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.

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Exactly Like Him

The Message of 1 Peter
Edmund Clowney

Charles Colson describes an interview on American television.  Mike Wallace was speaking to Yehiel Dinur, a concentration-camp survivor who testified against Adolf Eichmann at the Nuremberg trials.  Wallace showed a film clip from the 1961 trial of this Nazi architect of the Holocaust.  Colson describes the scene as Dinur walked into the courtroom to come face to face with the man who had sent him to Auschwitz eighteen years earlier.

Dinur began to sob uncontrollably, then fainted, collapsing in a heap on the floor as the presiding judicial officer pounded his gavel for order in the crowded courtroom.

Was Dinur overcome by hatred?  Fear?  Horrid memories?

No; it was none of these.  Rather, as Dinur explained to Wallace, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths.  This Eichmann was an ordinary man.  ‘I was afraid about myself,’ said Dinur.  ‘…I saw that I am capable to do this.  I am…exactly like him.’

His Possession of Us

John Stott

Christian exultation is something entirely different from the vapid boastings of self-righteous religious people.  The latter boast of God as if he were their private property, as if they had him on a leash and could lead him around and exhibit him like a pet dog, and as if their possession of God betokened exceptional merit in them and guaranteed complete immunity to his displeasure.  To them God is a thing, a possession, a toy.

But to exult in God is the exact opposite of all that.  It begins with the humble acknowledgment of our inexcusable guilt before him.  It goes on to wondering astonishment that in spite of this he should have loved us and given his Son to die for us.  it continues with gratitude that, when we despaired of ourselves and trusted in Christ, he justified, reconciled and redeemed us.  It concludes with the confidence that one day he will save us fully and finally.  We exult in this God, not in our righteousness on account of which we once blindly imagined that he accepted us, but in his righteousness, his righteous bestowal of righteousness upon the unrighteous; not in our possession of him, but in his possession of us; not in our merit or works, but in his.

Do Not Join a Gang of Murdering Thieves

Proverbs 1:10-16

[10] My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
[11] If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
[12] like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
[13] we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
[14] throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
[15] my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
[16] for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.

Following the introduction to the book of Proverbs, the author dives straight into his first piece of wisdom: do not join a gang of murdering thieves.  I find myself hard pressed to argue with that, though I am tempted to ask, “How stupid do you think I am?”

Before we jump to conclusions, let’s follow the author’s argument.  In verse 11, the sinners attempt to entice the reader to lie in wait for blood.  The promised reward is precious goods and plunder (v. 13).  In short, commit sin and gain an immediate benefit for yourself.

The author of Proverbs does not think I’m stupid.  He knows I am.  I’m tempted to sell my integrity for convenience, damage my relationship with my children for five minutes of peace and quiet, and lie to my small group rather than admit I need their prayers.

The Word of God is warning us today to avoid immediate gain and death and pursue immediate obedience and everlasting life.

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.

Turn with Grief and Hatred

A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith
Benjamin B. Warfield

I believe that God requires of me, under the gospel, first of all, that , out of a true sense of my sin and misery and apprehension of his mercy in Christ, I should turn with grief and hatred away from sin and receive and rest upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation; that, so being united to him, I may receive pardon for my sins and be accepted as righteous in God’s sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received by faith alone; and thus and thus only do I believe I may be received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God. 

I believe that, having been pardoned and accepted for Christ’s sake , it is further required of me that I walk in the Spirit whom he has purchased for me, and by whom love is shed abroad in my heart; fulfilling the obedience I owe to Christ my King; faithfully performing all the duties laid upon me by the holy law of God my heavenly Father; and ever reflecting in my life and conduct, the perfect example that has been set me by Christ Jesus my Leader, who has died for me and granted to me his Holy Spirit just that I may do the good works which God has afore prepared that I should walk in them. 

My One Aim in Life and Death

A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith
Benjamin B. Warfield

I believe that my one aim in life and death should be to glorify God and enjoy him forever; and that God teaches me how to glorify him in his holy Word, that is, the Bible, which he had given by the infallible inspiration of this Holy Spirit in order that I may certainly know what I am to believe concerning him and what duty he requires of me. 

I believe that God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and incomparable in all that he is; one God but three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, my Creator, my Redeemer, and my Sanctifier; in whose power and wisdom, righteousness, goodness and truth I may safely put my trust. 

I believe that the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, are the work of God hands; and that all that he has made he directs and governs in all their actions; so that they fulfill the end for which they were created, and I who trust in him shall not be put to shame but may rest securely in the protection of his almighty love. 

I believe that God created man after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, and entered into a covenant of life with him upon the sole condition of the obedience that was his due; so that it was by willfully sinning against God that man fell into the sin and misery in which I have been born. 

I believe, that, being fallen in Adam, my first father, I am by nature a child of wrath, under the condemnation of God and corrupted in body and soul, prone to evil and liable to eternal death; from which dreadful state I cannot be delivered save through the unmerited grace of God my Savior. 

I believe that God has not left the world to perish in its sin, but out of the great love wherewith he has loved it, has from all eternity graciously chosen unto himself a multitude which no man can number, to deliver them out of their sin and misery, and of them to build up again in the world his kingdom of righteousness; in which kingdom I may be assured I have my part, if I hold fast to Christ the Lord. 

“Life” Over “Choice”

3.12.2007

I’ve heard and read a lot of arguments for and against abortion.

It appears that the issue boils down to whether an unborn baby’s right to live or a woman’s right to choose is more important. In my opinion, the Bible seems pretty clear that “life” is more important than “choice.” The implications of this statement are pretty crazy though.

When people say that a woman’s right to choose is important, this means she should be able to choose how her future plays out. An unwanted/unplanned pregnancy has serious social and economic implications. The social stigma of being a young, unwed mother is not a light thing, nor is the idea of supporting and nurturing a human life. Having a child at an early age will likely prevent someone from getting a college degree or pursuing whatever career they dream of because they must provide for their child. Then there’s always the knowledge that the child of an unprepared mother or a child sent through the system of foster homes and adoption will have a very difficult life.

Christians may say that many women are choosing convenience or their love of themselves (which includes their comfort, futures, and lifestyles) over the life of another. To a large extent I believe that is true. But make no mistake, we ask these women to do a very, very difficult thing. In order to care for this life, we essentially ask people to give up their own. And we have no right to ask this of them if we are not willing to sacrifice our own futures and comfort for the lives of others.

Christians often have a very clear stance on the issue of abortion. But the implications of our argument (“life” over “choice”) extend far beyond this one issue. We’re simply inconsistent when we ignore how the value of life ought to shape our daily choices. Even though we may not have had to deal with the issue of abortion personally, we would be foolish to believe we don’t struggle with the dilemma of “life” versus “choice”.

By the way we use our money, time, and energy we proclaim to the world whether we value “life” or “choice.” We value the choice to have financial stability, social status, and comfortable and convenient lives. Due to our exaggerated sense of entitlement, we believe our right to such privileges outweighs the value of one, ten, hundreds of lives in the third world.

To be “pro-life,” we don’t have to change the way we live at all. Maybe we’ll get a new bumper sticker for our car (though some do live out their convictions by adopting or supporting the cause). But to value “life” over “choice,” everything we do comes into question. What we do with the resources God has given us (money, education, talent) becomes a very serious thing because as we waste, others die.

Are we willing to give up our expensive toys, our financial stability, or perhaps even the hours we would otherwise spend on ourselves for the sake of life? Will we be outraged for the unborn and dismiss the millions who have been born and are suffering?

So often “outreach” and “social justice” are simply minor side issues we dabble in now and again to relieve our guilty consciences. Among university students, it has become trendy to be socially and politically aware. Yet our knowledge is rarely used for anything other than yelling at people who don’t know as many depressing statistics as we do. We speak so loud and accomplish so little.

The heart of the issue is this. We love very little. We simply don’t love enough to make a difference.  Now we can’t force ourselves to love, but we can acknowledge our tragic lack and ask God to give us new hearts. We can refuse to be self-satisfied, thinking ourselves noble, compassionate people for the one hour a week we “sacrifice.”

I don’t intend to guilt or discourage people. Good works fueled by anything other than love are not only hypocritical but ineffective. And being depressed at our humanness is entirely unnecessary because God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. He chose us because we are weak so that we would rely upon Him and identify with the downtrodden all over the world. We rejoice in our weakness because everything depends on the One who cares deeply about social justice and is strong enough to bring forth the kingdom.

But in order to be used, we have to acknowledge the true state of this world, our hearts, and the church. My hope is that you and I will wake up to what’s outside of our bubble. The world is dying and we cling to “choice.” May we finally admit that we are selfish to the core, so we can call upon our amazing God to change the world and change us so that we might be used for the flourishing of human life.

The need, as always, is great and our lack, as always, is great. Our God, as always, is greater.