Tag Archive | providence

There’s no such thing as tragedy in a Christian’s life

This will be among the shortest blog essays I’ve ever written, but it will be one of the most powerful. At least, it was for me. I pray it is for you as well.

John Gerstner was a Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary and an authority on the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards. He produced many edifying works in his life, most famously, his “Handout” series. Handout Church History, Handout Theology, and Handout Apologetics are among some of the most wonderful series of lectures and handouts he ever produced. They are easily available online, foremost at Ligonier.org but also in books and videos elsewhere.

Anyway, in his Handout Theology series I’m watching at Ligonier, he did several lectures on the Doctrine of Providence, which is my favorite doctrine. He referenced Romans 8:28 which I’ll post. Then his comment below.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I was once asked, ‘what is tragedy?’ It is whatever happens to the unconverted. No matter how great a blessing, it is a curse to the unconverted because he does not receive it with gratitude to the Giver. On the other hand, no matter whether a snake bite, or whatever, it is a blessing to God’s children for whom all things work together for the good. ~John Gerstner, Handout Theology lecture on Providence, part 2

When we focus on Jesus in His heaven, it changes our perspective. When our worldview changes, we settle into the peace that Jesus gives us, the peace that passes all understanding.

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Further reading

John Gerstner, Handout Theology lecture on Providence, part 1

John Flavel: The Mystery of Providence

Spurgeon sermon: Providence

God’s sovereignty in providence: Esther and Jael

God is sovereign of the entire universe. He plans what he plans and He does what he pleases.

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3).

It’s admittedly hard to understand how God can and does orchestrate all events at once, constantly, over the earth and throughout the stars, so that His plans providentially combine in perfect harmony to enact His will. But He is God and we’re not supposed to understand it! It is also hard to understand how our personal decisions are still personal but also are part of His will and plan and the outcome is predetermined. That our decisions are our own yet are part of a pre-ordained plan that all leads to the cross and beyond is a tension our finite minds can’t comprehend. It is a joy to ponder them though, because in so doing, we come up against God’s power, omniscience, and will.

Here are two things to consider when looking at God’s providence and will, with our decisions and will.

Esther

The book of Esther was not written by Esther but it is about Esther, her Hebrew name was Hadassah. She lived during the time of King Ahasuerus of Persia, also known as King Xerxes. Through a series of providential events, Esther wound up as Queen to Ahasuerus and also was put in a position to save her people. However the saving of her people was at dire risk to her own life. She was discussing what to do with her uncle Mordecai, and Mordecai famously said,

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Esther could make her own decision. She could risk her life and go in to the King, or she could stay in the harem and not go to the King. Mordecai knew God’s character well enough to know that His promise to keep a remnant of His people alive would indeed happen, whether Esther decided to participate at this particular moment or not. God would keep His promise no matter what Esther decided. The choice was hers. Esther decided to go in and speak to the King even though he had not called for her (usually this meant death). We know the rest, Esther’s action revealed to the King the evil deeds of Haman and Haman was killed instead of the Jews.

Jael

Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite. Sisera had been cruelly oppressing the Hebrews for 20 years. The people cried out. Deborah was civic leader at that time, prophesying and judging. She sent for Barak, the military leader and told him to go take care of the problem. Barak could freely decide what to do. He could go or he could not go, the choice was his. He said he would not go unless Deborah came with him. (Judges 4:8). His answer was in effect, no. Deborah replied that she would go with Barak, but it would be an embarrassment to him because God would deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman, and Barak would not get the military glory for the victory.

Barak freely made his choice, but now the outcome would occur from another quarter, just as Mordecai had said it would if Esther decided against her action.

Into the story enters Jael. After Barak routed Sisera’s army, Sisera fled. Sisera aimed toward the tent of Heber the Kenite. Sisera knew there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor (Sisera’s King) and the house of Heber the Kenite. Heber had separated from the Kenites and was settled far from the action. Sisera ran, believing he was safe to go toward the area where there was no fighting and where there was peace between the parties. Normally he would be right, especially since hospitality customs were so strong in protecting those who are invited into the tent. However in this providential case, Sisera was wrong. Jael invited Sisera into the tent, gave him drink, and covered him as he fell asleep.

Note that Sisera fell asleep. He had a hard day of fighting, but even though his life was in peril he felt comfortable enough where he let down his guard and fall asleep. Women in those days were responsible for pitching the tents and so Jael was strong enough and familiar enough with how to efficiently hammer a tent peg into the ground. As Sisera slept, she drove a tent peg into his temple and pinned his head to the ground. The verse succinctly states, “So he died.” (Judges 4:21b).

And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel
. (Judges 4:22-23).

Barak had kind of said “I will go” but not really. Placing conditions on your obedience isn’t really obedience to God. I like how the verse says God subdued Jabin.

Whether Esther went in or didn’t go in, God would deliver the Jews from Haman. Whether Barak went to battle or didn’t go to battle, God would deliver the Jews from King Jabin and Commander Sisera. Both Esther and Barak freely decided on a course of action. Yet both outcomes occurred at the providential hand of God.

God is amazing.

Anonymous.
Jael and Sisera
pen drawing  — c. 1440 – 1450
Museum Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig. The name of the drafter is not known. He is thought to be someone close to Van Eyck and his workshop. Source: Art and the Bible

Do we have the ability to interpret our own circumstances? Should we?

The title’s question is an important one. According to New Age-ish teachers like Henry Blackaby in his Experiencing God study,

God speaks through circumstances to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways.

What Blackaby means in using the word circumstances, is Providence. J. Vernon McGee said providence is “the means by which God directs all things — both animate and inanimate, seen and unseen, good and evil — toward a worthy purpose, which means His will must finally prevail. Or as the psalmist said, “his kingdom ruleth over all” (Psalm 103:19).” I. E. Circumstances.

Blackaby teaches people how to interpret those circumstances through which he claims God is speaking. So let’s look at an example of how well or badly this kind of personal interpretation might go.

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)

Let’s put that circumstance-interpreting to the test. In his sermon on Jonah 1:1-3 titled Sin’s Stupidity!, Ian Hamilton said,

When Jonah arrived at Tarshish, he might have said, ‘Oh! Wow! This is providential! There’s a ship going to Tarshish, just what I’m looking for!’ We are never the best judges in discerning the significance of God’s providence. God’s providence will never overrule His commandments. If you’re ever in a quandary, obey the commandment and leave it to God to sort out the providence. You and I, at our best, are no infallible interpreters of providence. Obey the commandment, and leave God to work out the providence. The Lord Jesus Christ ultimately did that. When all the providences around His life seemed to shout out that He had been ultimately, irrevocably and finally abandoned and forsaken, He still prayed, ‘My God, My God.’ He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Look! A ship loaded and ready to go to the exact place I want to go!  It must be God’s Providence! (Prata photo)

In today’s parlance of interpreting circumstances as Blackaby advised, we might say something exactly like the hypothetical statements Hamilton said Jonah might have said. Leave the interpretations alone and stay with the more sure word. (2 Peter 1:19).

Greg Gilbert of 9Marks reviewed Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God study. He related a similar example of a person interpreting circumstances and backward proofing it through scripture to confirm.

George Whitefield, the great preacher in the Great Awakening and Edwards’s friend, admitted that even he had fallen into this kind of error. Prior to the birth of his only son, Whitefield announced that the boy would be a great preacher and that he would be great in the sight of the Lord. Four months after his birth, though, the child died. Whitefield recognized his mistake and wrote: “I misapplied several texts of Scripture. Upon these grounds, I made no scruple of declaring ‘that I should have a son, and his name was to be John,'” (in Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards, p.241-2). Whitefield had taken the angel’s declaration to Zechariah as his own, and had thus fallen into error. Let that be a caution to us as Christians to always read the Bible in its context.  

No, we don’t use the scriptures to confirm what we have first intuited as a circumstance for action. Mr Gilbert continues with a solid reminder about omens, providences and circumstances.

God’s normal way of operating in His people’s lives is to shape them by His Word, to transform their minds by His Holy Spirit, and to sanctify their reason so that they can consider and weigh alternatives and make wise decisions.

Key words, “wise decisions.” Jonah had made a decision, nothing more, which happened to be in direct rebellion to God’s clear word. No amount of personal circumstance-interpreting will ever trump what God hath said. Relying on omens and circumstances shifts the onus of the decision from the person making it to some kind of externals, such as to Providence or to God. His commands and His wisdom is in His word. Let obedience begin and end there.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25).

God’s Providence is like a Pointillist painting

This essay was first published at The End Time in February, 2014

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We know that the church is a body, a united body of believers.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)

The Holy Spirit ordains where each believer is to be and what gifts he is to have. He ordains where we are in the body so as to contribute to the good of the whole.

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:11)

It could be said that the Lord is painting a picture.

If you’re familiar with the Impressionist movement of art that emerged in the late 1800s in Paris, then you’re familiar with the works of Monet, Manet, Sisley, Renoir, & etc. These artists used short brush strokes to convey movement and impression, rather than precision. There was a sub-culture of the Impressionists called the Pointillists. Here is Georges Seurat’s famous pointillist painting, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte“.

As the website IncredibleArt.org states,

Strictly speaking, Pointillism refers to the technique of using dots of pure color in such a way that, seen at the appropriate distance, they achieve maximum luminosity.” (source). Georges-Pierre Seurat made this technique famous. His painting,

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1888) is one of the most famous paintings in the world. … At left you see a closeup of Seurat’s painting. It is a closeup of the the man laying down on the lower left. Even thought he appears to be wearing white pants, as you can see, the part of the pants in the shadow just above the grass has no white in it. It’s only when you look at it from a distance that the colors blend in. Seurat spent two years on this painting. He carefully planned it out with several sketches first.

It could be said, that the earth is the canvas and the people are the points of paint God daubs precisely here and there, working toward an end.

I’ve seen pointillist paintings at museums. You look very closely and all you can see are daubs of color. Dots. If you back away to a distance, you can see the scene clearly. It’s amazing how the colors blend to make a seamless and beautiful picture.

We can think of ourselves as dots. We can’t see the whole picture, we don’t have the right perspective. God does. He puts a pink next to a blue and though all we can see is the blue next to us, we have to trust that the Great Artist is making something beautiful. Even if you don’t like the color pink, you know and trust that the Artist’s purposeful placement of it next to you will make the picture as a whole perfect when it is complete.

Just like heaven.