One Grand Providence

To the dim and bewildered vision of humanity, God’s care is more evident in some instances than in others; and upon such instances men seize, and call them providences. It is well that they can; but it would be gloriously better if they could believe that the whole matter is one grand providence.

George MacDonald

The Problem with Omniscience

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.” (Deuteronomy 31:16-17, italics mine)

Can you imagine waking up one morning with omniscience? No longer is your knowledge confined to your own experience and learning, but now you know everything. Everything. You would never make a bad investment, because you know the return it will yield. You would never get a speeding ticket (speaking hypothetically of course), because you know where every policemen is hiding. You would never have to read a book or watch the news or go to school, because you know all there is to know on every subject. This list of potential realities could go on forever.

I think we would hate being omniscient.

Although knowing everything presents some advantages, my guess is that most of us would loathe omniscience because of what it would do to our relationships. Think about it: How would you handle knowing everything that everyone will ever think or feel or do or say regarding you? Relationships would become extremely difficult if not impossible. You would know every bad thing a person will do to you in the future—mocking, anger, betrayal, abandonment. Consequently, relating to them in a loving manner beforehand would be hard. Sure, they may be speaking kindly and acting friendly now, but you know what they are going to do. Would you still marry this person, or maintain your friendship, or lovingly give yourself away for their benefit?

God would. The nation of Israel was poised on the edge of the land God had promised to give them. God had graciously delivered his people through forty years of wilderness wanderings. He had revealed himself in dramatic ways. All the while God knew that his people would prostitute themselves and forsake him, breaking the covenant he made with them. Yet he continued giving himself away in love to these future backstabbers.

How could God do this? Here are two explanations. (1) God related to Israel not only with a mind that knows perfectly but with a heart that loves perfectly. God’s love enables him to pursue relationships with people he knows will fail to love him in return. The cross of Christ powerfully demonstrates this truth. (2) God related to Israel based on the state of their hearts in the present rather than on the state of their hearts in the future. Deuteronomy 31:17 makes clear that it would not be until the very day in which Israel turned against God that his anger would be kindled. Surely this is how Jesus could wash Judas’s feet despite knowing what Judas was going to do a few hours later.

We should be profoundly grateful for both of these truths. In Christ, God loves us in spite of all the sins we will commit in the future—which, by the way, is a cause for pursuing holiness, not an excuse for pursuing sin. And God relates to us based on the present state of our hearts toward him. We will never displease our Father over something we have not yet done, even when he knows we will do it in the future.

And even then – even when our future sin becomes a present reality – God’s displeasure results in fatherly discipline rather than judicial condemnation. Praise the Lord! God’s knowledge of us never outruns his love.

Omniscience would be a terrible burden for us. It would wreck all of our relationships. But it’s no problem for God, whose perfect knowledge is matched by perfect love.

You are never more exposed than before God’s all-knowing gaze. And in Christ you couldn’t be safer.

King David Had Ups and Downs

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. (Psalm 6:6)

In some days happiness. In other days sadness. In all days prayer.

So, Be Ready

Nor is it given to any man to know whether, when evening comes, he will need boots for his body or slippers for his corpse.

Leo Tolstoy

One Greater Than Samuel

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Luke concludes his childhood narratives of Jesus with the famous words:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)

This is not the first time words like these are used in Scripture. We find a strikingly similar version of them a millennium earlier, used to describe another young boy:

Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man. (1 Samuel 2:26)

Coincidence? No way. In describing Jesus, Luke is deliberately echoing the words first attributed to Samuel.

The connection between Jesus and Samuel becomes even stronger when other parallels between the two are noted. Consider, for example, the miraculous peculiarity of each child’s conception. Much is made of the fact that Hannah, Samuel’s mother, is barren until the Lord opens her womb (1 Samuel 1). Mary, of course, is a virgin who experiences the uber-miracle of conception, being overshadowed by the power of the Most High himself (Luke 1:26-38).

Then there is the matter of the mothers in prayer. Both Hannah and Mary exult in God over the gift of their child. Now that in itself isn’t unusual. We would expect that believing women would pray, especially when they know their pregnancies to be miraculous. What is unusual about the prayers of these two mothers is that they are recorded for us in detail and are remarkably similar in content (cp. 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55). In fact, Mary seems to be directly alluding to Hannah’s prayer in her own prayer.

One other parallel is worth noting. The structure of the narratives of Samuel and Jesus follow a similar pattern leading up to their public ministries. In 1 Samuel, the narrative clearly alternates between Samuel and Eli’s sons, setting up a contrast between the two (1 Samuel 1-3). Equally clearly, Luke takes the same approach in crafting his narrative, alternating between John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1-3). This similarity of structure could simply be a mark of good storytelling. But given the deliberate echo of 1 Samuel 2:26 in Luke 2:52, plus the additional parallels of miraculous pregnancies and the mothers’ prayers, I believe we are right in detecting another parallel in the structures of the stories themselves.

The conclusion seems obvious: Luke is making an intentional connection between Samuel and Jesus. The question is, Why?

The most likely answer is that Luke sees Samuel as a type of Christ.  By type I mean a shadow, the substance of which is found in Jesus.  As Jesus would say of himself that “something greater than Jonah is here,” and, “something greater than Solomon is here” (Mark 12:21-22), Luke is saying of Jesus that something greater than Samuel is here.

That’s how types work. The original figure is similar in some way to the reality to which it points; but the reality, when it arrives, is greater. So, Jesus is like Jonah, only Jesus’ call to repentance is more momentous than Jonah’s. Jesus is like Solomon, only Jesus’ wisdom exceeds that of Solomon. And in the Gospel of Luke we are learning that Jesus is like Samuel … but in what way?

These two men, Samuel and Jesus, are alike in the transitions they represent. Samuel was a pivotal figure in the history of redemption, serving as a bridge between the judges and the monarchy. Kingship came through Samuel, and along with it the promise of an eternal King. Israel would never be the same.

Like Samuel, but greater, is the transition that comes in Jesus. To say that Jesus is a pivotal figure in the history of redemption is an understatement. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and established the new covenant in his blood. He is the long-awaited King, whose coming has changed not only Israel but the world.

No wonder Luke echoes the person of Samuel in introducing us to Jesus. A new era dawned with each of these men. But Luke’s point is that In Jesus, one greater than Samuel is here.