Category: DEVOTION


Who won the cup final in 1957? All correct answers will receive a…well…they won’t receive anything (except perhaps a big smile).

Welcome to all you fine people out there who are brave enough to consider the causes of suffering rather than trying to ignore them. Part six of my up-dated series on suffering (first published in 2011) concerns the subject of testing…

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Like it or not, we’re all tested at different times in our lives-perhaps throughout our lives-believers and non-believers. Our faith, our character and our motives are tested by the circumstances we face in life, by temptation to sin and to do wrong, and (this one is difficult for many believers to accept) by God himself. Our enemy the devil also tests us, inasmuch as God allows him to.

Original Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible translated ‘test’, ‘trial’ and ‘tempt’ can be used interchangeably: they have related meanings. They’re often only selected by the motive of the source.

Mankind has been tested from the beginning of creation. I’ve already discussed in part four how Adam and Eve failed the simplest test they could have had- that of resisting the temptation to eat the one forbidden fruit compared to the many that they were allowed to enjoy freely. Remember that God intentionally placed that tree of forbidden fruit in the garden where they lived. He could have left it out, if he wanted: see part two of the series.

Later in scripture we see the struggles of the Israelites, as they wandered in the desert after failing to enter the promised land by faith. Over and over we’re told that they were being tested:

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert, to humble you and to test you, in order to know what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

When God provided Manna, he said, “In this way I will test them and see if they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4).

Once they were finally in the promised land, God used other nations “…to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it…” (Judges 2: 22).

David was aware of testing. He said “I know, my God, that you test the heart…” (1 Chronicles 29:17) and he even invited the Lord to test him:

Test me. O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind (Psalm 26:2).

Testing was not just an Old Testament phenomenon. James said:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:2, 3,12).

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Even Jesus Christ himself was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).

It’s during the hard times that God, and others, and perhaps we ourselves, see what’s really inside us, and the true condition of our hearts. I’m not trying to say that every hardship we face is sent by God, or that he’s going around like some malevolent, hateful ogre. We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit so that we can hope to discern the reason for our problems, and then we need to have the correct, godly attitude towards our situation, as Job did.

Sometimes God doesn’t have to do anything to test us: our real character is shown in the way we respond to everyday trials which come to us by the laws of nature and the nature of man. Whether our trials are expressly sent from God or not, He allows them to happen, and all trials can reveal our true character!

Some people make the mistake of blaming the devil for all their problems. Everything pleasant is from God, and everything unpleasant is from Satan, they think. Even when they sin they blame the devil. This is the “devil made me do it” mentality, and it’s not scriptural. The devil can’t make true believers do anything, and very often our problems are our own fault. That’s not to say that our enemy doesn’t ever test us: he does. Sometimes he’s the one to put that proverbial spanner/wrench in the works of our life. Satan tested Job with severe suffering. However, it’s important to remember that he had to get God’s permission to do it (Job 1: 6-12).

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Job was severely tested when Satan decided he should be, and though Job was a righteous man God allowed Satan to inflict all kinds of horrors on him. Satan had claimed that Job only had faith because things were going well for him (Job 1: 9-11).

Jesus said to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). Jesus didn’t say that he refused Satan’s request, but that he was defending Peter’s faith.

We’re all being “shaken” and sifted like wheat. The good grain is kept, the weeds disposed of. In the future all of humanity is going to face a time of severe trial, known commonly as ‘the time of Tribulation’. Jesus said that this “trial is going to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth” (Revelation 3:10), We can see in other scripture passages that this ‘hour of trial’ is not sent by Satan (although he certainly plays a leading role) but by God himself, because He has said:

“Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Hebrews 12:26).

Alright, I admit, nobody wants to hear about discipline, or about suffering! I know I don’t. In this age of me-ism we all want to be positive and forget our problems and weaknesses, and our tendency to displease God. However, for the few “realists” out there, here’s part 5…

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It’s very human to think that God smiles and winks at everything we do, except perhaps certain types of murder and the things those awful people next door get up to. But like it or not, the God of the Bible punishes and disciplines even his own people. This explains a lot of what we go through in life. It’s not as though we haven’t been warned: there’s abundant warning in the Bible of not only the consequences of our actions, but punishment for them. We may not even have done anything very wrong: God uses discipline to shape us and make us grow.

We don’t necessarily get ‘zapped’ the moment we do something wrong. God is patient and wants us to come to the point where we change our ways. But he doesn’t give us limitless license to trash or ignore his standards, especially if we know better. We try to blame someone else or bad luck when things go wrong for us, but the source of trouble may be God himself. The apostle Paul said, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows…” (Galatians 6:7).HAZEDISCIPLINE OF THE BELIEVER

Jesus made it clear that he isn’t always “soft” on the believer. He said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation3: 19). The writer of Hebrews, quoting from a Proverb which states that the Lord disciplines those he loves, wrote, “…and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12: 5,6). The Greek verb translated “punishes” here means “to whip”. This is not speaking of a little word in the ear or a knowing wink, but something much stronger which will or should gain our attention and bring us to repentance, if we’re wise enough to avoid more trouble.

The author of Hebrews goes on to explain that “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (verse 10). He says “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (verse 11). He also encourages us to “Endure hardship as discipline” (verse 7). So we can safely say that according to Scripture, God not only allows hardship into our lives, but sometimes introduces it.

What might be the nature of that hardship? Perhaps you can fill in your own blanks, but be careful not to ascribe all suffering to God’s discipline: don’t forget the other causes of suffering which this series is all about. Remember that God loves you – he isn’t cruel or uncaring. A repentant spirit is far more valuable than a comfortable trouble-free life without depth of character or control, though it doesn’t seem that way to us.

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DOES GOD PUNISH US PHYSICALLY?

If it’s hard for you to accept that a loving God would allow or cause suffering in our lives, look at another example from the Bible. Paul confronted the Corinthians on several issues which were giving the church in Corinth a bad name (1 Corinthians chapter 11). Because of their abuse of the Lord’s supper, Paul said, “…many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (died) verse 30. He went on to clarify this kind of discipline:

“When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined, so that we will not be condemned with the world” (verse 32).

There’s another rather extreme example of discipline in the book of Acts, in which a couple associated with the church – professing Christians – lie about their giving. When confronted by the apostles, who accuse them of lying to the Holy Spirit, both drop dead on the spot (Acts 5:1-11).

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Sometimes only suffering or trouble break our pride or guard against it. Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh”-some kind of physical ailment or condition, in order to ensure his humility. He prayed three times for it to be removed, but God essentially said “no”. It would be unwise of us to think that God doesn’t occasionally treat us in a similar way, for his own reasons.

How do we know we’re being disciplined? If we really prayerfully search our souls, there’s a good chance we’ll know why we might be receiving discipline and what it is we’re being disciplined for. If we’re suffering greatly, and we know there’s nothing of such equal size to repent of, perhaps we should consider a different cause or source of our problem.

It’s important for us to examine our own reactions to God’s discipline. If we harden ourselves to God’s discipline we’re heading in completely the wrong direction and we’re not helping ourselves at all. It’s time instead to humble ourselves while we still can, and to allow our God to change us for the better.

 

Suffering is a universal problem: sooner or later, it grips the lives of all of us in one way or another.

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Welcome to an updated and improved series I first published six years ago…

Why do we suffer? Surely, if there’s a loving God, there should be no suffering, or it should be short-lived and quickly fixed…

The problem of suffering is used by atheists, agnostics and unbelievers as a reason (or excuse) to ignore God or to preach against his existence. If there really were a God, particularly a loving God, they reason, either there would be no suffering, or he would show up at the first sign of any trouble and put things right. We would all be free to live our lives just as we want, without hindrance, trouble or problems of any kind.

Some people, having no answers to the questions we all ask in the middle of trouble, suffer to the point of losing any faith in God that they may have had. Others maintain their faith and even emerge stronger than they were to begin with. It seems that while most churches have some degree of ministry to those who are suffering, not many prepare the flock in advance, even though we all know it’s a universal problem. And we as individuals choose not to consider the prospect of trouble in our own future.

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All religions and philosophies either have an explanation for suffering, or attempt to sidestep it in one way or another (we don’t really exist and any suffering is caused by our own minds: that kind of thing). I intend to tackle the subject from a Biblical viewpoint. It’s my conviction that the Bible contains most (not all) of the answers to why we suffer, and that they are solid, logical, reasonable answers. While I freely confess that I’m no formally-trained expert, and that I’ve not suffered anywhere near as much as some people do-yet-I think I’ve grasped the main causes of suffering in our world-intellectually. I intend to go into some detail on each cause in following installments of my series, but here I will list them.

Some causes of suffering are of far more consequence than others: this list is not in any particular order:

  • The Curse. The choices and actions of man have brought a curse on a world which was once perfect. The curse affects our bodies, our minds, and all of nature. Nature is running down.
  • God’s judgment. God is patient with us, but eventually sends judgment and trouble upon a rebellious nation, city or individual.
  • Testing. We’re all tested to assess and reveal the condition of our hearts.
  • The consequences of rejecting God. By consistently rejecting Him, we’re not protected by His providence. This also applies to nations, cities and individuals. By going our own way, we are inviting trouble.
  • We reject God’s guidelines for a healthy, successful life.
  • Satan and the spirit beings who have sided with him are against us. We all have an enemy who hates God, his children, humanity in general, and His creation.
  • Free will. God chose to give humans the capacity to choose between right and wrong, rather than create a race of robots who were incapable of true love. Free will necessitates wrong choices and consequential suffering.
  • Discipline. God ‘disciplines those he loves’ in order to make us more like Him.
  • Humbling. Sometimes only suffering breaks our pride.
  • A wake up call. Sometimes only suffering gets our attention. Our refinement is more important than our comfort and ease.
  • Suffering may be allowed to teach dependence on God
  • We harm ourselves with bad choices. For example, we’re too eager to get romantically involved with a person we don’t really know, or we throw our money into a dishonest or suspect business deal;
  •  We harm others with our actions. We may be violent, selfish or greedy.  If we drive while intoxicated we’re risking lives. When we steal, we’re taking what belongs to other people and what they may have worked hard for.
  • We harm ourselves with bad attitudes. For example, we may wallow in destructive self pity rather than looking to God and being thankful.
  • We harm others with our words. The old ‘sticks and stones’ rhyme is not valid: words can be very destructive.
  • We harm others when we fail to love them. Children in particular are in great need of expressed love and kindness.
  • We harm others when we keep them from the truth, and when we teach them the inventions of man, such as evolution.
  • Suffering may be allowed to bring glory to God, in the long or short term. We are His servants-not the other way around.
  • Murphy’s Law/ Sod’s Law/ Fate/ Determinism/ Bad luck. (See my post on Murphy’s Law).

How do Biblical adjectives which describe God as “a consuming fire” and as being “dreadful” square with John’s declarations that:

“God is Love” (1 John 4:8)

and:

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 NIV)?

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There’s no getting away from the fact that the Biblical God, while being loving, and caring for his people, and providing for all our needs, can also be a God of terror. Of course I’m not talking about the kind of terror we see in the news in which some vicious coward wreaks misery on innocent, unarmed people in order to simply frighten the population into seeing things his way.

The only way around the fact that God can be a God of terror is to deny half of the Bible, which doesn’t work, as I explained in the first part of this article. Against all the wishes of mankind, God is not all sweetness and smiles at all times, willing us to do whatever we want and providing everything we need to do it. He is both Love and Terror. How can this be: isn’t it illogical?

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This can be because God is both perfectly holy, and perfectly merciful: a paradox, perhaps, but not illogical. Look at it this way. God, in order to be what he is-eternal, faithful, unchanging, omni-present-must remain true to himself. In fact he has no choice-he can’t and won’t weaken his own standards. If he allows imperfection or rebellion without responding to it, he is no longer a perfect God.

This could be seen as something of a problem for a God who also loves his creation. He didn’t create the world and mankind in order to provide himself people to pick on. In fact, when he created the world in its original perfect condition, along with mankind, as only a perfect God can do, we’re told that:

“…God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 2:31).

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So what could a perfect God do when his creation began to be imperfect and to rebel against him and to betray each other? The answer is that he provided for himself ways of forgiving that imperfection and rebellion. And such provision is seen repeatedly throughout the Bible in many characters.

An early and clear example found in the Old Testament is Moses. Moses was chosen by God to deliver his people from slavery. But it wasn’t just physical deliverance from Egypt that God had in mind for Moses, it was deliverance for the people from his own perfect standards and his wrath against those who would break them. God chose a man who he knew would stand between his holiness and man’s fallen nature.

God’s desire and compulsion was to punish and destroy those who were rebellious, and sometimes he did. But there were also times when Moses stepped in, particularly when God planned to destroy the entire nation:

I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you”

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But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people…?  Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people… And the Lord relented from the disaster… (Exodus 32:9-14).

God provided Moses to protect the Israelites from himself. Many examples of people who stood between God’s wrath and man can be found in the Bible, but the greatest, and the most important one, is Jesus Christ. The gospel, or the “good news” about Jesus Christ is that he, being the only son of God, was sent by the Father to pay the price of our own rebellion and imperfection, which is God’s wrath:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed…and the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all… (Isaiah 53:4-6).

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Remember the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, when he knew what was about to happen to him, and yet he surrendered to the will of the Father:

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless , not as I will, but as you will… (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus Christ suffered God’s wrath in our place when he was crucified and left to die. This was the Father’s, and the Son’s, ultimate expression of love and mercy to his creation:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him…he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins… (1 John 4:9-10).

 

 

 

THE TERROR OF GOD

Sometimes God really is “terrible”. In fact, in some ways He’s the ultimate terrorist…

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Don’t worry, fellow believer, I’m not about to intentionally engage in any kind of blasphemy. I’m sure it’s true that, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5 NIV).

However, in contrast the Bible warns us that:

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10 : 31 KJV).

How can God be said in his own book to be all “light” and yet at the same time cause fear? We have in the Scriptures what is either a serious contradiction, or a strange paradox which we need to come to terms with. In the latter case, which I’ll demonstrate is the correct alternative, the fact that God is “light” doesn’t exclude the reality of his fearful attributes: the terrible, fearful side of God’s nature does not equate to “darkness”.

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I noted in a recent post* that Richard Dawkins stated in his book, “THE GOD DELUSION” a number of extremely derogatory and insulting terms to describe the God of the Bible. I commented that none of his assertions were valid. However, in some fairness to the God-hating professor, I must say that anyone who’s done any serious thinking about life, the universe and everything, and anyone who’s lived for any length of time, and anyone who’s honest, will have questioned the goodness of God at some point in their life. If there is a God (and I’m convinced there is) and if he’s good and loving as the Bible claims he is, then why do so many terrible things happen in our lives and in our world?

More than that, anyone who’s read a sizable portion of the Old Testament couldn’t fail to notice some very heavy-handed dealings by God with his people and those around them. As an example, consider the punishment of Korah, his family and all who rebelled against Moses with him:

“…the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all who belonged to Korah…and the earth closed over them…And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up”. And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the insense…” (Numbers 17:31-35 ESV).

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Now, that’s terrorism in its purest form. If we only had a very shallow knowledge of the God of the Bible, we might read that passage and conclude that God is a mean, terrifying ogre. But I’d like to here reiterate a regular theme of mine, which is that if God is God-our creator and our sustainer-he has every right to do what he wants with his creation just as surely as a potter has every right to remake a buckled vessel on his wheel. Were he really a mean ogre, he would have every right to be so. We in contrast and in comparison have no rights and no way of enforcing any claims to rights.

God in the Old Testament was aware of his potential to inflict terror even on his own people, and made a habit of passing out warnings in advance, against any behavior which would lead to his anger flaring up. Think of the warning He gave to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, telling them not to set foot on the mountain:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish…” (Exodus 19:21)

It’s as though God was telling the people, “Please don’t come too close to me, because I won’t be able to help myself, and I don’t want to make you suffer or to destroy you…”

Our problem in this age is that we’ve forgotten about the holiness of God. He is perfect, he is infinite, he is mighty, and he must be multi-dimensional-if dimensions can be applied at all to an eternal, omnipresent being. We in contrast are imperfect, flawed, weak and very limited in our capacities, particularly our spiritual capacity. We can no more stand next to God and chat with him-in our natural state-than we can stand next to the sun: it’s impossible. And we can no more ignore and neglect the characteristics of God than we can ignore the properties of the sun: travelling at night to land a space ship on the sun to avoid the heat would be a futile, foolish operation.

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We believers tend to metaphorically brush under the carpets of our minds the numerous “B.C.” events such as the crushing of Korah’s rebellion, choosing instead to focus on the God of the New Testament and his loving, merciful attributes. My own dad, an otherwise godly man in every way, could not accept much of what was written in the Old Testament, and made the decision that God had been misrepresented by its authors, because God clearly wouldn’t condone the killing of anyone let alone thousands of men, women and children. It was the New Testament, in his eyes and the eyes of many others, which is the inspired Word of God: not the Old.

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The problem with that approach is that by dismissing the OT you are also bringing into question the entire New Testament. You can’t read any one of the gospels without finding numerous examples of Jesus Christ quoting the Old Testament as though he believed it were true, and the letters are similarly packed with references to it. In fact, putting the Pharisees on the spot as he loved to do, Jesus said:

For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me (John 5:46 NASB).

You can’t have one without the other, said Jesus: the Old Testament and his words go together.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus who were talking to Jesus without knowing it were given a Bible study (Luke 24:13-35). He demonstrated from what we call the Old Testament-there was no written New Testament at that time- that the prophesied Christ had to suffer and be raised. Why would he have reasoned from the Old Testament if it’s not to be accepted or believed?

So what about my outrageous assertion-coming as it does from a believer-that God is terrible? Am I now attempting to insult the Lord Almighty in a similar vein to the renowned and exalted prof.? Am I sowing seeds of dissent and rebellion? No. I’m using the word “terrible” in the context of being “dreadful”, “unspeakable” and “awesome”. I’m simply facing up to the reality of God’s nature.

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“But…” you may protest…”God is different in the New Testament!”

Is he really? I agree that Jesus Christ was and is “meek and mild”, and merciful, though a time is coming when the other side of his nature will be seen. Leaving that aside for the moment, I want to stress that God is “the same yesterday, today and forever…” Consider the words of New Testament writers, who spoke not only of God’s mercy but of his fearful side:

…let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28 KJV).

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God… (Hebrews 10:31 NIV)

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off (Romans 11:22 ESV)

If this were not enough evidence of the disciples’ awareness of the terrible nature of God we can read in the Revelation and the words of Jesus himself about how the entire world is going to be judged-by his holy standards and not ours-the same kind of holy standards that we see in the Old Testament. Paul wrote:

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 NIV). 

The terror of God will fall on imperfect mankind. But there is hope. Part two of my article will offer you the good news: the way of escape from the terror of God.

Thanks for reading this far!

This post in both its parts serves as an introduction to my forthcoming series on the subject of suffering as it relates to the God of the Bible, titled “Why Do We Suffer?”

* https://nickyfisher.com/2017/04/29/wrath-and-mercy/

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