Who Has Done This?
Many of us like a good “whodunit,” and current events give a wide field for investigation and imagination. Following the money – and the power – gives some general indications that modern economies, central banking institutions, and corporations are in the hands of rich and influential individuals, and with them the military, media, and government agencies. The Lord has told us that there are conspiracies against his rule and the rule of his blessed Son, Jesus Christ (Ps. 2), so there is no surprise here. We are perhaps more vividly confronted with the painful realization that these conspiracies have the effect of unsettling the lives of many hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of souls, scaring them half to death, and thus making them easier to control and manipulate. But since these conspirators against God cannot escape his watchful eye or upend his sovereign purposes, their plans and consequences spiral out of control. Then follow societal chaos and fear, more laws and control mechanisms – with the various media outlets whipping up everyone into a frenzy. Wicked men who will not bow to the reign of Jesus Christ can never be at peace, and they stir up endless trouble for themselves and for the rest of us (Isa. 57:21-22). Beyond this, “whodunit,” in my mind, does not matter a great deal. God is doing it. This is all that should really concern the believer.
I wonder if Joseph, after his father died and life with his brothers in Egypt settled into its routine, started holding court to decide which one of his brothers had the evil idea to attack him, throw him into a pit, suggested killing him, and then settled upon selling him into slavery. There is no indication from Scripture that he tried to figure out the main culprit(s), and he had the power to find out and do something about it. He turned his thoughts to God. “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Sometimes in Israel’s later history, the Lord would point out who was responsible for certain epochs of judgment and finally exile: the evil idolatries of Ahab and Manasseh come to mind. But the prophets made it clear that the people had brought this upon themselves, for they had turned from the God of their fathers. Jeremiah gives a clear and vivid summary: “My people have committed two evils” (Jer. 2:13). Yes, their leaders had been culpable and should have led them in righteousness, but his people followed. Daniel is another example of recognizing collective guilt and divine sovereignty. “We have sinned, and committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from your precepts and from your judgments” (Dan. 9:5). He was a righteous man – one of the most righteous ever (Ezek. 14:14) – but he yielded to God’s judgments that have devastated his people, brought them into captivity, and left them without temple or sacrifice. Daniel did not talk about them; he confessed we.
I find these examples extremely instructive. We might spend a great deal of time assigning blame and expressing frustration. Let Daniel, Jeremiah, and Joseph be our guides. God has done it. If our lives are disrupted, the Lord has done it. If we find our way of life disturbed and precarious, the Lord has done it. If we find ourselves sick, oppressed, and weighed down with many sorrows, the Lord has done it. There really is no personal peace or ability to move forward with our clear duties unless we recognize his sovereignty and fall into his hand. “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it” (Amos 3:6)? Yes, the Jews and Romans working in evil tandem crucified the Lord of glory, but they only did “whatsoever your hand and your counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). If we want the best and only reliable answer to whodunit, it is the Lord. Good is his word.
This is not the end of the story, for it is not nearly as important to know the human actors of God’s working, for the wicked are “his sword” (Ps. 17:13), as it is to know what our response should be. Let us take our three aforementioned guides to help us. Joseph would tell us above all to recognize that men intend evil by their actions, but the Lord means it for good. He is working his good plan for his church through all the evil we see in the world. This does not prevent us from taking wise precautions to preserve ourselves and our families, but our hearts must be settled by the conviction that our God and the only Governor of the universe is working out his wise and eternal purposes. Since the very hairs of our heads are numbered, we may rest assured that he is ruling over all things for the sake of his church and that nothing happens outside of his eternal counsel, immediate work, and loving purposes for his people. He has ordained the events that stagger us, and he is accomplishing his will through them. Fear, anger, and bitterness are ultimately the responses of unbelief. Let us instead fall into his loving hand and trust him.
Daniel’s response to the calamities upon God’s people must direct our responses. He might have castigated Jewish religious and civil authorities for bringing upon him all the miseries he had experienced. He might have spent his time fuming about the blindness of Nebuchadnezzar and then the various Median and Persian monarchs under whom he served but also languished away from his homeland. He did none of these things. He repented for his own sins and the sins of his people. He read the Scriptures and saw that the promised 70 year captivity must be nearing its end, so he prayed. His prayer is a model for us, and we do well to imitate it. Lord, we are experiencing these miseries because we and our fathers have sinned against you. We did not keep your word or obey your laws. We rebelled against the prophets and teachers you sent to warn us. We deserve these things.
Ah, how hard and therefore how heavenly is true religion! It does not look around for culprits for our miseries; it sees its own sins. Even where in Daniel’s case there is true godliness and obedience to God, it recognizes the corporate aspect of guilt. I am part of your people, Lord; these are my sins also. What a relief it is to read his prayer in our blame-assigning age. But as long as it is always someone else’s fault, as long as we refuse to look in the mirror and submit to God’s hand, our miseries shall continue. Hear our Lord Jesus in these times: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). It is not my fault but their fault is the opposite of biblical religion. The church has not given consistent witness to the reign of Jesus Christ. We have been covetous and liked easy money and pleasant living. We have not feared God, improved our opportunities to hear his word preached but have absented ourselves from his worship, criticized those whom he has sent to us, broken his Sabbaths, distracted ourselves, responded to calamity with bitterness and pride, and generally have sought our own interests while giving our Lord Jesus careless attention (Phil. 2:21).
I know that that the Bible’s response does not sell survival gear, gold and silver, or make us feel better because we think we know who is causing all these miseries. Prudence is certainly in order, for the Lord would have us be as wise as serpents – avoid danger – and harmless as doves – give no unnecessary offense and remain quietly in our nests. At the same time, if we felt as Daniel did our own culpability in these matters – have we given God no rest, have we wept over the sins of our land (Ezek. 9:4) – we should be more confident that the Lord will take care of us. Then, if ungodly men say, “You had better not pray,” we go to our rooms and pray as usual. Or, “You had better not speak God’s truth,” we speak it boldly in love, knowing that if we confess boldly before men, he will confess us before the Father.
If anyone ever knew whodunit, and who was about to do it, our Lord Jesus Christ did. Let him direct our responses to our present troubles. He healed his captor’s ear in the garden. He forgave from the cross. When he was cursed, he did not curse back. He committed his soul to his Father, the righteous Judge (1 Pet. 2:21-24). And in this, the Holy Spirit is clear, he left us an example that we must follow if we are to be his disciples – no blaming others, no responding in anger, no restless fear, but trust in his Father to defend him. Come, Christian, into the light of our Savior’s life and faith. He is now raised and reigning so that we can walk as he walked – children of light, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom we shine as lights in the world. If we do not shine his light, there will be no dawn for us or for our children. If we walk in the light, we have the fellowship, the power, and the promise of the Lord of Hosts to take care for us. He is doing these things we are seeing, and he is calling us to walk more fervently and humbly in his light.