A Lenten reflection

We begin to understand God’s will through his love at the cross of Jesus.

Chris A. Cordes

Ponder something with me for a while.

People scold and scoff about God’s will being completely, constantly, and totally dominant.

Some years ago a friend of mine was feeling an itch to get serious about Christianity. But he wasn’t quickly buying into everything Christian. As he considered the biblical idea that God has numbered the days of every person’s life, news at the time was heavy with an airline disaster in which all the people on board perished—a loss of more than one hundred lives. “Incredulous,” my friend scoffed. “I cannot believe God preplanned the time for all those people to be up simultaneously.”

And what about evil in this world? Some in governments abuse power. Terrorists detonate bombs in which even Christians are killed. And then there’s the drive-by bullet that pierces a house wall and then a child’s heart as she sleeps innocently in her crib. How can so much evil exist, dominating news and life, if God’s will is really sovereign?

Do you wonder if the disciples were asking the same questions when they watched the wicked betrayal by Judas and the brutal sufferings lashed against the One in whom they had invested their messianic hopes?

God’s will determines all things

The Bible doesn’t bat an eye when declaring, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3). All things are under his feet (Ephesians 1:22). The plans of the Lord reach across time; they “stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11). Even King Nebuchadnezzar, made beastly and then restored, learned at least this much: “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (Daniel 4:35).

God’s will brings out the constellations at his timing and in the places he chooses in the expanses beyond us. Any shifts in them over the millennia are caused by his will as he brings them out, one by one, night after night, each named and nudged by his interested, determining mind (Isaiah 40:26).

Job had it right: God has outlined our lives and placed the limits on our times (14:5). He coordinates all the details of each individual life, orchestrating so that specific people end up traveling together on the same doomed airliner. His sovereign will extends down to the very molecules in your body—every single one of them. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). When the Bible says everything is under his feet, it does not leave room for even the tiniest exception. He adjusts and alters all matter, even at the subatomic level. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Hebrews 4:13).

But his all-controlling will reaches even deeper, down to the subconscious, moving the ideas and plans of the human heart. If you want to see how a king’s heart is like a watercourse, directed by God’s hand wherever the Almighty pleases (Proverbs 21:1), read the thwarting of Ahithophel’s advice (2 Samuel 15:31) or the census of Rome’s Caesar that ultimately resulted in a pregnant virgin being in Bethlehem just at the time of giving birth in the fullness of time according to God’s prophecy.

Did you think it was coincidence that Caiaphas, the callous high priest, managed to prophecy something so beautiful as God’s plan of redemption—without even realizing it (John 11:50,51)? Or maybe you yourself have experienced a strange turn of events, obviously orchestrated beyond your ken. I once was about to make an observation to someone I was sitting next to, but something happened around us and the opportunity disappeared. Shortly afterward, I realized that if I had made that light-hearted comment, it would have done great damage to the other person’s spiritual well-being.

The mystery of God’s love

Now, don’t be afraid. Ask the question buzzing around like a gnat swarm: If God is so fully, deeply involved and controlling everything and everyone, even Satan and his evil hoards, why does evil seem to get its way? It’s a difficult question to consider. Perhaps one we will never answer. It’s above our pay grade. Our hearts just accept and trust his love in Christ.

In a world where the sun was designed to appear in the east and gravity pulls things downward, the power to make choices was created too. The human will was designed in harmony with the song of God’s heart, but since the fall into sin, humans can use their will for evil, heinous evil. It’s part of the fallen world. People can do unspeakable things to children; they can choose orientations that undermine faith; they can pit their plans against the Almighty’s.

But God controls even this. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). He may allow people’s evil for a time, but he is always turning it for his mighty purposes. Joseph, abused by his brothers, ends up in desolate loneliness in Egypt. But that whole story is Romans 8:28 in action, as God uses even person’s evil for the good of those who love him.

It is especially when you ponder Jesus’ sufferings and death—as we are doing in this Lenten season—that you can see how God’s will prevails even in the height of human wickedness. When they killed the Author of Life, we sinners walked out of the jaws of death. Evil doesn’t really prevail, not in the end.

We can’t always see good in God’s decisions—when cancer comes knocking or a criminal gets to take something precious from us. Sometimes God truly is hidden (Isaiah 45:15), and his judgments are unsearchable, his paths beyond tracing out. And yet we can actually love God’s will.

When Jesus was nearly dying for sorrow in Gethsemane, he yielded to his Father’s will, resolute in its big-picture wisdom and its eternally faithful love. If you’re tempted to wonder if God is just toying with you, if he is juggling your times or rolling your circumstances like dice on the board of life, if you fear he is marginally concerned about you or begrudgingly cares, trust the heart behind his will.

He absolutely cannot do anything in an unloving, unfair way, because he is love and he feels love for you down into his deepest essence. Do you want proof? Jesus willingly was abused and murdered. His passion paints the perfect portrait of what love really looks like. “I love you this much,” he said, as he stretched out his hands to die. And when God’s hand is stretched out, “who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27). His sovereign will decided, and that is why, when we ponder his will in the light of his passion, we can rest our very souls in his sovereign choice. We can even pursue his will as our life’s ambition because, under the lamp of Lent, we find it only, always good, pleasing, and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Chris Cordes is pastor at St. John’s, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.


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Author: Chris A. Cordes
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

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