Tag Archive: SUFFERING


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/

THE UNTAMEABLE GOD

Upon conversion the believer begins his or her walk of faith in the self-assurance that God’s operation in his life will be predictable, safe, and subject to certain human standards. The opposite is true…

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Before someone out there burns me at the stake for making such a heretical statement, I want to declare that after decades of living under my own profession of faith, I still believe that God is always faithful, that he is always good, and that he is always right.

I wrote a post a few years ago titled “What Is God’s Will for your life-Really?”* It was in answer to a claim I’d heard many times in the first few years of my Christian life, usually made by Christian ministers, to the effect that God does indeed have that “wonderful plan” for each and every believer, and it’s just up to us to discover what it is and then get to work on it.

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GOD’S WILL FOR YOUR  LIFE

I spent I don’t know how many years attempting to find out what that divine plan for my life was. After all, if you’re not careful, you miss out on the whole deal-right? I learned the hard way that God’s will for us is to walk in faith and obedience, and to do what’s on our heart to do, what he’s gifted us with, and what we are best at-so long as it doesn’t conflict with his word. He will then steer our lives, whether we know what’s supposed to happen or not. And even when we get things wrong, somehow God is still at work.

God’s will for your life, most fundamentally, is that you be conformed to the likeness of His son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Though he may have a specific plan, it’s not necessarily going to be anything like what you expected or wanted, and it may not always seem all that wonderful. Just think of all those poor Christians recently martyred or driven from their homes in Iraq and neighboring countries.

The worst thing to do, the worst way to think, is that God must or will arrange the parts of your life just as you think he will or should. You may be heading for paralyzing disappointment if you wait for that to happen. When he doesn’t make life happen the way we want it to, we’re prone to being frustrated with him, to losing faith in his goodness or his love for us, or even to lose faith and hope altogether.

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Perhaps the most striking Biblical example of this, shall we call it, “difference of opinion”, between His will and ours is seen in the account of the life of Job. Job’s life was going smoothly and very successfully, until Satan requested to test his faith. God granted that request (Job 1:12). We could discuss the possible reasons for God’s permission some other time: the interesting fact for our subject is that God did allow Satan to test Job-and that very severely. Not only so, but we might wonder if God actually instigated the test in the first place, since Satan wasn’t interested in harassing Job until God said to him:

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8).

An interesting New Testament parallel is Jesus’ observation that Satan had “asked” to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31 NIV. The word is translated “demanded” in the ESV; “desired” in the KJV). In other words, Satan wanted to cut Peter down to size and to see if his professed faith really had any substance. It’s not clear whether Satan was granted his request concerning Peter, though Peter certainly went through plenty of trials in the rest of his life. Notice that in both cases Satan had to make the request-he isn’t a loose cannon doing whatever he wants to do.

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In the events following Satan’s request to test Job Job’s life was turned upside down, and before long he’d convinced himself that God didn’t care for him, and worse, that God himself had thrown Job’s life into turmoil out of spite.

However, there was one thing that Job was right about, as God himself later pointed out: God had his own mind and he did his own thing without any reference to Job’s will or plan. Finally he acknowledged that God knew what was best for him and for the entire world. He recognized that God knew far more than he could hope to understand, and that essentially he knew nothing.

GOD IS GOD AND WE ARE NOT

For the first few years of my Christian life I looked to the Bible to try to understand God. More recently, while I still read my Bible knowing that it’s His message to us, I’ve also been attempting to see how God acts by looking at how he’s been at work in my life and in others’ lives. Most of you will know that we can only understand God to a limited extent. Attempting to understand all that God allows and all he does is as futile as trying to walk to the sun: it’s impossible. And why would it not be? He’s eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and uncontainable, and we are most ephemeral, and extremely limited in knowledge and power. Earth

Scripture gives us the clearest view of God’s nature and character that we can have in this limited existence. I can see from scripture, as played out in my own life that God is indeed Love. He is faithful, he’s merciful and he’s all-knowing. He’s patient and kind. On top of that, scripture gives a powerful explanation for the problems and suffering that all humanity faces. It tells us why we’re here, what the meaning of life is and why we die. It tells us a little of God’s plan for the future, and how we can be a part of it.

But sometimes, as poor Job found out, and as we all find out sooner or later, our questions go unanswered. While Job suffered perhaps as much as any human has ever suffered, we all get a taste of that very same bewilderment and sense of complete impotence that he suffered. It’s at such times that we have only two alternatives: we can either stop walking with our Creator, or we have to let God be God. In those moments, days or years we learn, as I believe God wants each one of us to learn, that He is God, and we are not. God does what he wants, when he wants. He has every right to be who he is, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

God is The eternal being. In stark contrast we are mortal dust, created by Him and for Him, totally fallible, and totally dependent on him. Any other attitude is a sinful attitude, and stops us from discovering the truth about our existence.

 

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When you drop your toast on the floor, does it always fall jammy side down? When you go to the check-out, are you always in the line that takes far longer than the others? Well fret no longer, dear reader: there may be an answer to the problem!

Some of us are convinced that there’s a malevolent, impish force at work in the universe. It’s called “Murphy’s Law” in the U.S. and “Sod’s Law” in the U.K. Some call it (indirectly) “karma” and doubtless there are many other synonyms around the world. Perhaps one is “Bad Luck”.

Murphy’s Law is in play when the worst and most unlikely thing that could happen in any situation does actually happen. It’s an attack of spite from some unseen source. It’s a kind of living irony which seems to have a personal vendetta against you. I’ll give a few examples:

-It seems that all the traffic lights turn red as you approach them, but only when you’re short of time. When you have time to spare, they will be green;

-No matter which line you get into at the bank or the store, it always seems to be the wrong one, because the person at the front has an apparently unsolvable issue. If you change lines, the same thing happens in that one;

-The week on which your lottery numbers win the day is the same week you forget to buy a ticket;

-You drop your toast onto the floor, and it falls butter or jam side down onto the new rug.

One possible personal illustration of the principle is that within a year of this article being published, some Christian celebrity will be interviewed on radio or TV to promote his or her “new and remarkably insightful” book on Murphy’s Law and the Bible. But perhaps that’s not Sod’s Law: perhaps its just plagiarism. The gloves are off in all sections of society these days.

THE PARADOX OF THE FALLING TOAST AND JAM

I’ve observed the falling toast phenomenon with amazement for most of my life, until one day on the ‘net I stumbled upon “Jennings Corollary”. Jennings, plainly a brilliant man, and a man after my own heart, observed:

“The chances of the toast falling buttered side down are in direct proportion to the cost of the carpet”.

The scientifically minded among you will be quick to argue that the toast and jam problem is simply a case of gravity acting upon the jammy side of the toast which is heavier. There’s no doubt in my mind, after extensive and elaborate scientific experiments under lab conditions, that gravity does affect the outcome of the event by operating on the jammy side more often than the dry side. The value of the rug is not a variant here because I used a hard surface which was easy to clean. If I used the carpet I would have had some serious explaining to do to my wife.

Out of one hundred staged drops of the toast and jam from a ceramic plate, at the height of four feet (apologies to all you metrics fans) onto a level surface, I found that the toast landed jam side down sixty-three times and dry side down thirty-seven times. But here lies one of the problems with Murphy’s Law: it is mysteriously negated by laboratory conditions! Under normal circumstances the toast will fall jam side down every time for some of us! The flow of M.L.-affected events which occur to many of us in daily life will be totally absent when observed with an eye to gaining scientific evidence of our Law’s existence and behavior.

Paradoxically, herein lies hope for all of us who regularly feel the heavy hand of Murphy’s Law: we only need to make the effort to observe and record those seemingly impossible coincidences…and they’ll vanish! They won’t occur any more often than they would if the strictest atheist or skeptic conducted God-detection experiments for National Geographic. Abracadabra– we’re free of Murphy’s Law!

Now please don’t think I’m being frivolous here, because in my view our inability to study the Law in any scientific way actually serves to point us in the direction of an explanation for it! We have Murphy’s Law cornered!

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS

There are a few different possible causes for the Law to be in operation. One is that we’ve made a bad choice and are reaping the consequences. If we go the wrong way down a one-way street there’s a chance of being caught by a police officer. Plenty of people drive the wrong way and get away with it, but for the few that get spotted by a police officer, there may be the temptation to believe that they’ve been singled out by some malevolent unseen power. In a case like this, what we believe to be bad luck is really the result of our own mistake or failure. The law of averages ensures that some people get caught sooner or later.

One common cause could be simple carelessness. We dropped the toast because we were sloppy and in a hurry, and gravity did the rest. Another is faulty perception. If we leave home late to get to work, the traffic lights will seem to be against us, even though they are not.

A third cause which some of us are at least occasionally tempted to consider is that furry little gremlins are always one step ahead of us, waiting to change those lights when they see us approaching, confusing the person at the front of the check-out line and making the register or computer freeze, and conveying the jammy side of the toast to its least desirable resting place.

Still another is coincidence. There has to be true coincidence in a physical world, and when that coincidence occurs we’re sometimes amazed and start to imagine all kinds of paranormal explanations or “omens”.

There are those who believe there is no such thing as coincidence. Even in the Christian world some teach this. It is true that Solomon said, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33) but it seems like an illegitimate extrapolation to then assume that every event in the physical universe is planned and caused by God. If this is the case, we really don’t have free will or minds of our own, and two cars will collide with terrible results because God just thought they should. This doesn’t make sense, Biblically, to me. I think we have real decisions to make, I think there are real consequences, and I think there are genuine coincidences.

THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION

Any one of these possible explanations plus others I haven’t mentioned can be applied depending on the situation, but one more  important possibility to consider is that there is sometimes a spiritual dimension to events, and that some-not all-events and outcomes are arranged by forces beyond our control. In the Bible we can find several examples of that spiritual dimension causing apparently unlikely things to happen, as well as examples of events which we may normally ascribe to Murphy’s Law but which in fact have a natural cause. Let’s look at some of those events and try to identify the cause of each one. This is a lengthy discussion, so you may want to skip to the last sub-title: “Lessons For Us”.

-The story of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish is quite well known, but we don’t often consider the plant, a vine, near the end of the story (Jonah 4:5). Jonah, the “reluctant prophet”, was suffering from the heat of the sun as he overlooked Ninevah, hoping that God was going to fry it (he was disappointed). So God caused a vine to grow suddenly, providing welcome shade. The very next day, a worm chewed on the vine to the point that the vine withered. Jonah was angry, and complained to the Lord. He may well have regarded this as “Murphy’s Law” in operation, had he known that term, because judging by his anger this was to him the worst and most unlikely turn of events. We are given the benefit of knowing that it was God who sent the worm to chew on the vine, in order to provide a life-lesson to Jonah. The Lord pointed out that all Jonah cared about was himself, and not the many thousands of people who lived in Nineveh.

-Ahab was a wicked King of Israel. After many years of his tyrannical reign with Jezebel, a prophet of the Lord warned Ahab that he was going to die in the upcoming battle against the Arameans (1 Kings 22). Although Ahab had rejected the warning of the prophet, on the day he decided to enter the battle in disguise, thinking that this would allow him to escape his fate. However, we are told that “someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor” (verse 34). The message for us here is undoubtedly that God’s will, or his knowledge of the future, always gets fulfilled one way or another. But if we look at it from Ahab’s point of view as he lay bleeding to death in his chariot, or from the view of his charioteer, this may have just seemed like a case of terrible “luck” or Murphy’s Law.

-Saul was another King of Israel who failed to obey God. Consequently, the Lord sent an evil spirit to torment him (1 Samuel 16:14).  What did this “tormenting” entail? It’s difficult to be clear on what this evil spirit did to him, but there are a few clues. It affected Saul’s mood (v 16 and 23), and it made him angry and violent (18: 10 and 19: 9-10). He became very jealous (18:6-9). I mustn’t assert this too strongly, but my feeling has always been that at this time nothing went “right” for Saul. I would say that his toast fell jam side down every morning, his wife gave him a roasting, and he was grumpy for the rest of the day. The traffic lights were red for him at every junction, his horse lost every race, and the lot was always against him.

-Jephthah was a mighty warrior and a commander of the Israelites against the Ammonites. He made a vow in the heat of the moment to the Lord that if the ensuing battle went his way, he would sacrifice the first thing or person that came out of his house to greet him upon his return home. The battle indeed went his way, but who should be the first to exit the house to greet him but his only daughter. Of course he was “devastated” as we might say now.

I will note three important things here. First, the Lord did not request or require the vow, it was Jephthah’s foolish idea from start to finish. Secondly, it’s wrong to make a vow to the Lord and not keep it, so it’s best to not make the vow at all (Matthew 5:34). Jephthah should have known that. Thirdly, when the stupidity of his vow became clear to him, he should have taken the rap himself instead of inflicting it on his virgin daughter.

That being said, imagine how he felt when, upon his return home his one precious daughter appeared from the house. If he thought it through at all, he had probably expected a servant (which would be bad enough), or a goat or a dog, or perhaps even his wife. Instead the light of his life was the “unlucky” one. Had he known of Murphy’s Law, might he not have put his misfortune down to that?

-A company of prophets with Elisha went to build a new crash pad for themselves. As they chopped at the trees, one man’s axe head fell off the handle and into some water. It seemed to the man that it was lost, and he was pretty upset because the axe head was borrowed. In those days it wasn’t easy to go down to the local Lowe’s hardware superstore and get another one. “Murphy’s Law”, some might say in such circumstances. Fortunately for the young prophet, Elisha was able to exercise God’s miracle working power to retrieve the axe head (2 Kings 6: 1-7). This seems to have been one of many opportunities for the Spirit of God to display his power among the prophets ofIsrael.

-In the New Testament, Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a man. As requested, they were given leave to enter a nearby herd of pigs, since they obviously wanted to be in a body of some kind rather than go to the Abyss. Once there, the pigs ran down a steep slope into some water and drowned (Luke 8:26-39).

This was a notable miracle which was the talk of the whole region in a very short space of time, but the thing I want to focus on is the view of the whole event from the perspective of the owners of the herd.. Since this region of the land was predominantly Gentile, we can’t make the assertion that Jesus was targeting Jews for owning swine, which would have been unlawful. But even if they were not Jews, we can imagine that they felt victimized. Why had their animals, of all that were in the area, been the ones who were killed by some unpredictable and undeserved event? Would not they have seen this as something akin to Murphy’s Law in action?

-Also in Luke’s gospel, Jesus spoke of a recent event in which a tower had collapsed, killing eighteen people. He wanted his audience to understand that the eighteen had not been singled out from the population to suffer a fatal accident because they were more guilty of sin than anyone else (Luke 13: 4-5). It seems that perhaps that’s what they were thinking. To many people, particularly those who were at all superstitious, the event would have seemed like a bad case of Murphy’s Law. “Why me?” we often hear people say when something bad happens to them. Perhaps we’ve all had that thought at some time in our lives.

-Paul, the great evangelist and apologist of the first century, was inflicted with an ongoing illness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The most common view is that he had an eye disorder. He called the infliction a “thorn in the flesh”, in other words, a constant irritant and handicap. He said that God had sent “a messenger of Satan” to torment him with the illness. He recognized that it was sent to keep him humble (verse 7). The disorder likely affected how people thought of him. Some people thought that he was “unimpressive, and his speaking amounts to nothing” (10:10). As an evangelist and a public speaker, people generally want to be as impressive as possible. How would you feel if, as a public speaker, you developed a visually unattractive and debilitating condition? Might you not see it as “Murphy’s Law” at work?

-Joseph, having escaped the desire of some of his brothers to murder him, landed a great job as the manager of a wealthy man’s house (Genesis 39). How must he have felt, having narrowly escaped death at the hands of his brothers, when the lady of the house falsely accused him of attempted rape, causing him to be thrown into prison? For many of us, this would be Murphy’s Law: the worst and most unfair turn of events possible.

-Solomon observed that it was unwise to speak or even think evil of dignitaries, because your words or thoughts can mysteriously make their way to those very dignitaries (Ecclesiastes 10:20). We may consider it very bad luck if, having whispered or even thought bad things about someone, they discover what we’ve said. How could such a thing happen? It does: I’ve seen it happen in my own life.

– Job, a righteous man, was tested beyond measure when Satan decided that God had made things too easy for him, which was the only reason, he contended, that Job was a Godly man (see the book of Job, particularly chapters 1 and 2). God allowed Satan to inflict some terrible disasters on Job in order to reveal the real condition of his heart. Incredibly, Job resorted to praising God anyway (1: 20-22 and 2:9-10). However, he did believe that his suffering was arbitrarily imposed on him.

Job seemed to have no awareness of Satan, or of the contest for his soul and his reputation in heaven as outlined in the first two chapters. It was all a huge case of “Murphy’s Law”. The most unfair sequence of events had fallen on him, apparently without any good reason, and God had not stopped them. At the end of Job’s story, we find God putting Job right on a few things.

We don’t have the benefit of being audibly told our faults by the Lord. Perhaps he reveals them to us in other ways, or perhaps we make the mistake of deciding that a case of Murphy’s Law has befallen us, and never come to search for the reason why.LESSONS FOR US

Some of these examples simply demonstrate indiscretion. None of them speak of natural coincidence. Some of them speak of directed spiritual influence designed to fulfill the will of God. All of them could be construed as “bad luck” or “Murphy’s Law” by the apparent victim or an observer. So what is the lesson for us?

First of all, I don’t mean to be flippant when I repeat my suggestion that you directly observe and log unlikely events, particularly if they are recurring. Sometimes such efforts will either suspend them, or enable us to see how stupid we’re being by thinking the physical universe is somehow in conscious, organized opposition to our contentment. But apart from that, there are important spiritual issues to consider

We all need to be very careful to avoid reading things into events and circumstances in our lives. They may most often be due to our own faulty decisions or actions or those of other people, or natural laws such as gravity or coincidence.  At the same time, there may be times when God is trying to tell us something or teach us something through circumstances in our lives. On rare occasions what we might perceive to be the Law is being administered by God or angels – good or fallen, although they are under the ultimate control of the Almighty..We are perhaps being tested to find the condition of our hearts (see my article on suffering and testing).

Murphy’s Law can be very frustrating: are we going to humble ourselves as Paul did, or rise up in pride and anger as Saul did? We may find that the Lord is opposing us because of our attitudes and our course in life: 

“The Lord works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for the day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:4).

Whatever happens, we must at all costs avoid blaming “nature” or “luck” for evil or wrong-doing, because this is essentially accusing God of evil or wrong-doing, since God is in ultimate control of nature and luck.  Instead, we must praise God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Copyright © March 2012 by Nick Fisher

A VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM

Have you ever felt so down that you were ready to give up on your faith? Sometimes our circumstances, or our view of them, can make us think that up is down and vice-versa. In those times we may begin to see God as the bad guy, the failure, the trouble-maker, the liar. We can even imagine that He isn’t there at all, and that all our faith has been misplaced…

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(LORENZO MONTANA:”BYBLIS”) You really need bass with this-maybe headphones

One of the many sad aspects of this phenomenon is that too many of us are afraid to openly speak about how we feel, so that we shut up our struggle inside and try to put on a positive face. Conversely, those who’re in good spirits can be unwilling or afraid to hear negative testimony from someone who’s struggling. The pain gets buried deep inside the sufferer, and the potential friend exercises no love, compassion or encouragement. Here is a spiritual version of the parable of the man who fell among thieves while ostensibly religious people passed by on the other side, concerned only with their own well-being.

Having been a Christian for many years now, and being of a rather melancholy disposition, I’ve been through many periods in my life where I’ve struggled with doubt or disappointment and anger with God. I know in my head the Biblical truth of who God is, and who I am, and that we all live in a fallen world with fallen, sinful people like ourselves and with malevolent spiritual entities. I know in my mind that Jesus Christ-my example-suffered at the hands of men, as did his disciples and prophets. I know that there’s coming a day when all wrongs will be righted, and when righteousness and holiness will reign. But for some reason I just can’t help asking myself all those questions-you know-the questions you also have asked:

“Where are you Lord? Don’t you care what I’m going through ? Don’t you care how I feel? Why do the wicked prosper? Why is there so much injustice in this world that you made? Why don’t you straighten this rotten world out now? What are you waiting for?”

Yes, in my head I know the answers to all those questions, and I could write lengthy blog-posts on each one from a theological point of view, in defense of the God I profess. You can read my “Spiritual Defense Strategy” series if you want some head knowledge, which really is often invaluable in times of weakness. But like Job, it seems that when we’re in the middle of something awful or which seems awful, when we’re the ones who are suffering and not someone else, answers are not enough.

It’s really not so important what’s in your head: that can fail you. It’s what’s in your heart that counts.

Job discovered that he had a heart problem, and it was only when he completely surrendered his will to God that he found healing. We forget that God is God, and we are his creation. We have the choice to either submit and trust, or to go it alone. In the latter case, I can tell you from experience that there will be no satisfaction or resolution.

XIR84999 Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) oil on canvas Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France Lauros / Giraudon French, out of copyright

What I mostly wanted to say here is that when we get to the bottom-when we’re scraping the bottom of our barrel of faith and hope, and when we’re rehearsing those questions which, after all, are putting to the test the very faith we’ve been professing for years, we need to realize what the alternative of faith and trust is. This is always my turning point. I liken it to the turning point Jesus’ disciples reached when, confused and challenged to see people so offended by the words of Jesus that they walked away, realized that to desert Jesus would be to desert the only person able to give eternal life (John 6:66-68).

When I hit the bottom and look around to see where else I can go, it quickly becomes clear to me that there is nowhere else to go worth going to. The world is full of hatred, selfishness and greed. The world is full of heartaches, broken relationships, loneliness, disappointment and rejection. The world has been brainwashed into thinking-without actually seeing any evidence- that we’re all descended from tiny slimy creatures which once wiggled around in mud, and evolution, honestly viewed, is all about survival of the fittest, the strongest, the biggest, and those who can devour or defeat all competitors.

It’s a world which looks at the beauty, the intricacy and majesty of creation and of the universe and sees no meaning or message in it all.

That’s not the kind of world I would give up my faith for. There is a God. There is a Creator. He’s mind-bogglingly clever and powerful. And he’s perfectly able to make himself known through his own loving, holy, sinless, humble Son, and through an amazing and profound written message which we call The Bible.

You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.

DOES SUFFERING DISPROVE GOD?

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Someone very close to me lost his faith in Jesus a number of years ago. He puts it down to a series of unhappy events and setbacks in his life: a good Christian man he knew died suddenly at a young age; his wife and first love left him for another man; his business failed; a close friend was involved in a road accident which left him brain damaged. Now this person angrily refuses to hear any talk about God.

I used to love watching David Attenborough’s television series on nature: as an ardent evolutionist, he unwittingly helped me to reject the notion of evolution.  I saw David being interviewed in a short video, and speaking about why he had decided for himself that there is no God. Instead of laying out the “evidence” for evolution, he related how he had seen someone in India suffering with a worm which had burrowed into her brain and which made her blind. This, said David, was enough to tell him that there is no God.

These views reflect common reasons given for rejecting the existence of God: some complain that a loving God would not have allowed them to suffer personally, and others complain that a loving God would not allow the suffering they see in the world around them.

However, this view has a serious flaw, and it’s this: the God of the Bible never said that we would not suffer. On the contrary, he gave numerous warnings that mankind is to expect suffering of all kinds in this world. Examples:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life”…”by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food., until you return to the ground…” (God to Adam, Genesis 3:17-19);

“In this world you will have trouble…” (Jesus Christ, John 16:33).

In a series of posts I wrote on suffering I discussed its main causes – the causes we are warned of in the Bible, the same Bible which tells us of the very God who people say has failed in his duties. They are:

The Curse. All of nature is decaying, not onward and upward as in the theory of evolution (Romans 8:20-21);

The consequences of our own intentional sin or poor decisions: actions which affect us personally, such as sexual sin, drug or alcohol abuse, or actions or decisions which lead to accidents;

The consequences of intentional human sin: the actions of others, like hatred, theft, conspiracy, violence;

Deception, coercion, attacks from angels who have sided against God and his followers;

The consequences of rejecting God’s ways, which are designed for our wellbeing and happiness, as individuals or as a society;

Negligence , including failure to love, or give, or care, or share;

Irresponsibility or bad judgment, for example, dangerous driving;

Being tested by God;

Being Disciplined by God;

Being punished by God;

Humbling by God.

THE REAL PROBLEM

So where does the notion that God has failed come from?

The answer is that mankind creates or imagines his own view of what God should be like. Man dethrones God and sets himself up as the conceiver, the creator, and the judge of God, when in fact it’s the other way around. Man ignores the message of God-the Bible- totally, and then has the nerve to reject that Biblical God entirely on the grounds that He has failed miserably in his duties.  Man remakes God in his image. “If there really were a God, we say to ourselves, he would fix all our problems, he would stop all bad things from happening, except perhaps to people like Adolph Hitler, and he would do everything in his power to make sure that I-the great and mighty I-can go about my own business and live a happy, trouble free and fulfilling life.

Not excusing myself-indeed including myself in the ranks of the guilty, I can see that our view is simplistic, narcissistic, selfish, self-righteous and arrogant. It’s the same attitude that got us into this mess in the first place, as summarized in Genesis chapter 3-the attitude that says “God is wrong, he’s holding something back from us, he lied to us, he’s not a loving God at all, he doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves, he’s failed us”.

THE ALTERNATIVE TO GOD

What amuses me is that many people who think that God obviously cannot exist because he has failed them, are angry with him. How can you be angry with someone who doesn’t exist? If there is no God, there’s no-one to get angry with. There’s no such thing as “evil” (but only an “illusion”, to borrow a popular contemporary term among evolutionists). There is no such thing as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, except what we see or decide individually or as a society in our own subjective, relativistic notions of such things. In this case these terms evolve with us: they are not fixed.

If we evolved out of nothing, the “good” in life’s existence is competition, survival, death, extinction. It’s the strong overcoming the weak, the rich overcoming the poor, the achievers overcoming the failures, the healthy overcoming the sick, the slick overcoming the slow. Life is all about the survival of the fittest. Suffering is a natural part of the evolution of life. It’s for our own good: we should applaud it –worship it. Suffering is only “bad” because it feels unpleasant when it happens to us personally. Emotion over suffering is just a useless feeling, a weakness caused by chemical reactions which we should hurry up and evolve away.

However, if there is a God, a God who has created us with a sense of right and wrong, and who has fixed standards, and who has instilled within us concepts of love, happiness and perfection, then we will naturally be reviled by suffering, evil and injustice.

THE ANSWER

Our world is deep in trouble. Human nature is “desperately wicked” by God’s standards, and totally at variance with Him. All of nature is under a curse because of that human nature. But there’s an answer, a remedy. While God is not planning to run around patching this world up piece by piece, while mankind continues in open rebellion against him and his ways, he has given the promise of a new world, and has provided a way for us all to go there. This is God’s answer to suffering:

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes on him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Those of us who claim to have faith need to steel ourselves.  Many Christians over the centuries have kept or even exponentially grown their faith through suffering  We need to prepare for what could come in our lifetime. If we are serious about our faith, we should build it up, and learn to lean on our God, no matter what. We need to so familiarize ourselves with what He has really said that we are not like rocky ground which received the seed, but which did not last when trouble arose (Matthew 13:20-21).

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