Almighty Who Allows Us Room
The Creator uses the same hands that made the world to set everything according to His will. He lets nothing out of His hands, but has everything in hand. Nothing slips out of His hand, and His strong hands have never touched without result. But if He truly has all in hand, does He also have a hand in everything? Does every evil also come directly from His hand? Do the evil, the troubling, yes, all disastrous events come straight out of God’s hand? Or are Satan and his henchmen the only ones who have a hand in these events? And does this mean God set events according to His hand only after a lengthy wait?
God’s guidance is handwork. What He has made does not slip out of His fingers. He never gives up. The God of the beginning still keeps His handiwork firmly in His hands. He definitely does not let anything go its own way (Matt. 10:29-31). In that way God’s Son has shown the hand of His Father (John 5:19), the Father Creator who rules with a firm hand, not with a loose grasp. He, who is also the Father who keeps everything within His reach!
He is not just busy with the broad outlines. He is involved in everything and with everyone. Nothing and no one escapes Him. He sees all, right to the ultimate finesses and to the smallest details. The greatness of God is that He is interested even in our trifles. Micro-processes have His full attention, and with His Creator-hands He also delivers custom work. He uses the same hands with which He has formed me to guide my life. He delivers tailor-made precision work. His handwork is powerful, but at the same time so very sensitive, as having been put into operation with the touch of a fingertip. But this does not detract from His work in large proportions. His fingers have maximum ability. He, like no other, knows how He must handle His creation.
That handwork is unique. Because the guidance He gives can be given by no man. He is incomparable. We say of people who want to have a hand in everything that they give no room to anyone else. But that is not God’s way. He can simultaneously keep His hand in every occurrence and yet allow people to be independent (Phil 2:12-13). Therefore human decisions definitely do matter, since He includes these in His plans. All aspects are thoroughly calculated. As man you remain responsible - in whatever way. God knows to subtly apply controls when the need arises. But He can also confront people with the consequences of their own deeds when, at times, He does not intervene. Or He changes events by one turn of the hand, so that ultimately everything happens in the way that suits Him best. Providing leadership, while allowing the other to remain independent, requires a lot of wisdom. And He is able to do that, for He is God. He possesses the wisdom (Job 28).He has the insight, the overview and the discernment.
But What about the Evil?
God works not only in broad terms, but He also pays attention to details! That is great if all is going well in your life. But if you have been affected by evil, does God also have a hand in that? If God sends disasters to people, is He then to be trusted? Sometimes doubt is cast on God’s existence. And if God is a good God, then why does He allow the evil to go unrestrained and allow outrages to be committed? Who does not from time to time become perplexed by such questions?
But you can also turn the questions around. If people bid farewell to God in these circumstances, what is then the alternative: hand yourself over to people of good will, or to a blind destiny where evil can strike blindly? As if that would be appealing! Because then who would ever be or become master over evil?
Not Originated with Him
Prophets acknowledge it: there is no disaster which happens apart from God (Amos 3:6). But the same prophet makes it clear that God himself radiates goodness and hates the evil (Amos 5:14). The fundamental declaration of John can be brought to mind here: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The evil came into existence from very near the throne of God via the angel of light who darkened himself: Satan. But it does not originate with God, and certainly does not come forth from God (Belgic Confession, article 13). Still, enough places can be named where God’s work is brought in close connection with tribulation (e.g. Is. 45:7). Does that not make clear that God truly does not leave anything to coincidence (e.g. Gen. 45:8)?
But what about, “the adversity He sends me” (HC LD 9)? I see this expression as the utmost effort to make clear that in the evil happenings I will not be given over to tyrannical powers. God does not dole out bad happenings indiscriminately. When it comes, it does not come from Him directly, but always indirectly. Evil is ruthless, cruel, hard as a rock, merciless. It seems a blind power. And yet: God has not become powerless because of having been subjected to the evil His Creator hands make even the evil good.
With or without Cause
Many people have the tendency to lay the blame on God. Why does He not do anything about it? Most often they forget to look at themselves. Much suffering can be ascribed to ourselves. Just think of the disasters which originated in part as a result of negligence and reprehensible behavior. The fault could lay with yourself. Not everything that Job’s friends said was foolish and inappropriate. It is not inconceivable that the things which befall you could be on your own conscience, that you pick the sour fruit of your own actions! So do not gloss over your own sins. But that definitely does not have to be the situation. Evil or difficulties can also overcome you without a directly discernable cause (John 9:1-3). And so Job never got to hear why all that suffering came upon him, because God Himself admitted: it had no cause (Job 2:3).
Whatever happens, God is not the high exalted one who has withdrawn Himself to the remotest distance. Much less is He the powerless God who must stand by and watch how His world sinks into destruction. He maintains the control. Even if His project is greatly polluted, blighted and destroyed. He still knows what to do with His world, no matter how unimaginable the misery or how indescribable the distress might be. He does not recoil when evil strikes, but maintains in complete control. In that way God lets Himself be known.
He does not remain aloof, nor is He the unaffected God (Jonah 4:14). On the contrary, we read about Him, “in all their afflictions He was afflicted” (Is. 63:9). When He wounds, He also binds up, and when He shatters, His hands heal (Job 5:18). Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Frequently it is said of Him: He was moved with compassion for them! Would He, who loves, not actually care for His beloved who are undergoing suffering? You read in Romans 8 that He will turn all things to work together for good. We often forget to read this in its context, where it speaks of the sighing of the Spirit, who deeply sighs with us in our weaknesses!
God’s plan has never been able to be calculated by man. His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8ff), not in the remotest way, not as far as the heaven is exalted above the earth. How could you possibly follow an eternal train of thought? He alone has the oversight, the vision and the insight. No man will ever be able to attain that. God’s plan is inimitable. Who would be able to serve Him with advice? Who would be able to exercise control over Him? When it comes to His plan, God has always asked for trust. That also applied to the first human pair. They could effortlessly praise God’s plan. But after the fall into sin God had to adapt His plan to a completely altered situation. How extremely complex it is to direct a plan in the chaos of a broken reality. It has only become far more complicated. Praising God for His plan required even more vision and insight, while our understanding has been darkened, our emotions affected and our will estranged!
Judging purely and only by our experiences, it is impossible to give a reliable judgment of God’s plan in our lives. No matter to what extent we believe we are thinking clearly, or no matter how much we believe our senses are flawless and we only want to do good. In such difficult moments it seems reasonable to trust in our own assessments and insights. We let our thoughts go, our feelings saying, “Surely a Father would not do such a thing?! Surely He could not be the architect of something so terrible?” And some become convinced that they must rectify God’s lack of concern by taking certain matters into their own hands. They want to supplement what, according to their opinion, is lacking in God’s goodness. Nevertheless, it is purely a question of trust. Do I trust in my own insights, or do I trust in God’s wisdom and goodness? Isaiah shouts it out: Would the Creator be at a loss?! Who would need to give Him counsel?
This does not negate the fact that this trust can be severely challenged. In general we do not easily allow ourselves to be led. Preferably we would like to have matters in our own hands. You attempt to get a grip on the events and to retain oversight. That is intensely human. It is often not that simple to allow yourself to be led. It does become easier if you know where you stand, if you see that the outcome will be good or if you realize that it is good for you. But even then… giving something out of your hands is difficult. Letting go and leaving it to God is a process which can be very painful.
Praise be to God?!
When your hair begins to fall out in one spot, so be it, but how about when all your hair falls out after a devastating illness? How about when you have been painfully afflicted by a sudden disability? Or when a mother has been taken from a family with growing children? Or when the life of your own child is threatened or even terminated? And then to be able to say: this has not come through the hand of man, but God has dealt me this harm, and He will also let this work for good?! Who can speak in such a way when he or she is touched by sorrow?
Job, you would say. He even calls God by His name when doing so: LORD (Job 1:21). This confession of faith he even repeats three times. There was nothing Job owned which he had not received. Job did not say, “You don’t have the right!” Job acknowledges that God, who has given him all this, also has the right to take it all away from him. But to call this an exuberant song of praise….
Literally Job says, “The Name of God be praised.” He uses the same word in the negative sense when He says, “it may be that my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). Satan also uses that word: “And he will curse you to your face.” Now that he has been touched, Job himself makes use of the word. In actuality he does not curse God, but continues to use God’s name. He does not speak evil of God, but seeks his refuge in the name of God. For him, God’s reputation remains upstanding. He flees to it as to a fortress, a mighty tower (Prov.18:10). God continues to be who He is. Even now He is present: the LORD, he is involved, he is there for me. For me, you have not changed.
Does this mean Job is now at peace with what has happened? Has Job hidden away his sorrow? Do we have here a man who has accepted this in quiet resignation? Definitely not! We have here a man who has been heavily beset, has been devastated, been crushed by intense grief (Job 1:20ff). To feel that the choice must be either resignation or rebellion is a false dilemma! In all his anguish Job seeks his answer from above. The very fact that Job takes refuge in God in all his needs, fear and pain proves that his faith is genuine. The praise increases in value when one, despite all of those perplexing riddles, continues to trust. Throughout his sorrow and distress Job maintains his faith. It is better to have the riddles of God than the declarations of men.
Room for the outburst
But Job also does not continue to speak in this way. “After this Job opened his mouth” (3:1). After this! Job begins to open his mouth in the presence of his friends. The empathy of his friends (they show Job how touched they are: we sympathize, we share the pain, and are devastated by these events (2:11-13!), evidently brings Job so far that he begins to further express himself. He dares to let his feelings show. Job breaks the silence with a resounding crash of thunder. The author of the book summarizes it in one sentence: he cursed the day of his birth. Job is very explicit. For a healthy person this is almost unbearable to hear. Is this the same Job who said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away”? Is this the same Job, God-fearing and upright? Yes, he gives expression to his despair.
Job has received opportunity for this from his friends. They have created an opening for him to express his chaotic feelings. He was able to give expression to his inner feelings, how his insides had become a fever of pain and sorrow. Emotions are not something you discuss with one another, you share them! Job laments in the hearing of his friends. Where there is friendship even the most terrible things may be uttered.
The fact that Job shouted it out is in a certain sense his liberation. Because he shouted it out, yet he did not do so in a wild, uncontrolled way. Indirectly, he turned to God. Who has given the light of life!? And would not the Lord grant Job the room to express his desperation!? This is the same Lord who said, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you!”
When He presents you with a bend in the road, He will not deny that, nor lightly wave it away. Or when it is really dark, He will not bother you with pinpricks of light and then just call out: it will become light again. In such a situation it truly is dark, yet not without Him! He knows what people are like. In the psalms He has created abundant room to express every distress to Him! And in anxious moments you may ask, “What is God busy with here? How can he allow this? How long will this last?” Plenty of people in God’s Word have wrestled with these questions (Pss. 13:2-3; 22:2; 35:17; etc.). These passages contain an abundance of emotions which the Spirit has consciously noted.
Jesus Goes before Us
Those who do not know God can easily count up disasters and proffer negative judgments. We must continually learn not to attempt to reach God through the portal of the sad episodes in our lives and by using our experiences as a starting point. That is the wrong way. The only way is Jesus. Whoever wants to gain insight into God’s plan must look at His Son. God’s plan is carried out via Christ. You only learn to know God as Father if you follow His Son’s way of suffering right to the foot of the cross. If you want to know how much God loves you, do not stare yourself blind on your own experiences, but keep looking at the way of Christ. How much effort He expended in order to reach me, so that I could say, “My God and my Father.” He was forsaken by God so that we would nevermore be able to be forsaken by Him. Apart from Christ you could not say one sensible word about God’s plan. Apart from the love of Christ it is impossible to draw a line from sorrow to the love of God. Trying to do so could only produce a short circuit.
God’s Son never cursed the day of His birth. He held on to God completely, right to the end. Not only did He feel forsaken, He was forsaken by everyone. His Father remained silent until the very end, even when heaven and earth assented to His suffering in the deep darkness. The “why” question even appeared on the lips of Jesus in His suffering! All suffering comes together in the unique suffering of God’s Son. Would God not be distressed by that? Because Christ’s cry went unanswered, His Father now hears everyone who in the most extreme agony cries to Him.
He has given all the room needed to express our incomprehension. But when God has made something clear to us He is, in His omnipotence, totally trustworthy. He is who He is, and not what people make of Him. He is unimaginably great, but totally trustworthy. The unbeliever says, “Because there is so much sorrow, God could not exist.” But I maintain the opposite: only because He is there can a person carry so much sorrow. He bore my entire life without any exceptions. God’s omnipotence does not exist in a shadow, but in the light of His fatherhood.
This article was translated by Martha DeGelder.