Over and over again God reassures his people that he is holding on to us by his right hand. In Isaiah 41.10, for example: ‘…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ That is a wonderful promise to comfort us—our heavenly Father will not let us go. Even if we might try to break free of his grip and let go of him, he is holding on to us tightly and keeping us safe.
This is one way of picturing the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Every true believer will inevitably make it safely home to glory because the Lord is preserving him or her. We persevere because he preserves us; we keep on going because he goes on keeping. The two halves of Psalm 63.8 reflect the two sides of the doctrine of perseverance: ‘My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.’ Our souls go on clinging to God in faith because his right hand is upholding us.
How do you see this picture in your mind’s eye? God’s right hand upholding you? Perhaps we think of a Father and child strolling along hand in hand; perhaps we think of a comforting arm around the shoulder to give support. It’s a beautiful, and biblical, idea. But sometimes God’s grip can be painful.
A couple of years ago our family was on the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede off the north coast of Ireland. It’s accessed by a rope bridge and its sides are sheer cliffs all around. I was holding one of our younger daughters tightly by the hand as we walked near (but not too near) the cliff edge. At one point she tried to get closer to look down, but I wouldn’t let her. Frustrated, she started to try to pull away. Fearful that she might end up yanking free and falling under her own momentum I exerted a lot more force and pulled her sharply back. My daughter’s tears that followed were partly due to her desires being thwarted, but mainly due to the pain in her wrist from being hauled back. I explained that it was far better to have a sore wrist than for her broken body to be lying at the bottom of the cliff, and, in due course, she agreed!
What was I doing? I was upholding my daughter by my right hand. I was keeping her safe and alive and on the right path. It wasn’t comfortable or pleasant for her, but that’s what it took at that moment to uphold her. Usually when I want my daughter to obey I just need to tell her what I want her to do and she does it. Sometimes a sterner tone of voice is needed, or even a threat. And just very occasionally nothing less than being manhandled by brute force will keep her safe.
That’s how our heavenly Father sometimes has to deal with us to keep us persevering on the right and safe path, isn’t it. Usually we respond to his Word as it comes in our daily reading and in the preaching of our Pastor. Our Father speaks and we obey. We persevere on the right path. But sometimes the Lord needs to deal with us more severely to keep us persevering. And his Word teaches us that we are to understand our trials and afflictions in that light.
Hebrews 12.7,11: ‘It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.’
Our Father is perfectly wise and good and he knows how to uphold his children so that we persevere. That illness, that disappointment, that conflict, that setback, that failure—in God’s hands don’t we see these things bringing us to a new sense of our helplessness apart from the Lord, a new lease of life in our praying, a fresh humility and dependence on the Lord?
We may come away with a throbbing pain in our wrist, but better—far better—that than our bodies broken, spiritually speaking, at the foot of the cliff. We may not ever see the cliff we came so close to plunging over or appreciate fully the danger we were in, but we can trust our Father who ‘disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness.’ (Hb 12.10).