FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 53, December 31, 2020
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” -Acts 14:22
I mentioned in my post last week that God allows calamity and then I promised to address the why this week, all within the context of our great need for revival in the American church. I wrote, “Concerning physical, familial, or financial woes, please note that these are not accidents. They are not from the devil. They are not happenstance or random. God allows them.” You will note that I wrote, “God allows them.” This language is not as precise as it should have been. On the basis of Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, and Daniel 9:12-14 I must retract that statement and say, “God brings them.” Does this surprise or shock you? Does this bring discomfort to your sensibilities? Do you think you must defend God and His actions?
Now it is also important to note what some theologians call an antinomy, an apparent contradiction. The Bible has many of these statements – Jesus is both God and man at the same time, God is sovereign in all affairs of the world and in the doctrine of election but whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and the Bible is inspired or God breathed by the Holy Spirit yet men wrote the Scriptures using their own style and varying degrees of sophistication with Hebrew and Greek. So it is correct to say that God brings calamity yet it is also true to say that man brings calamity. We are totally responsible for our actions. Another way to describe this truth is to hold to the complementarity of the truth. We must hold God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in tension, in balance. In other words, 100% God plus 100% man equals 100%, with the preeminence going to the Triune God.
So, why does God bring calamity? Think about the calamities you have faced in this last year? Perhaps you lost a loved one to COVID-19. Maybe you were laid off from work because of the pandemic. Perhaps you lost your spouse to cancer after fifty years of marriage and you now battle severe loneliness. Maybe you have a wayward child whose rejection of the faith and the Christian lifestyle is like a dagger in your heart. You cannot make it through a day without sorrow. If you live on the Gulf Coast then you know very well all the hurricanes you dealt with this year and perhaps severe property damage. Maybe you have a loved one who was killed in an automobile accident by a drunk driver. Did God bring these calamities on you?
As a precursor to revival, God very often brings affliction on His people. I remember several years ago, while we lived in Connecticut, being back at St. Simons Island, Georgia for a vacation. As I was thinking on our country’s need for revival, and as I walked through a neighborhood with homes worth well in excess of $1 million, I had this thought. “God can bring revival in any circumstance, but the Scriptures, as well as church history, tell us that revival usually follows some manner of affliction or suffering.” So, it seemed to me at the time that for revival to come to our country, should we not then expect some calamitous upheaval which forces us to consider the brevity of life and the folly of putting our trust in the uncertainty of riches?
Why do you suffer affliction? Consider Luke’s word after Paul’s stoning, “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying,’Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,’” (Acts 14:19-22). Why are these words of the Apostle Paul from Acts 14:22 necessary? Why is it an axiom of the Christian faith that through many trials, testings, or tribulations we must enter God’s kingdom? Why are these things the precursor to a mighty movement of God? Why must this life so often be so difficult?
It should be altogether clear, on the one hand, that people do bad things to other people and thus bring hardship on them. A child who is kidnapped and murdered is on the receiving end of profound wickedness and evil. When your identity is stolen and some evil person breaks into your online checking account and steals all your money, then you have been abused by a thief. So, evil, murderous people are totally responsible for what they do to others. When the evil men of Al-Qaeda attacked us on September 11, 2001 they acted freely according to the darkness of their depraved hearts.
On the other hand, however, we can still say that God brings calamity or affliction through the actions of others. The Apostle Peter makes this point in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he says, concerning the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, “. . . this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death,” (Acts 2:23). God foreordained Christ’s death but wicked men freely performed the heinous deed.
We can say, therefore, that so called natural calamities are not happenstance. They are not random. Yahweh declares that He is the one who brings them. In Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the demise of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus of the Medo-Persian empire, some two hundred years before the event, he says, “Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed . . . to subdue nations before him . . . I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun, that there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well being and creating calamity. I am the Lord who does all of these,” (Isaiah 45:1-7). Therefore we must also say that God is the author of calamity and affliction.
God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. Nothing takes God by surprise. For example, God is not wringing His hands in heaven, wondering how He could have prevented the horrible kidnapping and murder last year of little Kamille McKinney in Birmingham. God is not caught off guard by your cancer diagnosis or inoperable brain tumor. COVID-19 did not surprise God. He brought it. At the same time, again we must understand that affairs of life also fall out according to the nature of second causes, as the Westminster Confession of Faith states it. Kamille McKinney’s murderer chose to do his evil deed and he will be judged by God for committing this horrible act.
All of this begs a very important question, doesn’t it? Why would God ever send affliction or calamity upon His own people? We can certainly understand why He may do this to those who hate Him, but why us, why to those who love Him and wish to serve Him?
There are at least five reasons for affliction coming upon believers. Remember, the context of my remarks is 2 Chronicles 7:14 which promises revival, but the verses immediately prior to this promise speak to the reality of drought, devastation, and pestilence. So, why does God bring affliction and calamity to His people?
First, He sends affliction because He loves His people. He makes clear that we are to have no other gods before Him. We are not to worship them or serve them. Why? Because He is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children. . . but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Him and keep His commandments (Exodus 20:3-6). God is jealous, but why? He demands our total obedience and fidelity to Him because He is the sovereign Lord, Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. There is a mixture of love and anger in God toward His redeemed people. He was repeatedly angry with Israel in the Old Testament. Jesus was sometimes angry with His disciples (Mark 9:19). The Father and the Son’s anger is never unrighteous because each person of the Godhead is positively holy. If your three year old breaks free from your hand and runs into traffic and narrowly escapes death at the screeching halt of several cars, then your first emotion is gratitude or relief but your second emotion will be anger. Why? Because you love your child and his disobedience nearly brought his death. Likewise, in our disobedience God will sometimes bring hardship to get our attention in order to draw us back to Himself in renewal of our zeal for His work in the world.
Second, God sometimes sends affliction to His people because He does not want His name blasphemed among unbelievers who witness the disobedience of professing Christians (1 Timothy 6:2). King David suffered great affliction (the death of his son, the loss of his kingdom through Absalom, and the humiliation of being cursed by Shimei) because of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. God is holy. He cannot and He will not perpetually endure the disobedience of His people. Did God forgive David? Yes, of course but this does not mean he did not suffer the consequences of his sin nor the chastisement of a loving Father in heaven.
Third, our Lord brings affliction because He wants all of His people to know His holiness. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against Yahweh they, and their followers, were swallowed up by the ground (Numbers 16). When Israel grumbled in the wilderness He sent poisonous snakes into their midst to bite them, and many died (Numbers 21). And when many men in Israel had sexual relations with the idolatrous Midianite women 24,000 fell dead in one day (Numbers 25:1-9).
Fourth, God sends affliction because He will not allow wickedness to stand in His people. I know what you are thinking, “Wait, I know many professing Christians who are living in disobedience to God and nothing bad seems to happen to them.” Never forget, my friend, that what we sow we shall also reap (Galatians 6:7), and some men’s wicked deeds are quite evident, going before them to judgment but the sins of others are hidden but will be revealed in due time (1 Timothy 5:24,25). Our sins and the consequences of them will be evident at some point. God does not see time as we do. All is in the present with Him in heaven.
And fifth, God brings affliction and calamity to drive us to Christ in conversion or to bring us back to Christ in revival after following the folly of the lost world. Daniel speaks three times of calamity in his confession (Daniel 9:12-14), and it was this calamity which moved him to pray from the morning to evening sacrifice.
So, at the very least when you experience any calamity, ask the Lord, “Are You contending with me? Search my heart, O God, and if I am sinning against You, then please make it clear by Your word and Spirit. I will repent.”
If there is calamity and yet no sin which seems to have brought it, then see the loving hand of God as a means of sanctification in your life. Understanding the author and purpose of calamity and submitting to God in it, is the foundation for revival in your personal life, in your family, in your church, and in our world.
1 The Westminster Confession of Faith, On Providence, Chapter 5, paragraph 2.