God Determines, Not Permits
As we look around—in our world and in our personal lives—we are constantly faced with need, tragedy, and problems. In the following article, taken from his book “Who Am I?,” Norman goes to the heart of the issue—Where is God amidst all this misery? “Not just looking on and to be called on to intervene. No, God is the Real One right in the situation, and it is only His distorted clothing….” And is the means by which He “awakens us to get into faith action.”
We are daringly saying that wherever there is a need, small or great, wherever there is a disturbed or tragic situation, God is not just looking on and to be called upon to intervene. No, God is the Real One right in the situation, and it is only His distorted clothing; and we preserve the clothing by believing it to be the real.
Now in utmost simplicity, without changing an outward thing, let us transfer our believings. That’s all. Let us deliberately affirm, against all appearance, that this is not the difficulty it appears to be. Instead of looking at the situation, let us look through—to God, again not afar off, but the very situation being He in disguise. He with supply, He with solution, He with change, where we only see the opposite.
Then let us take it further. Let us specifically believe that He is coming through and will manifest Himself. Let it be specific so that it is an inner word of faith; and the best way such an inner word takes outer form is by praise. All we have now done is to transfer our believing from the negative to Him the Positive, and it is our believing which lets Him through. Our believing doesn’t do a thing in itself. God is the doer. God is the one who deliberately put us in this problem situation and thus awakens us to get into faith action. And the faith action is my responsibility as a son of God, invested with authority to be the one by whose word of faith He reveals Himself in some concrete form. He is already there. The supply is there for He is the supply, where our human eyes see only the need. We merely, by our word of faith, affirm His fulfilling presence. Just as at the beginning the Word said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”
Now let us backtrack and go into this in more detail, just because it is so revolutionary and universal in its application.
First, there is our necessary basis of seeing God in everything and everybody. The universe is God manifesting Himself, Spirit slowed down to the point of visibility. We either “see through” to that wonderful fact, or we don’t. If we don’t, there is not much point in following through along the lines in which Jesus evidently “saw through” to His Father, the hidden presence in the apparent conditions of material need, disease, or death. But, if we do, then that which needs strong confirmation, if we are to be strong in faith under any conditions, is the certainty that God doesn’t sit by and “permit” various adverse or tragic situations; but He actually “determines them.”
There are a series of very plain evidences of this in Bible incidents, and I don’t think they can be bettered, though so well known. The most obvious and complete is that Jesus, when approaching His death, did not look at it as a machination of the devil, except in the sense that the devil was God’s agent. He admitted that this was “the prince of this world coming” to assault Him, but He added “he hath nothing in Me”: in other words, Satan could not touch Him in His real inner self on the level of His inner believings, and could only attack his outer body. Then He said later, when they came to arrest Him, “The cup which my Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” That was final. This was not the devil, but His own Father responsible for this. That is perfect. Then Peter confirms it so completely in his Pentecost talk, the first official pronouncement at the birth of the church. “You crucified Him with your wicked hands, but you were doing what was God’s determined counsel and foreknowledge.” No mere permissiveness about that. And in the first recorded prayer of the early church, they said, “Of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done.” Surely conclusive!
The other famous saying was when, after Joseph had been sold as a slave by his brothers, and imprisoned through Potiphar’s wife, and had fourteen years of bondage and confinement, but was then elevated by Pharaoh to be his chief minister, and was thus able to rescue his brethren from famine, he said, “You thought evil unto me, but God meant it for good…God did send me before you to preserve life.” Conclusive again. And add to that, many passing statements such as that the Assyrians were “the rod of Mine anger”; and Nebuchadnezzar, come to destroy Jerusalem, was “Nebuchadnezzar My servant.” And the various swarms of locusts, caterpillars and others which reduced Israel to famine, were, the Lord said through Joel, “My great army which I sent among you.” And the Lord sent a lying spirit to deceive Ahab. And it was God who stirred up Satan to assault Job, not Satan who persuaded God.
This gives me boldness and authority to say what would seem to the outward eye to be clearly contrary to the character of God as love, that whatever befalls me, or whatever apparent horrors are happening in the world, God sent those, God determined that—not just permitted them. And I think we see the explanation clearly enough when we have got it clear that outer sufferings are not the real suffering, but inner sorrow is—in other words, the way we take a thing.
We saw in the account of the Fall that suffering was to be humanity’s greatest blessing. Even before there was a human race, we are told in Hebrews 2:10 that the only way the Father could have a matured, perfected family of sons could be by His own Son, their Creator, becoming perfected as Leader-Saviour and Elder Brother by sufferings. Why? Because only by opposites can a thing be known in its reality: only by a full experience of the wrong way can we be established in the right.
So sufferings cry out to us that something is dreadfully wrong with our condition, and compel us to find our release from them, and from their inner sorrow which is their effect on us. In our blindness, which attributes the suffering to the outward conditions which appear to make us suffer, we seek to escape by altering outward conditions. But at last, by His merciful pressures on us by suffering, the Father compels us to face up to the truth: that our true sufferings are within and not without. They are because we are inwardly committing the fundamental sin of “the evil heart of unbelief.” We know in our inner beings whose offspring we are, but we refuse to bend our stiff necks and inwardly acknowledge that our true suffering is our rebellious, resenting, resisting inner attitude. We refuse to acknowledge Him in our true suffering situations, and accept Him in His love, in place of questioning how He can be responsible for what is happening to us. And we escape it still further by looking at the sufferings of others and asking how God can be responsible for that, not yet knowing in ourselves that all sufferings are purposed as redemptive in the individual lives of each sufferer; and the only true sufferer is the perpetrator, unless it brings him also to repentance.
But thank God we can come to this final point of reversing our antagonism, only because He first revealed Himself to us in outward form by His forgiving and restoring love in His Son, who has suffered with and for us. When at last we do that, and transfer our belieivngs from our outward suffering conditions and our consequent resistance to them and our defiance of Himself in them, and believe in Him and His word of grace with no strings or questionings attached, then we have found the key and turned it in the lock: our real suffering was our inner unbelief.
We now see through to Him alone who purposed these outer sufferings to establish us—the only way to do so. We now recognize by faith that it is He coming through in some perfect manifestation of Himself in love and power. The sufferings are only the outer shadow cast by our unbelief. Then we praise and rejoice, the joy of birth swallows up the pangs of travail; and we begin to practise the fundamental principle of no longer seeing anything as evil to us, or a problem, or a frustration. We don’t “see” those things. There are no prison bars left, for there is no outer prison to this eye of faith which sees only the Father in perfection in all things. For whatever the outer situation, in our inner selves we can always believe and praise that this is God’s perfection for ourselves; and then our outer prison conditions are found to be open doors to share the same secret with the many others around us in their desperate sorrows, because they have got these outer sufferings and outer bondages questions as confused as we had. We are free—free to love—and he that loves has God dwelling in him and His love perfected in him. The whole question of suffering, its meaning and values, is largely the theme of Peter’s first letter.
So now we have the grounds for the change from the negative to the positive believing which has to take place in every incident small or large. It is as revolutionary as we have eyes to see it. Everything in our lives is as we see it in the outer form—every material thing, every person, every happening. We are believing what our eyes see. That is the only way we know how to live as common sense people, and we call that reality. But what if it isn’t? If it is only an outer material form, just as my body is my outer form; and reality is spirit, God manifested through forms?
Now if I begin to be absurd enough to practice the habit of seeing everything and everybody and every happening in that dimension, how do I act? First, I act perfectly normal in relation to everything and everybody. I get on with living. But then all sorts of things happen that I would like to see different—again both things and people. Well, some changes and supplies are within my reach, I can handle them. Very well I do. But some are not. Now I am reaching nearer the bone. It is here that I am getting my practice in acting as a son of God, a spirit-person, not a matter-person. I look right through that situation, practical need, or whatever, and I say, “That is only appearance. That is real on the matter world level, but I’m not really living there.” In my real self, my inner spirit joined to God’s Spirit, that need is not real to me. It is not there to me. I only see my God of all supply where my natural eyes see only the lack.
That is how we “die” to the natural outlook. We are seeing through. If it was God who put us in this place of need, then that is only the reverse side of His coin, and we don’t live on the reverse side, and don’t see it. The other side is the supply already there, for He is always all fullness. So now by the “renewing of our minds,” we are beginning to see clearly. He meant us to have the problem to have practice in not seeing the problem but only Himself at the inner centre. So we now transfer our believing from natural seeing to seeing in the Spirit. We are now believing Him, and the problem (to us unreal) only His outer clothing.