Category: DEVOTION


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/

Who are you? What are you made of? Have you been in touch with yourself lately? I don’t want to contribute to the “me” mentality raging all around us and in us, but staying in touch seems like an important thing to do…

I’ve been realizing how relevant staying in touch with my roots is to living a meaningful life. For many years I failed to pay attention to the benefits or even the concepts of roots and beginnings. The results of my attitude can be seen in the multitude of broken relationships and hurt people strewn along the path of my life; the missed opportunities, the blunders, and the consequential festering pool of regrets swilling around in my brain.

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As they say though (whoever “they” are) better late than never. I’ve been in touch with a few good friends I once had and lost, and attempted to right a few wrongs. Except for one, they all give the honorable reply that there were no wrongs: it was all good. I’ve given time to thinking about people who were important to me when I didn’t realize it, and places, and events I never appreciated or reflected upon until now. And I’ve been taking another look at some of the things I enjoyed about the culture I once lived in, in another country and another time. Yes, there is some of my old, “B.C.” life which needs to and will remain buried in that baptism I experienced as a new believer, but others are of great worth.

For example, I’ve always had a very progressive taste in music. I could never tolerate sameness or cliches: I wanted to hear something new and experimental. But in the last couple of years I’ve been listening to some of the music I enjoyed in my teens, and hey- some of it was pretty amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever get into an “older guy” habit of saying that nothing new is worth listening to-that’s just silly. And after all, even nostalgia isn’t what it use to be (joke). Similarly in the world of art I’ve been rediscovering some tremendous works and styles I once found stimulating.

The value I’ve discovered lately in those things and others is that they’re what I’m made of. They all contributed to my character, my view of life and the world, and my part in it. They’re inextricably related to some of the events of my past-my childhood, my teens, my life. They remind me of friends, family, loves, dreams, laughs, styles and a thousand other things which make up my personality and my experience on this earth.

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The Bible speaks of the importance of being in touch with our roots, particularly as they relate to family, traditions, commitments, values, society, and most importantly our faith. A failure to stay in touch with those things will lead to catastrophe just as surely as pulling out the foundation of a house will collapse the whole building:

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3 KJV).

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But I’m speaking here more about an understanding of ourselves. We can’t have a clear view of our future and our direction in life without being aware of the people and the things which made us. Knowledge of our self, and of what makes for a good and meaningful world, produces what was once called “wisdom”. Wisdom guides us into a better life-one without regrets.

In short, I’m saying that by being in touch with all points of my past, including the ugly, painful ones, I am in fact staying in touch with…me. Not in any narcissistic, obsessive, selfish way-I hope, but in a way which will lead to a better life, a fuller appreciation of life, a better testimony, and fewer regrets.

WRATH AND MERCY

Sometimes God gets some pretty bad press. Sometimes God is accused of some pretty bad things. In fact, it may be true to say that God has probably taken just about every criticism that could be made about anyone, not to mention the slander, mockery and blasphemy…

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If you’re a follower of the Biblical God, have you ever found yourself questioning God, getting upset with God because you think he’s failed his obligations, or even accusing God of something? I wrote an article once titled, “How to Shout at God and Get Away with it”, in which I confessed to having done all of the above, and suggested that God is big enough to take it.

I predict that if you haven’t done the same, once you’ve been a believer for some time a situation will arrive in which you will find yourself doing one or all of the same. I’m not saying that I hope this will happen to you, but that while life is full of trials in which our faith is tested and honed, such situations are bound-even-designed to test our faith. Don’t believe me? Try reading the book of Job.

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Perhaps you’ve pointed a finger at God even if you aren’t a follower. It’s amazing how much time and effort some people go to to mock and berate a God they don’t even believe exists. Take Richard Dawkins, for example, who said:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

(Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion)

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I could go into a lengthy answer to disprove every single one of Dawkins’ accusations: our God is none of the above, and anyone who can suggest that he is doesn’t know him at all, and is clearly manifesting a deep hatred for him. By the way, how can you know that God does not exist, unless you yourself know everything there is to know about the universe, both seen and unseen? And if you did, you yourself would be God.

There’s no doubt that the Biblical God is indeed “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28). He is a terror to his enemies who will have no chance of resisting him or of changing his mind. But let’s give the great professor a little slack, and just pretend that God is one of those things that Dawkins accuses him of being: let’s pretend that God is genocidal. The important thing to consider is that God would have every right to be genocidal, if that’s his wish, because he is God. God is God, and we are not. God made all things, and sustains all things. He can do whatever he wants, and we have no right at all to question him. Neither do we have any ability to stop him. He does what he wants, when he wants, for his own reasons.

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Our only reasonable response, therefore, is not to attack and malign our Creator, or to become hateful of him, or to reject him and put him out of our minds. Because if he is all he claims to be, and one look into the night sky tells us that he is, it is an inescapable fact that we will one day have to face up to who he is in all his power and glory. We will have to give an account for how we’ve treated him, how we’ve spoken about him, and what we’ve thought about him.

The miracle of the gospel is that despite the fact that God is that “consuming fire”, as seen in the Old Testament, he has provided a way for us to escape his perfect, terrible justice. By associating ourselves with his son Jesus Christ we pass from being objects of God’s wrath to being objects of his love and mercy:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24 ESV).

 

  

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