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Posts Tagged ‘sovereignty’

omnipotence

Art by Neon Rauschen

Conceptually, I can’t really wrap my head around omnipotence, infinity, or the universe. And not just because of the vastness, although that plays a part, but mostly because the idea is so very non-human. We are bound by many sets of limitations whether self-imposed or a product of our very nature. We are encased in skin and held up by a skeleton of bones and we are locked in time. Both of these parameters keep us out of the God realms.

 Job answered the Eternal One.
 Job: I know You can do everything;
        nothing You do can be foiled or frustrated.
You asked,
        “Who is this that conceals counsel with empty words void of knowledge?”
    And now I see that I spoke of—but did not comprehend—
        great wonders that are beyond me. I didn’t know. [Job 42:1-3, The Voice]

I didn’t know, Job says. And I say, he couldn’t know. We’ll never know, not while we’re walking the earth.

Oh, we’ll get glimpses of truth, snippets of the secret knowledge, flashes of insight even. But the “why” is not for us to understand. I am reminded of a Corrie Ten Boom story when she was a little girl on a trip with her father and she wanted to carry one of the pieces of luggage and her father denied her. It would be too heavy for her.

And so it is with omnipotence: the ability to see through time and space and change, the beginnings and the ends.

For this reason, we are asked to trust in God, the Eternal One, the Omniscient. It’s the old iced tea commercial, where we are asked to fall backward into the water, without looking. It’s the more recent cliche of choosing to be “all in.”

I am still not there. I don’t understand my own reticence. Somewhere along the way of my life, I have learned skepticism and fear of being fooled or deluded. I continue to test the waters first, walking in slowly, just in case there are surprises underneath, ready to nibble my toes and ankles. I do not plunge.

But I will. I know that too. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but I am certain that I will have my Job revelation too. And in that day, in the same way that “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” [Job 42:12a], so I will experience saturation in omnipotence.

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ifJob finally stops his long recitation of sorrow and lays out a series of If/Then statements. In chapter 31, he makes at least sixteen if statements, all articulating what he has been accused of by his friends and family (as a reason for his current sufferings) and Job basically says, if it’s true that he did any of these things, then may others benefit from his mistakes, may people change their paths, may more harm come to him, and so on. It’s a fascinating end to his arguments, and the chapter concludes with “The words of Job are ended.”

Scripture example:
If ever people in such conditions did not physically bless and thank me
        for warming them up with the fleeces of my own sheep,
If I ever used my civic strength to condemn the fatherless
        simply because I knew I had allies in the courts;
Then let my arm be pulled from its socket!
        Let my forearm be snapped off at the elbow for raising it against the orphan! [Job 31:20-22, The Voice]

It’s a strong presentation. But it’s also a bit of a prideful one. He’s so sure. Job is just so sure that nothing in his life would warrant his current circumstances.

And of course, for those of us reading, we already know how the story began and ends. Ultimately, he was right. Job had not sinned or lied or cheated. He had feared the Lord and acted accordingly.

But the one thing he did not consider was that God is sovereign and ultimately, can choose or not choose, do or not do as God wills. God cannot be held to logic or democracy. It is not for us, human, to necessarily figure it out. Most people don’t particularly like that concept, but I think it’s quite true.

There is, of course, if/then in our own lives as well as sowing and reaping. We don’t have God’s latitude, except for the divine intervention of the Christ, the Messiah, whose mission was to break the ongoing if/then of our cultures and our races.

ifthenThere is good power too in if/then. We don’t have to throw out the baby with the proverbial bath water. It’s a core theme to a type of goal planning and success. It’s a way of talking to oneself or scheduling one’s day and the reason it has power, the “if” statement presents an accomplishment or finished task that then frees the mind to move on to the next thing, the “then.” For instance, “If I have finished writing this blog post, then I can read those articles on Journaling” or “If it is 7:30 pm, then I can spend an hour on Facebook.” (For more on this concept, How To Use If-Then Planning To Achieve Any Goal.)

Interestingly enough, there is currently a Broadway Musical about to be launched in March 2014 called, of all things, If/Then. The story seems to revolve around different paths in a life. Most of us have played that game in our heads, what if I hadn’t married this particular person and gone to college out of state instead. Then, who would I have become?

I really didn’t get any deep insights here, but I am aware of the power of “If.” It carries with it an assumption or set of conditions and I think, perhaps, I have been building the wrong if statements in my life. I just want to think about it. You?

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Painting: Age of Wisdom by Alphonse Mucha, 1938.

Painting: Age of Wisdom by Alphonse Mucha, 1938.

At one point, several years ago, I actually started a small home group and bible study called “Wisdom Seekers;” that’s how serious I have been over the years in my quest for wisdom. And yet, the truth has been here a along, in a single phrase : ask, but without doubt.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt . . .  [James 1:5-6a]

It’s not that God would discourage doubt since it can mean a person is truly seeking for truth, particularly when that doubt surrounds a destructive lifestyle, an act of violence, or downward spiraling behaviors. That kind of doubt, the questions that give a person pause before repeating oneself. That doubt is healthy and could be life-changing.

But there are other kinds of doubt; and those of the believer who questions God’s sovereignty. These doubts are usually an inability to integrate one’s circumstances with faith or a tendency toward wanting to “run the show.”

Integration, in my mind, is a form of acceptance that God is God, no matter what is happening in our day to day lives, God is in the midst of it, there is purpose in it, and our journey has been so directed. This is a lot easier to talk about than live, particularly when it involves illness or unexpected trauma. I understand, for myself, this is somewhat theoretical. However, I do have experience in deep disappointment and that point of view is also lack of integration (lack of surrender to the moment). It could come out of the sorrows of a failed marriage, children making dangerous or troubling choices, etc.

The second, a controlling personality or sensibility, is equally dangerous (and I am guilty here as well), when we “disagree” with God’s plan and try to move things along. Old Sara (Abraham’s wife) is a prime example, when she gave her maidservant, Hagar, to her husband to have a male child [Genesis 16], in an attempt to fulfill God’s promise for children as numerous as the stars in heaven. This “let me help God” syndrome is not wise. Besides scripture warning us that God’s way is usually not the human way [see Isaiah 55:8-9], the entire New Testament confirms that the new covenant is a paradox at best. It’s usually the opposite of what we think it should be (e.g. turn the other cheek, love your enemies, give the second cloak, an so on).

James (that is, the human brother to Jesus), writes that wisdom is available for the asking, given generously and without disapproval – in other words, don’t feel bad about asking for it. If you need help applying what you know about faith, about God, about love, about hope, about anything that God has spoken to you through scripture, through prayer, or teachings, then by golly, ASK!

And so, this is what I am doing today. I am asking God in public, “give me wisdom” for this day and every day, to speak well and with love, to stop judging others, to embrace truth, to pray for others, to give generously, to trust God in all things. Open the wisdom gates dear God, dear Christ., dear Holy Spirit. Pour it upon me that I might serve you well.

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The Enliven Project (on sexual violence)

The Enliven Project (on sexual violence)

There’s a part of me that appreciates the anger and determination to make things right after the rape of Dinah. In today’s news, there was a report on the percentage of rapes reported out of a 1000 (5-25%), prosecuted (9 – not percent, but a number), and of the 9, only 5 become felony convictions. (See Enliven Project) And yet. . .

Genesis 34: 13a, 15, 25

Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully . . . We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. . . .  Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.

And this is always the challenge when confronting our personal sense of betrayal with God’s. It’s not that God cannot work decisively in the face of evil (note Sodom and Gomorrah), but the point here is that God prefers having the vindication God’s way.

“But, but, but” I say, “Your way is so slow. I want to see the revenge. I want to feel it. I want to bathe in it. It’s my right. Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Is it?”

When humans take on the role of avenger, we tend to overdo it. After 9/11, we raped a country in the name of weapons of mass destruction. And in the end, more were lost, including our own. Evil is portrayed throughout history and every push back takes us one more step closer to annihilation. Soon, I’m sure, the next payback will be nuclear. And what then?

Whether it’s on a world scale or a personal exoneration, we will not handle it well. Even our court system has gotten all muddled up and in the name of fairness, the guilty go free because one lawyer was craftier than the other.

We are all still living Romeo and Juliet or the Hatfields and McCoys.

Yesterday, my pastor at Restore Church, talked about people being the “Sin Police.” We judge and demand, we compare and we condemn. All in the name of righteousness. It’s not a good plan.

Will God avenge the good? Is God sovereign? Can God operate even in this mucked up generation? I believe. But I have to make room for the ways of God.

“There is a way that seems right to a man [human], but in the end it leads to death.” [Proverbs 14:12]

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Sarai would have been the loser in either one of the Abram/Pharoah scenarios. Either she is pulled into Pharaoh’s household as the widow of Abram (if they confess she is his wife) or she lies and says she is Abram’s sister and goes into Pharaoh’s palace with no loss of life. Undoubtedly, as the sister of a wealthy herdsman/patriarch (Abram), she would be included with some respect.

Genesis 12:12-13
 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me [Abram] but will let you [Sarai] live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

And yet, the woman in me recoils at either plan.

I know, I know. Like Esther, she was highly regarded for her beauty. She was given servants and she was dressed in elegant clothing (or lack thereof, as I’m pretty sure the Egyptian dress of that period for the wealthy was exotic and revealing). She was introduced to and encouraged to participate in their customs. In essence, she became part of the Pharaoh’s harem.

Now, living in a harem was not a bad life in many ways. A harem is really the place where women lived within the palace that was off limits to men (except eunuchs). These women were really the earliest “sister-wives” (to use a term from popular television about a man with multiple wives who live in separate houses). In my experience, any time you have more than ten women in a single space (like my work), there will be the potential for deep friendships as well as deep resentments. I am sure there were ranks among these women, seniority, let’s say. This is often illustrated in the story of Esther (in the book of Esther).

How long did Abram plan to stay in Egypt? Just through the time of the famine? But how, then, would he extricate Sarai from the harem? By then, she would have become a fixture, a working part of the life there. Undoubtedly, she would have had sexual relations with the Pharaoh as well.

We are not told how Pharaoh found out that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife and not his sister, but I would guess, “someone told.” Maybe it was one of the other women. Maybe, as in the time of Moses, it was the plight of the children that brought out the truth. In any case, Sarai was actually released (tossed) from the household.

But what application is there for me in this story? Only one really.

If I believe that God’s hand is on the big picture of my life, even my mistakes are covered and will be transformed into another path that leads to the end God has for me (my true destiny). But I have to submit to the sovereignty of God for this to work out. Abram and Sarai had a habit of trying to help God along in bringing their destinies closer and faster. They trusted God. They loved God. They worshiped God. And yet, God didn’t seem to be working out those promises the way they expected.

We’ll never know, but perhaps God’s original plan had been for Abram’s household to stay in Canaan during the famine and to trust God to feed them. I don’t really know. But going to Egypt during the famine was clearly a “human” solution to their problem. And, as a result, a number of unintended consequences resulted. And yet, God worked WITH their bad choices in conjunction with His will.

There is still hope for me.

And so I say, dear God of my life, take my bad choices and my mistakes and put them back on the potter’s wheel. Reinvent them. As You will.

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Painting by Carmela Brennan

There is always a “last battle.” Not just in the heavenly realms, those extra-ordinary places that we can’t feel or see, but in our own world as well. In our individual lives, there is one last struggle. It can come in a moment during a car crash or it can be a lingering battle in a hospital bed. But it will come.

Revelation 19:11, 19
 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. . . .  Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.

Throughout my slow read through the book of Revelation, I have been determined to find something personal in the global end time story. Otherwise, it becomes an exercise in the esoteric.

And so, as I draw to the end of the visions and prophecies, the sorrows and judgments, I am confronted by this final battle. What makes evil press on despite the odds? Why does an enemy still do battle although the end is clear? Why do they fight to the death?

I’m guessing it’s the experience of previous skirmishes won. It’s an addiction, like gambling. It’s quite illogical, since a previous win gives no advantage. Each game, each battle stands alone. There may be some experience gained, but ultimately, the outcome is not directly influenced. Look at sports teams. They can have a long list of wins and still lose the championship game. There are so many other factors.

In the last battle of a human life, the end is clear: the body will die. The battle is manifest, perhaps, in the body, but really, the battle is within. It’s the battle of the soul. With whom have we aligned that spark of energy and essence?

The battle is waged whether we engaged in spiritual things in our waking state or not. I’m sure of it.

I discourage anyone (and everyone) to dispense with these inane questions about a person “knowing” or not knowing Christ before the last hour. What the soul and inner spirit know and how that battle will be waged is not merely dependent on a deathbed confession. Each life is built on an array of experiences. That which is within stores them all: the kindnesses, the stories, the pain and the joy. It is all within and it is all part of the last battle.

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” [I Timothy 2:3-4]

The last battle is different for each person. And I do believe that people who have aligned their hearts and minds as well as their souls and spirits, will have a different kind of battle than those who have not. But God is sovereign. And none of us can know how the battle will go for others. There is strength and power in the King of Kings that may draw many more out of the fire than we can imagine. I believe in a just God. None will perish who God desires to embrace. For in this way, it is still possible, that the “last shall be first.” [Matthew 20:16]

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Can I say it? Can I look at my yesterdays, my now, and my tomorrow and say, “Hallelujah!” Can I speak it for my family, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere? Am I at peace with my life and my God? Am I convinced? Or, is there still a part of me a little disappointed, a tad resentful, a bit unyielding? Am I kicking at the goads of seeming unfairness?

Revelation 19:1b-2a
Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,for true and just are his judgments.

I have been traveling for the last three weeks. It has been a glorious adventure that included several parts of Estonia, Latvia, and Germany. I was re-connecting with my extended family, the ones who, until 1991, were behind the barriers of the “iron curtain”, cement walls, and miles of barbed wire. It’s hard to believe that was twenty years ago. And yet, the remnants of that desolate time remain, both in the buildings and the hearts of the people, despite the outward signs of robustness: copious McDonalds, modern shopping centers, grocery stores, and, of course, tourists.

Somehow, we all arrive at today. Whether the march went through struggles caused by the power of governments and dictators or the addictions and violence within our immediate circle. Human continues. Often, the way is unclear until we can get a birds eye view, the hindsight look, the review of the paths that led to now in order to see the patterns of God’s making.

It could have been me. Only by the constant movement of my parents’ displaced persons camp did they end up in the American sector of Germany and that, coupled with the stubbornness of my mother who believed they could emigrate to somewhere, anywhere, but there. She would never speak of the divine during those years. But I know, serendipity is Spirit led. Chance is channeled.

God is sovereign.

For me, it has been one kind of a journey and for my family, another. For my adopted children, yet another. Each life is amalgamated by the choices and circumstances of “before.”

Justice and truth don’t necessarily manifest on my time table. This is the mystery. And so, it is faith that sustains us until they do. It is faith that believes evil will not overpower good. Not forever.

And for this reason, I must continue to say, “Hallelujah! Glory belongs to God, who is just and true and avenges the blood of his servants, the losses of the poor, and the sorrows of the fragile.”

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