God Grieves

Ezekiel 33:10–11

[10] “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ [11] Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Man thinks “you get what you deserve,” but God grieves over the deserved suffering of sinners.

Advertisements

Who We Really Are and What Our Lives Are For

The Thing Is
Tony Payne

Isaiah 45:9–13

[9] “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
[10] Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

[11] Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
[12] I made the earth
and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
[13] I have stirred him up in righteousness,
and I will make all his ways level;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,”
says the LORD of hosts.

There is an inescapable truth here. If God is the creator and we are his creatures, then us telling God what to do is about as sensible as a coffee mug arguing with its potter. God is the creator and master of all—the great Potter who fashions and forms us, who decides what we are for and how he will use us. He is the one who determines what his creatures are for, and what they should do. The thing is: we don’t get to decide who we really are and what our lives are for—our creator does. Let’s be honest. We hate this idea.  It grates with everything we hold dear. A lifetime of Disney movies has taught us that you must be free to follow your heart, and that no-one else (least of all a Religious Authority Figure) can direct the course of your life. You must be yourself, and find the real truth about yourself within yourself. Only then can you believe in yourself, and be free to become your true self. There are very few beliefs that everyone in Western society holds in common these days, but this is one of them: the absolute right to personal self-determination. When an external authority tries to impose its rules or priorities or values upon us, we protest (too loudly perhaps) that “No-one has the right to tell me how to live my life”. In the words of the 60s anthem, “You gotta go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do, with whoever you wanna do it with…”

The strange thing is, this deep attachment we have to self-determination contradicts the equally deep sense we have that human life is purposeful and meaningful. As we considered at the opening of this chapter, this idea that human life is purposeful resonates with all of us. We know at a visceral level that our lives are not meaningless or random. And yet this can only be the case if our lives are the result of design or intention—that is, if we came to exist not purely by the result of physical forces acting randomly, but through the intention and purpose of a creator. And so we see the profound folly by which the human heart has always been bound. We sense very deeply that we have been made; that we were intended; that there is a purpose and meaning to human life that can only be the result of us being created by Another. And yet we also stubbornly rebel against the idea that the purpose and direction of our lives can only be given to us by Another—that is, by the God who created us. We want the freedom to live as if no-one created us, and yet we cannot abide the meaningless, purposeless nature of an accidental, non-created world. All in all, we desire to be in the position of the potter rather than the clay. And that desire, along with its tragic consequences, is as old as humanity itself.

Ask

James 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Sometimes my son “accidentally” breaks apart the tracks to his train set.  I’ll be working at the kitchen table and I’ll hear his voice, “Dad…Dad…help!” He asks for help because he assumes two things.  First, he assumes I’ll be able to help him (repairing toy train tracks is within my abilities). Second, he assumes I’ll be willing to help him.  I suppose I could walk over and flip his train table upside-down but my son trusts that I want to help, not hurt.

Many times in life, we do not know what to do.  This is an opportunity to ask the God who is both able and willing (eager even!) to help.

The Danger of Asking God ‘Why me?’

The Danger of Asking God ‘Why me?’
Tim Keller
CNN Belief Blog

When I was diagnosed with cancer, the question “Why me?” was a natural one.

Later, when I survived but others with the same kind of cancer died, I also had to ask, “Why me?”

Suffering and death seem random, senseless.

The recent Aurora, Colorado, shootings — in which some people were spared and others lost — is the latest, vivid example of this, but there are plenty of others every day: from casualties in the Syria uprising to victims of accidents on American roads. Tsunamis, tornadoes, household accidents – the list is long.

As a minister, I’ve spent countless hours with suffering people crying: “Why did God let this happen?” In general I hear four answers to this question. Each is wrong, or at least inadequate.

The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.” The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if there was no higher divine law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust. Likewise, if there is no God, then why do we have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak, there is no meaning, so why not?

Friedrich Nietzsche exemplified that idea. When the atheist Nietzsche heard that a natural disaster had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: “Two-hundred-thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!”

Because there is no God, Nietzsche said, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament.

As different as they were, King and Nietzsche agreed on this point. If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural.

So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all.

The second response to suffering is: “While there is a God, he’s not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.” But that kind of God doesn’t really fit our definition of “God.” So that thinking hardly helps us with reconciling God and suffering.

The third answer to the worst kind of suffering – seemingly senseless death – is: “God saves some people and lets others die because he favors and rewards good people.” But the Bible forcefully rejects the idea that people who suffer more are worse people than those who are spared suffering. The world is too fallen and deeply broken to fall into neat patterns of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.

The fourth answer to suffering in the face of an all-powerful God is that God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him. This is partly right, but inadequate. It is inadequate because it is cold and because the Bible gives us more with which to face the terrors of life.

God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him. We were put into this world to live wholly for him, and when instead we began to live for ourselves everything in our created reality began to fall apart, physically, socially and spiritually. Everything became subject to decay.

But God did not abandon us. Only Christianity of all the world’s major religions teaches that God came to Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself, dying on the cross to take the punishment our sins deserved, so that someday he can return to Earth to end all suffering without ending us.

Do you see what this means? We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be.

It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

Someone might say, “But that’s only half an answer to the question ‘Why?’” Yes, but it is the half that we need. If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains.

What we truly need is what little children need. They can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. They need to know their parents love them and can be trusted. We need to know the same thing about God.

It Is Frightening

Theophany
Vern S. Poythress

To many, it seems that God cannot be found. But what if God actually came and met you? What if he spoke to you? According to the Bible, just such a thing happened to Job (Job 38–41), and it was overwhelming. We should not be surprised that it was. It would be overwhelming for us, if we were to meet the God of infinity, who made the galaxies and the stars, and who also made you and me. Meeting God turns out to be an earthshaking experience that may change you forever…

If we think we want to have an experience like Job’s, we might first think about whether we really want the “full package,” so to speak. For example, do we want to go through the suffering that Job experienced that led up to the climactic encounter with God? And even if we could avoid the suffering of Job, do we really want to be overwhelmed by encountering the infinite God as Job did? In reality, it is frightening.

Human Love Has Limits

We can love hardworking or good people.  We can love the underprivileged or victims of oppression.  People earn our love through achievement or suffering.  But we cannot love people who are completely undeserving.  We can’t love proud people, or greedy rich people, or people who have maliciously hurt us.  Human love has very real limits.  God is the only person who does not make us earn His love.

It Concerns His Son

The Thing Is
Tony Payne

From what we have said so far, it sounds like we are at the top of God’s agenda. His plans, after all, revolve around us: rescuing us, forgiving us, reconciling us, transferring us, transforming us. Perhaps we are right to think of ourselves like a very spoiled teenager. Maybe God’s world does revolve around us. Maybe God is like an overly invested parent who lives entirely through his children, and who has no other purpose in life except to look after us and see us thrive. Maybe we are the reason God gets out of bed in the morning. 

Many people today, including some Christians, think this is what Christianity really is—the conviction that God exists for our sake, to bless us, to save us, to make our lives better, and to help us to reach our potential. 

But the section of Colossians 1 that we haven’t yet looked at tells a different story. There’s a bigger reason, a bigger item that dominates God’s plans—in fact, one single item, of which everything else is a sub-point. It concerns his Son: 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15-18)

When Was Jesus Most Angry?

When was Jesus most angry?  

  1. before his morning coffee
  2. when Peter made a “yo mama” joke
  3. at the end of Lost
  4. when he cleansed the temple

Mark 11:15–17

[15] And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. [16] And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. [17] And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

Jesus actually whipped people!  He flipped tables in a place more sacred than the Vatican or the Sistine Chapel.  And He did not use His library voice, but shouted, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

Here, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56:7.  In its context, the verse reads as follows:

Isaiah 56:3, 6-7

3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”…

6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants… these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Isaiah 56 is about the foreigner who is afraid that they will be separated from God’s people.  The prophet reassures foreigners (non Israelites) who love the Lord that they will be brought near.  The main emphasis is not on money or even prayer, but on God’s love for all nations and all peoples.

Jesus was angry because the Israelites had set up shops in the outer courts of the temple that were supposed to be reserved for the Gentiles to worship.  God’s people had considered their own worship and their own profits more important than the world having access to God. God is most upset when we ignore His heart for the nations and push them away because we are too worried about ourselves.

God Promises the Impossible

The Glory of the Coming Lord
Edmund P. Clowney

Not only is the condition of God’s people so hopeless that only God can remedy it; the promises of God are so great that only God can fulfill them. No one ever disbelieved God because he promised too little. God promises the impossible.

If God were to make reasonable promises: a spiritual high, a technique for relaxation, a tax break, then a secular age might credit the word of the Almighty. But God promises a new nature, physical resurrection, a new heaven and earth, and eternal life. Superlatives burst open as Old Testament prophets describe what God will do in the glorious future. Zechariah foresees a time when every pot in Jerusalem will be like a holy temple vessel, and when “Holiness to the Lord,” once inscribed in gold in the High Priest’s tiara, will be on the bridles of the horses-the ancient equivalent of bumper stickers. In that day the feeblest man in Jerusalem will be like King David, “and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the Lord going before them” (Zec 12:8).