Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

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Finding Comfort and Order in the Midst of Chaos

At times, life seems chaotic. It appears that the harder one tries to make sense of the world, the more bizarre it becomes. I recently told my dad, “Just when I think that things cannot get any worse, something happens to demonstrate how much worse it can become.” However, the more I have studied God, the more I realize that chaos is an illusion. If God is what the Bible purports Him to be, then God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present in all places), a se (unchangeable), immortal (eternal and timeless), holy (the perfect good) and indestructible (incapable of being destroyed). If this is true, then nothing takes God by surprise. In addition, this means that the chaos of the world is fitting within the sovereign plan of God. But wait, isn’t there a lot of evil things taking place in the world? What comfort can we find in these attributes of God?

Joseph was a man who was met with severe forms of evil. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers and was eventually sold as a slave. The people who were supposed to have loved Joseph the most performed one of the highest acts of treachery and evil. Yet, the tables turned for Joseph. Joseph would eventually score a high-ranking position in Egypt under the Pharaoh. His brothers sought help from Egypt. It was then that Joseph was able to forgive and say to his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:21).[1] How could Joseph say such a thing? There are three things that must be kept in mind.

chaos_to_order

Human actions are free, but planned by God.

There are two seemingly opposing viewpoints offered in the Bible: humans have freedom of the will and God is sovereign (in complete control). How does one reconcile these two truths? Hardline Calvinists (or hyper-determinists)[2] will say that people have no choice in any matter. Hyper-Arminians, especially of the Open Theist variety, will claim that God does not know what will happen. Yet, I feel that the more moderate Thomistic (and even Molinist) compatibilist interpretations fit the realm of Scripture. For instance, the writer of Proverbs notes that “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). That means that man plans his/her steps, but God foreknows and has already established such a free act. Proverbs also states that “The lot is casts into the lap, but its decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). I like how the New Living Translation translates this verse. The NLT reads, “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[3] This may not be good news for the one who goes to Vegas. But free human actions fall into the sovereign plan of God.

God will bring forth an ultimate good despite the seeming chaos of human actions.

Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This does not mean that all things will work in the end for all people. It will work for the good to those who love God and have submitted to his will. God is good and God is powerful. This means that God will bring an ultimate good despite the great evil in the world. Joseph was met with great evil, but he knew that God would use that evil to bring about an ultimate good.

Thus, chaos is an illusion as God is sovereign.

Two classic theologians note that chaos is seemingly an illusion due to the great attributes of God. Norman Geisler writes,

“God is a simple Being, all of whose attributes are one with His indivisible essence. He has no parts; He is one in essence. If He had different parts, He could come apart, but He is immortal and indestructible…But if God is simple (absolutely one), then both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in Him. That is, whatever God knows, He determines. And whatever He determines, He knows. More properly, we should speak of God as ‘knowing determining’ and ‘determinately knowing’ from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts. If God is an eternal and simple Being, then His thoughts must be eternally coordinate and unified” (Geisler 2010, 145).

Thus, God’s knowledge and actions do not negate free will. Nevertheless, God knows absolutely what free beings will choose. Therefore, God is able to place people in certain times and places, knowing what those beings will choose. Therefore, even with human freedom and the seeming chaos that ensues from bad human decisions, God still is moving to bring things to a greater good. Thomas Aquinas writes,

“It should be noted, however, that with natural things the specification of the act is from form and the exercise is from the agent that causes the motion. But the mover moves for the sake of an end. Thus the first principle of motion with respect to the exercise of the act is from the end…It should be said that man’s will is discordant with the will of God insofar as it wills something God does not want it to will, as when it wills to sin” (Aquinas 1998, 557, 561).

In other words, God does not order evil. God does not will evil to exist, yet evil is the natural outgrowth of the human freedom to will. God is moving upon all of creation with his grace. However, human beings misuse the grace of God afforded to them. God knows that they would. Thus, God is able to use human free decisions to bring about the ultimate good.

All of this is to say, chaos is an illusion. God is working to bring about the greater good which will be actualized in eternity.

Conclusion—the Roller Coaster

I am not a fan of roller coasters. I don’t like the drops and turns as it makes my stomach very queasy. When I dated my wife, I tried to act like a macho man and ride roller coasters with her…I eventually became sick. Roller coasters give the illusion of chaos. However, coasters are designed to provide that experience while they bring the person back to a common end. Life seems to be much like this. Things may appear to be chaotic, but a good, loving, Almighty God has an order and a plan.

Joseph realized that what man meant as evil, God used for the greater good. When we keep this perspective, we will realize that God has an order despite the seeming chaos of the times. Understand, God is still in control. Don’t despair. Don’t lose hope. God will bring an ultimate good out of the midst of great chaos.

© November 2, 2015. Brian Chilton

 

Sources Cited:

Aquinas, Thomas. “On Human Choice. Disputed Question of Evil, 6 (1266-72). In Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. Edited and Translated by Ralph McInery. London, UK; New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.

Geisler, Norman. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Hyper-Calvinism does not represent the general Calvinist viewpoint. Some sects of Calvinism do hold to a hardline, or hyper-Calvinistic, interpretation. The hyper view is what is being discussed here.

[3] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).