February 9, 2011

God Rules--But How?

His career seemed to be all mapped out: as a foundling he had been taken into the family of Pharaoh and enjoyed the best education available at that time. Moses, who in reality belonged to the enslaved Hebrews, seemed lined up to serve Egypt in a leadership position.

Changing Direction—Twice
And then, one spur-of-the-moment action changed everything. He killed an overseer who was beating a Hebrew slave, and found himself fleeing Pharaoh’s long arm and the only home he knew. In neighboring Midian he spent many years incognito working as a shepherd. He made a living. He began a family. He had been in line for the Egyptian throne, and now he unwillingly had to begin a new life in a new land. After settling into his life as a shepherd, he probably made new plans and formulated his ideas about what course his life would take now. And then he was again torn from his environment. After he met with God at the burning bush, his real vocation became clear: he was supposed to free his people from Egyptian slavery (following Exodus 3 and 4). At first he resisted this—understandably, as it would mean that for a second time his life would make a dramatic U-turn and his own plans would have to be thrown overboard. But he did fulfill the role that God had for him, and today he is still honored as Israel’s deliverer.
Have you experienced God’s guiding hand as directly as did Moses? I haven’t, and I suppose that most believers haven’t.
2011 1504 page20The Bible tells us that God sometimes calls certain people to special tasks, but the Bible does not necessarily suggest that God has a special life calling for each and every one. In most cases people, through their own decisions and choices, influence their destiny—including also believers. But when God lets us choose, does He lean back and observe from a distance what transpires here on earth? Or is He, in the words of poet and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt, “sitting in regiment and directing all things well”?1 It is interesting to note that the words of this hymn were written some years after the end of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. Whole districts had been decimated by war and, as a result, were depopulated. It is estimated that about half of the central European population lost their lives in the Thirty Years’ War. In spite of this the songwriter seems convinced that God still holds the scepter in His hand. Was he delusional? Where did he get this certainty? What kind of guidance did he believe in?
God’s “Invisible Hand”?
Does God direct affairs with an invisible hand? Are there subtle workings of God that through different puzzle pieces of happenings can lead to a logical whole? Perhaps if all of us did what we were supposed to, something like a complex coordination between the interactions of all humankind would exist. The result would be that God’s will would be realized even if humanity would be oblivious to it. It would follow the idiomatic expression “man proposes but God disposes.” Single events on their own would not be understood, but seen together they could compose a “higher harmony.” A similar “control mechanism” was envisioned by the British economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) when he wrote of an “unseen hand”: If everyone followed their own interests, involuntarily they would be led by this unseen hand to the general good.

Perhaps God does sometimes work like this, but there is another, much bigger master plan for those who wish to understand God’s will.
The Cosmic Conflict
The Bible speaks of original perfect paradise conditions in which humans lived in harmony with their Creator. This was not as difficult as it sounds because humankind was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). God and humanity held the same values, enjoyed similar things, and because they were so alike they held many of the same views and goals.
However, the freedom enjoyed by humans was used to turn away from God. The result of this separation between humanity and God (in Scripture this is called sin) was very destructive. Besides the distorted relationship with God, relationships between humans were destroyed. The murder of Abel by his brother, Cain (Gen. 4:1-16), was the first of uncountable atrocities that humans would commit against each other. The image of God was distorted to such an extent that a false image of God resulted: man began to blame God for all the suffering that existed. The schism between God and humanity grew; many people wanted nothing to do with what they perceived was an unloving, hard God. And so they began to create their own “gods” to worship. What used to be a carved wooden idol has perhaps today become a political ideology, materialism, or the “I” culture.
In order to correct this false image of God, God Himself became man and came to earth as Jesus Christ. He demonstrated by His life and death that God was ready to give everything in order to bring fallen humanity back to Him. The victory in this battle over humanity and the true image of a loving God was won through Jesus’ death on the cross. John describes this in an unmistakable manner: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NKJV).2
But the battle is not over. It is a bit like a Davis Cup tennis tournament: five matches are played. The winning team is the one who is the first to win three matches; however, the tournament is not over until all five matches have been played. In the remaining matches the losing team plays hard in order to win as much fan support as possible. Satan, God’s opponent, has already lost, but continues to try to keep as many as possible away from God (see 1 Peter 5:8). We find ourselves in the middle of this cosmic conflict—cosmic because the actors and issues in this conflict are not just earthbound, but are concerned about who Satan and Christ really are “outside of this world.”
The ongoing conflict explains why there is still so much suffering and why humanity seems intent on forcing our planet through more wars, environmental pollution, and waste of natural resources, thus making this planet unlivable. We are all part of this cosmic conflict; and God’s leading in our lives should be seen against this backdrop.
Freedom and a Good Ending
God acts, leads, and steps in, but often not as we think He should. He leaves humanity the freedom to live without Him together with all the consequences that this would have. He offers Himself in the person of His Son to redeem us and win us back to Him. The cosmic conflict will end soon. Jesus assured us that He is coming again for a second time (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 22:7). Then everything that has troubled us will come to an end (Rev. 21:4), and, once again, redeemed humanity will live in perfect harmony with God, with one another, and also with God’s creation. Until that moment arrives, we as individuals are invited to make a choice for our lives: do we want to turn back to God or continue in our own ways? God does not force us; He is willing to wait for us because He loves us.
1 This line is taken from the German hymn “Befiehl Du Deine Wege,” by Paul Gerhardt. The hymn was written in the seventeenth century, following the end of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, and appears in the German Adventist hymnal Wir loben Gott under number 258. It is based on Psalm 37:5.
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Thomas Lobitz is magazine editor (Adventisten heute, Zeichen der Zeit) at the Advent-Verlag, in Lüneburg, Germany. He is married with two children. This article was published February 10, 2011.