When your world is falling apart, God’s isn’t:
When things are going badly, the believer is often left wondering where God is. We might already know the biblical answer, that he is still on the throne and has not gone anywhere. Yet it may seem like he has gone on vacation, and we long for him to act and to act quickly.
As is often the case with me, several things happened around the same time that resulted in an article. Yesterday I had read a couple of chapters on God’s sovereignty from a book I have been highlighting of late. Also, there was an election result last night that I and many others were not too thrilled with.
Thus this piece. Let me start with the latter. On the social media I put up some posts last night, indicating my concerns. As the election results became clear early on, in the space of an hour I posted these five comments:
“Good grief – if Labor wins NSW, the entire mainland Oz is under leftist Labor rule – the judgment of God is all I can think of!”
“It is a massacre, with the Saints 34-3 over the Dogs (I am not a fan of either). It is a massacre, with Labor whooping Liberal butt in NSW (I am not a fan of either). God have mercy.”
“And we already know what NSW Libs and others will say: ‘We need to move more to the left to win elections.’ Um no. It is because the Libs are indistinguishable from the lefties that they keep losing. Will they ever learn? I tend to doubt it.”
“I read in 1 Samuel 4:22 today: ‘The Glory [of God] has departed from Israel.’ One can rightly ask if this is true of Australia as well.”
“With hell breaking out all over the earth, we have 3 options:
1-There is no God and crap happens.
2-There is a God but he is powerless to do anything, so crap just happens.
3-There is a God and he is in control, working out his purposes, and we must have faith and trust in dark times.
I have to go with 3.”
As can be seen, I was quickly becoming more and more discouraged as the night went on! My fifth and final post did reflect the sort of thoughts that I needed to embrace, instead of just gloom and doom. But still, I was quite discouraged, so I grabbed a few volumes on divine providence to see if I could get some encouragement. I briefly flipped through Stephen Charnack’s 1680 volume as well as John Piper’s 2020 book.
But I returned to the one I had read earlier in the day, a book I have been highly recommending: Do You Believe? by Paul David Tripp. So as in my two earlier articles on this volume, let me offer some choice quotes. And I remind you that on each key biblical doctrine he has two chapters: one is a more doctrinal one, and the other is a more practical one.
In the first of the two chapters he writes:
God never has questions, never is surprised, never is frustrated, never wonders, never is greeted with mystery, never wishes he could have, never looks back with regret, never is hoping, never is waiting, never feels helpless, has nothing he can’t figure out, and never finds himself at a loss. No one can back God into a corner. He is never pressed to do something. There is no authority over him that he has to answer to. He does what he pleases, decides whatever he wants, and acts as he wants. To say God is sovereign is simply to say that God is God and there is no one like him. 130
He looks at six biblical passages that makes this quite clear:
-The liberation of the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 7-12)
-Daniel and Nebuchadnezzer (Daniel 4-5)
-The sparrows (Matt. 10:29-30
-The Conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 13:13-52)
-Paul in Athens (Acts 16:16-33)
Given my concerns about last night’s election, notice how at least three of these six (the first three) all have to do with nations and God’s sovereignty over them. He does not just have his way with the sparrow, but with rulers and nations as well.
Tripp goes on to briefly note that our choices are real indeed, and we are accountable for our actions and decisions. Yet God is still working out his purposes, even with what we decide to do. It is a mystery how this works, but both truths are clearly taught in Scripture.
Early on in his application chapter he reminds us of this crucial truth:
Theology is more than an organized way to understand the truths unfolded in the pages of Scripture. Theology is something that you live. The truths of Scripture are meant to be the means by which you make sense out of your life, your relationships, and your world. They guide the choices you make, and the actions to take. You cannot make proper sense of your life and your world, of the things you face every day, if you do not include the sovereignty of God in the way you understand what is. 141-142
What he says next I found to be quite helpful indeed:
Much of our regular anxiety, worry, fear, and discouragement is the result of thinking that when things are out of our control, they are out of control. But the Bible tells us that if we want to properly understand what is happening horizontally, you first need to look vertically. Allow me to suggest a life tool that results when you carry the theology of the sovereignty of God into your daily life. I developed this tool to help people understand and live in light of the practical implications of the sovereignty of God for everyday life.
Imagine I have placed a sheet of paper in front of you with a small circle inside of a much larger circle. We’ll call the inner circle the circle of responsibility and the outer circle the circle of concern. The circle of responsibility represents things that God has called you to do that you cannot give to anyone else. These are your daily, God-ordained duties, your calling, if you will. The only proper response to this inner circle is to carefully and faithfully obey, trusting God for the empowering grace to do so.
But many things in life grab your attention, capture your mind, and weigh heavy on your heart, but are not your responsibility or within your ability to do or produce. These things fit in the outer circle, the circle of concern. The only proper way to respond to these concerns is to entrust them to your Lord, who governs them all for his glory and your ultimate good. You can do this because the Bible teaches you that things out of your control are not out of control because of God’s ordained plan for all things and his active rule over all things.
Living as God has called you to live requires knowing which things in your life fit into which circle. 142-143
He looks at how this can apply to things like parenting, and then continues:
If you load things into the inner circle that actually belong to God, you will be domineering and controlling, and your life will be marked by anxiety and fear. God hasn’t given us just a set of responsibilities, but he has also pulled back the curtain of the heavens to reveal to us his sovereign throne. He has done this so we would be good stewards of the few things he has placed under our control, while resting in knowing that the things that are out of our control, but that still concern us, are under his sovereign control. The question for you is, “Do you have a clear understanding in your life of the things that God has called you to do and the things that he welcomes you to entrust to him?” 143-144
He offers more wise words in this chapter, so let me look at another important point: relishing God’s sovereignty should help keep us humble. And that is always a good thing. He writes:
It is tempting to act as if we are in more control then we actually are. It is tempting to take credit for things we could have never produced on our own. It is tempting to think that we can make life work according to our plan. It is tempting to be proud of ourselves in places where we should instead be praising God. The fact is, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, because we don’t plan or control tomorrow; God alone does. Scripture’s teaching on the sovereignty of God should humble us. 144
One final quote is worth finishing with:
One of the themes of this book is that sound biblical doctrine doesn’t just define who God is, but it also redefines who we are as his children. Sometimes the way good theology defines us is encouraging and hope giving. But sometimes good theology exposes the darker things in our hearts. Good theology always comforts and confronts. Good theology should produce celebration and grief in us. Good theology will expose those places where we are susceptible to being at odds with our Lord and, therefore, where we are less than loving to those we live and work with. If you deny your desire to be sovereign, letting it live in your heart, you will find it difficult to entrust yourself to the one who alone is sovereign. 154
Yes quite right. These are key lessons that we all need to keep in mind. But given how much I DO worry and have anxiety over what is happening in the world – be it elections or whatever – perhaps I should not be exhorting others to trust God and delight in his sovereignty. But bear in mind that I write articles like this as much – if not more – for myself than for other folks.
So keep me in your prayers since I too need to learn these lessons.