Category Archives: 2016 – May/June

Editorial: Suffering (May/June, 2016) — Steve Miller, Guest Editor

This issue of the Carolina Messenger presents studies surrounding suffering, from the Christian worldview.

Suffering is an inevitable part of life.  Physical illness, disease, injuries, broken relationships, death, persecution, natural disasters, and wars; from the consequences of our own choices, as well as the choices of others; remind us that many aspects of affliction, pain and sorrow plague our lives here on the earth.  Job said, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1, ESV).

We sometimes ask like Gideon: “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us” (Judg 6:13)?  What should our response as Christians be to pain and suffering?  We question, “Why me?  Why now?  What is God doing or not doing”?

Is there a more beneficial way for me to respond to suffering when it enters my personal life? Is there anything I can learn from it?  Does my response to human suffering demonstrate faith?  Does it demonstrate my love for God and Christ, or for Christ-like character?  What about my commitment? My priorities?  How can God use suffering in my life to help me, assist someone else, or, fulfill His purpose?

Brother Thomas B. Warren received an invitation to speak on a lectureship in 1963 on the subject, “Christ, Our Contemporary in Suffering.”  Previous to this time,  he had prepared a manuscript on suffering.  It was well received and he continued to study and add to the material eventually publishing it into a book, Our Loving God: Our Sun and Shield.  It has served as a meaningful study of suffering as a Christian.

In that volume, Dr. Warren observed the depth of loss Job experienced and how he still maintained his trust in God:

When one loses his possessions, he can usually gain strength and assurance from his children, his wife, his friends.  If he still has his good health and his sense of his place and worth as an individual, he can gain strength and comfort from them and launch out anew.  If one also loses (in addition to his wealth), his health, and his children, he can still grasp the hand of his wife, and the two may give strength to one another.  But when Job lost his wealth, his children, and his health, his wife also failed him.  If, after his wife had failed him, he had retained his good health, he might have gone on alone.  A healthy body gives one a vitality of outlook which is difficult to attain when one is in ill health.  But even after Job had lost everything upon which many human beings depend, he retained his faith in the one true living God (National Christian Press, Inc., Colleyville, 2003; 96).

Trusting God in times of suffering is the only avenue that will support our peace of mind and patient perseverance.  Trust in our Heavenly Father will cause us to:

Accept suffering and not blame God.  We must realize we may never understand “why” (Isa 55:8-9).

Acknowledge the inevitability of death.  As Christians, we view with eternity in focus, not years on earth (Ps 90:10).

Always strive to be obedient to the Will of God.  The perfect example of Christ is our pattern in the realm of suffering and obedience. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:7-9). We have the choice to make pain and suffering a part of the process of growing our faith.

Jesus Christ trusted God the Father through His pain and suffering. “…When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:21-23). “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.  O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you” (Ps 84:11-12)!

A special thank you to the writers of this issue.  It is our hope that the content is beneficial to you or someone you know.

-Steve Miller

stevemiller67@gmail.com

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Prayer and Suffering — Jeff Lovitt

Years ago, C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book entitled The Problem of Pain.  It is a great discussion of the subject from a theological perspective.  A few years afterward, his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  He started keeping a journal of the time he had left with her, documenting their experiences and the struggles of faith it presented.  This was later put into a book entitled, A Grief Observed.  The notable thing between the two books was that the logic and theology of the first melted under the prolonged and progressive pain chronicled by the second.  Faith was stretched to its breaking point when actual pain dominated their lives.   All the negative emotions, bitter questions, and challenges to faith come out in that journal.  Yet as time passed and he continued chronicling their experience, he finally come to peace with God.

When reading the book of Job, one realizes the disadvantage Job had in not seeing “behind the curtain” with the view we are given.  He could not see the end result while enduring his pain.  Starkly obvious, as he himself noted, he had no mediator between himself and God (Job 9:32-33) through which he could get answers.  He couldn’t understand the reason for his suffering after his thorough and consistent efforts to be righteous.  Having no direct line of communication in order to redress his grievances with God, he became frustrated:  “Behold, I cry, ‘Violence!’ but I get no answer; I shout for help, but there is no justice. “He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass; And He has put darkness on my paths” (Job 19:7-8).

Job illustrates the predicament of all who believe in God but have no direct knowledge of His will or purposes, or that there now IS a mediator between ourselves and God (1 Tim. 2:5).

Job also speaks to that associated pain of loneliness, when even friends fail the sufferer:  “He has removed my brothers far from me, And my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have failed, And my intimate friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:13-14).

Job had friends all right.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to sympathize with him (Job 2:11), and for seven days did not speak a word because “they saw that his pain was very great” (Job 2:13).  Their blunder came in not leaving it at that and perhaps offering to help him take care of those things he wasn’t able to do.  They eventually felt that they had to open their mouths and offer their opinions as the reason for Job’s suffering.

Though the church should visit more, and especially those who are suffering, some (like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) are not especially suited for this ministry.  Great sensitivity must be exercised in visiting the suffering.  You can’t just say, “My uncle had that, and he died!”  Or, “You know, if you’d have paid more attention to your health, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”  The suffering one does not need to be visited by modern-day friends such as that!  The best visit to the suffering does not require much to be said at all.  Just a gentle touch, an understanding smile, a direct look into the eyes, and a heartfelt “I love you and am praying for you” does wonders.  The suffering one is already impressed that you took time to come see them, and understands that they are important to you.

Most importantly, know and remember that we DO have a mediator between ourselves and God—the ONLY one so qualified, Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5-6)!  He has opened up for us “a new and living way” into the presence of God Almighty, that we may have confidence to be heard in prayer (Heb 10:19-22)!  Consider what lessons that suffering teaches us:

1) Suffering Teaches Us To Lean on God, Not Ourselves.  The apostle Paul shared the circumstances under which he learned this lesson.  Because of the great revelations he was given, to keep him from exalting himself, God gave him “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).  He prayed three times that God would remove it.  Any one of us who has suffered can understand repeatedly asking God for help for our suffering in prayer.  During Paul’s third prayer God answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  (2 Cor 12:9).  Accepting this, he proclaimed: “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Cor 12:10).  When have you ever heard of anyone praying, thanking God for their suffering?  Quite the opposite!  We, like Paul, pray that God will remove the pain, when we need to learn what Paul learned, and thank God for showing us we need to trust in Him more!

2. Suffering enables us to show not just sympathy, but true empathy toward others who are suffering.  The subtle difference is important.  We should be sympathetic and show compassion for the troubles in which people find themselves.  But empathy means actually being able to feel their pain because we’ve gone through their experience ourselves.  But you can’t be empathetic if you’ve never suffered.  You can’t KNOW their pain unless you know their pain!  The Scripture testifies, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-5).  The person who has not endured suffering cannot fathom what someone else is going through.  I was reawakened forcefully to this truth not long ago.  A friend of mine lost his mother some years ago.  I was there for him and visited her in her final days.  I showed sympathy, love, and was very genuine in my desire to bring them comfort.  Then, in the summer of 2014, I lost MY mother.  The reality of this hit me hard.  But it opened my eyes even wider.  I shared with my friend (who himself recently passed away) that while I wanted to share his grief in losing his mother, I didn’t fully understand it till my own mother died.

He just smiled and said, “I understand.”  The empathy that filled that conversation (on both sides) was much richer than any well meaning words of sympathy I had offered earlier. He wanted to share his grief in losing his mother, I didn’t fully understand it till my own mother died.  He just smiled and said, “I understand.”  The empathy that filled that conversation (on both sides) was much richer than any well meaning words of sympathy I had offered earlier.  We must first learn through suffering, and trusting God in prayer through that suffering, to truly be able to help others in their suffering.   It adds a richness—because of the pain—that can exist in no other way.  Therefore, even pain becomes a blessing when used to serve others.

3) Suffering enables us not only to empathize with others who have suffered the same pain, but as 2 Cor 1:3-5 also teaches, it qualifies us to empathize with and offer comfort to “those who are in ANY affliction.”  It is true that personal pain is unique pain.  No one can know with exact certainty how someone feels when going through pain.  Having said that, your own pain—and more importantly how you deal with it, if you lean on God and remain constant in faith and in prayer—does enable you to offer true comfort to others in their pain, even if you haven’t gone through exactly what they are going through.  It keeps you interested in their struggle.  It prevents you from sounding dismissive and uninterested when they open up to you.  And . . .

4) Suffering forces you to look inward, upward, then outward.  Inwardly—You have to assess the strength of your faith.  Will you believe when faith ceases being just a theory and has to face hard, difficult facts?  Can you trust God when you don’t know or can’t see the outcome, and when the real possibility for the future is not what you would want? When you realize that you are not in control?  Upwardly—Will you get angry at God?  Will you face the Scripture, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Phil 1:21) and believe it, or will you fight tooth and claw for life HERE, demonstrating that you walk after the flesh, and not by the Spirit?  (Rom 8:2-11).  Outwardly—Having decided to trust God through the pain and commit your prayers to Him for strength, you will become useful to Him and to others who have not yet surrendered their life fully to Him.

“For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” –Matt 16:25)

  jefflovitt@charter.net

 

 

 

The God Of All Comfort — David R. Pharr

“Euroclydon” is what the King James Version calls it. Others have named it “Euraquilo” or “Northeaster.” They were caught for over two weeks in an unrelenting Mediterranean storm. Hurricane like winds moving from every direction made it impossible to guide the ship. Every effort was made to keep from sinking. Valuable cargo was jettisoned. Even the rigging of the ship was thrown away. Day after day there was neither sun nor stars and in the darkness all hope of survival was gone. Only one man on board had absolute confidence in their survival. It was a prison ship and Paul was himself a prisoner, but when all the rest were giving up in despair, he stood before them to declare that he had been given assurance from God. The angel of the Lord promised that not a single one of the two hundred seventy six on board was going to be lost. “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God (Acts 27:25, emphasis added).

Troubles Come

Storms come into every life. Most the time most people enjoy living. There are some whose lives have come to such pain and despondency that they dread living and crave dying. For most, however, life is a cherished thing. Solomon observed that it “is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor” (Eccl. 5:18). The best life is in living as a Christian. “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (I Pet. 3:10f). Yet, even into the happiest and most faithful life troubles come. Regardless of what has been up to now, if we continue for long, there may be troubles more dreadful than we might ever have imagined. David spoke of going “through the valley of the shadow of death.” He meant not just the time of dying, but also anything that brings suffering and sorrow. Job had enjoyed a wonderful life, but then “the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me” (Job 3:25f). This is not to borrow trouble or to dread the future, but to remind that, like David, we need a Shepherd to lead us into whatever dark valleys we are forced to go.

Suffering is a primary theme of 2 Corinthians. The book opens with the need for comfort. All of humanity has its tribulations. For members of the church in Corinth there were things they would have to endure because they were followers of Christ. When trouble comes even unbelievers might wonder, “Why is this happening to me?” A Christian might ask, “Why do bad things happen to faithful Christians?” By recalling the things he had himself suffered, Paul could assure them of his sympathy and that they are not the only ones who have had to endure adversity. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves . . .” (2 Cor.1:8f).

One needs only to review his history to know that Paul understood suffering–hardship, exhaustion, beatings, imprisonment, near drowning, being robbed, double crossed, suffering hunger, anxiety, etc. (2 Cor. 11:3-29). The one thing that sustained him through it all can be summed up in the three word affirmation he declared in the midst of that tempest called Euroclydon: “I believe God.”

The God of All Comfort

To the Corinthians, therefore (and to us), he would write that the God he believed in is “the God of all comfort.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation”(2 Cor. 1:37).

Ten times in five verses (37) we find the words “comfort,” “comforts,” and “consolation.” God comforted Paul. Paul comforted them. What consolation he could give to others was only because of the comfort God had given to him.

God is the God of all comfort because He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). No trouble we ever have should allow us to doubt the power of God to help. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary” (Isa. 40:28).

God is the God of all comfort because His love and mercy are immeasurable. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us” (Eph. 2:4). Such love “passes knowledge” (Eph. 3:18f), and no one can keep us from embracing it. The story is told of a farmer who had a weathervane with the words, “God is love.” A skeptic, noting the changing wind directions, asked, “Does that mean God’s love is fickle?” “No,” the farmer said, “It means that no matter which way the wind blows, God is always love.” That’s what Paul knew in the midst of that tempest.

God is the God of all comfort because He knows what we cannot know. We can never know for sure the outcome of any life experience–good or bad (Jas. 4:15). Paul assured the Philippians that bad things can turn out for good. “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel . . .” (Phil. 1:12).

God is the God of all comfort because we can always trust His promises. Scripture provides us with “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4). We can have hope because of the “patience and comfort of the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4). The supreme promise is eternal life (Tit. 1:2), but many of God’s promises pertain to our welfare in this life. In times of great distress it may sometimes seem more likely that God will keep His promise of heaven than that he will help us through the sufferings of the present. Let it be deeply remembered, however, that “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” (Rom. 8:33). The point is that God had promised His Son. If ever we might imagine that God might fail to keep His promise, surely it might have been the promise to let His Son die. If in His faithfulness and grace He kept that promise, how could it be imagined He would ever go back on His word?

God is the God of all comfort because He has a wonderful family made up of brothers and sisters in Christ. David once complained to God: “For there is no one who acknowledges me, Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul” (Psa. 142:4). In our troubles we may feel very alone, that no one understands. Human imperfections too often keep us from caring for one another as we should. In fact, one who feels neglected should remember that they have sometimes been neglectful themselves. Still, we have family willing to “bear one another’s burdens,” “to weep with those who weep” (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:15).

God is the God of all comfort because nothing can overcome the love and understanding Christ has for us. Trouble and suffering are the common lot of mankind, yet each burden seems peculiar to the one to whom it is happening. An old spiritual laments, “Nobody knows the trouble I see . . . “ and then continues, “Nobody knows but Jesus.” This is the assurance of Hebrews 4:15. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Can anyone list all the bad things that might happen? How about Paul’s list in Romans 8–tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, lie, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth? All of these, he says, “neither any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the Love of Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35ff).

“Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God.”

drpharr@msn.com

 

God’s Will and Human Suffering — David Lipe

 

Some Introductory Remarks

The fact of human suffering has been discussed it seems “forever.” It is discussed in the book of Job as well as in ancient and medieval literature. The Enlightenment saw it as a weapon against theism. Set in the age of Reason, the argument regarding the problem of evil and suffering became and remains a major stumbling-block for faith in the God of the Bible. Suffering is a common and universal experience which must be addressed in Christian thought. All around us there is sickness, disease, poverty, injustice, oppression, war, and senseless violence. Thus, for most people there seems to exist a great amount of suffering in the world. Some of this suffering is extremely intense and prevails over a long period of time.

Suffering results from: (1) inanimate nature, (2) animate nature, (3) the human condition, and (4) from sin (others as well as one’s own). Concerning (1) suffering from inanimate nature refers to “evils” not perpetuated by human beings. This is called by some “physical” evil or “natural” evil, though not evil in the truest sense. Sin (that which frustrates one’s relationship with God or his fellow man) is really the only intrinsic evil. Thousands have been hurt or killed and untold millions of dollars of property has been destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, blizzards, etc. One has only to watch the news to see evidence of this. Regarding  (2) men, women, and children have been maimed or killed by wild animals. Other have been hurt or killed by bites from insects and reptiles. (3) Much suffering has resulted from the human condition. Various diseases torment man. Diseases such as leprosy and cancer would not be thought to be the work of a benevolent creator. Suffering is to blame for various physical deformities and defects with which so many are born such as blindness, deafness, dumbness, mental deficiency and insanity. These contribute towards increasing human pain and suffering. (4) Some suffering is because of sin. (a) Men have suffered due to the sin of other men– evils such as slander, backbiting, selfishness, envy, greed, deceit, and cruelty of all kinds. (b) Others suffer from neglect by their fellowman. The news accounts of child abuse are almost unfathomable. (c) There is much suffering because nations wage war on other nations. The Holocaust coupled together with all the other cruelties and devastations of the twentieth century have forced us to confess the existence of unimaginable evil. This says nothing about the millions of wounded, of the untold suffering of the living, of the poverty, starvation, dehumanization, immorality, and disruption of normal lives that war brings about. (5) Men also suffer because of their own weaknesses and failures. A sense of moral oughtness exists in all men but men fail to live up to this sense of moral obligation thus bringing suffering and anguish upon themselves.  Another problem is the seeming chaotic nature of the distribution of suffering: the unjust and the just (Mt. 5:45); adults and children; and, humans and animals. There is the meaningless nature of suffering in the world.  Some would hold that even if some suffering could be justified on some grounds, there is a surplus of suffering such as to make the possibility of the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God simply unbelievable.

The above considerations raise a number of perplexing questions: Why is there any suffering?  Why didn’t God make a pleasure paradise in which man could dwell? Why is there so much suffering? Why do the righteous suffer? (cf. Judges 6:13; Gen. 18:23-25; Hab. 1:12, 13). Why do little children suffer? Why can’t God do something about suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why? Why? Why?

Problems Advanced Because of Suffering

Unbelievers point to what seems to them to be a logical contradiction between God’s attributes and the existence of evil and suffering. The amount of suffering, the distribution of suffering, and the meaningless nature of suffering have caused many to conclude that such must be incompatible with the existence of God.  Warren calls attention to Lactantius, a so-called Christian apologist of the fourth century, who quotes Epicurus as follows:

“God either wishes to take away evils and is unable; or he is able and unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able, or he is both willing and able.  If he is willing and unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if he is able and unwilling, he is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if he is neither willing nor able, he is both envious and feeble, and therefore, not God; if he is both willing and able, which is alone suitable to God, from what source then are evils?  Or why does he not remove them?”

In sum the charge is this: (1) Either God is all-good (and wishes to get rid of suffering) but is too weak to do anything about it; or (2) Or, God, is all-powerful (and can get rid of suffering) but is not good and does not wish to do anything about suffering.

Believers are concerned about how to reconcile the existence of the God of the Bible with the evil and suffering in the world. This is faith seeking understanding. “Lord, I believe.  Help thou mine unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). We believe but we want to understand; thus, we seek to “justify the ways of God man.” Yet, in a very real sense we cannot fully justify God’s ways. Neither I, nor anyone can put God in a box, as it were, for inspection purposes. It would be the height of presumption for any human to claim to be able to “justify” the infinite being, God. Theists only seek to offer some remarks in an effort to demonstrate that the biblical revelation is plausible even in the midst of human suffering. To demonstrate the self-consistency of biblical theism is a sufficient intellectual response to charges made by skeptics. God does not need our justification but a rational response which might be helpful for some. Such a response can and should be given.

While the problem of suffering is a cognitive problem for both unbelievers and believers, it is a practical problem for those who are suffering themselves. They need to know how to cope and endure the suffering they are experiencing on a daily basis. We should hasten to say that a logical explanation of human suffering is of little value to those who find themselves in the very midst of suffering. Such individuals do not need a logical explanation while they are suffering; on the contrary, they need to know of the love and care of God. The sufferer needs from his or her fellow man care and compassion–not philosophical argument. This is the case because of the emotional trauma of suffering which is not overcome in intellectual discussion but in trusting in the love and care of God. One’s emotional needs are different than one’s intellectual needs. Each of these needs must be met, but they are not met in the same way. This essay is designed to address the intellectual needs of the individual.

God’s Will–The Key to the Problem

Much confusion prevails concerning “God’s will.” God only does what is in harmony with His nature.  So was the earthquake God’s will?  Was it God’s will that a child burns to death?  I am sure that we have all heard people tell others that when loved ones die or lose a job or contract a terminal illness that it is just God’s will. We should be careful how we use the phrase “God’s will,” lest we accuse God of something He did not do (as Job’s friends did).

What do we mean when we say that something is “God’s Will”?  If everything is God’s will, then can a person defeat God’s will?  If everything that happens is God’s will, why punish the thief or rapist?  Why try to cure disease?  Some think we should leave it alone and let “God’s will” run its course.  After all, one would not want to attempt to oppose God’s will.

Weatherhead, in his The Will of God, has suggested at least three aspects of the will of God: (1) God’s intentional will; (2) God’s circumstantial will; and, (3) God’s ideal will. First, God’s intentional will involves God’s ideal plan for man.  God’s ideal will is what God would intend or prefer to happen to us. He wanted a being to choose freely to be a son of His and brother to his fellow man. This is what parents want for their children. Parents want their children to be faithful, happy, marry well, etc.  But, they may freely decide to leave what they have been taught or marry a hoodlum.

God had a definite purpose before the creation of man and the world.ii Why did he create human beings? Creation was not out of some inner necessity but was an act of love (Rev. 4:11). To understand why he created, we must understand what he created. God created a community. He always intended a people for himself. He created a people with whom he could share communion and love (cf. Rev. 21:3). Creation involved all the members of the Godhead. The Godhead is a community of loving fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. John 17). Just as a couple, in an ideal sense, decides to have children in order to share the love that they have for one another, so when the Godhead decided to create, they decided to share with another something they already enjoyed. Creation magnifies the glory of God who shares his fellowship with those whom he creates.

The definite purpose God had in creating the world is captured well by Warren when he says:

 “Prior to his creation of man and the world, God, because he is omniscient, had a plan.  This plan involved the creation of a being (who would have descendants like himself) who would be capable of becoming a son of God, who (thus) would have to be capable of deciding freely to believe him, to love him with all his heart, to submit to him in obedience, and whom God could love and eventually glorify.  In the light of Bible teaching, we conclude that this is basically the one purpose which God had in creating the world.” (Have Atheists Proved There Is No God ? p. 44.)

God’s creation was perfect for his purposes. It was the ideal environment, a garden furnished with all that is necessary to life (Gen. 2:8-10; a task, cf. 2:15). His creation included companionship with the creating of male and female (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18). It included the fellowship of God himself. At this point, humanity endured no pain, no sorrow, no disease, no tears, no worry, and no death. This is what God wanted ideally for man.

The one purpose God had in his creation was a people for himself—a people who would love and obey him with all their heart. To have this they would have to have an environment suitable for his purpose. They would have to have a “vale of soul-making.” To accomplish his purpose he gave humanity a choice (Gen. 2:17). Humanity would have to choose communion with God over “knowledge of good and evil.” Can man interfere with this aspect of God’s will?  Yes, he can freely decide not to respond to God’s love; he can decide to be disobedient and thus sin.  God’s original plan for man’s well-being was spoiled by man’s folly and sin. God wants the very best for man but he will not force him into obedience. He does not treat man as a puppet.

The second aspect of God’s will is his circumstantial will. This involves God’s plan within certain circumstances; what God does due to the circumstances arising that He did not ideally desire to happen. God gave a choice as to whether humanity would choose communion with God or a life independent of God. Adam and Eve chose arrogantly to guide their own path. Because Adam and Eve chose autonomy and asserted their own path, they were excluded from the Garden and thus from God’s communion (Gen. 3:22). In making this decision the holiness of the community was at stake; God cannot commune with evil (Psa. 5:4). Because of the choice, man deserved eternal separation; strict justice would cast him off forever. Because of God’s love, He devised a plan for man’s redemption. This plan was fulfilled in Jesus, the perfect atonement for humanity’s disobedient choice (Heb. 2:17; 5:2; 4:15; Rom. 5:6-11). After his resurrection he commissioned the preaching of the Gospel (Mk. 16:15). All the obedient shall be saved by his blood (Heb. 9:22; 10:4; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19).

Thus, God’s circumstantial will is God’s response to man’s free choices even when man does not choose as God ideally would have him choose.  God’s ideal will is that man would not sin; but, man did.  God’s circumstantial will, therefore, is that man will still enter into a relationship with him. God made this possible through Jesus Christ because of his love and mercy.

Third, God’s ultimate will is his final realization of His purpose, the goal God reaches in spite of man’s evil and even using those evil choices to further rather than defeat His ultimate plan.  Job said, “I know that you can do everything. And that no purpose of yours can be withheld from you” (Job 42:2). As children might divert a stream, they do not succeed in preventing it from reaching the river, so humanity may divert and hinder God’s purposes but humanity will never defeat them. God ideally wanted man to freely love and serve Him.  God circumstantially wanted Jesus to accept death for man’s sins and wanted man to accept salvation.  God ultimately will see justice done, namely, the punishment of the wicked and the rewarding of the righteous (2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27; Matt. 25:31-46).  God will ultimately bless the righteous and curse the unrighteous (Matt. 25:46). Some may reject God’s gracious offer of Jesus, but they will not prevent God’s intentional will. Can man interfere with this.  NO!  God is omnipotent and WILL definitely accomplish His ultimate will.

Some Concluding Remarks

We often use the “will of God” to cover all three aspects of God’s will.  We should at least understand that we do this. The preceding facts show, among other things, that: (1) it is the ideal or intentional will of God for man to be happy and free from sorrow and pain; (2) God loves man and wishes for man to be blessed to the extent that He gave His Son to die for man; (3) each man who sins and refuses to repent of his sin thereby cuts himself off from the blessings which God wishes to give him; (4) pain, sorrow, suffering, tears, and death in the world is here because of man’s sins; and, (5) God is infinitely powerful and infinitely wise.  That there is suffering in the world means neither that God is weak nor that God is not benevolent.  It means that God has given man freedom to make choices and that man has made and continues to make many evil choices.

dlipe@fhu.edu

God Is Bigger Than Cancer — Caleb Sams

Part of all this trial is coming face to face with the man in the mirror, in God’s hands, by the trial, God is showing you what kind of man you are really and what kind of God he is really and what it really is he wants you to be.” –Mike Mobley 

My desperate prayer and hope for this story is that you read this and become enamored with the strength, faithfulness, and love of our God. Pause perhaps for a moment even now before you continue reading and praise Him for his marvelous works in your own life. May we know deeply that it is not any one of our stories that matters, yet his alone; it is not about my name, but all about exclaiming his wondrous name.

For the purposes of information let me explain my circumstances. In September of 2012 I began to experience pain in my left ankle, thinking I had re-injured a spot of tendinitis I thought nothing of it. I wouldn’t be able to rest my leg  (the required treatment for tendinitis) until mid-December, so I acted as if it was fine and continued life as normal as possible for the next few months. When I got home in December I stayed off of my leg for 3 weeks the pain and large amount of swelling that had already taken over my ankle only got worse. I went to a sports clinic fearing that I had pushed my leg to far and snapped a tendon in my ankle. They ran X-rays and found a large fracture in my tibia that was the source of the pain; it was the source of the fracture that caused the doctor to pause. I was told that they would need to have a radiologist examine the X-rays and I would hear from them within the next day. The radiologist called within the hour. It was January 3rd; I was home alone sitting on the couch when I was told about something called osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. It only took 4 short days for tests and other doctors and surgeons to confirm the radiologist’s fear. After they biopsied the tumor in my ankle and received a pathology report from it I was informed that it was stage four cancer. Based on the location of the tumor and the way that it had ruined my tendons and ligaments I would never walk again without amputating my leg. Within the next month I had already began aggressive chemo treatments almost weekly requiring hospital stays of up to five days. At the end of the treatment, about nine months away, there would be a chest surgery on my lungs to remove all of the tumors found within. Osteosarcoma isn’t a soft tissue cancer, the cells rapidly growing are bone cells, and the tumors in my lungs were calcifying and could not remain there.

I could continue, I could explain in detail each treatment or hospital stay. Or the side effects of chemo or about the nausea, but that’s not what’s important. In fact my story isn’t important. You have your own. Whether it’s cancer or not, your story can do one of two things: it can break you or it can create you.

My entire life I’ve been extremely good at knowing the right thing to say, I’ve been able to pass as a Christian for a very long time, I could live however I wanted, but look extremely pure. I’ve wasted a lot of God-given talents and opportunities throughout my entire life. I’m not trying to beat myself up, I’ve done good things but I’ve masked my life in many ways. For the last six months of 2012 I was praying that God would put something in my life that either completely broke me and ruined my faith or on the other end required me to lean wholly on him. This year he has blessed me with an opportunity to experience a situation in which I had no hope if I relied on my own strength and yet if I gave it to him I had all hope. You story, your trials or sufferings can either break you or create you.

I’ve had one prayer on my heart throughout this process, I’ve begged and pleaded with God that if I were going to have to go through this valley that it would have a purpose. My prayer was simple. That God would use my cancer to make his name great. I could care less of any other outcome, but it would mean something if my story caused people to praise God. Something that came to me early was a phrase, the title of this article actually, God is bigger than cancer. Anything I sent out from then on, any update or tweet or email or Facebook post was sure to have that hashtagged along with it. #Godisbiggerthancancer became something people could hold on to. It’s a cry for hope that no matter what lies ahead God is bigger than it. The thing I’ve learned though is that, sure God is bigger than cancer, but he’s also bigger than me. I’ve never had to stare death in the face before. One of our biggest concerns in life is control. I’ve learned that I have none. Even better still, I’ve learned that I want none.

Two verses seem to have oddly become coupled to me throughout this process.  1 Corinthians 13:13 and Hebrews 11:6. The first: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The second: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he is the rewards those who seek him.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 starts with faith. This remains, why? Because we must have it to please God, not just to please him, but because it is the foundation of everything God hopes for us to access in our lives. What does he hope for us? Listed more times than any other commandment all throughout scripture, listed even more times than the commandments to love God and love one another, is the commandment fear not. Why is that his greatest desire? Because someone who fears nothing this world or Satan tries to throw at them is someone who is fully invested in God; a God that forms mountains and breaths life. Base your faith on that principle: that God is bigger than anything.

When you fully believe and know that God is everything he says he is 1 Corinthians continues, that kind of faith breeds hope. Why? Because if you truly believe with all your heart, soul, and mind that God is able you will find that he is active. See he doesn’t just offer his proof, he offers his power, Hebrews 11:6 ends with him currently being described as the rewarder. Doesn’t that give you hope? Hosea is placed in constant turmoil in his life to be a direct example to Israel of their relationship to God. He describes a valley, the valley of Achor, which literally translates to the valley of trouble, in chapter 2.  In the beginning of chapter 1 God explains that he will put an end to the house of Israel and “on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley.” Hosea explains the trouble Israel will go through.  In chapter 2:14-15 there’s a turn, though.  He writes:  “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. Egypt.” Their trouble became hope. God, who is able, was active.

Faith gives you the strength to get through trials. Hope, bred by faith, gives you the sight to see the end of trials. But love, why does love remain and why is love the greatest? It’s simple, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 3:18-19.) Notice the language of being perfected in love. Perfected how? “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas 1:2-4). How do we know that he first loved us? Because instead of just existing, which was enough, he chose to reward us.

Therefore faith, which produces strength, gives birth to hope, which produces sight, which harvests love that proves our hope and invigorates our faith and eliminates our fear. In love we understand Paul’s writings “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:54-57).

We have a victory, because God is bigger.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps 107:1)!

cmo.sams@gmail.com

 

 

Benefits of Suffering – Brett Pharr

From a human vantage point, it is almost illogical to think of the benefits of suffering. There are certain things that require effort or even pain that have a positive end result. But it does not take much imagination or experience to recognize some elements of our lives are void of benefit, at least from an earthly perspective. A Bible based view however, can give us better insights into every element of suffering. It will not alleviate the very real negativity that is often a part of the human experience. But it may give us a better framework for the context of difficulties.

Suffering can come from various sources. Sometimes we suffer because of our own poor decisions. For example, stress is created by shortsighted decisions; or illness occurs due to poor substance or food choices; or injury happens as a result of unwise risk taking. Sometimes suffering is the result of another person’s actions. A drunk driver hits the innocent; a building collapses because of poor engineering; relationships are destroyed because of another’s unfaithfulness. But finally, there is the category of suffering that emboldens the atheist and at times troubles the Christian. Bad things happen for no apparent cause. Weather events or “natural” disasters, such as a tsunami that kills thousands, or unexplained accidents, or terminal illnesses that strike a child, often have such devastating impact they crumble the faith of some. Can one rationally speak of a benefit in these kinds of circumstances?

From a biblical view we can gain several perspectives on the benefits of suffering. One is the concept of chastening or discipline. In Hebrews chapter 12 we are encouraged to put suffering in context, both as to its relationship to the suffering of Christ, but specifically, that it may do us some good. In verse 6 we read a quotation from Proverbs 3, “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

That is, just like with children, there is some suffering that occurs in our lives that are for the purpose of making us better people. We know from experience that some people turn or return to God when they have had a “wake up call” enter into their lives. These are often not pleasant, but may well cause someone to reconsider his or her spiritual path. God may well be directing suffering into our life for our long-term benefit. (It is important to acknowledge that we know this happens by faith, not by a specific experience, as we do not know in individual cases the intention of God; we only know that He works in our lives for our ultimate good.)

Another benefit of suffering is it allows us to model Christ to others and position us for better service. Paul in Colossians 1 was describing his prayer for the saints and among other things, he asks that they may have “patience and longsuffering with joy” (Col 1:11). Patience means to stand up under a difficult load. Longsuffering has the additional elements of time without retaliation. Both of these are characteristics that are exercised when we are under duress; that is suffering. When we can show the world and our fellow Christians that we can face suffering with the steadfastness of Christ, and not break down under the load, we not only strengthen ourselves but also everyone who sees. In James, reference is made to the patient enduring of the prophets and of Job, and these serve as an example.

“My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate” (Jas 5:10-11).

The suffering Christian today can well serve as an example to all that see. The obstacles are often overwhelming, but the opportunity is real.

For those that have passed through suffering there is another benefit. We become uniquely able to serve with empathy. The widow can better comfort the new widow. The cancer survivor can comfort the one who is enduring cancer. The parent of a deceased child can better comfort the parent of a dying child. These are talents; perhaps talents we would have preferred to avoid, and yet gifts nonetheless.

But finally, there is suffering so great or so unconscionable that it seems completely void of value. How do we deal with tragic birth defects, freak fatal accidents, the horrors of war crimes, the violence of tornadoes, and such like? The Christian cries out “Why Lord?” The atheist proclaims the “Epicurean” problem of evil: Does your God not know, is He not able, or does He not love? (The simple answer to this is love defined by whom?) Is there any real benefit in such things?

The chief benefit of all suffering is to remind us of the effects of sin on a fallen world. In Genesis we read about the perfection of the creation. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

There was no suffering, no tragedy, and no “natural” disasters. When God calls something very good, there are no imperfections. But in the epistle to the Romans Paul says: “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Rom. 8:22). What caused this change from “very good” to “the whole creation groans”? Of course the answer is the ravages of sin from the Fall in the Garden of Eden, the corruption and change of this natural world from the flood, as well as the deterioration of mankind as demonstrated in Romans 1 and 2. Much could be written about this change, but this is sufficient to illustrate that the world is not what it could have been for us. Still, where is the benefit in this? First, it reminds us this is not our home. The scriptures are filled with enjoiners to not get too comfortable here. John said, “Do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). Paul helps us get to the right perspective in 2 Corinthians, when he says:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, … For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven… So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. …. pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:1, 2, 6, 7) .

Notice the principles that are to be in the mind of Christians. We groan in this body. We earnestly desire Heaven. In the body we are absent from the Lord. If we have this mindset, we can better serve. Suffering, whether our own, or that which we see in others, helps us get to the spiritual maturity of Paul when he said, “having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil 1:23).

But there is yet another benefit of unexplainable suffering; suffering helps us put a face to sin. When we recognize that all suffering is the result of sin in this world, whether direct or indirect, it helps us break through the appealing nature of temptations. Every Christian struggles with sin. One of the ways to submit ourselves to God, so that Satan will flee from us (Jas 4:7), is to see suffering when we are confronted with sin.

Do you struggle with a pet sin, or even an addiction? The next time you feel tempted, think of the worst tragedy you know, whether personal or well known. Acknowledge to yourself, that this is what sin, my sin does. It may well help us to be shocked with the reality of the horrors of sin. If a by-product of suffering is living more Holy lives, it will indeed have had a benefit.

Suffering in this world cannot be minimized. We will all endure it to some extent. But it is not evenly distributed, which may seem, as it did to Job, grossly unfair. In the end however, speaking eternally, “…we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).

Building our faith and trust throughout our lives, will make us better equipped to endure any suffering that comes our way with patience and longsuffering. We must be able to declare the trust of Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills” (Hab 3:17-19). May God help us to that end.

brettpharr@yahoo.com