The God Worth Trusting

When people hear about “Predestination,” they have a habit of cringing. The idea that God is all-powerful, that nothing happens without his say-so is scary to human beings. It seems to hurt our human dignity, to take away some of our freedom. We prefer to think of God as a benevolent Santa in the sky who only comes around at convenient times, like Christmas, to check some boxes off our wish list. We want to be the ones who choose our own salvation, who are the masters of our fate, who are the captains of our soul. But no Christian, when the rubber meets the road, really believes this. In prayer, in the trials of life, and in salvation God alone is in charge.

To begin with, who prays to a God who is not all powerful? Would you really ask God to grant you something that is out of his power? Of course not. Whenever we pray for something, we are asking God to exercise his authority over the world in a way that will surely make an impact on the freedom of others. Do you pray for God to guide the doctor’s hands when a friend goes in for an operation? What about their freedom of will? Do you ask that God would bring someone to repentance? What about their choice in the matter? Do you ask that food or money be provided to someone in need? How many butchers, bankers, and businessmen have to be guided by God to answer that prayer?  A man may deny God’s absolute control in the rest of life, but the man on his knees believes in predestination.

But this doctrine is central to the Christian life in areas other than prayer. There are times when tragedy strikes, when disaster befalls us or those we love. In such times, where do we go? As Christians, we go to God for comfort. We go to him because we know he can deliver us from these situations, or if he chooses not to, that he can and will use them for the good of those who love him. A God who has no more control over a situation than we do, whether that situation is war or weather patterns, is hardly a comfort. He can be no more than a fellow-mourner, not exactly a savior, a deliverer.

Salvation itself is the place where the sovereignty of God comes out strongest. If sin means anything, it means we are dead. We are trapped in a pattern of living that hurts us and hurts others. Like a druggie, we can’t break the habit. As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly. But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In that moment, when we were dead in our sins, God came into the world and took our place and freed us from that death, that addiction. Once dead, we are now alive with the risen Savior. There is no way we could have saved ourselves, and surely no Christian will claim there is. No, Christ saved us when we couldn’t do it ourselves. And for that, we should be grateful.

God’s sovereignty, his providence, is not something that should make us nervous, but something that should make us rejoice. We should rejoice that he is a God who answers prayers, who provides for us when we need it most, and who rescues us from death. Any lesser God would not be God at all.

The Grey

To begin with, don’t let your children near this movie. It’s got heavy swearing, talk about sex, Neeson-grade violence, a good deal of scary tension, and some seriously dark subject matter. That said, it was an interesting watch.

The Grey stars Liam Neeson as a man sent to the frontier of Alaska to kill wolves who threaten oilfield workers. He camps out in the snow and snipes them as they charge out from the brush. Sounds unlikely, but what do I know? At any rate, we find out early that he has some serious issues with depression, and has flashbacks to lying in bed with some woman, presumably his wife. He writes a letter to her, and keeps it with him. From here on out, be forewarned, there are spoilers.

Neeson and the workers board a plane heading to some place less insanely cold. While he rereads the letter, a very annoying individual interrupts him in a manner that makes you think he will be important. He will not. Almost immediately the plane crashes and we are confronted with an unbelievable amount of carnage. Neeson, being Neeson, gets up, stays calm, and saves as many as he can, which ends up being about a half dozen. One man in particular is dying, and our hero comforts him by telling him just to give in, to imagine some loved one is coming to take him away, and to let death slide over him. We are told it is warm, but something in Neeson’s face makes this look like a lie.

I won’t bother introducing you to any of the supporting characters. They are interesting, and contribute to the story and its themes in various ways, but you can get the point quite well without them.

Soon enough Liam Neeson and his band of misfits discover that they are being stalked by wolves. At first Neeson says they might be passing through. When the pack returns, he says they are probably in the wolves’ territory and should try to get out. The wolves get aggressive, people die, and the survivors make a run over the ice and snow towards a distant tree line. Before they do, our hero collects all the wallets of the crash victims to be returned to their families.

The rest of the movie involves a back and forth as the pack picks off the people, and the people hack away at the pack. It is slow going, difficult, and they are vastly outnumbered, outclassed, and outsmarted in the harsh environment. Whether from the weather, the wolves, or despair, everyone dies during the chase, until only Neeson is left. Anguished, he cries out to God, demanding a sign, demanding deliverance. God is silent, so Neeson says he will do it himself. He keeps going until he ends up in a clearing scattered with bones and ringed with wolves. Throughout the entire movie, they had been moving towards the den.

But Neeson, unlike most of the others, does not panic. Unlike some, he does not simply give in. He piles all the wallets and the letter (to his wife, who we now know was dying in those flashback scenes) into a little shrine, and prepares to fight. He duck tapes a knife to one hand and broken bottles from a minibar to the other fist. The alpha wolf comes towards him, growling, and Neeson meets him. Here, the movie ends.

Basically, the whole movie can be summed up as “Life sucks and everyone will died horribly, but why not take a few with you while you go?” The movie starts with our hunter nearly committing suicide, but staying alive when he hears the cry of the wolf. The movie ends with a suicidal battle against a wolf. In between, everyone who fights the wolves is proven too scared or too stupid or too weak to prevail. But they keep going.

During this time, Neeson leads the dwindling group of survivors, constantly telling them what they must do to keep themselves alive. But he offers them no real hope. Everything he tells them to do is a slim-chance, last-ditch effort to escape the wolves a little bit longer, which really doesn’t matter since no one is looking for them and the elements will kill them anyways. He is just comforting them, offering delusions so they don’t have to give up. And in the end, when they have all died, he discovers he has been leading them into the very heart of the territory they were trying to escape.

The world of The Grey is dark, bloody, and unforgiving. There is no hope, and very little reason to live. I say “very little,” because there is one scene where each of the men recounts stories of their families and loved ones. And, Neeson repeatedly tells us that we are to imagine that it is they who lead us away at death. Of course, the one time we see such a phantom do this, the illusion is shattered by the brutish reality of ripping, tearing wolf jaws. Even this bit of happiness is an ephemeral lie.

After the credits, for a brief moment, we see Neeson resting his head on the wolf, which is presumably breathing its last. Other internet denizens say they saw Neeson twitch. I’m not sure I did. But even such a “resurrection” is no Gospel theme. In this movie, the world is godless, and it hates us.

Lovers & Haters

Most people today tend to think all love is good and all hate is bad. Haters are just horrible people. Haters be hatin’, and we be hatin’ the haters hatin’. Love, on the other hand, is good. Love conquers all, love outranks all, love justifies all.

That’s stupid.

If you love anything, you will hate to see it misused, abused, or corrupted. If you love anything, you have to take a stand for it, and hate that which threatens it. Want some examples?

I love romance, love, marriage, happy families. I hate divorce, cheating, calloused idiots, and breakups.

I love kids. I hate people that abuse and murder them. I hate abortion.

I love Christ. I hate to see his name misused.

I love the Church. I hate those who slander her and seek her destruction.

I love my family. I hate to see them in trouble.

I love my friends. I hate the things that make their lives miserable.

I love my country. I hate the sins that are steering it towards destruction.

Love is not a good thing in and of itself. Love is only good if you love something good. Gamblers love to gamble, druggies love the drug, and every sinner loves his sin. Love is also only good if you love something rightly. Stalin loved his communist utopia more than the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, and they paid for his misplaced love.

Nor is hate bad if you hate the right thing. Christ hates sin and the curse that comes with it. William Wilberforce hated the slave trade, and ended it for the entire British Empire. Imagine if we hated abortion, poverty, or the sex trade that much.

Hate is just love’s defense strategy, and anyone who refuses to hate what is evil is missing something. Take a look at these verses.

“Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 97:10

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

Sincere love, love of the Lord, requires that we hate evil. Ponder that. It’s a lesson the Church today would be good to learn.

The Exiles

At the beginning of the 1760’s, the American world was being torn apart and sewn back together. For the better part of a decade New France had been at war with the British colonies. It was here that George Washington first saw battle along the bloody frontier. For the first time, every British colony from Massachusetts to Georgia stood united against foreign invasion. They were proud Britons, and proud Americans.

After some time it grew apparent to the French that the war was being lost. King Louis XV, expecting to be booted from the continent, sold the portion of New France west of the Mississippi to his Spanish cousins. A year later, in 1763, the Treaty of Paris would end the French and Indian War, and the remainder of the French lands in America would be left to the British.

It took some time for the Spanish to adjust to the new situation. No longer was there danger from encroaching French settlements in the north and east. The buffer state of Texas was unnecessary, as were presidios all along the frontier. In 1772 the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua, sent out the New Regulation for Presidios. In the order he called for all Spanish subjects in the missions of East Texas to pull back to San Antonio.

Generations had risen and faded since Father Margil’s miracle on the banks of Lanana Creek. The settlers had long ago forgotten whatever lands they had come from. Their homes were here, their farms and ranches and small towns. They had been raised in East Texas soil, had found love there, had raised children of their own, had worshipped there, had scratched a living out of that ground, and by now it had as much claim on them as any Spanish politician.

Antonio Gil Ibarvo was among these natives. He was born in Los Adaes in 1729, in that portion of the Sabine Country that Americans later tacked on to Louisiana. When he married his wife, Maria, they settled a place they called “Rancho Lobanillo,” a hard day’s ride from Nacogdoches. In 1773, when the Governor sent soldiers to force the East Texans off their land, they rallied behind Ibarvo, naming him their leader. When they reached San Antonio, he petitioned for their return. After some time, his request was partly granted. In September of 1774 they founded the town of Bucareli on the west bank of the Trinity River.

Four years passed. The British were at war with themselves, the colonists fighting for their freedom against a tyrannical parliament and the king that stood behind it. Spain declared war on King George’s forces, but the people of Bucareli were already fighting a war of their own. Flooding and Indian raids ruined crops and laid waste to the town. In 1779, without government permission, they quietly left the settlement behind and passed into the forbidden east, to what may have been the only remaining European structure in East Texas: the mission at Nacogdoches.

The town soon began to thrive, far from Spanish oversight. Here in the wild woods they traded with Caddoes and Frenchmen, and the newly arrived Cajuns. As the years wore on, the victorious Britons of America would spread their Union westward, founding state after state. Outlaws and refugees of every race and creed would find a hiding place in the country east of the Sabine, where Ibarvo was born. But here, in Nacogdoches, settlers and immigrants would find their gateway back into a civilized nation. In time, Spain named Ibarvo lieutenant governor, commander of the militia, and local magistrate. They had no choice but to acknowledge the pueblo that would not die, the exiles that would not leave. Nacogdoches was here to stay.