Saturday, July 22, 2017

Perfected Through Trials

I have often wondered why things seem to go so well for me and my family. We don’t have the problems that afflict so many others. Our children are relatively well adjusted and we did not have any problems of drug addiction or issues similar to that which often accompany the teenage, rebellious years. We have lived in comfort and, I dare say, luxury for a good portion of our adult lives and have never really experienced need to the extent that many face. When all things are considered, our lives have been quite comfortable and relatively free of difficulties and trials.

Enter our recent experience. Over the weekend our house was struck by lightning. That event precipitated a chain of other events including a fire which gutted a good portion of our upstairs living space. Although the fire was contained to a relatively small area of the house, the damage done by all factors (fire, water, smoke) was quite extensive. We are likely going to have to remain outside our home for several months while the work is done to make our house livable again. With seven people and two pets currently composing our household, including two small children, the challenges that come with such an event are magnified. As of this writing, we have been occupying two hotel rooms for several days, with many more to come.
To most of those who will read these lines, it will come as no surprise that, over the last year, we have been attending Grace Baptist church. This was the outgrowth of our search for a congregation with strong teaching and preaching as well as our conviction that what have been termed the Doctrines of Grace, are true and biblically sound. Although we have not sought to “convert” others to the Calvinist position, there have been times when we have been asked about it and also when we have engaged in discussions (you could even say debates) about the subject. I truly believe that God has, as various confessions of faith declare, ordained whatsoever comes to pass and that nothing happens without his say so, so to speak.
You may be wondering what all that has to do with our recent experience. Simply this: if our God is not sovereign over all things, if he is not in control of every single event that takes place, and if he has not ordained whatsoever comes to pass, then our sufferings and trials are simply the roll of the dice. If we believe that “bad stuff just happens” without any rhyme or reason, then we have cause for despair. I know that many will tell me that “all things work for the good of those who love God.” But they willfully or simply ignorantly overlook the rest of that verse and the one following. God works all things for the good of those who love him, not just because God loves us and wants us to come out “ahead” in the end, but because of what Paul goes on to say. “To those who have been called according to His purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined for them to be conformed to the image of His son. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called, He also justified, and those whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-29).
You see, things don’t just happen. Events take place because God, in his sovereign foreknowledge and grace, has decreed that they happen for very specific reasons. Joseph was not “just” sold into slavery by his brothers. After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers, fearing their brother and what he could do to them if he so desired, pleaded with him to treat them with the compassion they had failed to extend to him. At that, Joseph told them a most amazing thing, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19-20)
Joseph understood that their brothers had not simply sold him into slavery out of the blue. God had used their evil intensions, to bring about the good that he wanted to accomplish. Through the evil desires of Joseph’s brothers, God was able to send his chosen vessel to Egypt to save the many who were saved by his actions. Joseph didn’t just happen to be at the right place at the right time. He was sent there by God for a very specific, foreordained purpose. Joseph was no Arminian; he understood that what happened to him was no luck of the draw and that God didn’t just simply make the best of what his brothers had done. He had ordained what they did, although He was not the author of their sin.
Although “bad” things also happen to the unbeliever, what takes place in their lives is also the decree of God. It may be that God is using those events to eventually bring his elect to himself. Or it could simply be the result of the sin that they have engaged in and their rebellion against the God they refuse to acknowledge and serve. Contrary to what many atheists will tell you, the fact that there is suffering and evil in the world does not prove the non-existence of God. The reverse is true. The fact that there is evil shows that there is a God who is working in all circumstances, whether evil or good, to bring about his purposes in creation.
In the final analysis, that is what gives my family and me the comfort and peace that passes all understanding. The knowledge that God has ordained this event for very specific purposes and that he isn’t simply reacting to it and trying to “make lemonade out of lemons.” We rejoice that God has seen fit to bring this event into our lives. There are things God wants to accomplish in the life of every one of his elect that cannot be accomplished by means other than suffering. As Peter ably put it in his second epistle, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7) Praise be to His name!

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