God in our Sufferings

Martin Luther once suggested that the deepest revelation of the character of God is in the weakness, suffering and death on the cross.

This is the exact opposite of where humanity expected to find God. Even today some Christians expect to find God in the success of economics or the victory over such enemies as the leaders of North Korea.  Such was the expectation of the people of God in the first century. But it was not to be, at least not with Messiah Jesus.

Two verses stand out to me. One is where Paul tells the early church that most importantly he wants them to know “Christ crucified” 1Corinthians 2:2. And I am thinking of the other place where Paul, in the midst of his own suffering, hears from God, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness” 2Corinthians 12:9.

So it got me to thinking. We are looking in all the wrong places for answers to our own suffering, for making sense of our sufferings and even our weaknesses. Christ on the cross is in the sufferings of the world. Look how the prophet writes it, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah 53:4. Stop there. Christ on the cross is literally carrying within himself the sorrows of the world and not only that but also our sins (in the next verse). That whole chapter is filled with the sufferings of the Christ and it’s in those places of weakness that Christ is in most intimate contact with us and we with him.

The prophet even writes at one point that what was seen was a Messiah being despised and rejected, not a victorious King. Even in the book of Revelation when Christ is referred to as the Lion of Judah, John turns and sees not the King of Beasts but rather “a lamb that appeared as though slain” (Revelation 5). This is the Christ who identifies with this suffering world.

And I believe that the Christ who suffered is the Father, Son, and Spirit all uniting with the world in its suffering, even now during these devastating hurricanes and their aftermath. It’s in the pain of the world that our Lord bears with us. We cannot speak of the ‘glory of the Lord’ without the ‘Christ crucified’. Love, the feeling as well as the knowledge, is most manifest in weakness. It’s what unites Christ with us and we with him. Certainly there is love in joy and happiness, and lots of money (just kidding). But look what happened to Christ on the cross as he died. He surrendered his soul, his spirit to his Father. “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” Luke 23:46. And the Revolution and Restoration of the world began. God working in the rubble of the tragedy of that day in the most loving way our God chooses to work.

The other day I was in what might be called ‘existential despair’. In other words, I was feeling crappy about life, things that were happening or not happening. My wife could tell, probably by the way I walked past her with my head hung down and muttering to myself. Well, the next morning upon awakening I prayed fervently just to surrender to God with the sense that my life was in God’s hands. I got up with a sense of connectedness to God and later got a big hug from my wife and life seemed different, better. C.S. Lewis writes that while God whispers to us in our pleasures, God shouts to us in our pain. I guess that means that we are more open to God’s voice in our sufferings although I think it was Elijah who most clearly heard God through a ‘whisper’. (Elijah was in a dark place in those days.)

It was the quietness on Golgotha that captured the attention of the world, when a ‘slain’ lamb changed our relationship with God. God was in ‘that Christ’ reconciling the world to God’s own being. I am pretty sure that God is reconciling the WHOLE WORLD but blessed are those who know it.

I am not a fan of weakness and sorrow nor is God. Perhaps that’s why Christ takes it into himself, not just once but until there is a new heaven and hearth. He is telling us of his love for us. He could not escape the tragic death of the cross because we cannot escape the sorrows of our own lives.

Pascal once wrote that Jesus would be in agony until the end of the world. That is so that every one of us can know that Jesus won’t rest as long as he is bearing in his own soul, the soul of God, our particular sorrows, sin and sufferings. We are ‘in Christ’ in the most organic and intimate sense.

 

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SEE NO EVIL??

After the events of the past few days I feel the need to speak out, not as one associated with any political party, but as a Christian.

I am convinced that the President has given tacit approval to hate groups within our country. Groups like the KKK, the neo-Nazis, White supremacists and others sense the Presidents’ sanction for their behavior. I believe this behavior stems from ‘EVIL’, pure and simple. They wish to take back their country. From whom? We have already taken this country, by extermination, from Native Americans and America has built this country through enslavement of African Americans. And now under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’ these white nationalists are threatening Jews and other minorities against whom they will fight with force if necessary.

We do not have a moral leader at the helm of our nation. We have a power hungry egotist. He is doing virtually nothing to protect the rights of those who have been so downtrodden in our history. And now he is equating the protests of ‘the left’ with the EVIL of the neo-Nazis and others like them.

I cannot speak to the heart of the President but a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus said that. I know for myself that my own words and actions speak at times of a heart and will that needs transformation. I believe that for all Christians and if a leader calls him or herself by the name of a follower of Jesus then let the words hold true for them as well. Words that are spoken reflect a certain character no matter how well those words are then reinterpreted by the speaker or spokespersons.

Christians, I believe, must stand, in the strongest way, against any Nazi expression. While it may be ‘free speech’ it is EVIL and what happened at that Rally and especially to the young woman who was murdered was EVIL. The people ‘on the left’ may have their ‘issues’ but the EVIL perpetrated by hate speech must be fought by the expression and prayers of Christian believers, among others. Behind the EVIL of the neo-Nazis is the Satan who desires to defeat faith and the faithful.

The Christians of today who are as complacent as the Christians were in Nazi Germany are guilty for non-action (myself included) against the EVIL we witnessed. Consider the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who spoke out against the Nazis in Germany. These words in his radio address were censored.

“If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. “ (The day after Hitler came to power.)

 If anything needs to be taken back in America it is the courage of the conviction of Christians to follow God and not Caesar.

Read these words from a French sociologist and political theorist:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

 

 

 

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GRACE IN ATHEISM

So here’s what I think about atheists. There are folks who say God just doesn’t exist, no way, shape or whatever. They are sometimes adamant that there is no power or authority, influence or being and certainly no entity called God.

So I got to wondering one day. What would or could give someone the idea that there is no god, no being of authority in the universe? Could be that people have been hurt by religion? No, that’s enough to maybe stay away from the church but not to believe in nothing. I suppose believing in nothing is some kind of religion but to my mind IT requires more faith than believing in God. But that’s for another time.

So after some pensiveness I came to at least one conclusion. Authority is one of the main issues contributing to atheism. If you believe there is a God, or even gods, you might draw the conclusion that someone or something has authority over your life. And who enjoys anyone being in control or having some authoritative say in our lives. Notice I switched from you to us because this ‘authority thing’ is a problem for believers as well as unbelievers. In atheists it may be more apparent by their words of rejection concerning God, Jesus or any religious figure.

See, we love to be the only authority in our lives and believe me, that is a poor foundation for living. I mean just take a look at AA to see that one of the first steps is surrendering to a higher power. And that is no easy feat.

But believers can experience profound truth concerning authority from atheism. We too love to be in control of our own lives. Oh, we talk a good game about surrendering to Christ, trusting God and so forth but when the rubber hits the road we discover that the words of Jesus ring empty to our ears when it comes to living the life of faith. So that’s why I call this piece GRACE IN ATHEISM. It’s because we have something to learn about ourselves through others.

You know, if an atheist person wanted to, he or she could search and search to really discover if there is a God. God knows there is enough evidence in nature, in philosophy, in science and in writings like the Bible to be able to uncover this God. But if he or she did, then what? Uh oh. Authority.

Recall something Jesus said. And by the way I cannot fathom why anybody could have a problem with Jesus, the smartest, most loving being to walk this earth. But I digress. No I don’t. I want to say something about Jesus.

At one point Jesus told the people around him, especially the religious leaders (now there’s some folks we could have problems with). He said to them that if anyone chooses to do the will of God that person will find out whether Jesus’ teaching really comes from God or if Jesus simply made it up on his own. (Found in the Gospel of John chapter 7:17)

So right there you have it. From the lips of God’s own son. That son, who by the way, in the Garden of Gethsemane tried to work things out on his own but finally said to his Father, ‘Your will be done’

So my invitation to all, including to myself, is to simply say to God –your will be done. And discover that Jesus is real. There is a huge sigh of relief in surrendering one’s life, imperfect as that life might be. See the authority of God, if we really search, is such that we cannot miss the great love of the God of the universe who from the beginning has had only one desire, to share that love with all of us in the midst of all the crap and our own misdeeds. “God is love” is not some trite slogan but the essence of the ONE who governs this creation.

So, see if we look diligently we can find in atheism some of the same stuff we believers are struggling with. Let’s be honest enough to admit that struggle.

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TOO MANY RULES

signs

 

Remember the old song about signs everywhere telling us what to do. In case you don’t, here are some of the lyrics. (The Five Man Electrical Band)

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read?
You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat
You ain’t supposed to be here
The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside
Ugh

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine”

We might also write down the same thing for religion. Everywhere we look we see another rule, ceremony, code, law and maybe even a secret handshake tell us what and how to believe within the Christian faith.

Keep this in mind. A passage from Romans 10:4 ‘For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.’

This means that anything and everything the law was meant to do in bringing humanity into right relationship with God has been culminated and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul anything but Christ being the way to our righteousness is ANOTHER gospel, one that isn’t true. He wrote this to the church in Galatia where people were insisting that ‘real’ followers of Jesus ‘had to’ be circumcised.

So I got to thinking one day that ‘religion’ of any stripe is too heavy a burden to bear. And within Christianity, according to some estimates, there are 33,000 Christian ‘organizations’ around the world plus many thousands of other religious sects and cults with lists of dogmas, doctrines, rule and regulations too numerous to list.

Now some folks need all those burdens, and boundaries to feel safe. In truth there are people who are willing to give up their freedom for a sense of security. And not in any good way do some people stay in an abusive relationship to be safer from harm that may occur by ‘breaking free’.

It may be why some people join very fundamental religious groups in order to have life that is defined for them in order that they don’t have to make their own decisions.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s why Adam and Eve became nervous in the Garden just living in love with their creator, making decisions from their place of communion with God. Freedom and love can be so risky.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, within the first five books, there are 613 laws and commandments on how to live with God and one another. They were, due to the immaturity of the chosen people at the time, necessary. In the New Testament Jesus announces that there are basically two commandments: to love God with all your self and to love your neighbor as yourself. He further says that all the laws and the sayings of the prophets are summed up in those two commands. Paul wrote that the entire law is fulfilled in keeping one command, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. (Galatians 5:14) See also Romans 13: 9. And let us not think that this command to love neighbor as self is a walk in the park.

To love God fully means placing our trust in Christ, nothing more and nothing less and loving neighbor is a process of maturation in Christ to the point where we are willing to give up our lives even for the people, close to us, who annoy us most.

But and read this carefully: love comes from freedom, not rules. We are ‘freed’ to love. Here’s an illustration I heard once upon a time. If I bring home flowers to my wife and she is so surprised and asks me why and I respond by saying it is the rule of the Bible to show love. I can tell you this. It’s not going to be pretty.

So let’s take a look at what freedom is. Jesus came saying to the people who wanted to follow him, ‘If you hold to my teaching your are really my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (See John 8) Jesus is telling us that whatever we need to know about life in the Kingdom of God, right here and now is known simply by trusting him for everything. That’s why he says later, that is the way, truth and life (all meaning the same thing) and that no one is really able to come to the Father (live in the Father’s loving kingdom) except by trusting in Christ to be and show us the way there. And the commandments of Jesus, as John writes, in 1John are not burdensome. They are simply the truth of life in the Kingdom. But not even those commandments are the way to life. Jesus is. And trusting in Jesus is the best that we can do and life will follow.

And Jesus is not like some fuhrer setting up a system that kills. That’s a thief who steals life. Jesus gives life abundantly and if we don’t experience the abundance and joy then it could just mean that we are carrying too heavy a load.

If we look at Matthew 11 we find Jesus saying to the crowds, and I write from the Message Paraphrase; 28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

Now there’s a relationship of love that leads to a joyful responsible life. Jesus invites us to step into a life where we ‘want’ to do God’s will, not where we ‘have to’. “In the will of God, the kingdom of God there is no need for do’s and don’ts, no need for tables of commandments, tablets of law. In this kingdom everything will be regulated by inner rebirth and inward inspiration under the rule of Christ’s spirit.” (Ebehard Arnold wrote in 1935)

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus (John 3) about a new birth he said, ‘The wind blows where it will- that how it is with the spirit’. The spirit of the living God moves here and there directing as God wills for each life, no two lives the same. And so when one person discerns the will of God in a particular way, another maybe differently understands the workings of God. That’s how it is with Freedom born of a relationship of love and inspiration.

When in the early New Testament churches leaders made rules and regulations for other’s conduct Paul wrote that they didn’t need to submit to the rules of an old way of life where folks were saying, ‘don’t eat this’, ‘don’t touch that’, ‘observe days of Sabbath’. (See Galatians 2:16-23) I like how the MESSAGE puts it, ‘don’t tolerate people who want to run your life.’

And there are a plethora of religions and people who want to do just that. I recall as a teenager, of the Christian slogans was ‘I don’t drink, dance or chew or go out with girls that do.’ Well, I pretty much broke all of those rules.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of freedom. The gospel has no moral code that defines our relationship to Christ. Because we are God’s new creation in the new Adam we live solely out of love and union with God, governed only by the word of Christ dwelling in us and constrained only by his love for us. When churches or other human tell us how or what to believe or live we respond that have no other King but Jesus. When our own flesh desires, or commands our obedience we say again that we have no other King but Jesus. Because remember we can be just as enslaved to sin and its wages of death as to some other cruel master.

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NOT SAVED BY FAITH

We are not saved by faith, as some would emphasize. We are saved only by God’s grace from beginning to end. It’s like that passage in Philippians 1:6,which states: “God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day Christ returns.”

In a passage bursting with the understanding of grace we find these words, ‘we have received grace on top of grace’ or ‘grace upon grace’(John 1:16). God has lavished us with his blessing, his gifts of grace and truth that have come through Christ.

The Gospel cannot be supplemented by any human effort (even that of believing). All rescue from sin and idolatry is first and last by the grace of God revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Salvation, living with God, is all God’s idea. IF left up to us we would turn our backs on God, remain enemies as it were. But that’s when God showed his love for us. We showed nothing but vain attempts to appease the idols of religion and self-sufficiency. We, like the prodigal son, wished God dead, took what blessings we thought were owed to us and left town.

So you see, it’s all grace- a gift from God. Every breath we take is grace and on our worst day we are never outside of the reach of God’s grace and on our best day, never outside of the need of grace. (I think I stole that from someone but can’t remember whom). God’s grace saves us and transforms us.

“The closer you get to God the more miserable things you will find in your heart. That is not a negative thinking. God allows you to lose confidence in yourself. You will have accomplished something when you can look at your inner corruptness or bankruptcy without anxiety or discouragement. Simply let it go and trust God’s work in Christ.” Taken from Francois Fenelon (a theologian ca. 1700)

Grace is more important than any of the Five Solas of the Reformation Doctrines. *

Grace is the heart of the trinity expressed by the self-giving love we call Agape. It’s God’s initiative from beginning to end. Sola Gratia. Without it we have nothing. Paul writes ‘for by grace you have been saved through faith.’ Ephesians 2. Paul will even add in that verse that the good works we do are done by he grace of God. Look at the way the MESSAGE puts it:

7-10 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

In light of this we see faith as our ‘yes’ to Christ, nothing more, no greater work. And we must be careful that we don’t make ‘faith’ a work that adds something to God’s grace.

It’s like we are walking a journey and see two roads to choose between. Jesus is travelling one of those roads. ON the other road we see a heavy cart carrying the LAW, and with it the heaviness of the flesh. On Jesus’ way I saw light and though the way looked rough I saw Jesus on that road. And that was enough for me.

In John 1:16 we read the phrase ‘grace on top of grace’, meaning that it’s all grace from beginning to end. Faith takes no credit for what God has done in Christ. Faith may give assent, get on board, but all the initiative and credit comes from God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ and imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Even faith is a gift. It’s the opening of our eyes to see the way to travel.

A classic line of Scripture is found in Ephesians 2:4,5: “Because of his great love for us God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sin. It’s by graces you have been saved.’

Grace built the road. Grace sent Christ to walk it to Calvary. Faith is the yes we offer to walk that road, even reluctantly.

Have you ever walked on a frozen lake? My son did when he was little. We lived across the lake from some friends and one day he showed up at the friends’ door and was asked how he got there. “I walked on the Lake”, was his reply. As his parents we were grateful he was safer but a bit angered that he made such a dangerous venture. He was fearless at 9 years old, and maybe a bit faithful too.

You probably all know the legend of the rider who crossed the frozen Lake of Constance by night without knowing it.  When he reached the opposite shore and was told whence he came, he broke down, horrified.  This is the human situation when the sky opens and the earth is bright, when we may hear: By grace you have been saved!  In such a moment we are like that terrified rider.  When we hear this word we involuntarily look back, do we not, asking ourselves: Where have I been? Over an abyss, in mortal danger!  What did I do?  The most foolish thing I ever attempted!  What happened?  I was doomed and miraculously escaped and now I am safe!  You ask: ‘Do we really live in such danger?’  Yes, we live on the brink of death.  But we have been saved.  Look at our Saviour and at our salvation!  Look at Jesus Christ on the cross, accused, sentenced and punished instead of us!  Do you know for whose sake he is hanging there?  For our sake–because of our sin–sharing our captivity–burdened with our suffering!  He nails our life to the cross.  This is how God had to deal with us.  From this darkness he has saved us.  He who is not shattered after hearing this news may not yet have grasped the word of God: By grace you have been saved! (Story recounted by Karl Barth)

I am not sure that there are really degrees of faith such that one person has MORE faith than another. Jesus sometimes comments to the disciples that they have little faith but I think in those cases he is frustrated about certain situations in which they are not able to accomplish a task he gives them like a healing or being scared to death in the boat with him on a stormy sea. But let’s look at this another way.

If there is a frozen lake and I decide to cross it, I may do so with fear and trembling, with a degree of anxiety or uncertainty but I will get across because the lake is solid. That’s what grace is- like a solid frozen lake that is never going to crack. God’s grace will carry us across. God’s grace is the assurance that God is at work in us to place us in his Kingdom now and forever. It’s God’s grace that assures us that through Christ’s faithfulness we are forgiven.

Grace is like electricity. God is supplying all the power needed. There is a switch on the wall and we either turn it on whether we understand it or not. Or we leave it untouched because we simply don’t believe that it works. But grace works whether we believe it or not. The power is there. Grace is strong. And if we don’t believe it then Jesus will by his own faithfulness turn it on for us and we sometimes don’t even know it’s been in use. Once we repent, (change our way of thinking) then we will understand that it is better to live in the light than in the darkness.

Grace is the most important of all the Reformation Solas for it includes and even initiates the rest- scripture, faith, Christ, and Glory to God. Grace is the essence of the universe.

Even when the Apostle Paul worked so hard for the Gospel, he declared it was all grace. 10 “But God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted. I worked harder than all the other apostles. (But it was not I really; it was God’s grace that was with me.)” 1Corinthians 15:10

Grace through Christ is the end of the law for getting or even being right with God. It’s all grace now. How great when we finally ‘get it,’ ‘trust’ and believe.

 

*These five themes were developed by the reformers in response to Catholic doctrines concerning the importance of works and merit.

 

 

 

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THE GRACE OF A FALLEN SPARROW

In Matthew 10 as Jesus warns his disciples of coming persecutions he promises them that God is watching out for them, that God considers them of great worth.

He tells them that little birds which are bought for a penny are noteworthy to God and that not one of them will fall to the earth outside of the realm of God’s will. And if that is the case then how much more attentive will God be to his own children. So attentive is God that Jesus tells his listeners that God numbers the very hairs on their heads. (Matthew 10:28-31 paraphrase)

This brings up an important subject; the grace of God’s providence. Words sometimes associated with it are ‘sovereignty’ ‘governing’, ‘control’, and even ‘predestination’.

I have been having a friendly debate with a Christian friend who believes that every power and authority on earth has been place there by God’s will since nothing happens outside God’s will. Our conversation provides and interesting dialectic concerning the will of God and the will of humanity.

We could first go back to the illustration of the sparrow and ask, ‘Did God send it spiraling to earth? Or within God’s providence does the free will of creation and creatures find the care and concern of a loving heavenly Father?’

When Joseph confronted his brothers in Genesis 50:20 he explains to them, ‘You did everything for evil but God intended it for good.’ (paraphrase)

I like the idea of ‘orchestration’ for the providence of God. God brings God’s creation and creatures together as an orchestra, with each having its own part to play. The players are quite novice and some are quite bad and the music is horrible but God is the great Maestro. God is bringing it all together, each note, each melody and harmony and will one day present it to God’s self in glory and the whole creation gets to be a part.

So with the evil hearted brothers of Joseph who meant to inflict harm but God took those awful notes and turned them into a piece of music that would please God and God’s people. God, though allowing the freedom of his creatures was directing an ultimate purpose, a good purpose.

Some folks see the providence of God as too controlling or deterministic. And some, when tragedy occurs question why a ‘good’ God didn’t intervene in that particular situation to prevent ‘evil’ from happening.

Here’s how the early church defined ‘providence’. It is the expression of the divine will power and goodness through which the Creator preserves creatures, cooperates with what is coming to pass through their actions and guides creatures in their long-range purposes. (Thomas Oden, ‘Classic Christianity’ p. 143)

In some sense the word ‘providence’, which literally means to ‘see ahead’, is the all wise -knowing and providing of God for his creation in order for everything to work towards a good final ending to prepare for the new heaven and earth to the glory of God. And whatever works for God’s glory is good for all of us.

Let’s look at a classic example of the dialectic between a free willed humanity and the direction and sovereignty of God. Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. According to Romans 13 some people understand that ‘all authorities are placed by God.’ (Romans 13:1) But if you read a bit further you discover that ‘the authority or ruler’ is God’s servant to do you good (13:4) So, my first objection to any Biblical authority for Hitler’s Reich is that he did ‘evil’ and not ‘good’.

Providence tells me that not one Jew killed, tortured, or persecuted by Hitler was outside the value, the worth that God has placed on each life. And grace tells me that in God’s providence each victim’s life is to be restored in the new earth.

My second objection to Romans 13:1 is that God in God’s wisdom allows the free will of humanity by which Hitler rose to power after WWI when the allies acted to impoverish and weaken the German nation. The people were then susceptible to the evil around them and made bad choices and decision in the name of security for Germany.

And let’s look at Hosea 8:4 for a moment. ‘They set up kings without my consent, the chose princes without my approval.’ God told the people at one time that he never wanted them to have any kings but the people rebelled. (See 1Samuel 8) and God allowed them their kings many of whom were evil. Yet God in God’s providence saw to it that from the lives of those kings and through all the persecution and suffering and even punishment, a new King would one day arise who would rescue the whole world from evil. That’s God’s grace hidden and again revealed even 700 years before Christ, to the prophet Isaiah.

So I believe that not all authorities are placed to rule by God’s direct will. And I do believe it is within the peoples’ power to disobey (like Daniel) or even overthrow bad rulers by the disobedience of the people. It may well be how the Berlin Wall came down and the German people were freed. And the same may be said for the end of the Soviet Union.

Back to providence. As Thomas Oden writes, ‘What God creates, God preserves, permits and guides. (‘Classic Christianity’ p. 149)

When we read in Scriptures particularly I the Old Testament that God seemingly causes everything to happen, (Isaiah 45:7, I form light and created darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster; I the Lord to all these things.) It is within the context of God’s instructions to Cyrus the King of Persia) whom God will use for God’s own purposes. The writers understand that nothing can happen outside God’s will. And this particular verse concerns the wicked people who strive against God’s people. This is a warning to those who would think otherwise that there is only one God and God is not to be trifled with.

There are other scriptures that tell us that ‘the Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all He has made.’ (Psalm 145:17) And when Jesus heals the blind man (John 9) and is asked whose sin caused the man’s blindness, Jesus responded it wasn’t due to sin but that the glory of God might be seen through this man’s life at this time.

Let us remember that the ultimate character of God is love and love always wants the best for the other. God wants the best for his creation. The providence of God of God’s loving kindness toward all his creation and his kindness prevails even when evil raises its ugly head to destroy that, which is good. God will ultimately prevail, as we will see.

See, humanity has a responsibility to act in concert and in accordance with God’s will, which is always against sin, idolatry and evil and always for the reconciliation and restoration of God’s creation.

When you read scripture it is necessary to take the whole of God’s word in context and the wider context for everything is Jesus Christ through whom God is reconciling all things.

In God’s providence God is working all things to the best for all things, not just for a few but also for all. (Colossians 1:20).

When life goes or seems to go terribly wrong, it is not that God has forgotten us. Rather God’s grace is simply less perceived in the darkness of our minds. Christ is the reminder that God’s loving-kindness will never end.

One of my favorite scriptures is from Habakkuk 3:17 -18 which was written in the time of the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the threat to Judah was immanent.

Though the fig tree does not bud

And there are no grapes on the vine,

Though the olive crop fails

And the fields produce no food

Though there are no sheep in the pen

And no cattle in the stalls

I will rejoice in the Lord

I will be joyful in God my savior.

 It is by faith, confidence in Christ that we behold the providence of God, yes, the love of god from which we can never be separated. Jesus in word and deed told us as much in his bid for us to be less anxious. (See Matthew 6:25-31)

Paul confirms time and time again God’s plan of redemption through God’s grace in Romans 8:32, “God who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not also along with Christ graciously give us all things?”

And amidst all our uncertainties about this life that famous verse John 3:16 gives us comfort and encouragement concerning God’s providence,

For God so loved this world that he gave us his only son that whoever believes shall not perish but have life everlasting. (This is not biological life but spiritual life.)

 And so in the meantime we are given the opportunity to cooperate with God in God’s providential care and working through of all things to good.

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. (Philippians 2- The Message)

God has engaged in a venture giving humanity the free will to cooperate with God. But God believes in that collaboration which involves love because that is God’s nature. It is the nature of the Trinity to cooperate in love.

God’s charge to humanity is to do the same, to love one another, to care for each other. And because God knows the end from the beginning of all things God has decided in infinite time to reconcile the world to himself and to each other through his Son.

I do not believe that the earthquake in Haiti or 9-11 is the intentional or direct will of our Father in heaven who desires good for his creation. And while we may probe for answers, for reasons, I believe the only answer lies deep within the heart of God where wisdom, tears and providence lie.

It is only in the darkness of abiding in God that we will discover God’s answers. And they won’t be surface or pragmatic answers. They will be a communion with the God of providence and love. As was the case with Job so it is with us. God will hear every cry of anguish. He will, as the scriptures tells us collect our tears as in a bottle. (Psalm 56:8)

And God will speak. It may be as a whisper but his voice will be distinct even as it was with Job and Elijah. And in the final act of peace we will pray as Jesus did, “Father into your hands I yield up my spirit.”

 

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NAKED

In order to understand grace we need to understand our own predicament and for that to happen a basic requirement must be satisfied. I get to it by way of two examples from my own life.

These are instances of what I call ‘naked humility’. The first happened in Haiti back in the 1990’s. After a long sweaty day our team was invited for showers. ‘Showers?’ I wondered. ‘How is that possible here up in the mountains?’ Well, we were led to an area behind a family’s home, given large buckets filled with water; a towel and some soap and then told, ‘Go ahead, be our guests.’ Several women watched over us in anticipation of any needs we might have. Privacy would have been on the top of my list. So the team of men looked at one another, felt the sweat dripping down our dirt laden bodies and said, ‘Let’s get on with it.” There we were, buck naked, as the expression goes, in front of each other, which isn’t such a big deal if you know anything about gang showers back in high school days. What was different was being observed, wondering how to cover our manhood discreetly and wash at the same time. It took all of a minute to adapt to our situation and just get refreshed, and laugh at ourselves and our situation while all the time being a bit sensitive to our hostesses who most graciously came and filled up our buckets at a moments notice. Who was it who said, ‘naked I came into this world and naked I shall return.’

It was necessary to be naked in order to get clean. I think of the whole experience in terms of standing before God with the desire to hide part of ourselves, to keep something within ourselves a secret, to be in some regard a bit like Adam and Eve hoping to find some tree leaves to cover ourselves.

But no, there we are before God with everything laid bare, all our thoughts (see Hebrews 4:13) and everything about our lives exposed to God. Not only can’t we hide but also we learn eventually that we don’t want to hide our fears, doubts, wonderings, anger and things that could cause us shame. Before God they are the welcomed thoughts of God’s child who is growing closer to God because of God’s gracious acceptance of all that we are.

Like the prodigal son (Luke 15), who, to some extent, ruined his life and pretty much mad his family distraught; when he returns the Father is waiting to clothe his naked child in the finest apparel. In the same way, God sought out Adam and Eve and clothed them, graciously looking out for them.

The second example of ‘naked humility’ happened in my physician’s office. The doctor needed to perform a digital prostate exam. I expected this as part of the physical. But then he asked if his female student doctor could also perform the procedure. ‘Whoa, hold on there,’ I thought, but what could I say? Well, I survived but all modesty went out the window. There is nothing hidden from a good doctor.

God, I was caused to remember, is the most gracious of physicians and even forgiving our habits that may wound our own spiritual health. God will take the best care of us. And if he inflicts any pain we know it is all to a good purpose.

We bring our naked thoughts before him and he is attentive to us. We bring our sin and he forgives. We convey the best and worst of ourselves to him and discover anew the meaning of grace before our God.

I love this verse: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) NIV

And when all is said and done by God we learn again the meaning of grace.

‘There is nothing we have done to make God love us less and nothing we can do to make God love us more.’ –quote attributed to Phil Yancey.

One more final word on this subject is an old saying: ‘God loves us just as we are but never leaves us there.’

 

And…..there is no co-pay.

 

 

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