In our previous messages on the “why” question, we were discussing the topic of why God allows such terrible things to happen as the attack on the World Trade Center.  We also were considering it in the light of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good (God’s) people?”  We had started our discussion by pointing out that God didn’t want us to have to deal with such calamities in the first place, but Adam and Isha chose to disobey Him and thus brought disaster upon themselves and all their children.  Then we discussed that the final end that God has in mind for us and the world is so much more glorious than anything we know now that it makes up for any suffering we could possibly go through.  And finally we discussed that God did not save Adam and Eve immediately because that would not have been in harmony with His just governmental nature, which demanded that their sins be paid for first.  That penalty was paid when Christ died on the cross.

Yet now the question arises of “Now that Christ has died for the sins of the world, why does God still wait so long to save us?  If all that was necessary for God to reverse the effects of Adam and Isha’s sin was for Christ to die, then why didn’t He fix everything long ago?  Why do we still suffer calamities?  Why are we still under the law of sin and death?”  That is the question we will seek to answer in this message.

We know that God really isn’t doing much to stop all the evil in the world today.  He didn’t put out His hand to stop the planes from crashing into the World Trade Center.  He didn’t stop Hitler and the Nazis from murdering millions of people.  He doesn’t seem to do much of anything to stop wicked men or to even show that He’s out there.  As Sir Robert Anderson wrote in his book The Silence of God, “The Divine history of the favored race for thousands of years teems with miracles by which God gave proof of His power with men, and yet we are confronted by the astounding fact that from the days of the apostles to the present hour the history of Christendom will be searched in vain for the record of a single public event to compel belief that there is a God at all.”

We know from experience that this is true.  God is not openly demonstrating His power, His justice and government, or even His Own existence to the world today.  The only way we can hear from God at all or know what He wants is to read His Word.  Why is this so?  Why didn’t God use the opportunity of Christ’s death to bring about a perfect world and put an end to all the misery on Earth?

I believe that this is because God had a different plan.  His plan is what I am talking about when I say I believe that this is the “Dispensation of Grace.”

“Dispensation” is a difficult word.  It’s not one we use in conversation today.  It’s an old word, and doesn’t make much sense to us.  But I think we can get a grasp on what it means if we examine it carefully.

First of all we should look at the word it is translated from in Greek.  In Greek it is the word “oikonomia,” and comes from two words, “oikos,” which means house, and “nomos,” which means law.  Thus a dispensation is a house-law.

No doubt you have rules or laws in your house.  One of the first “rules” I try to figure out when I first visit someone’s house is whether or not they allow people to wear shoes in their house.  I know that in some people’s homes the law is that you can’t wear shoes in the house, whereas in other people’s homes the rule is that shoes are fine.  So I try to discover what the rule is in the house I’m in so I can know whether or not I should take my shoes off at the door.

But we have lots of other house rules.  In some homes it is a rule that you always pray before a meal.  In some homes the rule is that the kids always take out the garbage.  In other homes there might be rules about no TV before doing your homework, and in others about no snacks before supper.  These are all house rules or house laws that people have.

So a dispensation has to do with house rules or laws.  And when the Bible uses it, it is talking specifically about the rules that God has for His house and His children to follow and obey.  It is talking about how God rules the world and how He orders His work upon it.

To find a modern-day word for dispensation, some have suggested management.  This is a fairly good word, because it gives it a governmental feel that is there in dispensation.  A dispensation does indeed have to do with how God manages His people.  Yet I think that an even better word for dispensation might be policy.  God’s dispensation is the policy He has toward people on Earth at any given time.

So we learn about the policy of grace that God has towards the Earth in Ephesians 3:2.  There Paul asks believers “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.”  What Paul is wondering is if these people to whom he is writing have heard of God’s policy of grace that He had revealed to Paul so he could tell them about it.  God had a new policy towards the Earth, and that was to act in grace.

So what does it mean that God’s dispensation or policy towards the Earth is grace?  I believe that it means that God is always going to act graciously in any situation that comes up.  If one should ask, “What will God do about the World Trade Center bombing?” the answer would be “God’s policy is grace.”  If we were to ask, “Why doesn’t God punish wicked people for all the awful things they do?” the answer would be, “God’s policy is grace.”  If we were to ask, “Why doesn’t God stop evil people like Hitler or Osama bin Laden from working their terrible deeds?” the answer would be, “God’s policy is grace.”  God doesn’t act in justice or judgment.  He doesn’t repay people exactly what they deserve.  Instead He gives them the free gifts of His grace.

This helps explain to us why God allows terrible things to happen in the world.  If always in every situation His policy must be grace, then even in extreme situations like the attack on the World Trade Center God cannot act judgmentally by striking down the men who attacked or protecting the innocent who do not deserve to die.  Instead He must show grace to both the perpetrator and the victim because that is His policy.  This does not mean that He will not condemn the evil men who do things like this when they stand before Him in judgment.  Certainly He will!  But in all His actions towards men now in this life He does not act in judgment.  In any situation that arises in our day, if God cannot act in grace, then He will not act at all.  That is His policy.

There is another important fact that we need to realize about God’s policy towards us and towards people on earth in general today.  This second fact is found in Ephesians 3:8-9.  “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God Who created all things through Jesus Christ.”

In this passage, we again have the word “oikonomia,” this time translated as “fellowship” instead of “dispensation.”  Thus this passage speaks of the policy of the mystery.  What is this policy of the mystery?  Well, let us first look at the meaning of the word “mystery.”  This word in Greek is “mysterion,” and as you can see it is the word that we get our English word “mystery” from.  Our translators have just taken the word in Greek, changed it into our alphabet, and given it an English ending.  But in Greek this word doesn’t mean the same thing as our English word “mystery.”  “Mysterion” in Greek means “secret.”  So what this passage is talking about is the policy of the secret.

What is God’s policy of the secret?  I believe that this means that God’s policy in our time is to always act secretly.  In fact, the dispensation of grace and the dispensation of the secret go hand-in-hand.  Let me explain why.

Suppose some neighbors of mine were starving and desperately in need of financial assistance.  Suppose I graciously decided to give them $100 to help them in their time of need.  This would be a very gracious act on my part.  However, suppose I decided to hire a brass band to play a fanfare as I walked next door to give them the check.  Suppose I had people hired to go in front of me and roll a red carpet in front of my feet as I walked next door to deliver it.  Suppose I had criers hired to go before me and proclaim to anyone who could listen, “Nathan is going next door to generously give a $100 check to his starving neighbors!  Nathan is going next door to generously give a $100 check to his starving neighbors!”  Would my act still appear so wonderful and gracious?  No, indeed!  Now it would appear that what I was doing, I was doing for my own glory and to make myself look good, not to help my starving neighbors.  Far better would it be if I would simply sneak next door and slide the money under their door or into their mailbox.  Then they would receive it, but even they would not know who had given it to them.  I could receive no recognition whatsoever, and then my act would indeed be truly self-sacrificial and gracious.

The same applies to all acts of grace.  The best grace is always done in secret!  And so God, in seeking to apply a policy of grace to every situation that arises, chooses also to apply that grace through a policy of always acting secretly.  God’s works today are always gracious, and because they are gracious, they are always done secretly.

So why has God made these things His policy?  Why does He always act secretly, and always in grace?  We learn the answer in that same book of Ephesians.  First of all, we learn in Ephesians 2:7 His purpose “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  God wants to display for all times to come the riches of His grace.  I explained in the previous study that God has two polar opposite sides: His government and His grace.  When His government comes to earth, everything that is done will be done in judgment, not in grace.  Thus, God wanted first to have a time when everything that is done by God is done in grace.  He wanted to show forth for all time to come just how wonderful, just how rich His grace is.  And in those times to come, when anyone wishes to know just what God’s grace is like, He can point to the things He did in our time, in the dispensation of grace, and say, “See, that is what God’s grace is like.  See, that is how wonderful God’s grace is.  God could show grace even in that situation.  That shows what His grace is like.”  And so we in time to come will be His object lesson explaining the riches of His grace!

In Ephesians 3:10-11, Paul further explains the purpose of these two dispensations, these two policies of God, saying, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God doesn’t just want people to know how wonderful He is.  He has the same desire for all beings, even those in heaven.  And now, through us, they too can know how wise God is in His actions toward us!

So this answers the great question of why God didn’t save our world from sin immediately after the death of Christ.  He had another purpose in mind that He wanted to fulfill first, and that was to show forth the riches of His grace during a time when His policy would be grace acted out in secrecy.  Thus He delays our deliverance because He has this purpose that He wants to fulfill first.  We may not completely understand why He would want to do this.  We may think that He should be done already, and should hurry up and stop wickedness like He has promised to do.  We may not always agree with His waiting, and we may not always understand.  But we need to remember that He is God and we are just His creatures, and if He were completely fair we’d all be wiped out anyway!  So we need to just trust Him to do what’s best and wait for the time He has coming, no matter how long He may choose to wait to bring it about.

Some of my readers may be wondering by this point, “What does this mean in my life?  How does the fact that God’s policy is grace acted out in secret affect me?”  That is a question we need to answer before we bring this study to a close.

First of all, we need to understand that God knows that His grace will never win.  In our sports-oriented society, we all understand the idea that winning is important.  We do play sports to have a good time, but ultimately what we really want to do is win.  No one looks forward to losing, and no one enjoys losing quite as much as winning.  So it is hard for us to understand why God appears to be losing so badly in the world around us.

As we look at the world around us, evil just seems so much stronger than good.  Children with good, godly parents often rebel and decide to do what is wrong, but children with wicked, ungodly parents seldom decide to rebel and do what is right!  Many people decide to be religious, but few really love or have a deep desire to serve our Lord Jesus Christ.  The world seems full to the brim with lost people, and more and more wickedness seems to go on every day.  Our society seems on a downhill slide with no end in sight, and if this life were a sports game, we would surely say that it appears that Satan is winning over God 100 to 1!  How can this be?  If God is really greater than the enemy, then why isn’t He winning?

The answer is quite simply that God isn’t trying to win!  God knows very well that He will never win in this world by having a policy of grace.  Isaiah 26:10 reveals this, for there God says,
“Let grace be shown to the wicked,
Yet he will not learn righteousness;
In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly,
And will not behold the majesty of the LORD.”

God knows that a wicked person will not turn from his wickedness because you decide to be gracious to him.  If you say, “I forgive you,” he will just think, “Great, that means I got away with it!”  In fact, even in a land where everyone else was upright he would still act the same way.  Forgiveness doesn’t change the wicked, it only lets him keep on acting wickedly!

On the other hand, God knows what the winning strategy is!  He says one verse earlier in Isaiah 26:9b,
“For when Your judgments are in the earth,
The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”

When God brings His judgments to the earth, then He will win.  God’s righteous government is exactly what this world needs to fix it, and when it comes it will stop the wicked in their tracks.  That time…the future Kingdom…is when God will win.  And when God ends His dispensation of grace and brings in that Kingdom, He will win.  There will be nothing Satan can do.  He will lose, he will be stopped in his tracks, and there will be nothing he can do about it.  That is what will happen in the future.

Yet in the meantime God is losing.  This is simply natural in a time when God is acting in grace.  Although a few people might appreciate God’s grace and turn to Him and receive His salvation, the vast majority just take advantage of His leniency to do whatever they want.  This results in God appearing to lose badly.  But God knew that this would happen when He started the dispensation of grace, yet He did it anyway because it was part of His perfect plan.  He is not trying to win yet.  He has something else He wants to do first.  That might seem strange to us, since we always try to win if we can.  But God has a perfect plan, and we have to accept it whether we understand it or not.

We also need to understand the extent of God’s policy of grace.  It does not just mean that He cannot punish the wicked.  It also means that He cannot reward the just.  It is just a much an act of government to give an award to someone who obeys the law as it is to punish someone who disobeys it.  Things we earn by righteous behavior are not given to us in grace, but in government.  Thus God cannot reward His people who act in ways that please Him any more than He can punish those who act in ways that displease Him.  To do either one would not be gracious, so God does neither.

Many new believers get the idea that now that they have come to the Lord, everything else in their lives is going to go perfectly.  God is going to make everything turn out right and keep everything bad from happening so that their lives will just be wonderful from then on.  Often when things don’t work out this way, these believers end up disheartened, and some of them are angry at God and even decide to turn their backs on Him!  Yet when we understand God’s policy of grace, we understand that they never should have expected something like this from God in the first place.  God’s policy is grace, and so He will not judge us as deserving reward no matter how good we are.  That is just not consistent with grace!

So what’s the bottom line?  Can I expect nothing from God in a dispensation of grace?  When God’s policy is grace, does that mean He cannot protect, help, or benefit me whatsoever?  Is there anything I receive as a follower of God since God cannot stop wicked men or reward righteous ones?  No, I do not believe this is so.  It is true that we do not receive rewards for being righteous or punishments for being wicked.  Yet I believe that there is something that we receive as believers.  All men on earth receive God’s grace to some extent, even if it only extends to not striking them dead for their many offenses against Him.  Yet we as believers have far more open to us than that.  We have a God Who is always with us in times of need.  We have a Friend Who will be with us in every trial.  We have offered to us the free gift of God’s Holy Spirit to bring us nearer to Him and to guide us in our lives and our every decision.  These are things that we receive as followers of Him.  These are not rewards.  Rather, they are things that God graciously offers to all who believe in Jesus Christ.  So that is what we receive from God today.  He does not take away the bad things that may happen to us.  But whenever it might be and in whatever situation, bad or good, He offers to us the free gifts of His grace.  He does not take away the bad things or the good things, but He adds the gifts of His grace to them all.  This is what we receive from Him during the time of His policy of secret grace.

So we see that as long as this wicked world continues, we can expect disasters like the World Trade Center bombing to continue. God does not keep disasters from happening to us, but He adds His grace to our lives.  That is what He gives us, and in that we can be content, knowing that someday when we receive eternal life we have a greater reward waiting for us than we can even imagine.  May God bring that day quickly!