Last Friday we all awoke to the news that a majority in the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. It was totally unexpected. The news has been received with joy, shock, anger, and anxiety. It has caused concern at almost every level, political, financial and social.
It is not my purpose to comment on the merits or demerits of the decision, but rather to ask the question: ‘How does God work in our world of uncertainty?’
There are many things in life that trouble us. If we are to understand and deal with the unexpected, we need more than human wisdom and understanding. Abraham Lincoln once commented: I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day (Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks).
We need divine wisdom found in divine revelation. Let me make two observations – the first from Isaiah 43, the second, from Romans 10.
In advance of the fall of Jerusalem and the conquest of God’s people, the prophet Isaiah spoke for God when he said: When you pass through the waters I will be with you; … (Isaiah 43:2).
Isaiah was saying that God does not promise his people immunity from the unexpected or tough times. He says, when, not if. Isaiah also speaks about God’s people passing through the waters, not over the waters.
Our world is troubled and distorted because we have all turned away from God. And because God takes seriously the gift of choice he has given us, we often struggle with outcomes. As someone commented, it is mischievous to say that God’s people will not experience the unexpected or difficulty in their lives. God doesn’t promise that – not even in this era since the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What God promises us is not immunity from pain in our lives, but his constant presence with us. While, thank the Lord, our troubles in the West are not the extreme suffering of the time of which Isaiah wrote, there are principles from which we can learn.
We learn from Isaiah, and even more from the events of the life and death of Jesus Christ, that Christianity is not about a God who sits in heaven says, ‘I’ll get you out of your trouble’, or, ‘I’ll put you on a spiritual trip that will ease your pain’.
Rather, Christianity is about a God who comes to us in our pain, and who shares it. This is the meaning of the manger in Bethlehem and the cross on Calvary’s hill. This is not a God who emails us sympathy notes. This is the God who bore our grief and who carried our sorrow – a God who descends to the depths of the earth. Emmanuel: God with us!
Christianity is about the supporting presence of the Lord as we pass through the challenges and trials of life. I have summoned you by name, when you pass through the waters I will be with you, says the Lord.
No other religion even dreams of this. All around us are philosophers and opinion-makers. Turn on the news, open the paper and we find countless commentators who hold themselves out as wise. But not one of them has scars on their hands. Not one of them can say, ‘When you pass through the waters I’ll be with you’. This is how our almighty, awesome, and all-wise God acts.
This is also the God who calls on us to be involved in introducing others to him. William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury once commented, ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members’. For too long we have allowed our witness to be silenced. When did you last conclude a serious conversation with even the words, ‘May God bless you’ or ‘Can I pray for you?’ as potential conversation starters about the Lord Jesus?
In Romans 10: 14f we read: But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?… As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
Being confident that God is with us, surely now is the time for us to ask the Lord for the wisdom and grace to bring God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, back into our conversations.
© John G. Mason