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What Is God Up To?

Looking Back To Planet Earth

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 9, 1990

Selected highlights from this sermon

When this world ends and we’re with the Lord forever, what do you think we’ll see if we reflect on our earthly lives?

We will fully see the superiority of God, in all His ways: His holiness, power, love, wisdom, truth, justice, and His glory. On the stage of history, God will win all the praise.  

I’ve entitled the message today Looking Back to Planet Earth because someday when we are in heaven, we will be able to look back upon this earth and understand more fully than we understand today what God was up to through ten thousand years of Church history. I think that once we are in heaven, if we can see planet Earth from heaven, and I assume we will be able to, we’ll be impressed first of all with the tiny size of this planet in comparison to the vastness of the solar system and the stellar universe. And we will again be amazed that God should choose this small planet to be the one to be that stage upon which good and evil and justice and injustice are played out. And we will be overwhelmed by the fact that we had a small part in that drama.

Then I think, secondly, that we will be impressed also with the shortness of time. You know, 8,000 years or 10,000 years seems to be a long time, and if you live 80 years it can seem to be a long time. But once we are into eternity we will be overwhelmed with the shortness of time in comparison to an eternity that has no end. And we will be swept up in the incredible grandeur of eternity. But I suppose that when we are there in heaven, one of the things we’re going to do is to finally get a chance to ask God the question that plagues the minds of anybody who has ever done any thinking at all. And that is the question, “Why?” Why all the suffering on planet Earth? Why all the grief? Why all the earthquakes? Why all the tragedies? Why all the heartaches? Why all the broken families? Oh God, what were you up to?

Before I try to answer that question, let me just take a moment to walk with you through the pages of history. Remember that after Adam and Eve were created, generations began to come about, and those generations turned away from the Lord, and in turning from God, they began to serve pagan idols. And the whole world was so corrupt with its immorality and its cruelty that God said, “I’m going to start over.” All that He had left was Noah and his family. And so a flood came on the earth. We read that too quickly in the pages of the Bible. Have you ever thought of what a universal flood would mean? Here are families being swept away as the rain begins to pour, and they go to higher ground, and finally little children see their mommies and daddies being taken away by the fast, thoughtless, harsh current, and they are gone. And the children are crying, and they are weeping, and they are shrieking and they are crying out to God. And the rain doesn’t stop until every single human being is drowned. And God starts over.

But you read about Noah and soon you find that he also was involved, he and his ancestors, in turning away from God, so you have the whole Babylonian Empire that begins with its occultism. And remember that whenever you have occultism you always have cruelty. That’s why, as the United States swings toward occultism of the New Age Movement, cruelty and barbarianism will always increase. And so during that period of time you have many wars. You have one nation conquering another nation. You have brutality on a scale that you and I have never seen, and generation goes after generation, and the knowledge of the true God is practically non-existent upon the earth. And God decides to choose Abraham.

And Abraham becomes the father, of course, of the Jewish nation. And you know that through the life of Abraham, God began that nation, but when you stop to think of it, Israel was a small nation in comparison to all the other nations of the earth for one thing. And even within the nation Israel, there were relatively few who really knew the living and the true God. Most of the people ended up just going through the formality. They were not necessarily God’s people in their hearts at all.

And then after Jesus Christ comes to earth and when He’s here, how many people really do believe on Him? Yes, a few hundred – yes, a few thousand, but what about the nations that were developing, such as China? Years ago my family and I were in China and we stood upon the Wall of China and were told that much of the wall had been built 200 years before the time of Christ. Whole civilizations that do not know anything about the Savior and never find out as year after year goes on end, and one generation comes and another generation goes!

Oh I know it’s true that through the Church, Europe became Christianized, but I think of those 300 years of persecution when people were taken and they were thrown to the lions, and they were killed in so many barbaric ways, and many of God’s choicest people cried up to the Lord and said, “God, where are You? Deliver us!” The heavens were as silent as brass. Things happened during those days that would be enough to bring tears to a rock, and God didn’t intervene.

And after that period of time, of course, the Church begins to collapse and traditions as Church and State are unfortunately united. And the true knowledge of God again almost is extinct, apart from a few groups, and then you have the Reformation where people began to go back to the Bible again. But then you think of subsequent generations, and you think of the heartache and the grief.

In the Soviet Union (where my wife and I were two-and-a-half years ago), 25 million people were killed by Stalin. Seven million farmers in the Ukraine were systematically starved to death, if you please. And then another 25 million people were killed in the Second World War, and those two events were going on almost simultaneously. Can you imagine the heartache of the earth? And then we haven’t mentioned China where the United States Congress said that Chairman Mao killed 60 million of his own people in that revolution that ended up with the triumph of communism in China.

And what can we say about North Korea and Eastern Europe? And you look at the history of the world, and how do you characterize it? Nothing really except human suffering and heartache! I used to always say that 20,000 children starve every day, and then I get Christianity Today, and a recent article says that 50,000 starve every single day.

What can we say about the United States of America, this great country in which you and I live? We can see things going downhill. We talk about the fragmentation of the family, the heartache, the kind of immorality that is so destructive, and we can see that the influence of God is being stamped out, and we’re headed for a new wave of persecution.

In our home we don’t get the Tribune regularly. We usually though buy a Sunday copy. In fact, that’s one of my heavy responsibilities on Saturday afternoon – to buy a copy of Sunday’s Trib. And I sit there, and I read it and I look through it. Did you see yesterday this article where it talked about the university campuses of the United States? Do you know that the Trib says that one out of every four girls attending our universities is involved in what is called date rape? I read that yesterday and I was angry. It makes you mad. You can’t even think about it. What kind of cruelty and barbarism are we really rearing in the United States anyway? God, what is it that you are doing? What is the plan anyway? And when we get to heaven we’re going to ask Him that question, and today we’re going to learn as much as possible before we get to heaven to find out what in the world God was up to. Aren’t you glad you came?

You know there was a poem that was written that I think says it all.

God’s plan made a hopeful beginning
But man spoiled his chances by sinning.
We hope that the story will end for God’s glory
But at present the other side’s winning.

You know that philosophers for years have said that there are three propositions that Christians (speaking about us as Christians) believe, but we are believing a contradiction. And the three propositions that we are told cannot logically exist together are first of all that God is good, God is omnipotent (that is all-powerful), and evil exists. Because the argument is this: If you have a God who is good and all-powerful, He will exterminate the evil. And therefore we are told that we as Christians believe the contradiction. Now if you deny any one of those three propositions, the contradiction does not exist.

William James, who had a great deal to say about American education, believed that God was finite. William James believed that God was doing the best He could to exterminate evil, but He wasn’t all-powerful, so He can’t pull it off. And William James said we ought to help Him. Well, if you have that kind of a finite God, then you resolve the contradiction. You look at the mess that is in the world and all that you can say is, “Well, this is the best that God can do. What are you going to do with a God who isn’t all-powerful?” But that’s not the God of Christianity. The God of Christianity, the God of the Bible, is a God who can speak, and it’s there. Our God is in the heavens, the Bible says. He has done whatsoever He has pleased. Nothing’s out of control with the God of the Bible.

How do we put it together? There’s only one way that we can possibly solve the dilemma of those three statements, and that is to say that God is using the evil and the suffering of this world to produce a greater good. And what could that good be? Could it be a good that is related to mankind? Is He doing something that is good for man? Not necessarily! When it comes to Christians, certainly God is doing something that is good for us, and we know that He uses suffering for our good, but there are many people in the world who do not know Christ as Savior, for whom the suffering of this world will never ever turn out for their good. Jesus said about Judas, “It would have been good for that man if he’d never been born.” How much better it would have been for Judas to not have seen the light of day than to have stood next to Jesus Christ and, looking at Jesus as the way to heaven, and deliberately choosing the way to hell. And nothing that Judas will ever do, nothing that will ever transpire in the universe, will make all that suffering good for Judas, and millions like him who do not trust Christ. So what is God up to?

Well, since we entitled the message Looking Back on Planet Earth, what I’d like to do is the only thing that we can really do, and that is to take our Bibles and to look at the book of Revelation where I want to point out the superiority of God, and that God is using the evil in this world to display Himself – to put Himself on display. Let’s begin in Revelation 4.

I’ll tell you why I like the book of Revelation. Much of it is difficult to understand, but this is the book in which we see the Church of Jesus Christ in heaven, along with all the angels that God created, and they are all singing songs and they are making statements. And we have every reason to believe that they are theologically accurate.

You know, in today’s world we have all these theological controversies. Well, one thing is sure when we get to heaven. All of those controversies will end and we’ll all agree theologically. When I was teaching at the Moody Bible Institute, I used to jokingly say that I don’t care if you disagree with my theology. In less than a hundred years you will know that I was right. We’re all going to agree when we get to heaven.

But I want you to notice what it says in chapter 4, verse 11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” I know that the King James says “because of Thy pleasure,” and that’s not a bad translation. Everything was created, not for man’s happiness, though our happiness is important to God, especially that of believers. But everything was created for the glory and the honor and the power and the display of God. By Thy will – for Thy pleasure they were created.

H. G. Wells said on one occasion that if he knew that there was an omnipotent God in heaven who had the power to put an end to war, and yet did not use His ability to do it, he said, “I would spit in His empty face.” That’s one possibility when you are confronted with God. There is another, as we shall see.

Now what I would like to do is to show God’s superiority, and we’re going to look at just a couple of verses where angels and men join together in the book of Revelation and sing the praises of God. First of all, God is proving His superiority in holiness. Notice the four living creatures in chapter 4, verse 8, and I take this to be a reference to angels. Each one of them have six wings and are full of eyes around and within, and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and who is to come!” What an awesome statement!

It’s the only attribute of God that, when it is mentioned in the Bible, is frequently emphasized three times in succession. “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Hosts.” Now I want you to realize today that holiness does mean wholeness. God has it together. We could put it that way, but also I want you to realize something else, and that is that God is wholly other. That is to say He is totally different from us as human beings. Totally different from us! Do you realize that anything that I say about God today will in some sense be inadequate because God is too beautiful, God is too pure, God is too wonderful and God is too holy for us to adequately express who He is?

There was a little boy who was drawing a picture, and the teacher came and said, “What are you drawing?” He said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “Nobody knows what God looks like.” He said, “Oh yeah? They will, by the time I am through.” Well, the answer is, nobody knows what God is like. It says that no man can see God directly, face to face, and even live. Now tell me, how could God possibly display His holiness unless there was the contrast of sin to show it off, if I may put it in that language? You see, God is using the evil so that against the backdrop of human failure and Satanic rebellion, we can see in a way that we would never possibly understand the wonder and the greatness and the holiness of Almighty God. His superiority and holiness!

Secondly, His superiority in power! For this we go to chapter 4, verse 11 again. “Worthy art Thou, oh Lord, our God, to receive glory and honor and power.” The Greek word is dunamis from which we get the word dynamite. God is displaying His power. In creation? Yes. “The heavens display the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.” He’s showing also His power over Satan. I’ve already emphasized in preceding messages several times that God is trying to show that no creature that ever opposes Him can possibly win. God is absolutely King. He is the superior one. He is stronger than Satan. And God allows Satan to work in many destructive ways on the earth, trying to thwart God’s plan here, trying to block Him there, trying to do this to Him and that to Him in a warfare and combat situation. And all the while God keeps total control of what is happening, and in the end He will prove that no creature whoever opposed Him, be he man or angel, can ever win.

By the way, are you thinking that you are winning today? Those of you who have some sin in your heart, you are going to make a sinful decision, and you know it’s sinful, and you think it’s going to bring you happiness and in the end you are going to win. You’re wrong! Never once in all of God’s universe can sin ever be profitable because God sets up the rules and He has the cards in His hand.

And then third, God wants to prove His love. Notice in chapter 5, verse 9 and following, and here I put love and grace and mercy. It says, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” Let me ask you something. Do you think it’s hard for God to love all the angels that do His bidding? I don’t think that’s too hard for God to love – angels who haven’t sinned and they do what God wants them to do. But it is very difficult to love men who have stood with Satan in opposition to God. Yet Paul says in the book of Romans that when we were enemies, Christ already loved us.

You see, what God is trying to do is to show that His love is not just to His own kind. His love does not extend merely to those who are holy. It can actually reach beyond that and to reach people who are very, very unholy – people like you and me. We are very unholy. We would never possibly understand the depth of the love of God once we understand our sinfulness and know how far we’ve fallen.
We could never possibly understand the depth of the love of God unless God were willing to reach down and to love fallen creatures that are distinctively unlovable. And we would never know the height of His love for us were it not for the fact that He would take us from the quarry of sin and chisel us and then exalt us and put us at the right hand of God, the Father. Kings and priests with Christ! That would have never happened were it not for the fact that there is evil in the world. So you see, God is displaying His incredible grace - His love to fallen humanity. And so God is showing His superiority in love.

Fourth, He shows us His wisdom. Notice what it says in chapter 5, verse 12. And I wish that we had time to go through the entire song here, which is sung in honor of Christ. But it says in verse 12, “…saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom.’” And the word that I want to emphasize here is wisdom. We can see God’s wisdom in creation. When God put you together it was much more complicated than you maybe realized. You have billions of cells in your body, and every one of the cells that you have has as much activity in it as a city the size of Chicago or Tokyo. We are incredibly wonderfully and fearfully made, and we can see God’s wisdom. But we can also see God’s wisdom in salvation - the fact that the Lord was willing to come down and to become identified with human evil so that Jesus, still remaining spotless and pure in His person, could nevertheless take the sin of the world upon His shoulders and bear it so that God, the Son, would make a payment to God, the Father, so that we as sinners could be acquitted without God bending the rules one iota. Incredible wisdom!

This morning when I arrived at the church I was looking for a quotation that I couldn’t find. And I’m sorry I couldn’t find it because it talked about the absolute wonder of God being able to come so close to human sin and suffering and come to this earth and be identified with the whole thing and still remain untainted. Boy, that took wisdom! And throughout all of eternity once we understand it better, we are going to marvel at the wisdom of God. We are going to say, “This is unbelievable to think of what He did and how He did it,” once we understand the nuances of what it was all about.

Then also we will emphasize the truth of God, His superiority in truth. Turn to Revelation 19 for just a moment. “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.’”

Do you realize today that sin gave God an opportunity to contrast His truthfulness with all the lies that Satan and the world have to offer? And I might say that in opposition to the living and the true God who is truth by His very character, truth isn’t something that God just does. Truth is something that God is. His very nature is true, and everything that is opposed to God of necessity is always false and illusionary. That’s why Satan is described in the New Testament as the founder and the author of lies. And you know that the whole world is filled with lies. That’s why we are tempted so strongly. It’s because of the believability of some of the lies that come to us through society, through the media, through our relationships (or whatever) and we believe these lies because sometimes lies can feel so good that we’d never understand truth. Truth would be quite meaningless in a universe in which there was no evil. So God is on display and He’s saying throughout all of eternity that the saints are saying, “God, You are true.”

Now I want you to notice a sixth way in which God is showing His superiority, and that is in the very same text – Revelation 19:2 – because of His justice. If we had time to read chapters 17 and 18 in the book of Revelation we’d find out that God has just destroyed the city of Babylon, a symbolic city of all the evil and the wickedness of the world, all coming together. And it says, “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven.” And you say, “Well, who in the world is that great multitude?” That’s you, my friend. That’s you. You are going to be a part of that great multitude if you believed on Christ. I don’t care how many problems you have today. I don’t care how many difficulties you have. I don’t care how often you struggle in your relationships. If you are born again of the Spirit, you are going to be part of this company, and we’re going to be singing together, and we’re going to be saying, “Hallelujah, salvation and glory and power belong to God because His judgments are true and righteous.”

People are always saying, “How can you possibly believe in the doctrine of hell?” First of all, let me contrast the justice and the righteousness of God with human courts. You know that our court system here in the United States is essentially a disaster, and it’s a disaster for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons can be helped. Others can’t be. One of the reasons is because men do not have perfect knowledge. Most judges and juries have to go on the basis of a lot of ignorance. That’s just the way it is.

Have you ever noticed when someone is charged with a crime, very seldom do you hear somebody say, “Yes, I am guilty; do with me as seems good in your sight?” I’m waiting for the day for somebody to say that. They all begin to run like gophers into holes, all seeking some kind of a hedge, all seeking to somehow be covered by some technicality of the law. That’s the way in which we live, and so what people have to do is to flush them out, to try to get witnesses, to try to prove a point. And so there is ignorance regarding the facts. There’s also ignorance regarding what a correct sentence should be. How long should you sentence someone? And is jail the best kind of sentencing? All of this is subject to human error and human evaluation.

And of course we live in a society that is filled with misuse of the law. I heard about a cartoon recently where a couple had just eaten dinner with some of their friends, and this other couple was walking out the door, and the man turns to his wife and says, “You know those Hagstroms, they are such nice people, they are so relaxed, they are so calm, they are so joyful, let’s sue them.” Well, that’s the way it is in today’s world.

Now with God it’s going to be totally different. It says in the Psalms that someday when people stand before God they’ll say, “How does God know? How come He had such detailed knowledge?” So God is going to be able to say to this person, “Yes, you are accountable X percent, but your parents are also going to be held accountable because they mistreated you and that will be factored in, and then they mistreated you because their parents mistreated them, and God, who has accurate knowledge, is going to take all of those things into account when He judges people. And throughout all of eternity we are going to be able to sing with enthusiasm and conviction, “Oh Lord, your judgments are true and righteous. You didn’t overlook anything.”

I can’t tell you why there are going to be so many people in hell. I don’t know why it is that there are so many populations of the world that do not know the truth, and then there are millions of people who know the truth and say no to it. All that I know is that throughout all of eternity when we see the big picture, we will agree with God that He is perfectly just, and that what happened in the universe throughout all of eternity, all the cases that have been closed on earth are going to be retried. Justice is going to be distributed because right here in the text it goes on to say, “For he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

You know, sometimes people say, “Well, I can’t believe in God because there is so much injustice.” My dear friend, oh don’t tell me that, please. What a foolish thing to say! Think that through. Have breakfast before you say that. Then you’ll think differently. Do you realize that if there is no God, then all the injustices that have ever taken place on planet earth will never ever, ever, ever be addressed, and the whole universe throughout all of eternity will be nothing but a collection of injustices that will be perpetuated because all those who sin will have gotten by, and there will never be recompense and justice made? Only if you believe in God is there any hope at all. And some of the wrongs in the world are going to be made right.

Now, my dear friend, if you take the holiness of God and you add to it the power of God and the love and the grace and the mercy of God, which we lump together, and the wisdom of God and the truth of God and the justice of God, what you end up with is the glory of God, which is always what the people were singing about. It is like various beads on a strand of pearls. All of the attributes of God contribute to His awesome beauty and glory and wonder.

I know what you are saying though. You’re saying, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you still didn’t really answer the question. Why did 16,000 people die in that earthquake in Mexico several years back? How do you explain the little girl or the little boy who are being abused by angry, abusive alcoholic parents? You still didn’t explain that. What is the connection between that and the glory of God?

I have to confess to you that sometimes the relationship between those two is difficult to see, though throughout life I could give you many instances where we begin to see hints of it, especially in the lives of those who allow God to work mightily through them. In spite of the tragedies of life, you can see the grace of God.

One day when we were living in Skokie many years ago, I remember mowing the lawn, and before I did, I noticed that there was all this paper around. And as I looked at it, I realized it was a letter that someone had just torn up and apparently thrown out onto the street, and the wind blew some pieces onto our lawn. And so I went and I picked up the pieces and I tried to put the letter together. I even found the name of the person, but then after that there were just one or two sentences, and the rest of the letter was missing. And part of it made sense, but I really didn’t know the people and I didn’t know the context, and so there’s a part of the letter that was missing.

I want to submit to you today that everything that is in the Bible is absolutely true, but there’s no question but that some of the explanation is missing. I don’t understand exactly the direct connection in every instance, but this much I know. I believe in my heart that there is not so much as one single individual, or one single situation that takes place on planet earth that in some way will, either in this life or in the life to come, contribute to the glory and the wonder and the majesty of God. Now that’s a statement of faith because I can’t give you all those explanations. But you see, it is precisely the trial of our faith, which is so precious to God. God said, “I’m telling you this much, and then there are some things I’m not telling you, but do you believe and trust Me enough to know that if I showed you the whole picture, it would make sense?” And I believe that throughout all of eternity when we see the whole picture we’ll not spit in God’s face, like H. G. Wells says he was going to do (It’s too bad.), but that we will cast our crowns before Him. And we’ll say, “Oh God, forgive us for all the times that we doubted You on earth because we took upon ourselves burdens that were too heavy for us to bear. And oh Lord, You are the only one that knows the end from the beginning, and now that we begin to see the big picture, we confess, oh God, that Your ways are righteous and true, Thou King of saints. Forgive us for snatching from God’s hand the balance and the rod, rejudging His justice, and becoming the judge of God. Forgive us.”

You say, “Well, what does this have to do with me and my need?” You see, the attributes of God that we have spoken about this morning are already evident in the lives of His people. What is it that you need this morning? Do you need forgiveness? Then you need His love and His grace and His mercy that is available to you. Do you need guidance because the future to you seems to be so clouded and you don’t know where you are going to go or what decision you are going to make? Why, indeed, you come before the God who has all wisdom, and you receive wisdom from Him.

Is it that you need deliverance from some sin that keeps tripping you up? Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” You need the truth of God because one of the things that God is after is to begin the work already in the lives of His people of the transformation of character and the wonder of His attributes, because it is not as if God is just going to be on display in eternity future. God wants to be on display now, the Apostle Paul says, through His Church. And when people look at my life and your life they should be able to say, “God is on display.”

You know, when the Apostle Paul gave those three chapters on the total sovereignty of God, Romans 9 and 10 and got to the end of chapter 11, he just broke out. I mean Paul was writing. He didn’t use a computer like I do, or more accurately, like I try to do. Paul didn’t do that. He was writing with his pen, and I am sure that he must have taken a fresh draft of ink because it was going to be a long sentence. But this is what he says. Suddenly he throws up his hands and he says, “Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out. For who has known the mind of the Lord?” Paul says, “Do you know what God is up to? Do you read His diary every day? Does He show you the future?” No! “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” Has God ever found you early in the morning and said, “You know, I have to make this decision and I’d like a second opinion?” Has He ever asked you what He should do? Who has been His counselor? Who has paid anything to God so that God owes him anything in return? Does God owe you anything? Does God really owe you anything? Do you have it coming to you? The answer in Scripture is no. Not a single thing does He owe us! If He gives us something, it is His grace.

And then Paul says, “For of Him (that is the source), and through Him (that is the means), and to Him (that is the goal), the glory and dominion and honor and power forever and ever and ever and ever. Amen.” And I have nothing more to say so let’s pray.

Father, we know that when we get to heaven there will be no trouble worshiping You. But teach us on earth what we are going to be doing, and may we bow humbly and say, “Oh God, You are absolutely worthy. You alone, oh Lord, are worthy of worship, of praise and of honor.” Amen.

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