What In The World Is God Doing?
As I start tonight, I want to read you some words written by a syndicated columnist. I want to read the words and then I want to tell you when the words were written: “What interests me is not whether God exists—I assume He does—but what on earth is He doing? What is He up to at this present moment?” Those words were written by a syndicated columnist just two days after the Columbine High School school shooting. Tonight we are in the shadow of another such shooting. I was watching on television. They were interviewing some of the people related to children who were killed or wounded in the shooting in Santee, California. One mother said: “How could God let this happen?”
Good question. That’s basically the question of the Psalmist. The Psalmist says: “Lord, why do You stand so far off? Why do You hide Yourself in time of trouble?” I suspect that all of us, somewhere down in our hearts have that kind of question at one point in time or another. I really rather doubt that there are any of us here who do not believe that God exists. I suspect that all of us do have some belief that there is a higher power; some primal cause behind this universe of ours. But I suspect that if we’re honest, there are times when we wonder what on earth is God doing? What on earth is God doing? Why does He seem so far off? Why does He seem to hide Himself in time of trouble? Why do these terrible things happen, and it’s almost as if God has simply drawn the veil and hidden His face from view. As a matter of fact, I will confess to you, when it seems to me that I and those who are around me are caught up in a world that is nothing more than an undisciplined madhouse and it seems so often that our lives are simply at the mercy of fate. And at a time like that, I find myself wanting to echo the complaint of the great writer, H.G. Wells. H. G. Wells once said: “God is an ever-absent help in time of trouble.” What an incredibly cruel twist: “God is an ever-absent help in time of trouble.”
Mind you, the complaint is not new. It appears all the way through the Bible. More times that you can count you will find in the Bible a question that is expressed much like this: Where is God when I need God? The Psalmist: “Why are You so far off? Why do You hide Your face in time of trouble?” So it was for Noah—remember Noah, floating about in his giant ark—with nothing around him but smelly animals and empty seas and nothing above him but skies overflowing with rain. Where is God? So it was for the Israelites—for four centuries held in slavery in Egypt and the unanswering silence of heaven was like pouring salt into the open wounds of their suffering. Where is God? Why do You hide Your face from trouble? So it was for Job, who out of tortured agony literally shook his fist at the heavens and dared God to come out and face him like a man. Where is God? God, why do You stand so far off? Why do You hide Yourself in time of trouble. You can find that question in the Bible and in life, but the reality is that the message of the Bible is much deeper, much more profound than that. Remember, please, this Psalm 10 begins with that question of despair and then this catalog of horrors of living in this world filled with evil, but this Psalm ends with triumphant affirmation of faith.
The message is this: Yes, there is trouble in the world, but God is God and God will live forever. That’s the message of the Scriptures—that even in the bad times God is at work. Do you remember how Paul put that in Romans 8:28? “We know that in everything God works for good.” In everything. In the good and the bad. In everything God works for good to those who love Him; to those who are called according to His purpose. That’s the message of the Bible, and I am convinced that for us, when we sense that God is not there, when we allow all of the troubles and the difficulties of life to blind us to the workings of God in the world and in our lives, I am convinced it is because we are looking for God in the wrong places and in the wrong ways.
First, we must not look for God in the wrong places.
Grant Taft—that’s a name that some of you might recognize—he was, for a number of years, the head coach of the Baylor University football team in Texas. Grant Taft is a deeply committed Christian, but I will have to tell you that he has a rather unusual sense of humor. He does some really bizarre things. I could give you a number of examples, but here is one. One of Coach Taft’s assistant coaches asked if they might go hunting together. Taft remembered that one of his former players had issued a standing invitation to hunt on his ranch any time the coach desired. So Coach Taft and his assistant headed out to the ranch. When they arrived, Taft left his assistant in the car and went into the house to ask his former player if they could hunt on the ranch that day. The former player said: “Sure Coach, but I’ve got to ask you to do me a favor. Did you see that old mule down by the gate? The vet says that he is in pain and he is dying and I’ve got to put him out of his misery, but Coach, I can’t do it. That mule has been with me and my family for nearly thirty years. I can’t shoot him. I just can’t do it. Would you do it for me?” Coach Taft said: “Well, I’ve never done anything like that before.” And the player said: “Coach, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had. You just have to do it for me.” So Coach Taft agreed to do it. On the way back to the car, he got an idea for a joke. He put an angry expression on his face, walked over to the car and he said to his assistant coach: “That worthless upstart! He won’t let us hunt on his ranch. I helped make him what he is today, and we drive all the way down here to hunt for a couple of hours on his ranch and he won’t let me do it. I’m going to show him! I’m going to shoot his mule.” The assistant coach was shocked. He said: “You wouldn’t do something like that now Coach.” And Grant Taft said: “Yes I would, and you watch what I do.” He reached in, grabbed his gun, turned and walked across the pasture toward the gate, took aim—BAM! -one shot and the mule fell. Immediately he heard two more shots ring out -BAM! BAM! He reeled around in horror and saw the assistant coach standing by the car holding his gun. Taft ran over to him and cried: “What are you doing?” And the assistant coach cried: “I just got two of his cows, Coach. Now let’s get out of here!”
Well, what’s the point? It’s in there somewhere, I know it is. Maybe this is it. What started out as a joke ended up as a jolt. What seemed to be a good time turned out to be a disaster. Golly, that’s what life is like, isn’t it? Everything will be going along well and then “Bam”—a joke becomes a jolt. A good time becomes a disaster. Before you know it. And how do we respond to that? When things are going well, it’s easy for us to say: “God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.” When we feel physically strong and are surrounded by love and laughter, it’s so easy for us to say that God has blessed us. But then when the bad times hit we start to wonder: “Where is God? Why do You stand so far off, God? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” That’s the way we are, but that was not the experience of those who wrote the Bible. They knew that life can turn from good to bad, from jokes to jolts in an instant. The Psalmist poured out how difficult life really is, but then the Psalmist went on to say: “But God is in the midst of it.” The Biblical writers understood that God is to be found not just in the good times, but in the bad. Not just in the sunshine but in the storm. Not just in health, but in sickness. Not just in victory but in defeat. We—if we are going to follow the Bible—must look for God even in the hard places.
Our beautiful angel (testimony speaker) has shared with us how she found God in the midst of the hard places of life. Don’t miss that great truth from Scripture. Don’t look for God only in the good times. Look for Him in the bad times too, because there you will surely find Him.
So we mustn’t look for God in the wrong places, we also mustn’t look for God in the wrong ways.
The parallel experiences of two well-known Old Testament figures, I think, can make the point. David. You will remember that David, when he was at the peak of his power, fell into the trap of desiring another man’s wife. Her name was Bathsheba. David, then got himself involved in a conspiracy to actually have Bathsheba’s husband killed so that he, David, could take Bathsheba as his own. He thought that he had won a great victory, but not so. He got Bathsheba, but in time, the son born to David and Bathsheba died. Not only that, but a strain of moral madness infected David’s family and impacted that family for generations to come. And finally, the great dream that David had of building the temple in Jerusalem was frustrated. Victory was transformed into defeat.
Joseph. You remember how his brothers beat him and sold him into slavery. In Egypt, Joseph was placed in the service of a man named Potiphar. At one point, Potiphar’s wife made advances toward Joseph. Joseph rebuffed those advances. Potiphar’s wife lied about what had happened, and as a result, Joseph was thrown in jail. There he became known as an interpreter of dreams. His began to spread, even from jail, and it even reached even the palace of Pharaoh and Pharaoh turned to Joseph for wisdom and counsel. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he elevated him to second in command in the kingdom. Then came a great famine. It was at that point that Joseph’s family came to Egypt looking for food. Joseph showed them great grace. In the first place, he identified himself to them and then he gave them the food they needed. And then he said: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” Defeat was transformed into victory.
Now, what’s the difference between those two—David and Joseph? The difference is the purity of their living. Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Those who are pure in heart are pure of life. And those who are pure of heart and pure of life will see God in any and every circumstance. God may not always be accessible to the quick-witted or the clear-headed, but God is never hidden from those who are morally pure. Therefore, what the Scriptures teach us is that if we build our lives upon the moral standards taught on the pages of Scripture, then we are going to see God. We are going to see God in the world. We are going to see God in the circumstances of our lives. We are going to see God in our own hearts. Blessed are the pure in heart. They shall see God.
If you want, in the midst of the tough troubles and difficulties of life, to be absolutely sure that you will see God at work in the midst of those circumstances, then give yourself to a life of purity—a life pure in heart, pure in words, pure in deeds. Then you shall see God. Then you will know that in everything—in everything bad or good—God is working to bring His good into your life.
So you and I don’t ever have to say: “Lord, why do You stand so far off?” “Why do You hide Yourself in trouble?” “What in the world are You doing?” Instead, we can say and know that it is true, “God is with us here—right here, right now. We know that God is at work in this world and in our lives right here and right now and we know that God loves us in Jesus Christ. And we know that in Christ, no matter what happens in life, in Christ, God will love us forever.”
May God bless this simple witness which I offer in the name of His only Son. Amen.