I was chatting with a brother a day or two ago concerning his work with addicts. This work often involves working with non-believers. We progressed to a discussion of Godâ€™s plans for both believers and unbelievers. The perspective towards unbelievers particularly seemed pertinent to this discussion, but our attitude toward ourselves is also quite revealing and would likely benefit from some ongoing introspection.
Let us recall a couple of pieces of Scripture: “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11, and “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, and finally “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13. There are other similar verses as well, but you get the drift clearly.
From 1 Corinthians 10:13 we can discern that things may (likely, will) not be all sweetness and light in the path of the believer. There would be no point to verses such as this, concerning challenges, if there were not going to be any challenges of substance.
First, this flies in the face of the “God has a wonderful, happy (usually implying mostly, if not always) and joyous plan for your life” crowd. It is clear that, as His people, we can expect to be challenged, both individually and corporately.
Second, these challenges will always be surmountable for God’s elect. For the believer there is no condition placed upon that in the verse. But here is the rub, so to speak – the extent of the challenge and our capacity to handle it are from the Lord’s point of view, not ours. He definitely did not say that the challenges would be such that we would recognize or be aware of our ability to overcome them, either before or during the process. Further, there was no undertaking in Scripture to share the process with us. This would tend to indicate that from our point of view the challenges may be great indeed, even seemingly insurmountable. We must walk in unconditional faith in His judgment of our capacity, not our own preconception. The pathway is in His leading, not our conception of what we are or are not capable of accomplishing. Fundamentally we are back to the paradigm laid out by the Israelites centuries ago, as they were tasked to follow the pillars of fire and smoke through the desert, relying solely upon the provisioning of the Lord. Tâ€™would that we â€˜get itâ€™ in less than 40 years!!
Jeremiah 29:11 speaks of hope and a future. This points to the hope of a future in the eternal sense, not that of the world nor even necessarily within our lifetime in flesh. Since the world is the domain of the Prince of the Air and thereby his plans, thriving or prospering (the term used in the NIV translation of this verse) in the world or present life can not be what the Lord alludes to. Not to say that some success in the world might not be in the plan, but the benefits from the Lord’s vantage point are in Heaven. After all, even as the Lord of all creation, He endured the world in light of the Glory that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Our glory in Heaven, though infinitely less than His (we are not Mormons, after all), nonetheless follows His paradigm as His people, and the Glory, hope and future are all in Heaven.
The situation is similar with Romans 8:28, where the “good” is in the eternal, kingdom sense. This is not in any way implied to be coincidental with worldly good, though that could be a side effect.
Overall, we have a situation where the believer, as one owned by the Lord, may face great difficulty in the world, but will always be on the eternal path with and to Him, working in a predestined process (variously in Ephesians 1) of planned and divinely controlled sanctification and purification.
In this is our rest, and our only security. And our Lord has made clear that this is sufficient. Again, his agenda, not ours.
All for His Glory alone.
Next – The Unbeliever…