God is sovereign
The presence of sorrow, oppression and injustice in the world does not deny the sovereignty of God. These things will keep us from using a model of sovereignty that doesn't fit the facts but in the end, whatever model or models we use, it is senseless to deny God's reign over the creation.
Jeremiah 31:15-17 says this. This is what the Lord says: "A voice heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more." This is what the Lord says: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded," declares the Lord. "They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future," declares the Lord. "Your children will return to their own land."
Ramah was a deportation centre where the conqueror gathered the captives together before scattering them throughout the world. [How many places on earth are there that are remembered (if at all) as places of despair and heartbreak? Ramah was one.] Rachel, the mother of Israel, weeps as she sees her children sent off into the grave of exile. There’s the reality, the cruel conqueror, unstoppable, his legions too powerful to defeat and using cunning organisation and long term plans for the fragmentation and permanent humiliation of the conquered. Imagine the searing pain of physical brutality and emotional rupturing. Imagine the horror on children’s faces, the panic written all over parents, the despair of husbands and wives that have never spent a single night apart from each other.
Then the prophet speaks the promise above. "It doesn’t end this way! Better days are ahead. The Lord (Yahweh) who brought us out of Egypt says that all this misery and misfortune will be reversed. The future is secure because Yahweh says so!"
Yes, but in the meantime—what about in the meantime? Well...the present must be faced and the heartbreak borne.
But is that not asking too much? Apparently not since he tells them not to cry. But when he tells them not to cry he isn’t snarling at them, mark you. That’s not his tone! But whatever his tone, the word is still the same, "Don’t cry, this is not the end and I have a glorious future in store for you." So in light of the future they are to live hopefully in a tough present (compare 1 Corinthians 15:58, spoken in light of the death of death—note the "therefore").
But the assured promise of a glorious future says something about a tough present! He that controls the future is the Lord of the present. Look at the crushing present and hear the prophet say that the future is secure and glorious. The economic chaos, the inoperable tumours, the rapacious governments, the genocide, the trashed marriages, the war-mongers, the predatory multinational companies that are burying little nations in cunning purchases and loans—look at these and hear the prophetic promise. The promise defies the devastating present. The Lord of the future is working his strange work even in that kind of present. The challenge is to trust him. Is he able and is he willing? Does he wring his hands in despair at the sight of people like Asshurbanipal or Nebuchadnezzar or Stalin or Hitler? [Add the names you think belong on such a list and the question remains the same.]
He must see what we see but he must see more. If he is shaping the future he must be sovereign over the present. It is a good thing, a critically important thing for us to look to the promised glory. But faith’s power and the maximum of peace in the middle of the political, economic, military, social and moral storms is to be able to look at all these and believe that God is in the midst of them bringing about a new world. [And if God is bringing about a world of righteousness it is the destiny of the People of God to live such a life in the present and in doing that to bear witness to God's purpose.]
A prophetic promise not only envisions the future it undermines the lies that a cruel and unbending present pours out. A prophetic promise defies all the claims that the world powers make and joins its voice with Paul in Colossians 2:15.