Where Is God?
[The following is an edited summary of the sermon which Dr. Meredith preached to his congregation, Wedgewood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, the Sunday after the shooting.]
What can be said when kids gather in a church sanctuary to sing and pray and a gunman comes in firing and their friends are shots? Why, why us? Why me? How could this happen? Who could have done such a thing? But the question that I’ve been asked most as I walk down the street and microphones are shoved in my face is, “Can you tell us where God is in all of this?”
If God really loves us, if God is all-powerful, why in the world didHe let this happen? Why does God allow evil to seemingly abound in this world? Why Columbine? Why Paducah? Why Pearl? Why do a million and a half unborn babies have their lives snuffed out before they ever have a chance to breathe a breath? Why do children die of hunger daily around the world? Why is there pain? Why is there suffering? Why is there mental illness?
Then there are the everyday trials that most of us have trouble dealing with. The car breaks down. Why is it rush hour, Lord? The surprise quiz in history class. All of the questions finally boil down to this: “Where is God when we hurt?”
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according toHis purpose.” Richard Halverson, who for years was chaplain to the Senate, once said, “Even the best preachers really have only two or three sermons.” The one sermon of my life is this: God is in control and God loves us.
The confidence believers have
Let me share with you from the verse just a few thoughts. First of all, did you notice the confidence that believers have? “And we know.” Generation-Xers as a whole want to know where the truth is; what is reality. They know that the world is phony. They know that computer-enhanced imitation of truth–virtual reality–means seeing is not believing anymore. What is the truth? I understand that the most popular television show of Generation Xers is the “X Files.” In the opening scene of each episode the slogan comes out: “The truth is out there somewhere.” It’s out there. What can we know?
Our world has no answers in the face of life’s problems. The world doesn’t know what to do about world hunger, or about violence in American society. The world doesn’t have a clue about AIDS or ecological problems. The world simply does not have the answers.
I’m a child of the ’60s. I love Simon and Garfunkel, the poet laureates of the my generation. One of their songs says,
A mirror on my wall casts an image dark and small and
I’m not sure at all it’s my reflection.
I’m blinded by the light of God and truth and right so
I wander in the night without direction.
That’s what the world has to say. But God says, “And we know.”
Christians are an exclusive subculture of confidence and calm in a world of relativism and ensuing panic. I have been told that as the shooter was coming into the auditorium he was cursing God and Christians and particularly Baptists. Somebody quoted him as saying, “You Baptists think you know it all.” No, we don’t know it all. But we do know this:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.”
We know that God’s Word is absolutely true from cover to cover. It is unshakable; it is certain. Some folks say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” I’ve got news for you, if God said it that settles it whether you believe it or not. A world falls apart when you have nothing to build upon. And when Christians have crises like this we run to the Word of God for the assurance, for the hope which is the foundation of our lives. “And we know.” It is the confidence of believers.
The Covenant of God
Notice, secondly, the covenant of God. “We know that in all things God works for good.” That’s one of the most precious promises in God’s Word. I think it is causative. God causes all things to work for good. Folks, the warp and woof of your life is not just blind luck or chance. You are not a cosmic accident. It’s not karma, it’s not fatalism, it is not blind chance.
Hear me today: God is sovereign over every molecule in the universe. He is in control of the birds of the air. Do you remember Elijah by the brook Cherith? He was hungry, and had no way to get food. God sent ravens to feed him. God is in control of the fish in the sea. Do you remember rebellious Jonah running from God? When he was cast in the sea the Lord send a big fish He had prepared to swallow him. God is in control of the worms of the ground. How do you think God feeds the sparrow? He directs the worms to the place where they feed.
God’s control extends to every event in our lives, whether good or bad. The Word of God says that my DNA chain was fashioned and formed in my mother’s womb before I was ever born. It says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delighteth in his ways.” God is the one who is in control. God is the one who is working everything for good for those who love Him.
The Comprehensiveness of the Promise
Do you notice the comprehensiveness of the promise? says, “in all things.” You might want to say to me, “Oh come on, Al, what good can possibly come from all this?” Your argument is no with me. Take it up with God. He’s the one who said “all things.” I have lived long enough to see things which I thought were bad get worked for good.
As I walked from the car to the building, one of our church members, Shonda New, showed me a card which someone left by our sign. Here is what it said:
“I’m not sure exactly who I’m sending this to. I just felt like someone would receive it. I’ve never believed in God or any sort of higher being. I wasn’t raised in a church. My fiancée and I agreed once that we should start going to church. It was something we were both interested in. One visit, now I can’t get him to go back. He always has something to do Sunday mornings. Since Thursday night, I want to be a part of it. More than ever. Something like this happens to you in church and all you say is God has something bigger and better in store. It’s all part of (God’s) plan to draw American neighborhoods and families back together. Wow. How much confidence in your faith you have. I want that confidence. I want to trust my life to God. I want to believe there’s a bigger picture. I’m so sorry for all the families. I’m so sorry for all of us that we don’t all have the confidence you have. But I am now looking for it.”
It was signed with a heart. Dear lady, if you are hearing this today and you signed this card, come and let us show you how you can give your life to Christ.
This tragedy that the devil wanted to use to stop the people of God has ended up strengthening us. Our church has never been more united. We’ve never been more praying. We have never been more singing. We have never been more in love with one another. There has been such an outpouring of love and support from all over the world, we can’t say enough about it.
That’s why we had to meet today. We will be stronger, we will be closer, we will be more united. We will have opportunities to share the love and grace of Christ to millions of people. Two days ago, we had more than 30,000 hits on our website. We put the plan of salvation there. It has been translated into Swahili, Chinese, Spanish and Russian and we hope to gave it translated into all the languages of the world so that they can know why we have this hope.
The Conclusion of the Promise
God’s covenant is that all things work together, and the conclusion of the promise is “for good.” First of all, let me make clear what this does not mean. God’s promise in this verse does not mean that all things are good. That’s idiocy. That’s foolish, that’s naivete, that’s blind. Cancer is an evil thing. Famine is an awful thing. Crime and violence and divorce and death, they are horrible. They are obscene. They are bad, evil things.
But God says, “I can work them together for good.” This does not mean that only good things happen to believers. Sometimes even Christian people, will mistakenly tell you if you are right with God you will be protected from all harm.
One of the promises that Jesus gave toHis followers was this, “While you’re in the world, you will have tribulation.” Why are we surprised? Jesus said, “Don’t be surprised, they persecuted me before they persecuted you. Do you think you are any greater than your Master?” Abel was murdered, Jeremiah was imprisoned and thrown in a well, Elijah was depressed. Saints were martyred. Even Jesus, the founder of our faith, was crucified. Bad things do happen to good people. But God works all these things together for good.
The most obscene, despicable, evil crime in all the world happened 2,000 years ago where they took the spotless Son of God, stripped Him naked, beat Him beyond description, nailedHis hands andHis feet to a cross, and put that cross on a hill for everybody to see. That is the most evil, awful thing that has ever happened. But out of that cosmic evil came my salvation and yours. And the cross of Jesus Christ gathers together believers from all over the world, because God took that evil thing and through the power of the resurrection worked it for the salvation of all who will repent and place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And we rally around the cross.
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the prince of glory died,
My richest gain, I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
People have asked me, Can you forgive? I say, “Forgiveness is not easy.” It was not my child who was shot. They were my precious friends and my church members. But no matter how hard it is, we must forgive. I hold no rancor in my heart for the family of Larry Ashbrook. I hope God will move in every heart in every member of this church and give the same attitude to us all. The poor man was deranged. His mind had been twisted by heaven knows what. He was in the power of the Prince of Darkness. But when I think of what God had to forgive in my life, that it was my sins that nailed the Son of God to the cross, if God can forgive me that, how can I not forgive anyone, anything?
The Condition of the Promise
I’ve got to point to one last truth, and that’s the condition of the promise. Romans 8:28 is a verse that divides humanity. You see the promise is given to those who are the called, those who love the Lord. Let me ask you today, do you love the Lord? IsHe your all in all? Jesus said that the evidence would be this: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Are you numbered among the called ones? Who are the called ones? In Greek, the word is ekklesia, the called out ones. How does that word translate into English? “Church” There is no such thing as Lone Ranger Christianity. I learned that this week. I need you. I need my fellow pastors. I need the family of God around the world to pray. We need each other. We desperately need each other. And the world will never believe that Christ is the Messiah until we are one.
I know that there are churches that abuse. If I were the devil, that is where I would concentrate my work. But there are also churches which, though imperfect, will love you and will welcome you. God is calling you to be part of a church that preaches the Word, somewhere, somehow, someway.
Are you part of the called out ones who love the Lord? Or are you part of the uncalled ones who love themselves? “Well, I don’t hate God, preacher. I just want Him to leave me alone. I want to do my own thing.” For you there is a promise. Nothing that ever happens in your life, no matter how good it is, is ever going to work out for good. The Word of God is clear: “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” What death means in the Bible is not that you cease to exist. It means separation. Separation from good. Separation from God. Separation from one another. There will be plenty of people in hell, but if company is good, you will not have company. You will be absolutely alone. You once and for all will get your way: “God leave me alone!” And He will, forever.
Are you part of the called out ones who love the Lord or the uncalled who love themselves? If you are among the latter and you want to be part of the former, I am calling for you today. Jesus is calling for you today. He is saying, “Come to Me.”
Are you a troubled saint? Is your heart broken so that you don’t know how you are going to get through it? Listen to this story about Luther Bridges. He was a seminary graduate nearly 100 years ago. Just out of seminary, he was called to a new church. Like most seminary grads, this brother had five kids. He was spending a weekend with his parents in Kentucky and that night the house caught on fire, burned to the ground. His parents escaped and he escaped, but his wife and five kids perished in the flames. In his desperation and depression he cried out to God, “O God, give me a song. Somehow give me a song to know that You are there.” And God did. And Bridges wrote it down:
There’s within my heart, a melody.
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
“Fear not I am with thee, peace be still,”
In all of life’s ebb and flow.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.
The world doesn’t understand it, but those who know Him do. He is real. He is there. He’s not asleep at the switch, andHe loves us. I don’t understand sometimes what God is doing. I said yesterday at one of the funerals, give up your right to the position of general manager of the universe. That position belongs to God alone. So let God be God. He is in control. And He loves us.
Spurgeon on Sorrow
Tacitus tells us that an amber ring was thought to be of no value among the Romans till the emperor took to wearing one, and then immediately an amber ring was held in high esteem. Bereavements might be looked on as very sad things, but when we recollect that Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus, they are choice jewels and special favors from God. Christ wore this ring. Then I must not blush to wear it.