I have always, by the grace of God, been intrigued by the tensions created in scripture, so I’ve dug and asked questions and been tenacious about pursuing understanding. If, however, I step back and truly gain the perspective that God is the Alpha and the Omega, who has always been and always will be, while I am finite, small and momentary then it is evident that there are pieces that I am not going to understand or see that are very clear to Him.
This is where faith comes in. This place of mystery is not where we, as believers, turn off our brains, stop thinking and start speaking foolishly. It’s where we press in, we study, we do sound exegesis in the scriptures, we learn what the Bible says and we learn to live in faith in tension.
According to Jesus, the birds are fed because the Father feeds them and wildflowers grow because God lets them grow. Here’s an interesting thing – Ecclesiastes clearly outlines in chapter one that these people understood the water cycle: it rains, it evaporates and then it rains again. They understand the science behind how the natural process works, yet they still say, “God makes it rain.” It’s their understanding that He is behind all the natural processes.
“For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the deeps.” (Psalm 135:5-6)
The first chapter of Ephesians shows us that God works everything according to His will and that we were loved and called from before time and the earth were created. There is not a single part of creation over which God does not rightly and beautifully stand and declare, “This is Mine, this is My doing, this is Me operating, this is Me accomplishing for Me and My purposes.”
In the midst of this, men and women in the Bible cry out to God about their circumstances and situations. They ask Him to relent, they ask Him to start something He’s not doing, they ask Him to stop something that He’s doing, and He hears them and responds.
In Exodus 32, the people have rebelled against God and God tells Moses, “I’m killing every one of them. Leave Me alone. I’m going to destroy them, and then I’m starting with you.” Moses, however, pleads with God for the lives of Israel and God changes His mind.
“And the Lord changed His mind about the terrible disaster He had threatened to bring on His people.” (Exodus 32:14)
God is sovereign, God already has His plan and is working it, and yet He says, “If you’ll come to Me, I’ll respond.” Because we are Western and have a linear mindset, we have difficulty with this concept. We question, is God sovereign or can we change His mind? Can we engage Him in such a way that God hears us and responds? The answer is, “Yes!”
We see this interactive dynamic appear over and over again in scripture.
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
When my wife and I began the process of dealing with my cancer, at every doctor’s appointment we knew what we wanted to hear and what we didn’t want to hear. We went into every doctor’s appointment only to have things go exactly opposite the way we had hoped and prayed. Lauren and I had to smile as Proverbs 16:9 became very real to us.
What I’ve experienced through my journey with cancer is the tension we see between God having His plans and God being willing to respond to us.
Two camps of thought exist regarding how God interacts with us. There is the camp of “We don’t need to bother God. He’s going to do it or He’s not.” This camp turns God into an uncaring, absentee landlord. Then there is the “We just need to pray enough” camp which makes Him into a genie who can be controlled if we rub His lamp the right way. Both camps reduce God to something He’s not. We’ve got to resist polarizing in either direction. The truth is that both pictures are seen in scripture but neither is the rock upon which we place our hope.
The love of God for us is wrapped up in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God in the flesh – His death on the cross, burial and resurrection – and not in whether He heals me.
My plan is to grow old, to walk my girls down the aisle, to see my boy grow up and marry a godly woman and become a godly man. I hope and pray for those things. My wife and I aggressively fight for those things, and we believe that’s how it’s going to play out. But if it doesn’t, there is no bitterness in my heart. We have been privileged to live really, really well and enjoy God very deeply for a long time, praising Him for all circumstances, knowing that He is sovereign, knowing that He is above all, knowing that He is in all and through all.
God’s love is bound in Jesus Christ, the cross and the resurrection, not on any suffering you or I may experience. We have been given God’s love in the cross of Jesus Christ and the surety that Christ willingly absorbed the God’s wrath toward you and me so that we might be blameless and holy before Him according to His predetermined plan. (Ephesians 1) Our love is secure there, nowhere else. This is the only place of immaculate hope.
Adapted from Pastor Chandler’s sermon notes on “Divine Tensions” available from The Village Church website.