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TEXT: Job 1:21-22
SUBJECT: God is Sovereign #2: In Life and Death
Last week, we began a short afternoon study called God is Sovereign. Its purpose is to both explain what the Bible teaches about His sovereignty, and encourage us to celebrate it-as the Lord's People have often done in earth and always do in Heaven!
The Sovereignty of God is easy to define. When we say God is sovereign, we simply mean that He is in control of all things, as the Apostle says-
Things in Heaven, things on earth, things under the earth.
In the cosmology of the ancient world, this is every created thing there is, from insects to emperors, angels to dirt clods, the holiest saint and the worst sinner. Everything and everyone is under the Rule of God, willingly or not. This is what the Bible teaches, and it's not that hard to understand.
What is hard, sometimes, is accepting the Sovereignty of God, especially when God acts in a way we wouldn't have, when His Will crosses our own.
Last Sunday night, God exercised His sovereignty in a way I didn't want Him to, in a way that hurt the church, and broke many hearts. Last Sunday night, about the time I went to bed, a young man in the church died in his sleep. He was only thirty-one years old, and while he hadn't been feeling very well the last few days, nobody expected him to die! And nobody wanted him to die.
PERMITTED OR DECREED?
Not every Christian agrees with this, but I wonder how they explain it otherwise. Can any believer-in-Christ think that God tried to save our young friend's life-but couldn't do it? If God could have saved his life, but didn't, He must have-on some level-willed him to die.
But on what level? Most Christians would say God permits bad things, including our brother's death. Obviously, this is true, for if He hadn't permitted it, it couldn't have occurred. This is certainly one of the things taught in Job, chapters 1 and 2.
But, with all due reverence before the mystery of God's Providence and the appalling nature of human death, I do not believe the above answer is sufficient. It's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough.
The Bible doesn't say 'God permits people to die', but something far more stark and clear-cut (and disturbing!). It says, in today's text, Job 1:21-22, that God
THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH
If you read the context, you'll see what God took away is Job's fabulous wealth.and his ten children, seven sons and three daughters, all killed when the house they were feasting in collapsed.
If you read the whole book, you'll see Job was not a stupid man; he knew about second causes, such as the hurricane that knocked down the house, as well as the existence of a malevolent power set against God's glory and human happiness.
But when he got the news of his children's death, he didn't trace it to the weather or the devil, or bad luck: he traced it to the Lord, whom he still fervently worshiped and whose sovereignty he confessed through the tears.
Job's is, admittedly, one of the Bible's most challenging books to interpret. But many easier-to-understand verses teach the same thing. Deuteronomy 32:39, for example, has the Lord Himself saying-
I kill and I make alive.
As I said before, God is not discarding second causes-such as cancer or heart disease or accidents-but He is putting the second causes where they belong: in second place. Second place behind His own Sovereign Will.
Psalm 31:15 is another example-
My times are in your hands.
Here, David is confessing the Lord's control of his life, when it began and, and in particular, how long it will go on. It seems he wrote the Psalm in the heat of battle (or, afterwards, reflecting on it). He was scared; powerful enemies were after him, but he knew that ultimately, it wouldn't be Saul or the Philistines or other humans who would decide the day of his death, but the Lord Himself!
God is sovereign over human life and death. It is He who gives life and He who takes it away. Job believed that; David believed it; and so did our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles and Evangelists His Spirit to write the New Testament.
Our Lord antagonized a great many powerful men, men who not only had the means to kill Him, but also the will. Yet He repeatedly put Himself in harm's way, knowing God would preserve His life until the time came to lay it down. This is the meaning of John 7:30 and 8:20-
For His hour had not yet come.
And also, John 12:23-
The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.
How could Paul remain so calm in the storm? Because God's angel had told him that-
Not a hair of his head would fall.
The deadly 'Northwester' seemed out of control, but Paul knew better: It was very much in control, in God's control, and He would use it to break the ship to pieces, but leave the crew and passengers alive.
The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over human life and death.
WHO IS SOVEREIGN
To many people (including some Christians) this smacks of fatalism or, to put a finer point on it, to an arbitrary and heartless power, dealing life and death without rhyme or reason.
But repeat the sentence to yourself, and you'll see what's wrong with the conclusion. I didn't say 'A god' or 'Some god' is sovereign over human life and death, but 'God-the God of the Bible is sovereign over life and death'.
This means no death is meaningless, no death is arbitrary, cruel, hateful, or sadistic. If it is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who kills and makes alive, all His attributes guide Him in how He does it.
This means life has meaning, and so does death. We cannot fathom the meaning-sometimes we can't even guess at it-but there is meaning in death, in the deaths of old men (like my father five years ago), and young men, too, like the brother who died seven days ago.
Death tears us up-and it should do that! If Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, let no disciple think it beneath him to cry out loud!
But the sorrow and confusion we feel is tempered with the certain knowledge that the Lord has-
Done all things well!
When God takes a brother from us, He takes him in wisdom, holiness, and goodness. This is how Job understood it, and why he was able to deeply feel his own loss, and, at the same time, worship and celebrate the Sovereignty of God! The God who is blessed, both when He gives, and when He-
HOW WE KNOW
How do we know that human life isn't the meaningless thing it so often seems to be? We know it because God Himself entered it in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And, as a Man, He proved the infinity of His Wisdom and Love.
At the Cross, God became our Redeemer. And if He can redeem our lives, He can also redeem our deaths, making them-like everything else-
Work together for our good.
WHAT TO DO NOW
So, how do we respond to the untimely death of our brother? We respond with deep sorrow and boundless hope-
We sorrow-Paul says-but not as others who have no hope.
God is Sovereign over all things, including life and death. And His Sovereignty, though hard to stomach at times, is as good as He is-
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
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