Why Does God Allow War is a compilation of five sermons that the great British preacher, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, preached in Westminster Chapel, in central London in the midst of WWII when his city was being bombed. In my opinion, if they were given in another less poignant and specific setting, the title of this book could have more accurately been broadened to “Why Does God Allow Suffering of Any Kind?” As Pastor John MacArthur points out in his short and readable introduction, one of our greatest questions goes like this: if God is both good and sovereign, why does He allow bad things to happen to His people? Logic, without the teaching of Scripture, might cause us to believe that either He isn’t a loving God, or He isn’t powerful enough to do anything about the trials that befall His children.
I highly recommend this short book. In fact I highly recommend anything Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written. He is always insightful and passionate. For the shallow minds of most of us 21st century Christians he is quite deep. However, I’ve learned not to read Lloyd-Jones without expecting to have to think deeply and biblically. He is practical, but not in the way we often expect sermons to be today – with three or four simple principles for Christian living. Nonetheless, any Christian who is willing to read thoughtfully and prayerfully his sermons and books will be impacted profoundly.
Facing the Unexpected
The chapter which I enjoyed the most, Chapter Two, was entitled “Facing the Unexpected.” Lloyd-Jones’ text was Judges 13:22-23, containing the comments of Samson’s parents after “the angel of the Lord,” i.e. God Himself, had appeared to them:
And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God. But his wife said unto him, If the Lord were pleased to kill us. He would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would He have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
Without revealing all the great insights Lloyd-Jones shares on these relatively unknown verses, I will simply say that he commended Manoah’s wife as one of the great women of faith in the Bible. She thought and reasoned about what she knew about God and thus gave a statement of faith, in contrast to the fearful remark of her husband Manoah.
The fifth chapter in Why Does God Allow War, is on Romans 8, specifically 8:28. It is superb in my opinion. I will close with a lengthy quote from this great sermon:
Our salvation is God’s work. Listen to the argument: “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”
There is nothing accidental, or fortuitous, or contingent about God’s work. It is all planned and worked out from the beginning right until the end. In our experience it comes to us increasingly, but in the mind and purpose of God, it is all perfect and entire. Nothing can frustrate it, and that is why St. Paul asks his definite question, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” But it is not merely a matter of such high doctrine. There is a fact which confirms and substantiates it all: “He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
Is God, who actually delivered up His only Son to that cruel death on Calvary’s Cross for us and for our sins, likely to allow anything or anyone to stand between us and His ultimate purpose for us? It is impossible. With reverence we say that God, having thus done the most impossible thing, must of necessity do all else. If God did that, for our salvation, He will surely do everything else that is necessary. And if the death of Christ, with all that is so true of it, is the final cause of our salvation, surely everything else that we may experience, however, bitter or cruel, must work to the same great end. God turned sin’s most desperate action into the means of our salvation, and whatever lesser suffering we may have to bear, as the result of the activity of sin and evil, will be turned to the same glorious end. If we believe that we are in God’s will, if we know that He loves us, and if we love Him in return and as a consequence of His love, then we can be certain that all things, whatever they may be, are working together for our good.
But God be thanked, we can also answer the question with regard to the mechanism of this glorious promise in an experimental manner, from the realm of experience. That our text is true, is the universal testimony of all the saints whose histories are recorded both in the Bible and in the subsequent history of the Christian Church. The ways in which this promise works out are almost endless; but the principle which is common to them all is the one which we have emphasized already, namely, that there is but one ultimate good – the knowledge of God and the salvation of our souls. Holding that in mind, we see that trials and tribulations, and difficulties and distresses, work out in the following ways.
- They awaken us to the fact of our overdependence on earthly and human things. Quite unconsciously, oftentimes, we become affected by our surroundings, and our lives become less dependent upon God, and our interests become more and more worldly. The denial of earthly, and human, comforts and joys often awakens us to the realization of this in a way nothing else can do.
- They also remind us of the fleeting nature of our life here on earth. How easy it is to “settle down” in life in this world, and to live on the assumption that we are here forever. We all tend to do so to such an extent that we forget “the glories which shall be revealed” and which, as we have shown, should be the frequent theme of our meditation. Anything which disturbs our sloth, and reminds us that we are but pilgrims here, therefore, stimulates us to “set our affections on things above.”
- In the same way, great crises in life show us our weakness, our helplessness, and lack of power. St. Paul illustrates that in this very chapter in the matter of prayer. “We know not what we should pray for as we ought.” In a time of peace and of ease we think that we can pray, that we know how to pray. We are assured and confident, and we feel that we are living the religious life as it should be lived. But when trials come they reveal to us how weak and how helpless we ae.
- That, in turn, drives us to God and makes us realize more than ever before our utter dependence upon Him. This is the experience of all Christians. In our folly we imagine that we can live in our own strength and by our own power, and our prayer are often formal. But troubles make us fly to God, and cause us to wait upon Him. God says of Israel through Hosea, “In their affliction they will seek Me early.” How true that is of all of us. To seek God is always good, and afflictions drive us to do so.
- But all this is mainly from our side. Looking at it from the other side, we can say that there is no school in which Christians have learned so much of the loving, tender care of God for His own, as the school of affliction. While all is well with us, in our self-satisfaction and self-contentment, we shut God out of our lives; we do not allow Him to reveal to us His solicitude for us even in the details of our lives. It is only when we are so troubled that we “know not what we should pray for as we ought” that we begin to realize that “the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” And it is to those who were “in the depths” that the sense of the presence of God has been the most real, and the realization of His sustaining power most definite.
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