The Hands of God…Kind or Harsh?

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6, 7-ESV)

Last week I was released from the clinical trial for which I waited so long to qualify at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, MD. They did not like me and I feel totally rejected—just kidding. A recent CT scan showed that my pancreatic cancer is advancing and these trials have strict protocols saying that if there are indications the treatment is not working then the individual must be released. I applaud the research that is being done NIH by the doctors and nurses and techs. Though a huge facility, I was treated as an individual with dignity. My doctor is a believer who prayed for me every time we met. I have one more trip down there to have a final “safety check” and then that is it, unless they find another trial for which I might qualify.

At this point in my journey I am left with no treatment options. There are no more chemo, radiation, or immunological protocols that will work anymore and it would seem that it is just a matter of time until this pernicious disease ultimately steals my last breath. I say all of this recognizing that some of my readers are on chemo or another treatment and hearing this may be a discouragement to them. But please realize that even though these treatments did not cure me, God has used them to extend my life. Only 9% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer live 5 years from their diagnosis—I am into year 4. So, be thankful when there are treatments available and though they are rough to go through, they are a gift from your Heavenly Father. and your outcomes may be far different than mine. It has been a joy for me to see some of my friends ring the bell or hit the gong after they finish their course of treatment. (A typical rite of passage for the cancer patient after they successfully complete their chemo or radiation regimen.)

So now, how does one deal with the reality that there are no more treatment options? One thing’s for sure, it doesn’t make you want to go back on chemo, but it does make you more consciously dependent upon God and that you are in his hands. I’ve always believed that over the last 4 yrs., knowing that “man does not live by chemo alone,” but now when there is nothing else left it has become more real—I am in his hands. The hands whose fingers knit me together in my mother’s womb and created the pulsating universe. The hands which have protected me, guided me, disciplined me, and saved me. The hands from which nothing will “pluck” me in life or in death.

I’m not totally at peace about all of this, in spite of what some of you have concluded. I get frustrated with the ways of God. I just learned this morning of a dear sister in Christ who passed way last night a long illness and the pain the family is bearing, but even Jesus wept outside the tomb of Lazarus. However, sadness, frustration, and even anger at God doesn’t mean one does not trust him, as much as it indicates that we cannot bear the weight of our own existence and are helpless in spite of our own bravado or super-spirituality. So, we have a choice either to take things into our own hands or fall back into the hands of God.

Many of you have heard me talk about the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, composed in Heidelberg, Germany as a teaching tool for young people. The Synod of Dort approved the catechism in 1619 and it has become the the most widely used confession of the Reformed church, translated into many non-European languages world-wide. The questions and answers of the catechism were divided up into 52 Lord’s Days intended to be taught on each Sunday of the year with scripture references. (check it out at http://www.heidelberg-catechism.com)

I want to draw your attention to 2 parts which form the bedrock of my trust. So, no matter how much I kick and scream about my situation, this is where I stand:

Lord’s Day 1

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Lord Day 10

Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

Q. What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by his providence?

A. We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love…

I don’t know what you are facing, but I hope you have a faith like this. Not a smoke and mirrors faith in a domesticated God, but a faith that can yell, and scream, and lament his “strange ways”—and yet still trust. A bottom-line trust that you belong to Christ in life and in death, because he died for you; that you are in the hands of God and that nothing will separate you from his love; that nothing will ever enter your life that has not first passed through his fatherly hands so you do not need to be afraid.

“Butt-dialing” and the Providence of God

Butt-dialing-cell-phone-005Last week, Reuters carried this story with the headlines: ‘Butt-dial’ call foils suspected Arkansas murder plot. The more discreet of us would call it “pocket-dialed.” Anyway, a would-be Arkansas murder plot came undone when one of the suspected co-conspirators sat on his phone and “pocket-dialed” the targeted victim, who heard details of the planned hit and alerted police. James Macom, 33, last week overheard his former employer Larry Barnett, 68, telling a suspected hit man to “make the killing look like an accident.” The potential victim contacted police and filed a report at the station and returned with police to his home, where an intruder had apparently broken in and started a gas leak. Barnett apparently “was looking up Macom’s contact information on his phone to give to the hit man and accidentally dialed the number from his pocket” [so it was pocket-dialed], police said. Barnett was arrested last week for conspiracy to commit murder. Jonesboro, where the incident occurred, is 120 miles northeast of Little Rock.

I have been preparing to preach a sermon this Sunday on Tamar and Judah from Genesis 38. This account is a part of the larger story of God’s providential care for Israel (through Joseph and his famine-relief plan) and ultimately for the world through the Messiah, whose lineage is traced back to this unlikely couple, Judah and Tamar. Divine providence is the means by and through which God governs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things. This includes the universe as a whole (Psalm 103:19)), the physical world (Matthew 5:45), the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human birth and destiny (Galatians 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of his people (Psalm 4:8). Islam also has a very interesting belief in the decrees of Allah (Qadr), but that will be for another time.

Some folks would argue that this concept of God destroys any possibility of free will. If God is in complete control, how can we freely make our decisions? In response, I would ask a few questions of my own. Is it really true that in order for our will to be free, there must be some things which are outside of God’s sovereign control? What if that were true? Would it not possible for us to somehow slip through the cracks? Paul says in Philippians 1:6 that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” If God is not in control of all things, then how can we believe that he can make good on his promise?

In addition, if God is not sovereign, then he is not All-Powerful because there would exist contingencies outside of God’s control—namely, our “free will” which can trump providence. In my recent blog on this subject, I mentioned that the solution is not found in pitting human freedom against divine sovereignty or creating a hybrid of the two (as in Islam). Rather, we should keep the tension by holding them in “antinomy”; the apparent incompatibility between two seemingly irreconcilable truths which are both held as undeniably true. Thus divine providence does not destroy our freedom, but mysteriously works together with it and through it to accomplish God’s justice and righteous purposes in this world.

Dave, are you trying to say that this butt- (I mean pocket) dialing incident is part of God’s providential care for his universe? Yes. Are all pocket-dialing incidences providential? Probably not, but then again we don’t know what they eventuate in, do we? We do know that not every evil situation is prevented from happening by God’s providence, however, a biblical worldview would suggest that there may be more than we will ever know.