Church council homily: “God Is in Control”

March 13, 2014

I prepared the following homily for this week’s church council meeting. Our church family has experienced an unusual amount of grief and sorrow over the past month. I thought this was a message we all needed to hear! It crystallizes some ideas I’ve blogged about recently.

Homily text: Matthew 10:28-31

“Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:28-31

I want to speak as plainly as I can about a doctrine of our church that is very difficult to explain and easy to misunderstand. The problem is, if I don’t explain it well then I risk coming across sounding like an insensitive jerk. I think you know me well enough to know that I’m not an insensitive jerk.

But I find this doctrine immensely comforting to me when I’m going through a difficult time… and I think you will, too.

The doctrine, which Jesus speaks to in the scripture I just read, is the doctrine of God’s providence. A more popular way of expressing this doctrine is to say that “God is in control.”

Just yesterday, one of my clergy colleagues on Facebook posted the following:

I hear people say this phrase a lot “It’s ok. God is in control.” So answer for me: A. What do you mean by this phrase? or B. What do you think of when others use that phrase?

I’ve been reading, thinking, and writing a lot about God’s providence recently, so I felt compelled to offer my two cents. Among other things, I said:

God answers our prayers or God doesn’t. And if he doesn’t, then we can only assume that God has good reasons not to. When God allows bad things to happen, then we can assume God has good reasons for doing so, and that even these things are serving God’s good purposes.

Let me be clear: God is not the author of evil. We human beings are—alongside Satan and his army of demons.

But think of it this way: Suppose Art is praying for my safety and welfare this evening. And while I’m walking to my car, I get flattened by a Mack truck. Well, then it’s clear that God didn’t give Art what he prayed for. Why? Is it because God doesn’t care about Art—or me?

Or is it because God could foresee that the consequences of preventing that Mack truck from flattening me would cause something even worse further down the line. In this fallen world, in which human beings make sinful choices, in which Satan and his army of devils are constantly working to harm us, God often has to choose the best of many undesirable alternatives—between bad… worse… and worst of all.

But we can trust that God knows what he’s doing, and that he’s always working to bring good out of bad.

God knows we don’t always get what we pray for, but as one pastor said, “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

Hasn’t God proven that we can trust him? Can’t we trust that God can transform even bad stuff into something good? On the cross of his Son Jesus, after all, he took the world’s worst evil and transformed it into the world’s greatest good. Surely, he can do the same with the lesser evil in the world that we face.

Paul says, “I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t sound glib or easy or like pie-in-the-sky, but I believe it with all my heart: All evil and suffering in this world is temporary. The first five seconds in heaven, on the other side of death and resurrection, will more than compensate for anything we face in this life. So we keep our eyes on eternity.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Not long ago I was going through a tough time, and I was telling a friend about it—he happens to be Jewish and a Bible scholar; I think of him as my honorary rabbi. And I said, “Why is this happening to me?” And he said, “No, Brent, that’s the wrong question. It’s not ‘Why is this happening to me?’ It’s ‘Why is this happening to me now?’” In other words, he was reminding me—a Christian pastor who ought to know better—that God is in control and God is using this experience to help me, to teach me, to make me a better human being.

I haven’t suffered much in this life—but I’ve suffered enough to know that everything I’ve gone through has helped shape into the person I am today. If anything had happened differently, I’d be someone else—and I mostly like who I am! So I thank God for that!

One day it will be perfectly clear, even to our finite human minds, that our Lord has governed our universe wisely. In the meantime, our duty is to trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing. Amen?

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