The Means to an End

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Providence

“And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretence of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”” (Acts 27:30–31)

“He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” (Acts 27:43–44)

Towards the end of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is in a boat which is heading for Rome when a storm hits. The sailors were fearful that they would be run aground, and they began to jettison the cargo. When there was no more cargo to be ditched, the ship’s tackle went into the deep.

Without food and battered by the storm, despair clung to the crew. Paul, though, did not share their gloom. As he told them: “this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:23–26)

So it is that the boat drifted along, and when they got near to land some of the sailers tried to escape on the ship’s boat. Pretending to be dropping anchor, they started to lower the boat but Paul objected: “unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (v31).

In the end, the boat was shipwrecked as they attempted to run it ashore on some land. The centurion then urged everyone to jump overboard and either swim for it, or float to shore on the wreckage bobbing around next to the boat. “And so it was that all were brought safely to land (v44).

All this is an example of the fact that God uses means to bring about his purposes. It was a sure thing that the crew would be saved, as the angel had foretold. Yet in order for this to come about, the crew also had to stay on board. The end was sure (safety), but the means (stay on board) had to be followed.

To have a belief in a God who is sovereign over all should not imply we simply have to sit back and do nothing. Yes God decrees the end of things, but he also decrees the means by which this end will come about. Yes, we are secure in God’s hands but we also have to follow the commands he gives.

What is an Act of God?

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22) - “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name:” (Jeremiah 31:35) - Old insurance policies used to mention “Acts of God”, by which they meant unusual and unforeseen events such as earthquakes, lightning strikes or volcano eruptions. The problem with this language, though, is it relegates God to the realm of the spectacular. It assumes that God can only act in ways which overwhelm and draw attention.

God Does as He Pleases

“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” (Hosea 1:7) - To be Creator implies not only a mastery over creation so that it can be used to bring about whatever God wishes, but also the right to act in a way which takes priority over the created order.

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