RM: Do you remember as a kid playing the game, Simon Says? It was always fun but a little frustrating. Remember it? "Simon says,.....'touch your nose!' ...now.....rub your stomach!" It was really fun to try to remember, but it was also a little frustrating. How about Red Light, Green Light? ".....Stop!.........Go..Stop!...." They were fun games where someone randomly led you along.
I think these games might feel a little bit like what God's providence sometimes feels like. It often seems like God is either random in his guiding of our lives or that he's having to work around circumstances outside of his control to which He is having to yield, to some degree.
Recently I was reading the daily lectionary, in the O.T. passage, Numbers 9:15-23. In it the children of Israel are wandering around the desert of Sinai. In this part of the story, God appears to set the duration of how long their camp would stay in a given place in a totally random way. Sometimes it would be for a couple of days, sometimes a couple of months, and sometimes a couple of years. And still sometimes it would be just over night, and without any explanation as to why. Could they possibly have gotten a little frustrated?
Why lead them this way? Was God being random? Was God being controlled by outside circumstances? In many verses of the Bible it assures us that this is not the case. In Matthew 10:29, Jesus said not a single sparrow falls to the ground outside of your Father's will. Proverbs 16:33 assures us that "we may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall." (NLT) So then, why this seemingly random divine game of stop and go in the desert? Is God really just playing Simon Says?! It seems like it.
One thing you realize as you read the passage and imagine this divine training operation, practically speaking, is that it definitely would help to train a group of people to loosen the natural tendency, which all of us have, which innately resists following another person's lead (which the Bible teaches is at the root of our fallen, corrupted nature). Imagine if you had been there in this random exercise of unpredictable stop and go. Surely it would have at least helped you to get into more of a life habit and routine of letting God lead, knowing you could pick up and go at any time.
Perhaps that's the point. ...to let God lead and to realize that the Sovereign God really is in control of all things, even though He has chosen to set up the world in a way that looks like things run either randomly or on their own.
The Bible acknowledges that God has clearly set up the world to run by cause and effect (which the Protestant Reformers called "second causes"). And yet, He also asks us to trust that He, at the same time, is the "First Cause" behind all things at all times. So then, we're supposed to believe that there is a first cause....and there are second causes...and that there is no difficulty in this, from God's point of view. God is free to work with or above or even against his second causes. And, not only does this not harm the reality of second causes, it actually establishes them. As Colossians 1:17 says, Christ "holds all creation together."
This is what God is asking us to believe. And this community exercise here in Numbers 9, of seemingly random stop and go, was training them and preparing them to live out the life habit of following, yielding, and submitting to God....in total, willing, and loving trust.
And God has not changed. He still wants us to practice a life of surrender to him, though indeed in a world that looks like it's out of his control. He wants us to trustingly follow him.....even in circumstances which look like they are being guided either by bad luck, or bad people, or both. God is asking us to trust that He is always the First Cause behind all circumstances.
And if He is, which the resurrected Christ assured us that he is, then it means that choosing to follow him and trust him, no matter what, ....is the wisest of all moves.
Pastor Rusty Mosley