There’s a lot of talk about deals these days, from punditry’s litany of deal makers and breakers, to over a dozen debate references to the pending agreement with Iran, to Mr. Trump, who, having written the book on them, also reminded us that he has made “hundreds and hundreds” of them. In the more informal sense of “treatment received from the hand of another”, Gov. Kasich spoke of “people … who don’t seem to ever think that they get a fair deal“; other very recent examples include breitbart.com’s paraphrasing Mr. Trump’s assessment of Mexico’s actions as a raw deal, multiple defenders of the same candidate using the same term to characterize his own treatment following his assessment, and a link summary at The Federalist which uses the same term once again to describe the same candidate’s suffering at the hands of … can it be? … Erick Erickson. More broadly, the oft-cited public anger into which some candidates and pundits alike are apparently tapping frequently references one’s being on the wrong end of some sort of deal.
So … what’s the big deal?
(Caveat lector: I mention only one candidate and one show below, so if that’s what you came for, I don’t mind your leaving the table now.)
I propose that all of us who publicly air our thoughts about the aforementioned bad deals, or about the better deals offered by our guys-n-gals, not dare hit “Publish” or part our lips before being certain about the rules of the game as called by the actual Dealer.
“What? Did he just say that God is behind all the bad deals we’re getting? Get Bill or Moe in here NOW.”
Well, that was bound to come up, so let’s start there. I will not make or argue the case for divine Providence on a private site devoted to political activism; but in the hope that I can remind influential* Christians to weigh certain aspects of our behavior during a fever-hot cycle, I will at least provide a glimpse of the foundation I’m working from before you connect the dots; six snippets should suffice. First, three paragraphs from the Savoy Declaration**:
Chapter III: Of God’s Eternal Decree.
1. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin. nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
Chapter V: Of Providence.
1. God the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures, actions and things from the greatest even to the least by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy.
4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men (and that not by a bare permission) which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth in a manifold dispensation to his own most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who being most holy and righteous, neither is, nor can be the author or approver of sin.
And second, three parallel questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism***:
What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?
Answer: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever evil he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.
What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.
What advantage comes from acknowledging God’s creation and providence?
We learn that we are to be patient in adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and to trust our faithful God and Father for the future, assured that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot even move.
If these basic teachings about God’s providence are actually true, then certain implications can be drawn about the hands we have been dealt.
There are indeed many dealers of evil in the world, but they are completely–yes, completely–under God’s control.
If that’s a new or forgotten thought, call to mind or search the Scriptures, in which your faith and life must be grounded, and let them sink in and take deep, lasting, fruit-bearing root before starting with the what-abouts: Planned Parenthood? ISIS? Iran? Illegal immigrants? E-mails? The Establishment? The Chamber of Commerce? Candidate X? Pundit Y? Outlet Z? In all cases of which, we would do well, lest we dishonor our sovereign Lord and Savior in the eyes of the world by implying that he is not, to say or do nothing until convinced that the following are absolutely true:
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble. (Proverbs 16:4)
I form light and create darkness,
make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good … (Genesis 50:20)
“I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?” Isaiah 43:11-13)
…having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… (Ephesians 1:11)
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble. (Isaiah 40:21-24)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
(All quotations from the ESV.)
God’s ultimate providential control of the hands we have been dealt gives neither his enemies nor his children an excuse to violate the rules of Dealer’s Choice–his commands.
So yes, the unrepentant outside of Christ will suffer for every action and intent of their unrighteous hearts, even when God uses those very acts in ways that will display his glory. But we too, if we trust the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ to be our own: how can we not abhor to think or to say or to do anything which will offend him, or to come to him in repentant contrition when we fail? He has made his will abundantly clear, and has empowered us by the Holy Spirit to carry out his will in an attitude of both grateful submission and action. Ephesians 4:17-32 is as good a summary as any of certain rules of the game which bear reviewing in this tough environment:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
“But that’s so hard! He didn’t make us to be doormats! We’ll get eaten alive–from both sides!” Well, to quote one of my pastors who could say this all a lot better than I can, “Actually, it’s not hard: it’s impossible–except for the man or woman who has been brought from death to life by the saving person and work of Jesus Christ.” How divided can our hearts be, how weak can our faith be, if we go from praying for distant brothers and sisters (many of whom have never seen a ballot box) to either be delivered from persecution and death, or to be given strong faith to meet it in burning anticipation of being sooner with the Lord Christ–and then fearing what will become of us if someone asks a too-tough question, or if our accounts dry up, or if X wins, or … if the Lord calls for us tonight instead of 40 years from now, when we were thinking might be a good time to fold? Let us put off acting like we get to pick our own hands, and make our own rules–we don’t. Rather,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19)
Dealer’s Choice binds us not only to God’s standards of external behavior, but also to how we speak about him, his words, and his ways.
Which is to say, the 3rd commmandment is still in full effect. Use his name to address him or to confess him, and then only when you’re standing on solid authority about who he actually is or what he has actually said. The other night, Gov. Kasich managed within seconds to gush out his belief in traditional marriage, his acceptance of the new law, his demonstration of that acceptance by attending a homosexual (news flash, Governor–that’s God’s preferred term, not “gay”) friend’s wedding, a dark hint that any who would refuse to do so the same are unloving, an extension of his logic to a hypothetical about his daughter, an undoing of thousands of years of Biblical teaching with the most spontaneous of Bulls (“That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith”), an clever tie-in to the American Dream, and then for good measure, an unassailable invocation for the capstone: “Because, you know what, God gives me unconditional love.” Trouble is, almost none of that holds up against what the real God has really said.
I just heard an even worse example on this evening’s The Five. OK, I know they have to get ratings. But when pressed, I could actually see the fearful glint of their Damoclean contracts in their eyes as three of the current set, who as recently as several months ago made explicit declarations of being strong Christians, were falling all over themselves on a PP segment to keep saying “fetus” and “it’s the law of the land” and “women’s choice” (not according to this Dealer’s Choice) and even–shame on you, Eric Bolling–“I’m not commenting on abortion, Geraldo … I’m commenting on selling body parts.” Is that what we have descended to? The sole remaining outrage, it would seem, turns more on our offense that Mammon is being misdirected than that the imago Dei is being unlawfully destroyed. If that is the only criterion we are even willing to debate, it will certainly not last long. Tell me, please, if you have seen them–where are the Christians who, with the apostles, will say without a second thought, “We must obey God rather than men”?
Finally, what must matter most to us about the Dealer’s Choice is neither his control over the hands we receive, or even his calling the rules of the game, but finding our ultimate security in his having chosen us to belong to him forever through Jesus Christ. Per the Heidelberg’s inimitable opening:
What is your only comfort, in life and in death?****
Answer: That I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Feeling unusually ecumenical tonight, I’ll let Brother Martin–no stranger to either spiritual or political strife–wrap things up (yeah, the whole thing, you just can’t break it up):
1. A mighty fortress is our God, / a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He amid the flood / of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great; and armed with cruel hate, / on earth is not His equal.
2. Did we in our own strength confide, / our striving would be losing;
Were not the right man on our side*****, / the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He,
Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, / and He must win the battle.
3. And though this world, with devils filled, / should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed / His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; / one little Word shall fell him.
4. That Word above all earthly powers, / no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours / through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; / His kingdom is forever.
* Implied ipso facto.
** The original Congregational doctrinal confession; as with the original Baptist confession, it is a minimal revision of the landmark 1648 Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith. Though different in scope, and in some cases purpose, these three bedrock documents (with which the majority of our nation’s Founders, whether true Christians or not, would have been very familiar) are in close theological agreement with similar Continental Reformed, Lutheran, and Anglican formulations; all continue to be widely used around the world today as faithful summaries of the doctrines of grace as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
*** Written for the nascent Reformed churches one generation after Luther’s intimately personal, and three before the stately Westminster Catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism’s unique blend of concise, even blunt, truth and deep pastoral assurance is taught, even across ecumenical lines, around the world today.
**** And by implication, through the 2016 campaign–and beyond.
***** Not a reference to either the Senate Majority Leader or the Speaker of the House. If you thought so, sorry, but you really need to get out more.