As I read the paper this morning, I came across a report that the boss of British Gas, Sam Laidlaw, scooping a £10,000,000 package last year (2011). This, according to the report, is enough to pay the fuel bill for both gas and electricity of an average family's budget for 7,500 years. And this comes while the rest of us have to tighten our financial belts as fuel prices are continuing to rise, with senior citizens in particular having to either "heat or eat", as household heating during the cold months of Winter becomes unaffordable. As an insult added to injury, so says the paper, he also gets £700 knocked off his annual fuel bill. So unfair but also so familiar.
We can think of a number of things which were cruelly unfair. At present, we are living in a country where the rich are getting richer in expense of the poor. On top of this, here in the UK, we have a Government which appears to deliver the message that they are for the rich, and even throw dinner parties for the nation's top business executives, while the disabled, such as those with Alzheimer's Disease, are pushed to take on unpaid menial jobs or risk losing their disability benefits. Among the disabled there is a high suicide rate caused mainly by uncertainty of the future.
History is filled with this kind of cruelty. During the World War II, some 6,000,000 Jews were needlessly slaughtered by the German Nazis alongside homosexuals and the mentally handicapped. In more recent years, we watched on TV the plight of thousands of African children falling ill and suffering premature deaths due to malnutrition.
During Boxing day 2004, many were swept away and towns destroyed by a tsunami, caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, while also recently another earthquake flattened the city of Christchurch in New Zealand, making many homeless.
So I can go on and on about both human and natural catastrophes. Or it could be as personal as being called into the Boss's office while under a mountain of debt, your car breaking down while on your daily commute to work, your business going into administration, receiving an unexpected bill or even finding a notice of divorce resting on the kitchen worktop as you walk into an empty house you normally call home.
Or as with me, about two years ago I lost two window cleaning customers, one after the other, in the same street, no fault of my own, and I went into panic. At first I was angry at one of my former client's stinginess in deciding to have his son clean their windows for nothing, while his neighbour had just bought a ladder - both having a nice house, two cars, ongoing career and so on. Then this gave way to having vivid imaginations of being jobless, handing my home back to the landlord, begging in the streets, of my wife and I slowly starving to death as we wonder around, homeless and penniless, even holding each other tightly as we lay down for the last time to die. I felt so sorry for myself that I let my imagination run wild. Imagination indeed, when I am the sole breadwinner and losing clientele after serving them so well, and with years of loyalty! I shared this with a close friend who worked at another town on the commercial side of the same nature of business, and we both laughed as he told me of a wealthy client who would spend millions of pounds to see the Grand Canyon, as he puts it, but screws up over an occasional one pound price rise! (For the American reader, a £1 is roughly equal to $1.60).
But among all the symptoms of a fallen world, both personal and global, one thing is certain - God is in control. Realising this was the reason why one of the first things I did after that dreadful double announcement was to pray, calling on the Lord. Life dishes out tough times for both the Christian believer and the unbeliever alike. For the Christian, this is part of the discipline process for the saint to learn to trust in God's sovereignty and to partake in his holiness. For the unbeliever, it should bring an occasion for repentance, and receive the salvation God offers. But often in the case of the latter, it result in the hardening of the heart, often with the idea that God sits on his throne in Heaven while doing nothing to help us poor mortals down here.
If I find myself in a discussion about Jesus Christ, one of the most classic questions they ask is: If God is so loving, then why is there so much suffering in this world? On one occasion, way back in 1979, in response to the above question, I asked: Do you believe that God himself had ever suffered? He couldn't answer. But here are some questions worth asking if you are sharing Jesus Christ with others and you are confronted with that question.
Do you believe that God has ever felt hunger and thirst?
Do you believe that God ever felt tired and fancy having a good night's sleep?
Do you believe that God had money stolen from him?
Do you believe that God felt betrayed?
Do you believe that people made promises to God and then turning against him?
Do you believe that God experienced rejection from the people he came to serve?
Do you believe that God wept over the death of a close friend?
Do you believe that God suffered temptation?
Do you believe that God suffered emotional anguish?
Do you believe that God suffered agonising pain?
Do you believe that if God did suffer excruciating pain, people around him taunted and teased him?
Do you believe that God died a shameful death as a criminal in public?
The one answer to all twelve questions is YES. God went through all these things, and more, including false accusation in a sham trial, through his Son Jesus Christ in whom the Father and the Holy Spirit dwelt. In other words, God knows exactly what suffering is all about, having gone through it all himself.
Yet the Lord Jesus kept his Father's commandments perfectly. Unlike us, he committed no sin. One of his greatest strengths was that he was secure in his Father's love. Another was that he already knew about his reward and he was looking forward to receiving. Secure in his Father's love. That was one of his vital strengths which saw him through all sufferings, yet he committed not one sin. There was no occasion of impatience, loss of temper, frustration, boredom, nor teasing people or getting his own way. Judas Iscariot, who was in charge of the purse, pilfered for his own use, but Jesus showed no signs of fearing impending hardship, for he trusted fully on his Father's provisions. Jesus knew perfectly well that no matter what the outcome would have been, God is in control.
And to you Christian, God is in much control now as he was in Jesus' day. That is something we need to continually remind ourselves when life gets hard or challenging. Many times I worry about the future, especially in my work. But knowing that God is in control allows me to get on with my job with peace of heart.
And God is fully in control in our salvation. Jesus said,
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one. John 10:27-30.
Then Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, neither anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39.
Both Jesus and Paul were emphatic on this point. If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, then you belong to him and you are eternally secure. ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED! And why? Because God is in control. Now that is something to rejoice and be thankful for.
For Christians who believe that salvation can be lost if we don't hold faithful: Do you believe those verses stated above? These words are not mine, they are the Bible. Either those words are true or they are not true. And how can we be confident of God's love if there is small-print somewhere in the covenant? Either those words mean what they say or they don't.
For example: The Lord himself has promised that no one can pluck his sheep from his and his Father's hand. But some Christians believe that one can simply walk away from his hand, by his own choice. There was a discussion on this in our house-group back in 1994, following Spring Harvest, where Methodist David Pawson preached against eternal security. I stated that if you can walk out of his hand just like that, and be lost again, then you must be going somewhere, and following some one's lead or coaxing. Or simply find something more attractive than a relationship with God. If that was the case, then God is not in control, he is not sovereign, neither is he omnipotent nor omniscient. Worst of all, if the snake can coax a sheep away with such ease, then not only is Jesus Christ not a good shepherd, but we also need to question the love God is supposed to have for us. But the worst scenario is calling God a liar, for he spoke clearly through his Son and through Paul that he is in full control. The very idea of "holding faithful to the end" in order to be saved is the thin end of the dangerous wedge of Apostasy, as stated in my last blog.
Within the same house group discussion, I also brought up the issue of the Father giving us to the Son as a reward for dying for us on the cross. If again, our salvation is conditioned by staying faithful, then basically what it means that if a person is saved, then later loses his salvation, then the Father chose a "naff item" for his Son. This again shows the lack of foresight with the Father, a denial of his omniscience. Even we have better control in what we buy at the shops than the Father has in choosing a gift for his Son!
For Scripture proof, John 17 reads:
Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent...I have revealed (your name) to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you...I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
John 17 is what the Lord prayed for - the eternal security of the believer, an agreement made between Father, Son and Holy Spirit that those already belonging to the Father would believe in the Son, and none would ever be lost. It is a good demonstration that God is in control.
But is this what some criticize as "Unconditional Election" advocated by many Calvinists? No, because predestination, as this is also called, is preceded by foreknowledge (Romans 8:29-30.) From eternity past, God in his omniscience, already knew who would believe the Gospel. Yes, we do have free choice. We can choose to accept or reject the Gospel. But God knew who will respond and from eternity past, predestined them. We don't understand these things, because our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite mind of God. But it is taught. And we must accept and bow down to his revelation.
So next time you face a personal crisis, remember, God is in control.