16/12/2014 8:57:50 AM
Providence: Am I Suffering Because God Is Teaching Me? (Part 2 of 3)
Posted under: Theology
Toward the end of the last post I let some of our early Baptist ancestors summarize what the Bible seems to say about God’s providence. A more complete version of the statement they made is: “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence....to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy” (1689 London Baptist Confession, 5:1).
That sounds alright standing on its own. God is governing all things with wisdom and holiness for His glorious purposes. But our beliefs don’t get to stand alone. They have to hold the weight of life that leans on them without toppling. If God is disposing all creatures and things doesn’t that mean He is directing people to sin? If it is all by His choice, how can my choices be real or matter at all? And how do we face those who have suffered with these biblical statements? As a widowed father I have found it one thing to believe it myself and quite another to look my kids in the eye and say so.
That there are mysteries beyond our grasp in how God relates to the world should not surprise us. But it should also not surprise us that our best ‘solution’ is found at the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus was an evil event caused by the sinful jealousy of men. But Peter says that Jesus was “handed over...according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2.23). This was an evil event, it caused someone dear to God immense suffering and was due to the will of men. Yet it is also attributed to not just the foreknowledge but the definite plan of God. We don’t need to pretend that this offers us a tidy solution but it does instruct us in how to think about these things.
The first thing it shows us is that an event can be assigned to God and men at the same time. Was the crucifixion of Jesus of God or men? Both. The trail of smoke always leads back to a decision of God but that doesn’t mean that what we choose is blown away. That we are held accountable for our actions shows that our decisions have real weight and so God’s providence is not a cold control that mechanically cements our fate. There is no lazy or despairing resignation in the way He calls us to live. I step into all my plans with “if the Lord wills”, but if I fall in a hole, I climb back out (Jas. 4.15). God urges us to be persistent in prayer (Lk. 18.1-8) which means we are to cry out for things and not just act as though all is settled anyway so it doesn’t matter. This means that living under God is a dynamic thing and not merely a ‘play-act’. Our allotted years are not to be spent hanging limp like piñatas while providence lines up to take swings. I can’t square how both sides of this work but the Bible doesn’t allow me to drop either side.
And it is not as simple as just saying that God ‘wills or causes everything that happens’. There is more to how it works because God planned for the evil of the crucifixion to be done but still remained righteous. And even while He chose for Christ to be crucified the signs of His earnest displeasure (like darkness and earthquake: Matt. 27) were more than dispassionate divine post-it notes for us to take notice of what was happening here. They were the sincere emotional responses of God. It appears that God can look at the same event in more than one way (for example, read Ezekiel 18.23 and Deut. 28.63). This is important to remember when we suffer.
Somehow God rules without overruling what it means to be human. We don’t get a comprehensive explanation of how all this can be true at once so the tension must simply hold. It is also important that we see this in the right light. The Bible does not present God as a cruel puppeteer or an arrogant micro-manager. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8.28). He is a loving Father who is directing and calling His lost children home.
So I would answer a loaded question with a loaded answer. Does everything that happens to me come because God chose it? I would reach for both sides of the tension until I can feel my joints ready to pop and then – and only then – say, yes.