God determines all

Interviewer: Has God pre-determined every tinny detail in the universe such as dust particles in the air, including all our besetting sins?

Piper: Yes.

He then refers to a quote from Spurgeon:

“With God there are no contingencies. The mighty charioteer of Providence has gathered up all the reins of all the horses, and He guides them all according to His infallible wisdom. There is a foreknowledge and predestination which concerneth all things, from the motion of a grain of dust on the threshing-floor to that of the flaming comet which blazes athwart the sky. Nothing can happen but what God ordains; and therefore, why should we fear? BA39 “ Spurgeon

I can’t actually find a quote like this in Spurgeon’s work (the ones I have access to anyway). The best I can find is from this site:

http://www.spurgeon.us/mind_and_heart/quotes/g.htm

BA refers to the book “Barbed Arrows”, a collection of quotes form Spurgeon, but I am not sure what the original source is in Spurgeon’s work.

Piper backs up his answer biblically from:

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD. Prov 16:33

“Randomness is not random to God. He is not the least taxed by keeping every sub nucluar particle in its place.” Piper.

Full Piper interview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSSLLpVChng&feature=related

and the transcript

http://121youth.wordpress.com/tag/charles-spurgeon/

My previous thoughts on a similar subject:

https://marcustutt.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/chance-would-be-a-fine-thing/

If God played battleships (Fighting Talk part 2)

I have been massively encouraged by David’s response to Goliath’s threats, particularly as they relate to battling against sickness and disease. He starts, in 1 Sam 17:45 by saying:

“you come to me” – You Think you have the initiative here? You think that I am in trouble? You think that your weapons can harm me? Oh, you have a big spear and shield and javelin but you have no idea what you have done or what is actually going on here.

Sickness and disease do not have the initiative. God is sovereign over all things and he alone rules over the events of history. He hates Satan, and evil and sin and sickness and will destroy them all, but they do, never the less, play an unwitting role in his plans and purposes.

What some intend for evil God intends for good. Ultimately he is not responding to Satan’s moves like an adversary in a chess game. He is not simply a better player, or a stronger opponent. There is no measure that can be put to God such that we might say “so and so is here on the scale and God is there on the scale”. He is not 1000 times more intelligent or powerful than Satan. His power and intelligence are infinite and of another degree or order entirely. He knows every thought that anyone has ever or will ever think. He works out his plans in full knowledge of what everyone will do.

If God was playing battle ships he would not only know where each of his opponents ships were but where all their bombs would land as well. The bible even says that he can direct our wills in the direction and to the ends that he pleases (prov 21:1). The closest I can get to understanding that is that God could actually direct your will towards choosing a particular grid reference in battle ships without himself being morally responsible for the consequences or even being happy about your choice and in fact still holding you accountable for your choice!  I’m sure thats a very crude and clumsy analogy and I feel like it misses something key, but it seems to be almost what the bible is pointing towards. The bible reveals a God who can can channel an evil will towards a particular  evil action that plays a key role in his plans without himself being in any way being morally culpable for it (Acts 4:25-28). “You come to me?” says David. You have no idea who God is, what he is like and what he is doing.

“with sword and spear and javelin” – These weapons are simply not sufficient. It’s like Goliath is running towards a modern day tank armed only with 1st century equipment. The purposes of God and the people of God are unstoppable. One version of the bible puts it like this: “no weapon forged against you shall prosper”. The does not exist not shall there ever exist a weapon that can destroy the church. People and even nations have tried and failed. They have thrown everything they had at the church and she has only grown stronger under the onslaught.

“But I come to you” – You have got everything the wrong way round. It’s not you that comes to me, says David, it’s me that comes to you. I am not defending  myself, you’re the one under attack. You are the one who is on the back foot. You are the one way out of your league. When we see sickness and oppression Satan is putting his head over the parapet to be shot at by those who are waiting for him. Those with God given weapons of the Spirit and the authority and courage to wield them. God has set an ambush ready in the form of his spirit filled church. We are to be like marksmen that lie in wait for the first signs of trouble.

“in the name of the Lord of Hosts” : And it’s not simply me that’s coming against you says David. I come in the name of God, and all his power and might is now arrayed against you. His army is bigger and more powerful than the one you see behind me. His power and might is beyond your comprehension. Before you is not a young boy, but the strong arm of the LORD. The hosts of heaven are arrayed against you, you silly little man! You are about to be totally overpowered.

Does God want to heal? Yes. Can he heal? Yes. So when we pray in his name, people will get well. It’s not me, its God who will defeat the giants of cancer and MS and arthritis, and heart disease.

Ant bully

“Whom you have defied” : You have defied God’s army and in doing so you have defied God!!! In your ignorance you have blundered into something you know nothing about. You are like a boy who delighted in burning ants with his magnifine glass,  but now finds himself shrunk down to their size. The tables have turned and boy are you in trouble now.

Men and women are made in God’s image and are precious to him. Satan failed to dethrone God so now he  goes after God’s people instead. He does some awful things, one of which is to make them ill. Now, it’s one thing to attack a Father but quite another to go after his children. You may think you are wise in going for the softer target, but you are bringing a far greater wrath down upon yourself. God will respond to any attack on his children with everlasting and ongoing destruction. Day and night for all eternity his anger will burn against the one who defied his precious people.

Authority explored

What is authority and how does it really work? I know it is defined as “the right to rule” or “the legitimate use of power“, but what power and when? Can you exercise authority without exerting power? What is the opposite of authority? ie what are you doing when you use power illegitimately or misuse authority or pretend to have authority when you don’t actually have it? These are some of the questions I have in my head. I will launch out and see where I get to. I will start with a concrete natural example:

A policeman has authority. When he turns on his blue lights and stops your car he is using authority. He hasn’t exerted much physical power though except catching up with you and motioning for you to pull over. If authority is the right use of power then authority must involve some exertion of power. The policeman’s authority at this point relies mainly on your submission. However it is 99.9% effective in the UK. Something real is happening. The mechanism of physical presence and communication are in operation. You pull over because that’s what people do. You pull over because your moral sense of what is right motivates you. You pull over because you know he can exert more power to get you to comply. You pull over because you don’t want to get into any more trouble than you are already in. It’s as if over the years in this country a stone has been rolled up hill. Battles have been fought, laws passed, criminals chassed and imprisoned etc. Now, in many cases, simply giving it a little push will cause the stone to roll down hill releasing all that potential energy.

If the speeding person doesn’t stop then the power has to be ramped up. The policemen has to keep up with you and continue communicating with increasing emphasis. More police cars will arrive, then a helicopter. They will either run you out of petrol or puncture your tires. They will then surround you and order you out of the car. At this point you might comply or you might not, in which case they will physically pull you out of the car. You will then be handcuffed and if you won’t walk to the police car you will be physically carried. It’s all the application of enough power to get you to comply.

Now all the above would be the same (except the moral bit) even in a country  where the police were corrupt. However if someone is misusing authority God will eventually call them to account for it. A person using power illegitimately, for example wearing a police uniform and flagging you down even though they are not a policeman, or mugging you and forcing your handbag from you, does not have authority. They are a rebel. They have power but not authority. There is nothing legitimate about them or their actions.

Now what about Spiritual authority? When we say “In Jesus name be healed” what is going on? Well, in the bible demons recognize Jesus’ authority and they do what he says. They even ask him for permission to do stuff. There is something built into the culture of the unseen spiritual world that makes demons submit to Jesus’ name. Just turning up and issuing a command in Jesus name works in 99.9% of cases. However sometimes more power is needed. Jesus seems to say that comes by praying. Maybe that’s a bit like calling for backup! When Daniel prayed and fasted in the OT an angel was sent.

The issuing of a command must, in itself, involve an exertion of power. It’s not merely a voiced command awaiting further backup. I think the power of the Holy Spirit is exerted when we issue commands. We are clothed with power. Jesus walked in the power of the Spirit. It must also be connected with faith as Jesus says something like “if you say to a mountain move, and believe it will do so, it will move”.

The water flows when the source is lifted or the end of the tube is lowered.

I am thinking of it like a container of water with a tube coming out of the bottom of it. The default position has the end of the tube level with the top of the water so there is no flow. If you raise the container but keep the end of the tube in the same place water will start to flow out of it. The other way to get the water to flow is to lower the end of the tube. The rate of flow is determined by the relative height of the water level in the container above the end of the tube. Now think of faith. Faith can push up the source at the sending end or faith can pull down the tube at the receiving end. By that I mean the person praying could have faith, the sick person could have faith, or they could both have faith. You could touch Jesus with faith and power would flow out of him. Conversely Jesus could operate in faith and raise the dead where the dead person obviously could not exercise faith. The rate of flow of power is determined by the amount of faith present.

Since God’s power is unlimited the flow of power is limited only by faith. Two caveats spring to mind. The first is that God can stop the flow if he wants. The Holy Spirit is not going to empower something that God is not ok with. He can shut it off at the mains if he wants. The second is that often only a little power is needed to release a massive potential power. This potential power has been built up previously through God’s working in that situation.

Christians are like fire fighters holding a massive high pressure hose. Our job is to keep hold of the end and point it where we expect God to work. Actually, putting out a fire is a helpful picture as you can spray water onto flames and it may take a while for them to go out. As with someone running from the law God’s power can be resisted, but not for long. I was struck by a guy from the Bethel team who prayed with me for a lady to get well. We didn’t see anything but he said to her “It is impossible for us to pray and command you to be well and for nothing to happen”. I also remember the time I was getting disheartened about getting well myself. People kept praying for me and nothing seemed to be happening. Then God read my mind and someone brought a prophetic word to the effect that the prayers of the saints were being effective. I’ve held onto that. It is impossible for God’s power to be released and nothing to happen.

If there was no power released at the time of the first command then it’s hard to see what we have to do to see it exerted. If “be healed in Jesus name” doesn’t releases power for healing then why would power be released when we say it a second time? No. Power must be released on the first and subsequent times until, just like a jar lid suddenly pops of, or a fire is put out, a person is healed or delivered.

Finally, just a point on the legitimate use of power. I have heard some say (or I interpreted them as saying) that Satan gained the legitimate right to rule over us and the earth when Adam sinned. I do not think that is a good way of looking at it. The transaction that takes place on the cross is not between God and Satan but between God and God! Jesus pays our ransom to God. We are rescued from the kingdom of darkness but not by some legal transaction between two equal kingdoms. It’s not like one government negotiating with another for the rescue of hostages. It’s more akin to one government sending in a special forces team to destroy the hostage takers and rescue the hostages by force. Since the hostages were taken illegally their rescue is legal. Put it another way. You don’t buy back stolen goods, you seize them and imprison the thief. Satan is a rebel, a liar and a thief. He owns nothing legitimately. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it! The Christians role is to seize what he has stolen and free the people he has imprisoned and oppressed. One day God will bring him to justice and throw him into the lake of fire mentioned in the book of Revelation.

I wonder if the view that Satan has some legitimate right to us or this world comes from a faulty interpretation of this passage:

“And the devil took [Jesus] up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” (ESV) Luke 4:5-6

We have to remember that what the devil says is going to be a lie or a purposeful distortion of the truth intended to deceive us. Reading what he says I would say it’s a good bet that:

1) He has not been given authority to rule the kingdoms

2) He can not give it to whoever he chooses

He is either deceived or is deceiving.  He may be acting as the prince of this world, but he has no legitimate right to it. We should be very wary of getting doctrine from the devil! Adam and Eve did it in the garden of Eden and things didn’t go too well.

In the Matthew passage the devil seems to be acting out a sham of Matthew 28:18-19 where Jesus says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (ESV) Matthew 28:18-19

The devil is not in charge of doing bad tings for Jesus. Jesus only does good things. Satan has no legitimate authority at all. The only thing lurking in the back of my mind is that no one can do anything without God’s sovereign permission. God gives Satan permission to hassle Job. Does that mean he uses his power legitimately when he takes Job’s possessions? Is God giving Satan authority to make Job ill? I think it’s important to separate God’s delegated authority with his permissive will. He gives us room to rebel but that does not make our rebellion legitimate. The bent cop is not acting with the governments authority but in rebellion to the government.

Well, I didn’t have any of this worked out when I started writing so as usual it’s my raw thoughts. I will continue to process these ideas. My main hunch is that power is released through faith. It’s not simply a command that may or may not have to be backed up by power later. There is immediately a release of power as soon as a person operates in faith. It may not need much power if power has been exerted previously in that context. For example after decades of law enforcement most people will comply very quickly. Their response has been shaped by previous power. In a similar way we work after the death and resurrection of Jesus. At the cross Jesus dealt a death blow to the forces of darkness. We do not therefore face an uphill struggle to see darkness overcome in Jesus name. I am also persuaded that Satan has no legitimate authority but is a thief, a liar and a rebel. I could go on about mankind’s original remit to rule, the extent to which that is still in effect and how Jesus has now given some increased authority but this blog is way too long already!

Sherlock homes and the Sovereignty of God

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

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/what-made-it-ok-for-god-to-kill-women-and-children-in-the-old-testament

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.

Chance would be a fine thing!

Just read the latest update from Matthew Hosier’s blog. http://matthewhosier.blogspot.com/ He has been reading PJs blog too and thinking about the sovereignty of God. He makes the helpful point that there is no such thing as luck. He also includes an interesting quote from a guy called Abraham Kuyper (Wikipedia tells me he was prime minister of the Netherlands between 1901-1905) who wrote about Calvinism:

Abraham Kuyper

Card playing has been placed under a ban by Calvinism, not as though games of all kinds were forbidden, nor as though something demonical lurked in the cards themselves, but because it fosters in our heart the dangerous tendency to look away from God, and to put our trust in Fortune or Luck. A game which is decided by keenness of vision, quickness of action, and range of experience, is ennobling in its character, but a game like cards, which is chiefly decided by the way in which the cards are arranged in the pack, and blindly distributed, induces us to attach a certain significance to that fatal imaginative power, outside of God, called Chance or Fortune. To this kind of unbelief every one of us is inclined… To fear God, and to bid for the favours of Fortune, seemed to Calvin as irreconcilable as fire and water.

I suppose you could play cards with faith: Trusting in God’s goodness to you in making the next card an ace! “I trust you Lord, so I’ll put £100 on black“. I guess that sounds a bit silly, and I’m not being entirely serious, but it’s not half as foolish as looking at the events of my life, past and future, as if I am at the mercy of chance. I wonder how much of my life I see by default as luck rather than God’s sovereign control. If my default position was that God was in control, I wonder if I would be more inclined to approach a game of chance as a fight of faith.

A more plausible reason we don’t see snakes and ladders as a fight of faith is because winning isn’t that important or even the main aim. It’s the taking part that counts. That is such a hard concept to get across to children:

“Let’s play a game. The object is to win but we are not really playing to win just for the fun of playing, but try to win, just don’t be too sad if you don’t win, because we are not playing to win. In fact it’s good to be happy if someone else wins and be pleased for them. Say ‘well done. Thank you for the game.’ But try to win or the game won’t be much fun”.

Another perspective on chance is that God has created a world where it looks like randomness is at work because that is part of the beauty and order of his creation. If I knew enough I’d say something clever and relevant about quantum theory but I don’t so I’ll just mention it in case there is a link here! I’m sure it’s something to do with chance and statistics operating under the apparently deterministic Newtonian laws. So when we are playing snakes and ladders perhaps we are really enjoying quantum theory (or even chaos theory, small changes in initial condition and all that…)! This view would say that chance was just as beautiful as a dance or a sunset so when we are betting we are paying to appreciate chance. Would that make your local high street betting shop a kind of art gallery?

I think the bigger danger in games of chance is if money is involved. You are really dicing with death when you bet money on a random outcome (unless you are so Godly or prophetic you are operating in raw faith:-). There can be something very toxic about the combination of chance and money. Having said that joining in the office world cup sweep stake didn’t seem that deadly and I lived to tell the tale.

Speaking of chance and randomness, evolution is no more flawed because it uses a concept of chance than quantum theory. It may be challenged on other grounds but not because it involves an apparently random process. God is always sovereignly working through everything. He doesn’t take a back seat when DNA recombines any more than he does when I toss a coin. He is the one working through all things such that we get normal, poisson, and Chi-square distributions.

So what about genetic diseases? It’s the same challenge we face with God’s sovereignty and sickness or God’s sovereignty and sin. Ultimately I don’t know why God doesn’t stop sin or doesn’t stop evil but I know he works through it for good and that keeps me from despair in the face of the things I see and hear. It also provokes my faith when I pray for things to happen to which I could attach a very low probability. So what if only two people out of several hundred have ever been healed when I prayed for them. This next person is going to get well because God is sovereign!

The practical answers in this realm are clearer than the systematic answers. God is sovereign so I trust him to work all things for the good of those that love him. He has told me what his kingdom looks like so I pray and act to see that come about. It’s like I am on a rope being pulled out of this dark and deadly world. I may get cut and scraped along the way but at least I have hold of the rope and know I will come though it and be rescued. The question then becomes why not rescue me another way? I have to trust him that he is rescuing me and others in the best possible way.

Cancer and the sovereignty of God : the truth lived out

PJ Smyth

I have just read PJ Smythes blog http://pjsmyth.tumblr.com/ and was so impressed by the way he is living out in practice the truths that I have been fumbling around with in theory. It strengthens my conviction that biblical truth is first and foremost to be lived and experienced not abstracted and systematised. I will reproduce a couple of chunks here but please read the whole thing for yourselves.

“Ok, so which is it? Is this cancer from the devil or from God? ‘And’ is one of the most important theological words and my current situation is a classic case in point. The answer is of course that this cancer is both from God and the devil, and therefore our response needs to include acknowledgement of both/and. I will try to explain:

Is this an attack from the devil? Definitely. Jesus and the early church invariably considered sickness to be from the devil. Reflecting back on Jesus’ ministry Peter says, ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him’ (Acts 10:38). Sickness didn’t exist before the fall and will not exist in heaven (Gen 21v4). God is clearly a healing God. He healed me of hypoglycaemia earlier in my life, and from time to time uses me to heal people. Just last Sunday I prayed for a young boy needing an op who no longer needs an op – a miraculous healing.

So, our response is to be in 100% faith for my healing, and resist this villainous attack of the devil against me, my family, Godfirst and the advances that we are making in Joburg. I believe that God will heal me either through a non-medical source or through the chemo.

Is this permitted by a sovereign and loving God?

Definitely. The devil is given a certain amount of rope by God (see Job Chap 1). But every demon, circumstance and molecule is in submission to a sovereign God (Is 46v9-10; Eph 1v11) who is ultimately working all things together for his glory and our good (Rms 8v28). And, God is a perfect Father who is committed to sanctifying us, and so he uses the non-sovereign, short-sighted, evil attacks of Satan to ultimately do His will in our lives.

So, our response is to trust that our perfect heavenly father is using this experience to ‘disciple’ me (Heb 12v7), mature me (James 1v2-4), and so it should be received with gratitude, faith and joy. Please pray that I can mine this opportunity for all it is worth and emerge like Job saying, ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen’ (Job 42v5). I pray that I would end up in a place of deeper godliness, intimacy with God, and future usefulness to him.

The ‘And’ in Daniel – a great summary

Look at these extraordinary verses from Daniel 3v17-18: ‘If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, O king, that we will not serve your gods.’

Did you see it? They believed 100% that God would deliver them from the furnace, and they believed 100% that God was still God and worthy of their obedience and worship even if he did not deliver them. Their faith in ‘healing’ was 100% pure…but it was ultimately trumped by their faith in God. I think that they were aware that efforts to oversimplify the workings of God are usually destined to fail. I think that they were conscious that life this side of heaven has some unanswered mysteries in view of a God whose ways are higher than our ways. But, this did not cause them to retreat into apathy and lack of faith – on the contrary, they had 100% pure faith in God to deliver them…and he did. Faith for healing glorifies God. Healing glorifies God. And above all, faith in God’s loving sovereignty glorifies God.”

…..

Some encouragement:

Heb 12:7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God has strengthened my soul so much already with encouragements from scripture and from other sufferers through history. I warmly embrace this trial that will help purify my faith and develop my godliness, patience, perseverance and I trust make me a better Christ-follower, wife-lover, father, friend, and pastor to Godfirst and Joburg. I feel I need chastening and refining so much, and am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for his discipleship and training. And all this is proof of sonship in God! What a privilege. It goes without saying that I am trusting God for 100% healing at his earliest possible convenience! I had the privilege of seeing a little boy healed as I prayed for him a week ago and anticipate similar for myself.

Much love and faith to you all,

PJ

I hope it’s ok to reproduce it here in this way. It’s just that I find his perspective on this so helpful. Basically, if I understand it right, cancer is from the devil, he wants us ill because he hates us, but God uses suffering and hardship for our good. God doesn’t suddenly decide one day “I’ll make so and so ill”, the devil does that. But God is working behind and through all of the devils evil schemes to bring about his sovereign purposes. The devil intends it for harm, but God intends it for good.

It reminds me of what Joseph said to his brothers about the time when their jealousy lead them to sell him into slavery.

Gen 50:20   As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (ESV)

This for me it the key passage on suffering and sovereignty of God. Did God want Joseph sold into slavery? Certainly not in the same way his brothers did. Does God like slavery? No. Should we fight against slavery? Yes. Will he be with us in that? Yes. Does he like people being falsely accused and thrown into prison? No. Should we work to free those falsely accused? Yes. Will God help us do that? Yes. Does he work out his good and perfect plans through sickness and injustice? Yes. He can and does work a greater good through evil actions. Ultimately he didn’t want us to sin, he hates our sin, he is wholly opposed to it, it is our responsibility, yet he glorified himself through it by sacrificing his son for us. He did not work around our sin, making the best of it. The lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. The whole of history therefore, with all its sin and suffering, exists for God’s redemptive purposes to be gloriously worked out in Christ. Though good and bad things are very mixed up right now, they will be polarised when Jesus comes again. There will be a wonderful new creation in which there is no suffering, sadness, sickness or death for those who belong to Jesus.

Putting the pieces together

Sometimes at Christmas, when we stay at my parents’ house, we do a massive jigsaw over the festive week. My Mum makes them harder by insisting that looking at the picture on the box is cheating. We have to put the pieces together with only a vague recollection of what the finished picture looks like. The other time I get to do jigsaws is with the children. I think I enjoy it more than them! It’s so satisfying joining the pieces up together. Sometimes one of us links two pieces together that don’t quite fit. As we add more pieces the picture gets rather distorted; we have to force more bits together in implausible ways and we are left with unused pieces. Finally realising our mistake can be a real Eureka moment. As we near the end, inevitably some of the pieces of the puzzle are missing, and we cry out together “there is a missing piece, a missing piece!”. We all start frantically hunting around for it. Sometimes it’s under the sofa, sometimes someone is sitting on it and sometimes someone has deliberately hidden it in order to get the glory of being the one to put the last piece in place! Sadly sometimes it’s a lost cause and the piece is nowhere to be found. It will lie there behind the sideboard, kept in stasis until some future generation stumbles upon it while fitting a new kitchen.

Systematic theology is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. We try to put all the fragments of truth contained in the bible together to build up a faithful picture of what God is like; his character, plans and purposes. The trouble is we don’t have all the pieces and we haven’t seen the picture on the box. Somewhere we have to begin linking the pieces together and make an educated guess as to roughly where they sit. If we think we have all the bits then we can be tempted to force things together, linking large chunks up where they really don’t fit and producing a distorted smaller picture. We piece together something on the sovereignty of God over here, then join up all our bits about human responsibility from over there but they don’t seem to go together very well. The fact is there must be some missing bits that we simply do not have. Down in one corner we have a “god is one” chunk of the picture. We also  have some “Jesus is fully God” pieces and a “the Holy  Spirit is God” grouping, but again they don’t seem to fit together unless we tear off some blobs and repaint the edges. In truth we simply don’t have all the pieces. God is sitting on them, or holding them in his hand ready to put them in place at the end.

Knowing that some pieces are missing is a great help when doing the puzzle and stops us trying too hard to join things up. I find that very helpful when piecing together the truths I find in the bible. God has revealed some truth but not all. The bits he has revealed are usually very clear in terms of their application but not their systemisation with other pieces. The bible is the word of God but written by men for various reasons on various occasions and in various styles. I read it and obey it as God’s word but I also read it and understand it knowing it’s written by men. Unless I am mistaken there are a few bits missing that join the two bits up but the application is clear. I can see roughly where they go in the picture and live in the good of them. Same goes for God’s sovereignty. A large part of the application is clear in that we can trust him to work things out according to his good, perfect and pleasing will even if there are gaps in our understanding and questions that we just can’t answer. Same goes for our responsibility. And as far as I can work out these two are on opposite ends of the picture with lots of missing pieces in between. Some of the missing bits we could try to guess at or makeup ourselves but the more there are the harder it’s going to be.

Finally, maybe you don’t believe in God but have been having a clear out in your life or perhaps some big change has been forced upon you and things have shifted around. Just sometimes in those moments you stumble across a strange little bit of a puzzle. Maybe, just maybe it’s part of an amazing picture showing you the nature of God and his wonderful purposes for your life.