Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Restraint In The Storm

Yesterday’s Daily Bread devotional (written by Philip Yancey) brought some deep reflections after dinner last night. He wrote of the miracle of restraint, of God’s choice to curb His own power.

“The miracles Satan suggested to Jesus (Luke 4:3, 9-11), the signs the Pharisees demanded (Matt. 12:38; 16:1), the final proofs I yearn for offer no obstacle to an omnipotent God. More amazing is His refusal to perform, to overwhelm. God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that He granted us the power to live as though He does not exist. Jesus must have known this as He faced the tempter in the desert, focusing His power on the energy of restraint. I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response He desires.”

I’m not a Yancey “fan” but every once-in-a-while I come across something he writes and I am intrigued. When I read the devotional, I was reminded of conversations I’ve had (such as the one last week) where unbelievers make demands on omnipotent God, starting with the assertion that He does not exist. We cannot make God disappear any more than we can stand in the road and make a truck disappear.

Who is God that He should bend to the whims of some squeaky voice rising from this dust-ball of a planet, simply because that voice (that it not at all heard in the chaos of the universe) demands something? I am reminded of that old argument, “If God is real, then let Him strike me dead!” Oh, the day of death will come—you will die in your sins, receive the wages of them. Yancey’s statement is so true that it bears repeating, “God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that He granted us the power to live as though He does not exist.” Astounding! What is even more amazing is that when a squeaky repentant voice screams for God to save, He responds . . .

Yancey goes on, “Jesus must have known this as He faced the tempter in the desert, focusing His power on the energy of restraint. I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response He desires.” It is true Jesus did demonstrate restraint many times outside these events Yancey describes, and it is true that God does not create a circus act of Himself and His power to blind the world with brilliance of performance. Think of Elijah—where was God but in the still, small voice, not in the lightning, earthquake or fire. I want to highlight the truth of that very last sentence.

Last night there was a storm. Tornadoes ripped through Alabama, most of Georgia was under tornado watches or warnings. We even took shelter in the middle of our house as the wind blew, the rain fell, thunder clapped and I thought at one point I heard a train . . . (I did not tell the family, but now you know why I moved so quickly—for those who were there and are reading this—see, what Dad says, you obey without asking questions!) The siren went off in The Village and most students at the University gathered in the lower floor of the student center.

Last night there was a huge display of omnipotence and restraint. We comforted our family with the promises of God and trusted in His goodness to do as He wills. Yet in the midst of it all, one person (not a member of our family) would not be comforted. He saw nothing but danger and could not be calmed. His selfishness brought disruption and no peace. What is worse, he was alarmed about his situation, but not awakened to his spiritual condition. He did not see God, His control or provision as he only feared for his life and that, apart from God. Rather than accept peace, comfort and the promises of God’s goodness, He chose to leave during the storm and go to his own home for safety—right in the direction of the storm.

Though he made it home, though he slept safe, though he woke up this morning and carries on about His day, He does not see God or His goodness, His power or His restraint. There was a pyrotechnic display last night and God did not get the response He desired. Instead God allows so many like him to carry on as if He does not exist. One day, the restraint will lift . . .

[From the “what-it’s worth” department, read a wonderful article, “Storm and the Message of Job,” by Alex Luc, in JSOT 87 (2000)]

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