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God “But’s” In

Christian, tell me why do you say that God is involved in human events?
Because…We can document occasions where things turned out very differently than they normally would have. God’s intervention is the best explanation.

Two powerful words in the Bible are “But God…”. When He chooses to intervene, nothing can stop Him. He changes everything, and brings about results that could never have been anticipated. He does so in several ways. I’ll explore a few of them below.

He uses (and even orchestrates) events for His own purposes.

Genesis chapters 37 through 50 tell the story of Joseph (the one with the “coat of many colors”). His life was an incredible series of ups and downs, bookended by two points: His brothers sold him into slavery, and he rose to become the most powerful leader in Egypt, second only to the pharaoh. He recognized God’s hand in his life, so he ended by saying to his brothers:

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God.

Genesis 45:7-8

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

Genesis 50:20

When God promised that Abraham would become the father of a great nation of descendants, Abraham thought he saw a problem with that plan: He had no children. In fact, he had already designated someone else to be his heir. God said “No, you will have a son of your own.” (Genesis 15:1-6) When that didn’t happen as soon as he wanted, Abraham tried to “help” God by having a son with his wife’s servant, Hagar (Genesis 16). Abraham wanted that son, Ishmael, to be God’s answer. “But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” (Genesis 17:19) Genesis 21:1-8 tells of the birth of Isaac, the son of promise, when Abraham was 100 years old and his wife Sarah was 90. 1

In later centuries, great empires would sweep across Israel. The Assyrians 2, the Babylonians 3, the Persians 4 and the Romans 5 all included Israel — along with much of Asia and Europe! — in their vast holdings. The Bible teaches that none of those rose to power without God, none lasted any longer than He allowed, and all were used to orchestrate the perfect environment for Christ to arrive. Thanks to those empires, Jesus was born into a world with a common language (Greek) and an efficient infrastructure (Roman roads) for His gospel to travel to a wide variety of people. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son…” (Galatians 4:4)

In my own life, I can look at a couple of specific events and see how they were pivot points that God used to change my personal direction. A death in the family brought me back to church; a work crisis changed my career path; an ultimatum from a less-than-stellar boss precipitated my retirement. God used those events, some of them meant as harm, to bring about His own good purpose.

Note: Part of that purpose is this website. I would not have had the motivation, the skills, or the time to create a site and write articles for it. But God used a death, a demotion, and an ultimatum to put me into the place that I am now.

He protects those who trust in Him.

One famous example of that protection is in the story of Noah. First, God warned Noah of the coming flood and told him how to build the ark where he could survive it (Genesis 6). Then, once the flood came:

The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.

Genesis 7:24 – 8:1

Another example is King David. His route to becoming king included several years of hiding from the previous king, Saul, who wanted to kill him. Many of the Psalms were written by him, and they often describe his times of trouble. Psalm 18 is a 50-verse description of the danger David was in. 1 Samuel 23:14 says that “And Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.” God brought him through the trial to become Israel’s greatest king. That experience led David to praise God’s intervention in other psalms also, including:

My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26

Why should I fear in days of adversity,
When the iniquity of my foes surrounds me

But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,
For He will receive me.

Psalm 49:5, 15

David had learned that God is always in control. The fancy word for this is God’s “sovereignty“.

For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

Psalm 75:6-7

He punishes the wicked.

Psalm 52 is another one from David, where he looked back on a specific instance when he was betrayed to Saul 6. In that psalm, David rhetorically asks “Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man?” (verse 1) and responds “But God will break you down forever; He will snatch you up and tear you away from your tent, and uproot you from the land of the living.” (verse 5)

Psalm 64 is another where David describes God’s retribution on his enemies:

They devise injustices, saying,
“We are ready with a well-conceived plot”;
For the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep.
But God will shoot at them with an arrow;
Suddenly they will be wounded.

Psalm 64:6-7

In Jesus’ parable of “the rich fool” in Luke 12:16-21, God overturned the man’s self-centered plans. He had patted himself on the back because he had stored up all sorts of treasure. He was set for life…”But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’

He raised Jesus from the dead.

The earliest teaching of the church, by Jesus’ small band of disciples to the rulers who had put Him to death, was that God had overruled them. The tomb was empty, and that resurrection was the triumph that confirmed all that Jesus was, everything He said and did. It was — and still is — the defining “But God” that is the core of Christianity.

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

Acts 2:22-24

When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead;

Acts 13:29-30

Most of all, He saves sinners.

The main intervention of God — the reason that Jesus came to us, died, and was raised — is that He made a way for rebellious sinners to return to Him. The world was broken beyond repair…or would have been…but God provided a path to redemption.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Ephesians 2:3-6

This plan of God’s does not really make sense. Why would He do such a thing? Why not just set a bunch of rules with really high standards so that only the best, brightest, most righteous folks would succeed? Because 1) no one is capable of meeting such a standard, and 2) He loves everyone and wants even the weakest and worst to have a way to be rescued.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,

1 Corinthians 1:26-27

I, for one, am very glad that God chose to “but” in to my life!

P.S. Here is a song I just found while writing this article, Larnelle Harris with his own interpretation of “But God“. Enjoy!

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. God didn’t forget Ishmael, though. He promised both when the boy was small, and again when he was older, that Ishmael would also have many descendants (Genesis 16:7-15, Genesis 21:9-20).
  2. Map of Assyrian empire
  3. Map of Babylonian empire
  4. Map of Persian empire
  5. Map of Roman empire
  6. See the story of the betrayal in 1 Samuel 22:9-19. The betrayer, a man named Doeg, killed 85 priests, including the high priest who had helped David.

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