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.

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.

The Logic of Massive Wrath or Massive Rescue

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There is a fallacy in logic called Bifurcation, – the Either/ Or Argument.  It goes like this:  “Mom says that I must choose an in-state school if I want her to pay for college.  I guess that means I have to go to either Thomas Nelson Community College or the University of Virginia.  I don’t want to go to a rinky-dink school and I probably won’t get into UVa.  I’m doomed!

This high school senior has purposefully and unnecessarily limited her choice to between 2 options unacceptable to her.   People indulge in this form of fallacious reasoning usually to make someone look bad.   In this case, she wants to paint her mom as being unfair.

But in the case of eternal life, there TRULY are only two options.  And they are as different from one another as night and day, war and peace, life and death.

Today in church, our pastor preached from Hebrews 10: 19-39.  We’ve been making our way through the book of Hebrews.  I have always viewed this New Testament book as the most difficult in the entire Bible.  But it is slowly but surely becoming my favorite.  Although the author is unknown, I think Paul deserves the honor – or at least someone who shares his excellent writing and thinking skills.  As in Ephesians 1 or Romans 8, each phrase leads to the next in tight logical fashion that makes it a pleasure to follow.

Here is what I took away from today’s sermon that filled me with awe:

  • Every sin we commit (by not loving God with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul) requires the death of someone.  In the OT, God provided His people, the Jews, a system whereby animals died in the place of sinful people.  Pete, our pastor, made the point that before Christ’s death on the cross people were NOT saved because they obeyed the law.  They were saved because they believed God when He said that He would expiate or cover their sin with the blood of an acceptable animal, a live spotless creature slaughtered in their place!!!  To the degree they believed God, they were saved.
  •  When Christ died on the cross, there was no longer any need for animal sacrifices to reconcile people to God.  Christ IS the once and for all sacrifice sufficient for all those who trust Him.
  • Jews today have a SERIOUS problem – what to do with their guilt!  The celebration/ceremony of Yom Kippur does nothing to take away their sin.  No blood is shed.  And even if temple sacrifice were still practiced & animals were slaughtered to ransom each person, the shed blood wouldn’t count since Jesus has come and made obsolete the previous method.  God declares through Paul in Romans 10:4 that Christ is the end (completion/fulfillment) of the (sacrificial) law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  (my emphases in parentheses)
  • My overwhelming thought as we moved from Pete’s sermon into Communion was this:  There are only 2 realities in life that matter.  And they loom more massively and breathtakingly than I ever realized:

On one side hovers                                                           On the other side shines forth

Everlasting Destruction              vs                          The most creative BLOW- 

& Judgment                                                                          -your- MIND Rescue Operation

For everyone on earth                                                  Sufficient for Repentant Rebels

 

There is no other option, no 3rd way.  This description of reality does NOT commit the fallacy of bifurcation or false dilemma.

When we diminish our sin and guilt as in this hypothetical but fairly typical rationalization,

(sure I have ugly thoughts about people from time to time, and sure I have blown my cool and taken out my frustration on the kids or other drivers and sure I have taken office pens and hidden taxable income, and maybe I even had an affair behind my spouse’s back, or still indulge in occasional unhealthy coping mechanisms…….BUT I’m no worse than the average person)

we minimize what God means when He calls us to be holy and perfect as He is. Moreover, it follows, then, that we diminish the merits of Christ’s sacrifice and perfectly-lived life available to be applied to OUR account.

In conclusion – we have a big problem.  And we can’t help ourselves.  As much as we resist being helpless and NOT in control, we live in God’s world.  Jesus is the only savior, the only rescuer.  That’s not fair, you say?  Fair is that we all get what we deserve.  And no one deserves heaven.  But mercifully God has made a way. Something is true whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not.  Wake up and THINK!!!  Make a rational, logical decision based on the evidence.

Final thoughts worth praying on –

Acts 4:12 – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

I am so grateful to God for providing us Jesus…..

Rev 1:5… who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,

 

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