Please have patience with me as I attempt to delicately make a point that I feel ought to be made. After considering some of the discussions on Twitter recently, I’ve realized that many hold to a very self-centered arrogant view of their purpose in this life. Not only of themselves but of mankind in general, as if everything revolves around humanity. Well I am here to tell you, to remind you, that it is not about you (Proverbs 16:9). Though God may certainly have a much higher view and appreciation of our individual purpose(s), to speak plainly, we are merely cogs in a machine fulfilling His will and doing so for His glory. We ought to be a bit grateful and humbled by that, rather than proud and arrogant (James 4:10).
The topic ‘du jour’ that I’ve been involved in lately has been centered around God’s sovereignty and the events that occur in our existence both big (on the grand stage) and small (individual suffering). This includes the major events that one might consider evil such as the holocaust, transatlantic slave trade, plagues (The Black Death), or even the death of a loved one, etc. There are many who believe that God is not the primary cause of all things and that all things simply happen by chance or as a result of the free-will of wicked and evil men. While absolutely nothing happens by chance (Proverbs 16:33), I do agree that most of the events that have unfolded in history we can pin on sinful human beings as the cause. But that leaves us with a bigger question to answer, why did it happen? To what end did it serve?
The view that I hold, which I believe most Reformed would agree with, is that these events were/are not meaningless. God, being the Author and sustainer of this world, had purposed such things to bring about things unknown to us. God uses tragedy in ways that we might consider as good and/or bad, and He is justified in everything that happens and the way that things play out (1 Peter 4:19). All things happen for a purpose that is much greater than we often realize (especially while blinded by our pain), and nothing happens outside of God’s design (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Let me try to use the example of the transatlantic slave trade as it pertained to American History to illustrate.
The transatlantic slave trade has recently been deemed one of the worst atrocity known to mankind. It is the event where in the span of 300-400 years 10’s of millions of Africans were taken and sold into slavery at the hands of tribal leaders, Muslims and most significantly Europeans. In the process of this far-reaching event Africans endured intense suffering by way of sexual abuse, hard labor, and harsh treatment. Not one single excuse can justify how these image bearers were treated, and those impenitent people who willfully participated are most deserving of full force of God’ wrath (Exodus 21:16). The questions are still raised why would God allow such a thing, and to what purpose did it serve?
Being a descendant of European heritage you might suggest that I ought to tread lightly on such a subject, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s hard to part of the conversation when you’re viewed as the reason for one’s suffering. I have no idea of the affects and influence that this point in history has had on people and I am unable to fully understand what they might go through. Yet day in and day out we are reminded of these atrocities that our ancestors wrought upon about brothers and sisters in Christ, it seems to be almost unavoidable these days. But in order to make an attempt to shed some insight on the purpose of such an event I would like to share a personal experience.
During midway through my 2nd deployment I was moved to a remote area of Southern Afghanistan to support a small marine camp in a mountainous region bordering Pakistan. One particular day had a profound affect on my life, an event I think might be relevant to the conversation. The marines had been sent out to support some diplomatic type operation that the enemy had caught wind of. The enemy seized upon the opportunity to attack the diplomatic party and more significantly our camp while the marines were away. To keep the story short we spent a better part of the day fending off attacks coming down the mountain. The man who had my back during that whole event was a fellow Sergeant by the name of Alexis, and without his support I don’t believe I would have made it. In that day through our shared experience, though we rarely get a chance to catch up these days, we became lifelong friends.
This is but a small and insignificant example that I can give; Alexis, a descendant of a slave, was there on that day as a member of the United States Army fulfilling a purpose I still haven’t fully realized from my limited point of view. God put him there in that moment for a reason, and how he got there is even more mind-blowing to consider (Proverbs 3:5-6). This is not to say that his ancestors had to endure such unimaginable suffering simply so that he could cover me as I covered him during the attacks. That is miniscule compared to the bigger picture. Just think about how our country, our society, and the Church has truly benefited from his ancestors being brought into this country. Although many don’t want to hear it, slavery happened for reasons we cannot begin to understand and while I hate that it did occur I am grateful for brothers like him.
If we understand who we are and who God is we know that we deserve nothing less than death. God has used fallen nature and fallen men to wipe large groups of people off the earth and to also bring about seemingly insignificant events in this world. We mourn the loss of our loved ones, we sympathize with those who suffer, and at the same time we praise God knowing that the things that happen are for a greater purpose and for His glory alone. Praise Him because He has chosen to preserve a people who, though they may not free from the trials of this life, have a great hope for the next. We shouldn’t question His methods but instead be humbled by His grace and His mercy (Romans 8:18).
As an unbeliever I blamed God for the suicide of my mother and the events that led to it. My heart was hardened by the fact that such dreadful things could happen because I didn’t understand why it would be permitted. If we could see creation from the point of God, who sees all things from beginning to end as He ordained, we would clearly understand the purposes behind each event and/or action. Though fallen man is responsible for bringing sin upon the world and their rebellion against God, sin does not reign but instead is merely an instrument to serve a holy and righteous God who does reign forever. If you are stumbling over the sin(s) of another, or sin(s) of the past, I pray that you forgive them and give them the grace and mercy they must have from you (Ephesians 4:32). Be humbled by the peace found in Christ, even in our suffering, and the mercy shown in God’s forgiveness of our sins against Him.