By J.R. Miller
"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?"
There were many gods among the ancient heathen. Every nation had its deities. It used to be said in Athens that it was easier there to find a god, than a man. The statues and shrines of these deities were everywhere. But these were not living gods. They breathed not, thought not, loved not. In another of the Psalms we have this picture: "Their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths--but cannot speak; eyes--but they cannot see; they have ears--but cannot hear; noses--but they cannot smell; they have hands--but cannot feel; feet--but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats!"
Such gods could give no help to those who trusted in them. They could hear no cries of distress. They could answer no prayers. They could not deliver from danger. They could give no comfort to those who were in sorrow. They could meet no cravings of hungry hearts for love, for sympathy, for life, for peace. But the God of the Bible, is the living God.
Then, He is our Father. There are those who tell us that there is a great central force at the heart of the universe, by which all things are held in their place. They call it a force--a mighty, mysterious force. But they give it no attributes which make that force dear to human hearts in their need and sorrow. It cannot hear prayer. It cannot love. It cannot trouble itself with our daily trials and cares. You could not pillow an aching head on it and find soothing.
But the God of the Bible has more in His nature than power; He is more than omnipotence. We read but a little way in the Book, until we find that He has a heart of tenderness and love, like our mothers. He is revealed in the Old Testament as a God who thinks of His creatures and cares for them. He came and walked in the Garden of Eden with our first parents, sought their companionship, craved their confidence and affection, and was grieved by their sin. He was interested in the life and work of men, was willing to lead them, to help them. He cared for those who would obey Him and trust Him, defended them, provided for them, blessed them. He was revealed also as a God of mercy, forgiving sin.
But it is in the New Testament, that the revelation is made in its fullness. Jesus Christ was a teacher come from God, and He uses only one name in telling us of God--the name FATHER. He told men that the God who made all the worlds and dwelt in glory--was their own Father! And then He put into that holy word, all that is sacred, tender, sweet, compassionate--all that love could possibly mean. It is when we see something of God's love for us, when we begin to understand that He is our Father, caring for us with all a father's tenderness and affection, that we realize the meaning of the name--the living God. He is the God of power, the God who made all things and keeps all in being--but He is the God of love as well. He has a heart of sympathy and tenderness. He pities us in our sorrow and need, and is quick to help.
This truth of the living God is full of rich encouragement. It assures us of satisfaction for all our heart's deep cravings. "My soul thirsts for God--for the living God." No idol could ever satisfy a soul's longings; nothing but a personal God can do this. We are made for God, and we never can find rest until we find it in Him. Jesus Christ stands and calls to all this world of weary ones, saying, "Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "If any man thirsts--let him come unto me and drink." "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him--shall never thirst"
We know what a satisfying of the heart--even strong and deep human friendship gives. There are human friends who are to us like a great rock in a weary land. We flee to them in the heat of parching days--and rest in their shadow. A friend in whom we can confide without fear of disappointment, who we know will never fail us, who will never stint his love in serving us, who always has healing tenderness for the hurts of our heart, comfort for our sorrows, and cheer for our discouragements; such a friend is not only a rock for shelter--but is also rivers of water in a thirsty land! Yet this at its best, is only a hint of what Christ is, to those who bring their thirsts to Him. His love meets the deepest yearnings of our souls for love. His wisdom answers all the questions of human restlessness. His life fills up the emptiness of our lives. When a soul thirsts for the living God--its longings will surely be satisfied. Things will not satisfy. Even the best of God's blessings will not do it Nothing less than God Himself will satisfy.
This truth of the living God, gives us confidence in prayer. Is there anyone to hear us when we cry out of a sense of need or danger or desire? Is there anyone who cares to help us or bless us? If there is not, there is no use in praying. If God is only a great central Force at the heart of things--like the sun, like gravitation--it is in vain that we bow down, morning and night, and tell out our heart's yearnings. Would a man pray to the wind, or to the sun, or to the attraction of gravitation? If there is no living God, there can be no prayer, for then there is no heart to feel, no ear to hear, no hand to help. One of the saddest things in this world is to see men and women praying to idols, bowing before empty shrines, worshiping relies of saints--things that have no life and no power to do anything.
But our God is the living God. He made the heavens, and has universal power. He is also our Father. "Your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him." It was Jesus Himself who taught us to come to God with the words "Our Father" on our lips. We know that there is One who hears our cries, and is interested and sympathetic, and pleased to grant us answers of peace and love. Our God is the living God.
What would we do, if there were no one to whom we could pray? What would we do, if there were no heavenly Father, no living God in the universe, no one who cared for us and could help us? Suppose you were to learn that all this cherished belief in your heart, was a mistake--that there really is no one anywhere to hear you when you pray, no one who cares for you, or thinks upon you, or can give you any help--how dark the world would become to you!
Those who have been reared in the simple truths of Christianity, believing in a God of love, in the cross of Christ, and in prayer, and then have lost their sweet faith, have confessed that in the fading out of these Christian beliefs in their hearts--they lost their brightest joys and their dearest happiness.
So would it be if you were to learn in some way, that your childhood belief in prayer was a mistake, a delusion, and that no one really hears your cries or cares for you. The brightness would die out of the world for you! No other loss, no bereavement, no misfortune that you might possibly suffer, could compare for a moment with the loss of your faith in God as your Father and as the Hearer of your prayers.
What would you then do when you had sinned, and when the sense of guilt sweeps over you like a flood of dark waters--if there were no God of mercy to forgive? What would you do in the time of overmastering temptation, of great danger, of heavy loss, or of deep sorrow-if there was no one in heaven who loved you and would hear your call for help? What would you do in the hour of dying, when every human hand must unclasp yours, when every human face fades from your vision, and you must enter the strange mystery alone--what would you do then, if there were no living God to walk with you?
But we need not vex ourselves with such suppositions. We need fear no such sweeping away of our childhood beliefs. Our belief in prayer is no illusion. Our God is indeed the living God, who loves us, knows our needs, thinks upon us, hears our feeblest prayer. The God at the center of all power--is our Father!
Again, this truth of the living God gives us assurance of divine thought and care in all our life. Suppose, again, you were to learn that there is no one with wisdom, power, and love interested in the affairs of this world--that all things come by 'chance'--that no wisdom directs, that no hand guides and controls events, that the world is only a vast machine, grinding on forever, that bad men and devils have no check in their power to hurt--and that all men and all lives are victims of this mighty, heartless, remorseless grinding; how it would darken all of life for you! No God of love directing! No Father thinking of His children and keeping them in the midst of disasters! No Providence watching over the lives of men in all the mighty rush of events, and overruling all things for their good!
Dark indeed would the world grow to our hearts--if such atheistic supposition were to be proved true. A world without a Father! A universe without love! But this is not the teaching of the Bible. There we learn that this is our Father's world, one of the many mansions of our Father's house. We do not have to wait for heaven to find ourselves in God's care; we are in His care, sheltered in His love, quite as really in this world, with all its storm and peril--as we shall be when we reach heaven. There is not one trusting child of God on the earth today--who is not watched over by the heavenly Father--as tenderly as any helpless infant is nourished and sheltered in a loving mother's arms. The Lord is your keeper. He who keeps you shall not slumber.
God rules in all the events and providences of this world. Things do not run riot, like wild, restless steeds, treading all frail, gentle things under their iron hoofs. This is not a world of 'chance'. There is no lawlessness anywhere. No wave of the sea in wildest storm--is out of God's control. No pestilence, no earthquake, no flood of trouble, no tidal wave of misfortune, ever gets beyond the power of Him who sits on the throne.
In a great flood in the West, when the river swept far out of its banks, and houses and crops and timbers were carried away on its bosom, some men in a skiff saw a baby's cradle among the drift. Rowing to it, they found a baby sleeping sweetly in its soft, warm blankets; unhurt, unawakened in the midst of the wild waste of rushing waters. So does God keep His little ones, safe and unharmed--in the midst of this world's dangers and alarms.
It does not always seem so, even to Christian faith. Sometimes God's children appear to be sorely hurt in life's experiences. Prayers for relief seem not to be answered. There seems to be no divine hand directing, holding evil in check, overturning men's wicked schemes, keeping God's child in safety, guarding and nourishing the godly, the true, the holy. When we look only at the sorrow, the loss, the suffering, the apparent triumph of wrong, the pain, hardship, cruelty, and grief we see everywhere, we sometimes almost question the truth of the teaching, that God rules in all this world's affairs and ever keeps His own people.
But we must take wider views of the Divine Providence. Earthly evil is not the sorest evil. Sorrow, sickness, pain, loss, and personal suffering or injury--are not the things that really hurt our lives. It is possible to suffer every manner of trial and ill, and yet to be continually receiving blessing. God's keeping of us from evil--does not necessarily mean His keeping us from pain and trial. Jesus Himself was kept in the divinest keeping, and yet all the world's bitterness swept over Him. Paul's life was one of suffering and loss to the very end, and yet his real life, which he had entrusted as a holy deposit to Christ, was kept untouched by harm, uninjured, untarnished, through all the experiences of enmity and suffering through which he passed.
So it ever is--to those who commit their souls to Christ and abide in Him. Temptations come, and there may be persecutions, disasters, misfortunes, crushing adversities, torturing sorrows. But if the life is truly hid with Christ in God--no real harm can touch it. Property may be taken away, friends may forsake, pain may rack, the body may be mangled; but none of these calamities can touch the soul. The soul is in the keeping of the living God, who is faithful, and in whose hands we can never be harmed.
On ships at sea, at night, when the bell strikes the hours, the watch on the lookout calls, "All's well!" It may be a night of terror. The storm beats on the waters. The waves break over the decks. The passengers are in dread. Many are trembling and afraid. There is great distress on board. Yet hour after hour, as the night passes, and the bells ring, the cheerful words sing down from the little nest on the mast, where the lookout keeps his watch, "All's well!" "Ten o'clock, and all's well!" "Eleven o'clock, and all's well!"
All is well indeed--in spite of the storm, the waves, and the sickness and terror of those on board. The great ship is riding in safety through the tempest. It is conquering wind and waves. It is bearing its precious cargo of human lives steadily toward the haven, in spite of adverse storms and tossing seas. "Twelve o'clock, and all's well!" So the hours move, and morning comes at last, the sun shines forth, the waves sob themselves into a calm, and there is joy once more among the passengers.
So it is that the voice of Christian hope ever sings its song of cheer in men's ears, in the midst of this world's storms. "All's well!" Yet it is a sad world, full of grief and tears. The words seem to mock us as we sit in our darkness, with the waves sweeping over us and the tempest breaking upon our soul. How can all be well--while all things appear to be so against us?
In the world at large, God's plan of wisdom and love goes on amid all human sin and failure. Good will come at last, out of all that seems evil. The morning will break, the sun will shine, and the great ship will be out of the storm, sailing on, with canvas untorn, with engines throbbing, triumphant over every danger. Let us never doubt that the destiny of the world is good, not evil; life, not death. God lives, God reigns, and He will bring this earth through all its darkness into light. Christ is the Pilot. He is keeping watch. It is His voice that we hear calling down as the hours pass, "Midnight, and all's well!" "Morning watch, and all's well!" Redemption will conquer. The good ship will master the storms and come safely to the haven. The voice of the Master is heard, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
There is only one way we can suffer harm in the world. If we lose faith, we will be hurt--not by the trial--but by the unbelief. Keep your faith strong. Lie like a little child in the hands of Christ. Let not your heart be troubled--only believe. Then He will keep you, not only in perfect peace--but also in perfect security. "Midnight, and all's well!" Our God is the living God, our Father, our Redeemer.