Way back in August I was pleased to be able to share Paul Fox’s essays with a wider readership. His subject wasFreewill and God’s Sovereignty. Since then we have been thinking along similar lines, and in this number I should like to present the substance of what my son-in-law Andrew shared with us during a time of fellowship recently. I have entitled it Rules of Engagement, and it may bring to mind a film of that title, in which an American Operations Commander was Court Marshalled for apparently disobeying the rules of engagement laid down by the Military. The point of the film was to show that he in fact didn’t disobey, but was set up by higher powers that were, unknown to him, working against his better interests.
During our time of fellowship, Andrew said that it was his belief that God had limited Himself in respect to the on-going history of world conflict between Satan and Himself, in order that the enemy’s schemes would also be limited, and he would thus be prevented from carrying out wholesale destruction. This immediately presented the thought of a Cosmic Chess Game to our minds. We saw the chess men as human beings and angels, with God as the Commander of the White Men and Satan as the Commander of the Black Men. We appreciated the limitations of the parable, but nevertheless recognised the value of using it to help us understand some of the perplexities of life. Maybe Mr Spock’s three-dimensional chess board in Star Trek would be better suited to our purposes, but we couldn’t get our minds round the complexities of his game, so we decided to limit ourselves to the conventional two-dimensional board.
As Paul Fox declared, God has granted mankind (and the angels) the blessing of freewill. However, this blessing was seen to be used negatively by Adam and Eve right at the start of world history. Some may argue against the wisdom of God’s allowing freewill to operate, but a few moments of careful thought leads to the conclusion that any other method of creating sentient beings “in the image of God” would be impossible. Freewill, perhaps the greatest of all God’s gifts to men and angels, is the sole cause of the setting up of the Cosmic Chess Game.
However, as Paul Fox concluded, the sovereignty of God is over and above all things, and Satan will finally have to learn that he cannot win the Chess Game. He may propose, but at every turn he sees that God disposes. Man may cry to God for deliverance, for healing, for sustenance, for financial stability, and wonder why it is not always forthcoming. He may even turn away from God because his cries are not answered, and some have cursed God’s name as a result. But they fail to appreciate the limitations God has placed upon Himself, in order to comply with theRules of Engagement. Some may then say, “I thought God was almighty, and able to do anything. Why doesn’t He hear our cries and rescue His people from the grips of the enemy and the vicissitudes of life?” But there was Onewho, in Gethsemane some 2,000 years ago, pleaded with His Father for such rescue, and it was not granted. Should not this one single historical fact help us to understand what the Chess Game is all about?
Is it not the absolute majesty of God that shines through history, showing that although He has limited Himself to the Rules of Engagement, He is able to turn the Game continually to His own advantage, and the ultimate achievement of His over-arching purpose for both man and the angels? Are we to believe that if we are left to die of cancer, or killed in a car crash, or spend our lives in some form of misery without very much alleviation, that God has no care for us? Are we not rather to say, with Job of old, “even if He should slay me, yet I will trust Him”? (Job 13:15)
It is so easy to live in the belief that everything is going to fold up, and the world will be destroyed by evil men, and God is for some reason not in charge. But we are always looking at things from a very limited perspective. If we could rise above our surroundings and witness the Chess Game from this higher vantage point, we should be able to seebeyond the confines of our lowly position in time and space. But this is not given to us, and for many it creates a perplexity of mind that seems overwhelming. That is why we have felt the necessity of writing this article, in the hope that it might clarify our minds, and enable us to go through life, accepting its limitations, its dangers, and its agonies, and have the courage to believe that God has His purpose in it all, and is always in charge.
If God has chosen this way of achieving His purposes for mankind and the angels, and at the same time expresses Himself as a loving, caring, compassionate God, then we simply have to believe that in the days ahead, beyond the grave, He will make up to us for all the things that we suffer. It is our belief and understanding that the greatness of God’s character is thereby manifested throughout the written pages of Scripture, and that we can understand why He has limited Himself in this way. If our desperate cries for help seem to get lost in space and never answered, it is not because they are not heard. There will be a day when tears will be wiped from all faces, as the glory of God is revealed to all creation, and the Chess Game understood, with all its wisdom and magnificence.
I am reminded of a strange vision the Lord gave me on 14th January 1972. Before me was a marble floor with black and white squares, each about ten feet across. On some of these squares reposed huge chessmen, now few in number because the game was far advanced. By comparison my own size was that of a tin soldier. Then I saw a hand reach out and take a white pawn and move it forward one place, which was the far side of the “board”. A voice said, “Give me back my Queen!” And as I watched, the pawn was replaced by the white Queen, and I heard a chorus of voices crying out with excitement, saying, “Praise God, our Mother has returned!”
On reconsidering this vision in the light of our recent discussions, we see the way in which God takes His little pawns, so insignificant and limited, to achieve great things for the Master when lives of trust and obedience are concerned. It brings to mind Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings where Frodo was asked to achieve a momentous task and against all the odds and with all the limitations of a mere little hobbit finally, but with help, was the pawn that accomplished the final battle. If we appreciate, that as God’s children, we are part of a similar cosmic battle, then the Chess Game has reason and wisdom.
“Jesus spoke a parable to illustrate the constant need for prayer without giving up. There was in a certain city a godless judge who held all in contempt. A widow of the city came constantly to appeal against a man who had harmed her. The judge ignored her for a while, but eventually she got on his nerves. He said, ‘I fear neither God nor man, but this woman bothers me. I’ll avenge her to stop her irritating me by her persistence.’ The Lord said, ‘If an evil judge can be worn down by such persistence, shall not God most certainly bring vindication to His people who cry to Him day and night? Yes, I tell you that He will vindicate them speedily. But the question is, when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
“Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. I will repay.” (Romans 12:19) That is a promise, even if we do not see it in action very often during our lives. There will come a time when all wrongs will be called into question by the Great Judge, and justice will be done. Furthermore, God’s judgments will be seen to be restorative rather than merely punitive, as the sheer majesty of God’s lovingkindness is displayed to all the world.
This world’s judicial system may seem to be like Chancery in Dickens’ “Bleak House,” a mockery of the very word ‘Justice’. But God may be relied upon to execute total, fair, and unquestionable justice. Are we near to the “Great and dreadful day of God’s judgment”?