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providence

June 21, 2010

It strikes me often how life is cyclical; how things I wrestle with and ponder and pray about will come to the forefront of my life and faith a month or a year or two years later. One of the biggest blessings of having a journal (which is often how this site functions for me) is that I can go back and see how I dealt with these things in the past. It is good to see how situations repeat themselves but how my responses may vary with time and Christian experience.

In the past couple of years I’ve often given a lot of thought to the nature and strength of my faith: the things of God in which I have great faith, and those in which I have little faith or even no faith at all. These times of reflection has been both a delight and a sorrow; a joy and an embarrassment.

I have seen that my faith can be pictured as something like a line graph. Certain points along the x-axis are very high along the y-axis and, I trust, almost unshakable. I believe, for example, that God exists. This is a faith that God has placed in my heart and I do not believe that it can be shaken or destroyed—I never struggle with whether or not God exists. Beside that there are other high points in my faith: the Bible is God’s Word to us and is without error; God has saved me and adopted me into his family; God loves me; there is a heaven; Jesus Christ died to take the penalty of my sin. These are all areas in which I have a good deal of faith and I praise God for this.

As we travel down the x-axis, down towards the long tail (that portion of the graph which skirts the 0 on the x-axis, but doesn’t quite reach it), we come to areas where my faith is not quite so strong. Here we will find my belief that God truly does desire to bring me the best through adversity. Here we will find my belief that God does hear and answer prayer. These are things I believe, but without the strength of conviction of those I listed earlier. They are areas where I tend to see emotion come into conflict with knowledge—with what I know to be true but often don’t accept as truth.

November 09, 2007

Have you ever stopped to ponder what it might have been like for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, knowing that each day they would completely exhaust their food supply? Have you thought what it would be like knowing that they would go to bed with no food, but that the next day their supplies would be fully and miraculously replenished? It is an interesting, thought, really, and one that is worth considering.

In the Wilderness

Imagine that you are an Israelite father or mother and that you have three or four young children depending on you. Imagine putting these children to bed in the evening, knowing that there is not a bit of food to be found anywhere in your tent. Just to be sure, you wander over to the fridge and open it up. The glare from the light shows nothing but the glistening white of the inside of the Kenmore. There is nothing on any of the shelves; nothing in any of the drawers. There isn’t even a mostly-empty jar of relish left over from when you made burgers a few weeks earlier. There isn’t a clove of garlic or an old stick of butter. There is nothing. You close the door and open the freezer and as you wave your hand to brush aside the mist, you see that every corner of the freezer is empty. You turn to the nearby pantry and, looking high and low, see that there is not a bag, not a box, not a jar to be found. You have no food. Nothing.

As you tuck your daughter into bed that night, she says, “Daddy, what will we eat for breakfast tomorrow?” And with utter sincerity and utter confidence you say, “God will provide.” And, despite the bare cupboards and the empty fridge, you are able to go to sleep that night with full confidence that there will be food for you the next day. When you wake in the morning, you unlock the tent door, step outside, and see the world around covered in food like frost on a cold morning. You are able to quickly and easily collect enough food for the day, and can head inside knowing that the children will have all the food they need that day. As you nuke their mannapancakes, you whisper a prayer of gratitude that God provided again. Yet again.

But you also know that God has provided for only that day. The manna that lay on the ground was not enough for today and tomorrow. As the sun rises in a few minutes, the manna will melt into the ground and be gone. God has not provided for a week or a month or a quarter—He has provided for only one day at a time. You have heard of people who doubted God’s providence and hoarded manna, packing it into Tupperware and stuffing it into the deepest recesses of their fridges, freezers, and cupboards. But when they took it out and tried to eat it, they found it was rotten and disgusting, crawling with worms and smelling worse than sandaled feet in a hot desert. You know that as day fades into night, and as you prepare the evening meal, you’ll find that you have just enough manna to eat, and that as you close your eyes in sleep, you’ll lie in peace, knowing that God will provide again tomorrow. But only for tomorrow.

God knows better than to give manna for a month. If He did that, you know that you would soon forget about your reliance on Him. For twenty nine days you would forget what it was like to lay down at night with your only confidence being in God’s provision. Instead you would lay down knowing that the cupboard was stuffed full of manna. And you would forget about God, at least until the end of the month came around. Perhaps then you would begin to call out to Him again and begin to beseech His provision. You know the lesson God wants you to learn.

I’ve often wondered how the faith of the Israelites could ever waver. I’m sure you’ve wondered the same. How could the Israelites constantly turn against God despite all He had done and all they had witnessed. They had seen God do miraculous deeds in leading them out of Egypt. They had seen His hand time and time again as they made their way toward the promised land. And every morning God delivered food, food that was abundant and delicious. Every day He gave them what they needed for the day, and asked them to trust that He would do the same tomorrow. Never did He let them down and never did He give them cause to doubt His providence. But they did. They doubted His motives, they doubted His ability and they doubted His sincerity.

Unchanging Promises

God’s promise to provide has not changed. God still promises that He will provide and He still promises to provide only for today. Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25, 34). And yet there are times when we still find ourselves paralyzed with fear, looking into the future and seeing not God’s strength, but our own weakness; we looking forward and see our inability rather than God’s power. But God still promises manna in the morning—He promises that He will take care of our needs.

There was a time in my life, just a few years ago, when money was tight. It was tight enough that Aileen and I often really doubted that we would be able to pay our rent and car payments. Some days we didn’t even know how we would be able to buy groceries. I would often wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, my heart pounding, wondering how I would scrape together enough money to keep us in our house. I would sometimes sit down with a pen and piece of paper and try to plot out the next few months—this was the money we anticipated spending and this was the amount I thought I would bring in between then and now. Rarely were these exercises any sort of comfort. More often than not they would increase my despair, leaving me to conclude that there was nothing I could do—we would lose our car and be forced to move.

But that never happened. There was always manna in the morning. God always provided, though only one day at a time. And he has continued to do so. I don’t remember the last time I woke up in the night with my heart pounding, panicked at the thought of the bills lying on my desk. It’s not that we have become wealthy or that our bills have decreased. Rather, God has helped me to understand that He has promised manna in the morning. When I am tempted to worry, I need only look to His promises and then to look to the past where I can see His hand of provision, day after day after day. He has always given manna in the morning and I have confidence that he will do so again tomorrow.

October 04, 2005

No system of religion exalts women higher than biblical Christianity. That is quite a claim, I realize, but one I feel can be easily proven by examining Scripture. A few days ago a person sent a question to the Reformed Baptist mailing list. He recounted that he is teaching eighth graders and one young lady asked about Adam and Eve. This girl noted that after Adam named all of the animals and saw how they were paired, he realized that there was no counterpart to him. And so God created Eve as a helper to Adam. It seems, suggested the girl, that God created Eve only to serve as a partner to Adam in allowing him to procreate. It is almost as if women were an afterthought in God’s mind. So why didn’t God create man and woman together as He had done with the animals? Why did He introduce Eve in such a way that she seems primarily to serve her man?

Genesis 1:27 tells us that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The next verse reads, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living things that moves on the earth.” It must be noted that God created both male and female in His image, and that He did so before He actually called either into being. In reality, then, men and women were created concurrently for they are inseparable in their God-given role of multiplying and subduing the earth. God could hardly create only a man and command him to be fruitful and multiply!

One astute member of the mailing list replied that this girl has probably created in her mind a romanticized version of the events leading to the creation of Eve. In Genesis 2:20 we read that “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Previously, in verse 18, God has already said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make a helper fit for him.” While it makes a nice story to believe that Adam named all of the animals and then, noting that there was no helper suitable for him, felt loneliness, the Bible does not state this. Scripture tells us that it was God, not Adam, who noted “that it was not good that the man should be alone.” We have no basis to assume that Adam was in any way lonely or that he felt any insufficiency. Adam lived in a perfect world and had perfect communion with God. Surely he did not feel any sense of loneliness. The person concluded, as do I, that Adam did not need Eve to fill some deep-rooted emptiness in his life, but that he needed a wife to fulfill his God-given mandate. Thus woman was not created to fill a social or sexual need in Adam, but to complete the Lord’s purpose for humans. Eve was not needed to complete Adam, but to complete God’s command to Adam.

So let’s return to my claim that the Bible regards women in a way that is higher than other religions. The reason for this is obvious: the God who created us male and female, also prescribes created our roles. Only the Bible outlines the Creator’s instruction to His creatures. We must understand that while God affirms equal worth, He speaks of differing roles. For example, women have the unique role and privilege of bearing children. Because they are physically weaker than men they have a need for support and protection, and this is a need God has commanded husbands to fill. God also establishes proper order in the family by assigning to men the job of headship in home and church.

One of the best (and most succinct) summaries of Scripture’s position on women comes from the introduction to John MacArthur’s upcoming book, Twelve Extraordinary Women (which, according to Amazon, is available for preorder and will ship on November 1). MacArthur makes several important points about women, some of which I am borrowing here.

Special Honor - While recognizing role disctinctions, the Bible sets women apart for special honor. A husband is commanded to live sacrificially and to value his wife’s life higher than his own. Women are highly valued by God and are to receive this same value from men.

Due Distinction - The biblical accounts of the great men of the Old Testament consistently give distinction to their wives. Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel are only a few examples of women who play prominent roles in Scripture. Other women who are integral to the Bible are Eve, Miriam, Deborah and Ruth. We even find Wisdom personified as woman and the church being called the bride of Christ. God does not shy away from giving credit to women of faith and to using metaphors that require female imagery.

Religious Equality - Women were never excluded from the social and religious life in either the Old or New Testaments. Women participated in feasts and times of public worship. They were not required to be silent or to be hidden from sight behind veils. Jesus’ group of disciples included several women, a practice almost unknown at the time. Over the past few days I have been reading Acts and I have seen time and again that women are given constant mention among the first converts and among those who played integral roles in the early church. One could almost argue that God goes out of His way to point to the importance of women in these situations.

The biblical teaching on the value of women stands in stark contrast to that of other religions, and especially religions of that day. Women in pagan societies were often treated with little more dignity than animals. Many systems of religion and philosophy taught that women were inherently inferior to men, a claim that is clearly revoked in Scripture. Pagan religion, while it may have paid homage to female deities, devalued women by creating elaborate rituals which required sacred prostitutes. These religions, while supposedly honoring women, in reality debased them.

MacArthur concludes that “Wherever the gospel has spread, the social, legal and spiritual status of women has, as a rule, been elevated. When the gospel has been eclipsed (whether by repression, false religion, secularism, humanistic philosophy, or spiritual decay within the church), the status of women has declined accordingly.” Secular efforts to increase the status of women have largely failed, as we have seen with the feminist movement of the twentieth century. This movement sought to elevate the status of women, but did so at the cost of their femininity, seeking to rob women of what makes them so distinctive. The whole message of the feminist agenda is that there is nothing all that extraordinary about women, for they are just like men. The Bible, though, tells a different story. MacArthur states that “[W]henever the Bible expressly talks about the marks of an excellent women, the stress is always on feminine virtue. The most significant women in Scripture were influential not because of their careers, but because of their character. The message these women collectively give is not about “gender equality”; it is about true feminine excellence. And this is always exemplified in moral and spiritual qualities rather than by social standing, wealth or physical appearance.”

The Bible continually affirms that women are extraordinary. Women have value and worth that is in every way equal to men. Women are no mere afterthought, but are an integral and equal part of God’s design for human beings. The Bible is unique in that it honors women as women, exalting them for their femininity, and encouraging them to seek honor in a uniquely feminine and God-glorifying way.