Tag Archives: sovereignty

How much good can a good God do with a healthy dose of Man Flu?

duvet day

If we believe in a good God who is in control of his world, then presumably his promise to “work all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28) extends even to man flu. So what good is God able to work in the midst of illness? I can think of at least three:

  1. Illness is good for giving us opportunities to patiently wait in humble dependence on God. Every night it’s the same: will I sleep well tonight? Will I be better tomorrow morning? And every time the answer is ‘no’ we have to practice patiently trusting God. I want to be better straight away, but God has other plans that are bigger than mine, and I must wait until he is ready to make me better.
  2. Illness is good for showing us that we’re not superheroes and we need to stop every now and again. Sometimes it’s easy to overdo it in the short term (even if that’s a six month ‘short term’) and convince yourself that it’s sustainable and you’re doing ok. But then eventually you crash and burn and get stuck in bed for a week, and it can be a good way for your body to say “you are going to stop and rest whether you like it or not”. There’s a famous story (does anybody know where it’s from?) of a busy pastor who never quite managed to take a day of rest each week, and then after a few years ended up with a serious illness that lasted basically as long as all of those skipped rest days strung together.
  3. Illness is good for reminding us that our identity is not in what we can do or how we can serve. Every day you think to yourself “I’ll be well enough tomorrow to fulfill that commitment I made to so-and-so” or “I’ll be well enough by church on Sunday to do the powerpoint”. Then when you’re not, you have to ask other people for help and the body of Christ kicks in to action and everybody rallies round and copes pretty marvellously without you and it turns out you weren’t quite as indispensable as you thought. And that’s ace, because it brings conviction of ways in which you’ve started to define yourself by what you do and the ways in which you serve, and find your value in the contribution you make rather than simply your standing in Christ as a precious child of God. Occasionally having to allow others to serve you rather than trying to do everything for yourself can be humbling in a really helpful way.

That’s as far as I’ve got so far – maybe you’ve got some suggestions of your own?

P.S. Free special bonus treat: Jonathan Edwards’ resolution No. 67: “Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what am I the better for them, and what I might have got by them.”

Sovereignty and Procrastination

Why Jesus is My Hero #17 of 52

In his classic book Desiring God, John Piper includes this quote from Jonathan Edwards: “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.” It’s a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more – it’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings, knowing that no matter what’s going on, even when the world is crashing down around my ears, God is in control and he is working all things for the good of those who love him.

The idea of sovereignty at one level means that God is always able to bring his will to pass – nothing can stop him accomplishing what he has purposed. If he’s said he’ll work all things for good, then he will – he cannot be thwarted in bringing his will to realisation. Isaiah 46 says this:

“Remember this and stand firm,

recall it to mind, you transgressors,

remember the former things of old;

for I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me,

declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done,

saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

calling a bird of prey from the east,

the man of my counsel from a far country.

I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;

I have purposed, and I will do it.”

It’s an awesome vision of the mighty God. I love it.

But it’s been really brought home to me this week how transcendently different from me this is. I am decidedly not God. Sadly, for me, the mere act of willing something to be cannot bring it to pass. Even the simple desire of wanting to put my all into one final talk for my last preaching practice opportunity at college proved beyond my powers to enact. I had a real motivational crisis – not doubt partly because of being a bit ill.

But it taught me a valuable lesson: I’m utterly dependent on God. I cannot and must not take pride in the things I do and achieve – because it’s only by God’s grace that any of it happens. He is the sovereign God whose will always comes to pass. I’m just a puny human whose will sometimes comes to pass, at least to some extent, not always precisely to the full degree of how I’d hoped it to work out.

All of this got me thinking about that moment in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus said to his Father: “not my will, but yours”. Isn’t that an incredible moment? I can’t even quite get my head around what that means. As God, Jesus is pretty proficient at getting his will enacted. All he has to do is rebuke the storm and it calms itself in an instant. All he has to do is say the word, and the dead man Lazarus rises from his tomb. And yet here he choses to forgo his own will and submit it to the Father’s. Once again, the Father’s will comes to pass – he is proved Sovereign once more. And yet I see something truly beautiful in that act of submission by the Son.

That’s why Jesus is my hero.

Why God Is Better Than the Chairman – Thoughts on ‘The Adjustment Bureau’

The Adjustment Bureau

I’m not going to bother writing an all-out review of “The Adjustment Bureau” – I’m sure many people have already done a better job of that than I ever could. But in summary: as somebody who finds it very easy to enjoy even the worst of films, I rather liked it! Yes, the script was a bit shoddy in places, and yes, the final chase was perhaps a bit lacklustre.

But at the end of the day, what I enjoyed about it was that it’s a film that makes you think. It’s a film that none-too-subtly explores some favourite themes of mine – the meaning of free will, human choice & responsibility, the sovereignty of God, etc. – and in the process reveals a lot about what our culture believes and cherishes on these issues. Here’s a great quote from Russell Moore’s theological ruminations on the film:

“This film might, though, prompt us to see in our neighbors a sense of helplessness, a sense of captivity, and a rage that, just maybe, is misdirected toward God. And, perhaps, the film will spur us to wonder whether our neighbors are feeling something of what is true for all of us, apart from the liberating power of the devil-defeating Cross: We are being chased.”

I’m not sure the film was really good enough to actually make me feel any of that. But what I did feel, after seeing the film, was profoundly thankful: thankful that the God of the Bible is nothing like The Chairman. God would beat The Chairman in a fight without even breaking a sweat. Let me explain why (warning: spoilers ahead)

First, consider for a moment the nature of the Chairman:

  • The Chairman exists in a deistic universe – the kind of “clockwork universe” that by and large works itself out according to the laws of chance. Every now and again the Bureau has to make a little nudge to adjust its course and make sure that things stick to The Plan, but as far as possible they allow it to take care of itself.
  • The Chairman has to constantly revise his plan in the light of new data – he’s constantly at risk of being outwitted and having his plan overturned by pesky humans, and his minions seem pretty inept at preventing this from happening. He seems to have aspirations for how he hopes things will turn out rather than sovereign authority to make sure that they do.
  • The Chairman thinks we’d be better off without him – this is the ultimate message of the film: rather like training wheels on a bike, The Chairman’s influence is designed to be only temporary. He’d much prefer it if humanity was able to take responsibility for itself and its choices, and indeed seems confident that we’d be better off if we could. He only reluctantly steps in when it seems that we’re making poor use of the privilege of free will.

In this way, The Chairman is, of course, a product of our age – a profound confidence in the innate goodness of humanity if only we would be true to the potential within ourselves; and free will and the right to choose as the most cherished possessions we have. As Norris says in one of his early campaign speeches: “the most important thing is the choices we make”. Within this worldview, for God to impose his will on us would be cruel and inhumane – making us paramount to slaves.

But this could not be more different from the God of the Bible:

  • The God of the Bible sustains and upholds the universe every minute of every day – without his constant intervention the sun would not rise in the morning, nor the moon by night. The early scientists were given confidence to trust that the laws of physics would stay constant from day to day because they trusted in a sovereign God who never changed and who was able to sustain the movement of the planets and the spinning of the atom. There is nothing “hands off” about the way God runs his universe.
  • The God of the Bible cannot be thwarted – contrary to the assertions of Open Theists, the Bible teaches that there is no Plan B: what God has purposed always comes to pass. “I declare the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'” (Isaiah 46:10). The real decisions that we make every moment of the day are all part of his plan, not in opposition to it.
  • The God of the Bible knows how much I need him – the Bible says that to be rid of God’s influence in my life is not to be free but to be desperately lost without hope. By nature I am a slave to sin, following the futile desires of my darkened heart and mind. Thank God that he doesn’t step back and leave me to it! And thank God that his involvement in my life isn’t some temporary state of affairs that might be revoked at any moment – it’s painfully obvious to me that without God’s constant moment-by-moment intervention in my life, even when I least deserve it, I would be utterly ruined.

As finite human beings existing in a single moment of time, we can only see one minuscule portion of the picture. What’s more, even if I could know what the best choice in any given situation was, I’m far from rational – we constantly choose the things that are against our own best interests based on misplaced affections and sinful desires. Now, I need God’s intervention in my life. I hope I come to depend on his direction more as time goes by, not kid myself into thinking that I can do without it. To surrender to his sovereign will, even when it seems directly opposed to the things I would have chosen for myself – now that’s true freedom.