Does God’s grace prevent suffering?

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Psalm 112: 6 – 8 …the righteous will never be moved……he is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady;he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.

One Christian sister received the good news of a recovered wallet. Another learned that her 83-year-old mom had been severely beaten by a man who broke into her house.

I paused when I read the second account in our church’s Facebook women’s group. What do I make of that?  How do I make sense of the gift of grace to one and the frightening violence done to the other’s elderly mother?  I put myself in the place of both gals, the relief of one and the horrifying shock of the other.

This is difficult for believers, let alone those with no or other spiritual beliefs. But I’m not addressing what non-Christians might think in this post.  I do know that everyone tries to make sense of evil and violence. Only Christians have a coherent framework, thanks to the one and only Living God. We don’t purport to understand everything God does, but we do know his character and his will for the world. And we have his promises.

This morning’s psalm brought back the two situations and gave me some help.   That little word ‘until’ implies waiting, a time lapse.  Evil happens to the righteous as well as the unrighteous.  King Ahab’s wife Jezebel not only stole Naboth’s rightful portion allotted him by the Lord, she organized trumped-up lies against this righteous man of God and murder by stoning. All because her sulking husband couldn’t convince Naboth to sell him his garden.

When did Naboth and his family receive justice?  It is yet to occur.  When Ahab and Jezebel face the judge of the universe, they will pay.

Back to beating up an aging mom, what about her and her vindication?  When will that perpetrator pay?  Either Jesus has already suffered for the guilty man if he turns to Christ before he dies, or he will be punished when Jesus comes again. 

Either way, that word ‘until’ still prevails. 

I don’t know why the Lord treated one gal so gently and the other so painfully.  I DO know that He is good and his ways are not our ways.  I have to keep my mouth shut and trust Him.

What is the meaning of life?

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UVa

Traipsing wearily across the grounds of ‘The University‘, as those affiliated with Mr Jefferson’s proudest legacy like to refer to UVa, I was lost in existential thought.  Not unusual for a 20 year-old with too much time on her hands.  What was the meaning of life?  Why was I here?  Where was I headed? Why was I so unhappy?

“Smile!” chirped the startling and uninvited voice of the stranger who passed me by.  I felt like snarling, “I wasn’t frowning! and what’s it to you!” Non-plussed, I said nothing.

Those at the beginning of adulthood share the propensity to seek meaning with two other cohorts – those in midlife and those approaching death.  It’s then that one has time to think about what’s important.

I remember flirting with those issues a few years ago as I was nearing 50.  One mom whose last daughter was about to leave my school where I taught dealt with that approaching emptiness by outfitting and equipping a new house with fancy décor. This was the temporary diversion she had found to put off those nagging questions that matter.  She didn’t need a larger house now that she was soon to be an empty nester.  And as an example of a man approaching death, I have only to look at my dad.  The more his body betrayed him, the more earnestly he sought to insure that we wouldn’t forget him or his accomplishments.  He commissioned self-portraits and published chronicles of past exploits, gifting all his family members.

Recently I’ve been thanking God for one of His benefits that provides me with daily comfort and assurance. It’s one that I had almost taken for granted.  Paul’s shorthand statement sums it up:

Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

If the 2nd half is clear, (when we die, we get to be with Jesus face to face if we have been redeemed by Him), the first half is cryptic.

But it’s not THAT difficult to flesh out.  A Christian is someone who can now see, thanks to God removing the blinders. And what is it that we see?

Was blind, but now see

 

 

For one, we see the big picture of life (aka – the ‘meaning of life’), that is:

  • who created the universe
  • why we were created, our purpose
  • someone IS in control and the universe is not subject to random chance
  • there is TRUTH and it consists not just in principles but in a person who embodies truth
  • despite much evil in this world, one day justice WILL HAVE its day in court; there will be an accounting.

Spoiler alert

 

 

 

 

What will be the nature of this accounting?  Every one of us perpetrators of evil (whether we’re the proverbial little ‘ole lady or an Isis member, or the ordinary sinner who lies, steals, covets, envies, gossips) will either pay for our own deeds or know and be thankful that Jesus suffered in our place as a substitute.

Thanks to Truth, I walk around every day KNOWING that all authority is in God’s hands.  When I meditate on God’s promises in the early morning and look up at the stars, I thank Jesus that He is holding each one of them in their place by His breath and the power of His word.  I don’t have to guess what my purpose is for the day.  I don’t have to wonder what will happen to me when I die.  I don’t have to struggle to reconcile how a supposed loving God can allow all manner of pain and suffering to happen in the world.

Why

 

 

 

God doesn’t reveal to me the purposes behind allowing every bad thing, but I know that He is 100 % in control and that He is a good God and that I can trust Him when He says He works even ‘this’ for the ultimate good of those of us He has called and given the ability to love Him.  That is enough for me.

So back to the part of Paul’s verse that sums up my peace.  The way to live this toilsome, troubling, sometimes terrifying, sometimes terrific life on earth is to center on Jesus, the risen and living Son of God.  He gives me all I need for life, for walking step by step through each day with purpose, peace and provisions, as I need them.

Even though I want to SEE with my eyes the provisions laid up for me, I have to remind myself that He calls me to walk with my eyes of faith (that He has provided).

This gift of KNOWING, of having the Big Picture, of being held securely through a Biblical Worldview is a blessing worth more than treasure can buy.  (Just think of countless quests and books penned.)

To Live is Christ

And to set forth that worldview or ‘Meaning of Life’, Paul dictated ‘to live is Christ’.  It is a handy way of communicating that Jesus Christ is our God, is our Creator, is our Savior, is our Righteousness, is our Wisdom, is our Intercessor, is our Brother, is our Provider, is our Ezer (helper), is our Comforter, is our Protection, is THE Explanation for all that is and ever will be.  Whew!  That is enough for me.

One little insight – one big release

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cricizing others

 

 

 

 

John 21: 21-22 

(Speaking of the disciple John…) when Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Mathew 7: 2 

..because the way that you judge others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by the standard with which you evaluate others.

**

For several years now, I have felt judged and found wanting by a person close to me. That is NOT a fun feeling.  As a result, I have kind of gone on the offensive, seeking to please this person to get on her good side.  Call it depositing brownie points in anticipation of the next time when I fail to meet her standards.

I have struggled with these negative vibrations/feelings:  ranging in thinking that they pointed to a real deficiency in me to deciding that they were groundless; that maybe indeed I had just imagined them!  Nonetheless, the feelings have kept me from relaxing around her and from feeling that being myself was NOT enough or allowed.  Like I always had to be on my best behavior.  Can you relate?

But the other day, I learned something….or rather observed something that freed me from this unequal balance.  I heard HER lament out loud the very deficiency for which I have felt blamed all these years. And suddenly I understood that SHE was the one imprisoned in a world of ‘guilt and shoulds’.  What I had perceived as a criticism of ME was the shadow of the heap of guilt and judgment she laid daily on herself. Suddenly I felt compassion for her and liberation for me.

Hard on yourself

 

 

 

 

Now I know more clearly how to pray for this friend. And…

I wonder whom I myself have burdened with an unfair judgment that is really a projection of a SELF-judgment!

Fraud and Freedom

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What if we could take off the mask and let the world see us for who we really are?

Fraud - 23 Feb 2014

None of us is truly transparent.  We present our best foot forward and then go on the defensive when called on our less than accurate self- projection.

I heard the story told of an older pastor who had given a talk at a PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) conference.  A young serious pastor approached him after his delivery and said that he had been much ‘grieved’ by both his attitude and his talk.  The mature man nonchalantly acknowledged his comment but didn’t say anything else.  The earnest young man continued with something like: ‘You shouldn’t be teaching those things in that way!’   Again….the bait wasn’t swallowed.

Finally the exasperated mininster sputtered, “Well, don’t you want to know what I think of you!?”

“Not really,” came the response, ” but if you really feel you have to tell me, I’ll listen…for about 15 seconds!”

At that invitation, our young man spit out, ” You’re ARROGANT, SMUG and WRONG!”

The calm older man looked at him in the eye and said one word – “Bingo!”  Then he continued, “You’re right, but you should have seen me 5 years ago!  I’m a lot better now, thanks be to God!”

Bingo - 23 Feb

**

Can you imagine how free you would feel not to have to pretend, project or protect?  No reputation to be maintained….no persona to nourish…no posturing to keep up?  Just safe and secure knowing that you’re chosen by God, loved by God and being sanctified by God.  And since God knows everything and it’s HIS opinion that counts, you wouldn’t have to care what others would think.

I can SEE that and TASTE that…but I am not there yet.  But, boy, do I sure want to swim in THAT ocean of freedom and grace.

Dear Lord, translate this vision into something I can grasp and live in!

Grace upon Grace - 23 Feb 2014

Feeding on the Mere Gospel

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Three times and you’ve got my attention!

In the past month, I’ve heard 3 different people explain how the Gospel of Santa Claus is bad news.  It’s “works righteousness” – a merit system.

  • You have to be earn your presents
  • He’s watching you all the time to catch you being naughty or nice
  • You never know if you’ve been ‘good-enough’
  • Santa assumes that you actually have the power to be good, which is highly debatable
  • He only visits once a year and you don’t even get to see him, or be with him.
  • The gifts you receive aren’t long-lasting

But the Good News for Christians is different:

  • We can know why we exist – the Happy and GOOD God-head of Father, Son and Spirit chose to create man, to partake in the divine joy
  • God keeps reminding us that we can’t earn our standing with Him.  There’s nothing to do but receive
  • Despite our bent to being rebels and our desire to replace God with ourselves as # 1,  God put into place a plan to save us
  • God himself chose to be as one of us, to identify more closely with our humanity
  • Jesus absorbed God’s wrath directed at us, so we don’t have to go to Hell
  • Jesus’ every righteous obedient thought and deed go into our ledger and result in a perfect score

(the answer is Yes!  – but not our own – they aren’t good enough to save us!)

So why do we choose the Santa Myth?

  • It’s easier, we think.  We get to be in control.
  • We really don’t want someone hanging around 24/7 reminding us of our deeds.
  • Legalism comes naturally.

What are the implications of these contradictory world views?

Two come to mind:

  • We have to drink in the Good News often.  That is – re-tell ourselves daily and even hourly, the Gospel truths.  Old Man thinking has us in a rut.  So as many counsel – Don’t listen to yourself; talk to yourself!  If you listen to your natural man’s running commentary, you’ll end up depressed and depressing to others.  You’ll be inclined to grumble and feel sorry for yourself.  And you’ll convince yourself that you’re just being realistic.
  • New thought for me (Thank you, John Piper)  – not only do we get forgiveness and reconciliation with God based on what Jesus has done, but something else.  His death on the cross purchased for us – ALL the promises in the Bible.   2 Cor 1:20 states –For as many as are the promises of God, in Him (Christ)  they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

So, next time you’re feeling worried, anxious, depressed, powerless, stuck, frazzled, frightened or bored, remind yourself that those states don’t have to be permanent.  Jesus died so that you COULD enjoy joy, peace, love, power and gratitude.

Question:  What Gospel Truth do you need to hear each day?  What’s your go-to Promise?

Don’t judge me!!!

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If you asked the typical man or woman on the street if they know a single Bible verse, what do you think it would be?

Everyone, Christian or not, would shout out:  Judge not, lest you be judged!  And they would probably jab it at you as if to stop your agenda cold before you could even protest that you have no agenda.

Judging is a funny word – it’s one of those equivocal terms. That is to say, the term refers to more than one concept and the concepts are VERY different.

So when someone asserts that we are NOT to judge, we must gently ask them to which verse they are referring.  Then we must inquire of its context as well as what they think the scripture writers meant by ‘judge’.  For starters, what’s wrong with BEING judged?

Here’s the verse that they probably have in mind.  It comes from Jesus’ instructions about the Law taught on that famous mountain (Matthew, chapter 7, verses 1 to 5):   

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Now that’s funny.  Apparently it’s OKAY to judge once you have first dealt with your own sin. And the idealized judging is actually ‘life-enhancing’ to the other person, for who wants to walk around with eye specks?  They hurt!

But I mentioned that judging is an equivocal term.  Obviously it can mean to “put down or belittle in order to mock or hurt someone”. But the other concept it refers to is a type of righteous evaluation that promotes welfare of both the community and the one being inspected.   Here are a few verses where we encounter THAT kind of judgment:

  • Proverbs 31:9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
  • 1 Cor 2:15 – The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.
  • Gal 6:1 – Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
  • 1 Cor 6 : 1-6 – When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, …
  • Lev 19:15 – You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
  • 1 Cor 5:12-13 – For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
  • John 7:24 – Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

So, next time someone tries to Bible-bash you to induce you to change your opinion, take a deep breath and gently ask your interlocutor some gentle but thought-provoking questions.   As Christians, we ARE called to judge.  And there is a correct way to do so.

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