“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’” (Luke 12:13-14 ESV).
One of the most persistent human endeavors is to attempt to compel God to do our will. An observation of worldwide religious activities reveals that many of those things we call “worship” are actually attempts to persuade or coerce “god” to perform actions which we desire to be done. These include the many fertility rituals, much sacrifice, and even many prayers.
In Luke 12 Jesus found himself surrounded by a large crowd (verse 1). In spite of the multitude of curious onlookers, he addressed his disciples specifically, instructing them with various principles (verses 2-12). At that point one in the greater audience interrupted him with a personal request: “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (verse 13).
Jesus’ response is significant both because of what he said, and of what he did not say. He did not ask for the particulars of the man’s case, such as: is he the elder? Did you receive your rightful (younger son’s) portion? Is he defrauding you or are you simply greedy? Jesus apparently had no interest in the validity of the man’s claim.
What he did say is, in effect, “Who are you to tell me what I, the Son of God, have come to the earth to do?” Put that way we clearly see the audacity and arrogance of the man’s demand. But do we ourselves understand that we cannot set God’s or Christ’s agenda any more than could this first-century Jew?
God is sovereign, almighty, all-wise, eternal, and remote from human sight and understanding (1 Timothy 6:16). Humanity cannot comprehend either his purpose or his actions (Job 11:7-9; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-34). He is the creator of this world, and is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). This universe is not a democracy, subject to the will of its denizens. It belongs to God alone and is completely under his authority (Psalm 89:11-12).
Yet, in spite of our intellectual awareness of these things, we persist in attempting to decide what God will or should do. How often have we heard (or said), “Surely God wants me to be happy.” Or, “God would not want me to live like this.” Perhaps we have heard atheists in debate arguing, “A just, all-powerful God would not allow innocent people to suffer.” All of these and many more are common statements offered in defense of practices or beliefs that are contrary to Biblical teaching. They also are made from human perspective, attempting to bind God by mortal standards and comprehension.
Paul demonstrated the error of that process:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-23).
The irony and tragedy of that way of thinking is that God wants to accommodate our needs (1 Timothy 2:3-4), but we cannot force his cooperation. Rather we must approach him humbly, submitting first to his will.
- “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).
- “Submit yourselves therefore to God . … Draw near to God and he will draw near to you . … Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you” (James 4:7-8, 10).
God sets his own agenda. But he does so with total love and concern for those whom he rules. We cannot demand that he change his purposes and methods. We can, however, submit to his authority without fear, knowing that we are precious in his sight.