How Mighty Is Almighty?
Beginning this morning, and continuing all summer, through August 31, we are looking at the Apostles' Creed. By the end of the summer, you will have heard a summary of basic Christianity. Can you recite the creed? If you don't have it memorized, or have forgotten it, I challenge you to memorize it. Creed means statement of beliefs, credo in Latin. About 150 A.D., the Apostles' Creed was formulated and adopted by a Church Council as a statement of what the apostles believed.
We begin this morning with the first phrase of the creed, I believe in God, the Father Almighty. The question is: How Mighty is Almighty? Christians have debated this question for centuries, and can still be divided into two camps. Within the past several months, both positions were stated on CNN's Larry King Live, and by none other than Billy Graham and Bill Cosby-- two Willliams!
Larry King asked Billy Graham how we would comfort a family whose little girl had been killed. Billy Graham said, "I would tell them it was God's will." A few weeks later, Larry King asked Bill Cosby if he believed the murder of his son, Ennis Cosby, was God's will. Bill Cosby replied, "No, it wasn't God's will. The devil walked with Ennis' murderer." Even though I have a great deal of respect for Billy Graham, and attended his evangelistic services in the Minneapolis Auditorium when I was a teenager, and in Wheaton, Illinois, when I was a seminary student; in this instance, I agree with Bill Cosby's theology.
The difference between the two is: Billy Graham is a Calvinist. Bill Cosby is an Arminian (spelled with i not e). Calvinism was a theological movement in the 17th century, based on John Calvin's teachings which emphasize the sovereignty of God. Because God is almighty, God is in control and has predestined everything that has happened and will happen. Jakob Arminius was a Dutch theologian in the 17th century who disagreed with Calvinism. Because God has given humans free will, we are not predestined, but determine our own destiny.
Historically, Presbyterians and Baptists were Calvinists, and Methodists were Arminians. I've told you before about the Presbyterian who fell down the stairs, picked himself up, brushed himself off, and said, "Thank God, that's over." However, many modern Presbyterians have moved away from Calvinism. In fact, after a short discussion at the Ministerial Association, John Watson, Pastor of Central Presbyterian, said to me, "You are more of a Calvinist than I am." Denominations today do not fall easily into one position or the other.
How mighty is almighty? Did God plan everything that has happened? Is God in complete control? Is everything that happens God's will? Was the Holocaust, where 6 million human beings were slaughtered by the Nazis, God's will? Was the killing of some 160 innocent children, men and women in the Oklahoma City bombing God's will? Was Timothy McVeigh an instrument of God? Was the bombing predestined? Did you read in Friday's paper about the 13-month-old child in Turlock who was accidentally left in the car eight hours while the father worked? The child died in, what is estimated, 150 degree heat inside the car. Was that God's will?
To state the dilemma theologically-- and these questions have been debated for centuries-- if God is almighty, then God is responsible for evil; therefore God is not good. On the other hand, if God is not responsible for evil, and did not will the Holocaust, and does not will cancer, for example, then God is good but not almighty. There is the dilemma-- how mighty is almighty? For your consideration, let me make three points.
1) God is in charge, but not in control. I returned from Family Camp last week where I have been director for 26 years. As director, I am in charge of the camp, but I'm not in control. One of our campers tripped on an uneven strip of cement while playing volleyball, and fractured her elbow. It was certainly not my will that she fell. I could not control the cement, nor could I control her fall. Yet, I was in charge of the camp. God is in charge of the planet, but not in control. Why? Because human beings have free will. We can choose right or wrong, love or hate, good or evil. We can choose to ignore God and to oppose God. Secondly, there is evil. Call it what you will-- the devil or evil or a force-- evil is constantly attacking, constantly trying to undo what is good, thwarting the will of God.
2) Where is God? Outside, looking in, pulling strings like a puppeteer with a puppet? Or, is God inside, involved in working things out? The theological words are transcendence and immanence, outside and inside. Of course, God is in both locations, but which you emphasize says a great deal about your theology. Calvinists emphasize the transcendence of God where God is sitting on a throne, decreeing, ordering, dictating, willing. Arminians emphasize the immanence of God where God is within, inside, working, influencing, redeeming.
3) What is God doing? God is fighting the forces of evil, the forces of chaos. According to the first chapter of Genesis, God created the world out of chaos, and God is still creating order out of chaos. I will develop this idea further next week when we look at creation. Sometimes the chaos, the evil, seems out of control in the world today, but God never gives up. The Bible promises victory. Ultimately, God will prevail and will bind the Devil in chains.
What is God doing? God is working, influencing, bringing good out of bad. Romans 8:28, "We know that in everything, God works for good." (Revised Standard Version) God is redeeming, saving, reconciling, loving. From cover to cover, the Bible has the same message. As Bert Roper said last week, the thread that runs through it all is the grace of God. God is at work calling everyone to be reconciled, to be saved, to be powered to do God's work, to help God in the task of redemption. God is working constantly in all that happens to redeem situations and to redeem people, and God calls us to help. We co-operate with God. We are co-workers. We are Christ's body on this earth.
By this time, you might be asking, "What difference does it make? You are giving us an intellectual exercise this morning by making us think about theology, but what difference does it make what I believe?" Oh, it makes a great deal of difference. If you believe that God is almighty, and in control, then you are tempted to resign yourself to whatever happens. You are tempted to be lazy and let God do it. After all, if everything is predestined to happen, what difference can I make?
On the other hand, if you believe that God is in charge, but not in control; if you believe that God is in every situation and every life working for good, and that God calls you to be involved in the task, then you are not resigned to whatever happens. You can make things happen. You are hopeful, not acquiescent. You fight. You press on, as Paul said. And you pray. You don't pray, "Oh, Lord, I know this terrible thing is your will so help me bear it." No, you pray, "Thy will be done." Jesus taught us in the Lord's Prayer to pray that God's will be done, because often God's will is not done.
Make this your prayer: "Oh, Lord, help me to be open to your spirit, help me be free of any evil, of any obstruction, so that you can work in my life, so that you can heal, reconcile, and change me, so that your will may be done. Oh, Lord, thank you for your love, thank you for your power. Here I am to help. Use me in your work." That's a far different prayer than giving in, acquiescing, and resigning yourself to whatever happens.
I believe in God the Father, Almighty. But, how mighty is almighty?
© 1997 Douglas I. Norris