Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. — Jeremiah Burroughs
A little over a week ago I published a brief summary of my thoughts surrounding the results of the 2012 election cycle. My comments were written within the context of having counseled and ministered to numerous individuals who were grieving, fretting, and expressing vitriolic anger about the outcome. The purpose I had in mind when I wrote was to encourage and challenge Christians to live their confession in the midst of their sorrow, anger, and fear.
While the majority have expressed that my narrative was a blessing to them, there have been some Christians whose response has been less than enthusiastic. I’ve been told that those words were “easy” for me to write because I’m safe within my “cushy” military job. It’s been said that I’m calling evil “good.” Finally, some have argued that by calling people to draw satisfaction in God’s sovereign decree that I’m promoting a form of fatalism. I suppose that I could easily ignore these suggestions, but I really am convinced that the glory of God and the joy of Christians is at stake in how we respond to the difficulties and tragedies that hit us square between the eyes. As a result, I want to attempt an explanation of why I wrote what I wrote when I wrote that I am satisfied with the results of the election.
Those who know me well know that I am not by nature very good at “turning the other cheek” nor am I naturally inclined towards passively enduring injustice. When I believe that I, or someone I care about, has been unjustly wronged I am generally very quick to say something or take action. So imagine how I’ve felt the past several years as I’ve seen one foolish and detrimental policy after another enacted at the municipal, state, and national levels. As you can imagine, I’ve been very angst-ridden and angry. Of course, I believed that my anger was mostly, if not entirely, legitimate. After all, I was upset about policies and decisions that were BAD! Believing that I was operating out of a robustly Reformed worldview in which I am called to action because of a clear sense that God has given in his Word various precepts and statutes (his revealed will) that are binding upon all mankind and that the execution of his sovereign decree takes into account the actions of mankind, I was ANGRY and AGHAST at what I saw going on around me. In short, I was angry that I saw injustice and wickedness going on all around me, I believed that I should seek to stem the tide of godlessness, and that my actions really did matter.
At this point it may be helpful to confess a spiritual discipline in which I engage. In a manner somewhat reminiscent of John Wesley, I routinely engage in a contemplative and reflective self-examination of sorts. One of the questions I ask myself is “How does my life reflect my professed belief that God is both good and sovereign?” And that is a question I’d like you to ask yourself.
What I discovered when I was still before the Lord and honestly (as honestly as I could!) examining my heart in the light of his Word, I realized that my depravity was so insidious and so sneaky that it had latched onto the coattails of my legitimate indignation. Where I believed I was operating out of a sense of righteous anger at sin and wrongdoing, I discovered, when I was honest with God and myself, that I was bitter, resentful, despairing, and worried. Yet these are ALL things that God’s word specifically tells me not to do!
Undoubtedly many Christians – hopefully all Christians – will readily confess that they believe God is sovereign, in charge, the man-with-the-plan. Yet why do so many Christians respond as I did? I am convinced that it is in large part due to a disconnect between the cognitive and affective domains of our being. While we will all say we believe that God is sovereign, this belief hasn’t necessarily lodged itself in our gut so that we own it at a deeply personal level that impacts our response to various circumstances. For example, I love my wife. I own that. When a beautiful woman walks by me, my love for my wife immediately affects how I respond. When I’m having a bad day and my wife says or does something that further aggravates me, my love for my wife is there and it affects how I respond. When someone my wife cares about has something bad happen to them – even if I don’t personally have a stake in that person – my love for my wife is there and it affects how I respond. I could go on. Back to God – we believe he is sovereign. But amazingly, when tragedy strikes, or when disappointment comes, or when faced with injustice and evil and all manner of godlessness we often fret, worry, stew, curse, plot, and attempt to bring into our control things that are clearly beyond our control as if God really isn’t in charge and we are instead all alone in the universe in our quest to scratch out a little bit of security and prosperity for ourselves.
At that time I read Philippians 4:11 in which the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul tells us that no matter what circumstance he finds himself, he has learned to be content. Content. In whatever circumstance he finds himself. It was like breathing clear mountain air. Here is the Apostle, writing from jail – unjustly imprisoned, mind you – talking about being content in whatever circumstance he finds himself. Paul is no fatalist. He does not believe that whatever will be, will be and so we can just sit on our hands and wait for everything to pan out. No, he believes that God often uses human means to accomplish his divine purposes. No New Testament personality so clearly reflects a consuming passion to be about the business of preaching and teaching and in all ways DOING the work of ministry as does Paul. Yet at the same time no New Testament author writes as extensively about the sovereignty of God as does Paul. He exults in it. He celebrates it. Indeed, Paul internalizes it. Friend, I became convinced that Paul was able to be content in whatever circumstance he found himself precisely because his profession had become his affection. God was sovereign not only in Paul’s head, but in his gut. For Paul, God’s sovereignty was as real and tangible and consequential as the air he breathed. And it comforted him. Friend, how do you respond when bad things happen?
In James 2 we learn that there’s a kind of faith that is just a profession – something we say. But there’s also a kind of faith that is deep seated and real and it produces fruit. Indeed, our faith is demonstrated by our fruit. I suggest that in the same vein, a good litmus test of our belief in God’s sovereignty is our response to trials and difficulties.
When Satan, using some instrument – left leaning voters who elect wicked rulers, perhaps? – but when Satan, using some instrument comes and makes off with your stuff do you rage? Do you stew and wail and bemoan the injustice of it all? Or do you respond like another biblical figure who experienced Satan – using some instrument – coming and taking away all his stuff? His response? He tears his clothes and shaves his head (expressions of contrition and mourning)… and he falls on his face and worships – gross injustice all around, he’s just been kicked over a “fiscal cliff,” his life is turning to shambles… and he audaciously worships – saying, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” His name was Job and you can read about it in Job chapter 1.
Friend, when it comes to this most recent (or any!) election, I believe our vote matters. Leading up to last week I sought to be an informed voter. I attempted to educate and influence those around me. Finally, I voted my conscience. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t my will that was done. Now, I can choose to bemoan the “idiots” and “evildoers” that are running this country into the ground. Or I can accept this decision as from the hand of the Lord, who rules by his anointed one, Jesus Christ, for the good of the church. I know what I choose. I choose contentment in whatever circumstance I face. I choose contentment because King Jesus has shed his blood for my life and I know that because he is sovereign he will direct all things to his glory and my good. So, what about you? How sovereign is your sovereign God?
So that is why I wrote what I wrote when I wrote that I am satisfied with the results of the election.