A CROOK IN THE LOT (Eccles. 6:10-7:14)

9/11 was a defining moment in the history of America. The terrorist attacks changed the way we view national security and air travel, forever. The attacks have even made some people think twice before entering a skyscraper.

But the events of September 11 have also prompted questions about God and his purposes. The eighteenth-century Scottish writer, Thomas Boston asked similar questions when he penned his book, The Crook in the Lot.

The crook in the lot seems to be common for most people – for none are immune from pain, trials, or adversity. John Piper writes, “This is the uniform message of the Bible, whether we are talking about suffering that comes from disease or from calamity or from persecution: ‘God works all things after the counsel of his will.’ God has a good and wise purpose in all that happens.”[1]

How should we respond when pain, suffering, or adversity touch our lives? Ecclesiastes 6:10-7:14 give insight into this sensitive question. This section of Scripture contrasts wisdom with folly. But the contrasts become even more vivid in verses 13-14. If you are discouraged or suffering in any way, my prayer is that this short article would provide a set of guard rails for you in the Christian life and breath fresh encouragement into your soul.

“Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:13–14, ESV)

CONSIDER THE SOVEREIGN GOD

Solomon urges us to consider. The word means, “to see, regard, learn about, observe, gaze at or give attention to something.” When we consider the sovereign God, at least three things need to take place in our hearts and minds.

Acknowledge the Greatness of God

First, we must gaze at God’s works. Scripture says:

“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” (1 Chronicles 16:9, ESV)

“And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 16:2, ESV)

“Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.” Selah Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.” (Psalm 66:3–5, ESV)

Second, we must gaze at God’s ways.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, ESV)

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33–36, ESV)

Third, we must gaze at God’s works.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11, ESV)

Admit – God Does the Bending

Ultimately, God is behind the crook in the lot. Scripture teaches that God has an overarching plan for his creation which was established in eternity past. This sovereign plan is called the eternal decree of God which the Westminster Shorter Catechism describes as “his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he has foreordained whatever comes to pass.”

The Bible is clear on this matter. God decrees everything that comes to pass. The Westminster Confession of Faith adds, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF, 30).

“The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Proverbs 16:4, ESV)

“Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11, ESV)

“Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.” (Job 42:11, ESV)

Second, God “bends” in order to advance his glory. God hardens Pharoah’s heart so that he will not let the people go (Exod. 4:21). God hardens Pharoah’s heart and multiplies his signs and wonders in Egypt (Exod. 7:3). God works in the Egyptians heart (Exod. 12:36) as well as Pharaoh (Exod. 14:4, 17-18).

Third, God works all things according to the counsel of his will.

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV)

Fourth, God is not the author of evil. Bruce Ware remarks, “God works through evil people, and he uses evil decisions and actions, but God never, never, never himself does evil … God ordains evil, uses evil, and accomplishes infinitely good purposes through evil, but he never does evil.”[2]

Finally, God uses evil for a good purpose. The chief evidence of this vital principle is found in the cross of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23). John Frame adds, “Evil is not a refutation of God’s good purposes for creation or of his love for his people. The evil of this world serves God’s long-term purpose to glorify himself and to do good for his people.”[3]

Agree – No One Can Straighten What God Has Bent

The Scripture clearly declares that the purposes of the King can never be thwarted (Prov. 19:21).

“all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” (Daniel 4:35, ESV)

“For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27, ESV)

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (Isaiah 45:9, ESV)

“Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:1–2, ESV)

How should we respond to God when there is a crook in the lot? Answer: We consider the sovereign God. But we do not stop there. We must choose a proper response to the sovereign God.

CHOOSE A PROPER RESPONSE TO THE SOVEREIGN GOD

In the Day of Prosperity, Be Joyful

“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14, ESV)

When there is food on the table, we rejoice. When the bills are paid, we rejoice. When our bodies are healthy, we rejoice. When life works for us, we rejoice. The real challenge comes when the day of adversity strikes.

In the Day of Adversity, Remember That God is Sovereign

Most of John Bunyan’s life was marked by suffering. When he was fifteen years of age, his mother and sister died within a month’s time. His first child was born blind. In 1658, his first wife died. His second wife endured a painful miscarriage. In 1660, Bunyan was arrested and imprisoned for preaching without state approval. In 1775, he was imprisoned again. And in 1688, he died alone on the way home from preaching in London.

Yet, John Bunyan maintained a God-centered perspective in the midst of adversity: “And as no enemy can bring suffering upon a man when the will of God is otherwise, so no man can save himself out of their hands when God will deliver him up for his glory … We shall or shall not suffer, even as it pleaseth him … God has appointed who shall suffer. Suffering comes not by chance or by the will of man, but by the will and appointment of God.”[4]

When disease strikes, when the rain does not fall, when the buildings do fall, and when pain rears it’s ugly head, we can rest assure that nothing will enter our lives without divine permission. “What God permits, he decrees to permit,” writes Jonathan Edwards.

God’s sovereignty and providential control enable us to trust him with every aspect of our lives (Gen. 50:20). And when bitter providence strikes, we can be assured that God allows his people to endure a season of pain or adversity that is for our good and for his glory (Job 13:15). The proper response, then, to to the sovereignty of God is what Spurgeon calls, “unquestioning acquiescence.”[5]

Conclusion

In both good times and bad, we must consider the sovereign God and choose a proper response to him. In the final analysis, we can say with the Puritan writer, “When the whole work shall be complete – every particle will be seen to have fallen into its own proper place. And all will then appear One Great Whole ever way worthy of God – the eternal manifestation of his glory.”[6]

If you are enduring a crook in the lot, please know that we serve a God of wonders! He is still in control. He is still sovereign. And he loves you with an everlasting love. “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, ESV). Charles Hodge reminds us, “History in all its details, even the most minute, is but the working of the eternal purposes of God.”[7]

My prayer is that the people of God would embrace the fundamental reality that God is absolutely sovereign over all. May we stand with Jonathan Edwards who said, “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.”

[1]      John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), 21-22.

[2]      Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 212.

[3]      John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2002), 284.

[4]      John Bunyan, Seasonable Counsel, or Advice to Sufferers, 722-723.

[5]      C.H. Spurgeon, The Unconquerable King in Classic Sermons on the Sovereignty of God, Warren Wiersbe, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 36.

[6]      Charles Bridges, Ecclesiastes (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1860), 155.

[7]      Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1995), 538.v