Winning... Duh!

Good morning and Happy Monday!

Today's email might rock some theological boats. I know it rocked mine! Let's start with this question: how "in control" is God? Don't answer this too quickly! Think through your answer. If you're like me, this inquiry might be a little unsettling. Again, how "in control" do you believe God is?

There's a famous Biblical promise that gives us a context for considering this question. It is one of the most quoted scriptures in all of Christianity - Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 KJV)

This usually is where we start shouting, right? But not so fast! This is something to be excited about, true. But it isn't for obvious reasons. It isn't as simple as it sounds. This verse has very deep implications and raises key questions about the nature of God. Is God passively permitting things to happen and working them for our good on the back end? Or, is God actively working through things toward the good ending He promises?

We'll need to take a look at a few other Biblical references to get some clarity here.

We all know the story of Joseph and the grotesque actions of his brothers who sold him into slavery. Without a doubt this is one of the great examples of things working together for the good. After being sold into slavery and a few other dramatic twists, Joseph became the second most powerful man in the ancient world! At the very end of the story, Joseph says something that gives us a clue about how things worked out the way they did. He says:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

Joseph says "God intended," not "God permitted." Intention is motive for action, right? God's intentions always accompany His action. Let's check somewhere else - Job.

Usually we read Job as God "allowing" evil to happen to Job. But a careful reading of the story reveals that God did more than just allow the Devil's testing of Job. The Devil didn't ask"Hey God, can I have a go a your boy Job?" God INVITED him to do it!

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIV)

Job's family and friends knew what was up, too. The Bible says they recognized that God was behind what was happening to poor old Job.

All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. (Job 42:11 NIV)

These are just two examples. The scriptures are full of these illustrations of God actively working through bad stuff. The language is consistent. Over and over again we read about God's intentions in the worse situations. Again, intentions are motives for action! 

I know this challenges what a lot of us have been taught about God - that He doesn't get His hands dirty by involving Himself in the bad things that happen in our lives; that He merely allows bad to happen. But the Bible is pretty clear that God is the first and the last of EVERYTHING. 

So, you must be asking "Ok, thanks Jon for telling me God is behind all of the troubling stuff in my life. Now, what's your point? Why does this matter? What difference does this make?" Glad you asked! 

Let's take this framework for understanding God's working one step further - the cross! It is quite clear that God did not just allow the cross to happen. It was a part of His plan all along. All of that ugliness on His son's shoulders; God did not just allow it. He willed it! This way of considering how God works makes the cross even MORE profound - just as it makes our challenges and trials more meaningful. 

This is fantastic news for we who love God! That Romans 8:28 promise becomes something more, now. We don't have to wait to see how God works these things out in the end. He IS working IN these things! We've got ground to stand on, here. These challenges we face aren't happening TO us. They are happening FOR us! 

Later in that same chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul asserts: 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8:35-37 NIV)

He says " in all these things" - not over, not through, not even after. IN all these things! Because we accept the absolute sovereignty of God we are conquerors IN life's challenges as believers. We know that in every trial we are winning because we know God is at work IN the circumstances we face. He's not passively "letting things happen," to us. We are absolutely His through His Son! Because of that, He is shaping everything that happens to us to perfect us and His plan! That's how we know that all things are working together for our good! 

This is blessed assurance! What a wonderful blessing to face every challenge with this unshakable rock beneath our feet! God is absolutely in control! Even when our friends look on, watching us grapple with heart wrenching challenges, wondering how we cope, we can quote Charlie Sheen in all seriousness! Because Of Christ, God Himself is for us and because He is for us, IN all these things we are in fact... "WINNING!"

Here are some questions to help keep you focused on God's absolute sovereignty through this week:

  • What circumstances am I currently facing that seem outside God's sphere of influence?
  • How would my reaction to circumstances change if I reframed my perspective? What if I recognized that God is at work for me IN these circumstances?
  • Do I assume that God is not at work in situations because I don't get what I want or because situations feel uncomfortable?
  • How would my choices about the things I pursue in life change if my of perspective God's sovereignty changed?