God’s Sovereignty and Our Fear of Terrorism
Editor’s note: While the GenevaVoice website primarily features the work of Geneva students, this article written by Cabinet advisor Dr. Tom Copeland is a fitting, thoughtful response to the tragedy in Boston that occurred yesterday. Much of the content for this article comes from Dr. Copeland’s integration paper.
The terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon yesterday has many Americans wondering whether a new wave of terrorism may be upon us. We are no longer surprised when US facilities come under attack, as in Benghazi back in September. But this is close to home. The fact that Geneva professor Brian Yowler was running in the marathon, and his family was watching from the sidelines, brings it even closer to our community.
So how should Christians respond to terrorism, and what should our attitudes be about the threat posed by terrorism? That is, because God is sovereign, because Christ rules, how should we think and act?
Lessons from the Past
The early Church Fathers did not face terrorism as we know it today, but what they did face was official persecution by the state. Many wrote about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and their own persecution – Origen, Augustine, and Ignatius among many. Justin Martyr, who was martyred in 165 A.D., wrote: “For we do not fear death, since it is acknowledged we must surely die; and there is nothing new, but all things continue the same in this administration of things…”.
John Calvin, who also faced persecution, had this to say about the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel: “[N]othing can be safer than to make God the guardian and protector of our life. For we ought not to expect to be preserved from every danger because we see those holy men delivered; for we ought to hope for liberation from death, if it be useful, and yet we ought not to hesitate to meet it without fear, if God so please it.”
Calvin suggests that the presence of angels offers the Christian further comfort in times of trouble (see Psalm 91:11 and Psalm 34:7). In Psalm 91, the Psalmist uses several arresting visual images to convey the fact of our safety and deliverance by God—saving us from the fowler’s snare, covering us with his wings, his faithfulness is a shield and rampart, and treading upon lions and snakes. Calvin clarifies that the security spoken of in Psalm 91 is not only of a temporal nature – indeed, “believers will never be exempt from troubles and embarrassments” – but it is in fact a spiritual safety. “The salvation of God extends beyond the narrow boundary of earthly existence; and it is to this, whether we live or come to die, that we should principally look.”
John Piper preaches and writes extensively about God’s sovereignty, particularly as exercised through the kingship of Christ. In 1989, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square crackdown, he said in a sermon: “The reign of Christ today over the rulers of the earth means that he regulates what the kings of earth do; sometimes holding them back from evil, and sometimes ordering international events to further his purposes…. Finally, the reign of Christ over the rulers on earth today means that Christ is ordering the world for the good of the church; and that means for your holiness and happiness…. what you are seeing played out before you are the divine strategies for the purifying and expansion of the body of Christ.”
“If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6)
Piper also raises another issue that generates headlines and deep conversations: Does God cause calamities to happen? The question of God’s role in calamities is an issue that Christians have disagreed about for centuries. The question is not simply how can a good God allow evil things to happen, but is He in fact the one who causes them? It is tempting to believe that a compassionate, merciful, and perfect God would not or could not actually bring about a calamity like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 or the Boston bombing, so therefore He must simply allow Satan to have his way.
But Piper points out that this view is contrary to Scripture. “From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10).” Noting how Job understood that his trials came from God, Piper also cites Amos: “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). In fact, God could have restrained such evil (Genesis 20:6). It is one of those inscrutable mysteries of God that His sovereign will includes calamities that serve His glory yet appear to be products of evil.
Ten Conclusions on God’s Sovereignty and Terrorism
The following principles – about how we understand who God is, what He does, and what He expects from us – are drawn from Scripture and from these and other writers. These thoughts have been encouraging to me, and I hope they are for others, as well.
1. God is sovereign in the universe, and particularly in human affairs.
- He is omniscient, and is the source of allwisdom and knowledge (Daniel 2:20-22); He knows what will happen in the future (Isaiah 42:9, et al.).
- Christ is Lord and reigns as King over all the universe, including the rulers of the earth (Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 2; Matthew 28:18; John 10:18, 17:2; Romans 13; Ephesians 1:18-23; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 1:5, 11:15, 12:10)
- God has a purpose in all He does, and He does all that He pleases (Isaiah 46:10; Job 42:2; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11-12, et al.). We may not always understand the purpose, and it may be dangerous to presume that we do.
2. God is glorified…
- not only in the work of Christ (Romans 6:4, II Corinthians 4:6, Hebrews 1:3, et al.),
- in nature (Ps. 8:1, 19:1, 113:4, et al.), and
- in the lives of believers (Eph. 1:11-12),
- but even in the affairs of ungodly men (e.g., Pharoah, in Exodus 14:4, 17-18).
3. God loves His adopted children and gives them good gifts (Psalm 103:13; Luke 11:13; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:5, et al.).
- The promise to “work all things for good”
applies only to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). There is no quid pro quo here, but only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, and can rest in the promise that God will work all things for our good.
4. He is the originator of all blessings and all calamities (Job 2:10, 42:11; Amos 3:6). This is one of the hardest theological truths to come to terms with, I believe.
What God does in the earth is part of His plan to prepare the church to be the Bride of Christ (Psalm 45:10-17; John 15:1-8; Revelation 19:7-8, 21:2, 9, 22:17).
- We should not blame God when evil things happen, but understand that He has caused them according to His divine purpose, glory, and love.
5. God provides security for His people (Proverbs 14:26)
- God sends His angels to watch over and protect us (Psalm 34:7 and Psalm 91). God’s protection includes not only temporal safety but also the security of eternal life.
6. We should not be fearful. There are many passages of Scripture which encourage us not to fear, but to hope in God. (Job 5:21-22, 11:15; Psalm 3:6, 23:4, 27:1-3, 34:4-7, 46:2, 49:5, 91:5, 112:7-8; Proverbs 3:25; Isaiah 41:10, 13, 23, 51:12, 54:14; and many others.)
7. We should not be “fatalistic” – God is a personal God, not a mechanistic force. Therefore, things do not happen “for no apparent reason;” they may not be apparent to us, but there are reasons. See the principles above about God’s purposes, His glory, and His goodness.
8. We should be grateful for God’s protection, because we know that every moment of our lives is sustained by God. He takes us under His wing; He is our shield and fortress (Ps. 91).
9. We are justified in taking actions to defend our lives against attack.
- Secular authorities are required by Scrip-ture to defend the innocent (Rom. 13:1-4).
- Christians are also required to defend the fatherless, the oppressed, widows, and children (Psalm 10:18, 68:5, 72:4, 82:3, Proverbs 31:9, Ecclesiastes 4:12; Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 5:28, 22:16). Christians are permitted to serve in the military and should fight if they believe the cause is just. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin all agreed.
- For those Christians who are pacifists, there is a special duty to pray for peace and safety – that God would bring a swift but just end to all wars.
10. The Church must stand ready to answer the world’s questions about God’s sovereignty
- We must read the signs of the times (IChron. 12:32) to see what specifically God may be calling us to do in response to calamities like terrorist attacks.
- We must share the Gospel – the chaos and fear brought about by modern terrorism provide Christians with an opportunity to share the Good News
How should we then live? All I can do – perhaps all any of us can do – is wonder in awe at God’s power and wisdom and glory; and until we are reunited with Him and can know all things, do not fear, but rest in the assurance of Psalm 91:1-2:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty,
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
(Note: This is drawn from my integration paper. To simplify, I have removed the appropriate scholarly references, but they are all available if you wish to contact me directly.)