This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.
“Where is God in all this?”
If there’s a defining theological question for these times, that’s it. In any time of crisis, we search for meaning. Do a search of sermon titles preached in the wake of 9-11 and odds are that is what you will find.
In 1938, Rev. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was called to the pulpit at Westminster Chapel. A stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, the congregation was and remains an evangelical, Holy Spirit-led, prophetic beacon for Britain. Notwithstanding the vague promise of “peace in our time”, war was coming. Germany had just annexed Austria and declared sovereignty over Czechoslovakia. The Holocaust had begun.
In the face of emerging terror, Lloyd-Jones’s messages were solid and Biblically authentic. No hand-holding, feel-good syrup. He called for revival. He pointed to the Gospel as our one and only hope.
It was a call to spiritual battle.
In a series of messages – now packaged as “Why Does God Allow War?” – he challenged his congregants to discover the true nature of God. He addressed the human temptation to seek an immediate and positive outcome to prayer. He pointed to our sinful nature. Listeners were invited to examine the profound implications of Christ’s death and resurrection. He touched on redemption and sacrifice.
Where is God in all of this? He addressed that question head on with an exploration of Biblical truth. God is not to blame for war. Humankind, fallen and mired in sin, is simply not fit for peace.
Fast forward to 2021, and we are no further ahead in our human misery. We may yearn for a fresh start and a speedy end to the pandemic turmoil, but the reality is that the end is nowhere in sight. Herd immunity won’t happen until autumn at best. 2021 is shaping up to be the same, if not worse than 2020.
And then there’s what’s happening in the U.S. While the last four years may have been unsettling, I dismissed it as comic relief. Yet as the unrest turns to violence, I am reminded that we are separated by an undefended border.
An elder friend signed off on a routine email this week, saying, “Hope all is wonderful in your world.” Rather than a facile “thanks”, I was drawn, at that moment, to state exactly what was on my mind.
I wrote, “Spiritually, I am struggling to stay on track (mentally) with the Father’s will despite the COVID and Congress chaos. Such a diversion. Sigh.”
I don’t normally pour out my heart when it’s unsolicited. Knee-jerk, 30-second reactions can be highly revealing. So, I took stock.
I realize that I have become mentally consumed with keeping track of the chaos around us. The first thing that I check after glancing at the clock every morning is the news feed. Six months ago, it would have been the weather. I am spending less time in prayer.
In mid-sentence, as I was writing this, an emergency alert came across my phone, warning residents to stay at home in this first of 28 days of renewed lockdown. I silenced it. But the voice continued in my head.
Where is God in all this? Martyn Lloyd-Jones was correct in 1938 and his witness is just as vital today: God is unchanging. The problem is us.
God is there. We need to give our heads a shake and open our eyes. Allowing God to have His way in our lives, in the church, and in this world is our highest calling – and duty.
We need to be wide awake and aware of what is going on in our world. But how do we do that in a healthy manner? The answer, as it always has been, is to fix our eyes upon Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He provided soothing words and his yoke was easy. And yet He had tough commands.
In times of crisis, there is a temptation for the church to serve up a tray of treacly hope and nothing more, lest we burden peoples’ minds. But that’s not giving honour to the Lord, who promised that His burden would be light, but also challenged us to pick up our crosses.
A soft and warm reminder of God’s love is always good, but it can never be the only thing. I know that may sound uncaring, even blind. It does not mean that we are to ignore the reality; Christ’s illustrations pointed to the things of everyday life. Conflict is part of that. The world in which we live is always the backdrop, and we cannot ignore it.
The essential truth which we proclaim is unchanging. The Gospel truth proclaimed from a pulpit in 2021 should be no different than that preached during the Second World War, the Great Depression, or even the Black Death.
And may I suggest Psalm 46? Consider the opening and closing words:
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come … The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1-2a,11 New Living Translation)
Those are mere bookends which support a rich serving of wisdom. Verse 10 is the key:
The command – or is it more of an invitation? – is not necessarily to remain fixed like a mannequin. “Stop fighting” is what some English translations say. Stop fighting each other. Stop fighting with ourselves. Stop fighting God.
It’s a mental stillness – which might prevent illness. Still our minds long enough to allow God to enter. Stillness is the exact opposite of what many of are doing in the face of uncertainty. In our rush to make sense of things, many of us are consumed with news and social media. Consumed means devoured.
What we need – whether in good times or bad – is good, authentic teaching. Such truth isn’t always sweet to the taste. In fact, it’s often not what our itching ears want to hear. Tough medicine, perhaps. Good food, always.