Hopelessly Devoted: Joel Chapter Two Verses Twenty Five through Twenty Seven

This morning’s devotion comes from the preacher himself, Paul N. Walker.  I will restore to […]

Mockingbird / 5.23.16

This morning’s devotion comes from the preacher himself, Paul N. Walker. 

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer and the cutter, my great army which I sent among you. (Joel 2:25-27, ESV)

Everything, ultimately, comes from the hand of God: the good, the bad, and the ugly. God is sovereign, which means that He is in control of everything. The bad things in your life have not escaped God’s notice, nor do they fall outside of His sphere of influence. This means that hurt and disease and disaster and death are all under His command and authority.

ewMost of us want to shy away from this biblical view of God. We are loath to attribute anything bad to our good God. We are more likely to say that bad things happen because of sin and the devil. God then swoops into the mess to make things right. It is true that the devil is real and threatens to undo us. It is also true that we reap our own misery because of our sin.

God, however, is not a God on the sidelines, watching our lives unfold and rushing in to help fix what is broken. If God is omnipotent, as we say He is, then He could stop our hands from sinning and save us from our own misery. Satan, like everything and everyone else, is subject to His command. Affirming God’s sovereignty means concluding that God wields both healing and woe for His own good, yet often inscrutable, purpose.

God’s sovereignty is clear to Joel. God refers to the devastating plague of locusts as His “great army which I sent among you.” The destroyers did real and severe damage in Israel, His chosen people; they brought years of loss built on more years of sorrow. Perhaps you have experienced what feels like years wasted in loss or sickness or suffering, or years spent idly or in vain—years you wish you could have back. The good and comforting news is that those years, and all years, come from the hand of God. And the better news is that God does not waste time—neither His time nor yours.

He doesn’t always provide an explanation of why He does what He does. The bad in the world will remain a mystery until the end of the world as we know it. But He does give us a promise we can trust: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten… You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.” It is His goodness and love that allows us to say in both the triumphs and trials of our lives that God “has dealt wondrously with me” and to thank Him for everything that comes from His hand.


4 responses to “Hopelessly Devoted: Joel Chapter Two Verses Twenty Five through Twenty Seven”

  1. Steve says:

    If the bad in the world he is sovereign over is a “mystery,” how can you begin to trust that God? How can you believe any “promise?” A trite reference to mystery is a pitiful excuse for a God who is sovereign over indescribable evil. You trivialize suffering and evil when you do so!

    • Zach says:

      This is certainly an emotionally painful fact to encounter. I, for one, try to look away from it and can’t really admit that I believe it, if I do, on days that I do. And your outrage bespeaks a highly admirable sense of justice and compassion for the suffering, which undoubtedly includes yourself and those close to you, and probably some of the poor suffering people we so often see on television who are nothing but bystanders in this awful theatre of the ego. We need more of that outrage in the world.

      Trivialization, however, this is not. On two bases: personal and logical.

      The latter: The author is the last person to trivialize evil, pain, and suffering. To the contrary, he’s among the best I know (“among the best” is a conservative judgment; he’s probably the best) at suffering the pains of the world–and not even his own, but those of others. I could name a hundred other people who would say the same, and I don’t even know that many people. I myself have spent countless hours across from the author, on his couch, drinking the coffee he bought, smoking cigarettes, rambling aimlessly. And I prefer not to be honest with people. So I can tell you that the author’s arrival at the theological view describe above comes not–not at all–from the dry, aloof, unemotional reading of Scripture that you often hear from those espousing this view (which is why such authors are so awful and unreadable) but from experience; like Dostoevsky, his hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.

      And the logical: No necessity connects the association between the reliance on the concept of mystery and trivializing evil and suffering. One certainly need not look far to find Christians use the word ‘mystery’ to describe the concept of God’s sovereignty and who are, in their attitude, aloof and cold and trivializing toward evil and suffering. Flee these people and the churches they go to. They are either highly deluded and spend their time monogramming towels, or they read big theological treatises with lots of Biblical citations as a way of looking away from their own suffering.

      But mystery is where you arrive when in the furnace of doubt you find a good God. It makes no sense, the idea of a good God presiding over a world where a Guatemalan girl is set on fire by a local mob. None. It is exceedingly unbelievable. And yet some believe. You may not, and that is a respectable position. But calling an inexplicable fact inexplicable is not at all a necessary result of trivialization of evil and suffering. It can be, but not necessarily. More often it is the result of actual suffering and not its trivialization. Truth be told, those who most trivialize suffering are those who lack a sense of mystery. See, for example, the gas chambers, and more recently, the use of daggers to saw of human heads. More than one person has observed that history’s greatest monsters lack imagination–the ability to imagine the suffering of others. Narcissism and ambiguity are never bedfellows.

      I hear your anger, and it is good. Your first sentence: “If the bad int he world he is sovereign over is a ‘mystery,’ how can you being to trust that God?” That is a sentence–well-written, well-thought.

      • Steve says:

        Thank you for an elequent, reasonable, and kind response.

        The lack of a good theodicy has bothered me for almost 40 years. I tried to drown the questions, in reformed theology, but they always resurfaced. I deal daily with significant human suffering and tragedy. My own life has experienced some also.

        For those who are suffering and also state they are religious, I also prefer to place the suffering for them in the idea of mystery rather than trite and often, wrong, answers so often used. But to place suffering in the relm of mystery for anyone, we must first show deep empathy, let there be anger at the unfaithful God as one of the psalmist proclaimed, admit it does not make any sense, loudly proclaim it does not have the silly meaning of making us better people or drawing us closer to a god, and allow ourselves to be fully human.

        The author of this article, perhaps attempting brevity, proclaimed sovereignty, and very sparingly, mystery, but it seemed to be an intellectual exercise and not engaging the full horror of suffering and allowing the human response of despair, anger, and lament. Thus, my perception suffering was trivialized by the article.

        Question: Would a mother who just lost a 3 year old child to cancer really feel the author understood her suffering?

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