Friday, September 26, 2014

What God Ordains Is Always Good - Bible Study

What God Ordains Is Always Good
Text: Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)
(Lutheran Service Book 760)

Primary Biblical References: Romans 8:28; Psalm 92:15; Deuteronomy 32:4; Lamentations 3:19–26

What God ordains is always good:
    His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
    I follow meek and lowly.
        My God indeed
        In ev’ry need
Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.

What God ordains is always good:
    He never will deceive me;
He leads me in His righteous way,
    And never will He leave me.
        I take content
        What He has sent;
His hand that sends me sadness
Will turn my tears to gladness.

What God ordains is always good:
    His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
    That my physician sends me.
        My God is true;
        Each morning new
I trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

What God ordains is always good:
    He is my friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm
    Though many storms may gather.
        Now I may know
        Both joy and woe;
Someday I shall see clearly
That He has loved me dearly.

What God ordains is always good:
    Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
    I take it without shrinking.
        For after grief
        God gives relief,
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.

What God ordains is always good:
    This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
    I shall not be forsaken.
        I fear no harm,
        For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.

The author of this hymn, Samuel Rodigast, was born in Gröben near Jena, Germany. He studied at Weimar and then Jena. From 1680, he was vice-principal and director of the Berlinisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster in Berlin. He never changed his job, although a professorship in Jena was offered to him, and was buried in the church of the monastery.

What God ordains is always good” is the only hymn by Rodigast in our hymnal and the only hymn I could find credited to him. He wrote it to comfort his close friend Severus Gastorius, who was ill and all assumed approaching death. During his recovery Gastorius wrote the tune. J.S. Bach liked the hymn so much that he included it in three different cantatas.

There is no doubt that we live in troubled times. Empty phrases like “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” or “Put on your big boy pants” do nothing for someone standing by the grave of their son who died in a war in a country far away.

Death and destruction are all about us. Whether it is the eboli outbreak in Africa, the murderous actions of ISIS, the devastation of an earthquake or other natural disaster, the breaking down of relationships, the slow but sure deterioration of one’s health as one ages, or simply the loss of a beloved pet, we can all see it.  Such dark hours are what this hymn addresses.

The first thing we notice in the hymn is that Rodigast is not speaking about some generic god. It is not about “a” god or “the gods.” He sings about “my God,” the God who “direct my life,” the God who “leads me.” This is not a cry to the heavens above, hoping against all common sense that somewhere some being might hear and then might take pity. The hymn addresses the God the singer has a long track record with. He knows, not only from the Bible but also from the track record, that God providentially watches over His people.

So who are those who know this track record? In Romans 8:28 we read:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Paul tells us that the people who know this track record are “those who are called according to His purpose.” In other words, these are those who God elected in eternity to send the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to bring them to faith in His Son.

I realize that election, along with those issues related to it like salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and predestination, is a thorny issue for many. Some have, in the past, used these teachings to terrify people and even introduce doubt in their salvation or the goodness of God. Here we see it used properly, as a source of comfort and encouragement.

Therefore, because all things are really in God’s providential hand, we know that “all things work together for good.” So we sing with confidence “What God ordains is always good.”

Of course the hymn writer isn’t speaking of some silly humanly devised utopia. We sing, “His hand that sends me sadness,” “Though many storms may gather,” “Though I the cup am drinking Which savors now of bitterness,” and “Though sorrow, need, or death be mine.” But through it all we know that “What God ordains is always good.”

Psalm 92 is one of the so-called “orphan” Psalms. That is because we don’t know who wrote it. The psalmist declares, “that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (Psalm 92:15). So we sing in verse 2, God “is always good; He never will deceive me; He leads me in His righteous way, And never will leave me.”

I might take a moment to point out that it is God who is righteous and who does not deceive us. There is so much bad theology today which makes claims for God that God has not made; Claims that flatter us and promise that God’s understanding of “good” is the same as fallen humanities idea of “good.” These false prophets deceive people. It is not God who deceives. Sadly many who have been deceived then think God has lied. This is one of the great dangers of false doctrine, false teaching.

In Deuteronomy Moses writes:

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
          for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
          just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4)

God is “The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice.” God indeed is our “Rock,” our Refuge and Protector; He is our perfect judge who declares His repentant believers forgiven and righteous. He protects them; that’s us. Therefore “I trust His grace unending.”

In Lamentations 3:19-26, Jeremiah writes that God’s people have their afflictions.

19        Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
                   the wormwood and the gall!
20        My soul continually remembers it
                   and is bowed down within me.
21        But this I call to mind,
                   and therefore I have hope:

22        The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
                   his mercies never come to an end;
23        they are new every morning;
                   great is your faithfulness.
24        “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
                   “therefore I will hope in him.”

25        The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
                   to the soul who seeks him.
26        It is good that one should wait quietly
                   for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:19-26)

Clearly those who speak lying promises and claim a “real” Christian who has a “strong enough” faith will experience no troubles have to cut such verses like 19-20 out of their Bibles.

But God does not leave Jeremiah, or us, without hope. Look again at verses 25-26. And, of course, we know that Christians seek Him through His Word and the Lord’s Supper. This is where he has promised we can find Him. Christians petition Him in prayer in Jesus’ name. You can be confident that what God ordains for you will always be for your good!

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