As I write this morning, the temperature where I live is nineteen degrees. It will be much, much colder in Iowa tonight, with wind chills forecasted in Des Moines of minus thirty-five degrees. And yet, thousands of Republicans will brave the elements to participate in the Iowa caucus, the first contest of the 2024 presidential elections.
Which candidate has the best chance of being elected? Of governing effectively? Are these the same thing?
Speaking of elections: according to the Wall Street Journal, “China’s least preferred candidate” won the presidential vote in Taiwan on Saturday. Should voters have elected someone who is more closely aligned with China, perhaps forestalling military conflict in the future? Or would this only accelerate China’s aggression?
Meanwhile, a Houthi cruise missile fired from Yemen toward a US warship was shot down by a fighter jet yesterday, the first attack by the Houthis since strikes on the rebels began on Friday. Should the US and its allies desist from further attacks on the militants lest they escalate the conflict in the Middle East? Or would this only escalate the conflict?
Reflecting on the fact that we cannot know the future consequences of present choices, I found myself asking why an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God created and allows a world that is so chaotic and unpredictable.
Then I realized: he didn’t.
A thought experiment
Try a thought experiment with me: Call to mind the last time you made a choice that you know was God’s will for you. Looking back on the consequences of that decision, are you glad you made it?
Now think of the last time you made a choice that you knew was not God’s will for you. Looking back on its consequences, are you sorry you made it?
From the Garden of Eden to today, we know enough about the future consequences of obeying God’s will to know that we should always obey God’s will.
- We learn from Adam and Eve that the “will to power,” Satan’s temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), should always be resisted.
- Abraham shows us that following God’s will even when we don’t understand it leads to our best future (cf. Hebrews 11:8).
- Joseph teaches us that refusing sexual temptation (Genesis 39) leads to our best life and largest influence.
- By contrast, David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) proves that yielding to lust leads to devastating consequences that far outweigh the pleasure promised in the moment.
- Because Paul submitted to Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9), he became the greatest evangelist, missionary, and theologian the world has ever known.
- Because John chose to worship Jesus on Patmos (Revelation 1), he met the risen Christ personally and received his Revelation for the world.
We could go on, but the pattern is clear: God always gives his best to those who leave the choice with him. By contrast, as I often warn, sin will always take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we wanted to pay.
As a result, it’s clear that the world God created is not so unpredictable that we must live without hope. Our Father has told us all we need to know to know that choosing his will in the present is always best for our future.
So, here’s the best way to find hope in a chaotic world:
Stay faithful to the last word you heard from God and open to the next.
What does this mean in practical terms?
First: Submit to the Spirit every day.
You cannot give God “tomorrow” today because “tomorrow” does not exist. This day is the only day there is. All of God there is, is in this moment.
So begin every day by taking it to the throne of God and entrusting it to him (Ephesians 5:18). Ask his Spirit to bring to mind anything that is hindering his work in your life, confess what comes to your thoughts, and claim your Father’s forgiving grace. Turn your day, influence, abilities, and challenges over to him. Ask him to lead and empower you.
If every Christian would do this one thing every day, our world could never be the same.
Second: Trust the consequences of your choices to God’s unconditional love.
One of the challenges to unconditional obedience is our fear that it will cost others. What about our family’s future? Our finances? We are right: as Oswald Chambers observed, “If we obey God it is going to cost other people more than it costs us.” But he added: “If we obey God, he will look after those who have been pressed into the consequences of our obedience. We have simply to obey and leave all consequences with him.”
Remember that the God who “is” love (1 John 4:8) loves each of us as if there were only one of us (St. Augustine). He loves your family and friends as much as he loves his own Son (John 17:23).
So take your next step of obedience, trusting that God’s best for you is also his best for those you love. You cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.
“God’s blessing must be our objective”
Pope St. Clement I was the bishop of Rome in the late first century, holding his office from AD 88 to his death in AD 99. In a letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote:
God’s blessing must be our objective, and the way to win it our study. Search the records of ancient times. Why was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because his upright and straightforward conduct was inspired by faith? As for Isaac’s faith, it was so strong that, assured of the outcome, he willingly allowed himself to be offered in sacrifice. Jacob had the humility to leave his native land on account of his brother, and go and serve Laban. He was given the twelve tribes of Israel.
Honest reflection upon each of these examples will make us realize the magnitude of God’s gifts. All the priests and Levites who served the altar of God were descended from Jacob. The manhood of the Lord Jesus derived from him. Through the tribe of Judah, kings, princes, and rulers sprang from him. Nor are his other tribes without their honor, for God promised Abraham: “Your descendants shall be as the stars of heaven.”
It is obvious, therefore, that none of these owed their honor and exaltation to themselves, or to their own labors, or to their deeds of virtue. No, they owed everything to God’s will. So likewise with us, who by his will are called in Christ Jesus. We are not justified by our wisdom, intelligence, piety, or by any action of ours, however holy, but by faith, the one means by which God has justified men from the beginning. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
His first-century wisdom is God’s twenty-first-century invitation to us.
“I just want to do God’s will”
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on this day in 1929. On April 3, 1968, the great civil rights leader told an assembled crowd in Memphis, “I just want to do God’s will. . . . And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
He was assassinated the next day. But the movement he led continues, helping our nation keep our founding declaration that “all men are created equal.”
How fully do you “want to do God’s will” today?