Trusting God Doesn’t Mean Things Will Be Easy


God cares about His people, but He does so on a much deeper level than we realize. He cares about what happens to us into eternity. His goal for us here and now is to make us like His Son. We are being conformed—molded, shaped, fashioned—into the likeness of Jesus.

This process of trimming and pruning is quite different from what most people think of in connection with the Christian life. I dare say, there are those who think once a person becomes a Christian, God is on their side. Once I even stated, “Apparently God chooses sides.”

By that, I did not mean what many people think, however. A Christian hasn’t simply added to his team the biggest and best person around. He hasn’t ensured his chances of success because he now has someone greasing the wheels to make his plans work.

And despite players making very public display of praising God during their football games, God doesn’t want my team to win more than He wants your team to win just because I’m a Christian. (The truth of this becomes clear when two Christians want different, opposing teams to win).

The Christian life, then, is not about getting God to give us what we want to be happier, healthier, richer, more comfortable, stable, protected, or respected than the next guy. A person who claims the name of Christ is not getting a pass when it comes to hardship.

Christians still lose their jobs and have car accidents. Their computers crash, and their loved ones die. They get cavities, acne, cancer, strokes. They have rebellious kids and unfaithful spouses. Bills pile up. Colleagues stab them in the back. Muggers stab them in the chest.

And they die. We die.

The point isn’t that God steps in and saves us from human tragedy or suffering or trouble, though He sometimes chooses to do so. But He always walks through life with us, maximizing the joys and minimizing the sorrows.

Isaiah 43:2 says it well:

When you pass through the water, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

I find it interesting that God said those words, through Isaiah, to Israel. In the preceding verse, He identifies them in this way:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

So I have to think, in what way is the Christian different? We have been redeemed, called, and claimed. This promise, then, is for us as much as it was for Israel. God isn’t going to let us pass through floods except that He’ll be with us. And when we walk through fire He will protect us.

We’ll still have to experience the fire, though. The difference is that we’ll come out the other side un-scorched.

So Christians don’t have things easy—but it might be a little more comforting to go through hard times with Someone rather than alone, knowing that there’s a grand purpose for it and a sweet end waiting.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in January, 2014.

The Mistakes Of Job’s Friends


The story of Job in the Old Testament is so poignant. It’s hard to read about this godly man who Satan went after in his effort to tear down the worshipers of God. Although I know some think this is controversial, I believe that Satan achieved his goal, but in doing so he opened the door to God reveling Himself more clearly and showing His great mercy, as a foreshadowing of His gift of mercy through Christ. In that respect, Satan failed miserably.

But poor Job! Not only did he lose everything, not only did his kids die and his wife turn against him, not only did his physical health deteriorate horribly so that he had to endure pain and discomfort like he’d never known, but he had a handful of friends who had no understanding of what coming to console the grieving actually should entail.

First, the friends talked. That was their initial mistake. They started well, siting with Job for a long time in utter silence. But when Job verbalized his thoughts, the friends felt the need to correct him. They couldn’t simply let him vent.

What’s more, in speaking, they took it upon themselves to correct Job’s theology. No, Job, they said in their various ways, God would only allow these horrible things to happen to you if you deserved them. You must have done something horrible, or thought something horrible, or perhaps left something good undone. It’s really just your fault that you’re poor now, that all your kids died, and your body is covered with painful sores.

As if this position was not bad enough, there are several places in the text that make me think the friends had some financial stake in the advice they were giving Job. Sacrifice, one said at one point, and God will forgive you. But the way he said it sounds as if somehow the friends would get a share of whatever Job would sacrifice.

Of course telling a man who has lost all his flocks to sacrifice, is a little pointless. Unless they were offering to sell him some of their flock. In chapter 22 one friend says,

If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored;
If you remove unrighteousness far from your tent,
And place your gold in the dust,
And the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks,

Well, that might be thin, but earlier Job had said

He who informs against friends for a share of the spoil,
The eyes of his children also will languish. (17:5)

Was he accusing them of “informing” on him, of pointing a finger at him and saying he’d done something wrong in order to get a share of whatever of his possessions remained? Perhaps. Again, earlier he said of the friends,

You would even cast lots for the orphans
And barter over your friend. (6:27)

Seems as if they were at least conducting business while he was in his misery—and business without compassion. At one point he tells them what they ought to be doing, which is a great piece of advice for us, too, I think:

For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.

The greatest thing a friend can do is point someone who is hurting to God Almighty. But the friends could only tell Job what he must have done wrong or what he had not done right.

On top of this, they misconstrued God’s work in the world. They may have done so because they honestly didn’t know God, didn’t understand His true nature. Basically they told Job it was up to him to manipulate God so that He had to bless Job. This precursor to today’s “health-and-wealthers” ignores God’s sovereignty and mankind’s dependency on His justice and righteousness and mercy.

Job understood that God could do what God wanted to do. The friends painted Him as irrevocably tied to what Man did or did not do. If you do A, they said, God will bless; but if you do B, God will curse.

That’s not altogether wrong. But it’s too simplistic. It doesn’t take into account the bigger picture that includes the spiritual and the eternal. The friends were sort of like people today who can’t see past the here and now, as if this life is all there is, as if what happens physically in this life is all that’s important.

One last thing I think the friends got wrong: when Job lashed out at them (and at God), they got defensive. As I recall, one of the “steps” of grief involves anger. Job does seem angry at times, but who wouldn’t be? A bunch of guys had just robbed him, killed a lot of his servants, and a storm had taken the lives of his children. He himself fell into depression and experienced physical pain because of his health problems. I’d be more surprised if he didn’t have some anger connected with all this.

But the response of the friends seems inexcusable. They kind of gave Job a dose of their own anger.

Scripture says they came to console Job, but they ended up saying things that had to be hurtful. Take for example what one of the friends said about the wicked:

He has no offspring or posterity among his people,
Nor any survivor where he sojourned. (18:19)

The whole speech seems pretty pointed, but these lines take on a mean quality when you think about the fact that this guy is talking to someone who had just lost all his children.

No wonder God stepped in. The defensive nature of the friends’ responses to Job was anything but helpful. They weren’t even truthful, though there was an element of truth in what they said. Just enough to make their ideas sound pious. But they lost sight of the fact that comforting someone else wasn’t all about them.

Actually it started with representing God truthfully, and that’s something Job knew, but they did not.

Published in: on January 21, 2019 at 5:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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Suffering And God: The Refiner’s Fire


He is a refiner’s fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire. (excerpt from Desiring God, “He Is Like a Refiner’s Fire” by John Piper)

One of the reasons I loved coaching so much was because I understand team sports as a microcosm of life. Teamwork, conflict, response to authority, hard work, patience—these are just some of the areas that confront athletes. Another is keeping the big picture in mind—winning isn’t everything; in fact, the game isn’t everything.

Then there is the key ingredient—a successful team suffers. Of course, we coaches don’t call it suffering—we call it training or conditioning. But the truth is, we put players through workouts we know will leave them weak and exhausted and hurting. Why? Because I hated my players? Hardly. The more potential I saw, the more I required of them. I pushed so they would be ready to face the opposition and overcome, but also so they would learn discipline and the necessity of preparation—in other words, things they could take with them long after they stopped playing team sports.

If I had hated my players, in fact, I would have pretty much ignored them. I saw a coach who treated his kids that way once. He would bring a lounge chair along to whatever game he was coaching, plop down, and pretty much let the kids do whatever they wanted to do. Like recess, some kids might think, How cool. But come game time, when that team was getting their clocks cleaned in a big way, none of those kids was having such a good time. I don’t know any of them, so can’t be sure, but I have to believe their experience in team sports at that level didn’t contribute in a positive way to their building traits they would need in life.

The point is clear. Just as coaches put their players through training, at times God takes His children through suffering. He wants to form us into the image of His Son. It’s one purpose of suffering, though certainly not the only one.

Someone with a different worldview that doesn’t account for eternal life may think God is cruel. Look at Joni Eareckson Tada—confined to a wheelchair since the age of 17 (she’s in her late 60’s now). How could she not become bitter and resentful toward God? I can only answer from what I’ve heard and read her saying, and one component is that she is looking forward to unending health once this life is over. Another is that her relationship with Jesus has become so sweet, she says she would never trade it for the use of her arms and legs.

My, what an impact that woman has had on thousands, maybe millions, not in spite of her disability but because of it. She is a living and breathing example of what the Apostle Paul said: “Power is perfected in weakness.”

He went on to add, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 10)

Easy for me to say, sitting comfortably in the land of the free and home of the brave, but what about that hypothetical girl in Sudan that I referenced in an earlier post? There are many people who have actually lived through the kind of abuse in the description. From Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett (InterVarsity Press)—a book composed of real life stories of women around the world:

The villagers said that government forces were capturing women and asking them whether they were Christian or Muslim. If the … response was “Christian,” the women were raped, mutilated, and left to die where others could see them as a warning.

“This woman was supposed to be an example to others who would dare to remain Christians,” Dr. Lidu said. “But I wish they could have heard her as she was recovering. She spent her time praising the name of Jesus!”

These women strengthen my faith. God doesn’t hate them. And while I might think the best is for Him to rescue those who are suffering out of the hands of evil men, God has a bigger, eternal, perspective. He knows that these women, though they may never leave that refugee camp or be free from the abuse, can impact thousands because of their faith. I, for one, can hardly wait to see the rewards stacking up for them in heaven.

This article is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November, 2008.

Atheist Arguments: Suffering Proves God Doesn’t Exist


Since I first started having discussions with atheists, I’ve heard the claim that suffering proves God does not exist, so not surprisingly the topic came up today in my FB atheist group. This time the suffering had personal ramifications: the loved one of an atheist member of the group is going through a difficult time—a form of suffering. The twist is, the loved one is a devote Christian.

So the way atheists view suffering, God, if He exists, is either not powerful enough to do something about the suffering or He’s not good enough, not loving enough to change things. Which essentially means He is not God, or He does not exist at all.

Ten years ago I wrote on this subject in response to a commenter who asked the question about suffering by taking the discussion out of the hypothetical and general into the real and specific:

you should ask yourself sometime how is that an all powerful-all knowing god would allow a young girl in Sudan to be repeatedly raped, and then murdered? Do you think that she was begging a god to save her, but didn’t get his name right? Or perhaps this all knowing, full of love and mercy god has another plan, and we ought to all rejoice in this senseless death . . . it was the god’s will? Great, he heard the screams and prayers but was unmoved?

My edited response follows.

I want to turn the question around. How does an atheist explain such heinous behavior as the rape and murder of a child? If God does not exist, who is to blame for one person mistreating another?

The obvious answer is, Man himself is to blame. We humans hurt and misuse and abuse one another.

Why should belief in God change that obvious truth? Because God exists and is omnipotent, does Man stop doing terrible things to his fellow man?

My remarks from another discussion:

I believe that Man is sinful and that at some point God lets Man go the way he wishes to go.

Here’s an example. God was the authority of the fledgling nation of Israel, governing through prophets and judges. The people saw other nations ruled by kings and demanded a king of their own. God said, not a good plan, but OK. Actually this is the quote: And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” There’s more, but you get the gist. Thing is, God also gave them rules to follow—things the kings weren’t supposed to do . . . even though it was His desire to remain their King.

Here’s another example. Jesus was talking, telling the people that they were to have one wife, not to divorce. The people said, but Moses made provision for divorce, and Jesus answered, “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses permitted you to divorce . . .”

Later Paul spelled this out in one of his letters: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts . . .”

The reality is, omnipotent, sovereign God lets Man have a say-so in what happens.

But here’s how I know what God’s true character is: Jesus was His perfect representative—God come to earth. And when He was asked, What’s the most important commandment, He answered by saying, Love God and the second is like it: love your neighbor. All the law and prophets are summed up by these two.

So, no, suffering doesn’t disprove God. In fact suffering confirms Mankind’s nature and the truth of the warnings God gave against sin.

To believe the contrary is like a little child cutting herself on the knife she is playing with after her dad told her not to touch it, then saying something like, “I don’t have a dad because if I did, he would have taken the knife away from me.”

Faulty reasoning.

Of course not all suffering comes from humans mistreating one another. But the reality is, when sin entered the world it began its corrupting influence on all of creation. Enter sickness and death and destruction.

The sad thing for atheists facing suffering is that they do not have a place of comfort or help or hope to which they can turn. They do not have God to fall before and ask for mercy. In truth He “is gracious and compassionate / Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness / And relenting of evil.” But how can atheists know this? Since they do not believe God exists, they won’t come to Him in the day of trouble. They’re essentially on their own.

A large portion of this post is revised from an article that appeared here in November, 2008.

Published in: on January 4, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (20)  
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God Knows


I find myself saying “God knows” a lot these days. God knows about the person who is living an immoral life style. God knows about the unfair treatment the church person is meting out. God knows about the corruption in our government and the lies from the politicians. God knows about the problems I see at so many different levels.

I am comforted by the fact that God knows. It’s a reminder to me that even the things that seem so out of control actually aren’t.

I think of young Joseph, gang tackled by his older brothers and hauled to a pit, even as he pleaded for his life. Did he think in those darkest moments when he was fished out of the hole and pushed into the hands of the slavers, that God knows?

Certainly, years later Joseph knew that truth. God knew and as a result had the whole circumstance under control. In fact, all the evil directed at Joseph, God turned to the good for … well, the world.

Because He sent Joseph ahead to preserve the lives of his entire family, He set in motion so many things related to Jesus—His lineage and numerous important types that show the story of salvation. There would have been no exodus if Joseph hadn’t gone to Egypt. There would have been no Passover lamb, no passing through the sea on dry land, no giving of the law, no priestly office, no serpent lifted up for the sick to look at and be healed, no daily portion of manna, and on and on.

After the fact, Joseph could tell his brothers that he got it—God knew, and what was evil, He made good. Now we can read the story and see too, the way God worked it all out. But what was Joseph thinking at the time? Wouldn’t he have been comforted if he could have glimpsed the end?

Of course, God had graciously given him just such a glimpse. Remember the dreams? God had shown Joseph his family bowing to him. Not once, but twice.

Did the memory of those dreams comfort Joseph when all seemed so horribly wrong? Did he think, I don’t know how this will happen, but God said He would put me as a ruler over my family. He knows I’m a slave now instead.

I suspect Joseph did hold onto the truth because he clearly held onto God. When his master’s wife wanted to sleep with him, he didn’t say, Your husband might find out. He said, How can I sin against God?

That’s the answer of a man who understood that God knows.

This article was first published here in October 2010.

Published in: on October 11, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments Off on God Knows  
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A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing


From time to time in discussions I have with atheists they will claim some false idea as if it represents Christian thought. They usually back this up with a Bible verse, taken out of context.

This kind of thinking distresses me because ultimately it defames the name of Jesus Christ.

The other day I ran across someone in the FB atheist/theist group who took the atheist stand one step farther. He actually knows a lot about the Bible. His main point was not, the Bible is a myth. He still reached a position of disbelief, however, and he did it by twisting Scriptures.

What’s really sad is that he parroted the line of thinking typical of those I categorize as “health-and-wealthers.” Others call them word of faith and still others, proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. With the backing of Scripture the line goes something like this: God promises to defend, protect and heal. Jesus said, by His stripes we are healed. People who think God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, will depend on God to do for us today what He did for people in the Bible.

He concludes these beliefs lead them to choose God instead of medical science. As a result, bad things happen. Consequently, people should not fall for the idea that God actually can be trusted and depended upon.

What’s so off here is that this atheist, someone who identifies as a former pastor, is examining a false teaching, finding it in error, and concluding that Christianity is unreliable, that God is untrue.

I have to admit, this is a new one for me. But it fits with all other error. It comes from A LITTLE knowledge. This Atheist Pastor (or AP) has more Bible knowledge than do most atheists, but he is still far from the truth. He apparently has gone no deeper into Scripture than have the false teachers he echoes.

Otherwise he would know that Job’s friends who spent days with him, essentially accusing him of wrong doing because he was suffering, were the ones who were wrong. Surely, God would not allow suffering if you haven’t sinned, they said. Well, surprise. Not true. And when God showed up in person, He accepted Job because he repented. The friends needed Job to intercede for them. I’ve wondered if that didn’t come with a bit of instruction on his part, explaining what he’d learned about God: that He is sovereign, that He won’t be manipulated, that He isn’t dependent upon us in the tiniest way.

Of course the AP and the false teachers he was critiquing also ignore what Peter says about suffering:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.(1 Peter 3:13-17; emphases here and in the following passages, mine)

But there’s more:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God (v 2:20).

Peter’s not done yet:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (4:12-16)

Of course these are by no means the only passages that deal with suffering in a way that demonstrates the falsehood of the health-and-wealth position.

The point is, this AP and the false teachers he critiqued have some knowledge. Yes, the verses they quote are in Scripture. But instead of wrestling with how they can exist side by side with verses such as Peter wrote, or with what James said when he told believers to call suffering, joy, they ignore the parts of the Bible that don’t fit in with the paradigm they have created. The one ignores them as a way to manipulate God. The other ignores them as a way to accuse God. Both are wrong because they depend only on the little knowledge they have.

I’ve believed for a very long time that Christians need to read the Bible. But this encounter has left me more fully convinced than ever.

People can disbelieve the Bible completely and leave it alone. They can believe what someone has told them about the Bible and discount it, distort it, or accept it, based on who they actually are trusting. Lots of Christians do this latter. They listen to a pastor or a family member or a teacher who tells them what the Bible says. And they believe what they’ve been told. But what happens when those tenets are challenged? What happens when someone with compelling arguments against their beliefs comes along?

No, the way to handle the Bible is not second hand. We ought all to be reading it for ourselves, from cover to cover, taking the whole counsel of God and wrestling with what we find there.

God Gets All The Blame


I hear it all the time, even from those who say they don’t believe in God: people die and suffer; there are wars and sickness and way too much cruelty and pain. And it’s God’s fault. Even Christians are bent on reserving the right to be mad at God, because if something goes wrong, well, it has to be His fault.

Really?

Seems to me, God told Adam and Eve not to eat from that one specific tree. You could almost say, that one insignificant tree, because they could eat from all the others at their disposal. All the ones that would give life, that would provide nourishment, that would NOT lead to death.

In addition, God did not hide the consequences from them: Don’t do this, because it will result in that. Sort of like saying, Don’t touch this live wire because it will result in your death. Or, don’t smoke this because it will result in cancer. Or, don’t drink rat poison because it will kill you.

Like that.

Eve allows herself to be tricked. The method Satan-in-snake-guise used was to make her question if she got the facts right: did God really say you’d die? Oh, surely not!

Adam was the one God had given the command to, so he knew exactly what God said, and he just flat out went for the poison, touched the live wire, smoked the cancer stick.

And then he blamed God. Well, indirectly. First he blamed Eve. And remember, God, You gave her to me. Hint, hint: it was Your fault.

Except it was their fault. God had made them in His image, so they had free choice. They were not robots. God could have made robots, but then we would not have been in His image. He determined that creating choosing people was better than creating robots.

So is God responsible for the choices we humans make? Especially when He spells out what the consequences of those choices will be? I don’t see it.

One of the principals who was my boss during a stretch of my teaching career, required each teacher to reduce our classroom rules to five. We were to list them and post them in the room, along with the consequences for breaking them.

One of mine was to turn in homework on time. The consequence for not doing so was a negative mark against the student’s grade. So for the students who received the lower grade because they didn’t turn in their homework [barring some unforeseen circumstances], who was responsible? The principal for requiring the rules and consequences? Me, for determining that doing homework should affect grades?

Blaming God for the suffering we humans bring on ourselves is no different.

And we do bring on our own suffering because we have Adam’s sin nature. We endure the consequences he walked into because our nature is just like his nature. He was made in the image of God, and then he sinned. We are made with Adam’s nature, meaning that we have God’s imprint on us, but we have Adam’s same fatal flaw.

Adam didn’t come into the world with a fatal flaw. We do.

How can you have a perfect society when it is made up of people with fatal flaws? And how is a broken society, God’s fault?

God’s image which we still bear, allows us to do amazing things and dream great dreams. It means we can be kind and thoughtful and generous and patient. Adam’s fatal flaw means we can be rebellious and selfish and cruel and dishonest.

The suffering we experience doesn’t result from the things God gave us. Suffering is a result of the things Adam passed on.

And the consequence is just what God said it would be. That He told us what would come out of rebellion does not mean that God is at fault for our rebellion.

In some ways, when Christians blame God it’s even worse. We know that God loves us, that He rescued us from the dominion of darkness, that He wants us to be like His Son, that He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us. And still so many play the blame game. God, why didn’t You . . . You should have done things my way.

I suspect part of the problem is that many Christians who know the Scripture that tells us God causes all things to work together for our good, become disappointed because we want to define good. Instead, God tells us what He means: “And those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…”

Sometimes, in the conforming process we don’t get what we want. If we always ate candy for breakfast, we wouldn’t be healthy. God wants us to be healthy, spiritually, and He will feed us accordingly.

It’s not appropriate for a child whose parent says, No candy for breakfast, to stamp her foot and scream, I hate you. The parent has the good of the child at heart,

This past fall I watched a parent take her daughter to get a flu shot. The child cried and said No over and over. But the parent insisted. Not because she hated her daughter. Just the opposite. She loved her daughter, and although the little girl would experience a brief sense of pain, the long term benefits were worth going through the suffering. The mom knew this. The daughter needed to trust that her mom was right.

That’s really where we all are. We need to put our hand in the hand of the only One who knows what’s best for us and walk with Him, even when we don’t see the good that will come from the pain.

Published in: on March 7, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments Off on God Gets All The Blame  
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Suffering And God’s Blessing Are Incompatible?


Uh, I don’t think so. Suffering is very much a part of the experience of a child of God who also experiences His blessings. I explored this myth in a June 2013 post which I’ve revised below.

– – – – –

Most people probably wouldn’t want to admit it, but if they’ve taken the time to read the book of Job, they’re inclined to think his friends make a lot of good points. I mean, can we really disagree with Eliphaz when he says,

According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
(Job 4:8)

Of course, we have the prologue in the first chapter that tells us Satan is testing Job, but without that information, what would we honestly think about him?

He was rich beyond measure, well respected in the community, generous to the poor and needy, godly in every respect. And then one day, his world collapses. He loses practically everything he owns, his children die in a freakish storm, and then he himself gets sick. Horribly, painfully sick.

Would we conclude that God’s favor is on this man?

Again, I understand how the idea that suffering and God’s blessing are incompatible got a foothold in evangelical circles. After all, there is some Biblical foundation. Take Psalm 1, for example.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish. (emphasis mine)

Clearly, in this contrast between the righteous and the wicked, God is saying there are advantages for the righteous. Those advantages could easily be interpreted as here and now.

However, there are also any number of passages that indicate suffering has nothing to do with wickedness. Christ Himself suffered, and we are to experience the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Peter and John suffered because they wouldn’t stop preaching about Jesus. Paul suffered a “thorn in his side” which God would not heal. Stephen suffered to the point of death.

In the end, the Christian who believes the Bible and doesn’t just give lip service to it, must take into consideration its entire counsel if we are to understand what God wants to teach us about suffering.

A brief summary shows that suffering

    * may come as a part of persecution
    * can be a blessing
    * may be a result of Satan’s opposition
    * sometimes exists solely to bring God glory
    * is something in which we can rejoice
    * is experienced by our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world
    * can be experienced by those who are doing wrong

One thing that seems absent is the idea that suffering is a sure sign of sin. Peter says it’s far better for us to suffer for doing right rather than for doing wrong, and he commands believers to make sure they don’t suffer as “a murder or thief or evil doer or a troublesome meddler.” But if we suffer as Christians, he says we’re not to be ashamed.

So Peter highlights the fact that suffering can be a consequence of sin or a result of persecution. In other words, there is no automatic, “this is what suffering means” answer.

Peter actually seems to look favorably on suffering. In his first letter, he starts chapter 4 by saying, “Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that last line, but clearly, he was looking at suffering in a completely different way than do most western evangelical Christians.

I think about the newly converted Paul having to leave Damascus in a basket because his fellow Jews were trying to kill him for preaching Jesus. I suspect today if someone had a similar experience, they’d write a book about being disappointed with God for not smoothing the path for their preaching or they’d give an interview about how they lost their faith because God couldn’t be counted on.

The fact is, we put God on trial and judge Him based on whether He gets us, out or keeps us out, of uncomfortable, hard places. When we walk through the fire, we think God has messed up, but the prophet Isaiah said,

When you pass through the water, I will be with you
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2)

There’s no promise there that the waters won’t be overwhelming or that the fire won’t come near. Instead, God does give the promise of His presence, His direction, and even His protection in the midst of suffering.

James says, “When you encounter various trials,” not if you encounter various trials.

The real question doesn’t seem to be “will we face suffering,” or even “why do we face suffering,” but “how will we face suffering.”

As long as western evangelical Christians buy the myth that suffering is incompatible with God’s blessing, I don’t see how we can respond with the kind of joy Peter and James both talk about.

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 4:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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Pollen—A Reprise


I was a hay fever kid. Every spring, especially during recess or P.E. class, newly mowed grass gave me fits. I was also allergic to ragweed, but apart from those two plants, I managed.

Unlike others, I neither out-grew the condition nor became worse, though I discovered one more thing I’m allergic to—more than anything else I’ve ever encountered. And it so happens I am living right next to it.

Just beyond the fence is a beautiful tall, full tree that offers wonderful shade in the summer. In the fall, which is usually in December here in SoCal, the tree begins to lose its leaves. Sometime after the first winter rain, it starts growing little blossoms which eventually produce new leaves. In the process those tiny yellow flowers release a fine yellow pollen, visible on our car windshields, porch, stairs.

It is that pollen I am allergic to.

Mind you, I’m not complaining, though some times I fall into a bit of a grumble. Except, I don’t want that tree gone. How many people live in the Los Angeles basin and can look out a window without seeing another apartment building or house? Plus there’s that extra shade which makes a ten to fifteen degree difference in the summer temperatures. I like this tree. I just don’t like its pollen.

Except, of course, the tree would have no leaves if there were no pollen. And Science 101 says pollen is important for bees and such—the whole Eco-system. I’ll have to take the word of the experts on that one. I just know, I have to take the bad if I want the good. And I do want the good.

This whole pollen thing seems a bit like an illustration of all of life. Things happen—a broken wrist, a rejection notice from an agent, a promotion that goes to someone else, a fender bender on the way home from work, a minor stroke. All such things are much like the pollen—those are not things anyone wants. Except without them, we don’t have the growth needed that can get us through the days when the temperature rises. The tough things train us spiritually.

“Consider it all joy,” James says, “when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

Peter says positive things about hard times too:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)

For a little while things might be hard, but rejoicing is still possible because there will be a reveal.

Writers like reveals. It’s something we need to put into our novels to create those A-ha moments for readers. And of course the biggest and the best reveal is saved for last. So too in real life.

Now the days of pollen will serve as more than a reminder that new leaves are coming on the wonderful shade tree that will cool my place in the summer. Now I have one more reminder that God makes joy and rejoicing out of the various trials He allows because the great A-ha is coming!

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in February 2012 and again in February 2015.

Job’s Problem


I think sometimes we Christians idolize Job. After all, the Bible dedicates a whole book to his story, and later James, in the New Testament, commends him: “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11). Clearly he’s saying Job is one who is blessed since he’s one who endured.

Further, early in Job’s story, he’s such a great example of righteousness that the Bible states, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10b).

Why, then, at the end of the book does Job say, “Therefore I retract, / And I repent in dust and ashes” (42:6).

What’s he repenting of?

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he had any reason to repent. After all, he was the one who suffered all the loss. He was the one who his friends accused unjustly. He was innocent and yet he stood condemned in their eyes.

Reminds me of Jesus who was truly innocent, not just of the crimes His accusers leveled at Him, but of any crimes of any kind—ones with His mouth, with His actions, with His thoughts, with His will. And Peter (who was in a great position to know) tells us, “While being reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Unfortunately, in the end, Job couldn’t say the same thing. He started out well, but a week into the mournful, silent visit from his friends, he was no longer praising God as he had initially when his kids died and his servants were captured or killed and when he lost his flocks. Back then he’d said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, / And naked I shall return there. / The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. / Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

But now? He was depressed. He wished he hadn’t been born. Even more, he accused God of wronging him.

The thing that Job understood that his friends didn’t was that God is sovereign. The friends thought God was more like a programmed machine, obligated to respond to humankind’s behavior. So sin had to be punished. Since Job was obviously being punished (suffering), he must have sinned.

Job knew he hadn’t sinned. He knew his own heart. There weren’t any secret sins such as his friends were accusing him of:

“My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (23:11-12)

So in Job’s mind, God had to be treating him unjustly. He attacks the idea that the wicked are always punished. No they aren’t he says. They flourish right along side the righteous. And in the end, everybody dies.

But he also says God has wronged him. He’s silent and won’t tell him why He’s unjustly causing Job such pain.

In the end, God sets Job straight. He thought he knew God as sovereign, but God took his understanding one step further, from knowledge to trust.

And so Job repented.

Is he a hero of the faith? I think so. Is he a perfect model for believers to follow in times of suffering? Not really. Not until the end when he grasped that God is transcendent and all powerful and understands more than we can ever imagine, that He can be trusted.

The interesting thing to me is that Job, although serving as a type for Christ—a person symbolizing or exemplifying the suffering of the Messiah—had the opportunity to take it all the way home. He could have “entrusted himself to Him who judges righteously.”

I guess that makes him more like us so we relate to him. Thankfully he got there in the end: he learned to trust God because He is God.