When Paul was invited to speak in the open court of the Areopagus at Athens, he could take
no text from the Bible, for his hearers knew nothing of the Bible or the God of the Bible.
They had their own gods galore, and common patriotism precluded their giving heed to gods
of other nations. Paul was forced to find a text in their own idolatrous practice, and from
that point to build his gospel bridgework. This he most cleverly did.
How could the most enlightened nation on earth go on from generation to generation believing in and worshipping gods that had no existence except in the imagination of the worshipper? Did not their gods often disappoint them? How did they explain these disappointments? It is very simple: They were always asking for good things, but they received a mixture of good and bad. If they received good things, they promptly gave credit to their gods. If they received evil things, they could always find something in their own conduct to account for the failure of their gods to bless them. They might even decide that, after all, the things they had desired were not best for them. They helped their gods out!
Do Christians ever "give God a lift"? Some certainly do. It is very foolish, however, for their God needs no "helping out" that men can give. The heathen were forced to speculate, if they satisfied their curiosity. There was nothing else they could do.
Paul preached a revealed religion. A revealed religion removes the necessity of speculation. But when Christians go beyond what is revealed, they enter the field of speculation — the same field that has been occupied by the heathen throughout the ages — and they must give their God a lift. They must help Him out.
We know from the written record that God exercises His power on behalf of His people. That is clearly revealed. He answers their prayers (Jas. 5:16). If we cooperate intelligently and faithfully with the laws of God, we are assured that God will bless us, and our prayers shall be answered. But if we try to make everything that happens providentially into a special, personal, and miraculous way, we hurdle the fence of revelation and run loose in the field of speculation.
Many things that occur seem to be providential, and I suppose that when one cultivates his viewpoint along this line, his vision becomes expert and he can see the hand of Providence in every act and event of his life. But since these conclusions cannot be verified by the written record, he has nothing but his own guess as evidence. This is not satisfactory to others. Such evidence falls in a class with the claims of many sectarians to special experiences. Many claim, in all sincerity, to have seen angels or lights and to have received special messages. Their experiences are very precious to them — more precious than even the word of God — which is true of all speculations. They tell them over and over, and rely upon their correctness throughout a normal lifetime. But will others accept them at face value?
Anything that we cannot prove, and others cannot deny, is a speculation, pure and simple. The comfort that one can obtain from such a speculation may be real, but it certainly rests upon a foundation that is unreal — unrevealed. There is no more propitious place in the world for us to keep quiet than where God has not spoken!
It is difficult to determine which is the most ridiculous — helping out a god that is no god, or having a living God, who has plainly revealed His will, and deliberately wading out beyond the bounds of revelation and riding the waves of speculation. Certainly, there is less excuse for the latter.
If the revelation cannot be depended upon, we are without God and without hope. If it can be depended upon, our God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). How, then, can we conclude that we are His special pets? If God takes away the drunkard's wife and his children, so that he may be led to repentance — if God uses so many individuals as mere footballs to bring about the conversion of one man — just who are His pets? There is a tendency for each individual to think that the world revolves around himself. But if many are to be sacrificed in the process of saving one, it is disastrous to the worlds of those sacrificed.
It is a mighty comfortable feeling to believe that God is ordering events and disposing of circumstances to achieve my good! But it does not leave much comfort for others if they happen to get entangled in the wheels of my special providence. It smacks too much of the smug complacency of the man who thinks that the whole pageant of humanity is being staged for the single purpose of featuring him — that all the rest of mankind are merely props and stage setting!
Certainly good men — those who cooperate with the laws of God — receive more of God's grace. But that is lawful. It could not be otherwise, and it leaves not the least room for boasting, or even for morbid curiosity. When a good man talks of special providence, it sounds more plausible. It is certainly more pardonable. But if we admit his claim, how shall we deny the claims of others? The trouble is that some of those who talk the most of special providence and direct, miraculous answer to prayer have in one way or another proven themselves consummate failures in life — and everybody knows it but themselves. If we deny their claims, how shall we know whose claims to accept? And we may be branded as men of little faith. But if we accept their claims, we cannot help wondering why God did not make a better job of it.
Did you ever hear a tramp claim that God is taking a special interest in directing his life — that he is one of the Lord's pets? The claim would backfire. And yet there are some who have failed just as miserably in a spiritual way to make the claim. I hope that one may be pardoned for wondering why God would limit His extraordinary and miraculous benefits to financial considerations. Is it fair to wonder why He has not led some of them to a simple knowledge of the truth? Would that be an end worthy of special favor? If God is so prompt in giving them special direction in material things, why would He not give them spiritual light, and why would they not think to ask for it?
It is God's business if He wants to help those in special ways who are not entirely friendly with the truth. But since it is a matter that cannot be demonstrated by the scriptures or otherwise, it just does not click with the average Christian that God would demand strict loyalty to the truth and then bestow His choice favors upon those who are lacking in that loyalty. Since it is God's business and not ours, and He has not revealed it to us, is it not a mighty good subject upon which to keep quiet? The most opportune moment in life is to keep quiet when God has not spoken!
I have no more quarrel with the man who holds these views than I have with the man who wades out into the ocean beyond his depth. They are in the same predicament. But when he starts belittling the faith of those who do not follow him into the shark-infested waters of speculation and begins campaigning for his views as a point of cardinal virtue, it is perhaps well to warn him of his personal danger, and, in a Christian spirit, to suggest that he read again Luke 13:1-5. Christ clearly implies that the falling of the tower of Siloam upon 18 men did not prove them greater sinners than multiplied thousands upon whom no tower fell.
We should repent of our sins, keep His commandments and let Him bless us through whatever channels He chooses. We have not one moment to waste upon guessing — we must be giving ourselves wholly to the things Paul commanded Timothy to do, and "take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine," that we may save ourselves and those who hear us (1 Tim. 4:15-16).