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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 54
May 1995

IN THE HANDS OF A SOVEREIGN GOD



In this issue:

When tragedy strikes, our sorrow must be
informed by an understanding of God's sovereignty.


There isn't time to reach out for God's hand when the ground falls away beneath you. If you're not already in His grasp when it happens, you're too late.


We have wept over the senseless loss of life in Oklahoma City[1] We have gasped at the scenes that have illuminated our living rooms with their images of bloody carnage. We have searched for answers, for anything that might explain the lunacy that precipitated this horror.

And people all over the United States--possibly around the world--have done what they always do when such things occur. People have gathered in churches to pray and hold each other and to look longingly to their spiritual leaders to tell them why.

Some have drawn strength from a faith that was in place long before a Ryder van pulled up to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but many have, belatedly, searched for a faith to console them in their grief. And some of their spiritual leaders have sought to comfort by telling the mourners that God's heart was the first to be broken when the bomb went off--suggesting that surely a benevolent God could not have personally had a hand in such a terrible event, that He may even have gasped in surprise at the concussion.


Ladies and gentlemen, our God is not a spectator. Jehovah God is either Master of everything that is, or He is not. You can't have it both ways. The God who gives life can just as well take it away; the God who heals sickness can also cause it to linger. He was still on His throne

Tragedy is not reserved only for those who deserve it. By human standards the ancient Job did not deserve to lose all of his livestock, his servants, every one of his children; he did nothing to deserve the festering boils that covered him from head to toe.[2] Indeed, the story begins with God declaring Job's righteousness.

Yet, for all his innocence, tragedy struck, and while one could debate interminably the semantics of whether God "permitted" or "allowed" or "caused" these events to take place, one thing is clear from the narrative: God was not just a spectator.


When tragedy strikes, our sorrow must be informed by an understanding of God's sovereignty. There is no lasting hope in the search for faith; there is only hope in the faith itself--faith in a God who can do as He pleases.

Perspective 1
B Y   A N D   H I S   P L E A S U R E

Faith is not simply believing that God is able to heal;
real faith is continuing to believe even when He doesn't.


Even more frightening than the tragedy in Oklahoma City is the prospect of a future in which God is not sovereign. If we worship a God who is all-knowing, then we worship a God who was not surprised by the events of April 19; if we worship a God who is all-powerful, then we worship a God who could have stopped them if He so desired.

Faith is not simply believing that God is able to heal; real faith is continuing to believe even when He doesn't.


Job had more advice than any one man could need. The first--and possibly the worst--of this advice came from his good wife. Her counsel to the grieving Job was

Job's response to his mate is something that should be forever stenciled on the backs of our hands, always available as a reminder when we pass through difficult--even tragic--times.

It is far too easy to proclaim our faith in a sovereign God when He has just filled our life with pleasant blessings. When the job is going well the praise comes easily; when there's money in the bank our allegiance is never a stretch; when the family is in good health we never question His wisdom.

But let our lives become hard, and it is often far too easy to change our tune. When we've lost that comfortable job we cry out, shaking our fist toward the heavens: "How could He do this?" When bankruptcy looms we declare: "God can't be in this!" And when disease and sickness and death attack the family we question: "How could a loving God stand by and permit this to happen?"



Some people, in an honest effort to know God, fall into the trap of trying to define who He is by standards familiar to them.

We are encouraged to know God by acknowledging His holy attributes: He is Truth, He is Majesty, Great, Changeless and Eternal. It is a righteous occupation to spend time meditating upon these attributes and using them as the raw material of our worship and praise.

But never should we seek to know Him by the attributes of humanity. We can, at best, use humanity and nature to illustrate for our better understanding; these things were created by Him and, thereby, are related, and are profitable as illustrations when our small minds fail in grasping the scope of His grandeur.

Everything around us, however, is imperfect--including ourselves--when compared to God. We must not try to limit His abilities and rights by the rather limited abilities and rights of His creation.

Into the Word

Deut. 4:32-39           ______________________________
Deut. 10:14             ______________________________
Deut. 32:1-4; 36-39     ______________________________
1 Samuel 2:6-8          ______________________________
1 Chron. 29:11-12       ______________________________
Job 41:11               ______________________________
Psalm 22:28             ______________________________
Psalm 29:10             ______________________________
Psalm 50:10-12          ______________________________
Psalm 89:11             ______________________________
Psalm 93:1-2            ______________________________
Psalm 95:3-5            ______________________________
Psalm 113:4             ______________________________
Psalm 115:3             ______________________________
Psalm 135:5-6           ______________________________
Eccles. 9:1             ______________________________
Isaiah 40:22-23         ______________________________
Isaiah 44:6             ______________________________
Isaiah 45:7             ______________________________
Jeremiah 18:1-23        ______________________________
Lament. 3:37-38         ______________________________
Ezekiel 17:24           ______________________________
Daniel 2:20-21          ______________________________
Daniel 4:3              ______________________________
Daniel 4:25             ______________________________
Daniel 4:34-35          ______________________________
Daniel 4:37             ______________________________
Matthew 6:10            ______________________________
Matthew 20:1-16         ______________________________
Luke 1:53               ______________________________
Acts 17:24-26           ______________________________
Romans 9:19             ______________________________
Ephes. 4:6              ______________________________
James 4:12              ______________________________
Rev. 4:11               ______________________________
Rev. 19:6               ______________________________

 

Digging Deeper--Moving Higher

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

I sing the mighty power of God,
That made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.

I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command,
And all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
That filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word,
And then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed,
Where'er I turn my eye:
If I survey the ground I tread,
Or gaze upon the sky!

There's not a plant or flower below,
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
Is ever in Thy care,
And everywhere that man can be,
Thou, God, art present there. Amen.
[5]



Making it Personal

What, if anything, is the difference between "belief" and "faith"?

Has anything traumatic or tragic ever happened in your life where you questioned God's purpose in "permitting" it to happen? What was it?

Did there come a time, later, when you finally understood God's purpose? What was something positive you took away from the event?

If you never did learn God's purpose, did you accept the situation anyway?


Into the Word

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 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? Romans 9:14-21

Perspective 2
B Y   T H E   R I G H T S   O F
A   F R E E   G O D

God is not wise only when He agrees with us. His wisdom need only agree with Himself. He need not explain Himself to anyone else.


On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, aircraft of the Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in an attempt to cripple the United States Pacific Fleet, thereby minimizing the ability of the U.S. to prevent the Imperial navy from taking over most of the Pacific.

The attack was wildly successful. Just before 8:00 am they struck. During the next two hours, the Japanese navy destroyed or heavily damaged

Ships                         Aircraft
-----------------------       --------------
8       battleships            4      B-17s
3       light cruisers        12      B-18s
3       destroyers             2      A-20s
4       auxiliary craft       32      P-40s
                              20      P-36s
                               4      P-26s
                               2      OA-9s
                               1      O-49

For the people of a country officially neutral in the expanding world conflict, the most alarming numbers were those itemizing the lives lost.[8]

                      Killed or Missing       Wounded
                      -----------------      ---------
        Navy                2008                 710
        Marine Corps         109                  69
        Army                 218                 364
        Civilians             68                  35
                          ------               -----
                 Totals     2403                1178

Over a period lasting just two hours, almost 2,500 innocent people were killed by bombs, bullets and torpedoes rained on them by planes from a country that had not even declared war. In other words, these were not war casualties; these were people who were murdered.

Four years later, the United States, in an effort to draw the world war to an end, dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The Supreme Allied Headquarters reported that 129,558 persons were killed, injured, or missing and 176,987 made homeless by the bombing. Worldwide, as a result of World War Two, 55 million people--military and civilian--lost their lives.[9]

And our sovereign God was still on His throne.


Why did God "permit" all those people to die? 55 million people. Why? There is no answer for that, because God does not need to explain Himself to us. Those are the rights of a sovereign; He may do whatever pleases Him, at any time and in any way, and He need not explain His actions to anyone.

A sovereign's logic does not need to agree with the logic of His subjects. We betray the smallness of our faith, and the smallness of our God, when we expect His actions--or inaction--to agree with our reasoning. Could God have prevented World War II? Absolutely. Was He under any obligation to do so? Absolutely not.

Why did over 100 people die in Oklahoma City because of a madman's bomb? Could God have prevented the deaths? Absolutely. Was He under any obligation to do so? Absolutely not.


Ancient civilizations worshipped a veritable catalogue of gods--each god responsible for only one area of the peoples' life. There were gods for the weather, for the crops, for fertility, for war. The list would be endless. All the gods were specialized and a man would not, for example, pray to the god of war if he wanted his wife to bear a child. That wouldn't do any good; the husband or wife would have to pray to the god of fertility.

But our God, the one God, is in charge of everything. He is not sub-divided, neither does He work in concert with any other gods. He does as He pleases, and only has to agree with Himself.

Into the Word

 

Digging Deeper--Moving Higher

Immortal, Invisible

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious--Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest--to both great and small,
In all life Thou livest--the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish--but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render--O help us to see
Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee!
[10]


Making it Personal

Take some time to compile a list of those attributes or behaviors of God that are troublesome to you. Be honest with yourself; everyone has questions and doubts. God doesn't hate you for the questions that may be in your mind. Look at how graciously Jesus treated His disciple Thomas:

What is the best way for you to address these questions and doubts?

Into the Word

What does " ... have their being" mean to you in this verse from The Revelation (Rev. 4:11)?

Perspective 3
F A I T H F U L L Y   A B I D I N G

God is never alarmed by the morning's headlines,
and since He is our Master, this means that we need never be.


What does it mean, in practical terms, that we belong to a sovereign God who is free to do as He wills?

O, what freedom! What sweet inner peace, knowing that our Lord is a true, unconquerable God--a God who is never surprised by the events of our world.


There are those who question the value in knowing world or national history. Their typical retort is "But what does that have to do with me?" Yet a knowledge of history, among other things, can give one a comfortable context within which to place events more contemporary. The person with a working knowledge of the ebb and flow of civilization will rarely panic at the morning's headlines.

Just so our knowledge of God. There is a wonderful peace to be found in the knowledge that no matter what happens, God is not taken by surprise. God is never alarmed by the morning's headlines, and since He is our Master, in charge of our lives, this means that we need never be.


Is it possible? Is it really possible to have this kind of contented faith? It was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

All around these Jewish men were people only too happy to bow down and worship whatever the king erected to his own honor. But these three would not. They had a quiet, yet firm knowledge that their God was quite capable of keeping them safe from whatever torture or death Nebuchadnezzar devised. And--more to our point--they were content to place themselves in God's hands, even if He chose for them be killed.

These three men had not read the end of the third chapter of the book of Daniel. They had no foreknowledge of how this drama would be played out. Many Jews had been killed before them, and many would after. They had no assurance that their names would not be listed as simply three more who had lost their lives at the hands of another foreign despot.

But even without this knowledge, they placed their faith in their God. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose to live for their Lord--even if it meant their death.


What many people have today is a relationship with God that bestows on Him "conditional" Lordship--lordship with a small 'l'.

Many people are quite content to call Him Lord--so long as there is no discomfort or disappointment involved. They're happy to obey Him--so long as He doesn't ask anything of them too inconvenient or unpleasant. It is a very thin relationship that is based on those terms. Lordship (with a capital 'L') means that we obey and honor God even when He does something we don't understand--or even like. He does not ask that we agree with every decision He makes; if He did, He wouldn't be a God--He would be a partner, an equal.

We are not God's equal. There is freedom and sublime peace in acknowledging that our Lord is a God who behaves according to His own rules--even when more than 100 innocent people might lose their lives.

Into the Word

 

Digging Deeper--Moving Higher

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God that willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim--
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers--
No thanks to them--abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever. Amen.
[12]


Making it Personal

Abraham and Sarah waited decades for God to fulfill His promise to give them a son. Finally, when Abraham was 100 years of age, God gave them Isaac. Then, one night a few years later, God ordered Abraham to so something that made no sense whatsoever.

Read and study this story in its entirety (Genesis 22:1-19; Hebrews 11:8-19)--along with John 3:16.

Into the Word

Psalm 4:8               ______________________________
Psalm 17:14-15          ______________________________
Psalm 25:12-13          ______________________________
Psalm 29:1-11           ______________________________
Psalm 37:37             ______________________________
Psalm 73:25-26          ______________________________
Psalm 85:8              ______________________________
Psalm 119:165           ______________________________
Psalm 125:1             ______________________________
Psalm 125:5             ______________________________
Proverbs 3:13-18, 21-26 ______________________________
Proverbs 14:14          ______________________________
Isaiah 9:6              ______________________________
Isaiah 12:1-2           ______________________________
Isaiah 25:9-26:4        ______________________________
Isaiah 26:12            ______________________________
Isaiah 30:26            ______________________________
Isaiah 32:17-18         ______________________________
Isaiah 48:18            ______________________________
Isaiah 54:10            ______________________________
Malachi 2:5             ______________________________
Luke 2:14               ______________________________
John 7:38               ______________________________
John 14:27              ______________________________
John 16:33              ______________________________
Romans 8:6              ______________________________
Romans 14:17            ______________________________
Romans 15:13            ______________________________
Galatians 5:22          ______________________________
Philip. 4:7             ______________________________
Philip. 4:9             ______________________________
2 Thes. 3:16            ______________________________


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 54
May 1995

NOTES

[1.] For those readers unaware, and/or residing outside of the U.S., on the morning of April 19, 1995 a rental truck packed with over 4,000 pounds of explosives was parked in front of the Federal office building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, and detonated. This massive explosion (which caused damage for miles around) reduced over half the building to twisted and pancaked rubble and (at this writing) resulted in the deaths of over 100 people, at least 14 of which were children who had been inside the building's day-care center. Arrests have been made and the indication is that this bombing was accomplished by one or more people vehemently opposed to the federal government. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] Job 1:13-2:7. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in The Christian Life (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), p.169f. (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Hugh Ross in his article "Cosmology's Holy Grail," in Christianity Today (December 1994 issue; Copyright (c) 1994 Christianity Today, Inc./CHRISTIANITY TODAY Magazine). Hugh Ross, an astronomer, is the author of "The Fingerprint of God" (Promise, 1991), "The Creator and the Cosmos" (NavPress, 1993), and "Creation and Time" (NavPress, 1994). Dr. Ross is president of Reasons to Believe, a ministry founded to develop new tools for demonstrating the factual basis for faith in God and confidence in the accuracy of the Bible. (return to footnote 4)

[5.] Isaac Watts (1674-1748). (return to footnote 5)

[6.] Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), from his July 8, 1741 sermon in Enfield Connecticut, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." (return to footnote 6)

[7.] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, as cited in A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C.S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), p76. (return to footnote 7)

[8.] All figures, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl\ Harbor by Gordon W. Prange (McGraw-Hill, 1981), p539. (return to footnote 8)

[9.] Figures, Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1993 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1993 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation. (return to footnote 9)

[10.] Walter Chalmers Smith. (return to footnote 10)

[11.] A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in The Christian Life (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), p92. (return to footnote 11)

[12.] Martin Luther (1483-1546); translated by Frederick H. Hedge (1805-1890). (return to footnote 12)

[13.] Samuel Rutherford, cited in The Quotable Spurgeon (Shaw, 1990), p10. (return to footnote 13)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1995 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1995 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION


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