Wednesday, February 18, 2009

He's at the Helm

The world can be a frightening place for a child. My husband and I both remember the days of nuclear bomb drills at school, cowering under desks with hands over our heads. (I'm still not sure how effective that tactic would have been in the event of an actual nuclear attack!) We lecture our children thoroughly on the dangers of strangers. We brief them on escape plans for our homes should fire strike. Since 9/11, most families have emergency plans to find each other should something catastrophic happen. Even the environment is a threat. As young as in elementary school, children are taught about global warming with its resulting climate catastrophes just around the corner. Even though this is all preparation for what may never come, it can give a child the impression that things are spinning out of control.

Sometimes reading biblical prophecy can be just as scary. There is much in the future still to be played out, according to scripture. And much of that future reads more like an R-rated movie than a happily ever after fairy tale. The judgment of God will come someday on a world which has turned its back in rebellion against Him.Why does God spend so much time warning about His coming judgment? Why the chapters and chapters of prophecy about something we may never experience in our lifetime? Foremost, of course, God is concerned for our salvation. He does not want any to perish (1 Peter 3:9). Knowing what eventually lies ahead for this world is excellent motivation to reach out to God.

There is another purpose served by the writings of prophecy. When we read the plans of God, we are left with a lasting conviction: God controls the destiny of the world. Everything is going according to plan. He demonstrates this by letting us know there is a plan (and it all works out in the end!) We see all the prophecy about the first coming carefully fulfilled in Jesus Christ. What is still in our future will be painstakingly orchestrated as well. We can live our lives in optimism and hope because we live for a powerful God who holds the future in His hands. So on days when I am discouraged, feel hopeless, or wonder if the news could get worse, I count on God's promise: "In this world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a story of a ship and its occupants moving perilously close to the rocks in a violent sea. The ship's passengers huddled together on the deck below, in terror that their lives were at an end. One brave man volunteered to go above deck to seek out the captain to ascertain the situation. With great difficulty, he made his way to the pilot house. There he found the captain, chained to his post, hands confidently on the wheel. Seeing the passenger's terror, the captain gave him a reassuring smile. The man gave his fellow passengers his hopeful news when he returned to those huddled below. "All is well. All is well. I saw the pilot's face and he smiled."

I had a similar experience once on a bumpy flight to Hartford. I sat in the same row as a uniformed pilot who had caught our flight to get to his next assignment. While turbulence usually makes me nervous, this time I watched him. If he suddenly hunched over into a crash position, I would know it was time to panic. However, while he calmly slipped his coffee and read his magazine, I knew all was well.

I believe this is the reason we are allowed a glimpse into the future. In the midst of seeming uncertainty and conflict, we as people of God can rest secure in the knowledge that He has it all in hand. Nothing happens that surprises God. Beyond the conflict and agony of this life, we have the hope of certain victory in Christ. The story is already written.

This post is the latest article from my email newsletter, Dogwood Digest. You can subscribe to this weekly devotional by clicking on the link on the right hand side of this page. Thanks!


Zoe said...

Hey Julie,
We made it to Baltimore and you aren't kidding about the windy weather!!! Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Thanks for your prayers we are meeting Kelsey's parents for the very first time in 1 hour.
Hope we shine for Jesus!!

Van said...

Thanks for the message of peace. I know your are preparing for your weekend retreat - with the topic of waiting?? Is that coming up? I am praying for you - and a not so bumpy ride this time!

Laura said...

Hi, Julie!

I'm so glad you stopped by to see me at the Wellblog, because I have been so blessed in exploring your site.

Amen, God is in control. I'm so glad that's not me at the helm!

Enjoyed the reading...I'll be back to say hi!


Anonymous said...

If God controls the destiny of the world and everything is going according to his plan, why is there evil in the world? Don't worry, I know the answer: God wants humans to excersize free will. OK fine...

But God created everything; he created Satan. Being all powerful, if he wanted to create a world without evil, he could have. Thus, God either directly or implicitly created evil (by creating Satan). That means the holocaust, Columbine, nuclear war and all sorts of horrible things came from God's brain. When you think about it, it's hard to be comforted knowing a creature who could conjure up such horrid attrocities is "at the helm."

Julie Coleman said...

You have touched on a classic and difficult theological question: how can a God who is all-powerful and all-good be reconciled with the presence of evil in the world?

I can only answer your questions with what the Bible tells us is true.

1. God is not the author of sin. He did not create it nor does He tempt His creation to sin. See James 1:13

2. Sin is the direct result of conscious moral volition-- Genesis 3:1-6, James 1:14-15.

3. God sovereignly chooses to allow sin and its consequences-- Romans 9:18-23

4. God limits and controls evil. See Job 1 and 2, where Satan must have permission to do anything to Job. Also, Christ tells Peter that Satan has asked permission to sift Peter like wheat.

5. God will one day fully separate sin from us and from His new creation. Revelation 19:11-20:5 gives details on this.

6. Ultimately, some of our "why" questions are not fully answered by Scripture. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that the 'secret things belong to the Lord.' Romans 11:33 tells us that God's ways are "unsearchable."

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9

Finding a pat answer to the questions you express is impossible, as God has not chosen to reveal the whys of His ways in many cases. But He is totally good, and totally in control. He is a hands-on kind of God, who does not sit back and let the world do its own thing. He is intimately involved with His creation. Any answer we might come up with to answer your questions must be within the perameters of these truths.

I, personally, can appreciate worshipping a God who does not answer to me, His creation. Evelyn Underhill once wrote: "If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshipped."

Anonymous said...

Using logic, and not the Bible, how could anything NOT be created by God if God is the original cause and the source of all that exists?

Julie Coleman said...


There are two questions being discussed here. One is whether God creates (or authors) evil, and the second is why God would allow it.

The first question is answered firmly in scripture, as I wrote above, and logic supports it. God does not create or author sin. The word for sin is hamartia, which means "missing the mark." Every sin is an action by which a creature falls short of what it ought to do. You cited Satan, who is a great example of this: God created Satan to be the greatest of angels, but by his pride Satan fell short of what God desired for him. Evil is not an entity like a person or a car; you can't point to a pile of evil. Evil is a privation; it is the absence of a good that ought to be there.

So why is God not the author of sin, if he is in control of the creatures he creates? Because God gives to some of his creatures the capacity to choose, which is often called a "free will." The responsibility for sinning, for choosing something less than the fulfillment of one's nature, lies entirely with the creature. God can't simultaneously give creatures a free will and stop any of the bad consequences that follow from it.

You may now be wondering why, if God is not the author of sin, he nevertheless allows for his creatures to sin. I have more fully answered this question in my previous response. It is answered by the character of God. We know that God is all good and all powerful: he is in control. Those who sin now are opposed to God and ultimately will not prevail. What evil God allows, he allows only for a short time and uses even this for the good of those he loves.

Hope this is helpful.