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God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines

September 26, 2016

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:7

No stranger to adversity, David knew better than most that his advice is easier said than done when one is faced with a powerful enemy. This week’s texts demonstrate the truth of the Portuguese saying that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” The texts deal with the problem of evil; they describe situations where God’s people were mistreated or persecuted while being assured that evil will ultimately be punished. [1] God will use every circumstance to ensure that his will is done: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Wait For It . . .

David advises us to wait patiently. He assures us that God will rescue us from “wicked schemes” (Psalm 37:7), those who “take delight in lies” (Psalm 62: 4), and those who “sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows . . .” (Psalm 64: 5). He should know. When he was a teenager, he went up against Goliath, a giant of a man and seasoned warrior, and won. Later he was protected from evil tyrants and others who sought his downfall. He assures us that “God will shoot them with arrows . . . and bring them to ruin.” (Psalm 64:7-8). We need to turn to God when we are under assault. Fall on God, our rock, and hide in his fortress where we will be protected. (Psalm 62:2).

The focus of the prophet Habukkuk “is on justice, on how the God of pure justice allows the injustice of ‘the bad guys’ defeating ‘the good guys’, in order to effect ultimate justice in history.” (Kreeft, Peter (1990) You Can Understand the Bible, Ignatius Press, p. 154). The prophet reports a dialogue he has with God, basically asking “What are you thinking by allowing this rampant evil to go on??” (“Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong?” Habukkuk 1:3). God’s answer to him is that evil is never overlooked, justice will prevail: “Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by faith” (Habukkuk 2:4 RSV).

Encourage Each Other

Paul was in prison when he wrote 2 Timothy, awaiting execution. He was caught up in Nero’s net of persecution of Christians starting in AD 64 after Nero blamed them for setting the great fire of Rome, which he probably set himself. While Paul had every right to rail against the injustice and persecution, he chose instead to use the time he had left to encourage Timothy and others to carry on his ministry without fear: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1: 7). He encourages Timothy to “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted in you.” (v. 13-14).

Forgiveness and Faith

Jesus warned religious leaders who were teaching their new converts their own evil ways: “Things that make people fall into sin are bound to happen, but how terrible for the one who makes them happen! It would be better for him if a large millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch what you do! “(Luke 17: 1-3, Good News Translation).

But then he launches into a seminar on the importance of forgiveness and faith: If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17: 1-3, Good News Translation). When his disciples ask for more faith, Jesus implies that “It’s not great faith you need, it is faith in a great God.” (N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (2001) Westminster John Knox Press, p. 204). As we noted a few months ago, if God can give Corrie ten Boom the love necessary to forgive a cruel concentration camp World War II guard, then he can give you the love necessary to forgive the most malicious tyrant you may encounter.

In his new book, Making Sense of God, Tim Keller gives us examples of how God writes straight with crooked lines. He reminds us that “Even when Jesus has been used to legitimize oppression as in the nineteenth-century American South, the African slaves themselves found the inspiration and power in Jesus to resist their domination. Even though during the early-modern period Christianity was tied too closely to European and American colonialism and empire, today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are nonwhite, non-Western. No matter how many efforts have been made to capture and deploy Jesus for imperialistic ends, he has always escaped them.” (Keller, Making Sense of God (2016) Viking, p. 229).

When faced with powerful forces of evil, seek refuge in the God of the Bible who will protect you and will prevail in the end. We cannot know why God permits evil to exist, but we know that those who slander, malign, oppress, and persecute others will pay the ultimate price. Our job is to hang on, keep focused on the Savior, encourage others, and ask God for enough love to forgive our enemies.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost are Psalm 62, Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2: 1-4; 2 Timothy 1: 1-14; Luke 17:1-10.

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