Saturday, September 11, 2010

A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud

On 3rd April 1758 Sarah Edwards wrote the following words to her daughter Esther to break the news of the death of her husband Jonathan:

What shall I say: A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are all given to God: and there I am and love to be.

It is clear that she knew the deep resources of a truly God-centred view of suffering, grief, and providence.

This is the same kind of Scriptural realism and comfort that you find in the Heidelberg Catechism. It boldly proclaims, on the basis of the Word of God, that our God is sovereign and good, being both Almighty God and a Faithful Father. Moreover "all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand" (HC 27).

There is much of God's goodness that we take for granted, much of his kindness that we respond to as if were the only proof of his providential rule. But his sovereign rule and providence are much greater than that.

In the book of Ruth we see God's providence on the macro and micro levels.
  • The harvest happens according to his will, "the LORD had visited his people and given them food" (1:6).
  • The birth of Obed too is under his sovereign will, "the LORD gave her [Ruth] conception, and she bore a son" (4:13)
Even the seemingly chance occurrence of Ruth being in the right field at the right time, what is delightfully referred to in chapter two as "she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz" (2:3), is also under God's providential guidance.

Yet there are also dark providences. Death, the grave, an uncertain future, bitterness, are all realities in the narrative. There would be no happy ending without these times of pain and sorrow. It is Naomi who gives voice to this sense of anguish, the hopelessness of the hand of the Lord being against her (1:13). She has felt deep wounds. And yet she still acknowledges that her God is sovereign (1:21).

From the vantage point of the end of the book it is clear that these mundane events have served the greater purpose of being part of that story of King David's history (4:17-22). Unknown to all the dramatis personae caught up in the sorrows and joys (1:13, 19-21; 4:14-16) is this greater divine purpose hidden from their view, but strong and sure and real and good and true.

There is, of course, an even greater vantage point from which to survey the struggles of life in the book of Ruth. As the first page of the New Testament is turned we see that God's purpose through this family, and this line, was to bring to realisation the coming of his Son into the world.
And Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king...and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (1:5-6, 16-17)
There were great purposes of grace at work even during days of dark providences. There was a mighty hand guiding all events according to the counsel of God even when the coming of Christ appeared to hang by a thread, and rested on the turn of a conversation (1:7-17).

What should this evoke from us?
  • Deep and heartfelt thanks for the outworking of God's gracious sovereign plan in history that culminated in the incarnation.
  • Confidence in our covenant God and his providence.
In the words of Heidelberg Catechism 28:
What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds, all things?
That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.

1 comment:

Toyin O. said...

All things work for our good. Great post.