Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dealing with Divine Contingencies

By C Michael Patton @

Each year is filled with uncertainty. If you are like me, you have looked back on the previous year and reflected on what has happened. As well, you are looking ahead to the next year wondering what is in store. For many, this next year will be filled with much joy and excitement. For others, this year will be a year of pain and sadness. There are no guarantees. I cannot find any place in the Bible titled “Specific Promises for 2008.” I wish there were. With so much uncertainty, what are we to do?

Most of you are familiar the story of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abed-nego told in the Old Testament book of Daniel. These three young Hebrew slaves would not worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar set up. They would only bow the knee to Yahweh. Surprised by this and frustrated by their faith, Nebuchadnezzar attempts to strong arm them into submission by threatening them with death. If they did not worship the king, they would be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire (Daniel 3:13-15).

The boys responded by telling the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, emphasis mine)

I am struck by the words, “If it be so” and “But even if He does not”. I ask myself Why didn’t they express more confidence that God would save them? I know of many people today that would advise these boys to have more faith. But it was not a lack of faith that caused the boys to speak with such contingency. The reason why they did not speak with more confidence is because of this simple fact: They simply did not know what God was going to do. They could not place their faith in something about which they had no information. Their future was uncertain. All they knew was that God was the only God deserving of worship. They knew He could save them and that He might save them, but they did not know if He would save them.

God is in control. We are not.

I have often told people that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is the single greatest discipleship hurdle for all of us to make. To truly believe that God is in control and He can do whatever He desires is not easy. We want to be in control. We want to inform God’s agenda. We think that God should hot-sync to our PDAs. But He does not. He has His plans and we can trust Him to make the right decision, no matter how difficult and painful these decisions seem might be.

In the end, God did deliver the boys. But I don’t think their deliverance is the main point of the message. Their confidence in God regardless of the contingencies of the future is. God does indeed often rescue people in the way that makes our heart rejoice with unmediated hope. But sometimes He does not. Sometimes our hope must be mediated through our eschatology. This life is filled with pain, tragedy, and disappointment. Sin is real and it is still not good. Think about this: Would the story of these young Hebrew boys been a failure had they died in the fire? Would God be any less God? Of course not. That is the point. “Even if he does not O Nebuchadnezzar, He is still God and He alone deserves worship.” Now that is faith! That is a trust in God’s sovereignty.

We must remember that many of the great stories of the Scripture have the faithful suffering and dying—not delivered. Do you remember Lazarus? He was the godly man in the parable named “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Yet Lazarus was not delivered of pain and suffering. In fact, Lazarus died. Not only this, but at the time of his death he remained in a state of poverty, hunger, and loneliness. The dogs were probably still licking his sores. His only deliverance came at death. The point is that God will sometimes deliver us from pain, but sometimes He will not.

This next year is filled with uncertainty for all of us. We can and should make our plans, but these plans need to be filled with the divine contingencies of “if it be sos” and “but even if He does nots.” I believe that this attitude expresses much faith, even if it does lack certainty concerning the particulars. Remember, God has made a lot of promises, but there are also a lot of promises that he has not made. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know the God we serve.

Happy New Year to you all and may God be with us through the events of this coming year, whatever they may be.

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