Theologian Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920
Spiritual Power for the Crushing Contradictions
The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.
In his introductory comments on this passage, Abraham Kuyper, the 19th century theologian (who also served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands 1901-1905) writes, “Our heart is continually inclined to rebel against the Lord our God … that oh so gladly – were it even for a single day – we would take from His hands the reins of His supreme rule, imagining that we would manage things far better and direct them far more effectively than God.”
Nearing the end of my sabbatical in St. Louis and my return to Los Angeles, I’m grateful to my good friend and colleague, Pastor Ron Lutjens, for bringing Kuyper’s message on Psalm 145 to my attention. I was preparing to write again on Psalm 51 but then so much happened. I felt the force of Kuyper’s observation. The senseless and horrific murders in Atlanta have stirred a timely and much needed correction in our tolerance for the denigration and mistreatment of Asians and Asian Americans. But was there no other way for this national examination to begin? Here, in St. Louis, Michelle and I attended a vigil for the slain. Then there was yet another mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.
Closer to home, all our hearts are traumatized by the death of our sister in Christ, Colleen Wong. She was a true servant of the Lord, a wise counselor, and a true friend of our fellowship. If we could, who among us would not be tempted to take last Friday out of God’s hands?! We must acknowledge that we have no way to understand these dreadful events nor skill to interpret their meaning. Only then can our faith in Jesus Christ truly be faith in Him. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith in Jesus is the most vital when we really cannot possibly understand or explain this life and so must completely rely on Him. After listing all of the kinds of injustices and wrongs and troubles that confront us in this world, Kuyper writes,
Never say, therefore, that the way God does things justifies itself to you, as being all-wise and all-good. This can only be said by someone who does not think deeply, who pays no attention to what goes on around him, and who is so used to the contradictions of life, that they no longer affect him. But if you have still remained young and fresh of heart, and love inspires you, and what you see happening around you grips you, leaves you no rest and compels you to think, then never say that the common course of life teaches you God’s wisdom and God’s love.
It is rather as though a thwarting power goes through all of life, and as though intentionally God does otherwise than we honestly think it ought to have happened; that in the face of what we see, it is by faith alone, that we should hold ourselves to God, and in spite of every experience of life, should confess that God is good to all.
As to why [God works this way] we literally know nothing. But this much is certain, that he who pays attention to things at large and observes what goes on around him, can only and alone hold on to the wisdom and goodness of God by faith. The psalmist puts it this way: “The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works.” But no, we do not see this, and life does not show us this. It can only be witnessed to by the Holy Spirit in your innermost self.
But if alone, you come to the one true viewpoint [of the psalmist] and you have a testimony concerning your God which neither want nor death can tear out of your heart, then your faith in God’s goodness is a conquest, which you have won with spiritual power upon the crushing contradiction of reality around you. Then the song that God is wise and good is no longer a child’s exercise to you, which you have sung imitating others, but it becomes to you a psalm of life, welling up from the inward address of your soul. And then if it goes through fire, and though the waters of the most bitter reality threaten to engulf you, yet you triumph, and in the face of trouble and anguish of soul, of want and suffering, of death and grave, yet you sing of the goodness of God.
And then you do not try to explain this difficulty, in which you cannot succeed anyway; and then you do not reason about it, as though to hang your confession of God’s goodness on the cobweb of your reasoning. No; instead you have the high courage to look in the eye cold-bloodedly the bitterness of your suffering, and to drink the cup of your suffering to the dregs. And then you do not hide it, that you do not understand God, that of His love you see the contrary, of His wisdom rather the reverse. But yet you hold yourself immovably fast to what your faith testifies, and with the psalmist you continue to exult: “The Lord is good to all” and good also to me.
Excerpted and adapted from In the Shadow of Death (Chapter 19, “The Lord is Good to All: Resting in God’s Appointment,” by Abraham Kuyper [Dutch ed., 1893; English ed., 1929])
I did not know Colleen as well as some of you, but I was a committed “fan” and frequently sought her counsel on matters of our church fellowship. We had made some plans just recently, and I had complete confidence in her gifts and wisdom to help me carry them out. I was depending on her. There is no one I can think of now who can replace her. I will have to go to Jesus! She would tell us plainly in her matter of fact voice that the spiritual power we need to face the end of her life and ministry on earth is in Him. I think Kuyper’s words would make sense to her. Faith in the goodness of God is a conquest we win only in Him, and a song we can, and must, sing now through tears springing from truth so that the ancient wisdom of Proverbs 3:5 for all of us and for all of life rings loud again: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”