"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Friday, November 30, 2012

How Glorious Is Glorious?

God lays waste to the great city of the Antichrist, bringing it and its people to utter and eternal ruin.  His holy servants rejoice at the everlasting punishment to visited upon those wretched adherents:  "Hallelujah!  Her smoke rises up forever and ever." (Rev. 19:3b)

Christ and the disciples see a man blind from birth.  Jesus explains that this man was made blind (by God - Ex. 4:11) "so that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:3b) This long-established plan could not have happened without sin in the world to blight our race. 

God Himself declared, "I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these." (Is. 45:6b-7)

These snapshots from scripture, and many others like them, give us to believe that God is perhaps closer to everything than we might have guessed.  We begin to see, put plainly, that God's plan from eternity past willfully included a sin-soaked world.  While we absolutely cannot, and never should, suggest that God is the author of evil, or the agent of its introduction into our midst, neither can we suppose that God was taken by surprise in Genesis 3, or that He had to change His plan after sin came in.  No; what man means for evil, God means for good (Gen. 50:20).  Not a single purpose of the Lord's goes unaccomplished (Is. 46:10), so we may say that sin surely did not turn the least of His plans aside.  If God is absolutely certain to accomplish all of His intended purposes, we must acknowledge that this means He leaves nothing, absolutely nothing, to chance, so His plans necessarily include sin.

This is tremendously comforting.  If God is sovereign over evil, but is Himself holy, then He has the upper hand in all things, and we may rest securely in His promises.  If, on the other hand, we are sovereign over evil, or perhaps Satan, then this inordinate hole in God's absolute control constitutes a terrifying, and probably condemning, idea.  Evil can best us, but more frightening yet, evil can best God Himself.  Praise Him that this is not so!

But if indeed God is sovereign over evil, as is easily demonstrated by scripture, why should there be evil at all?  We cannot content ourselves with the commonly-held thought that He desires the exercise of human free will, and so evil must be suffered to exist.  We have already made mention of Isaiah 46:10 - God accomplishes all of His purposes, so He must necessarily have created this world, and everything in it, for the fulfillment of His purposes.  There is no room, then, for the preeminence of man's will alongside God's:  only one can reign supreme, and scripture declares that it is God's that does so.  And even if this were not so, if God were reluctant to allow evil into the world, He would not have orchestrated things such that a single sin devastated all things as it did.  God would not have allowed sin to propagate by default into every descendent of Adam and Eve.  He would not have cursed the entire world.  He would not have allowed Job to endure such demonic hardships for no fault of his own.  He certainly would not have chosen to direct a demon to entice Ahab to go into a losing battle in 1 Kings 22, and so forth.  The effect of sin upon the world and upon humanity were decided solely by the Creator, and His decision casts much light on His intentions.

There must be another reason besides that of man's presumed free will.  Paul reminds us of a piece of Old Testament truth:  "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.'" (Rom. 9:17) Pharaoh, that great opposer of God's purposes and God's people, was raised up, and indeed allowed to live (Ex. 9:16) expressly so that, in dealing with his treachery, God could show Himself to be mighty and so spread His fame across the world. 

This is simply astonishing.  As we reel from the implications, Paul goes further:  "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?" (Rom. 9:22)  So the display of God's wrath enters the equation, as well as that of His patience.  Yet again, and most tremendously:  " And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory." (Rom. 9:23)

Glory!  As believers, can our hearts help but quicken at the mere mention of this word in connection with our Lord?  This is the heart of the matter, friend.  How can God show His merciful disposition?  In the forgiveness of sinners; mercy has no more immediate value in a sinless world than a candle in the hot sun.  It would be admirable, but not necessary, and certainly not understood.  How can He display perfect patience?  In not destroying us inherently wicked humans where we stand!  And what of His justice?  He must hold all of this world of evil to His just standards, and pour out His just wrath for His children upon His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to see that justice satiated.  And would we know the strength of His power without His conquest of evil, even the very evil in our own hearts? 

Grace, power, justness, wrath, patience, and so on - these are mere words until we see them come alive in the glorious deeds of our great God.  We should not understand them at all, but for our fallen, wretched existence.  The working of evil, although loathsome to God in every respect, is the backdrop against which the manifold triumphs of His perfect and unchanging character are thrown into brilliant and razor-sharp relief.  The Lord has actively included evil in His all-encompassing purposes, not because He loves it, but because He hates it with a prostrating, vengeful, eternal vigor, and He desires that His creation understand Him in this way - there is immense anger and immense power, but from this fearsome understanding we survey also the vastness of His mercy and love.

In a sentence, He makes His glory the most important thing in the universe.  Being perfectly righteous, God does this because it is wholly fitting that we should cherish and worship the unimaginable perfections which reside, solely and eternally, in Him.  Who could be more worthy of our attention, our devotion, and our allegiance than He?  Thus He does great things, things that muzzle human pride and arrest human strength, because He seeks to unveil "the riches of His glory." 

Evil exists because God, in His glorious wisdom, has decided that He may work against it and so show His glory.  Some may balk at such a thought, apparent though it is in His book.  They say, "Are you telling me that all the pain and all the death and all the cruelty that have ever existed in this age have their existence simply so that God can show who He is?"  To this, a simple "Yes!" will do.

It is dangerous, friend, to question God's omniscient prerogatives.  Such an attitude as this reveals that we have already formed an opinion, altogether too low, about the importance of God's glory, and have in fact allowed this opinion to shape our philosophy.  We say, in effect, "God's glory is not great enough for this world of evil in which we live."  How sadly backwards is this thinking!  We must come at things from the opposite standpoint:  the Bible says that God has suffered evil to propagate into this world, according to His longstanding decree, in order that He might be far more strongly glorified.  Rather than looking about us and scoffing the sheer impossibility of this, we must look about us and conclude that God's glory must simply be far, far more glorious than we had ever imagined, and far, far stronger than we had ever considered.  What effect might this realization have upon our perception of the Lord, or upon our attitude toward our own lives and hardships? 

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped.  He said,

"Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord."
- Job 1:20-21


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