Sometimes I read a headline or the title of an article/blog that simmers with me for a few days that I just can’t shake. Often times, days will pass and that headline will fester in the back of my mind as I’m simply stuck on the words. That nagging curiosity just won’t go away. At some point my curiosity will overcome my better sense of self-control and I’ll venture back out to where I found the headline and read the article. Time such as this, the article will so enraged me that I’ve little choice but to write a rebuttal.
Let me start with a public confession that will set the stage. I get paid every other week and with every paycheck, bills are paid, food is purchased, some money is wasted (heaven knows where it all ends up) and once a month, charitable donations are sent. We sponsor three boys through World Vision, and at present, this constitutes the bulk of our giving to the work of the Church. We used to give regularly to our church, but ever since the move to Lee’s Summit, this is not a practice that we’ve restarted. Yet I pray that it’s something we’ll be correcting soon.
But make no mistake, I’m keenly aware that with each passing paycheck, every year that I’m not giving what’s been placed on my heart to give, I’m literally ROBBING God. Strong word. Really? Am I really robbing the Source from which all things come? It’s right there, plain as day, in the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi 3:8, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” Pretty simple really, if you’re not at least tithing, you’re robbing God.
Some people try some fancy word trickery to get out of the most basic of our financial responsibilities while still others argue as to the applicability of the text for today’s generation. But if you let the words simply be what they are, black and white letters on the page, there it is. I’m a thief that is actively robbing God. I don’t like it and I hope someday to change it, but as I write these words and listen to my boys play, I’m robbing God. There are no “shades of grey.” There’s only Truth. Thankfully the story doesn’t end there even if my name is called before I have a chance to resolve this sin. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) I’m a sinner saved by His Grace no matter what I’ve done. That’s the beauty of the Gospel as recorded for us in the Scriptures.
That’s all well and good, but what about commands or verses in the Bible that are seemingly inconsistent with life today? While it is true that there are many commands in the Bible that were given for a specific time period (some call this a dispensation), which were applicable for only that time period, this doesn’t mean that all are exonerated simply because we’re 2000+ years removed from the time in which the Text was given. Take Onesimus for example. In the tiny little New Testament book of Philemon, Paul writes to ask Philemon (and the church in his house) to receive a run-away slave back into his home. The text does not refute the institution of slavery; this is something that men and women both inside and outside the Church pushed for almost 1700 years later. Neither does the text explicitly support the concept of slavery. It’s a book about redemption and forgiveness that was written within the context of life in the first century and it is completely appropriate of us to apply these principles to our lives today.
So we can see from this that there are certain verses in the Scriptures that transcend time (such as our responsibility to tithe) and certain commands that were applicable for the time or context in which they were written and were preserved for our benefit today. The issue this creates for us then is the ability to discern which is applicable, and which are no longer applicable. Common sense is a tool gifted to us by God for this very purpose, but this is not the only tool. Prayers, searching the Scriptures, studying the classics provided by our church fathers or simply asking spiritual mentors are all means by which we can learn how to better apply the sacred teachings to our lives. As the Lord declares, “For I, the Lord, do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8)
All of this sets the stage for the reason for this post. I’ve written in previous posts about the difference between God’s permitted will, and His perfect will. Kyleigh is in heaven right now due to God’s permitted will, not a part of the original plan when He conceived of the universe, but a specific event that entered the plan around the same time it was foreordained that the Son of God would die a terrible death on the cross of Calvary. This isn’t just the wishful thinking of a grieving father nine months after his daughter’s death, but more importantly; this is what is taught in the Scriptures.
Take Psalm 139:16 for starters. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Seems pretty clear to me, but the evidence doesn’t stop there. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The same message that was stated so clearly for the earliest readers of the Psalms is reinforced centuries later by the Apostle Paul for the newly formed church. This seems to be one of those themes that are meant to transcend time; its relevance was essential thousands of years ago yet it continues to bring comfort and purpose to the Church today. What bothers me about this is how easily the message is so quickly distorted in times of distress.
On November 26th, I was at my parents’ house where my grandmother fell asleep for the last time and she was released from this life to spend eternity with her Savior and those whom have gone on before. She was 88 years old when she died, and while she lived a full, blessed life, her final years were spent in relative isolation being removed (by her choice) from the town where she was born, raised, and retired. She lived and worked alongside her husband for many years in a suburb of Kansas City, and while they retired to Southern Missouri, when grandpa died, she uprooted and moved in with her daughter. We can look at the Ephesians verse and know for certain what “good works” were hers to walk in and we can recount the days that were written in His book for her from birth to death. Like many of our grandparents that live long, full, and prosperous lives, we sit comfortably aside and affirm that “Yes, God sure blessed them all their days.”
Why then, do we question the validity of these very verses that, when in times of blessing they form the cornerstone of our faith in the providence of the Almighty God, but in times of tragedy they cause some to doubt the very meaning of the verses? Is not every life, all life, written in His book from the moment of their birth to the moment of their death? Why do people insist upon wanting to amend Ps 139:16 to read, “…and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them provided I live either a long, full life or die by some noble or gallant means?”
Life, death, and everything in-between. All of this is part of a script that plays out whereby nothing that anyone decides to do, say or think surprises the sovereign God. Our freedom and His sovereignty, like two parallels tracks that make the locomotive arrive at a final destination, are two inseparable elements whose complete understanding is beyond our limited capability. Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We may not like this verse when we watch the news and shake our heads in disgust at the choices individuals or nations make as they rage war with their fellow man, but we simply cannot dismiss the verse because we don’t fully understand how the events in the moment impact the eternal world whose history is yet to be written.
If we start in Genesis and read to Joshua, we don’t understand why God would command the nation of Israel to murder every living man, woman and child in the Promised Land to which they were moving. From a family (perhaps a better word for Israel at this point in their history) living as slaves in Egypt to the first Theocracy, the orders they were given seem unusual or rather appalling to contemporary readers. Yet the very reason that Israel was in Egypt for so long, as the Scriptures tell us was that the “iniquity of the [inhabitants] is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:12-16) I have no idea what it means that their iniquity was not yet complete, but if you back up a few chapters in Genesis, I think you get a picture of it. Genesis 6:5 before the cleansing flood reads, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Pause for a second and re-read that. What would a contemporary society look like if everything we did was “only evil continually?” I can hardly imagine, but I would suspect that the events over these last few months would pale in comparison to the atrocities of what man is capable of when their every action personifies evil. And while the command was given to Israel to annihilate the inhabitants of the land, the facts as recorded in Scripture tell us they failed to do so and instead they preferred to cohabitate and intermarry with these people. Generations later the extent of their inability to live by the explicit precepts given by their God, manifests in a deplorable activity of child sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:31). This is the story of the Old Testament, promises made to our forefathers, the nation’s inability to keep their end of the bargain, and God punishing an unrepentant generation for their wickedness. And yet in the midst of this, it’s telling that the genealogy of the nation’s greatest king (David) and the very Word that became flesh to dwell among us, Jesus, traces to one of these very nations that Israel was ordered to wipe out (read the book of Ruth).
Did God create evil? No. God created the opportunity for evil when He granted us the freedom to choose between good and evil. After all, the choices that we make are either one or the other. Freedom resulted in evil all those years ago in the Garden, and it’s our disposition today that continues to make that very same choice. When we rebel against God, who is by His very nature goodness, love and light, we demonstrate our propensity to be evil. What we cannot do, nor what we must not do, is attribute blessings to the mighty hand of God while at the same time deny the permission He provides to the Evil One who tempts us, which often results in times of suffering. This is precisely how the plan unfolds for Job. It starts with Satan at the throne room seeking permissions to inflict Job, and ends when Satan has done his worse and Job is a better man for it. Yet while the infliction presses upon Job and at the point when God makes His presence known to him, I believe Job is making the same mistake for which I’m writing here. God’s rebuke is powerful, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) I remember reading these words just days after Kyleigh’s burial and I felt an overwhelming sense of humility. I believe we will always be susceptible to question the plan. It’s natural to do because the plan is so much bigger than us. I would prefer the plan to be about me and my wishes but that’s my own selfishness at work.
Make no mistake, God never tempts us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (James 1:13). Yet at the same time, we must know that “God is faithful, [He] will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able…” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Rest in the knowledge that the Scripture teaches that God is in control of all things. Big and little, good and bad, nothing, absolutely nothing occurs on this earth without His explicit involvement, command or permission.