Friday, November 26, 2010

Why Do We Suffer? #1


Things occasionally happen that cause us to ask, "Why? Why did that happen? Why did someone I love get ill? Why didn’t I get the job? Why do good people die young?" Stories like what happened to Job: Job 1:18-20. How do you explain that?

It helps me to remember that we live in a fallen world. Things are not the way God intended them. If you read the first two chapters of Genesis, you will see that God intended things to be good. There was clean water, fresh food, happy people, loving relationships and no illness.

But sadly, all that changed when man decided to go his own way. You know the story of God putting two trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man was allowed to eat of the Tree of Life, but not of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But man ate of that tree, anyway.

The decision man had was not between this fruit or that fruit. No, the decision was over communion with God or separation from him. Would man choose communion with God or life independent of him? That was the issue. A friend of mine wrote, "The trees are not about fruit. They are about fellowship. They are about life and death, a choice between life with God or life apart from God. The trees symbolize that choice, and the choice expresses what the heart truly desires." (J. M. Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him, p. 67).

And what man truly desired was life apart from God. So in the Garden man left God. Yes, God drove man from the Garden, depriving him of eating from the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24). After that man would experience death (Gen. 2:17). But really, even before man left the Garden, man had left God. He left when he made the decision to eat of the wrong tree and live independently of God.

Man lost three things when he sinned in the Garden, three things that continue to plague us today. Three things that lead to some of the horrible experiences in our lives that cause us to ask, "Why?"

One, man lost his innocence. Gen. 3:7 says that the man and woman realized they were naked, and they made clothes for themselves. Prior to eating of the fruit, man and woman had been comfortable with themselves. Now they were not. They became "self aware." They became selfish.

So, two, man lost his relationship with others. Gen. 3:14. Adam blamed Eve for the fruit incident. Eve blamed the serpent. Oh, Adam was still married to Eve. They would still have their children. Even now we have marriage, children, friends. But the innocence is gone. Relationships do not occur with the ease and grace they used to. We battle selfishness and envy. Honesty in relationships doesn’t come as easily as it did before the fall. Just as Adam and Eve used fig leaves to hide their bodies, we use lying and deceitfulness to cover other aspects of our lives.

Three, man lost his standing with God. Gen. 3:8. At one time man enjoyed the actual physical presence of God. Did Adam and Eve see God face to face? I don’t know. But God was certainly manifested in some physical way so that the first couple could hear him, talk to him. That is gone now. We can still converse with God through prayer. We can still read his Word. But wouldn’t it be nice to have God over for a visit and ask him some questions that he would answer personally, audibly? Adam and Eve used to have that. But they chose independence over fellowship. (Points 1-3 are from Willis, Genesis).

And when Adam and Eve chose independence, going their own way, doing their own thing, over fellowship, three important things changed: their relationship with themselves, with others, and with God.

But God still loved, still LOVES, man. And God has done a number of things recorded in the Bible to call man back to him. God called a man named Abraham. Gen. 12:1-3. God would bless Abraham and through Abraham bless others. God hoped this would open the eyes of people to God so that they would seek communion with God again. God sent Jesus. The hope for Jesus was that he would bring together all the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and even those who were not of Israel. Rev. 3:10. God used these two men to call people back into fellowship with him.

I believe that everything that God has done and is recorded in the Bible has been with the view of calling people back to him. God wants us in relationship with him. "This was God’s intention in creation, and it is his intention in re-creation/redemption. God’s goal is an eschatological community among whom he can dwell as God and they as his people. He seeks fellowship with a people who will share his holy triune communion in a new heaven and new earth." (Hicks, p.119).

God has used two men to call us back to him: Abraham and Jesus. But God has used other means to call us back to him as well: the tough situations in life that make us ask, "Why?"

In a fallen world, people are frequently unhappy. Sad things happen. People get ill, or they grow old and die. People argue and fight. Friendships dissolve, sometimes shatter. How can we live like that? So people try their hand, often independently of God, at ways of being happy. We try to be happy through our work. We marry someone who we hope will make us happy. If we still are not happy, we hope kids will be the secret to happiness. "We are restless until we are happy, and we are unhappy because we are restless." (Hicks, p.119)

Some good news is that God wants us to be happy, too. But God’s view of happiness is not the same as ours. Ours tends to be self-absorbed. We are selfish in our pursuit of happiness. But eventually we must accept that happiness depends upon something beyond ourselves. Real happiness is to be found in God. And God’s desire for our happiness is that we live in his presence. Forever.

Eccl. 3:11 says that God has set eternity in our hearts. I think that means that God gives us a sense of restlessness so that we WON’T be too happy here. If we are too happy here, would we look forward to God? So God’s intent is not to make everyone happy THE WAY WE WANT to be happy, but to make us look to him. And one way God does that is by allowing affliction to come into our lives. AFFLICTION. The sad things that make us ask, "Why God? How could you allow these things to happen?" The answer is because God wants us to look to him.

Lets look at two verses in Psalm 119:
V.67 - "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word."
V.71 - "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."
What was it about affliction that brought David back to obeying God’s Word? Somehow the affliction in his life made David realize that he needed God. And it broke him from his independence and brought him back to communion and fellowship.

And I wonder if the terrible tragedies of life that make us ask, "Why," don’t still happen for the very same purpose? To bring us back home into fellowship with the Father? Matt. 11:28-30.

We lost three wonderful relationships years ago. Our relationships with ourselves, with others and with God. And everything God has done since then has been to try and bring us back home ... to Him.

Future lessons:

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crafting Words

Crafting Words

The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse. Proverbs 10:32

The righteous know what is fitting because they know three important things: the heart of God, the heart of others, and their own hearts.

"The lips of the righteous know what is fitting" refers to speech. Fitting speech refers to words that are spoken at the right time to the right people in the right circumstances. Someone who handles words this appropriately are artists and craftsmen.

My girls were excited when I arrived at home with a bunk bed kit for their room. But excitement turned to disappointment when several re-cut pieces didn’t fit and pre-drilled holes for the screws didn’t line up. Someone in the factory was careless with their measurements, cutting and drilling.

It is too easy for our speech to be as haphazard and ill-fitting as the pieces of the bunk bed. For the wicked, speech is perverse, meaning it violates moral and societal standards. Perverse means to "turn upside down." It is immoral, offensive, and inappropriate. Children exposed to this kind of speech grow up without any internal apparatus for tuning in to spiritual thoughts or behavior.

But inappropriate speech doesn’t just emanate from those with impure and wicked hearts, nor is it limited to that which is immoral or offensive. Inappropriate speech is that which fails to take into account people’s feelings and situations.

One year after losing their oldest son, friends of ours were asked by a lady at church, "Are you still grieving for him? It’s been a year." She has no idea how she cut the heart of our friends. It wasn’t wickedness that prompted her cruel comment; it was simply an unsympathetic and undiscerning heart. Because she didn’t know the heart of God, the heart of her friends, or even her own heart, she spoke words that tore the spirit.

The heart of God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, loving and faithful (Exodus 34:6). To know his heart is to walk in his kindness, showing compassion to the hurt and suffering. Someone attuned to the heart of God would never so callously dismiss the constant ache felt by grieving parents. God knows the pain of losing a son.

Secondly, to know the heart of another person is to place ourselves in the drama of their lives and feel, as best we can imagine, the joys and hurts they experience. Though our children may be alive and healthy, can we imagine what it would be like to visit our own child in the cancer ward? Can we stretch to think what it must be like to make the funeral arrangements for our son or daughter? Such thoughts are not pleasant, but neither are they morbid if the focus of such thoughts is to enter into another’s suffering and experience life with them.

Finally, to be able to speak words that are fitting, we must know our own hearts. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"(Jeremiah 17:9). We all have an amazing capacity for thoughts, speech and behavior that is inconsiderate, selfish, and even evil. We can become so absorbed in our own lives that we become blind or insensitive to the circumstances of others. For those of us who have never experienced loss, grieving for a year may seem like sufficient time to calm the ache of a heart. But have we really put ourselves in the place of those parents who still see the empty chair at dinner time?

It takes a craftsman who knows wood to fashion furniture so that the pieces fit and are aesthetically pleasing. Likewise, it takes a craftsman who knows hearts to fashion words so that they fit the setting, offering peace, comfort or even rebuke, as the situation may demand. To become a craftsmen of words, studying hearts, beginning with the heart that yearns to make us righteous: God’s.

Warren Baldwin