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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 131
October 2001

SOVEREIGN GOD


PEOPLE THE WORLD OVER HAVE WEPT over the brutal and senseless loss of life in New York City and Washington, DC. We have gasped at the images that have illuminated our living rooms with their scenes of unimaginable destruction and 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 and around the world have done what they always do when such things occur: they 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 the first hijacked airliner veered off-course, aimed like a missile at the first tower of the World Trade Center. But many have, belatedly, searched for a new and unfamiliar faith to console them in their grief. And some spiritual leaders have sought to comfort the mourners by telling them that God's heart was the first to be broken when the planes hit--suggesting in their well-intentioned ignorance 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 ensuing death and destruction.

But 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.

For many people, history begins and ends with their personal experience. If it took place before they were born, then, to them, it never happened; if it didn't transpire within their own sphere, then it is insignificant, and not worthy of their attention. It is not surprising, then, that when tragedy strikes, the human inclination is to imagine that nothing this bad has ever happened before. But from the first blow struck in anger between the first brothers, civilization has witnessed atrocity and horror. And through it all, from beginning to end, God has reigned.

God was on His throne in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar's army destroyed Jerusalem, and the major part of the remaining Israelite community was taken to Babylon. He was still on His throne in AD 60, when Nero was lighting his patio with Christians dipped in tar, or tossing them to the lions. He was still on His throne in 1933, when the Nazis began their systematic persecution of the Jews resulting in, by 1945, over 5 million exterminated. He was there in the 1930s while Joseph Stalin systematically crushed the peasantry of the Soviet Union, sending tens of millions of his own countrymen to their death. And God was still on His throne in 1988, when Saddam Hussein ordered thousands of Kurds to be killed, some by chemical weapons, and hundreds of Kurdish villages destroyed.

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. 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.

EVEN MORE FRIGHTENING THAN THE TRAGEDY on our east coast 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 September 11; 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.

GOD IS WISE NOT 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 US 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 18 ships and 77 aircraft. For the people of a country officially neutral in the expanding world conflict, the most alarming numbers were those itemizing the lives lost.

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.

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 apparent 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.

On September 11, 2001, almost 7,000 people were killed in less than two hours when four planes were commandeered by zealous madmen and used as guided missiles to wreak destruction in the United States. The first two reached their intended targets of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and the third reached an apparent secondary target of the Pentagon in Washington DC. The fourth plane, almost certainly on its way toward either the White House or Capitol, crashed in Pennsylvania after some of the passengers overpowered the hijackers.

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 sometimes only one area of the peoples' lives. There were gods for the weather, for the crops, for fertility, for war. The list could 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 healthy 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. As sovereign God, He does as He pleases, and only has to agree with Himself

.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN, IN PRACTICAL TERMS, that we belong to a sovereign God who is free to do as He pleases? 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 of 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 contemporary events. The person with a working knowledge of the ebb and flow of civilization--the rich and varied procession of conflicts and wars, political assignations, societal upheavals and shifts--will rarely panic at the morning's headlines.

Just so with our knowledge of God. There is a reassuring 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 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 resolve that their God was quite capable of keeping them safe from whatever torture or death Nebuchadnezzar devised. And--more to the present point--they were content to place themselves in God's hands, even if He chose for their lives to end.

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 be 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 yet 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 are happy to obey Him--so long as He doesn't ask anything of them too inconvenient or unpleasant in return.

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. He doesn't wait upon our approval. If He did, He wouldn't be God, but rather a partner, an equal.

We are not God's equal. There is freedom, strength, and sublime peace in acknowledging that our Lord is a God who behaves according to His own rules--even when more than 6,000 innocent people have lost their lives.

SO HOW ARE WE THEN TO LIVE? So many in God's family are 'Sunday morning' Christians--checking in periodically with the infrastructure of their religion to be conducted through the familiar liturgy, making contact with familiar faces, everyone decked out in their Sunday finery. They go through the paces secure in their comfortable relationship with a quiet, undemanding God of sweetness and light. Then something thoroughly inconvenient, even tragic hits, and their comfortable, fragile faith is tested in the extreme. "How could my sweet, loving God do this?" They wail.

In this instance, everyone is behaving in character. The world is filled with evil--and God is still on His throne. The weak component is the believer with the nominal faith, ignorant of the true depths to which evil can sink, and ignorant of the true height of God's sovereignty. Left stumbling about somewhere in the middle, somewhere in a pabulum world in which nothing bad ever happens to good people, the believer struggles to remain true to a God who is, essentially, a stranger.

By the indwelling Spirit and by the Word we can know God. We can know His personality, His habits, His methods. We can, as much as any earth-bound creature, come to understand His motives and ways. God has given us every means by which we can have a true, dependable faith so substantial that when tragedy strikes, we need never say "Why?"--only "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."


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Issue No. 131
October 2001

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

Aspects is Copyright © 2001 David S. Lampel.
Permission is hereby granted for this original material to be reprinted in newsletters, journals, etc., or to be used in spoken form. When used, please include the following line: "From Aspects, by David S. Lampel. Used by permission." 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 Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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