If God governs the world—as He does—then this means that all things must be obedient to Him. But there is another side to this, leaving us with an antimony. We know for a fact that we live in a sinful world, which means that there are entities and individuals that are disobedient to God. There is no sin without disobedience. How are we to reconcile this? All things are obedient and some things are disobedient? How could that make any sense?
Clearly the solution, if there is to be one, must consider the possibility that the word obedient is being used equivocally, that is, with more than one meaning. And that, of course, is just what we find in Scripture.
The Central Example:
As we look at the passion of our Lord, we see that the Son of Man went to death, just as it was determined (Luke 22:22). The whole thing was scripted, down to the behavior of chickens (Matt. 26:74), whether or not the soldiers would break the Lord’s bones (John 19:33), and who would dip their bread in the bowl at the Last Supper (John 13:26).
“for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27–28, ESV).
Those who crucified Jesus did so in order to accomplish what God’s hand and what God’s purpose had predestined, predetermined, and foreordained beforehand to be done.
At the same time, and just as truly, the people who participated in this orchestrated, choreographed, and fully scripted event were true moral agents, responsible for their sinful behavior. Pilate was warned in a dream through his wife (Matt. 27:17). The Lord was not crucified by the hands of automata—“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). It should be apparent that just because a crime was settled beforehand by “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” does not keep the crime from being performed by “wicked hands.”
Obedient Sons or Obedient Tools:
God never loses control. Nothing ever wobbles in His hands. The hairs of our heads are numbered (Matt. 10:30). Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father (Matt. 10:29). In all things, over all things, through all things, under all things, God remains everlastingly God. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
There are different layers to this matter of obedience. Because God has granted us the gift of liberty (by regenerating us), we have been given the freedom to obey as sons. And so if our hearts are not transformed in the new birth, we will not become obedient sons—but will remain in our capacity of obedient tools.
The more Pharaoh hardened his heart, the more he accomplished the purposes God had assigned to him. The more Judas nurtured the covetousness of his heart, the more he was being fitted for the work of treachery that had been assigned to him a thousand years before in the prophecy of the psalmist. The more an atheist rails against Heaven, the more he is fulfilling the function for which he was created.
If he repents, that function is to become an obedient son. If he does not repent, the function is to remain an obedient tool.
All these same realities apply to inanimate objects that cannot ever become sons—every last one of them is a tool. And this means that whenever cancer is given, it is functioning as an obedient tool, executing the purposes of God. And when God picks up a tool to wield it, that tool never slips in His hand. He never drops His tools.
So, A Practicum:
A little while ago I noticed a lump on my left jaw, about the size of a dime. I pursued it through various avenues, got a CAT scan done, winding up with a biopsy on it just this last week. The doctor confirmed that the lump was in fact cancerous, and needed to come out. It is located in my saliva gland, which is why it felt like a bump on the jaw. It is not painful at all. We are in the process of scheduling the surgery now, which is likely to be in just a few weeks.
It has not escaped our notice that this is the second year in a row that the Wilson clan has done this to everybody—received tumor news right before Grace Agenda, and announced it right after. We promise we are going to do our level best not to make this an annual tumor rollout event, but to this point, it is what it is.
The most likely outcome is that the doctor will remove the tumor, and that will be that. But there is naturally a possibility that the tumor is a bad boy, on the aggressive side. They will find that out during the surgery, once they get a direct look at it. If it is an aggressive kind, then they will also take out some surrounding lymph nodes. The upshot of all this is that I will be out of commission for a few days.
The most obvious question I can anticipate concerns “how we are doing.” We are content and rejoicing in God’s providence, trusting the Lord, and would like to ask you all to pray that it would stay that way. In situations like this one, while you obviously want to deal with the tumor in a responsible way, the big thing is to keep your emotions from metastasizing, to keep your emotions out of the lymph nodes.
Related to what I wrote above, Scripture teaches us that we are to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18), and for everything (Eph. 5:20). God really is sovereign in every detail of every life. So we have thanked the Lord for this cancer, and we intend to continue to thank Him for it. We don’t know what good purpose God has for it, but we are assured that the One who counts both hairs and sparrows is also the One who controls the behavior of every cancer cell. Put bluntly, also related to the above, this cancer is right where it is because it is being obedient—and we don’t want to be less obedient than the cancer is being. And that means trusting the Lord who does all things well. He assigns a place to everything, and I need to be more concerned about being obedient in my assigned station than I am distraught at the inconvenience created by something else being obedient in its assigned station.
I know that the kinds of obedience I am talking about occupy different levels. They are different kinds of obedience certainly. Still, at the same time, a disobedient son should be ashamed to be outdone by an obedient rock. And if Job had given way to the first great temptation—that which invited him to “curse God and die”—that would have made him less obedient than his boils.
If I may adjust Thomas Watson slightly, he once said that we get distracted by who or what brings the trial to us, forgetting the one who sent the trial to us. And so we remember this—leaving full scope for moral agency in others—every affliction is an obedient one. This applies to everything—Chaldeans and cancers, dangers and debts, emergencies and evacuations, fevers and famines, and all through the rest of the alphabet. Everything.
So we are asking for your prayers, and we really appreciate them. We want to be faithful clean through this particular affliction, and as the Lord gives opportunity, one of my applications will be this: type faster. If you would, please pray that I would be able to do that.