The Providence of God
Our topic for the last three weeks has been the providence of God. And before I pray with you and share a little story by way of introduction, I want to define it again by using the Heidelberg Catechism, which is one of the most attractive definitions I know of. The providence of God is:
The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures; and so governs them, that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
This is an awesome statement, absolutely awesome. To believe that changes everything in your life. It’s not easy to believe at times. And that’s why we’re talking about it. I want you to believe it because of how biblical it is and how much strength comes into our lives when we are able to believe it.
Now, if you asked the question: Who talks about the providence of God? Who thinks about these things? You’d probably think, “Well, theologians do, or pastors do, or professional Christians do.” But do you know who really talks about providence the most? Missionaries.
There is a little book called God, You, and That Man with Three Goats! compiled by Don and Vera Hillis, whom I met down in Bryan College last August when I was speaking to the TEAM missionaries. They are TEAM missionaries, and they put this little book together. The man with three goats refers to a person in 1 Samuel 10:3 whom Samuel said Saul would meet.
“Do you know who really talks about providence the most? Missionaries.”
Samuel anointed Saul to be the king of Israel. As Saul got ready to leave, Samuel listed off for him about ten things that would happen to him in the next several hours. One of them was “You are going to meet a man with three goats” (1 Samuel 10:3). In other words, God was so much in charge of those next several hours that he told him ten things that would happen as detailed as “You will go to this tree and a man will come, and he will have three goats with him.” That’s where the title came from.
This book is a collection of stories about the providence of God. The subtitle is: Inspiring, True Life Experiences of Divine Providence. I’m going to read you part of one by Helen Roseveare. Most of you probably have heard that name. She was a missionary in Congo in the fifties and sixties and endured a tremendous amount of suffering. She was raped by the soldiers that took over her compound. She had been here at Bethlehem, spoken at Missions at the Mance. And she wrote this story called “A Providing Providence.”
Bill in the Congo
Helen Roseveare was a doctor, she’d been in the Congo four years, and she was dealing with leprosy as of recent months. She had a cook named Aunzio, and they ordered some leprosy medicine. That’s where the story picks up.
Eventually the box of supplies arrived. Together, Aunzio and I opened it. He excitedly drew out the large bottle of 10,000 tablets of the new drug Dapsone that had just replaced the painful injections of chaulmoogra oil in the treatment of leprosy. I picked up the bill — 4,320 Belgian Congo francs (in 1954, worth 30 British pounds, or about 90.50 in U.S. dollars). Somewhat caustically, perhaps, I reminded God that I had not 50 pence available for paying the bill, let alone 30 pounds. And as He, Almighty God, had led me to start this particular clinic for the treatment of leprosy patients, I was sure that He would pay the bill, which I slipped into my Bible.
The end of the month came. Mission rules demanded that all bills be paid by the end of the month; no debts were allowed. There was no money available to meet this bill of 30 pounds, 50 pence . . . none. There were no funds from which I could borrow. I felt concerned. Why had God not provided? Such a sum would be nothing for Him. It was the price of a cow, perhaps, but it was a fortunate to me — three or four months’ allowance in those days. I went to work on that Saturday morning, the first of the new month, with a sense of grievance against God.
As I returned home at lunchtime, Aunzio encouraged me to hurry, saying there was a brown envelope waiting for me. Another missionary had sent it across, apologizing that he had received it in his mail the previous day and had not noticed that it was addressed to me — from our field leader’s office. Aunzio and I opened it together. I shook out the money, which he carefully piled and laboriously counted. I pulled out the statement. The total, in the bottom right-hand corner, came to 4,800 Belgian Congo francs. A quick mental calculation showed the tithe at 480 francs, leaving exactly 4,320 Francs.”
This total was made up of three gifts, from an unknown couple in North America, from two prayer partners in North Ireland, and from a Girls Crusaders’ Union class in southeast England. The North American gift had been on the way for four months, transferred from our Philadelphia office to the London office, from London to Brussels, and Brussels to Leopoldville (Isiro). Every transfer involved a certain percentage cost. At the end, the three gifts had arrived together to make the exact sum needed and were designated “for your leprosy work.” I did not have a leprosy work when the money was actually given!
Answered Before It was Prayed
Now, there are a lot of theological puzzlements about that story, as there are about others in this book. God put it into the hearts of three groups — one in North Ireland, one in America, and one in England — to come up with an amount of money to send and when to send it. And he, at each point — in Philadelphia and Brussels and London and Leopoldville — took some money out. And he ordained how much would come out. This is providence.
He timed the post so that she would have enough time to complain and her faith would be tested, and it would arrive on the day. And he probably ordained that the person who got it didn’t give it to her on the day she needed it but kept it one more day to push her to the limit of faith. And the prayer that she prayed for this she prayed after its answer. That’s the theologically provocative part.
There are so many stories to that effect in here. They are just little stories about God’s providence told not by theologians, but by people who experience the providence of God in remarkable ways, both painfully and gloriously helpful.
God ordains prayers. If you believe in the providence of God, you can’t box it in. You can’t say, “Well it applies to this little piece of life, but this part of life is out of his control. This he controls, this he doesn’t,” as though half the universe is running wild and the other half is nicely under God’s management. That simply won’t work.
One of the elements of reality that you can’t take out of the box of providence is prayer. You can’t say, “Answers are under God’s providence, but prayers are not under God’s providence.” Illustrations like this one show you can’t do that. The prayer, which was being made for about twenty-nine days, was being answered four months earlier. Therefore, God set it up so that prayers would be prayed for an answer he had ordained, so it would be plain that he’s involved in history. Your prayers are not made willy-nilly. They come from a spirit that is governed by the Lord.
Hearts and Nature Alike
I have two agendas tonight. They’re only related because they both come under the topic of providence, and we didn’t finish one of them last time. I think we’ll spend thirty minutes on the first one, original sin. Then we’re going to shift over and talk mainly about God’s providence in the weather.
The big topic is his providence in inanimate objects. Next time we’ll talk about his providence in animals and human behavior. But when you stop to think about the implications of wind, rain, lightning, and thunder on human life and its preservation and destruction, you have to come to terms with the providence of God in some pretty glorious and painful places.
Now, the first forty minutes will be really hard. I almost chucked this. I almost said, “This is too complicated; this is too stretching.” But I put all the work into preparing it and couldn’t bring myself to drop it. So we’re going to look at it. And if you’re just scratching your head and saying, “This is so far out of my ballpark that I shouldn’t even have come,” then hold on. When I get to weather, it’ll be more relevant and plainer.
Original Sin and Paul
The first thing I want to do is go to one text to refresh your memory about the doctrine of original sin. We spent an hour on this two weeks ago. The doctrine of original sin is true because it’s taught in Scripture. And here’s a key text. We looked at six or seven, but let’s just read this one from Romans 5:17–19.
“If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man” — so through Adam’s sin death came into the world — “much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass” — that’s the eating of the forbidden fruit — “led to condemnation for all men” that’s the doctrine of original sin and that we should be implicated in Adam’s sin is very offensive to our minds unless we are very submissive to Scripture and to the Lord — “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
This all men, I think, refers to all who are in Christ. Just as the other all refers to all who are in Adam. There are two humanities. One humanity grows out from Jesus Christ; another humanity grows out from Adam.
“For as by the one man’s disobedience” — there is it again. It’s the same thing as the transgression mentioned. “By the one man’s disobedience the many” — instead of “all,” now Paul says “many.” This helps us because this does not mean that everyone will be saved. That wouldn’t fit with a lot of the rest of Scripture. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
“My life hangs on the righteousness of Christ. I have nothing to commend me to God except the righteousness of Jesus.”
So before you jettison the doctrine of original sin, realize that the most profound writer of the New Testament is stating it, and he’s stating it as a corollary of your justification. If you like the fact that the righteousness of Christ can be imputed to you, realize that for Paul that is coordinate with the sinfulness of Adam being accorded to you. If you call into question the one, it just might result in jeopardizing the other, which you love and on which your whole life hangs.
My life hangs on the righteousness of Christ. I have nothing to commend me to God except the righteousness of Jesus which is imputed to me through faith. So be careful here and don’t quickly say, “This is not fair. This is unrighteous. You can’t have a doctrine that says that because one man sinned condemnation came to all, or because one man was disobedient many were made sinners.” That’s what the Bible teaches. Now that we talked about it for an hour, I don’t want to dwell on the fact that it’s there in the Bible.
Original Sin and Edwards
What I want to do is introduce you to one man’s effort to see the righteousness of original sin. Not all theologians undertake this sort of thing, because it is difficult, and some things we just have to accept in spite of profound mysteries. The man is Jonathan Edwards, and I’m just going to read a bunch of quotes. I’m going to read them slowly, and I’m going to make some comments.
Now this is the hard part. This is my introductory paragraph here. The inheritance of Adam’s sinfulness and guilt by all human beings is an act of God’s providence. He ordained that it be so. He set things up so that when Adam fell, that fall would be our fall and our sinfulness, and we would come into the world with a sinful nature. And the first thing we do as children is rebel against God and many other things.
The inheritance of Adam’s sinfulness and guilt by all human beings is an act of providence — God’s providence. Whether it is just for God to subject all to Adam’s condition of sin and consequent guilt depends on whether God, as the Creator, Sustainer, all-wise Governor, and Owner of humanity, has the wisdom and the right to establish a kind of unity between Adam and his posterity that results in Adam’s original sin truly belonging to successive generations. That’s what needs to be the case for God to be just.
Has he found a way to establish a unity (a kind of unity that we many not even be able at this point to conceive of) between Adam and me, such that when he sinned, I sinned? When he was guilty, I became guilty? When he became a sinner prone to sin, I was born prone to sin? Can God do that such that I have real guilt, for which I have a real conscience problem, and will at the judgment day yield to as my own guilt? Is that possible?
The Basic Claim
Here’s Edwards’s attempt to answer that question: “We are united to Adam as branches to the root of one tree.” So he starts to develop some analogies here. “The derivation of the evil disposition to Adam’s posterity” — now that’s awkward grammar. We don’t talk like that anymore. Derivation means the putting of the evil disposition of Adam into his posterity. “Or rather, the co-existence of the evil disposition, implied in Adam’s first rebellion, in the root and branches, is a consequence of the union that the wise Author of the world has established between Adam and his posterity.” He is speaking of the tendency to sin in Adam and in us. He’s the root and we’re the branches.
He’s asserting that what I just said would need to be the case. He’s saying it is the case that there is a union between the root, Adam, and the branches. This accounts for the evil disposition of Adam being our evil disposition, just like the condition of a root and the condition of branch go together.
Next quote: “The first arising or existing of that evil disposition in the heart of Adam, was by God’s permission; who could have prevented it.” I think later on we’re going to deal with the origin of sin. That’s not my point tonight. Where did sin come from? Why did Lucifer sin in the first place so that he winds up in serpent form in the garden? Why did Adam, created good, yield to the temptation? Those are questions I’m not posing tonight, but those are important questions that we’ll get to. Edwards’s point here is simply to state that God permitted it, and he could have prevented it. Therefore he ordained it.
That there is sin was God’s plan. That God sinned is not the case. We must make the distinction between ordaining that something be and doing that thing as a guilty participant. And that’s a hard distinction to make. But the Bible clearly makes it in numerous places. Edwards asserts that’s the case here. “[God] could have prevented [Adam’s fall], if he had pleased, by giving such influences of his Spirit, as would have been absolutely effectual to hinder it” — which he has done with all the elect angels — “which, it is plain in fact, he did withhold.” God didn’t prevent the fall; he withheld those irresistible influences.
So root and branches being one, according to God’s wise constitution, the case in fact is, that by virtue of this oneness answerable changes or effects through all the branches [us] co-exist with the changes in the root.
When Adam became a sinner, the branches became sinners. “Consequently an evil disposition exists in the hearts of Adam’s posterity, equivalent to that which was exerted in his own heart, when he eats the forbidden fruit.” So Edwards hasn’t argued yet; he’s just stating what he sees to be the case in Scripture. And I agree with everything I’ve read so far there.
Now he gives a warning about the limits of our understanding.
If God orders the consequences of Adam’s sin, with regard to his posterity’s welfare . . . to be the same with the consequences to Adam himself, then he treats Adam and his posterity as one in that affair.
In other words, the doctrine is there in the Bible, and God did it. He treated them as one; Adam sinned, and they became sinners. “Hence, however the matter be attended with difficulty, fact obliges us to get over it.” That’s how seriously Edwards took the Bible.
Do you know what makes profound theologians? A radical commitment to Scripture. They will not let it go; they won’t say, “I can’t believe that.” Once you say that you can’t believe it, you don’t have to work on it anymore. Superficial theologians are people who just delete sentences out of the Bible that are too hard to understand and say, “That’s just not possible.” They scrap them, and their job is a lot easier. They don’t go as deep as theologians who have to come to terms with lots of things in the Bible that look like they’re in tension with one another. And this looks like it’s in tension with the justice of God.
“The inheritance of Adam’s sinfulness and guilt by all human beings is an act of God’s providence.”
He says, “Fact obliges us to get over it, either by finding out some solution” — and he goes as far as anybody I know who tries whether he succeeds you’ll have to judge — “or by shutting our mouths, and acknowledging the weakness and scantiness of our understandings; as we must in other innumerable cases.”
Anybody that gets the impression that Jonathan Edwards solved all problems isn’t reading Edwards. “Innumerable cases,” Edwards says, “where apparent and undeniable fact, in God’s works of creation and providence, is attended with events and circumstances, the manner and reason of which are difficult to our understandings.”
A Few Analogies
Now, let’s see how he goes about trying to account for this. We’ll see some illustrations from the material world, and then some illustrations from the personal world of consciousness. Keep in your mind that he’s trying to account for the unity between Adam and the whole human race, and what that might imply for original sin.
Thus a tree, grown great, and a hundred years old, is one plant with the little sprout, that first came out of the ground from whence it grew . . . though it is now so exceeding diverse [or different], many thousand times bigger, and of a very different form and perhaps not one atom the very same.
That’s a remarkable observation: there probably is not one similar atom left in the oak tree that there was in the acorn, because of the way the sun works, and the juices that come up out of the ground, and the way cells work. That’s probably a true statement. I don’t know for sure.
Yet God, according to an established law of nature, has in a constant succession communicated to it many of the same qualities, and most important properties, as if it were one.
He’s saying that God treats acorn and oak, or sprout and big elm tree, as one. But then he uses the words as if it were because he knows there’s probably not one atom that’s still the same. This is very important. He’s saying that we count it as one. Things that were true in their most essential properties in that little sprout are probably still true in that big elm tree, even though there was (in a sense) a total break in the development. There are no atoms left that were there before. They’ve just all sloughed off.
“It has been [God’s] pleasure to constitute a union in these respects, and for these purposes, naturally leading us to look upon all as one.” That’s his first analogy: a tree. There are a couple more.
The Human Body
So the body of man at forty years of age, is one with the infant-body which first came into the world, from whence it grew; though now constituted of different substance, and the greater part of the substance probably changed scores (if not hundreds) of times: And though it be now in so many respects exceeding diverse [or different], yet God, according to the course of nature which he has been pleased to establish, has caused that in a certain method [or way] it should communicate with that infantile body, in the same life, the same senses, the same features, and many the same qualities, and in union with the same soul; and so, with regard to these purposes, it is dealt with by him as one body.
He’s saying that even though the infant and the 40-year-old man might have undergone hundreds of substance changes in what composes the body, such that what was there is not there anymore; yet the features of sense are still there, and God wills that we regard this as one union. And we do. We don’t even raise any question about it, even though there’s that much diversity between the two.
The Human Consciousness
Now this is a little more to the point: consciousness, the human consciousness over time.
Identity of consciousness depends wholly on a law of nature; and so, on the sovereign will and agency [or providence] of God. And therefore, that personal identity, and so the derivation of the pollution and guilt of past sins in the same person, depends on an arbitrary divine constitution.
That’s one of the most important and most difficult sentences. By identity here he means the unity of your consciousness from yesterday till today, or from ten years ago till today. That unity is wholly dependent on the sovereign will or agency of God, or “an arbitrary divine constitution.”
God wills that there be a continuity between the consciousness you had days ago and the consciousness you have today, such that the guilt of sins that you committed ten days ago or ten years ago are yours today, apart from forgiveness, so that the you of today is only united to that you of yesterday by a divine arbitrary constitution. Yet the guilt is transferred from the you of yesterday to the you of today.
Back to Adam and Us
Now you already see the answer that he’s going toward. If you’re with me and if you’re with him, you can tell what he’s going to do with Adam and us. There’s a divine and arbitrary unity between him and us that is solely dependent on his arbitrary constitution.
If we allow ourselves to be guilty today for sins we committed yesterday when the unity between me today and myself yesterday is only owing to a divine and arbitrary thing, then maybe we should allow Adam’s guilt also to stand in us, when the union there is totally divine and arbitrary. I just gave you the whole thing, but let’s just keep reading because it’ll help.
God’s sustaining providence is holding you, holding your conscious personhood in being right now. You are only the person right now that you were five minutes ago because God has ordained it to be so and held you in being. You’d just flit right out of existence if God didn’t do that. Edwards says that’s equivalent to continued creation out of nothing. Let’s see how he says that.
“God’s preserving of created things in being, is perfectly equivalent to a continued creation, or to his creating those things out of nothing at each moment of their existence.” It’s as if you were being created right now. Every millisecond, every nanosecond, God is creating you afresh.
“If the continued existence of created beings be wholly dependent on God’s preservation” — which is it according to Hebrews 1:3 — “then those things would drop into nothing, upon the ceasing of the present moment, without a new exertion of the divine power to cause them to exist in the following moment.”
“That there is sin was God’s plan. That God sinned is not the case.”
Do you see that? You would drop out of existence in the next moment unless a new exertion of divine, sustaining power were brought to bear upon your existence. And he says that’s equivalent to creating you at every moment.
Hence, we can see how the unity of personhood, for example, is owing to a moment-by-moment free choice on God’s part to establish it. It is owing to nothing, finally, but God’s choice that it be so. Therefore, personal accountability is owing to that arbitrary choice of God to maintain that unity between you today and you yesterday.
God’s Free Choice
All oneness that allows moral effects is a divine, arbitrary establishment. That is, if there can be any moral effect between the root and the branch, or between the acorn and the tree, or between the infant and the man, or between the you of yesterday and the you of today, it is owing to an arbitrary establishment.
“There is no identity or oneness . . . but what depends on the arbitrary constitution of the Creator.” Arbitrary means owing solely to his will with no consultation of anybody else. When you act arbitrarily you act without any consultation of anyone else. You do it solely on your own, for your own private purposes.
Now God always does that. “Who has been his counselor” (Romans 11:35)? Nobody has ever counseled God; he is totally arbitrary. Now, that word has some negative connotations that are not true here, and Edwards will address those in a minute.
Who by his wise sovereign establishment so unites these successive new effects, that he treats them as one, by communicating to them like properties, relations, and circumstances; and so, leads us to regard and treat them as one. . . .
It appears, particularly from what has been said, that all oneness, by virtue whereof pollution and guilt from past wickedness are derived, depends entirely on a divine establishment.
So if there’s any unity or oneness between Adam and us, or us yesterday and us today, a guilt there is also here; it is owing entirely to a divine establishment. Therefore he says,
I am persuaded, that no solid reason can be given, why God — who constitutes all other created union or oneness according to his pleasure and for what purposes, communications, and effect he pleases — may not establish a constitution whereby the natural posterity of Adam, proceeding from him, much as the buds and branches from the stock or root of tree, should be treated as one with him, for the derivation, either of righteousness, and communion in rewards, or of the loss of righteousness, and consequent corruption and guilt.
That’s a long sentence. It says that Edwards doesn’t see any reason why God can’t do in Adam and his posterity what he does between you and your consciousness yesterday, or small tree and big tree.
As I said before, all oneness in created things, whence qualities and relations are derived, depends on a divine constitution that is arbitrary, in every other respect, excepting that it is relegated by divine wisdom.
Now there’s the connotation that he’s trying to avoid. God’s arbitrary acts are not willy-nilly, without purpose and wisdom.
Now let’s stop here because this is the end of his argument. If it doesn’t work, this is it. This is his best shot. If it doesn’t help, then you either reject the doctrine or you plead the limitations of your mind and embrace the mystery. Those are your options. Or maybe there’s another solution that he hasn’t seen.
These are the four options: somebody else has solved it better, or Edwards has helped you see the justice of it, or you can’t see the justice of it but believe it is just even though you can’t see it, or you can’t handle this doctrine and reject it. The last option hangs on the trustworthiness that you accord to the Scriptures and to those who write.
Scripture Bears Witness
Let me put a little parenthesis here about the authority of Scripture. I was reading John, and it says, “John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove. . . . And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:32, 34).
When I read that I stopped. I had my two boys sitting at breakfast table, and I said, “John bore witness. Guys, we have to decide whether he’s trustworthy.” Our faith is based on witnesses. Jesus is not here in any tangible way that we can measure. How do you decide this life-and-death issue of whether to believe or not? The answer is this: testimonies are given.
John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). How do you know whether to believe him? Jesus also bore testimony, and John bore testimony, and Paul bore testimony, and Matthew bore testimony, and Luke bore testimony, and Mark bore testimony, and James bore testimony, and the writer of Hebrews bore testimony. Are they all liars? Are they all sick in the head? Are they all deluded? That’s the question it boils down to on things like this.
How do you decide things like that? How did the jury for O.J. Simpson’s trial decide? All they could do was listen to witnesses and decide whether they’re trustworthy. There are tokens in things they say, or the way things fit together, or their character.
You listen for six, eight, nine, ten months. You listen and you decide, and lives hang in the balance. That’s the way we live, that’s real life. There’s nobody that’s going to write in the sky, “The Bible is true.” You’ve got to decide on the basis of witnesses. Who are you going to love?
If you’re really wrestling with whether Islam is true, you need to go to Muhammad and the Q’uran and listen to his testimony. Then you’ve got the testimony of Muhammad and you’ve got the testimony of John the Baptist, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, James, and Hebrews. You read them and try to see how their testimonies fit together, and their character, and whether this makes sense out of life. And doctrinally, you stir in the Holy Spirit, and he ultimately opens the eyes. But without mentioning that at all, what it really boils down to is this: Which testimony do you believe?
I just say that because when I mention that fourth option, rejecting this doctrine, I really hope that you don’t choose that option. I hope you don’t choose it because you have looked at the testimony of Scripture and God has granted you to see the beauty and compelling truthfulness of the witnesses there.
Now, Edwards is claiming that there is an arbitrarily constituted unity between Adam and the human race, such that the human race is guilty for what Adam did. This is on the analogy of me being guilty for what I did yesterday. The only link between me now and me yesterday is an arbitrary constitution of God that wouldn’t have to be unless God made it be. Therefore, I’m guilty because of what I did yesterday.
“The Holy Spirit ultimately opens the eyes.”
The wisdom which is exercised in these constitutions appears in these two things. First, in a beautiful analogy and harmony with other laws or constitutions, especially relating to the same subject.
Now I’m not going to stop and dwell on that, but he means all these analogies he’s been pointing out. “And secondly” — this is most important — “in the good ends obtained, or useful consequences of such a constitution.” Do you see what he’s saying there? He’s saying that God ordained a unity between Adam and his posterity such that we all are born sinners because there’s something incredibly good that’s going to come of that. There’s some useful consequence in history, in reality, in creation.
Let’s leave Edwards behind. Thank you so much for your patience in tolerating my love for Jonathan Edwards. We have five minutes. We’ll spend all next week — probably — on the weather. But I’ll give you a flavor of where we’re going here.
Over Heaven and Earth
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word! (Psalm 148:7–8)
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain.
and brings forth the wind from his storehouses. (Psalm 135:6–7)
And they went and woke [Jesus], saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. (Luke 8:24)
He could do that with any hurricane. He could say at Pensacola, “Stop,” and it would stop. You have got to help me with this. I need to be a good teacher and preacher with people. I’ve got people in this church who don’t believe this, and I don’t get it.
I don’t understand how people can try to absolve God from the control of the death of 500,000 Bangladeshi owing to wind and flood. They say, “God wasn’t in that. God didn’t have anything to do with that.” I don’t get it. I just don’t understand how they conceive of the universe. Maybe we’ll start next time with letting you help me understand. Because maybe there are some sophisticated ways of putting it that I just haven’t read.
I’ll read just one more and we’ll stop. This is Elihu talking in Job. Job’s got about 29 chapters of bad theology in it, so you’ve got to be careful how you use it. I argue that Elihu is a good guy. He’s not one of the three bad guys, Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar. He gets it right. God does not rebuke Elihu in the last chapter; he rebukes those other three guys. Then God says the same thing that Elihu says, so that confirms it. “For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth’” (Job 37:6). So if it snows and wrecks your day, God did it. God kept you home. “Likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour” (Job 37:6). If it rains so hard it breaks the gutters off your roof, God did it. He says to the rain, “Be strong.” “He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it” (Job 37:7). Now the meaning of that verse I can’t do in two minutes. But I will take it up next time.
Then the beasts go into their lairs,
and remain in their dens.
From its chamber comes the whirlwind,
and cold from the scattering winds.
By the breath of God ice is given,
and the broad waters are frozen fast.
He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen. (Job 37:8–13)
Think about the weather and all the problems that it creates between now and the next time. There are many other texts that will bring it to bear upon our lives soberly and gloriously as good news. But wrestle with me. I want to say this in a way that if you’re struggling, you don’t feel rejected. It took me decades of thinking about the Lord to have peace with his absolute sovereignty over our lives.
So don’t feel like you got to walk away from Bethlehem or stop wrestling. If I look like I’m way out there embracing something and you’ve not even raised this question before and it feels so threatening to images of God that you’ve had that you don’t even know if you’ll have anybody left to worship — if that’s your case, just hang in there. I want you to just work at it.