It is a false choice, and I have set it up that way on purpose. Every so often, I read about someone facing cancer who elects not to follow medical advice, but rather chooses to rely on their faith in God. It becomes even more tragic when I read of someone raising a child discovered to have a dread disease, and who elects to keep the child from medical treatment.
People who make these choices are all the more tragic figures because they sometimes do know their gracious God. Just this evening, my mother-in-law received laser treatment for her bleeding eyes, and was told that she might not regain her sight. I imagined what it might be like to be 87 years old, and losing control of your own life. For a moment, I reflected on God, and my prayers that had been offered in this lady’s behalf. For a moment, I was tempted to become disgusted at the lack of effectual prayer. And, for a moment, I wondered why we always seem to take things nto the doctor, rather than God.
And then the Lord stepped in and reminded me—graciously—for He ever is a God of grace—of the very text that I had read for devotions yesterday. I want to share that text with you in a moment, but first I want to take you to another text, 2 Chron. 16:12. “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians.” Notice the last clause: “but only from the physicians.” There is no place in the Word where we are told not to seek a physician. Rather Asa was guilty here of not seeking the Lord, of turning his face from God, and looking SOLELY to the physicians for his cure. “In everything, by supplication and prayer, let your requests be made known unto God.” (Phil. 4:6) The proper role for Asa to follow would have been to seek his God first, and then do all that he could to effect a cure from his disease.
If you find yourself standing in the middle of a busy freeway, by all means, pray for deliverance, but try your best to effect a good escape. God works sovereignly, but often He chooses to do so through our working. So, yes, I was right to pray for my mother-in-law, and we were right in seeking to do the best by her with doctor’s treatment. Let me share with you one of the passages where God is so very definitely sovereign, but sovereign through the will and plans of man. It is just one place in the Scripture where the sovereignty of God and the plans of men mesh to provide a beautiful symphony, even in the middle of a harsh world.
King David has just been deposed as a king, and has to flee for his life. He must flee from his son Absalom, a son who he has graciously forgiven already of fratricide, and restored Absalom to his kingdom. Absalom, seeking to be king, had gone to men in the kingdom and convinced them that he, Absalom, would represent their grievances. Interestingly the Scripture says that David fled, passing through the Mount of Olives. That same place, the Mount of Olives, where so much happens with our Lord. I believe that here David is acting the part of our Savior in prefiguring the period before the crucifixion, when Jesus took his disciples apart, and prayed, the Scripture saying that He sweat great drops of blood. In this place, David was told of an ally of Absalom, an ally that was so wise that is was as if his counsel was from God Himself. “Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” In that moment I believe David knew that he was in extreme danger, because this man’s counsel was so wise that David could not prevail against it.
David instantly went to prayer, “O LORD, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.” Later, as he arrived at the summit of the Mount of Olives, he just “happened” to run into a counselor that he knew his son admired. He just “happened” to realize his opportunity to ruin the counsel of Ahithophel “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice.”
So which is it? Did God sovereignly intervene and rescue David? Or did David himself work out his own salvation with fear and trembling? The only answer is a deafening one. We do not know. God intervened. David did his best. Somehow together they mesh to make a beautiful tapestry that we can so appreciate by reading the story. It is that way frequently when God answers prayer; only rarely do we seem to get the chance to see Elijah’s answer in lightning strikes from heaven or Moses’ parting of the sea.
So I must be content with the answers to my prayers for my mother-in-law, knowing that I serve a God of wonderful grace, and that that which hurts so much now will shortly pass away as God reveals Himself to a fallen world. Meanwhile, I can work out, as Philippians says, “my own salvation with fear and trembling”, and as the very next verse reminds us, “knowing that it is God who is at work within you.” Enough said?