Thursday, June 9, 2016

God in Camouflage

Our church just finished studying the book of Ruth.* One of the great things about this short narrative is that you get to see, from start to finish, a completed work of divine love, guidance,  and redemption. In real time, this usually takes 70 years or more. You can read Ruth in 20 minutes.

In Ruth you experience the invisible hand of God orchestrating events and circumstances, arranging everything to achieve His purposes. But He is God in camouflage. He does not usually reveal Himself, and what we see are secondary causes: people’s choices, famine, the weather. It is only in the big picture that you know He was behind it all.

Sometimes the hand of God is concealed by happenstance. After Naomi and Ruth return to Judah, Ruth begins gleaning in the fields. It is the only way the two of them will survive. Off she goes, and the narrator tells (with tongue in cheek), she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz. (2:3) Just “happened” to show up at Boaz’ field? Right. Total coincidence.

Other times God's presence and power are wrapped in trial and heartache. It feels almost the opposite of His lovingkindness.

Joseph, for example, was betrayed by his own brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual assault, and thrown into prison.

But when he was miraculously delivered from prison and elevated to second-in-command of all Egypt, it became obvious that God was up to something. Eventually God’s earlier “cruelty” toward Joseph was revealed as love and wisdom toward the entire nation of Israel. Through Joseph, the Lord saved His people, and preserved the Messianic line.

At the end of his life, Joseph spoke of how God uses even the evil of men’s choices to achieve the noblest of purposes: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)

We’re prone to attribute calamity to random fate, human error, or maybe even the judgment of God. Option three is what Jesus’ disciples guessed upon seeing a man blind from birth. Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? (John 9:2). But Jesus’ answer was not what they (or we) expected: Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (v. 3).

In other words, the compassionate and wise plans of God were hidden for a time in what felt like a terrible physical tragedy. But then Jesus revealed a different ending than was expected, and healed the man.

The Lord’s redemptive plans are sometimes camouflaged in suffering. In Acts 8 the Christians were forced to flee Jerusalem because of persecution. But who can doubt that God’s hand was behind it, and that the result was evangelism and church planting?

Verse 1: And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. This is terrible! Where is God? Has He forsaken us? Then verse 4: Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Oh, look at the opportunities for the gospel! And the most immediate impact of their preaching was the planting of a new church in Antioch where a great number who believed turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21b).

Do you remember the story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6? Pursued by the army of Syria, Elisha and his servant were surrounded in the city of Dothan. Early in the morning Elisha’s servant woke to discover an army encircling the city. He was petrified. But the truth was, God’s hand was in this terrifying event, and had a different outcome planned.

Elisha spoke to his servant: “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (v. 16). And then he prayed: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (v. 17)

Could it be that in our darkest moments, the army of heaven is poised for rescue? Could it be that Jesus is gently blocking our way in one direction, assuring we’re heading to His destination? Is it possible the heartache or trial we’re experiencing is God’s tough love to get us ready for joy ahead that we cannot yet imagine?

Maybe Elisha’s prayer should be ours: Open our eyes, O Lord, that we may see.

Here’s an old Maranatha song that says it well:

*The messages on Ruth are available here.