Perspective determines how we perceive things. When it comes to the “big picture” of history, God’s viewpoint is the only accurate one, as Ross Chadwick explains.
As a spectator, I have some serious problems with the way God sometimes does things. I stand on the sidelines of history and I see things that cause me to scratch my head. I see events in the lives of others—even in my own—and I’m left contemplating an incessant and lingering “why?”
The subject of the sovereignty of God raises many questions in my limited finite mind. However these questions are important to struggle with because a good understanding of this subject will lead us away from the kind of superstitious faith, bordering on Christian sorcery, that we see marketed today. This aberrant kind of faith says that we can manipulate God with the use of the right words, prayers, gift giving or other actions. Thus this subject will even colour our prayers, which will directly effect the life of faith.
In 1818 David Jones and Thomas Bevan, with their wives and infant children, became the first Christian missionaries to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. When they arrived, David was 23. Within 12 months, Thomas, his wife and child, and David’s wife and their infant had all died. A combination of malaria and poisoning by the housekeeper was suspected. So why would David Jones, the only one in the entire world who cared, stay on Madagascar?
I imagine him standing by the gravesides of his companions and wonder what he was thinking. What was he thinking about God? What was he saying to God in his unimaginable grief and loneliness? Did he question God’s wisdom and His sovereignty? And what now was the purpose of his solitude?
Those who achieve great things for God often seem to do so through great suffering. Others eventually joined David, and he went on to eliminate slavery from Madagascar, as well as to establish hospitals, schools and the first Christian church. Then he died of malaria at the age of 42.
God Alone Knows Our Future
Francis Xavier was a likeminded missionary who went to Japan in the 16th century. Within a generation of his arrival, Christianity had flourished, with 300,000 devotees. Then in the 17th century the Shoguns decided to rid Japan of the “foreign devils.” So brutal was their extermination program that Christianity virtually disappeared from the country.
Tutullian said, “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” But not in Japan! So why did God allow this annihilation from which Christianity in Japan has never recovered?
Thomas Knibb is another example of God’s apparent failure. Knibb died just three months after arriving in Jamaica! Why, when his mission was his passion?
His brother in England was so moved by his death that he went to Jamaica to take his place. There he buried his children almost as soon as they were born, although one son lived to the age of 12. But Knibb persevered despite his losses, eventually, like Jones, bringing about the end of slavery in the colony.
Even today, in places such as Africa, the Middle East and China, God’s missaries are being beaten, imprisoned, vilified, and murdered. A strong commitment to God doesn’t provide a magical protection from all life’s ills and threats. Rather, it often brings suffering and grief. So is it a good thing to be a Christian?
God Alone Is Soverign
From my reading of more than 30 biographies of pioneers of religions and movements, I had plenty of questions. I also knew that when Job asked them, God answered him with even more questions. Just so I was left with more questions at the end of my research than before I’d begun.
My library is filled with volumes on the subject of God’s sovereignty. But we seek a simple answer that will fuel our faith, not douse it. And, distilled from all of my research, here it is:
Through history God has silently and patiently worked His will. A commitment to Him is no magical recipe for safety or prosperity. Being God He has the right to do His will, but I, being human, am confined in space and time, and lack His perspective, especially with respect to the future. I do not always understand Him, but I can always trust Him.
In fact, there isn’t much in our physical world that I understand at all. But when it comes to God, I have insight into His character through the glimpses of His love and grace, justice and mercy, revealed in the Bible. There, I see Him interact with our rebellious world; I see His motive for our salvation. I comprehend, through the death of Jesus, that God loves me passionately and that He wants me to spend eternity with Him. I also see a panorama of this world’s history sketched, and an outline of its destiny, both from His point of view.
Ants In The Kitchen
But when it comes to all else, I’m like an ant in the kitchen. Just as an ant is totally preoccupied with its search for grains of sugar, I—in my quest for grains of truth—am oblivious to the complicated supernatural world that surrounds me, visible only to God. So in God, as sovereign ruler of the universe, I place my faith, knowing that even though I don’t see it, things will work out for the good of those who love and trust Him (Romans 8:28)—as well as for those for whom we may labour.