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In the Hand of God

In a frame on the wall of my grandpa's study hung the words of a poem by the British poet Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957). It's got a double-barrel name: "At the Gate of the Year - God Knows" (see below). It's become somewhat of a favourite of mine, especially at this time of year. My grandpa would have been 10 years old when King George VI quoted the same poem at the end of his 1939 Christmas address. The story goes that it was actually the king's thirteen-year old daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth, who had shared the poem with him. World War II had just begun three months before. Rationing of food and supplies had started, rolling blackouts were the everyday norm, and thousands of children were evacuated to the countryside away from their homes in the cities. The devastating Battle of Britain loomed ahead as Nazi Germany advanced against the Allied Forces.

Against the backdrop of such turbulent times, the king spoke of Christmas, home, and peace, so vilely disrupted by hatred and vain ambition: "The festival which we know as Christmas is above all the festival of peace and of the home. Among all free peoples the love of peace is profound, for this alone gives security to the home. But true peace is in the hearts of men, and it is the tragedy of this time that there are powerful countries whose whole direction and policy are based on aggression and the suppression of all that we hold dear for mankind." Christmas really is the story of the Prince of Peace who stepped into a war-torn world to make His home with a violent humanity. Mankind's rejection of Him as their King is ultimately the reason for every act of violence ever committed, from Cain to Hitler and Nero to ISIS. It's the root of all that is wrong with the world. Our twisted desire to be sovereign sets itself up against God's design for us to reflect His glory as His image-bearers. This diabolic discontent sought to dethrone the Creator-God, as Humanity coveted His job. If true peace dwells in the heart, the original disturber of the peace was our dissatisfaction with the Goodness of God.

We hear the pain of this rejection of God in His own words before the coronation of the first king of Israel. The nation of Israel had pleaded with the prophet Samuel to anoint a king over them, so they could be like the other nations: sovereign, self-determining, independent. God's response is one of the most heartbreaking moments in all of Scripture, as He says to Samuel: "Obey the voice of the people in all they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). Beginning with Saul, the majority of the kings of Israel "did what was right in their own eyes", perpetuating humanity's rebellion against their Maker. The result was exile. From the Garden, from the Promised Land, and, most tragically, from God's presence.

Until Jesus was born to be Immanuel, God with us - the World's True Lord. Jesus' coming was God reaching out to pull us out from the cold dark tempest of our violent rebellion so that we could have the chance, with Peter, sinking beneath the waves, to grab a hold of His hand and, like Thomas, to kneel before Him and say: "My Lord and my God!" Instead of taking His hand or bowing before Him, though, the leaders of the nation of Israel plotted to kill Him from the very beginning. Herod launched a gruesome infanticide to try and murder this rival king, albeit in His infancy. Having survived and grown up, the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Him throughout His ministry, so offended were they by His claims to be the Messianic King.

But when the hour came, the King would allow sin and death to do its worst toward Him, exhausting evil of itself through the violence of the cross. God's love personified as He breathed out His last breath. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. At long last, it was finished. Momentarily, the powers of darkness appeared to have won... The Light of the World had gone out... Only, it didn't! Three days in the tomb.... 'Til His lungs filled with air once more on the morning of the third day when the King rose victorious over death. The firstborn of the new creation. The Risen King, with one fell blow upon death's door, established an everlasting peace. Not by calling for a ceasefire or a long-deliberated diplomatic treaty, but by His empty grave. And the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us by His Holy Spirit. We, with all of creation, cry out for His Kingdom come - here on earth as in heaven. For it all to be resurrected with Him... sometime soon.

It's this King Jesus who bids us trust Him completely as we head into the year. This resurrected Ruler who commands our loyalty in the face of adversity. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world. Israel's Messiah. My Lord and my God. Where else are we to go? He has the words of eternal life.

The Harvard philosopher, Roy Clouser, developed the phrase "a priori non-dependent reality" to describe God as the only eternal Being. A priori is a Latin phrase that means "before everything". Non-dependent means that God's existence doesn't depend on anything but Himself. The existence of your kitchen table, for example, depends on wood that comes from a tree that comes from a seed that came from a different tree that comes from a seed planted in soil made up of different minerals made up of matter consisting of different molecules made of atoms which are made up of electrons, neutrons and protons, the latter two of which are made of certain sets of quarks. And those particles can all be traced back to one single point in space and time where it all began. It probably goes without saying, but just in case: God is nothing like your kitchen table. He has no point of origin. He doesn't depend on anything for His existence. He is the only eternal, independent Being. When He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the fire did not consume the bush because it did not need it to burn. Unlike everything else that exists, God doesn't depend on anything but Himself. Like fire, we need fuel to run - food, water, air - but God is completely self-existent. He needs nothing and no-one to be the great I AM.

This is the Prime Mover of everything, from supernovas to plankton, but He's also the One who dragged a Roman cross in the dirt. This is the eternal Creator who spoke into being quarks and galaxies, but He asked for a drink as He died on a Roman cross. His are the Hands that formed the cosmos, but were also nailed to the tree. The Life-Giver who gave up His life. Love made manifest, abandoned, alone. In Him God demonstrated His love: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He is the a priori non-dependent One who beckons you to Him in the Person of Christ. The Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.

Unlike those in 1939, we're not facing an imminent world war. In the past year we've faced battles of a different kind. The pandemic is still raging at the start of 2o21 and still wreaking havoc on families, communities and the world at large. There's a glimmer of hope in the development of vaccines, but an end to it all still seems a long way off. We may not be staring down an enemy like Hitler, but in many ways the Coronavirus feels like a comparable evil bent on death and disrupting all we hold dear. It's brought the world to its knees and reminded us that we cannot be self-dependent. We need God more than ever. And Minnie Haskins' poem has stirred me to grab hold of God's Hand and to feel His grip anew as we run headlong into this year, with all its uphills and hurdles:

The Gate of the Year - God Knows

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still: What need our little life Our human life to know, If God hath comprehension? In all the dizzy strife Of things both high and low, God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will Is best. The stretch of years Which wind ahead, so dim To our imperfect vision, Are clear to God. Our fears Are premature; In Him, All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until God moves to lift the veil From our impatient eyes, When, as the sweeter features Of Life’s stern face we hail, Fair beyond all surmise God’s thought around His creatures Our mind shall fill.

King George, a monarch who was able to bow before a greater King, ended His Christmas speech off with a prayerful blessing: "May His Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all." It's my prayer as well.

Walk with the King... you're held in His hand.

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