The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 25, 2018 – Christ the King Sunday
In praising God as the Supreme Being, this Psalm sings out in celebration that He is the “Lord” who is “above all gods”, the “great” God who does “whatever” pleases Him, regardless of the opposition of pretender gods or human forces of evil. God is ever in charge!
The Apostle Paul seconded that joyous proclamation years later when he lauded God as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Thus, though the world is often out of control, God remains in control, and we can rest assured He will at last accomplish His plan and fulfill His every promise.
But how can we believe God’s in control when so much is out of control and out of line?
Many theologians make a distinction between God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. Because God has chosen to preserve the free will of human and angelic beings, it is God’s will to allow sinful beings to be in control of some things for the time being, and to affect the present course of events. Though one day God’s perfect will shall be fully achieved, today God permits other free will agents to determine, to a great extent, how things are.
In His mercy, however, God puts limits on their control and restraints on their impact. Though He abides by His delegation of responsibility to them and respects their subsequent freedom to defy and thwart His will for a while, He sets inviolable parameters on how far afield they can go and how much damage they can inflict.
God only wants good things to happen; but, in deference to the free will of human and angelic beings, God – at great personal cost to Himself – allows bad things to happen.
Yet, everything that happens, including the worst things, He has to approve for happening. Everything that happens must be run by Him for permission to happen before it happens. Thus, God is in sovereign control of even evil! He lets it have its day and have some sway, though ultimately He’ll have everything His way.
A.W. Tozer compares our life to that of passengers on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic from America to England. The destination has already been determined. Nothing the passengers do changes the itinerary or prevents their arrival at the destination decided upon prior to their boarding the ship. Yet, on the journey there, they are free to choose their activities. They can move about the ship as they wish; and eat, drink, sleep, play, lounge and engage in other pursuits as they please. Why, they may even – in an unintended act of self-destruction – decide to jump overboard to try to swim to England on their own. Yet, unless they make that decision, they keep being carried on toward a set destination whatever they choose to do – which is not to say that how things go for them upon their arrival at the terminus is unaffected by how they act on the ship as it carries them there.
In like manner, God is in ultimate control even if we are free to get out from under His control. And God, in response to our choices, still decides where exactly we will end up and how it will go for us there. That is a comfort for those who choose to obey God’s rules, and a warning for those who choose not to.
Of course, what happens to us is not always a result of our own decisions. We suffer from the bad decisions of bad people, and benefit from the good decisions of good people. Sometimes the balance between these two sources of impact upon us weighs more to the side of the former than to the side of the latter!
Every moment God is sovereign over how all sources of impact upon us balance out. To recognize that fact can, in tough times, either precipitate a crisis of faith or bring us closer to God. Which of those two effects our awareness of God’s sovereignty has upon us depends on what we believe about God.
Christian musician Stephen Curtis Chapman, who’s suffered his share of tragedies, observed, “We can control where we allow things we don’t understand to land. They either fall between us and God, and we become angry. Or we allow these things to fall outside of us and press us in closer to God.”
If we have come to know God’s heart and can trust Him even when we don’t know what He had in mind by allowing things that strike us as irredeemably bad, tough times do not alienate us from Him but press us closer to Him, if only in a desperate desire to draw upon His strength and comfort. If we expect God to be consistently, albeit sometimes mysteriously, loving, we simply think, when things are really bad, that God is up to something good in a way we can’t figure out yet!
It is a consolation to believe, then, that life is not ruled by chance or fate, but by a wise and caring God who works in all things for good and who is capable enough to bless us even by what to us seems nothing but a curse.
When the missionary Martin Burnham was killed by Filipino terrorists, Gracia, his wife and fellow missionary, experienced a crisis of faith and wondered how God could allow her beloved husband to die when he had been serving the Lord so faithfully and been supported by so many prayers. But she came to realize that, while she could not grasp the purpose in God’s plan, let alone its wisdom, she could hold on to God’s consistent character and steadfast love. She wrote, “What I do know is that God is God – and I am not….I know awful things may happen. I also know God, and I know that God always does what is right. And He makes good out of bad.”
Awareness of God’s sovereignty brings consolation when we hold on to the reality of who God is in His reliability and generosity of love.
It also brings consolation when we hope in God’s capacity to triumph in His loving intentions no matter what evil throws against Him to thwart His purposes.
Phillip Yancey gives a helpful analogy with himself – believe it or not – representing evil: evil both from within us, and from outside of us. An accomplished competitive chess player who had studied the game long and hard, Yancey in midlife took on a chess master who had become His friend. Yancey soon learned that with this guy he could never take control of the game or defeat him in his purposes on the chessboard. If he tried a classic offense, the guy countered with a classic defense. If he tried a more risky, unorthodox approach, the guy incorporated Yancey’s bold forays into his own winning strategies. Yancey didn’t stand a chance. He says, “Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that none of my strategies mattered much. His superior skill guaranteed that my designs inevitably ended up serving His own.”
Yes, by God’s sovereign allowance evil has free rein to try all sorts of tricks and stratagems in its attempt to oppose God’s purposes; but, as much as Yancey with that chess master, evil is out of its league when it fights God’s plans, and it will lose inevitably. In fact, as with Yancey and the chess master, evil’s efforts of opposition end up serving God’s intentions.
The Lord our God is above all gods; and whatever He pleases, He accomplishes. Let us rejoice in that, and be at peace!