Gods Purpose in World History
A Philosophy for Life
by John A. Holzmann
Don Richardson, a former missionary to Irian Jaya, found himself stuck in the middle of a hot debate a couple of years ago when he went back to visit his former home.
The Indonesian government is trying to ease the overcrowded conditions on Java by offering Javanese families who are willing to resettle in Irian Jaya a new home, two-and-a-half acres of cleared land, and seed for the first years crops.
The Irianese are understandably unhappy about the policy. The Javanese speak another language, and they are of a different race and religion (most Javanese are Muslim; Irianese are either Christian or animist).
In order to soothe the anger of the Irianese, the Indonesian government said that, for every three Javanese families who moved to Irian Jaya, it would give one Irianese family a home, a parcel of cleared land, and seed.
The Christian leaders in Irian Jaya asked Richardson how they should counsel their people: Should we encourage them to accept the governments offer?
Richardson had the pastors turn to Acts 17:26 and 27: From one man, God made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth. And He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
Richardson stopped reading at that point. Gentlemen, he said, who is moving these Javanese Muslims to Irian Jaya? Is it the Indonesian government? Is it Satan and the powers that control the Islamic faith? Is it God?
The pastors didnt want to answer, but finally had to admit, It is God.
All right, Richardson said. Continue reading. Acts 17:27. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him.
Gentlemen, why are these Javanese Muslims moving to Irian Jaya? Is it so that they can convert you to their Islamic faith? Is it so they can steal your land and impoverish you? Is it so they can become Christians even as you are?
The church leaders again were reluctant to admit the answer, but finally they said, Its so they can become Christians.
Gentlemen, Richardson concluded, what should you say to your people?
The church leaders decided they had to train their people and encourage them to be effective missionaries to Muslims. If they would take the government up on its offer, they would be planted in the midst of Javanese Muslims and could pursue their missionary goals at government expense!
Don Richardson answered the Irianese Christians question about what they should do by answering the prior, and perhaps more important question of whyfor them: Why are the Javanese Muslims moving into our territory?
We, too, must answer the question why as we are faced with decisions because of personalities, events, and realities that surround us.
Gods Purpose in World History
Why? Why are there wars, famines, plane hijackings, rockets, missiles, computers, and automobiles? Why are some people rich and others poor? Why are Christians in China, the Soviet Union, the Philippines and elsewhere being tortured for their faith? Why doesnt God simply put an end to this mess right now and rapture us out of here?
Is there an underlying purpose to what happens in our world?
The Scriptures answer that last question in the affirmative. We are taught that, from the beginning, Gods purpose has been to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Eph. 1:10). Why? That God might be all in allthat is, be everything to everyone, supreme, the indwelling and controlling factor of life (I Cor. 15:28, Amplified).
The purpose of everything that happens, of every world ruler who has ever lived, of everything that has ever been invented and everything ever made is to exalt God far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come (Eph. 1:21).
Gods purpose is to make His name known, to reveal His glories, and to establish His kingdom among all peoples.
This purpose is something God wanted to fulfill through His people of the Old Testament; it is something He still wants to fulfill through His people today; and it is something He will yet fulfill through all events in history. Once we understand this and take it to heart, it will transform every facet of our lives.
Gods Purpose in His Old Testament People
In it, God lays out for Abraham great blessings: a blessing of land (v. 1); a promise of many descendants (v. 2a); and a great name (v. 2c). God also states in the most general terms possible: I will bless you (v. 2b).
As we read further through the Bible, it becomes clear that this intent to bless really entails God giving Himself to Abraham to be his God: I will be your God, He says, and you will be My people. I will be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.
Most of us who have been brought up in Bible-believing churches know about these blessings God promised to Abraham and his descendants. We may not think of the specific blessings mentioned in Genesis 12, but we know that as Abraham was blessed, so are we blessedand more. Through our Lord Jesus Christ we are children of Abraham and heirs of the promises made to him.
With all our knowledge of the blessings, however, our tendency is to forget the responsibilities that go along with blessings.
God states very clearly, I will make your name great and you will be a blessing (v. 2). More specifically (v. 3): I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
God blessed Abraham and His people of the Old Testament for a purpose: that they might bless othersall nations.
Reading what many Bible scholars say, youd think Abrahams blessing to the nations consists solely of his being the forefather of our Lord Jesus: Abraham, eventually all the nations will be blessed through you because youre going to have a descendant 2000 years from now who will be the savior of the world.
The question is, is that truly all God had in mind? Certainly Jesus birth, death, and resurrection had something to do with the promise, but was that the sole and complete fulfillment?
Knowing Gods character and the things He reveals about Himself throughout the rest of the Bible, I find that hard to believe.
Forgetting the Covenant
I have to confess, as Ive looked at this passage in the past, Ive tended to focus all my attention on the blessings Abraham received as a result of going down to Egypt. The sheep, cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants, maidservants, and camels (vv. 16, 20) were a confirmation and fulfillment of Gods promises in verses 1 through 3.
God had promised Abraham a great name, descendants, land . . . . Wealth is certainly part of what a great name is all about. Abraham acquired great wealth down in Egypt, so God was fulfilling His promise to Abraham. Right?!
What about the Egyptians? Did God make a promise concerning them in verses 2 and 3? Did He lay upon Abraham a responsibility concerning them in verse 3? Or was Abrahams responsibility merely to himself to make sure he got and kept the blessings that God had promised him?
What was Abraham doing in Genesis 12:13 when he told Sarah merely to indicate her blood relation and not her marital relationship with him? Was he trying to keep a blessing for himself or was he trying to give one away? Does the fact that he sought to deceive the Egyptians alter our view of the results in verses 16 and 20?
And what about verse 17? What about the serious diseases Pharaoh and his household suffered because of Abrams wife Sarai? Was it Gods intention to curse Pharaoh through Abraham? I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, said the Lord in verse 3. Had Pharaoh cursed Abraham that he should receive a curse?
I believe it was because Abraham failed in his responsibility to God that Pharaoh was cursed. It was Abrahams responsibility to bless the nations, but he was more concerned about keeping a blessing for himself: he didnt want to lose his life.
And so, instead of being a testimony to Pharaoh of Gods grace, mercy, and truth; instead of showing forth Gods glories, by fear and lack of faith, Abraham brought Gods wrath upon the Egyptians and testified to Pharaoh that God was untrustworthy.
Ironically, Pharaoh, the Godless one, became an example of righteousness to Abraham the believer. What have you done to me? he said (Gen. 12:18). Why didnt you tell me she was your wife? (You have done something that even we pagans do not do!)
Abrahams responsibility toward Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and, indeed, to all nations with whom he came into contact, was to bless them as he had been blessedto make Gods name known, to reveal His glories, and to establish His kingdom among them. In Genesis 12:10-20, he failed in his responsibility.
Paying Closer Attention
What better testimony could be given concerning Gods greatness, His glory, and His sovereign rule over the earth? Abraham testified concerning Gods name (YHWH) and his glories (God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth), and by his oath he testified that God is able to reward those who seek Him and, indeed, that His reward is more to be desired than anything a man might offer.
Gods purpose for Abraham and His purpose for His Old Testament people as a whole was to make His name known, to reveal His glories, and to establish His kingdom in all the earth, among all nations.
Gods Purpose in His New Testament People
As with Abrahams covenant, this covenant contains a blessing and a responsibility.
Jesus sandwiches the responsibility in the midst of the blessing.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, says Jesus. That portion of the blessing is the bottom slice of bread. The top slice is this: I will be with you always even to the very end of the age. Its the same blessing God gave Abraham and His descendants: I will be your God and you shall be My people.
Sandwiched in the middle of this two-part blessing is the responsibility with which Christians today are so familiar. We are to make disciples of all nations or peoples. The word for peoples in Greek is ethne. Ethnic is what we say todayethnic groups.
Jesus says we are to baptize the peoples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Put it this way: we are to help bring them into relationship with God by making His name known and revealing His glory among them.
It is Gods purpose that, with the blessings He has given us, we are to make His name known among the nations.
But there is a second part to our responsibility. We are to teach the nations to obey everything God has commanded us. In other words, we are to establish Gods kingdom, His rule, among them. We are to help the nations see that they are already subject to His authority; they must now acknowledge and submit to it with all their hearts.
Gods purpose for us is that we will bless the nations by making His name known, revealing His glories, and establishing His kingdom among them.
History Prolonged to Bless the Nations
The Lamb is sitting upon His throne when the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fall down before Him and sing: You are worthy to take the scroll . . . because . . . with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.
In 2 Peter 3:9 we are told God is holding back the day of judgment not wanting any to perish but everyone to come to repentance.
And in Matthew 24:14 we read, This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (all ethne) and then the end will come.
God is actually holding back the return of our Lord that He might save for Himself some from every tongue and tribe and people and nation.
Gods purpose in His people of the Old Testament, His purpose in His people of the New, His purpose in all of history is that He might bless all nations, all peoples, all tribes, and all tongues.
So whats the upshot? What difference do these insights make?
I believe there are at least four things that each of us must do differently once we understand Gods purpose in world history.
Blessing or Curse? A New View of Scripture
Take the story of David and Goliath, for example. I heard a sermon not so long ago in which the preacher said something to the effect of, God enabled David to kill a giant. God wants you to be able to kill the giants in your life, too.
As far as I can tell, that preacher missed the whole point of 1 Samuel 17.
Why did God tell us about David and Goliath? Was it so we would be unafraid to tackle the giants in our lives?
In 1 Samuel 17:45-47, David says to Goliath: You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of YHWH Almighty . . . . This day YHWH will hand you over to me . . . and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that YHWH saves, for the battle is YHWHs . . . .
Davids concern wasnt merely to slaughter a giant. He was concerned that Gods name should be glorified in all the earth.
There are dozens of similar well-known passages that are commonly misinterpreted because Gods purpose in world history is not taken into account.
David with Goliath, and Abraham with the Egyptians are only two examples. I discovered only a year or so ago that the book of Daniel is a missionary biography through and through. I would have never guessed it from the stories I was told in Sunday school.
But consider the stories of Jonah and Samson, Naamans servant girl, and the Israelite people in their Babylonian captivity. They are all the stories of missionaries when read in the light of Gods purpose in world history. Would you have ever guessed that from the things youve been taught? I wouldnt!
We need to ask ourselves as we read: To what lengths is God going to enable His people to fulfill their responsibilities? What means does He use. What attitudes do Gods people show in response?
We need to look at Scripture differently.
A New View of History
Instead, we need to focus upon Gods purpose: What is He trying to accomplish? What does He want to achieve through this battle? What does He want to happen as a result of this hostage crisis? Why has He set this leader in charge of this nation?
What is God trying to do? How is He seeking to bless the nations?
Take the news items about the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China on pages 18 through 20 in this issue of Mission Frontiers. Can you see Gods hand at work? What is He trying to accomplish? Are you willing even to look for His hand?
What about on-going situations: Iran, for instance. Why would Godwhy would Godraise up the Ayatollah Khomeini? All that suffering! Why?
A leader of a mission to Muslims went through Iran a year or so ago. He spoke to the Christian leaders in that country and could not believe what they were saying.
Khomeini is the greatest blessing weve ever experienced! they said. The mission leader heard this comment not just once, but many timesin widely separated parts of the country.
Khomeini is the greatest blessing the church in Iran has ever experienced. What?!?
Yes! said the Christians. He has shown Islam for what it truly isand Muslims are turning to Christ in greater numbers than ever before in the history of Iran.
There are now churches in Iran with 50 and 70 percent of their members being converts from Islam. Never before, never before has that occured. More people are becoming Christians out of the Islamic religion than from those who were born into Christian families!
We need to look at history from a different perspective.
As we look at hostage crises and terrorism; as we look at Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Iran; as we look at oil crises and inflations; as we consider what to do about depressions, murders, rapes, and whatever else in the world bothers us, we should be praying not, O Lord! Save us from these troubles! But rather, Father, may Your name be glorified, and your kingdom established in all the earth. Use this eventuse these people in this situationto bring glory to Your name.
Just days before Saigon fell, a pastor in South Vietnam said to a Christian missionary who was preparing to leave, Praise God, the Communists are coming!
What?!! said the missionary. Praise God the Communists are coming?!! Do you know what youre saying? Youre likely to be slaughtered!
Yes, said the pastor. But I have prayed for years that I might have the opportunity to witness to these people and God has kept me from going to them. Now He is bringing them to me.
Praise God the Communists are coming! Can you pray like that? To be honest, I have a hard time even imagining myself doing that. But God wants us to be looking to see what He is about in our world. And as we look at whats happening, our prayers need to be transformed.
A New View of Life
Cant you see? the man replied. Im chiseling stone.
And another stonecutter: What are you doing?
Just trying to make a living.
A third man was asked, What are you doing?
Im building a great cathedral.
On the surface, each of the workmen was doing the same thing. Underneath, they were engaged in very different enterprises!
We need to see our lives from a new perspective.
Youre involved at home with children. What are you doing? Washing diapers? Caring for your family? Trying to give them a better future than you had? Raising up soldiers for Christ, world-changers, future blessings to the nations?
There are a lot of businesspeople around our country who are burning their lives out. Theyre neglecting their husbands, their wives, their children. For what? To build a business? To become successful?
Dr. Walter Frank tells of a businessman in the midwest. On the wall of the lobby as you walk into his company there is a large map of the world. Above the map it says, The Great Commission is not an option. It is a command." On that map there are 42 lights placed in strategic locations around the world.
A visitor asked this businessman, What is the meaning of your map?"
He replied, Each light represents one of my field representatives. Im out to change my world. This business supports 42 missionaries. Theyre my field representatives.
What difference could such a perspective make upon the work we do! How differently would we approach our jobs, our families, our homes, schools, and churches!
What is Gods purpose in your life? Are you going to merely try to make a success for yourself and keep the blessings with which God has blessed you? Or are you going to give them away?
Gods purpose in His people of the Old Testament; His purpose in His people of the New; His purpose in all the events of historyin raising peoples up, in casting them down, in moving them from one part of the world to another; His purpose in your life is to make His name known, to reveal His glories, and to establish His kingdom among the nations.
Is that the purpose for which you will live your life?
Whoever finds his life will lose it, Jesus said, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Mt. 10:39).