While Kings Slept, Lenten Reflection #11
[I wrote this a few years ago for a blog I have long since deleted. I don't recall what exactly was going on that particular day, but for some reason, at that point in my life, God's sovereignty and my free will were on my mind. Lately, I have been studying the book of Daniel with my Bible school class at church and when I 'accidentally' stumbled on this short post in an old file on my laptop, I thought maybe revisiting it would be a good idea. Here it is in its original form with only spelling corrected.–JLH]
Luke chapters 1 through 3 are instructive if one ever starts feeling like their life has run amuck or gotten out of control or that God has somehow loosed his grip on the events of this world. Looking around daily and seeing and hearing about wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and suchlike, it is easy to think that God has, somehow or other, forgotten about us.
Or at least given us too much of our desired freedom.
So this morning I had to pray it all over again: God I’m sick of being free. It’s a daily struggle: the desire for freedom, the need for control. I grew up in a tradition that has emphasized freedom and free will. And, frankly, I don’t know that I have heard five sermons about God’s sovereignty, in my life, from preachers in my denomination. That’s a terrible way to grow up, that is, thinking that I have it all under control—that I have to make all the decisions, that I have to be so cunning and wise, that I have to figure out a way to get through this or that sticky situation.
It’s a terrible way to live thinking that, as I have done for the better part of 40 years, my life is dependent upon my freedom. The older I get, the less concerned I am with my own freedom and free will. The older I get, the more I want God to be as Sovereign as some believe. But I continue to kick against the goads of God’s sovereignty and probably because I want his sovereignty to be more than a theological proposition: I want it to be as real as I see it in Luke 1, 2, and 3. The older I get, the more suspicious I grow of my competence, of my uniquely human freedom.
I have other reasons, but one line in particular in Luke 1 caught my attention this morning: “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37) In Greek it says it is ‘impossible’ for God’s word to fail. So when I think back on all that God has said, all that is written in the Bible that he said, and all the promises he has made—and the fact that the book of Hebrews says it is impossible for God to lie—I think to myself: I should be trusting God’s word far more than I should be trusting my own ingenuity and intellectual prowess.
I know we all say we trust God’s word, but experience has taught me that we don’t trust it nearly as much as we’d like to believe we do. We still find ways to scheme and plan and devise and concoct ways to survive and get ahead. We all say we trust God because we believe that’s what good Christian folks do. Practically speaking, however, I’m willing to bet that there are far more atheists sitting in pews on Sunday mornings that we are willing to admit. (I have firsthand experience of those atheists and I have, at various times in life, been included in their number.)
So it is impossible for God’s word to fail.
What’s amazing about Luke 1, 2, and 3 is that all these things took place while the kings of the earth slept. In chapter 1:5, ‘the time of Herod king of Judea…’; in chapter 2:1, ‘In those days Caesar Augustus…’; in chapter 3:1, ‘In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas and Caiaphas…’ All these things took place right under their noses. They ruled, often forcefully (see 3:19-20), violently, ignorantly and with little regard for anything but their taxes (see 2:1-3). And while they did, prophets spoke (see 2:25ff, 2:36ff, 3:4ff, 1:46ff, 1:67ff.), angels announced (1:11ff, 1:26ff), and the host of heaven sang (2;13-14).
While these rulers ruled God was moving quietly in the backwaters of the House of Bread and in the lives of small, unnoticeable people. While these rulers ruled God was bringing about the promises of his word (notice how many times in chapters 1-3 we are told about Abraham and David, for example). While these rulers slept at night, God was stirring in the hearts of women who couldn’t get pregnant and young girls who wouldn’t get pregnant. While these rulers ruled, God was undoing their rule, waking up the world, subverting the world’s economy, and announcing to all who would listen that it was time for the true king of this world to be born.
God was sovereignly moving, putting all the pieces into place, getting all the right people onto the earth—the fullness of time had come upon the world and the world didn’t even notice: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
It’s kind of amusing that all things were going along rather well until John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, cousin of Jesus, started making speeches about these rulers. When John started subverting their rule, their authority, their sovereignty—then things started getting out of control for them.
So we see God moving. We see God acting. We see God challenging the status quo of this world. The rulers of this world oppress and control. The rulers of this world believe they are the power. Luke 1, 2, and 3 teaches us otherwise. Those poor saps had no idea what even hit them. As I get older, I find myself submitting to God’s sovereignty more and more. I find myself relying on my own strength more and more. I find myself choosing to love him precisely because he is in control and less and less because I feel like I need to demonstrate my own self-sovereignty. You know what I mean, I hope. It’s that attitude that wakes up saying, “I am the master of my life. I am in control. I will worship God because I can.”
I’m done with that sort of life. I want to wake up each day to the God who kept the world from free falling into the sun and who kept Betelgeuse from exploding. I want to wake up to the God whose mercies are new every day. I want to wake up, even now, to the God who takes this world—yes this world, run into the ground by political agendas and want for power—and shakes it, bringing it into continual alignment with his purposes and his will. I’m reminded of a song by Rich Mullins:
From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
To run wild with the hope
I cannot run wild with hope that I feel like I have created or mustered up because I have schemed my way to safety. I can run wild with a hope that God has in his wisdom crafted out of the circumstances of hurt and disappointment. I can run wild with the hope that the God who shakes this old world has created and given us in Jesus even while the kings of this earth rule. I can run wild with the hope created by God who subverts this world by sending a baby to grow and live in this world and change it from the inside.