Tag Archives: Biblical truth

The REST we need!

The Rest we need!

 

The Biblical view of rest

Last week we asked the question, “Do you need rest?”  We examined the three (3) biblical rests God has provided for His Covenant people.  Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.

We concluded that accessing these rests is possible through development of an intimate relationship with God.  Our rest can be found in listening to His voice and obeying Him.  We closed with Lawrence O. Richards’ explanation that Christians often struggle with learning how to enter God’s rest.  God’s rest is a place of confidence and contentment that can only be found in relationship with Him.

The Scientific view of rest

In her Ted Talk, “The 7 Types of rest that every person needs,” Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, shares what is really needed for us to rest.  My biggest take away was the fact that we often mistakenly view rest as sleep.

“We go through life thinking we’ve rested because we have gotten enough sleep — but in reality we are missing out on the other types of rest we desperately need. The result is a culture of high-achieving, high-producing, chronically tired and chronically burned-out individuals. We’re suffering from a rest deficit because we don’t understand the true power of rest.  “

Dr. Smith concludes her study with the definition of spiritual rest.  She describes it as feeling a “deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance, and purpose”.  She recommends that to receive spiritual rest, one needs to “engage in SOMETHING GREATER THAN YOURSELF, ADD PRAYER, MEDITATION, OR COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT.”

For me, and believers in Christ, that “deep belonging, love, acceptance, and purpose” is found in Christ. Christ is the better rest.

A Better Rest

Paul states that in Christ, “we live, and move, and have our meaning” (Acts 17:28).  This includes our time of rest.  Even during our physical rest, we must not forget to maintain relationship with Jesus.  It is in acknowledging the Lord’s presence, that our better rest begins.

Jesus invites the crowds in Matt. 11: 28-29 to “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   Jesus offers rest.

After the disciples had returned from their mission trip (Mark 6:7-13), Jesus instructs then to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”   Jesus is rest.

“Alone time” with God can allow God to examine us. It can be a time of knowing God more deeply, a time of strengthening, a time of refreshment, a time of sharing our deepest concerns with God, and a time of simply being with the One who formed us and loves us beyond our understanding.[1]

Rest:  How do we enter it?

The rest we need can only be found in relationship with Jesus.  It is “relational rest”.  This rest can be found in the practice of spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are not an end in themselves.  Spiritual disciplines are intended to deepen our relationship with God.[2]

Prayer Talking to God
Meditation Listening to God
Solitude Alone with God
Contemplation Thinking about God
Worship Glorifying God

I close with a formula on how to enter God’s rest.  Feel free to develop your own.  The main thing to remember is to keep Christ as the source of your rest.

R. Reflection. Daily examine where God has been at work. This will foster awareness of God’s presence.

E. Exchange. Trade-out Satan’s lies for God’s truths. This will increase your wisdom and discernment.

SSolace. Find comfort and consolation in God’s presence. This will strengthen your confidence.

T. Transformation. Each day seek to be conformed to the image of Christ. This will please God.

[1]  Got Questions, “What does the Bible say about the value of solitude?”

[2]  Rev. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, “A Prayer for Presence.”

Making a Fresh Start

Opportunities and challenges

Happy New Year!  With this new year comes both opportunities and challenges. More importantly, comes our chance to receive exceeding great and precious promises through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord (2 Pet. 1: 2, 4).

To begin this year, WordBytes will launch a new series entitled The Clarion Word Classics.

The word “clarion” comes from the Latin word claru or ‘clear’.  Used as an adjective, it means ‘loud and clear’.   Our intent with this quarterly series is to make “loud and clear” what is ours in Christ and as children of God (Rom. 8:17).

Making a Fresh Start

Throughout 2023, we will share faith writings from key theologians who will strengthen and enrich our spiritual lives and faith walk.  This includes such sage theologians and writers such as J.I. Packer, Oswald Chambers, and C.S. Lewis.

We will also introduce contemporary writers who express spiritual answers to the challenges of 21st century living.  This includes such authors as Priscilla Shirer, Alistair Begg, John Piper, and black theologian, Bruce L. Fields.

To begin the Clarion Word Classics, we introduce F.B. Meyer (a favorite of mine).  His devotion for the new year is entitled, Making a Fresh Start.”  Meyer infuses scripture throughout his writings.  See if you can find them within the text.

Year-end 2022 Throwback Wednesday: “God Goes Before Us”

Year-end 2022 Throwback Wednesday Wednesda

New Year’s anxieties

In choosing the year-end WordBytes for throwback Wednesday, it was amazing how quickly the teaching for today came to my attention.

First, this WordBytes was written at the end of 2019, as we entered in the world of the COVID virus.  At that time, we had no idea that our lives would be forever changed.  The world as we knew would never be the same.  Secondarily, it was written to address the anxiety we typically experience as we begin to plan for the new year.  This includes evaluation of our accomplishments for the closing year.

Are you ready for 2023?

In our text today, Moses is preparing the Israelites for the changes that lie ahead of them as they prepare to enter the Promise Land.  2+million people.  Just imagine the heightened anxiety and fear in the people.  But Moses shares with them a promise they can “hang their hat on”.  God will go before them!

It’s been said, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  As we look back over the past two years with COVID, social unrest, financial upheaval, and more, has God gone before us?  Take a moment and think about how God has intervened on your behalf during these tumultuous times.

We have experienced many hardships these past few years. However, regardless of them, we now stand on this side of 2022.  We are now planning for a “new year”.  Do you want to know why?  Because God still (even in the 21st century) goes before us.  Whatever circumstance you may face in 2023, know that God is more than able to sustain you through it.  I pray that today’s WordBytes will increase your confidence and trust in the Lord.  Have a happy and blessed new year.

 

God Goes Before Us

What do you want for Christmas?

 

What do you want for Christmas?

Christmas past

What do you want for Christmas this year?  What’s your ask?  When I was a child, my anticipation of Christmas was so high.  I remember the special journey to see the animated Christmas displays in the store windows in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  The shops on “Petticoat Lane” and the special baked goods at “The Cake Box”.  There was no sitting on Santa’s lap and sharing our list of wants, but endless nights of looking at the special Christmas catalogue from Sears, J.C. Penney’s, and “Monkey Wards” (Montgomery Wards).  What a wonderful and magical time!

But I’m no longer a child.  To the contrary, I’m a grandmother and family elder.  Now as I anticipate Christmas, I ask myself, what do I want?  What are my choices?  Things eternal or things of this world? Now I must look beyond Christmas Day with its torn wrapping paper and empty boxes.  I want something that lasts beyond Christmas Day.  Don’t you?  As we close out this year, I invite you to join me in answering this question for yourself.

What’s on your list?

Harry & David suggests we warm hearts with festive gourmet gifts and Christmas gift baskets.  That’s no surprise!  “Do it Yourselfers” ensure us that handmade gifts will be received with joy:  polaroid photo magnets (try finding a polaroid camera), beautifully packaged cookie mixes or pretty finger knit blankets.  Who has the time?

Topping the list of the 23 “hottest cool gadgets” for Christmas is a Black Bird drone with camera for $99.  “For the first time, ordinary people can capture crazy selfies and shots that were previously only possible with professional equipment.”  I’m sure our neighbors and friends will love sharing in on this gift.

But what do people really want?

Here are some things to consider as you plan your gift shopping.

In an article entitled The Top 10 Things People Want in Life but Can’t Seem to Get, I was amazed in reading the responses to this informal survey that probed “critical life and career questions.”  From my reading, I compiled (in their order of importance) the top five (5) areas people are feeling desperate about:  happiness, money, freedom, peace, and joy.   I’ve included a sixth, balance, since it is the focus of many Millennials and Genxers.  What was surprising was that most of the items were intangible, subjective (what I can feel), and internal versus external.

In the aftermath of COVID (before the variants), people wanted “relationship”.   A few verbatims are captured below recognizing the extraordinary power and satisfaction that can only be found through our connection with one another.

  • “Have a big family get together!”
  • “Go to a game and watch some sports!”
  • “See my mom in assisted living.”
  • “Make sure all my friends are cured too, then we’ll party!”

A new Barna Group report was released this month on trends in the Black church[1].  When asked what churchgoers wanted for their lives, the results were as follows:

  • 84% wanted good health
  • 83% wanted a close relationship with God
  • 77% wanted to provide for their family
  • 75% wanted a clear purpose for living

Note the focus of the three groups.  They were primarily, intangibles, subjective, and internal.

What I want for Christmas 2022

Challenges will continue in 2023.  Financial upheaval, political squabbles, shortages, rising social needs, hunger, and homelessness (regardless of the new names).  What do we need?  What do we want?

After conducting my personal survey among friends and family, I’ve created a revised “short Christmas list”.  Many of the items on this list have been sermonized during this season of Advent.  They are hope, peace, joy, and love.

    • Hope—”expecting a better future for the world, our nation, and our families”
    • Peace— “less hatred, division, and political strife”
    • Joy— “more contentment and gratitude regardless of our situation”
    • Love—”better relationships and greater compassion for others”

Reflecting on the various lists of “things” people desire, it is clear, God has already provided these and much more.  Happiness, freedom, and balance. God will provide it.  Relationship.  God will be whomever we need in our life.   Hope, peace, joy, and love.  In Him and in His presence, we will find more than we need (Eph. 3:20-21).   It is up to each of us to access our heavenly gifts through faith and obedience to God.  In Christ, all these things are currently ours.

Below are my “gift lists” available to us through relationship with our Heavenly Father, Who only gives “good and perfect gifts” (James 1:17). God’s gifts last beyond the torn tissue and open boxes.  They last beyond Christmas day through all of eternity.  With God and in Christ, every day is Christmas.

  • Ephesians 1:3-17
  • 2 Peter 1:3-18

[1]  This report was created in partnership with Black Millennial Café, Urban Ministries, Inc., Compassion International to celebrate the legacy of the Black Church in America and to pursue racial justice inside and outside the Church.  With that intent, there is no comparative study for White churches.

 

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Thanksgiving Gratitude

“In everything give thanks.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are instructed to give thanks in everything.  What does that look like in our homes and cities as we continue to deal with challenges on every hand.  Especially this Thanksgiving.

As we prepare for our family gatherings, the impact of inflation, rising gas prices, and supply shortages may cause us to question, “is there really anything to be thankful for?”  What gratitude are you bringing to this year’s Thanksgiving celebration?

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation and thankfulness for what one has.  Is there anything we appreciate or are thankful for?  While we are very good at expressing our displeasure for what we don’t have, regrettably, we often miss the mark in articulating our gratitude.

Failure to show gratitude

We, in general, are slow in offering gratitude.  We will sometimes express gratitude when prayers are answered, or catastrophes are avoided.  However, even in those special circumstances, we are more likely to attribute our good fortune to luck than to God’s benevolence.

In the busyness of living, we take for granted those things God provides through His grace to all mankind:  the sun and the moon (Deut. 33:14), the regularity with which the seasons change (Gen. 8:22), and the marvels of created life (Rom. 1:20).

We fail to recognize our blessings and therefore fail to express gratitude.  Gratitude is the only “proper response” to beneficence:  the generosity and kindness from a benefactor.  In our case, exuberant gratitude is the best response to our gracious and loving God.

Gratitude and salvation

With salvation, we as believers experience a multitude of blessings, both now and in the future.  First and foremost is our deliverance from the power and penalty of sin (Rom. 6:9).  This release from our sin nature provides instant access to God the Father (Rom. 5:2).

We are given a new identity in Christ, both as children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17).  As new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we are gifted with the presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers us with the same dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19).

Finally, eternal life is God’s special gift to believers.  It is a gift that cannot be acquired through works, or any other path.  Yet it is readily available through belief in Jesus the Christ (John 3:16).  Through eternal life, we can experience God’s presence, peace, and provision.  As heirs of God, we await our final inheritance reserved for us in heaven, when we return to our true home (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

It is God’s will that in everything, we give thanks.

It is not God’s will that we express gratitude for “gratitude’s sake only”.  We know that in giving thanks, His power can be released into our life in ways never before seen.

This includes the formation of incredible joy, unshakeable hope, and unbroken peace (1 Pet. 1:2-4).  The outward expression of appreciation to God, works to bring new power and access that, under other circumstances, would be unattainable.

As we prepare for this year’s Thanksgiving, are we grateful for what we do have?  According to the Greek writer and philosopher, Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Let us, therefore, bring to this Thanksgiving dinner an “extra serving” of gratitude.

Altars of Earth

An Altar of Earth

It’s all in the instructions

I am notorious for ordering items online.   When the box arrives, I’m excited to see my item in the perfect spot I’ve chosen for it.  However, when I open the box, all I see are parts and pieces in plastic bags with the INSTRUCTIONS on how to put it together.  Thank the Lord, I have such a kind and knowledgeable husband who is good with instructions.

Today we explore a  set of instructions God gave Israel following His presentation of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:24).

An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

 God’s  “thunderous” manifestation of his  presence  impressed upon Israel that He was the “Living God” and not some impotent idol they had worshipped in Egypt  (Exod. 20:18-20). God was the Creator and not the molded creations of man’s idolatrous mind.  God was moving closer to His people.  He would come to them and bless them.

Why an altar of earth?

An altar of earth, a simple structure, or of stone (unhewn), was  to be constructed. God wanted them to build a plain altar of stone with no engraving. I’m sure many of the Israelites had seen the engraving of the statues and monuments in Egypt.  They may have even been engravers themselves.  But God required a higher yet simpler standard that would recognize who He was.   The moment a tool was put to the stone, it would be considered “polluted”.

It should be noted that the primary purpose of the altar was for worship.  That worship was to include specific offerings—a burnt and a peace offering.  There was no mention of presenting a sin and trespass offerings which were given to Israel later.

The peace offering revealed man’s need for  sacrifice that would reconcile him to God.  Jesus Christ accomplished that by His blood on the Cross.  The burnt offering speaks of God’s  worthiness and ability to save.  Christ was the perfect sacrifice and the only one able to satisfy the righteous requirements of God (2 Cor. 5:18)

Where’s my altar?

Everywhere Israel journeyed,  they made an altar of earth.  The altar was to be placed  in those places where  “God recorded His name.” One commentary states it this way:   “cause My name to be remembered”.

God would reward Israel’s offerings in those places where God was worshipped in sincerity.

Afterwards, God chose one particular place (Jerusalem) to record his name.  But now that has been taken away under the gospel, when men are encouraged to pray every where.  This promise revives in its full extent, that, wherever God’s people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them, he will honour them with his presence, and reward them with the gifts of his grace; there he will come unto them, and will bless them.  More than this we need not desire for the beautifying of our solemn assemblies.[1]

This portion of the Exodus text caught my attention.  I then began to ask myself the following questions.

Where are my “altars of earth” to the Lord?

Where are the places in my life where God has caused me to “remember His name”?

Am I watchful and recognize when I am “out of fellowship”with Him?

Am I presenting offerings that worship God?

Do I bless God for all His benefits? His presence,  power, provision, and  protection?

Altars and offerings are no longer needed to be in right relationship with God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection eliminated that requirement.  However, it is important that we Christians spiritually create our personal altars to worship God in recognition of His love and gift of life through Jesus Christ.

I close with the following  scripture texts in the hope that they  will “cause His name to be remembered” by each of us.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.(Rom. 12:1) 

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Heb.13:15) 

Give to the LORD the glory due his name; Bring an offering, and come before him.  Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!  (1 Chron. 16:29)

[1]  Matthew Thomas Commentary

Our Theology of Suffering: Where is God in our Suffering?

 

Suffering Summary

We began our study on suffering by discussing its definition and its implication in the life of the believer.  While no one wants to suffer, it is a fact of life that we must manage every day. We mentioned early in the series how we try to alleviate our suffering. Living in a fallen world, however, we will experience some form of suffering.

We examined the practice of pain management and the strategies we use to ease our pain and suffering. For believers, we agreed that our pain management comes from our knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Armed with that knowledge, we can live confidently, trusting in His goodness and His greatness. (Ps. 27: 1-3).

We concluded that having the right theology of suffering will help us to not only manage the pain, but also sustain us through our suffering.   Suffering is best managed first, by putting our trust in God and secondarily, by having a Christian worldview.

Where is God?

With all we’ve discussed about suffering to date, there is yet one question we have.  “Where is God in the midst of our suffering?”  Through the COVID pandemic, in natural disasters, and during mass shootings; with these and many more events in mind, where is God?  This is where the right theology of suffering is important.  

If we believe that God is our spiritual “Superman” who will rescue us from suffering, then we will always be disappointed. God loves us and is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. His glory and His power can best be recognized not in His rescuing us “from” our suffering BUT INSTEAD in His provision for us “during” our suffering. God is where He has always been and where He will always be—actively participating in our suffering. 

How does God participate in our suffering?   By sustaining us (Ps. 55:22; Phil. 4:19).  By strengthening us (Ps. 27:1; 2 Thess. 3:3).  By comforting us (John 14:7; 2 Cor. 1:3-5).  By providing and protecting us (Isa. 54:10).  God is not observing our suffering from afar. He is ever near (2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 30:21).

As our Sovereign, God controls all events, people, and circumstances that flow into our lives. By faith we trust God, knowing that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  And that purpose may include the experience of suffering (2 Cor. 12:7). Without God we can’t fit suffering into the fabric of life.

Look for Jesus in the midst

In reading God’s Word and through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, I have learned to not only, trust in God, but also, “look for God” during my suffering.

While working with a soul healing team, we witnessed how the Holy Spirit would reveal Jesus in the midst of a person’s painful experience.  The Holy Spirit helped individuals see Jesus during their situation.  They realized they were not alone.  Jesus was there with them!  Sustaining, comforting, strengthening, and protecting.

Jesus is always with us!    We must learn to practice looking for God during times of suffering.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus with you during times of suffering.  Look for Him with your spiritual eyes.

Closing words on suffering

F.B. Meyer, noted theologian, wrote these words about suffering.

Suffering in the will of God challenges us to persevere in our faith. God desires to use such suffering to advance his Kingdom and righteousness in many ways, including further conforming us to the image of God. We need to keep the right perspective about such suffering.

Andrew Murray had this to say about suffering:

 By faith alone are we able to bear suffering, great or small, alright to God’s glory, or our own welfare. Faith sees it in the light of God and eternity; It’s short pain, it’s everlasting gain; it’s impotence to hurt the soul, it’s power to purify and to bless it.

While I appreciate both writer’s input, I commit to memory the following from my Lord and Savior Jesus.  Especially its closing promise.

These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In this world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

The Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 2

Our Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 2

Just the Facts

We understand that suffering is a part of life.  As we know, suffering is not part of God’s original divine plan but is a result of sin.  Because of that, Christians acknowledge that we live in a sinful, “fallen world.” As believers, our response to suffering—pain, distress, and hardship—is shaped by two key factors.  First, our trust in God (Ps. 62:5-8) and secondarily, our Christian worldview (Eccl. 9:11).

An “enlightened” response

The Bible also informs our response to suffering.  Although it offers no “magic pill” to overcome pain and distress, it does reveal how God operates on our behalf during difficult times (2 Cor. 1:3-5).   Jesus demonstrated how man can operate knowing he will suffer.  For Jesus, suffering was needful and “purposeful” (Heb. 2:10).  It resulted in the salvation of mankind and the elimination of the power of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).  In His suffering and death, Jesus modelled for us His trust in and obedience to God.

How we choose to respond to our suffering will determine its purpose and possibility in our life.  As I said earlier, our response to suffering can either make us “better or bitter”, it all depends on our trust in God and our worldview.  These create an enlightened, faith-based response.

Better or bitter?

In 2010, a well-known Bible teacher and speaker, Joni Eareckson Tada was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The thing that made this news so heart wrenching for me was the fact that Joni had for the last 43 years lived as a quadriplegic—and now this?  Questions raced in my mind.  “How much suffering can a person take?” She dedicated her life to Christ and helping others—and now this?  The old cliché came to mind.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Can any good come from suffering?

Certain types of suffering may result from our own wrong choices or because of the wrong choices and acts of others.  But regardless of the cause (sin), it is our personal response that really matters.  A faith-based response will not only enable us to cope during the suffering but also rekindle our hope (2 Cor. 4:7-9).  It will also strengthen our resolve and build our resiliency (2 Cor. 4:15-17).

Suffering—purpose and possibility

Our suffering is purposeful.  As a ship is proven seaworthy by the beating of the waves and the whipping of the winds, likewise, our suffering aids us in becoming mature Christians.

The Apostle Peter states that after we have “suffered a while, we will be perfect, established, strengthened and settled” (1 Pet. 5:10).  Paul eloquently witnessed to the value of his many suffering experiences and the future reward of his obedience and faith: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

How we respond to suffering is a witness to the power of God and His sustaining Presence (The Holy Spirit) in our life.  It will result in His praise, honor, and glory (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Our suffering offers possibilities.  Possibilities is defined as “unspecified qualities of a promising nature”.  In Latin, possibilis means “able to be done.”  All things are possible, even in the midst of suffering, if we build our full reliance and trust in God.  Is anything, including our suffering, too hard for God? (Jer. 32:27)

Possibilities build our hope.  As Christ trusted Himself to His Father, so should we believers commit ourselves to our faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19).  He remains our strong tower and defense regardless of the challenges we face.  In addition, our hope is anchored in the firm expectation that we will reign in heaven with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12).   We are to fix our eyes on Christ and the future He has for us, even though we may suffer all kinds of trials in these present times (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Can any good come from suffering?

What would Joni Eareckson Tada say?  How would the Apostles Paul and Peter respond?  If we read their writings, we’d find they would answer yes.  Why would they respond in that manner?  Because they had developed the right theology of suffering.

That theology was not based on their current condition (suffering) but on their trust in God and their Kingdom worldview.  We are told that in everything we are to give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18).  That includes our suffering.  We know that in that suffering experience we are guaranteed the presence of God to sustain us and the exceeding promise of His glory, both now and in the future.

Next week, we will conclude our study on suffering by answering this question, “Where is God in suffering?”

Our Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 1

Our Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 1

Why suffering?

Pain and suffering have been themes for many great philosophers.  But when we enter a time of suffering, all the wisest speculation of the philosophers seeing empty and meaningless. We simply hurt.  And the mystery as to why we experience suffering often remains shrouded and hidden.

Beginning with Adam and Eve, human beings have suffered because of their wrong choices AND/OR because of the wrong choices and acts of others. As we shared earlier, suffering is the natural consequence of sin and therefore, an integral part of the human experience.

Biblical perspective of human suffering

Unlike the ancient Greek Stoics who viewed suffering as a man’s fate in an impersonal universe, the Bible affirms a world ordered by a personal God.

In the Old Testament suffering is set in the context of morality and the divine purpose. There is no hint of chance or fate. From a morality standpoint, suffering is a consequence of sin. God establishes a moral order in creation and retribution is metered out in life experiences.

Pain and suffering are concepts that draw attention to how human beings are affected by the tragedies of life. It is not the loss of a home or a loved one, nor physical agony, that seems devastating. It is how such an experience affects us within, causing doubts and fears and trembling as the pattern of our lives is shaken and our expectations fail.[1]

The prime Old Testament example of one who endured pain and suffering is Job. Although he was a person whom God Himself called blameless and upright (Job 1:8), he lost everything in a single day. However, even after Job was restored, there is no answer as to why he suffered.  But in this revelation, we see, it was Job’s faithfulness and trust that resulted in blessings that were even greater than before his loss (Job 42:12-17).

In the New Testament, we discover God’s attitude to suffering expressed in Jesus. Not only did God sympathize, sharing in our hurt and suffering, but God in Jesus even entered humanity and took on to Himself the full weight of sin (Heb. 2:14-18).  And with that weight came suffering.  Christ presents to us a model we can use to “embrace” suffering.  Jesus’ attitude reflected trust, obedience, patience, and hope.

So what are we to do?

Scripture offers no magic remedy when suffering surprises and overwhelms us. There is no verse to read that will instantly heal us or even dull our pain. Grasping what the Bible teaches us about suffering (and how to meet it) will not relieve it.  Nor will it release us from circumstances beyond our control.

However, the biblical perspective on suffering, will enable us to better cope and even to overcome those difficult times. The sufferings of the prophets, the apostles, and others, just like us, “reveal” the goodness and the greatness of Almighty God.

It reaffirms our trust in God and encourages us to “go deeper” in our relationship with Him.  While we may not understand the reason for our suffering, we as believers can be assured God is with us to both comfort and strengthen us.   The God of the mountains—our good times—is the same God of the valley—our times of suffering (1 Kin. 20:28).  It is in the valley that we rekindle our hope and trust in Him; that we will KNOW that He is our God!

Our theology of suffering

With every incident of pain and distress, we are continually “updating” our “theology of suffering”.  What did we learn about ourselves or about God in this experience?  Are we getting “bitter or better” in managing through suffering?  How are we responding?  With anger, fear, or trust?

The mystery as to “why” we experience suffering remains shrouded and hidden.   However, our best strategy and response is to develop a theology that draws its strength, faith, and hope from Eternal God.  Perhaps one day, in eternity, we will discover the purpose for our suffering.  But once we see Jesus, will it really matter?

More on suffering, its purpose, and possibilities, next week.

[1]   Encyclopedia of Bible Words, Zondervan Publishing House

Our Theology of Suffering: Where does it come from?

 

Our Theology of Suffering: Where did it come from?

Suffering is part of life

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but suffering is part of living in this fallen world.  Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As humans, we continually look for every possible way to either avoid suffering or move through suffering as quickly as possible.

As we discussed last week, Satan introduced sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16-19). Suffering is a natural consequence of sin.  However, we often direct our frustration, not at its source, sin, but instead we ask, “Why did God let this happen?”

However, if we look behind the pain, distress, or hardship, we will discover “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  These things make up “the world system” that is at enmity with God.    Take a moment and reflect on the latest sufferings.  Even the extreme weather can now be attributed to man’s abuse of the ecology.

Our theology shapes our view of suffering

Our theology of suffering is shaped by our understanding of who God is.  It is important to know who God is and conversely, who He is not.   While God IS all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present, God does not exist to act as our Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Batman—running from here and there stopping evil.

God is the rightful ruler and authority over His universe (Col. 1:16). His divine plan of salvation and redemption of mankind is constantly at work.  God is the sure foundation on which we can stand in times of uncertainty and times of suffering (Hab. 3:17-19).

Our trust in God shapes our view of suffering

Trust in God is another key factor that shapes our theology of suffering.  In review of the biblical record, there are many incidents of suffering—pain, distress, or hardship.  Incidents which required the Lord God to show Himself strong on behalf of His people.  Sometimes God would remove the object of suffering.  More often, however, God allowed the suffering to continue to grow the believer’s trust and faith in Him (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

In his letters to the new churches, the Apostle Paul often spoke of the need to trust and believe God, regardless of their current suffering.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Rom. 8:28, NLT)  

 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Cor. 4:15-17, NLT) 

Our worldview shapes our view of suffering

Our worldview—our beliefs, values, and behavior—also influences how we view suffering.  Many of us believe that we are in control of the events and circumstances in our life.  We go to great efforts to manage and manipulate those things, which we feel, are in our control.  That, however, isn’t always true. Remember COVID 19?

The Preacher (King Solomon) makes this assessment of “control” in Ecclesiastes 9:11. Regardless of personal capacity or ability—speed, strength, wisdom, cleverness, or skill, “time and chance” happens to us all.  Suffering nullifies both personal capacity and ability.

Believers operate from a different worldview.  We operate from God’s “Kingdom” worldview.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, though we “temporarily” reside on earth (Phil. 3:20).  This view acknowledges the reality of sin and suffering but offers an “alternate” response to the suffering we face.

The kingdom view recognizes that:

    • God always loves and cares for His children (Ps. 23).
    • God sovereignly rules over the universe (Ps. 103:19).
    • God is always with and for us (Gen. 28:15; Matt.28:20).

Holding this view, we are able to persevere and live confidently even amid suffering.

Conclusion

Suffering is a reality of living.  We will be better equipped to deal with suffering when our theology is correct.  It begins with: (1) the correct view of God, (2) placement of trust in the “right” Person (The Triune God), and (3) an “eternal” Kingdom worldview.

Next week we will look at suffering:  its purpose and possibilities.