Sherlock homes and the Sovereignty of God

Just been looking at “Desiring God’s” new web site and came across this video.

In it John Piper answers what is to me the hardest problem in Apologetics and the one that, as  a Christian, causes me the most difficulty. Actually John poses the question to himself after being asked the second biggest problem. The second biggest one is this:

Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?

His answer was that God can do anything. He gives life and he takes it away.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs… “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). How he takes away is his call. He never wrongs anybody….He can cause a flood and kill everybody on the planet except 8 people and not do a single one of them any wrong.

Against this, (or put alongside it) are statements from Bill Johnsons such as:

There is this rug called the sovereignty of God and we simply sweep everything we don’t understand under it. I could jump of this building and die and some would say God intended it for a purpose. No, God had nothing to do with it. Bill Johnson

I think describing the sovereignty of God in a way that does not highlight God’s sorrow and pain in sickness, death and evil misses too much out. I remember doing a 3D computer avatar of a famous TV personality. We made 3D scans of the shape of her face, took photographs of her skin, gave her hair with wispy bits, eyes that moved and a mouth that talked. It was a technological triumph – She hated it! It was right in so many ways but the end results looked, well, rather unattractive, and she was an attractive lady. We had produced a Frankenstein’s monster version of her. Correct in many of the details but oh so wrong in one of the most important. Many of us have seen photos of ourselves and thought “that looks nothing like me!“. I wonder whether God would look at some of our descriptions of his sovereignty and say “that’s hideous, it looks nothing like me!“. We might say in response “but we got this bit from this verse, and that bit from that verse and stuck them together like so“. What we ended up with was right in so many respects but presented as a whole its wrong in a way that is more important than any of the little bits.

I am not saying that either of these guys is wrong. I’m still very much thinking all this through myself and I’m sure they have a far better understanding of the sovereignty of God than I do. It’s just that some of the “photographs” of God can seem a little misleading. We say “the camera never lies” but it does all the time. It can make someone look younger, or older, or taller or smaller or more important, or less important, or whatever the photographer wants. When we  try and describe God or explain what he is like, how do we make sure we give a faithful portrait?

The answer has to be by looking at God’s self portrait in the pages of the bible. This is how God decided to perfectly describe himself. In the medium of historical narrative, legal writings, poetry, philosophy, letters, and apocalyptic imagery. And this, the greatest work of literature known to man, the bible in its entirety, not just in the NT, is itself a faithful rendering of God’s perfect image seen in the person if Jesus Christ. All the time, in my attempts to communicate what God is like, I must ask myself, “is this pencil sketch I am making a true likeness of God’s self portrait in his word and his son?“. Does it represent him in a true light or is it a distorted caricature?

So what’s the harder question? John puts it like this:

The part that makes it harder is that he commands people to do it. He commanded Joshua to slaughter people…You’ve got human beings killing humans, and therefore a moral question of what is right to do.

He answers it by saying:

With Joshua there was a political, ethnic dimension, God was immediate king, and he uses this people as his instrument to accomplish his judgment in the world at that time. And God, it says, let the sins of the Amorites accumulate for 400 years so that they would be full (Genesis 15:16), and then sends his own people in as instruments of judgment.

So I would vindicate Joshua by saying that in that setting, with that relationship between God and his people, it was right for Joshua to do what God told him to do, which was to annihilate the people.

Just as God gives the sword to governments today to express his justice in certain restricted ways, so then he gave Joshua the sword to carry out a part of his justice.

He ends like this:

So God has his times and seasons for when he shares his authority to take and give life. And the church today is not Israel, and we are not a political entity. Therefore the word we have from the Lord today is, “Love your enemy. Pray for those who abuse you. Lay your life down for the world. Don’t kill in order to spread the gospel, but die to spread it.”

In this last sentence I catch a glimpse of the cross of Christ. As I get closer to Jesus the picture of God comes into better focus. There I see that far from being uncaring and unmoved by human suffering and evil he takes it upon himself in the person of his son. As Reinhard Bonnke puts it:

Any portrayal of God without Calvary is a betrayal. The church is here absolutely and essentially to make known that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. His blood finally exhibits His heart. A Cross-less Christianity is a false Christianity. We will be true to Calvary.

At the cross we not only see what God is like but that it’s not all about what happens this side of the grave. Jesus, by his death and resurrection, forged a path for us through to eternal life. He purchased us at a great price. Everything that came before was a necessary  preparation for this, his great work of salvation. There is an eternal weight of glory coming that will put the challenges of this life into their proper perspective. I must confess that I find that hard to imagine now but I know I can trust God that it is true.

The force of these hardest of the hard questions is that the evidence seems to point to a God who is not just unloving and uncaring but a monster of the vilest order. In light of the cross this simply cannot be the case. The cross tells me not only that God is loving beyond my wildest comprehension but that he is also morally just, and good, not tolerating or excusing even the smallest evil. So deeply does he love the world that he is prepared to give up his only son to a horrific death on a roman cross. So immovably is he committed to justice, goodness and righteousness that he would rather die than sweep sin under the carpet.

And so, as Sherlock Homes famously said “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth“. The cross  means I can eliminate an uncaring, monstrous God as being utterly impossible. Having done so, I am then in a much better position to look at what remains and understand it as best I can. It may seem improbable, it may even end up being incomprehensible, but it should not be an obstacle to my full adoration, trust and worship of the good and gracious God who gave his son for me.


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