Lately, I have been feeling like the victim of change. It reminds me of a song I like.
My wife and I have been fans of a cappella music for many years and have even sung in several different a cappella groups (which is really a lot of fun). Consequently, we have a number of albums by various groups such as The Nylons, The Bobs, Chanticleer, Take 6, and lots of barbershop. On one of The Nylons’ albums there is a Sam Cooke cover called, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
The song was written in the ‘60s as a part of the civil rights movement speaking to the need for change in our society, and it has one of those bluesy, minor-key melodies that will just grab you by the throat. The lyrics combine both a sense of helplessness in the face of destiny as well as a longing to make something happen to change it. I think this is a struggle that many people can relate to.
The idea of change is an interesting dichotomy; we seem to be both the victims as well as the agents of change. We all sense that nothing is static – good times or bad, and usually sooner than we expect or want, change inevitably comes. If we think the changes are for our good, then we tend to welcome them and adapt ourselves to them. If we think the changes won’t help us, we tend to resent and resist them, pushing back against the tide to try to keep it from overwhelming us.
So are we victims of change or agents of change?
1. “Victims of Change”
Many people believe change is a fateful destiny in which we are helpless victims. James McAvoy once said, “The minute you start to strategize too much, the more you start to think you’re in control of your own fate. And you’re not, really.”
Sometimes I feel like that’s where I am right now. Many of the things happening in my life are completely beyond my control and my options to respond are pretty limited.
Yet I also have come to realize that whether I like it or not, change is needed in my life. C.S. Lewis said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
2. “Agents of Change”
So on the one hand, many people see themselves as victims of change. Yet the opposite is often true of our view of change. Mahatma Gandhi once famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It often seems change in the world starts with a change in me. In other words, often I must change myself if change is to occur.
It comes as no surprise that this is a popular view in our culture. We are all taught from childhood on up that, according to the American doctrine of self-reliance, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Personal responsibility and self-actualization are dogmas of the church of the American Way. We are taught that you are the primary agent of change in your world.
Personally, this philosophy appeals to me in my life these days. It often feels like the proper response to my sense of victimization and helplessness over the changes I’m going through. I ought to do something about it!
But just how Biblical are these two ideas?
3. A Gospel approach towards change
We’ve all heard people say, “God helps those who help themselves,” but where does Scripture tell us that? I’ve heard this phrase jokingly attributed to Hezekiah 1:1. Of course, while Hezekiah was a King in the Old Testament, and actually one of the good ones, there is no book in the Bible that bears his name! In reality, this statement is not found anywhere in the Bible even though so many people think it sounds so spiritual.
So what does the Bible say about the “vagaries of chance” and the “winds of change”? Are we their victims or perhaps their agents? Do random things happen to us by chance or do we cause the events that occur in our lives?
Actually, neither is the case.
We are not victims of haphazard events but are in truth the beneficiaries, the receivers of specific blessing from God even when we don’t understand His ways. Nor are we the agents of change but rather the tools in the hands of the One who governs all events and guides all of history. Scripture is clear that God is in charge and that He is loving, kind, and gracious to His children for the sake of His own glory. Understanding and trusting that God is sovereign can sustain us through even the most difficult periods of change in our lives. So where do we see God’s sovereignty?
The sovereignty of God is an essential part of His person and is a subject addressed by the Bible from beginning to end. While we can’t do an exhaustive discussion of the subject in this article, here are a few examples that have helped me lately have a better understanding of this truth.
One of the most encouraging passages to a disciple of Jesus about the sovereignty of God comes from Romans 8:28 which says,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (emphasis added).
This is an incredible statement! What Paul is saying is that by virtue of His limitless power, God is able to arrange everything for the good His children, even those things that look bad to us.
This tells me that one thing I need to understand is that my perception is flawed. I cannot see things from God’s perspective and I do not have the capacity to understand His ways (1 Corinthians 3:19; “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.”). Yet the purpose of God is clearly identified as the foundation of His work. He calls us to fulfill His purpose and in so doing blesses us with every good thing. How do we know He will provide for us even when we don’t understand His ways?
A few verses later in Romans 8:32 Paul says explicitly,
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
In this verse, Paul reminds us that the Gospel is the foundation for our trust in God’s provision. The Gospel shows us that the fullest expression of the grace of God was the voluntary sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus, for His glory and to reconcile us to Himself.
In fact, the mercy of God is one of the greatest mysteries I know. As a sinner both by birth and by choice I know that I deserve only God’s judgment and wrath. Yet the Gospel says that because of His great love for us, God sent His only son, Jesus, to go up onto the cross and take on the wrath that we deserved. And through His sacrifice, by the grace of God, we are now reconciled back to God through Jesus’ sacrifice. That He should choose to love me, show mercy on me and redeem me to Himself is truly the greatest of all miracles!
So Paul picks up the implications of this Gospel, and essentially says that if God has already made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, why should we be surprised that He will continue to bless us or that everything that comes from Him is a blessing?
When we see the sovereignty of God in light of the Gospel, then we can dispel the notion that we are the victims of a capricious or malicious fate. We have a God who did everything for us, and even though we might not understand His ways, we can know He will continue to provide everything for us.
But what about the idea that we may be able to control our destiny by the choices we make – that we are the primary agents of change in our lives?
If this is true then it is a heavy burden to bear! If I am solely responsible for whatever happens to me, then knowing my own weakness and fallibility, I am left with grave doubts and great insecurities. If I recognize the true character of God – His complete righteousness compared to my utter sinfulness – then I have absolutely no hope of ever positively influencing any event on the strength of my character or abilities.
But Scripture once again offers a remedy to this dilemma. In Philippians 2:13 Paul writes,
“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Yet again when we look to the Gospel, we see God at work from beginning to end. In this passage, God continues to work in us and through us, accomplishing His sovereign will. In our salvation, God is the one who did everything for us through Christ, and even now, He is the agent of change, and His desire is to use us as the tools in His hands.
What a relief! If He is the one who saves me, changes me, and He is the one who chooses to work through me, then as I allow Him to use me I don’t have to be personally responsible for the results.
So where does this leave me with my feelings of victimization? To be honest, even knowing what the Bible says, I still struggle. But I’m growing! I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not about me and that my human perceptions are not reliable. As I look to the Gospel, I see that God is truly in charge and He is truly wise, good, and merciful. No matter what it looks like to me, from God’s perspective it’s all working together for my good and for His glory.
Far from being a victim, I am being blessed by the perfect plans of the omniscient God and I don’t have to worry about being in charge of anything because as He has shown us through the Gospel, in the end, He rules over all.
Mark Vile serves as the Chairman of the Board of Elders at Berean Bible Church.