Learning to Obey Through Suffering
There’s so much pain and confusion in the Church today, and we certainly weren’t aided by President Trump’s comments this past weekend. I praise God to hear a President say what he did. It is true; it is vindicating; it is necessary. But at the same time, it frustrates me to wonder why he didn’t say these things back in March.
With that, one revelation that was particularly betraying was when he called on the governors to acknowledge what you and I have known since Day 6 of creation: that the Church is essential. Unfortunately, by appealing to them, he acknowledged that because we are the “United States” – and not the “Autocratic State” – of America, the individual governors have more authority over their State than Trump does. So while the President may have waxed his eloquence a few months late, it also rubbed salt in the wound of many, because it brought to mind the question we’ve been asking for weeks on end: why are the doors of church buildings still closed?
I know that the answers to the question are varied and testily debated, but at least in my mind, it’s straight-forward: it has little to do with the coronavirus and much to do with the Bible.
That is, the Bible has told us to be subject to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 2:13-14). The caveat is that if the government tried to silence the message of the gospel (an act not yet carried out), we would be forced to serve the higher law: obedience to Christ above obedience to this earthly government. However, following that same logic, when the message of the gospel is not outlawed, and when we can fully obey both God and our government (despite certain hindrances), we are called to do so despite the cost. After all, when the Spirit inspired Paul and Peter to write those words, I do not think He had the First or Second Amendment in mind. He had His Kingdom in mind. He knew that there would be great injustices and abuses that would at times impede the ministry of the Church. Yet being a God of order, He placed us under the authority of the government, and has called us to be obedient to Him by being obedient to them.
Now, that is not to undermine what a difficult time this has been. I don’t know a single Christian or Pastor that wants to keep from meeting in person. We missed Easter; that was devastating. We will likely miss Pentecost; that is just as gutting. That doesn’t even take into account the friendships and relationships, the power of singing together and approaching the Bible and prayer with each other. It doesn’t touch on how heart wrenching this has been for Christians, but as Ephesians 6 says, our issue is not with flesh and blood. God knew how difficult this time would be, and yet He brought us into a unique puzzle: the gospel has gone out in perhaps greater force and availability during this time, and yet certain aspects of the Church have been unavailable to us. In that way, we cannot categorize this as persecution, but we certainly can say that we’re suffering.
So what can God be teaching us?
Inward vs. Outward Unity
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Tower of Babel. Found in Genesis 11, it’s an account of how all mankind gathered to build a city and tower from which they can stay connected and meet with the gods. Now, I cannot think of that story without also thinking of seminary. Much time has passed since I graduated, but I constantly reiterate to my wife, Syd, that the best thing I ever learned in those years of intense study was how little I actually knew. The professors would warn us against “knowing just enough of the Bible to be dangerous”. Regarding the Tower of Babel, I would have readily told you it was a tale about reaching the heavens with little more application than to say, “God judges foolish decisions”. It is, on the surface, not an incorrect assessment of the situation: God did judge their foolish decision. Yet it takes into account nothing more than a surface reading of those 9 short verses.
As such, armed with a knowledge that my knowledge is lacking, I came to a book called, Promise and Deliverance to read again Scripture as a story about Jesus. Yet this time, it caused me to look at everything in a new light, for the author wrote of God’s judgment at Babel, “The outward unity is torn down to make room for true unity in the Christ”.
Suddenly, I realized the story wasn’t about judgment for judgment’s sake. Rather, it is one of grace. That is, the backbone involves seeing the twice-given cultural mandate of God to spread across the world and multiply His image through marriage and children set against the people at Babel clumping and staying. The people’s decision was – whether conscious on their part or not – a direct rebellion to one of God’s oldest and most foundational commands, and it came at a price: when we rely too much on each other, there results in little reliance on a God who operates most readily in the wilderness.
That doesn’t mean that we are better off alone – quite the opposite. Rather, if you look again at DeGraaf’s assessment of Babel, he says, “The outward unity is torn down”. Why? – “In order to build true unity in Christ”. That is, in the judgment at Babel, the Lord brought upon the wonders of culture and new languages, but His purpose was to cause the people to rely on something greater than themselves: the promised Seed of Eve (Genesis 3:15). Not only that, but immediately after the scattering of the people, the Lord begins piecing together His eternal family through Abraham (Genesis 12). Where He scattered thousands of years ago at Babel, He was preparing to gather in at the cross (John 12:32). The momentary pain was yielding eternal fruits, because should God have allowed the outward unity to stand, an inward unity that you and I now share in Christ could never have been found. That is, unless the Lord broke the reliance on the tower, the city, and each other, we would never have found His hand reaching for us in the darkness.
Here’s the reason I bring that up:
My name is Bryan Lanting. I am a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, and I am presently serving Mt View CRC as their pastor. I am married to a wonderful wife named Sydney, and both of us are loving life, loving Lynden, and loving the Lord!