Mysterious Ways

It is a hot October afternoon in the desert. Sweat drips down into your eyes as you make your rounds, scanning the ground before you for any sign of the trouble you are expecting. He’s coming. We all know he’s coming, and nothing can be done about it. The city will fall. Every other one has, why should this one be any different. This one will be the jewel piece in his victory crown. The sun is setting, and the temperature is comfortable for the briefest of moments before the air turns frigid. There is tension all around, and the shared knowledge amongst compatriots that tomorrow, the entire world could be changed, when the Persians arrive.

In 539 BC, the Persian army stole into the city of Babylon by night, conquering it with virtually no resistance from the Babylonian army. The Persians were particularly vicious in battle, to say nothing of those unfortunate enough to survive the battle and find themselves prisoners, and under the command of Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great), they were unstoppable in the expansion of their empire. “Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut” (Isaiah 45:1). And yet, many in Babylon welcomed Cyrus as a liberator, and he would come to be loved by the Israelites exiled within the kingdom. 

In this week’s episode of Ringside, guest Dr. Steven Paulson discusses the role of the hidden God in shaping history, “the historical events that happen cause you to finally say that God is almighty, God does what God wills, and wills what he does. Luther says all things happen by divine necessity. They don’t happen by chance.” Second Chronicles recounts how God punishes the Israelites for their evil and unfaithfulness, “He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials” (2 Chronicles 36:17-18). God rips his people from their lands, and exiles them into Babylon for seventy years, until He sends Cyrus the Great to free them. “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them’” (2 Chronicles 36:23). Both the trials the Israelites endure and their rescue, both the destruction and the rebuilding of the temple, are instruments of God’s will. 

We should remember this lesson today as we watch history unfold around us. Just look at the panicked and fanatical reactions to the election, as though the world will either become a utopia or descend into chaos and bloodshed, depending on which candidate wins. Rev. Joel Hess pointed out his concern that “putting the weight of history upon this election is very dangerous for Christians and for peace.” God is in control here, and He will see his will done, period. That does not mean that life will be easy or comfortable, or that we are going to like it one bit, but we are not in a novel situation. “When we observe history or even history playing out in the present day, what you are discerning there is God at work in the law, and the law finally attacks, it does not exonerate you. Whether you’re going to get it from Trump, or whether you’re going to get it from Biden, you’re going to get a good dose of the law,” Dr. Paulson reminds us. God will do what He wants to in order to accomplish His goal, and He will choose the method in which He does so, just as he did in sending the pagan Cyrus to liberate the Israelites. God is working through his law, ordering society. 

While we confess that this is true, it is not always comforting, particularly while we are in the midst of suffering because of it. The outcome of all situations will ultimately be determined by God, but as Dr. Paulson reminds us, “If that’s all you’ve got from God, you are going to be right, but…you will know nothing about the God that is preached.” As always, both the law and the gospel are needed for true comfort and assurance. In the midst of heightened emotions and fear, Joel offers some crucial reminders to his congregation, “My goal is to preach the gospel and to bring peace in Jesus Christ, and to remind them that this is a great time to be the church. It’s a great time to bring peace and light, to not be out of the world but to rise above this. You’re coming from a different place, and therefore you should not be fanatical about anything except Jesus Christ. Not to say you shouldn’t care, but you shouldn’t live as if this is all that matters.” 

It is not easy to understand, nor are we capable of fully discerning God’s purpose or the ultimate good in all of His actions. That is, after all, why He is referred to as the hidden God when he operates in these mysterious ways. But, don’t lose hope, for you are not left with the law alone, but also the gospel. You have the assurance of your salvation by the death and resurrection of Christ, and it is in this that you can take comfort, and trust that the Lord your God will work all things for good.

This article is a brief examination of one of several topics discussed during this week’s episode of Ringside with the Preacher Men. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Ross Engel, guest Dr. Steven Paulson, and Tyler the Intern as they duke it out over why God messes with history, conspiracy theories and why the real conspiracy is scarier than you think, why you’ve already missed the last day, and more on the full Ringside with the Preacher Men episode, “The End of the World with Dr. Steven Paulson”

For more from Dr. Paulson, check out his podcast Outlaw God on the 1517 Podcast Network.

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