Does God Deliver?
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee." — Psalm 91
"I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord." — Psalm 40
Do the Scriptures promise only eternal salvation, or do they also promise temporal deliverance? That is, does God save only in eternity, or does he also act in time and space to save his people?
No doubt about it, these psalms promise deliverance. No weaseling, no equivocation. But what sort of deliverance is it? Is it only the promise of eternal or ultimate salvation? Or should we also expect temporal deliverance?
"DON’T YOU KNOW WE CAN KILL YOU?"
Consider Bruce Hunt, the Presbyterian missionary to Korea. (His biography, For a Testimony, is unfortunately out of print, as far as I know. If you ever get a chance to buy one, grab it.) For years he had worked in Korea establishing native churches, and then the Japanese invaded. Not only did they interrupt his work, they also finally arrested him and imprisoned him. They even dragged him away to a prison camp in Manchuria, hundreds of miles from his home.
The Japanese officer interrogating him kept demanding that he recant his Christianity. Hunt steadfastly refused. Finally the exasperated Japanese shouted at him, "Don’t you know we can kill you?"
Hunt replied, You can do nothing bad to me. My God promises that he will cause everything to turn out for good, and he controls everything. If you kill me, it won’t be bad. I will go immediately into the presence of God. If you let me live, then I get to continue my ministry here to the Koreans, and even to you, Lieutenant. So you see, you can do nothing bad to me."
THE ONLY ANSWER
Yet to our eyes it certainly appears at times that God has reneged on his promise of deliverance. You are in jail, you are ill, you are attacked by your enemies, you are (through no fault of your own) completely without money or resources—God, where now is your promise?
If He delight in him, let Him deliver him!
Let Him bring him down from the cross!
The only answer to the scoffers and to our gainsaying eyes is patience. Although what we see contradicts the promise of God, we look not at the seen, but at the unseen. We know—by faith—that even in the midst of the worst adversity, God is indeed working out all things for our good and for our deliverance. He hears our cry. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. He will "make no long tarrying," but will, in his good and proper time, set our feet in a broad place.
Yes, every Christian should expect temporal deliverance, unless God has something better for you.
A DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT
When God changes our hearts, he changes us from children of time into children of eternity. We no longer look at events the same way the world does. Rather, we view everything from an eternal perspective, transcending time and space, reaching into the unshakeable purpose of God himself.
When the scoffer mocks, "Well, if God is for you, why are you still sitting in prison?" we have only one answer: Saul and Barnabas! If we have our wits about us, we ought to be sitting in jail singing God’s praises for our deliverance long before it appears. Why? Because our deliverance is as sure now as it ever will be, because God has promised it.
Not only in eternity, but also in time our deliverance hastens on. And knowing that God promises temporal deliverance should stir us up to pray more fervently. Why? Because we are praying for the accomplishment of God’s own will, the will he accomplishes through the prayers of his people. Besides, there’s a real chance of help there, and nowhere else.
The same doctrine of God’s active providence also stirs us up to energetic effort. Why should that be, if we are expecting God himself to deliver us? Because we know that he works through means, and we know that he blesses our use of the means he provides. Therefore we can work not in faith only, but with hope—reasonable hope.. If the only thing at hand is a loaf and five fishes, we start dividing them up and wait to see what God will do.
THE ERRING ALTERNATIVE
What alternative do we have to taking God at his word? Embarrassed by events, some Christians try to alibi for God. At one and the same time, they are eternal optimists and temporal pessimists. What is the only way to dodge the issue? They spiritualise God’s promise of salvation and apply it to eternal life only. According to them, God doesn’t promise to deliver us in time. Therefore, all temporal salvation depends on our action. Bad things don’t happen to good people, they only happen to sluggards.
The result looks like practical atheism, a doctrine of self-salvation. By reducing the promise of God to eternity only, the logic above unavoidably denies the doctrine of God’s providence. We are left to our own devices, so, Buddy, you better grab that bucket and start bailing, because there ain’t nobody coming to save us. In this world, there ain’t no cavalry or Calvary.
THE SOLE FOUNDATION
There is no peace here. The doctrine of the providence of God and his absolute sovereignty lay the sole foundation of a quiet mind and courage. God is in control and God does work out everything for the good of his people—jointly and individually, in time and eternity. (Romans 8:28-39)
It is precisely the Scriptures’ ruthless candour on this point that proves their truthfulness. Paul stubbornly refuses to turn loose of the unseen love and providence of God, never mind what catastrophes befall us:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
"As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
"Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."
NOT AS EXPECTED
Sometimes, however, the Almighty delivers against our expectations. Consider poor Jonah. God tells him to preach to the Ninevites. "Oh, no, God, I am not going to do that." Jonah flees, takes ship, and ends up in a whale’s belly before he can consent to obey. In the end, he preaches to the Ninevites, and what a miracle! They repent!
Is Jonah happy because God delayed his judgement, and showed mercy? Hardly. He so frustrated and angry with God that he just sits on a rock, waiting in vain to see the atomic bombs land on Nineveh.
And even on Jonah’s resentful disobedience, God still shows him compassion. Instead of French-frying Jonah, he only wilts the gourd that was shading him.
"Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?"
Shouldn’t we, too, rejoice in the salvation of God this time? God might have acted in judgement, and destroyed not only the United States but western civilisation. He didn’t. He showed mercy. He gave men more time to repent and submit to his gracious rule.
In the meantime, before our own eyes we have seen played out the truth that God’s promised deliverance extends both to time and eternity.