“Who’s Minding the Store?”

There’s a story told of an old merchant who was nearing the end of his days.  Family were all gathered around his bed to be with him at the last.  Finally, he struggled to raise himself on one elbow and asked, “Who’s minding the store?”

Probably not the best story ever told, but as we look at the chaos surrounding us in this world on all sides, we might be tempted to ask the question, “Who’s minding the store?”

In other words, where’s God in all this?

There are, of course, those who say there is no God – so there’s nothing to worry about there.  It seems to me, however, that if there really is no God, then there’s everything to worry about.  If there’s nothing more to this life than this life, then “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Paul had something to say about this in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Then there are those who say that God wants to be involved in things, but we won’t let Him.  Really?  Please!  As well might a grain of sand on the beach tell the ocean that it won’t let the ocean get it wet as for us to think we have to “let” God do something.  I understand our responsibility to do the things needed in order to get something done.  For example, a farmer who wants a harvest without plowing and planting will have an empty barn.  At the same time, hear the words of Mordecai to his niece Esther when she was hesitant to go before the king to plead for her people:  “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance WILL arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Esther 4:14, emphasis added.

Mordecai was confident that what regardless of what Esther might do, God would deliver His people, but perhaps she was in the King’s palace in order to be the instrument God used to do that.

Scripture says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11.  In other words, there’s nothing in “the store” that He’s not minding.  This means God is sovereign in the affairs of this world.

The idea of God’s sovereignty raises lots of questions and objections.  A brother recently posted that he believed that the sovereignty of God was the greatest hoax Satan ever put over on the church (!)  So sad.

Yes, there are questions and difficulties, but God is certainly able to work within the context of His own creation to bring about what He wants.

Besides, if God isn’t “in control” in every single situation, how can we be certain that He’s in control of “this” particular situation, whatever “this” may be?

“Yes, but I don’t understand….”

No, we don’t.

My wife and I have a grandson who’s about six weeks old.  He probably “understands” very little of what his Mom and Dad are doing to take care of him.  He has no knowledge of what Dad does when he goes to work.  He has NO IDEA what his mother went through at his birth.

That’s probably about what we’re like in relation to God.

In effect, Mom and Dad are saying, “Trust us,” when they take care of him.

That’s what God says:

“Trust Me.”

 

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Where’s God??

God is seldom involved directly in what happens in this world.  He created it with physical, natural and moral laws, which are sometimes called “second causes.”  In other words, if a farmer wants a harvest, he must plant seeds – and do the other things necessary to the seeds to grow.  God has also made it so that actions have consequences.

Man isn’t a puppet or robot.  In spite of all the discussion about “free will vs. divine sovereignty,” there are very few who disagree with the idea that we make choices, all of the time.  These choices have consequences.  Since the 60s, there has been an increasing effort by liberals and unbelievers to distance this country from the political and religious principles upon which it was founded:  “There are no absolutes,” “What’s true for you may not be true for me,” “Get rid of all those old Puritan hangups.”

The result of all this is seen in the increasing violence and immorality in our country, aided and abetted by a liberal media which flocks to scenes of horror – the latest shootings, for example – like vultures to carrion.  And I’ve noticed an increase in profanity in the little network television that I watch.  Words are being used that were seldom heard anywhere in my youth.  Kids in elementary school use words that were seldom heard anywhere in my youth.  A lot of television is little more than softcore pornography.

The High School I went to had a rifle range in the basement (ROTC) with rifles and live ammo.  And, yes, they were locked up when we weren’t using them.  I qualified as a marksman on that range.  Guns were everywhere and easily and legally available.  The local department store likely sold them.  Further, the fellows almost all carried pocket knives.  This HS was the “tough” school in the city, yet there was NEVER any trouble with guns or knives.  Liberalism hadn’t yet succeeded in destroying the moral foundations of America.

For years, we’ve told God that He’s not welcome in our schools, our government, our society, or even in many churches, which have become interested in what they call “social justice,” rather than spiritual redemption.  For the most part, God has allowed us to go our foolish, sinful way – with the sad and horrifying results we see all around us.  Yet when these things happen, the first question often is, “Where is God?”

God gave us what we want; He has left us to our choices.

 

The Foreknowledge of God

…elect according to the foreknowledge of God…, 1 Peter 1:1 (NKJV).

Sooner or later, everyone who reads more than just an occasional verse in or devotional from the Bible comes across verses like 1 Peter 1:21.  Often, some older Christian or perhaps a book or commentary will explain it in this way:  this simply means that God looked down through the corridors of time and “chose” those whom He foresaw would choose Him.

Several things might be said about this view of God’s choice, which isn’t really “His” choice at all.

1.  “Foreknowledge” is not just “foresight,” any more than sight and knowledge are the same.  God “knows” all things intuitively – He is God.  That is, He doesn’t learn by observation or experience, like we do.  And He knows everything immediately – that is, He doesn’t have to search His memory for some fact or thought.  He knows everything all the time.  And when the Bible says that God “knows” someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that He is simply “aware” of them.  For example, in Matthew 7:23, where our Lord declares to some astonished lost people who claimed to know Him that He never knew them,  He’s not saying that He didn’t know “about” them.

In Amos 3:2, where God said to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, He wasn’t pleading ignorance of all the other nations.  A parallel passage in Deuteronomy makes this plain: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself; a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.

The Psalmist understood this when he wrote in Psalm 44:3 about Israel’s possession of the promised land: for they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, neither did their right hand save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, because You favored them.

This is in contrast to Joshua 11:20 (KJV) where it is said that the nations in the land received no favor.

Furthermore, the Lord made it plain that there was nothing “foreseen” in Israel that was the basis of His choice of them over other nations, “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you…,” Deuteronomy 9:5.  Indeed, Moses continued, “Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people,” Deuteronomy 9:6.  Then, in v. 7, he reminds them of their continued rebellion against the LORD from the moment they left Egypt until then.

In fact, there is never any indication anywhere in the Old Testament, apart from the prophesied blessings of the New Covenant foretold by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that Israel ever was or ever would be the righteous people they were supposed to be.  Except for a relatively few individuals, there would be nothing but rebellion and stubbornness in the nation as a whole throughout their whole history.

In truth, Israel was no better than the nations which she dispossessed.  She quickly fell into the same sins they had been guilty of and eventually suffered the same judgments as they did.  Only because of God’s choice of them has Israel as a nation not been wiped off the face of the earth.  There’s a lot that the Bible says about Israel and this present time, to say nothing of her future, but those are perhaps subjects for another time.

2.  In the Bible, God’s purpose and His foreknowledge are sometimes mentioned together and when they are, His purpose is mentioned first.  On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared that the Lord Jesus “…was delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God,” Acts 2:23.

Surely, SURELY, no one would be so foolish as to conclude that Christ’s death on the Cross was included in God’s purpose only because God “foresaw” that it would happen! Acts 4:28 certainly indicates otherwise, “…to do whatever YOUR HAND and YOUR PURPOSE determined before to be done [emphasis added].

Romans 8:29, which speaks of those whom God foreknewfollows v. 28, which speaks of those same people as being the called according to His purpose.

We see from these verses that God’s “foreknowledge” is based on His purpose, and not the other way around, and also not on the “foreseen” actions of sinful men and women, which leads to our next thoughts.

3.  The Bible itself uses the figure of God “looking down from heaven.”  In Psalm 14:2, we read, The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, TO SEE IF THERE ARE ANY WHO UNDERSTAND, WHO SEEK GOD [emphasis added].  If the ordinary understanding of “foreknowledge” were true, then surely we would read that God does indeed find “some” who “understand” and who “seek” Him.  Is that what we read?  Quite the contrary: They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one, Psalm 14:3.  These thoughts are repeated in Psalm 53:2, 3, and Paul quotes them in Romans 3:11.

But there is more.

4.  In Matthew 11:20-21, we read of Jesus:  Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His might works had been done, because they did not repent:  “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long again sackcloth and ashes.  Then He says the same thing about Capernaum, contrasting their rejection of Him with what would have been reception in Sodom had His works been done there.

As difficult as these verses are to understand and receive, being so opposite of what is taught and believed today, these are the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, not some narrow-minded “hyper-Calvinist” or some wicked theologian trying to impose his views on Scripture.  This is the Lord Jesus Himself, teaching that there were some who would have repented if they had been given the opportunity, but they were never given the opportunity!  Contrary to modern belief, they were not chosen based on their “foreseen faith.”  They were not chosen at all.  They were left to suffer the consequences of their sin.

If you’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, don’t ever think it’s because of something God “foresaw” that you would do.  It’s His grace, not our “willingness,” that saves us.  One of the old Puritans said that anything outside of hell was more than we deserve.  But to be brought into the fold of His people and to share in the showers of blessing He lavishly gives them….

God’s Will, My Will, Whose Will?

As I wander along the highways and byways of blogtopia [not my term, but a great one!], I see a lot of questions and comments about God’s will and “free will.”  I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps I might have one or two thoughts that will help shed some light on this sometimes gritty subject.

[[Something I don’t normally do on a post, but this one is so important that I feel compelled to do this in print:

“Father, we are so foolish, fallible and finite that when we come to the idea of asking questions about how You do things…, we must have Your guidance to understand even the simplest things You have revealed about Yourself.  This is anything but ‘simple,’ but deals with things philosophers and thinkers have pondered and discussed for millennia.  Open our understanding so that we might know something of the wonder and greatness of Your dealings with us….

“In Jesus’ name, through Whom alone we come into Your presence.  Amen.”]]

Some are so focused on God’s sovereign will that they seem to make man little more than a puppet or robot.  I knew a brother who would always say, “I was caused to believe in Jesus.”  Never would he simply say, with Paul, “I know whom I have believed,…  2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV).

Others are so focused on man’s will that, as it were, they put up a “no trespassing” sign and believe that God cannot do anything in their lives unless they give Him permission.  They put limitations on God that they would never dream of putting on themselves.

This latter viewpoint, though much more prevalent than the former, is no more Scriptural.

What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Actually, Scripture doesn’t address this issue as such at all.   It does say some things about the subject almost in passing, as if there should be no question about it.  So, let’s look at some examples of what I mean.

Genesis 50:20, “…as for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good….”

This, of course, is Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, who, because of their hatred for him had sold him into slavery years earlier, then lied to their father about it.  In the providence of God, they and their families and father had come to Egypt where Joseph made himself known to them and took care of them for several years.  Now Jacob was dead, and the brothers thought they were [rightfully] in for it.  The verse above was part of Joseph’s response to them.

There was nothing “good” about what they did to Joseph or how they covered it up.  Jacob grieved for many years over the death, as he thought, of this son of his beloved Rachel.  Joseph suffered for about 13 years in Egypt, even though God put him in a place where he could save many people alive.

There is no attempt to “reconcile” these two disparate things: the evil that the brothers meant, the good that God meant.  They are just simply recorded.  The same word is used both times, that what the brothers purposed and willed to do to Joseph, God purposed and willed that they should do to Joseph.

Did God “do” something to the brothers in this?  Did His will “force” their wills?  No, they did freely to Joseph exactly what they wanted to do.  At the same time, without thought or knowledge on their part, they did exactly what God wanted them to do.

Exodus 4:21, speaking to Moses about Pharaoh, God said, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”  This is indeed a difficult nut for people to crack.  What did God mean?  How could He do this to Pharaoh?

In order, perhaps, to understand this a little better, we need to look at Pharaoh.  Was “his heart” “neutral” in this matter?  Was he open to the things Moses said?  Was he a “seeker” after truth.  Did he want to know about the God of Israel?

No, indeed!  At Moses’ first encounter with him, Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?  I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go,”  Exodus 5:2.  I imagine the emphasis was on the “I”: “…that I should obey…?”

There was no “harden” button on Pharaoh’s heart that God had to push.  His heart was already hard!  God just demonstrated that by bringing some things to Pharaoh’s attention that he didn’t want to deal with, namely, that he wasn’t a god himself, and that the God of the Hebrews was God, the only God, the true God, as opposed to the pantheon of gods Pharaoh worshiped.  All the plagues against Egypt were against the gods of Egypt, to show their impotence and falsehood.  And to show that the God of the Hebrews, as we said, was, indeed, the only true God.

Exodus 31:1-6; 35:6-36:2, With regard to the construction of the Tabernacle, God told Moses, “I have put wisdom in all the hearts of the gifted artisans, that they may make all I have commanded you.”  God gave some the artistic ability to craft and construct the Tabernacle, and just underline all the references to “hearts” and “willing,” etc.  There are at least 15 such references in the 16 verses of 35:6-36:2.  God willed and the people willed.  As for the “offerings” to supply the necessary materials, note 25:1 and 36:6, 7 as well.

One more from the Old Testament.

2 Kings 11:29-36; 12:15, 24, though you should read both chapters.

This has to do with the reason for the breakup of Israel into two camps:  the two tribes, who became known as Judah, and the other 10 tribes, who retained the name Israel and were also known as Ephraim or The Northern Kingdom.

King Solomon had been unfaithful to God and had introduced idolatry into Israel, probably at the instigation of his pagan wives.  In 2 Kings 11:9-13, God promised judgment on his line and on the nation for this sin.  He finally died and his son Rehoboam took over.

Solomon had heavily taxed the people in order to finance his lavish lifestyle.  The people understandably asked Rehoboam to lessen their load.  (And you thought complaints about taxation were something new!)  Rehoboam asked counsel of some who had served his father.  Their advice was to listen to the people.  Then he asked some of his friends what to do.  Their advice was to tell the people, in effect, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Rehoboam, being young and stupid (though he was 40 or so), followed the advice of his friends, who were also stupid and arrogant.  2 Kings 12:15 says, “So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from the LORD, that He might fulfill His word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

Naturally, the people didn’t care for this, so they said, “See ya’,” and went their way.  Rehoboam called out the army to go and bring them back by force.

In chapter 12, God forbade this.  Too bad Rehoboam didn’t seek God before.  Anyway, through another prophet, God told him, “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. …for this thing is from Me.”

Rehoboam’s arrogance and stupidity.  The anger and decision of the people.  All their own. Yet God’s will, as well.

Now to the New Testament.

When I was a young student at a Bible College, struggling with these concepts, I came across some verses.  My roommate and others were also struggling with these ideas.  The verses are

2 Corinthians 8:16, 17,  In the context of Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth, he wrote, But thanks be to God who puts [or, “has put”] the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.  For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord.

Once again, we see the interconnection of God’s will and man’s will.  God worked in Titus’ heart.  Of his own will, Titus did something.  This activity of God neither negates, diminishes nor undermines the choices and activity of man.

And there is also

Revelation 17:17, For God has put it into their hearts [the “ten kings” of vs. 12, 13] to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.  Here is a clear verse about the will and purpose of God and the will and purpose of man.

However, someone might say, “Well, yes, there are some verses like what you say.  But in salvation – ‘whosoever will.’  Christ is standing at the door of our heart, knocking for admission.”

That’s true.  “Whosoever will.”  At the same time, please read the rest of that verse.  How many people do you know in the world, or even in the church, for that matter, who “thirst” for the water of life?

As for Revelation 3:20, it’s in the context of the Lord’s words to His churches, especially the church at Laodicea.  This church was so filled with itself that it didn’t even realize that Christ was on the outside.  There are lots of churches like that, so filled with programs and personalities that they don’t even miss the Lord Jesus.

Two final verses, and they are about “salvation”.

John 6:39, 40, The Lord Jesus says, This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Our Lord has no difficulty with divine sovereignty and human activity.  He never sought to “reconcile” them; they’re not enemies.  He never tried to “explain” them or make them palatable to fallen human nature.  He just simply taught that they are both true.  So does the rest of the Bible.

In John 6:39, 40, there are on the one hand, those indeed whom the Father chose and gave to the Son to redeem.  (By the way, in a nutshell, the biblical doctrine of election is that had God not chosen some to be saved, nobody at all would be saved.)  On the other hand, the door to salvation stands wide open.  There isn’t a single verse in the more than 30,000 – if memory serves me – verses  of Scripture  preventing the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived.  The difficulty lies with us, not with God.  Those who believe in the Son have eternal life; those who do not, do not.  It’s as simple as that.

Conclusion:  There is SO MUCH more that could be said on this subject.  I’ve just barely scratched the surface.  And I’ve probably raised questions, as well as trying to answer some of them.  I’m sorry.

Whether you agree with what I’ve written or not, remember that we’re “discussing” God.  Do you really want a God you can get your mind around?  One that little?

Oh, if we can’t “understand” what God has told us about Himself, can we at least “trust” Him?  After all, isn’t that what “faith” boils down to, trusting Him and His Word?

God bless this study, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.