Yesterday, it was announced that the pastor of our church here in Dallas, Matt Chandler, would be having surgery on Friday to remove a brain tumor in his frontal lobe. No word was available yet on whether or not the tumor was malignant, they would find out when they got in there.
New traveled quickly on Thanksgiving after Matt had a seizure and passed out, sustaining minor injuries. He was rushed to the ER and after the MRI was performed, found out about the mass in his brain. After meeting with the neurosurgeon, surgery was scheduled for this Friday. For the complete details you can follow this link
The overwhelming response on this kind of occasion has been to pray. But the question that remains is, “How should we pray?”
I think all too often we might betray our professed understanding of God’s sovereignty by the way we tend to pray about things. Matt and his family (and all of us as well) are certainly in God’s sovereign hands, but the question is then, “What does that mean for how we pray?”
While sovereignty as an attribute of God gets quite a bit of attention, especially in recent theological discussions about the nature of salvation and of course the well known arguments about the relationship of sovereignty and free will, aseity, at least as far as I can see, doesn’t quite get the same attention. But in a logical sense, aseity comes before sovereignty. To understand how God is sovereignly at work in this situation, we need to understand His aseity. That is, at least as much as a human person can understand a divine person.
The term aseity comes from the Latin phrase a se which means “from or by oneself”(quoted from Frame, “Divine Aseity and Apologetics” in Revelation and Reason, 115). As an attribute of God it refers to the fact the God does not depend on anything outside of Himself in order to exist. Related terminology would include self contained, self-sufficient, self-existent, and independent.
Now, not only is God in His being a se, but all of his attributes are as well. Or in other words, God’s goodness, wisdom, justice, holiness are all self existent and self-sufficient. There is no standard above God that determines anything in His being. What God does is good, not because it conforms to a standard of goodness, but because He is God and He is good, so all of His actions conform to His nature.
An extension then of this kind of existence is that God’s lordship over His creation is a se as well. This is clearly establish in Genesis 1:1. Well, I say clearly, but you of course probably didn’t start reading Genesis and think “Oh, I see here Moses is affirming God’s aseity.” However, what you do have is a self-contained, self-existent God, independent from anyone or anything else, then creates a dependent universe (the heavens and earth). The rest of the chapter exemplifies God’s total control over the fashioning of this world. We have already covered that in depth, but it seemed like it might helpful to connect the basis for this idea to the first page of Scripture.
Anyway, sovereignty, as an attribute of God, is actually an implication of God’s aseity. God is sovereign over creation because He is its self-existent, self-contained Creator. “If God is a se, then he has the resources within himself to carry out his purposes for history. His eternal plan does not depend on creatures for its formulation or implementation” (Frame, 118). From this starting point, it is easy to see why some, like Herman Bavinck and Cornelius Van Til (following Bavinck) would see aseity as the foundational attribute of God. Van Til even goes so far to say that “Basic to all the doctrines of Christian theism is that of the self-contained God, or, if we wish, that of the ontological trinity.” (in The Defense of the Faith, 100).
One of the most basic doctrines then of the Christian faith is that of the Trinity, and specifically that of the ontological Trinity, or the life of God as He is in Himself. We will come back to that last point in a later post, so file it away for now and let’s go back to Matt’s situation.
God’s aseity means that His knowledge is also self-contained. That means that God’s knowledge of everything in both Himself and the now the created order is both exhaustive and perfect. To put it differently, God knows the world by knowing Himself first, or as John Frame puts it:
He knows what is possible in the world by knowing His own powers; and he knows what is actual in the world (at all times) by knowing his own eternal plan, as well as by his perfect awareness of the temporal accomplishment of that plan. In other words, He does not depend on the creation for his knowledge even of the creation. (Divine Aseity and Apologetics, 121 emphasis mine)
Look at the phrase in parenthesis, “at all times.” God not only knows perfectly every detail of the situation with Matt in our present time, He knows all the details of the situation with Matt on Friday afternoon post surgery. He knows this because He knows exactly how it fits into His all encompassing plan of redemptive history of which you and I and Matt are a part of (Ephesians 1:1-14, esp v. 11). Matt’s life has meaning because it takes part in that plan of God, and the upcoming events of Matt’s surgery also have meaning because they are part of that plan. Because God knows His own plan exhaustively, He knows Matt and the course of his life exhaustively.
This means Matt’s seizure was not surprising in the least to God. It happened exactly on schedule and is a part of God drawing Matt closer to Himself. As Matt himself eerily put it the sermon he preached Sunday prior to his seizure, “Sometimes God will break your fingers to get your hands off what will harm you.” (listen to it in context, it’s at 11:15 in the sermon titled, The Path (Part 9): Sabbath). If there is any sense in which a brain tumor can be analogous to broken fingers, God could very well be using this to remove some element from Matt’s life that could be harmful to his Christlikeness.
It would be presumptuous of me to speculate further exactly how this relates to Matt, but certainly God is going to greatly use this situation to draw Matt and his family closer in communion with Himself and to bring them to cling ever more fervently to Christ. In this sense, while this is not a time to be flippant about the nature of Matt’s situation and the seriousness of a brain tumor, it can potentially be a time of thanksgiving to God for providing Matt the opportunity to grow more deeply in his love for Christ than the lesser trials of everyday life afford.
In addition to thanking God for His provision, it is appropriate to ask God to send His Spirit to comfort Matt and his family and give them the peace that surpasses understanding in a time when peacefulness is not a typical response you would expect from a man and his family facing such a situation. This brings glory to God and will bring others to glory in God as well as they witness Matt and His family joyfully clinging to Christ in the face of difficult times.
Matt is ultimately an instrument in God’s hand that He has been using to minister to the people in the DFW area and beyond. The upcoming surgery is just another instance of Matt being used by God to draw people to Himself. We can pray that Matt’s faith will be strong and that He will see the glory of Christ in this situation more clearly than he has in recent times. As an instrument he will be refined and more readied for use by his Redeemer, and we can pray that Matt will be sensitive to the how God is at work in his heart through this time.
Last but not least, even though God already knows the outcome of the surgery and Friday, as it is already from eternity past been a part of His plan, our prayers can still in some way be the means that He uses in some manner in this situation. Our praying then is already a part of this plan of God, and we can take comfort that by our praying for Matt and his family and the doctors, we are doing our part in God’s plan to draw us all closer to Himself in this situation.
Only if God is a se can we pray to Him like this. We do not need to pray for God to “be at work” in this situation because He already is; nor do we need to pray for Him to “be with” Matt and his family, for God already is there with Him. We can though pray for all of our eyes to be opened to the way God is at work and to be sensitive to His Spirit; and likewise we can pray for Matt and his family to be made more and more aware of God’s presence with them and to draw peace and comfort and joy from it.
Finally, while I know much more could be said, it is helpful to ponder the effect that events like this have on our prayer life. Hopefully God uses this to alert all of us to both the necessity of prayer in the Christian life, and the importance of praying fervently for our leaders, brain tumors or not. How many of us only feel compelled to pray for Matt now? What does that say about our view of God? That He is only to be consulted in crises? What does that say about our view of prayer? That it is only for big things, and that everyday life is too mundane to pray about? And finally, what does that say about ourselves?
For me, it means I need to re-evaluate my prayer life and commit more time to praying on a daily basis, especially for leaders like Matt and for my wife and my family as well. Maybe you could say the same, and maybe these thoughts can be useful to you to that end.