Meditating on the Will of God: 9: God’s Sovereign Wisdom
Acts 12:1-5 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
Beware trying to formulate the will of God and turn it into something mechanical. God is a person and His knowledge and wisdom are unlimited and sometimes we will not be able to foresee where He is going. That is why it is so important to maintain a living relationship with Him. If we want to know, we have to talk with Him!
Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in these verses above. Put very simply, James died and Peter was saved. We are told nothing of the spiritual dynamics leading to James’ death, just that Herod, persecuting the Christians, did it and then had Peter put in prison. The story then opens up to reveal an angel delivering Peter while the church prayed for him. Why one apostle becomes a martyr and the other is saved is unknown. We simply have to trust the wisdom of God; it fitted His plans for James to come home while Peter stayed on for a while.
Sometimes the people of God have walked unwittingly into the jaws of death, or certainly to have their lives under great threat. Being a child of God does not ensure protection from martyrdom always. Job is the classic instance of a man who followed God but was led through the most terrible of times simply, it seems, to prove that a man can walk through such times, even if imperfectly. Stephen was the first martyr and perhaps it was the vision granted him from heaven that pushed his oppressors over the top to stone him.
There seem to be two main critical aspects to all this. First life does not just mean three score years and ten on this planet. There is life after this planet and in the divine economy it is the wider dimension that counts. Second, the wisdom of God sees all things, things we don’t see and so He allows, at the very least, things to happen that appear negative to us, death being the final one. As the Lord said through Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8,9)
Indeed there will be times when we cry out to the Lord for deliverance but it doesn’t seem to come. Sometimes it seems the deliverance waits until we have come to a place of complete trust in the Lord IN the midst of the trial. Habakkuk came to a place where he could say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18)
Daniel’s three friends also had to come to a place of trust in God when confronted with a death by burning declared, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:17,18) i.e. we’re not certain whether our Lord will save us from this or not, but whether or not He does is irrelevant; we will trust and obey Him!
It seems that sometimes in the history period covered by Scripture, there are times when the trial requires us to pass through death to the other side, and at other times just to remain faithful as we face death but are then delivered. The skeptic says, ‘Well it is just luck whether you live or die, and if it is not, then your God is a harsh God if He puts you through that!” Well, no, actually what happens to us happens by the sovereign will of God and in all circumstances His grace is there to see us through the time, whether it ends in death or not. It is God’s choice, God’s decision when James is killed and Peter is delivered. This side of heaven we may not know why this has worked out like this, but one day we will.
The truth is that in a fallen world people are put to death by sinners all the time; that is the tragedy of the fallen world, that sinners do have the freedom to hurt or kill others, and history is littered with them. The Bible doesn’t try to avoid this reality. At one point in the book of Revelation we find, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” (Rev 6:9) It openly acknowledges that people are killed unjustly, this is the price of free will, but without it we would cease to be human beings.