Monday, April 24, 2006

Quote of the week...

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
-Jim Elliot

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The goodness of God from an eternal perspective

This is in response to Danny's post to me.

I believe that you are saying that you have a problem with the idea of God using suffering and especially sickness to accomplish His purposes in someone's life.
You specifically refer to Romans chapter 8 that says that the goodness of God leads men to repentance.

There are many places in scripture that I can point to that indicate that God uses violence, disease, famine, pestilence, and many other forces to accomplish His purposes. Sometimes they are an attempt to cause the individuals suffering to consider that God is bringing this on them, and they should, therefore, recognize this and turn from the behavior and attitude that is causing God's judgment to come upon them. In Job 33 Elihu, sort of considered the "wisest voice" in the book of Job, makes these statements, "vs. 18 he(God) keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain: so that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat.......vs.28- He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his sould from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living."

Other times the suffering is to benefit the onlooker. God knows that the persons experiencing the judgment will not turn, but He knows that it will be made clear to some looking on that these people had this happen because of their sin, and they will choose not to make the same choices.

Sometimes what may appear to be a harsh blow allowed by God is actually an act of mercy on His part. Isaiah 57 begins by saying, "The righteous perish, and no man layeth it to heart and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness."

At times suffering is simply judgment. God has had enough and will choose to punish those who have been pleaded with, warned, warned some more, and yet continue to act in ways that are flagrantly sinful. Ezekiel 14:13-14 says, "Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God."

Your analogy of the Dr. Frankenstein-like father (see jo mama's comments on previous post for those of you who do not know what I'm talking about) is perhaps where I should focus the rest of this post. If I am understanding what you were trying to say with that comment, I am guessing, because of our previous conversations about doctrines with their origin in the Word of Faith movement, that you are referring to whether it makes sense for God to choose to allow His people (Christians) to be sick. Perhaps a more accurate way of expressing from your point of view would be, "Is it the will of God that a Christian be sick?"

Okie Dokie. I suppose it depends on what you mean by the question. Does God play with our immune systems in the perverted and jaded way that you described in your comments? Of course not! However, if you believe that by being Christians we are somehow able to bypass all potential for sickness because Jesus is like a get out of sickness card in some cosmic game of monopoly, then to that I also say, "Of course not!"

First, what will you do with I Corinthians 11:28-32, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world."

I know that the scriptures teach that, "... by his stripes we are healed," and in the gospels, it is made clear that we have access to his miraculous healing power which, I believe is still as true today as in the first generation of believers. However, does this mean that all sickness will be healed in us. Could it not simply refer to the fact that we have this among other miraculous signs at work in our lives as a witness to the truth of Christ. Consider this. We know that Jesus prayed in John 17 to the Father that He would not take us out of the world, but keep us from the evil. We know that Jesus made it clear to his disciples that they (and we) were to face many, many trials, sufferings, and persecutions. Many of the first generation of the church were probably healed only to then be delivered to the Roman government to be killed or worse to watch those closest to them be killed. Why would He allow us to be so vulnerable to one form of suffering but completely keep us from another? Is it not true that someone can live a life that is uniquely glorifying to God because of their faith, peace, and strength in the midst of illness? I know that many denominations and individuals have gone to the other extreme of claiming that to even believe that God is as willing to work miraculously by healing someone today is to not understand the scriptures. That is the subject of a future blog. However, let us not allow their error to drive us to believe that God is somehow required to act in healing someone who is a faithful believer. That is no more scriptural than their belief.

What about 2nd Timothy 4:20, "Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick." Paul is writing this. This is the same Paul that Acts makes it abundantly clear was used by God more times than we know to perform some of the most outrageous miracles ever recorded.

Finally, in Galatians 4:13 Paul makes an amazing statement, "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." He goes on to point to his sickness and how they treated him with such love in the midst of it. He uses this as an illustration of the type of spirit that they should return to instead of their more legalistic leanings as of late. Paul's sickness is used by God to open the door of opportunity to the Galatians to show their love for him, and as a teaching tool for Paul to point back to as a point of reference for them to make their faith's course correction so to speak.

I guess the bottom line is that the goodness of God does lead men to repentance and if it takes Him using terrible events and circumstances including sickness to steer people away from eternity apart from Him or to keep them from causing someone else to miss eternity with Him, then this is an example of His goodness.

May we all embrace eternity's values. I know that I so, so, so often do not.
Sincerely, Dennis.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Quote of the week...

"You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."


Friday, April 14, 2006

Evil and Suffering

This post is a direct result of a conversation that is ongoing between a friend of mine who is an atheist (or maybe agnostic).

"If this is the same Jesus who allows children to be physically and sexually abused, allows men, women, and children to be murdered, millions of people around the world to die of hunger, and send millions of people to spend all of eternity suffering in hellfire because they didn't stroke his ego - I can do without his love, Thanks. "

Well, that's the great thing about discussing these things with an atheist. They are not as likely to pull their punches. I have had some discussions with fellow Christians about the subjects raised in my friend's statement. If we vanquish them in our discussions, it is often because we hold up a straw man. Versions of these realities that are easier to address perhaps than the more blunt versions put before me by my friend. How do I intend to respond?

First, I will offer, in truly cowardly fashion, a disclaimer. There are many a great Christian writer and thinker who addresses this topic. They have opened my eyes to things while I was struggling with some of these same issues, and I do not claim to have the keen intellect nor the touch of God at work in my writing as they did. I say this to point out that if anyone is genuinely interested in hearing the "best" there is to hear in regards to these charges against Christ, I will gladly point you in the direction of these writers and their books.

Ok, on with the show. Oops, I have one more quick thing to say. If you are my friend, the atheist/agnostic, or you share the views espoused by them, I have a challenge for you. Are you genuinely going to hear what I say? Honestly, if someone had stated to me what you stated in an actual real time, face to face conversation, I would have taken it as someone essentially slamming the door in my face. I would have shaken off the dust and eased on down the road because I would have read between the lines that you were really saying this to effectively end the conversation. I am not going to try to intimidate or manipulate someone into believing in Christ. Therefore, if I believe that they have given their final word on the issue, I will stop. So, I am asking you again. Are you genuinely going to hear what I say? Not just read it, but give it a chance to marinate in your mind for a bit? If not, then just stop here. Why bother?

If you are going to trash the Christ of the scriptures, you should be at least familiar with some of the basics of the scriptures that form the context in which He is found. Don't worry this isn't about to turn into a full blown Bible 101 class.... just a few basics. First, the Bible teaches us about our ability to choose. Free will. The devil did not, and I think could not negate this and force us to choose to follow him. Instead, he did what he does. He deceived, and we chose to follow spite of all the stuff around us that screamed to trust God. God chose to make us with free will. You can hate Him for it if you want because that is your choice to make.

He does not want you to, however. He longs for you to understand what is going on that causes these terrible things to happen. He wants you to reach out to Him for help and comfort in the midst of it. People abuse other people. People murder other people. People choose to be greedy and self-centered while others starve. This is the nature of our corrupt free will--self-centered instead of God-centered. It is this "sin" nature that causes all these things that you point to and God has acted to end it by way of His Son. You want Him to end it by intervening. Taking away our free will. I understand the emotions behind your argument. There are very, very real people. CHILDREN. They are hurting and dying and undergoing things that are too horrible to fathom. My point is that we share this observation..... this is truly, truly terrible. However, I believe you have reached the wrong conclusion about this reality. It is true that free will allows for the potential for evil, but it also allows for the potential for love. Without free will, neither could truly exist.

I am reminded of a cartoon that I heard about one time. The jist of it was two turtles talking. One says to the other, "You know, sometimes I just want to ask God, 'Why don't you do something about all the suffering that goes on down here?'"
The other says, "Yeah, I've thought about that too, but I'm afraid He might ask me the same question."

Jesus is the way to enter back into the right orbit, so to speak. A God-centered life that will protect innocents and seeks to love our neighbor as our selves. Jesus came to save the world. He does not take away our free will. He gives us the opportunity to choose to believe in Him in spite of all that screams not to believe. He cries for the little ones. He holds them close for all eternity. His justice is also eternal, and know that His eternal justice will dwarf anything we could ever imagine. This life is a vapor, and anything that happens in it, though seemingly unbearable while living in the midst of it will not even be a dim memory in eternity. He is also ever present for those hurting here and now. Many times they may not even realize what or who allowed them to survive or be comforted through such horrible circumstances, but it was Him.

Now to respond to the last part of your statement about hell and ego.... C.S. Lewis (one of those great Christian writers and thinkers I mentioned earlier), says, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done, ' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' "

I know that the Bible speaks of many terrible tormenting mental pictures when describing hell. I do not mean to detract from this at all, but I want to say that I believe the primary thing that makes hell, hell is the fact that the presence of God is not there. You may think that God is not present near you now, but you are wrong. His presence is the very thing that holds back the tide of evil that would wash over this planet if removed. He longs to salvage all those who will choose to be saved, but in the end, as at the beginning, He will honor your will. If you choose not to pursue a relationship with Him even after He has done so much to reopen the door for you to have that relationship with Him, then He will not force it on you.

A couple of final notes. I want to make it clear that if I were talking to someone who was actually in the midst of suffering from some of the circumstances mentioned above, I would not go to them with all this so called wisdom of mine. I would, by God's strength, be as much of an accurate reflection of Jesus to them as I could be. I would expend energy protecting those in need of protection, comfort those in need of comfort, and feed those who needed food. Actions speak louder than words. I believe sometimes God uses suffering in our lives to bring us to a place in our hearts that we will finally hear His invitation to reach out to Him. I love my God because He first loved me.

Thank you for taking the time. I pray that He will penetrate the hardness of all our hearts (especially mine) with His amazing love.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Quote of the week...

"Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Saint Francis of Assisi

Willing to die for a lie?

Who would die for a lie? I suppose it seems the obvious answer to say that noone would. However, as you glance at current events or history, it does not take long to figure out that someone is. Either it is the many Christians every day who are martyred for their faith like the man almost was recently in Afghanistan, or it is the muslim who tries avenging what he perceives as an attack on his people and his faith by committing suicide while in the act of inflicting harm on the enemy of the West or Israel. Perhaps we could go on for hours counting the numbers of people who are giving their lives for a person or a cause which may or may not be based on a lie.

However, there is an interesting difference to one small group of people that I would like to point out. You see all the people I have referred to have one thing in common which is that they are choosing to place their link of faith in the hands of someone or something. They may have decided to do this because of being submersed in a culture which essentially allows very few other competing beliefs. They may have chosen to lay it all on the line because they have confidence in the teachings of the person or belief system for which they die. Perhaps, it is vengence or perhaps they have a deep respect for others who follow the beliefs. However, the links of faith all trace back to a starting point, a beginning of the chain of faith, so to speak.

One of the more interesting facts about Christianity is where that chain begins. The first generation of believers in Christ were subject to quite a seemingly insurmountable gauntlet. On one side, the Roman government was the largest empire in the known world. Then you have the Jewish establishment which had a lockdown on local religious beliefs and a religious heritage that is unrivaled to this day. Finally, the Greeks were considered the intellectual giants of the day. This is obvious from the fact that the Greek greats are still studied to this day as being some of the cornerstones of western civilization.

In the midst of this arises a small group of believers. What is it that they believe? They believe that Jesus, though crucified by the Romans and the Jews, has risen from the dead. They claim not only to believe this as you and I must choose whether we believe it or not. They claim to have seen him on numerous occasions and to have talked with him at length and to have eaten with him and to have seen him be taken up into heaven. It is recorded that there were 120 people present in an upper room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came down on the people and gave them power to be witnesses to the people around them of the truth of their claims. All sorts of miracles are recorded during this time.

Yet these same people who claimed not to just believe but claim to have seen with their own eyes the Jesus that they worship did not ascend into a place of great power in this life. They faced terrible persecution. All of the original disciples were killed with the exception of John. Before they were killed, many were beaten many times and suffered many other pains for the sake of their unwillingness to recant their claims. It is one thing to be willing to die for a lie.... truthfully people are doing it every day. However, it is quite another to die for a lie that is your own lie, and that is what you would have to believe about the disciples and many of the first generation of believers if you are not at least willing to consider the veracity of their claims.