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Seeing God from the Back Side of Life

Pat Robertson opened his mouth and inserted his foot again recently. He traced the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as well as the recent massive stroke of current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the hand of God, saying these were punishments for their efforts in trying to make peace with Palestinians by sharing land in Israel.

Robertson says the Bible clearly states the land belongs only to the Jews and thus any attempt to divide the land will result in punishment by God.

In Robertson’s case, he apparently does not believe that evil could work apart from God’s approval or direct involvement (even though evil and God don’t mix too well). Nor can he see natural health problems at work in Sharon’s case without God’s hand directing it to occur.

If you believe that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), then God has the ability with a single breath to blow every Palestinian out of the land of Israel if He so chose. Why would God strike down two men for sharing the land for the sake of peace when God’s been sharing that land now for thousands of years?

While some evangelicals may be passionate about Robertson’s statement and theology, I don’t believe his viewpoint finds wide appeal. More people will see sharing land for the sake of peace as a godly approach.  Even if he were right, he sounds arrogant in his verbiage.

But what Robertson has done is make a statement about a topic relevant to all of our lives: providence. In an indirect way he raises the question: To what extent is God involved in the events of our lives?

How often have you heard people say: “Everything happens for a reason? God doesn’t put more on you than you can handle?”

These are common ways people have of expressing their belief in providence.

The theology behind these statements is that the events have somehow and for some reason been ordered and orchestrated by God. We may not know why something has happened, but to give the event meaning, we tie the event to God. Sometimes the event is one of celebration and sometimes the event is one of tragedy.

The Old Testament story of Joseph tells of a young man sold into slavery by his brothers, who rises to power in Egypt and then confronts his estranged brothers with his understanding of providence. “Don’t be afraid,” Joseph said. “Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Does this mean that God condoned the evil of Joseph’s brothers or that God directed or orchestrated their evil in an effort to guide Joseph toward Egypt? No. God would not promote evil to eventually promote good, even if it could be argued that the good eventually outweighed the evil. God is holy. Evil cannot be promoted by a holy God.

Thus, when I hear people who attribute horrible, terrible, and even sinful acts as the providential hand of God, I cringe. It is true that people reap what they sow, but that does not mean that God is the first mover of their destruction where evil and sin are involved.

God can take horrible, terrible and sinful acts of humanity and use them for His own purposes, however, redirecting them and channeling them into his providential plan for the world. The Scripture says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Perhaps the greatest example of God’s providential work is how he took the cross and turned it into our means for finding salvation.

In being disciples and journeying with the Lord, we are often given a vantage point whereby we can look back and see the handiwork of God. God’s providence is often viewed from the back side of life.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

With due respect to Rev. Robertson, I believe many people are turned off by that fact that he claims to see so much more clearly than most of us into current events which he so quickly connects with the providence of God. He is right that God is actively working in this world. His providential hand is upon us all. However, that hand is often mysterious and not so clearly seen.

The evidence of it is often seen more clearly from the back side of life, not so much at the moment that it happens. But one day, we will get a heavenly vantage point and much of what didn’t make sense here will all come together. We will all bow down and worship the King of Kings because then we shall know even as we are now fully known.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in the Moultrie Observer.