremiah in Jer. 22, or Job in chapter 7. And while not all of these questions were uttered from a pure heart, they nonetheless suggest that God does hear them.

Second, Christ's cry from the cross teaches us that, ironically, knowing the actual reason why God allows something to occur is often not as satisfying as it seems. Aristotle famously spoke of four differing causes of events in the world--the material, the formal, the efficient, and the final. It is often the case that we can piece together some explanation regarding the first three--i.e. a low pressure system caused the hurricane. But what usually dogs us are questions regarding the final cause (ultimate purpose) of a tragedy. And so often it is impossible to specifically know this in relation to a certain event, although we always generally know this in relation to God's providence.

Yet in this case, Christ actually knew the final cause of His death. Although in the emptying of Himself into His human nature he voluntarily gave up some kinds of knowledge (Mk 13.32), He at least knew why He had to die (Jn. 18.4). In fact, He had practically been preaching this truth ad nauseam to the disciples (Lk. 18.31-34), and so it is evident that Jesus already knew the answer to His question before He asked it! And this means that being able to propositionally explain why God does something, although helpful, does not always take away our pain and hurt. The question "Why?" therefore actually yearns toward something much deeper than a straightforward answer.

Third, given this, Jesus' cry transforms our understanding of the question in the first place. For if He is not looking for answers here, what is He doing? Calvin, as always, is instructive:

Though in the cry which Christ uttered a power more than human was manifested, yet it was unquestionably drawn from him by intensity of sorrow. And certainly this was his chief conflict, and harder than all the other tortures, that in his anguish he was so far from being soothed by the assistance or favor of his Father, that he felt himself to be in some measure estranged from him....Though the perception of the flesh would have led him to dread destruction, still in his heart faith remained firm, by which he beheld the presence of God, of whose absence he complains. We have explained elsewhere how the Divine nature gave way to the weakness of the flesh, so far as was necessary for our salvation, that Christ might accomplish all that was required of the Redeemer.

Although Jesus is legitimately asking a real question of the Father, His cry also serves as a kind of guttural lament expressing the "intensity of sorrow" He faces. As such, it is perhaps the best human language can do in terms of naming horrors that the Lord faced, both physical and spiritual. Note too that Calvin highlights the strain that the cross brought upon Jesus' human nature. It is through the "perception of the flesh" and the in "weakness of the flesh" that Jesus feels the "dread" of death and therefore cries out to God. While there will be some aspects of Christ's death with which we cannot relate, we can relate to Him in his general physical and spiritual agony. Seen in this light, Christ's cry (and ours) is not just a question but a verbalized expression of the agony of suffering. It is truly a lament.

Fourth, Jesus' cry instructs our pastoral response to those who likewise ask the same question. It does so in two ways. First, if "Why?' isn't always a straightforward question, then it often does not require a straightforward answer. This is why attempts to answer such a question fall flat. When our child falls and scrapes her knee, we don't give her a lecture on physics but a kiss and a bandage. Similarly, what the faithful believer often needs from us in these moments is simply for their cry to be heard. And perhaps for us to cry with them.

Secondly, when the believer is ready--and the timing of this is crucial--we can help lead them through the logic of lament. The interesting thing about Psalm 22 is the inner struggle it reveals in the life of the believer. The first stanza (v. 1-2) comprises the cry of the believer. The second stanza (v. 3-5) marks a sudden shift to a remembrance of God's prior goodness. The third stanza (v. 6-8) sees a shift back to lament, while the fourth (v.9-11) revisits God's covenant faithfulness. The psalm continues on in this pattern for some time, and then something wonderful happens. After verse upon verse of wrestling with providence, the psalm snowballs into sustained doxology glorifying God's goodness (v. 19-31). Somewhere in the process of wrestling with the competing realities of evil and God's faithfulness, integration occurs. Through a combination of expressing and naming one's pain, crying out to God, and being gently reminded of God's covenant love, David is healed. We who are charged with the care of souls might do well to remember this pattern and all of its components--lament, prayer, and gentle instruction.

Psalm 22 can be read in three minutes; but, no one should expect that a believer will make it through the process modeled here in the same amount of time. Rather, these sorts of psalms are meant to be lived; and, it should not surprise us if our brothers or sisters take three years to get to verse 4 in real time. We must be patient when wading into suffering with others, as our God is patient with us.

Brian Mesimer lives in Columbia, SC, with his wife, where he works as a counselor at the counseling center of First Presbyterian Church (ARP).

   

Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness

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Do you ever think about how much we complain? We complain about the weather: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about our jobs: deadlines, difficult bosses, co-workers. We complain about our families: our spouses, children, in-laws. We complain about life: traffic, waiting rooms, jury duty, illness. We complain about the church: our pastors, the sermon, the music, the a/c. And politics? Well, that too.

Whether or not we're aware, we spend a lot of time complaining. Isn't it just part of being human? After all, we live in a fallen world, and life can be difficult. Our bodies get sick and hurt. Our relationships suffer. Work is hard. But is that all there is to it?

In her new book, Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness, Megan Hill reminds us that complaining or being discontent can often be a sinful response to our circumstances. Why is it sinful? It's sinful because it says we don't really trust God to take care of us. And that can start a domino effect of other sinful behaviors.

As Hill explains:

Once it takes hold of our hearts, discontent quickly leads to other sins. Because we fundamentally distrust what God is doing in and for us, our hearts give way to worry. Every new circumstance feels surprising and potentially harmful. Everything from the flu to the presidential election brings an onslaught of uncertainty. We do not believe that God is caring for us, and we have little confidence that the events in our lives will be for our good, so our minds and hearts spin with anxiety.(11)

So how do we find contentment in our sinful, fallen world? We're tempted to say, "If I just had (fill in the blank), then I'd be content." But that's not true. Like kids with new toys, even when we get what we want, before long we're right back to saying, "If I just had."

Is the answer to contentment a Zen-like detachment from the world around us? Should we just not care or attempt to be stoic and unemotional? No, as we've said, there are real pains and sorrows all around us. Consider the Psalms. David and other psalmists cried out to God in the midst of painful circumstances. Jesus was "sorrowful and troubled" (Matt 26:37) before He went to the cross.

Contentment isn't found in getting what we want or being unaffected by the world around us. It's found by trusting in the One who does not change, the One who loves us, saves us, provides for us, and cares for us. Hill writes:

The secret of contentment is not in having "enough" money (or status or relationships or education). Rather, the secret of contentment is placing our ultimate hope in something secure: The Lord will never leave us or forsake us; he is our help, so there is no reason to fear. The God who has loved us with an everlasting love (see Jer. 31:3) will continue to care for us through all the changing circumstances of our fleeting lives.(42)

Contentment is found in remembering and embracing the sovereignty of God (12). God knows our needs. But what's more, He is able and more than willing to give us what we need. God's sovereignty isn't cold or detached. He takes great delight in pouring out blessings on us:

We cannot overestimate the care that the Lord has for our bodies and our earthly circumstances. The one who knit our bodies together in the womb remembers that we are dust (see Pss. 103:14; 139:13). Out of his great love for us, he tenderly clothes, heals, prospers, and feeds us (Ps. 90:17; Matt. 6:26, 30; James 5:15). He numbers our days, the hairs of our heads, and every tear that falls from our eyes (see Ps. 56:8; 139:16; Matt. 10:30). It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that he wants us to ask him for our material needs.(53)

Hill's book, Contentment, is a 31-day devotional focusing on contentment. Each day focuses on a different aspect of contentment under a handful of headings: The Value of Contentment, Finding Contentment by Looking to Christ, Cultivating a Right Understanding of My Circumstances, Cultivating Right Desires, Cultivating a Thankful Heart, and Pursuing Contentment in Specific Circumstances. While the individual devotionals are fairly short, there is great depth in the topics covered.

What I appreciate most about Hill's writing, besides the encouragement she draws from the Scriptures, is how she draws us back to the gospel. Hill doesn't beat us down with our sin and tell us we've just got to do better. Our hope is not in ourselves, and this isn't a self-help book. Our only hope in salvation, in life, and in our search for contentment is found in Christ:

The good news of the gospel is not simply that Christ tells us how to be content but also that Christ is powerfully at work in us to bring us to contentment. The same Christ who was himself perfectly content to submit to the Father's will (see Phil. 2:5-8) is the Christ who--by his Spirit--enables us also to pursue a life of contentment.(29)

God is at work in us, and He will finish what He's begun in us (Phil 1:6). God calls us to press on (Phil 3:14). Hill's book is an excellent resource for us all as we seek to be like Christ trusting that the Spirit is at work sanctifying us and teaching us contentment.

 

A Prayer for Persecuted Brethren

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Dear Father in heaven, you know all things; you know of the great persecution which your church faces, the scattering of your people in regions of the world, and the lamentations of devout men and women over the loss of dear saints. You know by name the people who ravage your church, who enter house after house, and drag away men and women, committing them to prison. Show us your mercy, O Lord, and guard and defend your church, for you can do all things, and you can do this thing.

And yet Father, until you do bring an end to our suffering, we pray that your children who are dispersed through persecution would preach the word, and proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ. Be their refuge in each deep distress.

Until you bring an end to all things, we also pray for the many who seek comfort in this life, those who do not know that you are the only comfort in life and in death. Help the crowds of displaced people to be lifted up through deeds of mercy, and given life through your Word of Truth. Bring joy beyond our imagination to overcrowded homes and cities, to refugee camps and food lines. You can do all things, Lord; you can do this thing too.

And while your people suffer, help us to remember the One who suffered for us. We thank you for the One who like a sheep was led to the slaughter; for the One who opened not his mouth, who was denied justice in his humiliation, whose life was taken away from the earth. Lord you have done great things - help us to remember this greatest thing of all: the eternal salvation worked for us through your Son. Enable us by your Spirit to count it a privilege to be united to him not only in his saving benefits but in his sufferings and grief. And keep us in your care until we meet you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the new heavens and the new earth, where tears will be no more. AMEN.

*This is the eighth post in a series on "Praying Through the Scriptures."