Monday, May 19, 2008

No More Than a Cloud Can Blow out the Sun

I think it was in J. B. Phillips's book Is God at Home? where I first came across the observation that materialism hasn't been the same since the start of the Atomic Age. Every high school science class now knows that the things which look firm and solid are mostly empty space. Those bunches of loosely connected and fast-moving atoms, which make up everything we can touch and hold, take only one explosion to scatter into a mess that makes Humpty Dumpty look simple to put back together.

When Phillips wrote his book (copyright 1957), fear of all-out nuclear war was widespread, and the world dreaded the potential deaths of millions, maybe even total extinction of life on Earth. These days, people are more likely to fear smaller-scale terrorist bombings. But the same principle holds: physical life and material possessions are tenuous. It doesn't even take a literal bomb to make our lives "blow up" and our worlds turn upside down; anything from a stalled car to a diagnosis of cancer to the sudden loss of a job can leave us scrambling desperately to "put things back together." Sometimes we never can.

It's good to know that our God's plans are never spoiled, nor is He ever caught by surprise. As Job said, "I know that you [God] can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). That may be hard to believe when everything is going against the success of what we were sure were God's plans for us. But since Scripture states clearly and repeatedly that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, it would be calling Him a liar to believe He didn't realize what would happen, or was powerless to stop it. So when our ventures fail to achieve the success we believed God had promised, there are three possible explanations, none of which involve any oversight on God's part:
  1. We heard wrong in the first place.
  2. God plans for the venture to succeed, but not as quickly or as straightforwardly as we expected. (Remember how Joseph dreamed that his brothers would bow before him someday, but apparently had no inkling that he would endure years of slavery and imprisonment before that dream came true?) Maybe God does not even plan for the venture to succeed through our actions, but through others who will water our seed, perhaps years later.
  3. God's real purpose is not the success of the venture, but our own spiritual development, and He is bringing that about through our efforts to follow the vision.

All that may be small comfort when it seems the world is falling apart. But whatever the reason for a failure or other unpleasant surprise, we can be sure that God will work a far greater good through it.

And that someday, in heaven if no sooner, we will thank Him that our own plans failed.

No more than a cloud can blow out the sun,
No more than the night can hold back the day,
Can anyone halt what God has begun,
Nor cause in His plans one second's delay.

No more than a sword can cut up the sea,
No more than a bomb can wipe out the air,
Can anyone halt what God did decree,
Nor keep from His ears the feeblest of prayer.

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