What in the world is God up to?


If I were standing in a pulpit in the United States today, I would know exactly what to say.

I would say something about the U.S. presidential election, of course, which took place last week, and I would not be alone in that. I am guessing that some very fine sermons are going to be preached today all across the U.S.

In times of national crisis, America’s preachers have searched their souls and found wisdom that many of us didn’t know they had. Preachers who don’t sound eloquent most Sundays of the year somehow manage to be profound and memorable when it counts.

If you want to know the truth, I have thought about little else in the days and hours since last Tuesday. I have been searching my own soul about that election, wondering what it means, looking for divine wisdom and guidance.

But I do not serve an American church, not these days.

A small group of people came together more than 50 years ago and founded the church I now serve, and with an astonishing amount of foresight they called it an “international” church – not an “American” church.

The church I serve today is a church for people of all nationalities: no matter what passport you hold, you will find a welcome here. That was the vision, and it was a good one. It still is.

I don’t know – because we don’t keep these records – but I’m almost certain that U.S. passport holders in the congregation are not in a majority. When I first arrived, only one member of the church’s Council was a U.S. citizen. More than two dozen nationalities are represented in worship every single Sunday. It is a congregation that is staggering in its racial and ethnic diversity.

So, many people in my congregation have been sleeping just fine these last few days. They have been more than a little curious about what is happening in the U.S., but with the exception of a few from the U.S. most of them seem to be sleeping just fine.

On the other hand, we do have several members who are from Hong Kong, and I saw in the news – in the midst of all the coverage about Donald and Hillary – that the Peoples Republic of China has prevented two pro-democracy legislators from taking their seats in Hong Kong’s legislative council. That number may grow to 10. Why? China decided to make clear who was in charge.

I know several people who lie awake at night thinking about that.

We also have at least one member from Ethiopia, and because I have come to know him well I have been paying attention to nationwide protests in his country against the government. Government security forces killed 55 people one day last month in the Oromo region, where my friend is from, as part of an ongoing campaign of violence and terror.

My friend was able to bring his wife and children to Switzerland in the last year after being separated from them for several years, but he worries about others he knows who are still there.

And finally, we have members from Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon, which is where another wave of refugees is headed, though the West is not all that interested in receiving them.

When I think about all of this, I realize that a presidential election in the U.S. is only one news story among many. Don’t get me wrong. When a country with the world’s largest economy and military elects a new president, that’s news. But it is only one news story among many.

And so, what I have in mind for tomorrow is not a sermon about a U.S. presidential election or Hong Kong’s grievances with the Chinese government or even Ethiopia’s repressive and brutal regime. I have had a fair amount to say about refugees in the last couple of years too, and I don’t plan to revisit that subject tomorrow either. What I have in mind is a sermon about God’s providence, which involves all the nations of the world, all races, all ethnic groups.

What in the world is God up to these days? Is God still caring for and preserving the world he made? Now those are questions that more than a few believers around the world might wonder about.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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10 Responses to What in the world is God up to?

  1. Mandana Sharifi November 13, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    Dear Doug…in one of my visions few years ago GODs voice (guess the Holy Spirit) repeated three times ‘The world needs redemption’. Now is time for all to reflect!??

  2. Jürg Kessler November 13, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    Dear Doug
    For somebody who would not say anything about the presidential election, because he is not standing in an American pulpit you managed to say quite a bit today! I hope your coming week is better for you than the last one!

    • Doug November 14, 2016 at 5:25 am #

      Thanks, Jürg. I probably said too much, but there was a lot more that could have been said.

  3. Mike November 13, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    Hello Doug – Your question, in closing, is an interesting one. But, equally important, maybe more important right now is the question – Are we caring, as he intended, for the the world he made for all nations, races and ethnic groups? Cue the skywriting plane to start penning the answer in the sky, “Y’all could do better”. Like to see that.
    Best Regards,

    • Doug November 14, 2016 at 12:05 am #

      Hi, Mike. As the people here discovered, I finished the blog’s questions in my sermon with a sermon about God’s providence. And as you anticipated, God’s care for the world includes an invitation (or maybe a command) to us to care for it as well. Wish you had been here. I keep hoping to hear that your passport is up to date.

      • Mike November 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

        I like it when you play Christian hardball – maybe fast pitch softball is more apt. As for your passport comment – big smile from that. I’m in the process of renewing it now. Well, that’s not technically true. Debra is actively on the case of getting my passport renewed. My neighbor says she’s looking forward to my trip across the pond – he’s agnostic so I take his comments with a grain of salt. Wish I could have heard your sermon – I’ll bet that makes me like a lot of folks in your extended congregational family.

  4. karen parkinson, wheaton November 14, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    I wish you had been standing in the Pulpit in Wheaton on Sunday. I miss you very much. I just finished reading Paul Tillich’s book the Courage to Be. You introduced him to me. After I talked to Ericka on Wednesday, as she was writing her sermon, I thought of the Hymn There is a Balm in Gilead. I remember singing the Hymn is the Chapel of Princeton. You gave me great memories of the visits to Princeton. I think we all need the Courage to put our Trust in God.
    With Good Thoughts, Karen Parkinson, Wheaton

    • Doug November 17, 2016 at 11:49 pm #

      Oh my, to know that a church member is reading Paul Tillich – well, that’s encouraging! My best to Ericka. I see her on Facebook now and then, but we haven’t talked in a long, long time.

  5. Georgia Hamilton November 14, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    Thanks for putting our country’s election in perspective. In our small group we are reading John Ortberg’s book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” about spiritual disciplines for ordinary people. The chapter this week is all about listening as God speaks to us, guiding our actions and teaching us to accept responsibility and suggests ways to be attentive to the Spirit’s voice, whether spoken to us or spoken in the words of others. (Cha 9—receiving guidance from the HS.) Your thoughts and this particular chapter seem so appropriate. Your blog is always thoughtful and reassuring. Thank you.


    • Doug November 17, 2016 at 11:48 pm #

      It’s wonderful to hear from you, Georgia! I did not know of Ortberg’s book. It sounds like one that would work well here at my church. Thanks for the suggestion.

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