Discerning the times – and God’s will:
OK, a mouthful of a title, bringing together a number of ginormous subjects. But there is a purpose in this. Two recent comments to this site, and my responses to them, form the basis of this article. One thing about having an interactive website is you get a lot of folks sending in great comments and asking great questions. (Of course you get a lot of not-so-great ones as well!)
Both comments had to do with how Christians should respond to great evil and evil rulers, especially in light of what the Bible says about the end times, predictions of one world governments, and the like. If all this has been foretold by God, should we simply submit to it all, or should we resist nonetheless? Moreover, is God using these things to achieve his purposes?
Let me speak to each comment in turn. What follows is part of their comments/questions, and a somewhat expanded version of my original answer to them. I trust that both do not mind that I am doing this! The first fellow was responding to a recent piece I wrote on the Great Reset and how we must stand against this. He said in part:
One thing I need to ask is as we look at this idea of “The Great Reset” is this any different to Isaiah or Jeremiah’s situation? (Babylon is coming and nothing you do or say will stop them from taking control of this land) I ask this in so far as God has shown through the book of Revelation there will be a one world government, religion and currency so are we kidding ourselves in thinking we can thwart God’s plans by fighting against this. I am by no means saying we should just give up and accept this as a given. I like the idea of communities and Churches becoming closer and more vocal against this situation but in the end if this is as God would have it, nothing we can do or say will stop it from happening. Am I wrong?
These are good questions indeed. And there are, I believe, good answers. A few things can be said. Back in the Old Testament Jeremiah and others were divinely inspired canonical prophets, so when they told the Israelites, ‘Do not resist Babylon (or Assyria) as it is being used by Yahweh for his purposes to judge Israel,’ that was not something anyone should have argued with.
God was telling his people through the prophetic word what was specifically happening, and in the case of Jeremiah, he wanted them NOT to resist the evil Babylonians. There are plenty of passages about how he said they must submit to God’s judgment. Here are some of them:
Jer. 27:16-17 Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the Lord’s house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation?
Jer. 32:4-5 Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye. And he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I visit him, declares the Lord. Though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed’?”
Jer. 32:26-28 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? Therefore, thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it.
Jer. 38:17-18 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.”
But several things must be said about this. These commands to Israel were unique, one-off events. They do NOT serve as a template for all of God’s people for all times. This was a specific work of God at a specific time and place. And recall that although Babylon is called God’s servant, Yahweh would later also judge them.
Today Christians do not have divinely inspired canonical prophets telling us about such matters. We cannot say – at least with any degree of certainty – that Dan Andrews or Klaus Schwab or Stalin or Hitler are his instruments of judgment and that we must simply submit fully.
And even if one is a hardcore Calvinist who may believe that everything is ordained by God, only a few of the more extreme ones would deny human responsibility. Thus hardly anyone would have told Wilberforce for example, ‘Slavery is God’s divine will so if you resist it you are resisting God’! And hardly anyone would have told Bonhoeffer, ‘Do not resist Hitler – he is God’s servant,’ etc. So we really are not in the same place as Israel was back then.
And our marching orders remain: we are to be salt and light, and that involves – among other things – fighting against evil and injustice wherever it is found. Resisting tyrannical megalomaniacs who are causing so much harm is part of what it is to be a good Christian in a fallen world. So resisting great evil like the Great Reset seems perfectly biblical.
Lastly, Christians of course for 2000 years have thought they were living in the last days of the book of Revelation. We just do not know for sure when the end will be, as Jesus said. The Lord may tarry for a few more centuries. In which case we are to occupy till He comes, and that means, at least in part, taking a stand for righteousness and justice.
The second comment I want to discuss came in to an article I wrote about resisting evil rulers in general, and the horrible lockdowns and pandemic legislation in Victoria in particular. A fellow asked if there may not be a divine purpose in all this, even the terrible lockdowns, etc. He said in part:
Is an even darker period coming? Is this simply the prelude, giving us a glimpse of the main portion, in which we have time to make connections and communities to survive and thrive without government. The early disciples were hated by their government too and yet God was not without witness in fact under persecution was when the Church saw it biggest growth! Perhaps God is separating us from the world by force since we won’t do so voluntarily. We should be open to that and search for God’s purpose.
Again, great questions, and similar in some ways to the above questions. Here is a fuller answer to the one I gave him:
That God has a purpose in all he does is not in question. Those who believe in a sovereign God who is involved in what happens on planet earth will know that he does indeed have purposes for all that he does. But of course we may not always know exactly what those purposes are!
In the Old Testament the inspired canonical prophets quite often told the people of Israel what Yahweh’s specific purposes were. And that often included God’s purposes for the nations, and how he could even use pagan nations to judge Israel. These included not just Babylon and Assyria but other nations as well.
But we just do not have the same clear prophetic words today. We see through a glass darkly. We often must just pray and trust, without a super clear understanding of what is taking place. Sometimes all we can do is trust that God is ultimately in charge, and that he is indeed carrying out his purposes.
But we are still to fight evil and resist tyranny. Having a high view of God’s sovereignty does not – and should not – turn us into fatalists. I too wonder why God is allowing evil things like Dictator Dan’s reign of terror, but unless I somehow get some certain word from above that Dan is God’s servant to punish Victorians, I will keep resisting.
I know I am called to be salt and light, and that may involve standing against tyrants who think they are God. So that I will keep doing. Moreover, if we knew every detail of what God was now up to, I suppose we would not need to have faith. So there may be a place for some mystery and wonder as to what God is up to today, and what exactly we should be doing.
Scripture however provides us with plenty of details in some areas, or at least broad principles to guide us in this and other areas. But yes, I often wonder about these things as well. Has God raised up an evil despot like Andrews to judge an evil and rebellious people and to chastise his church?
It is always possible. Some years ago I wrote about the saying that God gives people the rulers they deserve. See more on that topic here: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/02/23/on-getting-the-government-we-deserve/
But even if it is part of God’s purposes to raise up an Andrews, it may well also be part of his purposes to raise up those who will resist his ungodly and tyrannical ways. So we can act, even while God acts. Unless we are certain that some modern event or action is clearly and precisely the express will of God, and to oppose it is to oppose God himself, we can keep on being salt and light.
And this is true of not just draconian lockdowns and power grabs, but the virus itself. What if God has sent it as some sort of judgment? Again, I think we can take steps to mitigate or eradicate such viruses while also allowing God to achieve any purposes he might have in mind. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/08/10/disease-disaster-evil-and-worldviews/
In sum, my commenting friend is right: ‘We should search for God’s purposes.’ That may not always be easy to do, but it is part of what it is to be a Christian.