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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.

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

No suffering please

How do you feel about suffering? What are your beliefs about its cause and effect?  Its purpose and possibilities.  I, for one, am not volunteering for any unnecessary pain.  However, if it hasn’t become evident at this point in our life, suffering is part of our journey as human beings.

Suffering was not part of God’s original divine plan.  However, Satan’s introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden resulted in its creation (Gen. 3:16-19).  As humans, we continually look for every possible way to avoid suffering.  And if we can’t avoid it, we try to move through suffering as quickly as possible.

That’s why it is important for our spiritual growth and development to understand the what and why of suffering.  This includes learning to best strengthen our resolve and focus when suffering occurs.  Because “I guarantee you” that we all will suffer in the future.  But the question is, what is your response to suffering?  How well do you manage your pain?

What is suffering?

Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As we look around, we might conclude that we are living in a continual state of suffering.

Pain, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional is evident in our society by the number of individuals seeking relief through food, drugs, and alcohol.  Distress is extreme anxiety and sorrow.

Anxiety disorder is the class of mental disorder in which anxiety is the predominant feature. This disorder, an illness characterized by constant and boundless worry that interferes with the daily life, is the most common psychiatric illness in the United States, affecting 40 million American adults.[1]

Hardship (deprivation) is caused by any number of reasons:  acts of nature resulting in loss of life and property or man-made (political/social/economic agendas and policies).  Hardship presents itself in the growth of the lower economic class, which is one-third of where Americans are today.

The lower economic class, also known as the working class, is the socio-economic group with the least income. They are often categorized as families whose income falls below poverty line. These are the people who live hand to mouth, or paycheck to paycheck. They barely earn enough to cover their expenses and a huge expense often sends them into debt.[2]

What do we learn from the definition of suffering?  Suffering affects more than our physical well-being.  Suffering is not just episodic.  It occurs more frequently and “routinely” than we want to admit.  We have, unfortunately, accepted it as “part of life”.  And to some degree it is part of life BUT how we respond and manage it, makes the difference between successful living and thriving OR stressful living and surviving.

Pain management

When we experience pain that cannot be alleviated with medication, surgery, or rehabilitation, our physician will often prescribe pain management treatment.  The intent is to teach us strategies which will help us maintain control or influence over our pain.  This might include for example, breathing techniques or mindfulness-based therapies.

Key to successful pain management treatment is the realization that the pain will not be eliminated, however, we can exercise control over the degree the pain will hinder or disrupt our life.

For believers, our pain management for suffering lies with our knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord (2 Pet. 1: 3-4).  Since we live in a fallen world, suffering will continue.  However, armed with knowledge of God, we can live confidently, trusting in His goodness and His greatness (Ps. 27:1-3).

This is especially true during difficult times—times of suffering—when fear and doubt challenge our faith.  When this happens, we can stand firmly on what we know about God and those things which He has revealed to us as His children (Rom. 8:17).

Knowing these things can not only help us better respond to the suffering happening in our life but also react appropriately to the disruptions in the world around us.  How we respond to things revealed become the entry point for God to provide His power, His provision, and His presence.

Next week, we will continue to discuss and develop our theology on suffering.

[1] Pew Research Center

[2] Ibid

 

When Life Happens

 

When Life Happens

How was your day?

You rush to the bank to make that critical deposit on Friday afternoon.  Your watch shows you have five minutes before closing.  As you pull up to the bank window; instead of the teller, you see the “closed” sign.  Your watch evidently was running slower than you knew.  Life happens!

You go for your annual mammogram examination.  The technician finishes with a smile and a promise to be right back.  She leaves to share your pictures with the attending physician.  She returns and somberly informs you that after dressing, the physician would like to meet with you.  Life happens!

Majoring in misfortune?

From minor irritations to upsetting reports, life happens.  These interruptions catch us unprepared for the inevitable. They are unexpected and usually, unfavorable circumstances that come to take “the wind out of our proverbial sail.”

In Ecclesiastes 9:11, The Preacher (King Solomon) makes the assessment that regardless of personal capacity or ability—speed, strength, wisdom, cleverness or skill, life happens.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He uses two words, time and chance, to create a figure of speech that represents “life happens moments”—we call it misfortune      (Ecc. 9:11b).  Misfortune nullifies both personal capacity and ability.  No one is exempt from misfortune.  We all have our day when it gains our full attention.

What is our response?

What is our response to misfortune?  “Why me?” We try to do the right thing, make the appropriate preparation, and make the best choices based on “what we know at the time.” So what happened? Life happened.

As inhabitants of fallen world, we are not immune to the affects and experiences which life presents. But while believers live “in the world”, we do not have to respond as the world when life happen moments occur.

A better way!

I’d like to recommend 3R’s that will help us manage life’s misfortune.

#1. REMEMBER our position. We are not our misfortune. Our hope and security lies in our position in Christ Jesus. In Christ, we are heirs of God and therefore, the object of His love. Therefore, in spite of misfortune, we stand firm on God’s promises and His power (Eph. 1:19).

#2. REFRAME our situation. We are not blind to misfortune but we know who controls all circumstances. Nothing happens to us that does not first pass God’s examination. Reframing begins with accepting God’s sovereign rule over our lives (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

#3. RECAST our response.  Recasting is accomplished by trusting God and looking for ways to transform misfortune into opportunities that enrich our spiritual life. These opportunities may be more time in personal witnessing, intercessory prayer, fasting, and Bible meditation.    We respond with confidence times of misfortune because we are assured of who will be with us until the end (1 John 4:4).

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to memory a time when “life happened” to you.  How did you respond?  Using the three (3) principles listed in today’s teaching, journal how that moment or situation can now be understood differently.  Feel free to share your thoughts.

The next time you have a “life happens moment”, read Ecclesiastes 9:11. Better yet, commit to memorizing this scripture for future reference. Why? Because life happens!

Where’s the light?

Where’s the light?

This is the panicky question young children ask their parents as they enter a dark room.  They are concerned in knowing where the light can be found.

Similarly, “Where is God?” is the panicky question we ask as we see our “secure” world coming unraveled before our very eyes.

Jesus is the Light

I know my last few WordBytes have centered around a song.  Guess what?  I have a new song for you this week.  It is a familiar song typically (but not exclusively) sung during Christmas as we celebrate the advent of Jesus into this darkened world.

We’ll walk in the light, Beautiful Light,

Come where the dew drops of mercy shine bright.

Shine all around me by day and by night.

Jesus, the Light of the world.   

Guess what?  Jesus is STILL the Light of the world 365 days of the year!

Light that dispels the darkness

Even amid the darkness cast upon our world and our environment, nothing can extinguish the brightness that Jesus offers to “penetrate” the darkness.  Why do I say that?  Examine the historic evidence in the biblical record.

In the Old Testament, we first meet Jesus as part of the Holy Trinity that entered the “earth without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, let there be light; and there was light.” (Gen. 1:2-3) In Creation, God’s light entered the physical realm.     

In deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt, the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud by day to guide them; by night, He provided a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Exod. 12:21-22).  In Deliverance, God’s light showed the way.

In the New Testament, God sent the consummate Light in Jesus Christ.  The Gospels give evidence of Jesus as the True Light.  The Apostle John introduces Jesus in these terms in John 1:4-5, 9.

 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

Jesus was the Light that would shine on our souls and redeem us from the darkness:  the bondage of Satan, and the deceitfulness of sin.

Our Journey through Darkness

Our life is perhaps a consummate example of how Jesus penetrates the darkness that rises in our life.  Take time right now and reflect on when there seemed to be no answer to a problem or a solution for a particular situation.  Nothing but darkness!  It may have risen externally, by way of personal danger, family illness, or financial struggle.

Do we ever take time to reflect on not only, how we made it through, but more importantly, who brought us through the darkness?  That’s why I journal, because it records the “dark places” in my life and how Jesus provided the light I needed to see.  It also captures the scripture that the Holy Spirit shared to burst through the darkness that seemed to hem me in.

One of my “light” scriptures was given to me while experiencing my mother’s transition.  It was Psalms 138:3.

In the day when I cried, thou answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul.  

Another came from Habakkuk 3: 19:

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.

In my dark places and in my tight spaces, Jesus has been and will always be my Light.

Walk in the Light

Today, we don’t have to stay in darkness.  We must be careful not to be deceived in believing that the answers to our world and personal problems (darkness) can be found in power, money, nor political affiliation.  Have they produced the light we need for joy, peace, and contentment?  Why not?  Because darkness cannot create light!

Let us come out of the darkness and walk in the marvelous light that God has given us through Jesus our Lord and Savior (1 Pet. 2:9).  Walk in the beautiful Light.  JESUS IS the Light of the world.

What’s Going On?

What's going on?

What’s going on?

One of my favorite songs (past and present) is by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye.

It was released on May 21, 1971, by Motown Records.  The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent (Mercy, Mercy Me).[1]

As I look around our nation and world, I ask the same question. What’s going on?  And I even ask where is God in all this confusion?  And why doesn’t God intervene?  Such was the case with the prophet Habakkuk as he looked upon the nation of Judah.

The consequence of sin

The prophetic book of Habakkuk shares the dialogue between a “gracious God” and an “anxious prophet”.  As is true with both the major and minor prophets, we are given great insight as to how a holy God deals with an unholy and rebellious nation.

Although the nation of Judah was God’s “covenant people” (Deut. 7:7), God was now prepared to meter punishment on them like they had never experienced. The prophet Habakkuk has been chosen for “such a time as this”—a time when time has runout!

Judah was guilty of extraordinary sins.  Habakkuk inquired of God how long He would allow the wickedness of Judah to go unpunished.  They would not go unpunished.  God would use the nation of Babylon as His “chastening rod”.

We often think that our wrong behavior is not being seen by others.  While that may be true for a moment, the fact is, God sees!  What is done in the dark, will always come to light (Luke 8:17).  Many of our ousted elected officials and fallen religious leaders can attest to that truth.  However, there are always consequences for sin and it’s usually not good.

The cost of sin

God lists for Habakkuk the sins of Judah in five (5) “woes”.  God “had” indeed taken notice of Judah’s crimes (Hab. 2:5-20).  They included:

      • greed and aggression (vv. 5-8)
      • exploitation and extortion (vv. 9-11)
      • violence (vv. 12-14)
      • immorality (vv. 15-17)
      • idolatry (vv. 18-20)

We live in a world like Judah.  Look at the woes!  We sin both individually and collectively, as a nation.  God’s standard for righteous living has not changed (Micah 6:8; Mal. 3:6). Does God see what we’re doing?  Of course, He does (Ps. 33:13-14; Ps. 139:8-12).  The question is, are we willing to deal with the consequences of our sins?  Are we willing to accept the cost?

The cost is being realized as we see the immediate impact sin has on our children, our families, and our communities.

    • The hungry. Hunger is a very real issue for 12% or 41 million people in the United States.
    • The homeless. Why are people homeless? Because of “lack”!  Lack of affordable housing, income, employment opportunities, and healthcare.
    • The abused. Domestic violence.  Sexual abuse.  Human trafficking.

But what do these impacts have to do with sin?  Re-read the “five woes” and see how they fit in our 21st century culture.  If we are not guilty by “commission”, perhaps we are culpable by “omission”—by what we don’t do to make life better for others (Prov. 3:27).

The just shall live by faith

Although God’s judgment was hard for Habakkuk to accept, he recognized the only “proper response” in the midst of this dilemma.  He was “to live by faith, not by sight” (Hab. 2:4).

As we look at the world we live in, it is easy to be disillusioned and in despair.  Just like Habakkuk, we may question how long God will tolerate sinful and evil behavior from both individuals and nations.

Regardless of who sits in the White House or State House, we as believers in Christ are to do our part to speak truth and justice.  We are to engage in our world to represent Jesus as He ensures God’s will is accomplished (2 Cor. 5:15).  We are to live by faith.

Like Habakkuk, we have an ordained purpose to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).  We are to pursue our purpose trusting that God sees and is always in control.  He is constantly, through every historic event moving us to His divine plan of salvation for mankind.

Knowing that, our purpose should not focus on our personal agendas.  But instead let us join God in His plan.  Like Habakkuk and Esther and all those who have gone before us, we were created for such a time as this.  Let us not be in despair but let us “go forth” in the strength of the Lord (Ps. 71:16).

[1] Wikipedia

What is God revealing?

 

Revealing Hidden Things

As stated last week, secret things belong to God.  Revealed things, however, belong to us and to our children so that we may follow God’s law.  They are truths which God has communicated through the Bible and His Holy Spirit. These also include those things revealed through the whole counsel of God.

This truth, found in Deuteronomy 29:29, falls in the fourth address to the children of Israel by Moses.  It is a summary of the covenant demands and an appeal for covenant obedience (Deut. 29:2-29).

For the Israelites, the secret things of the LORD probably referred to future details that God had not revealed to Moses.  Yet what He had revealed (e.g., future judgment for disobedience, future blessing for obedience, His requirement for holiness, etc.) was enough to encourage the Israelites to follow all the words of the Law.[1]  

Is God’s revealed truth enough to encourage 21st century believers to trust and obey the LORD?  To answer this question, let’s consider four (4) tenets of faith currently revealed by God in His Word and through His Spirit.

These are not meant to be exhaustive, but have proven to anchor one’s faith during tumultuous times (Heb. 6:19).  As we look at our current world situation, it is easy to become weary.  Hopefully, these revealed truths will encourage us not to “lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).

What has God revealed?

Our Knowledge of Him (2 Pet. 1:3-5).  Jesus came not only to acquire our salvation but to also manifest (reveal) the Father’s name (nature) to His children (John 17:6; 26).  Armed with that knowledge, we believers have access to divine power and precious promises.  God has also provided us with spiritual wisdom and insight through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

Our Identity (Eph. 1:3-4). Identity is defined as the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognized or known.   God chose us to be adopted as sons, heirs and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Our identity also connects us with other believers in God’s universal Church.  Because of our identity we have access to everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and His kingdom. (Eph. 2:10)

 Our Salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are new creatures in Christ.  Because of Christ’s substitutional death on the Cross, we have been set free from the penalty and power of sin in our life.  This freedom will be fully experienced once in heaven where we will be delivered from the presence of sin (Rev. 21:4).

Our Hope (Rom. 4:18-21).  Hope is simply defined as the expectation of future good.   “Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world’s definition of hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen.”[2]

What keeps us from trusting what God has revealed?

One reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we fail to recognize it.   In the 2020 Barna study, Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith”, it is noted that there are fewer “faith engagements” occurring among both believers and non-believers.  These include Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance.  These activities are critical to gaining an understanding of what God has revealed in the past and what God is revealing in the present.

The U.S. population is undergoing major religious, social, demographic and digital change. The rise of digital life, including social media, the economic crisis, changing attitudes about social issues and the emergence of younger generations on the scene are some of the factors that are likely to form undercurrents recalibrating Americans’ connection to faith and to Christianity.

Another reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we choose not to believe.  One’s disbelief may be tied to the feeling that religion and the Bible are no longer relevant to 21st century living.  Such beliefs are not new.  The Apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-5).   People are choosing other forms of spirituality that “better accommodate” their chosen life style and worldview.

Finally, we may not trust what God is revealing because we choose not to obey God.  Have you ever noticed that when a person is auguring over a specific teaching from the Bible, it is often connected to a personal obedience challenge they are facing in their life?  Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God would want and then seeking that outcome.

So where do we go from here?

As we discover things revealed (and the list is infinite), we gain access the very mind of God (Rom. 11:33-36).  Things revealed may be answers to those persistent questions concerning God’s purpose for our life.  Our receptivity to things revealed may be our entry to God’s power, presence, and provision.

Our life and the current challenges of 21st century living may seem impossible, but with God’s grace and favor, nothing is impossible.   In the midst of this health pandemic, strained human rights, and cries for human justice, we need only to seek Him in the things revealed.

[1]  The Bible Knowledge Commentary , Old Testament

[2]  Holman Bible Dictionary

What I Learned in 2021

Where to Begin

In past years when I did this exercise, I would go to several sources for input.  This includes my daily journal, and scripture memorization cards.  They were reminders of the paths I walked with Jesus throughout the year.

My journal included my thoughts during my time of inquiry of the Lord.  Bits and pieces of this and that:  theologian quotes, bible study notes and miscellaneous thoughts about life and the world I live in. Topics that caught my attention, would later become personal studies, WordBytes or Morning Reflections.

My scripture memorization cards, with date recorded at the top, would remind me of how the Spirit renews my mind with God’s Word.  His Word would prove to either strengthen my heart or tell again of God’s inexhaustible grace: grace that covers my human weakness and brokenness.  It most often than not encouraged me to be more patient and longsuffering.

As I reviewed my information, I came to this realization.  It is vital that believers continually develop a personal relationship with God.  Not religion but relationship.  It should be our goal to be “intimately connected” with the Lord.

Relationship with God

God has always desired to be in relationship with man.  Adam was first to experience the joy and freedom of an intimate connection with God.  Imagine daily walking and talking with God about the events of the day, your hopes, and fears, and hearing His plan for your life.  Guess what?  We can experience that in our life right now!

Today we, as believers in Christ, have continuous access to that same intimacy Adam experienced in the Garden but with even greater privilege.  We have His Presence, through the Holy Spirit living within us (John 14:16-17).

As I read God’s Word, pray, and exercise the different spiritual disciplines, I become one with Him.  Jesus invited His disciples to abide in Him (John 15:4).  That invitation is extended to us today.

F.B. Meyer writes about the privilege of being one in Christ and the intimacy that comes with that relationship.

We must be one with Christ: we must be in Him as the sponge is in the ocean.  We must be in Him, not only in our standing, but also in our daily walk.  We must be in Him as the branch is in the vine and the vine-sap in the branch.  This must not only be in theory, but an hourly experience.

My 2021 Epiphany

I became a Christian when I was nine-years old.  I bought the “fire insurance” and knew I wasn’t going to hell.  However, as I grew older, I still didn’t feel the connection I thought believers were supposed to have.  Although I went to church weekly and served in various church functions, something was missing.

I was a carnal Christian until I was 40.  Then something happened.  I rededicated my life to Christ.  No more “hooky pokey” Christian life for me.  What happened?  Why the change?

A student from my Senior High Sunday School class had chosen to become a minister.  We were excited to welcome him back to his home church where he was to bring the Sunday morning message.

This was especially exciting for me in that, as a teenager, he hated to review the lesson on behalf of our class.  He would grumble and groan and swear never to come back to Sunday School if I made him do it.  He eventually agreed to my request.

In his morning sermon, he shared his personal witness of how his intimacy with God led him into ministry.  It had nothing to do with my teaching or my coaxing him to review.  He found what it meant to be IN RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.  It wasn’t religion.  It was relationship.

That was it for me.  My Sunday School student helped me understand what it meant to have a “personal relationship” with God.  So even today I seek a deeper and closer relationship with Jesus.  And every day with Jesus is “sweeter than the day before”.

Go deeper in 2022

Most interesting about my epiphany is that Jesus just recently revealed this memory to me.  Why now?  I don’t know.  Maybe He felt it was time to share it with you.

Daily we have the opportunity to practice His presence as we daily address the challenges of 21st century living.  In God’s presence we experience His love, power, and wisdom.   As we go deeper in our relationship with God, we can better understand His ways and see with spiritual eyes.

Let us deepen our trust in Him.  When we do, we aren’t shaken by the latest news stories or the challenges we face in 2022 and beyond.  We know whose in control!

As members of God’s family there is nothing that can separate us from His love.  And we have the blessed assurance that our relationship with God will extend into and throughout eternity.

I invite you this year to go deeper in your relationship with God.  Become “like the sponge in the ocean”.  Live and abide in Him.

No extra reading this week so please share with us what you learned in 2021.  Thanks for reading.