November 2016 Newsletter - History and Word

The hurt of history and the help of the Word

            The Lord may hide himself in history but he does not hide in His Word. We may not understand why certain perplexing things happen to us, or happen around us, and we may be utterly mystified as to what the Lord is doing in such events, whether they be in the wider world or in our lives. In that sense, the Lord often seems to hide Himself in history, insofar as we cannot work out why He allows certain hurtful things to take place. Yet, however hidden the Lord is in history, we are told clearly about His purposes in His Word, in the Bible.

            Many Psalms in the Old Testament reflect the perplexing torment that we experience as events unfold around us which seem to contradict all that we thought we knew about God. In Psalm 13 we read of such perplexity:

            How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Psalm 13:1-2

            This is the voice of someone who is deeply discouraged by circumstances and perplexed by events. Such situations are many and varied: for example, the experience of the Old Testament people of God when they were militarily crushed and taken captive from their homes, and taken away from the Land of Promise, away from the Temple and its worship, and into the alien land of Babylon, seemed to them to be a contradiction of all Godís promises. How could the promises given to David for an endless kingdom fit with such a catastrophe?

            Later, in the Gospels, we read of many who began to follow Jesus as the Messiah, but their expectations were deeply crushed when He did not seize political power, establish the throne of David anew and toss out the occupying Romans. Later again, when Jesus died on the Cross, many of his followers were perplexed as to how God could honour His promises to save them amidst such a desperately calamitous event.

            From our standpoint, we can see that both these events - the exile to Babylon in Old Testament times and the death of Jesus in New Testament times - were actually events which crafted the rich tapestry of Godís purposes of salvation. How do we know that? We know that because the Bible explains it.

            The Lord may hide Himself in history but He does not hide in His Word.

            It is important that, amidst the deep perplexities of life around us, we understand that we will not necessarily make sense of how God is carrying his work forward in those events. In history the Lord is sometimes well hidden. In Scotland today, there is much in the church that is deeply disappointing and discouraging. Yet in His Word we know there is the promise that ďI will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against itĒ (Matthew 16:18b)

            The Lord may hide Himself in history but He does not hide in His word.

            There is a well-known verse in Paulís letter to the Romans:

            And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

            It is important to tease out what Paul is saying. What he means is that things that donít naturally work for our good - because so many things in life are bad and evil and bring us pain and break our hearts - yet under Godís providential design even these things are woven together for the good of those who love Him. In Romans 8, Paul does NOT write Ďeverything is goodí, because that is patently not the case. There is much in our world and in our personal experience that is not good. The appalling suffering of the people of Syria is not good; your personal health problems are not good; your griefs and sorrows are not good, and so on.

            But what Paul is saying is that God in His sovereign power is weaving all these things, some dark and some not so dark, into a grand tapestry whereby it creates good for those who love Him.

            There is a fascinating benediction towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews:

            Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

            So when we read that God is equipping us for everything good then that is something we need to know amidst the background of lifeís difficulties. All that God does in our lives, however mysterious and sore some things are, He will take and weave together to unfold His gracious purposes for good, that we may then do His will.

            The Psalm quoted earlier ends with the assurance:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me
Psalm 13:5-6

            The Lord may well seem hidden in the unhappiness of history but His Word reveals His love.

            Your minister

            Martin Thomson

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