God’s sovereign kindness: The antidote for fear and divisionWritten by Subby Szterszky
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It goes without saying that we’re living in a cultural moment defined by division and fear. Political and economic instability, societal fragmentation, conspiracy theories, angry social media rhetoric and, of course, a worldwide pandemic have all contributed to an atmosphere of paranoia and defensiveness.
This spirit has divided families, friendships and churches as people retreat to their tribal echo chambers and hurl outrage at those on the outside.
For followers of Jesus, this situation weighs extra heavy on our hearts. We’re called to be lights in the world, leaders who show our culture a better way, the way of our Lord. Instead, too many of us have fallen into these worldly patterns of thinking and behaviour.
How can we begin to change that? How can we graciously upend the status quo and become catalysts for healing the rifts and the hurt?
We can start by cultivating a deeper awareness of God’s sovereignty, and more than that, of his sovereign kindness. This isn’t mere assent to a theological truth. It’s meant to grip our hearts and change the way we think and act in every area of life.
Our identity isn’t in our politics
According to Scripture, God is sovereign over all the nations of history. He determines their rise and fall; he appoints their leaders and removes them. Their hearts are in God’s hand and he guides them like he does the course of a mighty river. Nowhere does Scripture limit this to only godly leaders, or even to generally good ones. God raised up King David as well as the Emperor Nero, Winston Churchill as well as Josef Stalin.
Our Western democracies are a blip on the historical radar, in which we enjoy rights and freedoms – including the right to elect our leaders – unheard of in most societies past or present. We have these rights not because we’re better or smarter than other people, but only because of God’s sovereign kindness. He still appoints the leaders, the presidents and the prime ministers. We simply have the privilege of participating in his work by voting.
It’s only right and natural that we engage in the political process as good citizens, confident that our God is in control, whatever the outcome. However, this is no warrant to become angry alarmists whose sense of self is tied to the fortunes of our favoured political party. And it’s certainly not a license to treat others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, with contempt for disagreeing with our politics.
Jesus, our kind and sovereign Lord, said that his Kingdom is not of this world. He assured us that we’re daughters and sons of his Father through faith, and that our true citizenship is in heaven. Our identity is in Christ, not in our nationality or our political affiliation. In fact, we look forward from our own country to a far better one, whose architect and builder is God. This isn’t just a future glory but a present reality that we’re called to live out here and now.
Science and medicine are good gifts
When we consider God’s gifts, we tend to gravitate toward the things that sustain our everyday lives: food and drink, rain and sunshine. But Scripture teaches that God is the source of everything in creation, all of which displays his sovereignty as well as his kindness. He has lavishly given us all good things, for our benefit and enjoyment.
Every human discovery, every bit of progress in every field of knowledge, is a result of God’s kind providence. He has given us the raw materials as well as the wisdom, inspiration and opportunity to develop and harness them for our good.
Science and modern medicine are among these good gifts. In fact, they’re among the best ones, especially during a global health crisis. They’ve reduced or eliminated countless diseases and have led to a vastly improved quality of life that we often take for granted in our privileged Western world. Rather than viewing these gifts with fear and mistrust, we ought to receive them with gratitude to our Heavenly Father who gave them to us.
We’re finite beings in a fallen world, and our paths of discovery involve a lot of trial and error. Science and medicine aren’t infallible; there can be missteps that lead to bad results.
Overall, however, we can recognize that people who’ve given their lives to study and develop these things for the benefit of humanity are acting in good faith. They and their talents are also gifts from God. Instead of dismissing them and questioning their motives, we can humbly acknowledge their expertise and thank God for the work they do.
Wise as serpents, innocent as doves
When Jesus sent his followers out as ambassadors of his Kingdom, he instructed them to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. In other words, they were to be kind and transparent in character, but at the same time discerning and careful thinkers. Or as the apostle Paul put it, those who follow Jesus are to speak the truth in love.
For the apostle, maintaining this balance was a sign of spiritual maturity. He contrasted it with being spiritual children who are tossed about by every wind of teaching and fall prey to all sorts of deceitful ideas and agendas.
Even so, too many believers fail in this area, embracing conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs with what can only be described as fanatical zeal, spreading misinformation like wildfire across their social media accounts. They develop a persecution complex, feeling like one of the beleaguered few who Know The Truth and expressing vehement anger against those who think differently. In the end, they’re acting neither wise as serpents nor innocent as doves – a temptation to which all of us are susceptible.
While such attitudes are by no means restricted to Christians, they are disproportionately common among professing believers. Not only do these attitudes tear families and churches apart, not only do they cause spiritual and emotional harm to others, but they also bring Jesus and his mission into disrepute in the eyes of thoughtful nonbelievers.
The body of Christ needs to do better. Rather than giving way to paranoia, Christians are called to train our hearts and minds to speak the truth in love, following the lead of our wise, kind and sovereign Lord.
Freedom to live sacrificially
All of creation reflects God’s sovereign kindness, but its ultimate expression is the sacrifice of his Son for sinners, a plan he initiated before he created the universe. He assures those who trust him that he has loved them with an everlasting love and drawn them to himself with faithful kindness. Jesus tells his followers that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Paul marvelled at the fact that Jesus loved him and gave himself for him and wrote that the kindness of God leads us to repentance.
This is the spark that ignites our love for God, the fuel that drives our desire to be like him. It’s not fear or an attempt to earn his favour, but joyful appreciation of his kindness and sovereign mercy to us through his Son. Only this truth can inspire us to obey Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. As the apostle John argued, since Jesus laid down his life for us, we should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
By God’s gracious providence, we live in a time and place where we enjoy unprecedented rights and freedoms. But to insist on those rights and freedoms over the well-being of our neighbours; to engage in endless culture wars so we might regain our privileged status; to fear persecution behind every government initiative – these things are not in step with the sacrificial life of the Gospel.
Both Peter and Paul urged Christians not to use their freedom in Christ for selfish goals, but to serve one another in love. They called believers to respect and obey the authorities and the laws they enact, the only exception being when those laws contravene the explicit teaching of Scripture. It’s worth noting that both men wrote these words during the reign of the Emperor Nero (him again) under whom they would both suffer eventual martyrdom.
His steadfast love endures forever
We’re all broken people living in a broken world in which pain and perplexity are inevitable. The Scriptures remind us that this is so, but they also assure us that our feelings of pain and perplexity are legitimate. God doesn’t expect us to put on a mask with a rigid smile, pretending that everything is all right. He invites us to run to him, as a crying child would to her loving Father. The book of Psalms is liberally sprinkled with prayers of lament, grief and complaint in the face of every type of adversity.
However, God does not invite us to give in to fear and suspicion, to selfishly insist on our rights, to sow discord across social media and in the church, to lash out with abusive anger against others – even our sisters and brothers – who don’t share our convictions. This is not acting in faith toward our kind and sovereign Lord. As Tim Keller put it, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”
Through the prophet Isaiah, God declared that he was the source of all well-being as well as calamity. Jesus told his followers that they would have suffering in the world, but also to take heart because he had overcome the world. The apostle Paul wrote that all things – pleasant or painful, wonderful or tragic, world-shaking or personal – work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
Finally, Psalm 136 lists a series of God’s wondrous, sovereign works, in nature and in history, punctuating each one with the refrain, “His steadfast love (or kindness) endures forever.”
In good times and especially in bad, the lion’s share of our difficulty stems from the fact that we don’t trust God’s sovereign kindness, not really. We may claim to as a point of orthodox faith, but our response to adversity, whether global, cultural or personal, betrays us.
This shouldn’t deter us, however, but rather encourage us to run again to our Heavenly Father, as his little daughters and sons with tears in our eyes. His sovereign kindness is in control of our world and of our lives. As followers of his Son Jesus, and by his empowering Spirit, we can begin to become the change that our fearful, divided church and culture desperately need. His steadfast love endures forever.
Biblical references for further reading
Following is a partial list of Scriptures referenced or alluded to in this article. There are many others, but these are listed as entire chapters to provide context. Genesis 1; Psalm 103, 136; Proverbs 21; Isaiah 45; Jeremiah 31; Daniel 2; Matthew 10; Luke 5, 9; John 15, 16, 18; Acts 17; Romans 2, 8, 13; Galatians 2, 3, 5; Ephesians 1, 2, 4; Philippians 3; 1 Timothy 6; Titus 3; Hebrews 11; James 1; 1 Peter 1, 2; 1 John 3; Revelation 13.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2021 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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