Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
God is active. He is always at work. The Scriptures point this out by speaking of God’s hands, and of the things He does with them. By His hands He created the heavens and the earth. Now with those same hands He upholds and governs all things. With His hands He sends judgments on the wicked, and blessings on the righteous. Through the works of His hands He causes generations of His people to come forth. By means of His hands He saves them. His hands direct all creatures and all events.
God’s hands are mighty. They are all-powerful. No one can resist God in anything He does. “None can stay his hand” (Dan. 4:35). Whatever He has planned will happen. If He has purposed to do something, He will do it. We may not like what God’s hand does in the world, or to others, or to us personally, but we can do nothing to stop it.
The truth of this is brought home to us especially when God’s mighty hand reaches down and touches us personally. That often happens. God’s hand does things to us. We feel its strength. We struggle and groan under its weight. Its force and power are inescapable and make us squirm. His hand can cause us to weep, and lead us to cry out for help.
God’s hand, for example, causes His people to suffer for the sake of Christ. Some of God’s people already experience this heavy hand of God. The rest of us can expect to do so as the end of time approaches. We will find it so severe that we will cry out for deliverance and for Christ to return without delay.
God’s hand also chastises us for our sins. David, in connection with his sin of adultery and murder, makes specific reference to this. He states, “Day and night thy hand was heavy upon me” (Ps. 32:4). The fact that we deserve these chastisements does not take away from the heaviness of God’s hand. The sense of shame, guilt, and sorrow can be overwhelming.
God’s hand also sends afflictions into our lives. Many are the afflictions of the righteous. We experience such things as life-threatening sickness, constant physical pain, sudden loss of loved ones, lack of work, years of loneliness, heart-wrenching pain because of family troubles, and the awful distress caused by church strife.
Every child of God feels God’s hand in affliction, though it be in different ways, at different times, and in different measures. It is a heavy hand that makes us struggle. Our lives are turned upside down. Things are not as we wish they were or as we planned them to be. It seems at times that God’s hand is too heavy and too harsh. The things He does do not make sense, especially as they come from Him who says, “You are My beloved, and very precious to Me!” Often our cry is, “Has God forgotten to be kind?” The heavy hand of God dampens or even eliminates our happiness and joy, and at times almost drives us to total despair.
What should be our response to God’s hand working in our lives?
In the midst of such affliction, the child of God must first of all acknowledge, for his comfort, that it is indeed God’s hand that works these things. It is true that afflictions come upon us through the instrumentality of others. We experience distress because ungodly men and women hate and oppress us. We face the sorrows of death because of the errors that other men and women make that result in loved ones being suddenly taken away. We are burdened and grieved on account of the sins that others commit against us. Even the sins of other believers or family members are often the cause of our sufferings. But ultimately it all comes from the hand of God. We must not say that God sends only the good things, and that it is the devil who controls and sends all the bad things that come upon us. Whenever we suffer, we must confess that it is the hand of our sovereign Lord and King that touches us.
But we must do more than simply acknowledge the mighty hand of God; we must also humble ourselves under that hand (I Pet. 5:6).
We do not normally or very easily respond humbly to affliction. Usually when God sends severe suffering our response is characterized by pride.
One way pride is evident is when we fail to submit to the will of God because we think we know better than God what He ought to do, or not do, to us. We have our own ideas concerning how things should be and go. We think God ought to do things as we want them to be done. And when He doesn’t, we complain against Him and sometimes even become angry. We proudly think we are wiser than He.
Our pride is also seen when we are of the opinion that we do not deserve what God is doing to us. We often say, “Why did this happen to me? Why does my family have to suffer like this? If it happened to so-and-so, I could understand it, for it seems he (or she) deserves troubles in life—at least more than I do. I haven’t done anything terribly evil, so I really don’t deserve this!” Again, this is pride. We think we are of ourselves good, and therefore should not have any (or many) afflictions. We imagine that, on account of our goodness, we deserve constant happiness and success in life.
We also respond proudly to afflictions when we figure we are able to deal with the troubles on our own. We are not willing to admit our helplessness. We refuse to confess that we cannot stand a moment on our own. Proudly we imagine that we are able to solve our own problems. We believe we have the wisdom and strength to do it alone, without help from anyone: not from our fellow saints; not from God.
In light of all this, we need the directive of Scripture that calls us to put aside all our pride and to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.
This means that when God’s mighty hand touches us, we must be willing to admit how small and foolish we are compared to Him. We have no right to think we know better than He what is good for us, nor any right to criticize His perfect plans. God does not have to answer to us for what He does, nor should He be expected to do what we think is better. God is all wise. He makes no mistakes. Humility means accepting and submitting to whatever He does.
In the second place, we must confess how sinful we are and how undeserving of any good. We have no claim to a trouble-free life. We do not deserve any of God’s kindness or love. We have no right to expect our lives to be smoother, easier, or more enjoyable. In light of our sins, we must realize that if we deserve anything at all from God, we deserve only trouble and misery. We deserve a heavier hand of God. We deserve constant distress. God would be perfectly just if He did this to us.
Finally, humbling ourselves means we must admit how helpless we are. We are always, of course, helpless creatures. But the afflictions God sends upon us bring us to a clearer realization of this fact. For what can we do for ourselves when a loved one is suddenly snatched away? What can we do for ourselves when struck with a life-threatening disease? What can we do for ourselves when our children go astray? By means of God’s heavy hand the people of God are brought to confess that their only help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Such humility leads to prayer. Humble children of God cast all their cares upon the Lord. They do so in the confidence that He will avert all evil or turn it to their profit. This confidence arises from their understanding that although God’s hand is heavy, it is always loving. His hand protects our souls and our salvation. His hand leads and guides us onward to our eternal home in the heavens. In this confidence we can trust Him no matter what He does.
Since God directs all things with His almighty hands, we may be sure that no matter what He does to us we are safe. For our names are engraved on the palms of His hands (Is. 49:16). This means that every time God does something with His hands, He sees our names and is reminded of who we are as His beloved in Christ. He never forgets that. In the light of it, He does everything in love and with a view to our eternal good and glory.
May we put aside our pride and by the grace of God respond humbly whenever His hand reaches down and touches us. May we do so realizing that His promise is to reward the humble. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (I Pet. 5:6). In due time, in God’s appointed time, the humble will be eternally exalted to the glories of heaven.