By Nikki Stevenson
This week I will pack my 11-year-old son’s suitcase and will take him to school where he will board a bus that will whisk him away to science camp for three days. This trip will be the first time he has left our care overnight. Moreover, the rules of this camp state that the kids are not allowed to call home unless there is an emergency. We will have no contact with him from Wednesday morning until Friday afternoon.
The truth is, this is a wonderful opportunity for our son; he is incredibly excited, and we are happy for him! We know he will grow in wonderful ways and will make lasting memories. We also know that his growing up includes our letting go and trusting God with him. There is no doubt in my mind that this event is a blessing, and I am thanking God for it.
So, why am I sharing this?
The truth is, no matter how logical I may be about what a great opportunity this is for him, I still worry. First-time events are often tricky for me, especially when they involve my letting go of the control I exert to keep my family safe.
In fact, when I worry about the safety of loved ones, I do it well! I’m expert at engaging my imagination and torturing myself with the what-ifs! The truth is that anxious worry is something that has been a companion of mine for many years; in fact, it is a companion that several of my former Adventist friends have confessed they have also entertained.
What I didn’t know
Since being a believer, however, and learning how Scripture has revealed God, I’ve wondered if this worry, in part, is an old habit that comes from spending most of my life not understanding the true character and attributes of God. For example, I didn’t understand that God is sovereign. I heard Him called sovereign, and I would’ve agreed He was, but my definition of sovereign looked a bit more like, “majestic, deserving worship, or ruler.” Notice that absolute control had nothing to do with it. A ruler can rule without being in control, and according to my Adventist worldview, the people of earth were in rebellion against our ruler—a belief which meant He had lost control—or rather that He “lovingly” gave up control for the sake of our own free will. That worldview created countless “helpless” creatures desperately seeking to control all circumstances and all the people in their life in order to bring about their own (sovereign) outcomes. What a recipe for dysfunctional relationships and behaviors—it was for me, anyway.
Certainly worry and anxiety aren’t unique to Adventists and former Adventists. We are all still in the flesh and are learning to trust God with our lives. However, Christians (former Adventists or not) who have been well-taught, often live as examples of profound faith in the God of the Bible during seemingly hopeless or desperate times. This kind of faith, hope, and trust can only come from truly knowing the God in whom they have put their trust. Knowing God, as He has revealed Himself, happens as we study His word and submit our minds to the truth of Scripture.
What God tells us about Himself in His word is awe inspiring, and this week as I face my son’s first overnight trip, I will spend time meditating on His words and praying. In fact, sharing some of those facts about God here will help me stay grounded in truth instead of indulging my fearful imaginings.
First, I am grounded on the fact that God’s word is sufficient and is the ultimate authority in all things. While other sources may be helpful, even they must come under the authority of Scripture. What I know about God must come from His own word.
Second, God’s attributes cannot be separated from each other. For example, since God is perfect and He is sovereign, He is perfectly sovereign. In the same way, none of His attributes can be teased apart; they all exist together in all three persons of the Trinity at all times. This “irreducible complexity” is what theologians call the attribute of simplicity—and they are far better at explaining it than I am! Nevertheless, this attribute is an antidote to my worrying; it keeps me from entertaining the lie that God would, in His omnipotence, do something contrary to His attributes of perfection and of love.
Last, I allow the Bible to define reality, even when its words seem contrary to popular culture. While humans would describe perfect love in therapeutic terms, God is the One I look to when seeking to understand perfect love. I must put my definitions under the authority of Scripture or I will find myself placing my deceptive mind over God and His word every time I face fear or confusion.
Grasping after God’s incommunicable attributes
One of the books that has blessed me in my study of who God really is has been None Like Him by Jen Wilkin. In it she talks about our sinful grasping after God’s incommunicable attributes. For example, when we seek to control our circumstances or others, we are grasping after His sovereignty. When we seek to get through life without remembering to go to our Father in prayer, we are grasping after His attribute of self-sufficiency. Or when we say, “That’s just who I am, I can’t change,” we are grasping after His immutability. She adds that the very fact that we are mutable—that we actually can change—is what allows us to be transformed into the image of Christ! Further, when we claim that we are terminally unique and no one is like us, we are grasping after God’s attribute of uniqueness. The examples are numerous. Our hearts are always seeking ways to dethrone the God of the Bible—it’s no wonder anxiety permeates much of life when I am not abiding in God’s word and meditating on who He is. I cannot be God in my own life!
The sovereign wisdom and power of God
Another source I value is a book written by J.I. Packer called Knowing God. If you don’t own this book, I strongly encourage you to add it to your library. On page 91 Packer says this about God’s wisdom and power:
“God’s wisdom cannot be frustrated…for it is allied to omnipotence. Power is as much God’s essence as wisdom is. Omniscience governing omnipotence, infinite power ruled by infinite wisdom, is a basic biblical description of the divine character… in God boundless wisdom and endless power are united and this makes him utterly worthy of our fullest trust.”
In fact, Packer’s words remind me of Isaiah 40: 27,28:
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.”
Not only is God omnipotently wise, He also is aware of us personally and is concerned for our welfare. At the Former Adventist Fellowship Conference last month, pastor Gary Inrig spoke of God’s omnipotence as we walked through Psalm 139 together during the Friday morning session. I understood him to say that it is an act of God’s omnipotence that He is so personally aware of and intimately involved with us, all while upholding the universe by the word of His power! I once thought God didn’t have time or concern for all my silly thoughts and worries, but in that false thinking I had stripped Him of His omnipotence, among other attributes.
Further, I didn’t fully trust that He was willing to exert His power or control for my good if it would “offend” my free will. I had no sense of being protected apart from my perfect alignment with whatever His will was. In fact, I had no sense of being protected from my own fallen self!
As Isaiah wrote, God sees our condition and our ways, and our concerns are not hidden from the all-knowing, all-powerful, never-tiring God of the Bible. In other words, He cares even about all the irrational things that cause me anxiety. He wants me to trust Him and His word.
In His divine wisdom and power, which are never separated from His perfect love, our Father has not only ordained the circumstances of our lives but He is also walking through those circumstances with us, providing for us along the way. Psalm 139 says that even if we flee to the uttermost part of the sea, even there He is with us and will guide us. It says that even if we feel we are in the darkest night, the dark is like light to God. He truly cares for us whether we are running or are consumed by darkness; His sovereign care and guidance are constant and do not bow to our sinful nature!
Another fact about God’s omnipotent sovereignty I’ve learned is in Ephesians 1: He chose those on whom He would set His particular love before the world was even created! David also confirms God’s foreknowledge of us in Psalm 139; He knit us together in our mother’s womb, and “in His book were written all the days of our lives before even one came into being”! Moreover, He knows when we sit and when we rise, and He knows what we will say even before we speak! Paul declares, in Acts 17:26-28, that God in His sovereignty determined the times we would live and the places we would inhabit, and in Psalm 73:21-24 we see that even in our foolish thinking and behaving, our Triune God has us in the grip of His hand, and He will lead His children all the way home. Romans 8:28-30 assures us:
“God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
The Love of God
A sovereign, omnipotent God might be frightening if we didn’t also know that He is a God who deeply and perfectly loves His children. In fact, He loves us so consistently that He not only saves us, but He also conforms us to the image of His Son and cares for us even in our reckless interludes with sinful thinking and behaving, as Asaph writes in Psalm 73.
There was a time in my life when I believed that if I wasn’t behaving correctly, God would love me less, and if I was behaving properly, I could expect more of His love. Consequently, when hard times came, I immediately questioned God’s love for me. God, however, has revealed the truth about Himself to me through His word. I cannot earn more of His love or lose any portion of it, for it is not based on me.
God’s love proceeds from YAHWEH Himself, and He has chosen to set His love upon me. He is a Father to me in spite of myself. Because of choosing me and adopting me (Rom. 8:15), I know that when hard times come, I can take them from the hand of my Father who always loves me (Rom. 8:37-39), who is always sanctifying me, and who is merciful, faithful, patient, and compassionate (Ex. 34:6-7). J.I. Packer writes of God’s love:
“So the love of the God who is spirit is no fitful fluctuating thing, as human love is, nor is it a mere impotent longing for things that may never be; it is, rather, a spontaneous determination of God’s whole being in an attitude of benevolence and benefaction, an attitude freely chosen and firmly fixed. There are no inconsistencies or vicissitudes in the love of the almighty God who is spirit. His love is ‘as strong as death’ (Song 8:6)” (Knowing God, p. 21).
How do these truths help me as I send my son to camp?
This week I am comforted by remembering that God is all-knowing. He knows every detail of the days ahead for my son. God is all-powerful, and should He desire to keep my son from attending this trip, He can intervene any way He chooses. He can also protect my son from any number of dangers of which only He is fully aware. His plans are fixed (Psalm 33:11); nothing will take my son home before God’s appointed time, and nothing can touch his life without God’s permission. God fixed the number of days that my son will have upon this earth, and no amount of worrying on my part will add a single hour to his life.
Our Father has set His perfect and unfailing love upon my son, and He works good in His life through all the things he will encounter. Nothing that comes into our lives will come without passing first through our Father’s hand. Furthermore, God cares about what concerns me, and He will not be put off by my struggle with worry. He will instead comfort me with His word and with the knowledge He has given me of who He is. I also believe that He will gently convict me of the last step in this process of trusting Him.
That last step in trusting God, the one that is hard to face sometimes, is to see my responsibility for entertaining fear and lies and then to repent. While the worry may be intrusive, I can’t pretend that I don’t know what God has revealed to me about Himself. It would be easy to know those truths and still allow myself to fret. Fear may still come, but what I do with it will be important. I must learn to repent of the thoughts and fears that take my sovereign, omnipotent God off the throne of my heart. I must relinquish the anxiety that seeks to govern my mood, my choices, and my behavior.
And so, as we move toward this great adventure awaiting my sweet son, I pray and ask that God would grant me repentance. I ask Him to continue to work His sanctifying love in my heart as I seek to obey Him through abiding in Him and His word, and I pray for my son while delighting in his excitement and joy as he plans for this milestone in his life!
I also pray for all of you, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, whether you have left a system of false doctrines to follow Jesus, or whether you have been a believer as long as you can remember, that you will trust your Father as He reveals Himself through His word. I pray we all will let Him define Himself—and define us—all the days of our lives! †