Recently I began reading an amazing book called When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James and it has been extremely thought provoking. There are several chapters devoted to the subject of the sovereignty of God and I am going to seek to recap those chapters and add my own meditations as well. This is a huge subject. Since one of my purposes with the blog is to share where I am now in my spiritual journey, I have to address this subject because I keep coming back to some very difficult questions with God myself.
The author says, “The moment the word “why” crosses our lips, we are doing theology. No matter what went wrong or how others may have contributed to our suffering, ultimately our struggles lead to God’s doorstep.”
I’m trying to recall what I believed about God’s sovereignty while I was still in the meetings. Did I believe God’s will would be done no matter what I did or what somebody else did to me? I don’t think I did. Did I believe God was always good even when bad things happened to good people? Yes. Did I believe I could mess things up to the point that God would have resort to His Plan B for my life? Yes. Did I believe in time and chance happening to everyone? (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Yes and no; I’ve never liked that verse because it feels like it leaves God out of the picture and it seems like a cop-out. Did Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” mean just that the day of my death had already been determined or did it also mean that what those days would hold was already also established? Does God still have plans for me? Plans to prosper me and not to harm me? Does He still have plans filled with hope for my future? To answer those questions I have to say, I do but I don’t. Oh Lord, I believe but help my unbelief!”
I think the overall conclusion about these matters for myself, while I was still attending meetings, was vague because I didn’t see God as being very actively involved in everything about my life. He was an observer, not a major participant. He was a Being who occasionally got involved rather than my consciously believing He was involved in it all. That, coupled with how “polite” I felt I had to be with God, even though I read psalm after psalm when David came right out and asked God some very blunt and hard questions.
I need relationship with God that is real and that is relevant; nothing else works for me. It doesn’t mean I have a casual, disrespectful attitude in prayer; I don’t ever want to forget Who He is and Who I am praying to. But I reference Carolyn Curtis James again when she wrote: “Tribulation, pain and anger have a way of jarring us out of polite religious conversations with God and our habit of handing him his daily to-do list”. Sometimes we want to know “how God could be both powerful and good at the same time. Our questions draw us out of ourselves, beyond our circumstances and into serious dialogue with God. Some of the most intense and productive exchanges between God and His people occur in moments when we are most bewildered by Him. Like the psalmist said in Psalm 13:12, we are frustrated by our lack of control over our lives and reluctant to trust a God who does not comply with our desires. In every case, for the psalmist and for us, anger is a symptom not (emphasis added) of how wrong God has gotten things but of our need to know Him better.”
Very recently I was in a situation where a lot of memories and feelings were triggered from 40 years ago and I was angry all over again at the whole meeting system, at God and at myself for dreams that were lost and years that were wasted. I desperately tried to figure out how to live with those feelings but the last sentence of the above quote has given me much to consider. God has not messed things up. I need to know Him better.
The author had a similar struggle…
“I knew basic ideas about God, but I had never concentrated my attention on him, never given his character much thought or taken time to study his attributes. My efforts to study and read the Bible tended to be self-focused. I wanted encouragement and nourishment for myself. I wanted to see God’s hand at work in my life and my prayers answered. Terrible as it sounds to me now, I wasn’t looking for God. I was looking for ways to make life better for me. I felt derailed and wanted to know if and when he was going to help me get back on track. I was discouraged about the present and apprehensive about the future….I needed to find out more about the God who held my life in his hands.
The questions about God that seem to surface most often in conversation, center on God’s sovereignty and character. Is God really in control or does sovereignty change hands from moment to moment, shifting between God, the devil, and pure chance? Does God care only about the major events and choices of my life, or does he also rule over the details? What kind of God would allow such painful things to happen to us? Do I really matter to God, or am I less important than others who seem more entitled to his attentions?
These questions about God (which weighed heavily on my own heart) send us back to read the Scriptures again, this time with theological eyes, searching for God. It can be a mind-expanding experience, for theology inevitably enlarges our vision of God. As one startled woman admitted, “God is a lot bigger than I thought.” When God is big, everything begins to look different.”
I am now remembering conversations with fellow workers about the subject of pre-destination and what we believed about that. The consensus was that we believed we were pre-destined to become like Jesus BUT not the concept that we had no choice in the matter. The thought of having no control was disturbing and felt very controlling of God. It also felt like we were puppets on a strong without the power of choice.
God does give everyone the power of choice though; the choice to acknowledge Him and choose to enter into a relationship with Him or not. And if we do, we then step into His wondrous promises. We step into His Plan for our lives; his plans to give us a future and a hope.
Going back to the sentence about how we believed in the meetings that we were pre-destined to become like Jesus….now I am wondering what exactly did we mean by that? Because if we really believed that, then we DID believe in God’s sovereignty in our lives!
If God is sovereign, then every day of our lives has meaning and purpose because God has planned it. We are not left in the wake of God’s plan for someone else. God’s plan for us is individual and personal. Each Christian is on a personal journey with God.
Those who believe that God has a plan for them sometimes encounter another problem – the conviction that they have lost God’s best plan for them. They believe they have missed or fallen off the plan, or that something has happened to destroy it. I know a young woman whose husband thought she was Plan B. Earlier he had been engaged to the girl of his dreams, but everything fell apart when his fiance broke their engagement and walked out of his life for good, taking Plan A with her.
We know the feeling. Somewhere along the line, we zigged when we should have zagged, and now we’re hopelessly stuck with Plan B. It only takes a foolish youthful decision, a missed opportunity, the interference of someone else in our lives, or our sinfulness, and Plan A is gone forever.
But if God is sovereign, then Plan B is a myth. No matter how dark things look to us, or how big the mess we’re in, we’re in Plan A. God’s plan for us is intact, proceeding exactly as he intended, neither behind nor ahead but right on schedule. Nothing — not our sins, failures, disappointments, bad decisions, nor the sins of others against us —- can deter a sovereign God from accomplishing his purposes.
God said in Isaiah 46:9-10 “I am God…my purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.” Nebuchadnezzar said after his incredibly humbling encounter with God’s Sovereignty that “everything God does is right and all his ways are just.” (Daniel 4:37) But does that apply to us in our everyday, simple lives?” We are called to run the race God has marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1-2) and David wrote in Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Carolyn Custis James writes that we run a planned race.
Where I get messed up in my thinking is this: If I am running a planned race, then why on earth (pun intended) would God have planned this life for me? Scripture tells me that God works all things for good but to be honest, I don’t always cling to that. I get messed up in my reactions to how things have turned out in my life. I’m not considering His plan and simply trusting in that. I’ve decided things are messed up beyond repair so I must now be in God’s Plan B. But like we’ve already read, it was all God’s Plan A all along!
When I consider that, immediately everything shifts within me. What if I am on schedule contrary to every conclusion I’ve drawn about my life and every conclusion others have drawn about my life? What if?
Everything now has so much more meaning and purpose. My life no longer feels ordinary or forgotten.
One other question comes to mind, however. What about reaping what you sow? Good or bad. Scripture says that will happen. Is even that part of The Plan? There would certainly be chapters in my life God would wish I didn’t have to go through; times when I am in the reaping stage and it’s not a good thing that I am reaping. But, here’s the cool part — that stage (no matter how awful it may be) is not catching God off guard. He knew beforehand that I would be there and so He pre-determined to use that time to work for my good. Wow.
Like I said, this is a huge subject but it has been very helpful to walk through these thoughts. I hope they are to you also.