The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
II Peter 3:9
I was asked a question by one of our Prayer Team subscribers (and yes, when you have questions, please send them) after last Friday’s message about why God permits bad things to happen. I was planning on going to another topic today, but this question really got me thinking. And even though I think the correct answer is “we don’t know exactly,” allow me to shed some light on the subject. And allow me to put it in some practical terms.
God has an intentional will. There are certain things that He wills. Such as the creation of the world, that happened because of the intentional will of God. The salvation of the world through Jesus Christ is the intentional will of God. Our eventual salvation, whether God allows me personally, or any of us, into His Kingdom will be an act of His intentional will.
There is another term ascribed to “God’s will” and that is God’s “permissive will,” which is when God allows something to happen. In I Timothy 2: 3-4, we read “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God created me with the intention of me being saved and coming to the knowledge of His truth. He will not force me to do that. I’m free to believe in Him or reject Him. However, He wants, and hopes that I will choose the path to salvation.
To put this in practical terms, we use intentional and permissive wills with our children. For example, we are intentional about sending them to school, making them do chores, hopefully taking them to church, etc. We have been very intentional with our son that he needs to participate in a sport and many other things. However, as he has gotten older, we have become more permissive in our will. For instance, we don’t check his homework, or even get on him to do it. Thankfully, he is a good student and willingly does the work. Once in a while, he forgets and assignment or gets a bad grade, and we permit that to happen. We don’t hover over his school work. We don’t want him to not succeed on anything he tries. We want him to be successful at everything. However, we permit his natural abilities to come out and something that permissiveness results in something less than stellar. What’s the alternative? To do the homework for him? To correct every mistake? Of course not, doing so would never allow him to learn responsibility, or how to overcome a setback.
One thing we know that is certain—God wants us to attain salvation. Just like the teacher that is hoping his or her student will get an “A.” God is rooting for us to succeed, but He won’t interfere with our choice to succeed or fail. He will permit failure.
The Bible alludes to God testing people, such as when He tested Abraham to see whether Abraham would sacrifice his only son to the Lord. I believe there are certain instances when God does test people. However, we have to be careful in ascribing all setbacks to tests of God. I don’t believe that God is testing anything in the recent hurricane that hit Florida. I don’t think He’s testing out the government to see its response, or His people for their generosity, or the residents of hard hit areas to test their resolve. I believe that there are lessons to be learned, and even positive things to be taken away from just about any setback. However, I don’t believe that every setback is God testing us.
Patience in important in any relationship, and patience has to go both ways. It’s the same thing in our relationship with God. We ask, hope, and even expect God to be patient with our many sins. It is fair that we should also be patient in waiting for God’s plan to unfold, whether that plan seems intentional or permissive.
As regards the hurricane, and other setbacks and tragedies in life, I look to Luke 2: 34-35, when Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph at the forty-day presentation of Jesus in the temple, and said to Mary “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken again (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts of many years may be revealed.”
We know that Mary felt the pain of that sword as she watched her Son die on the cross. We know now that billions of people have come to Christ because of this, the thoughts of billions of hearts have been revealed as devout Christians and inheritors of salvation. Many times in life, we will feel a sword pierce through our own souls, as we will each occasionally suffer great setbacks. In these times, often we must wait for the thoughts of other hearts to be revealed. The hurricane and it’s ensuing collateral damage was terrible. We now pray, not only for recovery in the areas that were destroyed, but for renewal once recovery is completed.
Lord, help me in the times when I suffer setbacks to keep on going, to keep my eyes on the prize of salvation. Help me in the times when things don’t make sense to keep trusting in You. Help me in the times I get knocked down to get up again. And when I walk down a path that leads to a dead end or even a disaster, help me to stay on the path that leads to salvation. Amen.
Many questions about God will elude us in this life, such as why God permits certain things to happen. Faith is continuing on with faith and hope, even as we suffer the consequences of bad things that happen even to the best of people.