Wednesday, September 8, 2010

God in the Background

We all probably would like to understand how God’s sovereignty works with man’s responsibility better than we do.  It seems it is God’s purpose to make us believe what he says about his sovereignty more than explain it to us.  But there are plenty of texts that give us the insight we need to be able to fully trust in his power and care.  Some do this by speaking directly about it such as in Dan. 4:34, At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; Dan 4:35  all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"
Some do it by letting us watch historical narrative unfold and letting us watch God in action from behind the scenes.  One of the great passages that does this is the account in 2 Samuel as we watch the Lord restore David’s reign after his Son Absalom has led a coup.  Chapter 17 is where it all comes to a head.  Verse 14 lets us know that what is happening has always been God doing his will, 2Sa 17:14  And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, "The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel." For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom. 
This is helpful because surrounding this verse has been an account of men seemingly doing only their will.  And so vs. 14 is reminding us that God accomplishes his will in such a way that uses man’s will but does not override his will.  In this case Absalom must choose between two different advices given to him; that of Ahithophel and Hushai.  Ahithophel told him to let him lead an army immediately and kill David before he gets time to regroup.  All along we have seen that Ahithophel always gives the best advice and had Absalom followed his advice it would have been successful.  Of course, the big problem here is that God didn’t want Absalom to win so what does he do?  In this case he doesn’t merely Intervene and destroy Absalom’s army, he uses human ordinary means to accomplish his will which is his normal mode of operation.  He controls the little thing as vs. 14 reveals to us which is to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel so that he could control the big thing which was bring harm on Absalom.
The interesting thing here is how he does this by using human will and not by overriding it.  If you read the two advices given to Absalom you notice one big difference.  Ahithophel’s advice was for Ahithophel to lead the army and thereby get the glory.  Hushai gives bad advice that allows David to regroup but why does Absalom follow Hushai when Ahithophel had never let him down?  Because at the heart of Hushai’s advice was for Absalom to lead the army so that he would get the glory.  We have from the start been taught in 2 Samuel that Absalom was a very vain man. 
So how does God get Absalom to choose what God wants him to while all along Absalom is doing exactly what he wants to do and so will be held responsible?  By giving him the option to do what sinners can’t help but do, glorify himself.  Place before a dog a plate of raw meat and a plate of delicious vegetables and which one will he go after?  God didn’t override Absalom’s will like some robot; this would make sinners not responsible for their sin.  God merely gives him a choice to give someone else glory or himself and there was only one thing Absalom could do. 
So while we don’t see God intervening directly in some outward show of power, this account reveals that he is always in full control even while it looks like evil men are doing exactly what they want to do; and they are!  God has ordained our lives to be lived with him in the background.  By that I don’t mean that he isn’t to have first priority in our lives but that living by faith means that we believe and act upon those things unseen by the naked eye.  It is believing what God says about life and not being fooled into thinking that only what I see is all there is.  His sovereign purposes might be hidden but they are quite real.
When you get a chance, read the verses after 14 in 2 Samuel 17.  We immediately see David’s spies hiding for their lives and all the intrigue that is normal in our lives.  And this comes right after we are told that God is in full control and doing his will all along.  We are reminded here that while we might not like all the nail biting uncertainty of life, this is part of God’s will for us.  His sovereignty doesn’t overrule our responsibility, it uses it.  He hasn’t ordained that we sit back and watch him do everything for us; he has ordained that he will do everything for us as we do all things for his glory.  The glory of this passage isn’t in the flashy intervention of God but it is seen in how we can be patient and calm, rejoicing always because he so easily causes man to do only what he wants him to do.

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