Comfort in the Midst of Confusion
The Christian life is a life of faith. More accurately, the Christian life is a life of faith in God. It is the object of faith that gives faith its lustre, and nothing more enriches, ennobles, and establishes faith than the God who made the heavens and the earth, who reigns in unrivalled splendour over all the works of his hands. As we look out on a world that seems by the day to be descending into unending spirals of violence, a world that increasingly hates the gospel of Christ and the people of Christ, we need to anchor our faith more surely in who our God is.
For some, perhaps even many Christians, the sovereignty of God is a truth that perplexes them. They wonder how, if God truly is sovereign, he allows the death and destruction that so scars the face of our world. They puzzle over the seeming incongruity of God’s sovereignty – his absolute control over all things – and the rampant wickedness that struts about every corner of the earth. For the Bible, however, God’s sovereignty is the deepest of comforts. As the Psalmist looked out over the world of his day and saw its wickedness and mayhem he wrote, ‘The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice . . . The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble'(Psa. 97:1; 99:1). For the Psalmist, the sovereignty of God was not a puzzle he had to solve, it was a comfort he took heart from. He did not try and puzzle out the whys and wherefores of the Lord’s sovereignty. He understood that God’s ways were higher than his ways and that God’s thoughts were higher than his thoughts (Isa. 55:9).
More than anywhere else, we see the comfort of God’s sovereignty in the cross of Christ. When Peter proclaimed Jesus as God’s Messiah-Saviour at Pentecost, he was not blind to the wickedness that drove the Jewish leaders to kill ‘the Author of life’, but he was absolutely sure that behind all the events that led to Jesus’ crucifixion God was fulfilling his pre-determined plan and purpose: ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.’ Encircling, overruling, and sinlessly directing all the affairs of men and women, God accomplished his plan and purpose. As the world looked at the cross it simply saw tragedy, weakness, and defeat. As Jesus’ own disciples looked at the cross they saw the end of all their hopes and they fled in disarray. But as God looked at the cross he saw the perfect fulfilment of his eternal plan to save a people to the praise of his glory.
God’s absolute and unconditional sovereignty is revealed to us in the Scriptures for our comfort and reassurance. We are never asked to resolve intellectually the apparent dissonance between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. We are asked (actually commanded) to live by faith and not by sight. Trusting God is the essence of the believing life – trusting that he is truly good, that he is always wise, that he is never absent from the lives and circumstances of his blood-bought children.
There are times, perhaps even many times, when our personal and familial circumstances seem to contradict the biblical teaching that our God is sovereign. The Psalmists are often searingly honest in their cries to God. They never pretend that the life of faith is without doubts or fears. But again and again they take comfort from knowing that their covenant Lord is neither indifferent to their cries nor helpless to meet their needs. Sometimes the Psalms end with renewed assurance. Sometimes they end with unresolved tensions. But always the Psalmists cling to God and confess him to be their God.
We live in troubled and turbulent times; good is called evil and evil is called good. We are living out as a nation the awful and immense consequences of turning away from God’s truth. Can things get any worse? Yes, just read your Bible. But no matter how bad things get, no matter how rampantly wickedness struts across the land, ‘the Lord reigns,’ so let God’s people rejoice and let the earth tremble.
Of all people, Christians should live with poise amidst the prevailing wickedness. The story is told of two men walking through a wild city in the aftermath of the American Civil War (1861-1865) As they approached one another, they stopped and looked at each other. One of the men jabbed the other with his finger and said, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ The man replied, ‘To glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ The first man responded, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by the way you walked!’ Mayhem was all around, but these two men walked with poise because they knew that their God reigned.
Take time today to ponder the Lord’s unabridged sovereignty. Allow this truth to inform your mind and quiet your heart. Live by faith, faith in who our God is, and not by sight.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.www.cambridgepres.org.uk
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