We look to God to bless us, and hope and pray that He will, especially when we have some urgent need. But who ever thinks of blessing God? Yet the repeated usage of this expression in Scripture makes it clear that we are to do so; and that something more than words of praise must be involved—God is to be genuinely blessed with a gift from man that is of great value. Yet David’s description of blessing God seems to put it beyond human capacity: “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Ps:34:1-3). Mere men can magnify and exalt the infinite God who brought them into existence? That seems impossible.
Surely such pitiful creatures as we are can’t bless the Holy God, the infinite Creator of the universe, who has all and controls all! That’s too much to imagine! We are nothing and have nothing: all belongs to God. As King David said concerning the offerings Israel brought for building the temple, “for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD…for all things come of thee…of thine own have we given thee....O LORD, our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee an house for thine holy name cometh of thine hand, and is all thine own…” (1 Chr:29:11, 14, 16). We can only give to God what He has in His grace and mercy given to us. As the hymn says,
Naught have I gotten but what I received;
Grace hath bestowed it since I have believed.
Boasting excluded, pride I abase,
I’m only a sinner saved by grace....
This is my story, to god be the glory,
I’m only a sinner saved by grace!
Naked we came into the world, and naked we will leave it (Job:1:21). Then what do we have of our own that we can give to God and thereby bless Him? Surely nothing! Yet we read many times in the Bible of those who “blessed the Lord,” and we, too, are frequently exhorted to do so. Moreover, the language of Scripture seems to indicate that each of us has something unique that God created and gave to us—something priceless that we must willingly give back to Him, otherwise we lose all! The gift with which we can bless God must be something that He would otherwise never have—something He could not take from us and could not create as His own! And in returning this to God, we exalt and magnify and bless Him.
This biblical teaching presents one of the most powerful lessons we must each learn. Yet, sadly, it is right at this point that we confront a deep conflict among Christians—a volatile difference of opinion over the sovereignty of God that we would rather avoid. Yet this vital issue can’t be escaped, for we face it throughout Scripture. The disagreement is not whether God is sovereign. Both sides agree that He has always been “in total control” of this entire universe, still is, and always will be. The argument (yes, that is, unfortunately, what it too often becomes) involves the question: “What does it mean that God is sovereign and in control of His universe?”
Christians take great comfort in reminding themselves, especially in times of distress, “God is still on the throne—He’s in control.” That is true—but seemingly forgotten is the fact that God was on the throne and in control when Satan rebelled and took many of the angels with him. God was surely on His throne and in control when Adam and Eve disobeyed the one commandment He had given them, and by their willful, rebellious sin, brought suffering and death upon all their descendants even to this day. So it was when Cain murdered his brother, Abel, in cold blood, and when “every imagination of [man’s] heart was only evil continually…the earth [was] filled with violence” (Gen:6:5, 13), and wickedness was so great that God repented of creating man.
We all agree on God’s total sovereignty, that He is unquestionably still on His throne and in control of the entire universe. Yet at the same time, evil increases while sorrow, suffering, disease, and death ravage the creatures He made in His image and over whom He mourns in love and pity. Why should that be?
Surely God is not happy that evil plunders His creation! In fact, He was so unhappy at the wickedness in Noah’s day that He would have destroyed mankind had not Noah found grace in His eyes. No one could say that the universal fact of evil gripping all of creation like a fatal plague was just the way God wanted it or that He had predestined it to be so! He has wept for 3,000 years over the sins of His people Israel, sending His prophets day and night, year after year, warning them to repent so He would not be forced to pour out His wrath upon them (Jer:7:3, 25; 11:7; 25:4,5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14,15; 44:4, etc.), pleading over and over, “Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate!”
Surely, if God hates sin—and He does—it could not be something He wills. Yet this is the story of mankind throughout all of history, with wickedness only increasing in spite of God’s pleadings and warnings. Today’s advancing technology only gives man a loftier platform from which to shake his puny fist in his Creator’s face. Obviously, the fact that God is on His throne and in control of the universe doesn’t mean that rebellion can’t occur or that we may not suffer sickness, sorrow, pain, loss, and death. The question is, who is willing to surrender themselves to God to the point of saying with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” (13:15)?
No greater contradiction could be conceived than to say that the wickedness God hated then and hates now was, and is, what He desired and presently desires for mankind. Who would dare to say that the inevitable damnation and eternal torment of billions of His creatures in the Lake of Fire demanded by His holiness and justice is just the way God wanted it to be?! Yet there are those who say exactly that, declaring that God doesn’t love all or want all to be saved, that Christ did not die for all, and that God predestined those billions to suffer eternally. Those who teach this are sincere people and mean well, but they are making God out to be less loving and merciful than we expect of one another.
How do they justify this doctrine? Its proponents earnestly believe they are defending God’s sovereignty. Failing to understand that evil is something God allows but doesn’t will, they mistakenly imagine that if anything could happen (good or evil) that God did not will, it would mean that He was not sovereign. They refuse to consider the obvious fact (supported by hundreds of Bible verses) that God sovereignly gave man the moral responsibility and power of obeying or disobeying Him, of loving or hating Him. Unless this is true, obedience and reward, disobedience and punishment, love and hate—and much of the Bible itself—have no meaning.
The fact that God is sovereign need not mean that nothing can happen that He doesn’t will. If that were the case, then we would have to conclude that God wills the very evil that He hates—an obvious contradiction not only in logic but in character. Confusion at this point justifies the sneering complaint of the atheist who claims he cannot believe in God because of evil: “If your God can’t stop all evil and suffering, He is too weak to be God. And if He can, and doesn’t, He is a monster not worthy of our trust!”
There is, of course, one obvious answer to this dilemma, and only one: that God in His sovereignty has given mankind the genuine power of free choice and will not take it back. God can pressure, persuade, or plead with man, but He cannot force him against his will or He would destroy the very creature He made. Remember the exchange of letters over the Columbine massacre:
Dear God, Why didn’t you save the school children in Littleton, Colorado? Sincerely, Concerned Student.
Dear Concerned Student, I am not allowed in schools. Sincerely, God.
This world of sin, suffering, and death is not God’s doing; it is what morally responsible man has irresponsibly wrought in opposition to God’s will. Or else why would Jesus teach us to pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mat:6:10)? Why would it be commendable to surrender to God with these words, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk 22:42), if nothing except God’s will can happen anyway?
If ever young men were surrendered to God’s will, it was the five missionaries martyred by the Auca Indians on January 8, 1956. Their theme song was, “We rest on thee, our shield and our defender. We go not forth alone to meet the foe. Strong in thy strength, safe in thy keeping tender, We rest on thee, and in thy Name we go.” My wife and I stood at the piano with Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully after Sunday dinner at Jim’s uncle’s home and, with Marilou McCully accompanying, sang together this song of trust and praise. It was our farewell to Jim and Pete just before they sailed to Ecuador. Ed and his wife stayed on a few months longer to finish a medical missionary course before rejoining Jim and Pete.
Ed was my closest friend. It was an almost shattering blow to learn of the deaths of these three soldiers of the cross (along with two others whom we didn’t know) who had entrusted themselves into God’s loving hands. The fact that God was on His throne and in control did not prevent what seemed a horrible disaster at the time—but brought much glory to His Name and many redeemed souls into His family in the years since.
God could not force these young men to delight in His will even to the death—this was the passion of their hearts. Nor could He force those of us left behind to praise Him in spite of what we could not understand, or to trust Him to bring good out of evil. Our surrendered trust and praise was something God could not take from them or us, but which blessed Him when we voluntarily gave it to Him. God was magnified and exalted by the glad giving of our hearts in submission to His will, trusting that He knows what is best.
The first use of the phrase, “Bless the Lord,” is an exhortation to Israel: “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee” (Dt 8:10). In other words, we are to give to God the grateful thanks He deserves for His gifts to us. It must not be perfunctory praise, a formula repeated in order to get more blessings. The thanksgiving must proceed sincerely from the heart in recognition of our unworthiness and total dependence and trust.
Heartfelt gratitude that praises Him for who He is and for what He has done—while recognizing that we are undeserving of the least of His mercies—cannot be programmed or coerced by God. Such praise must come from our hearts. Thus it is something of our own with which we can each bless God in return for His great blessings to us.
David called upon the people of Israel to provide the necessary materials to build the Temple. When he saw that they brought abundantly and “willingly to the LORD [he] rejoiced with great joy [and] blessed the Lord before all the congregation [saying] Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all....Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name…for all things come of thee, thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness” (1 Chr:29:9-17).
In the revival under Nehemiah, the Levites commanded the people, “Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise....Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram…and gavest him the name of Abraham…and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, [et. al] and hast performed thy words…” (Neh:9:5-8). Then follows a lengthy recital of how God took the Israelites out of Egypt, sustained them in the wilderness in spite of their rebellion, and brought them into the Promised Land; how they disobeyed, were restored, then rebelled again, went into idolatry, were forgiven and restored—the cycle continuing until God cast them out in reluctant judgment. The very acknowledgement to God of His patient pleadings year after year and His righteousness in judging Israel’s sin brings a blessing to Him that He could not force from anyone. It must be offered willingly from the heart.
David was continually urging himself and all Israel to “bless the LORD.” He declared, “In the congregations will I bless the LORD ” (Ps:26:12), indicating that blessing the Lord is not to be given only from our hearts to Him, but ought to be done publicly also. Furthermore, we are to bless the Lord ceaselessly. Again, David is our example: “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Ps:34:1-3).
How often do we “bless the Lord”? How often do we recall the ways He has guided us, provided for us, kept us from yielding to temptation, protected and sustained us? How often have we thanked Him for all His mercies and told Him we love Him? Have you done that today? Have you communed with Him from a heart overflowing with gratitude and praise? That blesses Him!
We remember the Lord when we have needs and cry out to Him to bless us—but do we remember to bless Him when all is going well? God laments, “My people have forgotten me days without number” (Jer:2:32). Is life so busy that God’s people don’t have time to praise and thank the Lord from their hearts for His goodness and grace?
Or has life become so filled with efforts to cover every financial contingency, to realize one’s full earthly potential, and finally to retire comfortably, that without realizing it we are finding our hope in this world rather than in God?
God laments through Jeremiah: “Be astonished, O ye heavens…be ye horribly afraid, be very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out…broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer:2:12,13). Let us bless the Lord at all times from the very depths of our being! Thereby we not only bring joy to our God but become wells of living water springing up into everlasting life, overflowing to others. TBC