Job – God’s sovereignty in suffering

He said, “Naked I came from my mothers womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety. Job 1:21-22

This passage follows Job’s extravagant outburst of sorrow. He tore his robe, shaved his head and threw himself face down to the group. Imagine a child in a shopping aisle in tantrum. This picture frames his words. In his anguish, he philosophises with a sense of symmetry:

  • We came with nothing and we leave with nothing
  • God gives and God takes away

Job’s rollercoaster life illustrates the very things that our sovereign God gives and takes away – life and everything in it while his spoken analogy of birth and death reflects the sovereignty of God giving and taking away perfectly. This illustrates 2 things for us:

  • Nothing in this life is permanent – the gift of life (on this earth) is transient
  • Nothing is outside of God’s control – the sovereignty of God is all encompassing (Job 42:2)

These are 2 very important concepts that Job teaches us. But lets not forget the third – God’s plan is good:

So the Lord restored what Job had lost after he prayed for his friends and the Lord doubled all that had belonged to Job… So the Lord blessed the second part of Job’s life more than the first.
Job 42:10, 12 (see 10-17)

God wants good for us. The ultimate goodness that God wants for us is not comfort, health and wealth because these things are all transient but Himself – everlasting, all powerful and all good. Sometimes God does bring goodness in this life as is the case in Job but we can be sure He brings it in the next. Notice that although it says that all these good things are restored to him “after” or “when” he prayed for his friends, it was not because of Job’s actions. God’s goodness is not shown here to be dependant on our action.

Job’s exclamation is entirely appropriate: “May the name of the Lord be praised!” This is not fatalistic “que sara sara” exclamation, this is “praise God” active acknowledgment for His gift (transient it may be), his sovereignty and his goodness. Job even before God restored him had already found the ultimate goodness – God himself.

Advertisements

Belief / unbelief

Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Then Jesus said to him, “If you are able? All things are possible for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 9:21-24

Belief is a complex emotion, it is something we arrive at after considering the options and reasons both intellectually and emotionally. Yet belief is something that we sometimes have little control over; we can’t force ourselves to believe in something that we simply don’t believe in.

The father’s words revealed the fickleness of his belief. While his belief caused him to bring his son to Jesus and the disciples, his unbelief questioned Jesus’ ability to “do anything” for his son. Such is the fickleness of our own hearts: we have unbelief even in our belief. While we believe in a sovereign and omnipotent God, we don’t necessarily believe in his sovereignty and omnipotence in every situation in our lives.

In those situations, God says, “All things are possible for the one who believes” and in our hearts we ask “we already believe but how do we make our unbelief believe?” We’re back to square one – the solution to our impossible situation is another impossible situation. That is why the father’s cry is so relevant to us.

“I believe, help my unbelief!” we cry, because only God can. God makes the impossible possible. If we would recognize that our hearts don’t always steer the way we want them to, we can acknowledge that Christ is our only solution.

Christ-likeness: a picture of sovereignty and responsibility

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately. But concerning the one who lacks such things – he is blind. That is to say, he is nearsighted, since he has forgotten about the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin.
2 Peter 1:5-10

“Attitude determines aptitude”, my Dad used to say. He was a big believer in character building. Everything was about character building. There was no secret to a good life, it was all in good character. In the same way, there isn’t any secret or mystery spirituality to our discipleship journey. It is about developing Christ-like character.

Unfortunately, Christ-likeness isn’t something that is mysteriously “bestowed on us”. Peter makes it clear that effort is required (2 Peter 1:5, “make every effort”). What has already been bestowed on us is the reason and all the necessary ingredients and skills. This is where God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility collide. God is sovereign in His provision, man is responsible to use that provision.

Our character and attitudes cannot be divorced from our pursuit of Christ. If this Christ-likeness is authentic and growing in us, then our pursuit of Christ is effective and productive (2 Peter 1:8). A Christ-like character is the surety of our calling and election. A truly called and elected person will have an authentic pursuit of Christ. The pursuit of Christ will produce that character (2 Peter 1:2-3, “through our knowledge of him”). That grows in an endless cycle!

Peter shows us the fork in the road when it comes to the discipleship journey: the one who doesn’t grow a Christ-like character is blind and has forgotten about what Christ has done but the one who does is sure of his salvation and will not stumble into sin. So he repeats again “make every effort” because it is worth the effort to be sure of our salvation. Choose the correct turn in the fork.

God is God II

We reject Deistic thought and plainly state that God is sovereign and He is in control. We believe in a God who is intimately involved in our lives.

I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
Isaiah 45:7

The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.
Psalm 135:6

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.
Proverbs 16:33

But in what way is God involved? Does He plan everything that happens? Does He the cause of all causes? Lets take one case subject: natural disasters.

Does God cause natural disasters to happen? Generally, no. Does He allow it to happen? Yes, through His permissive will. He allowed it to happen, He didn’t cause it to happen. That doesn’t mean that He is glad it happened, it means He allowed it to happen. They are different.

Let me illustrate, lets say I stole an iPad from a shop (through no fault of my friends) and was caught by the police because of CCTV cameras. I was then put in police custody and I was ordered to return the iPad and be fined $5000 or go to jail for a week. I don’t have $5000. My friends could help me pay that $5000 and get me out of jail but they chose not to. Did my friends cause my jail term? No. Did they allow it? Yes. Are they horrible people because they didn’t help me? Maybe not. Perhaps a jail term is exactly what I need to straighten my life up and help me understand how my actions affect others.

In that story, man would be guilty party. God would be the friends.

When a natural disaster happens, it isn’t (necesssarily) a punishment from God. It is very simply the effects of sin. The whole of creation, including the natural world, fell when man sinned (Genesis 3:17-19, notice that the ground and trees were affected). This same creation is bound by sin until Christ comes again (Romans 8:19-21). These days we also know that wild natural disasters (such as hurricanes etc) could also be the effect of global warming caused by humanity – we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).

We often hear of the bad stuff, but what about the good? Does God allow a hurricane to die down before it hits the ground and cause massive damage? Yes. Does God give rain to end years of drought? Yes. But can we ever tell what God has done in His mercy towards us? No.

Salvation works the same way: we are all guilty, deserving of death and seperation from God (Romans 3:23). It is entirely God’s choice to save (Romans 8:28-30, 9:14-24). The good news is that He does save and He has saved! And He is still in the business of saving.

Our life works the same way: we are all subject to the consequences of our own actions. It is entirely God’s choice to intervene for our good or to challenge and grow us. God is God.

God is God

Pray.
Father, teach us something new, give us a new revelation of yourself.

Introduction
Early when Sara and I started dating, she asked me, “Why do you love me?” And I paused. The gears in my head start turning, and you start thinking “this is a trick question…” and then she continues, “Will you still love me if I had a car crash and was disfigured? If I couldn’t move my body? What if I was a vegetable?” and now, I start panicking because I knew surely this is a trick question. If I name any one physical attribute of hers, I would be shallow. If it wasn’t physical, she wasn’t pretty enough. See, to me, it was a trick question, to Sara it was serious. She was assessing my credibility as a present boyfriend and future husband. There is an idea in her head of why she ought to be (deserves) loved and she is assessing if I meet that idea in her head. 

Why do I love?
One day, I thought about this and asked myself, “Why do I love God?” We all know the Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But why? Is there a difference between why I love God and why God deserves to be loved.

Scripture
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-34

Jesus said: “The most important one is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord…” This is a scripture from Duet 6:4-6. So what is so special about this statement?

Shema Yisrael
This verse is the Jewish Shema (Yisrael).

  • The core prayer of the Jews, the most important part of their prayer service.
  • They recite it when preparing to read the Torah on festivals and feasts and on the most holy days.
  • It is the first thing that is taught to children, the pray that is said when they wake up and before they sleep.
  • They would recite it just before they die – the ultimate manifestation of faith in the gravest situations.
  • When they recite it, they mention each word very carefully and intentionally.
  • The first word Shema means listen/hear and do.

Shema Significance
The Shema is loaded with meaning and tells us much about God. It asserts that:

  • That the God we serve is Jehovah God – an infinite, eternal, perfect, self-existent and self-sufficient God.
    That God as such an all-powerful, big and mighty God! God is God, He is NOT:

    • God is not just a santa-claus and gives me gifts
    • God is not just a miracle doctor and heals me
    • God is not just a divine destiny planner and gives me a hope and future
    • He is not just a marriage counsellor and fixes my marriage up

    I’m not saying that He doesn’t promise these things or that He doesn’t want to give them to us. He does because His nature is good and loving. But He is still God. He retains the right to do as He pleases.

  • He is the only living and true God, only He is God and He alone – no other God.
    When you understand that God is ultimately powerful. There is no equal. There is only one Jehovah and He is God.
  • God is singular, He is one – Not a two faced God – Hindu. Not a number of Gods – Greeks/Taoist. Not an impersonal/neutral God – Buddha.
    • He is not good one day and evil the next or half-half, He is singular in nature; He does not change.
    • Even if the circumstance in my life changes, God does not. He is still good. He is still in control. If my illness doesn’t get healed, if death is knocking at my door, God is still God.

    Note that the word one (ehad) can mean unity in diversity, not unique singular one – yachid. E.g. Genesis2:24 – one flesh (basar echad).

So when a Jew says “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, it is an extremely high view of God. He is fixing his whole being on the all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing, all-everything! When a Jew recites the Shema, he is a living witness testifying to the sovereignty of God / God’s kingship in every circumstance. No matter what our circumstance – our God is still the only one true God, and He is my God.

When they recite the Shema, their focus is not on what they can get from God, it’s about God. They take their eyes away from their circumstance and look at God who is God.

Tie back
So back to the question of why do we love God? I think we have something to learn from the original context of the Greatest Commandment in the Shema.

We love God because we have a high view of God’s being – God is God. And this huge all-powerful great God, humbled himself for us and has an intimate personal relationship with me! We can love God because of His being, not because of the circumstances in our lives. Not because one day God seems to be good and the next day bad. God deserves to be loved simply because He is God.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Its easy to love God when He is God.

“Love your neighbour as yourself”
How does this understanding affect our love for others? Well we love God for His being. We love others that way as well. I love my mother because she is my mother, not because she can cook well or help me look after my future children. I love my son because he is my son, not because he is obedient or does well in school. And that’s how God loves us! He loved us while we were still sinners! We can even love our enemies because right at the core of their being is still the image of God (not their nature)!

Pray
Thank you that you are God. That you are sovereign over everything. Sovereign over every circumstance. Thank you most of all that we can know you in an intimate and personal way. Thank you for showing us how to love and for loving us in that way, give us your heart that we can love as you love.

Disability and God

In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, 
and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.
Isaiah 29:18

Is disability part of the corruption that has happened when sin entered the flesh? Or maybe disability is something God uses to punish individuals who have sinned? Maybe disability is acceptable to God and even purposed by God? These are some questions that many of us don’t have answers to, but might I suggest that the answer is in the bible, if we bother to look for it.

When we see a person with a severe disability, it is hard to fathom how a loving God can allow such cruelty to exist. Most Christians look at disability as something that needs healing, something that needs the supernatural touch of Jesus. They are the poor captives of their own body that Christ has come to set free (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2). Afterall, much of Jesus’ ministry involved causing the blind to see and making the lame to walk (Matthew 11:4-6). Surely disability is not in God’s perfect plan, it should be filed under undesirable circumstances like miscarriage and natural disasters. In God’s design, disability and impairments are ruled out of His perfect and holy kingdom (Leviticus 21:17-23, 22:22).

The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
Exodus 4:11

Exodus 4;11 tells us in plain and simple words that God intentionally makes individuals deaf, mute and blind. God was not speaking in general terms, the sentence “Who gave human beings their mouths?” is better translated into “Who put a mouth into a man?” (NET notes). God is involved in the creation of every person such that He puts each mouth into each individual. He didn’t just create the mould for the factory and left the machine to run. In His sovereignty, He makes some with mouths that don’t speak, ears that don’t hear and eyes that don’t see, right along with the ones that do. Knowing that, we cannot say that disability is part of the corruption that happened on all flesh when sin came in. God is pleased to do what He does and to create what He creates.

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
John 9:2-3

Does God do so because He knows the future of the person and the future sin and pre-punished the person for it? Or maybe it is the sin of the parents that has caused it? Is it the direct result of sin? John 4:2-3 is prescriptive to the blind man whom Jesus was healing, but the principle behind this teaching is that disability is not necessarily because of sin. It corrects this myopic thinking that was prevalent in that time and even now. We are quick to point to the cause of the disability – drugs, alcohol, abortion, etc, but God motive is more important than the cause. The cause doesn’t give meaning to the disability, God’s motive does. Jesus isn’t trivialising the man’s years of suffering as a blind man, He is magnifying God’s grand purpose.

The man’s blindness was ordained by God “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him”, Jesus then goes on to heal the man. Wait a minute, that means God’s purpose for everyone who has a disability is to be healed? To answer this question, we need to consider the entire context. The end goal of Jesus’ work is to testify to His divinity and sonship; the goal of such a public display is so that the Pharisees would see and believe (John 5:36, 6:28-29, 10:25, 37-38). Now in this specific instance, God’s work was healing because it testifies undeniably to Jesus’ divinity to the Pharisees (John 9:30-33). This does not necessarily mean that healing is the way God will function all of the time, there is more than one way for a person with a disability to testify to the risen Christ or glorify God:

  • Moses was not healed of his speech impairment, he was empowered despite of it, but he was still used mightily (Exodus 4:10; Acts 7:22).
  • Israel walked with a limp after his wrestling match with God and was still the father of God’s nation (Genesis 32:25, 31).
  • Paul, perhaps the greatest Christian writer of all time and great Gentile missionary, had a thorn in his flesh that most theologians agree is a physical ailment of some sort (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Psalm 139:14

The fact is, able or not, we are all created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) and we are all crafted with an individual touch. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” and we are His handiwork, which He calls “wonderful”. We are not to see a person with disability and think that God has made a mistake or that sin has got the upper hand. God is sovereign and deliberate in creation (Romans 9:20-21). What we deem as ugly and undesirable, God has deemed beautiful, wonderful and God glorifying.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20:24-28

We look at Leviticus 21 and 22 through the eyes of Jesus, who is our perfect Great High Priest and the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 7:24-27). After fulfilling the Law, Jesus didn’t hide His scars, instead He presented Himself with scars intact (John 20:24-28). Our Jesus identifies with our disability with His scars. He could have chosen to get rid of them, but He does not. His scars bear the proof and power of His sacrifice – it pleases Him to have those scars! We need not be fearful of whether our sacrifice with a disability is good enough, if Jesus is good enough, we are all good enough (Romans 12:1).

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14:12-14

It is sad that while we as a church are greatly concerned with orphans, widows and the poor (James 1:27; Matthew 19:21), people with disabilities are often overlooked. My church is not disability friendly, we don’t have wheelchair ramps, accessible toilets or Braille. Heck, even the colours and fonts of our slides, handouts and fliers are not friendly for people with visual impairments.

But things can change.

Let us be the people who invites them to our banquet.

Read also:
http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jul1992/v49-2-article3.htm
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/us/22eiesland.html
http://www.agncn.org/documents/pp_disabilities.pdf

Sovereign

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, 
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; 
may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Job 1:21

I have often taken this verse to mean so little when it speaks of so much. Job’s loss was not solely material possessions but abstract possessions as well. There were human lives lost, along with these were relationships that were built. There were servants he worked with and lived with, perhaps among them were some of his friends. There were sons and daughters, born to him by his own blood, raised by his own hands. He lost his stature and respect among the people as a rich man, his entitlements to the finer things in life, his authority over his (now defunct) household and his rights to natural fairness and justice as he kept his integrity. So much of himself to lose in just a few minutes!

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Job 2:10b

His response is so valuable and teaches us so much about suffering:

  • Suffering is not only handed out to the unrighteous but also to the righteous. We should not view our poverty, loss or suffering as God’s punishment. No one in this life is immune to valleys.
  • It is ok to lament, feel agony and sadness over suffering. Job did exactly that. God did create us with a full range of emotions at our disposal (Job 3:26). Jesus himself was familiar with sorrows and suffering (Isaiah 53:3).
  • Our response to God in times of suffering reveal something of our inner person and relationship with God. It is possible to graciously accepting suffering from God as Job did, and we should do so.
  • Whatever happens in our life, we can have assurance of one common denominator: death. However much suffering this life may bring, it is only temporal, for there will be nothing of it that we can bring into our next life other than ourselves and our relationship with Him (Romans 8:18).
  • Our God is sovereign over good times and bad. He is sovereign over suffering and happiness, our loss and gain, our poverty and prosperity. Notice the word “and”, not “or”. He is sovereign over them both. In His infinite wisdom and sovereignty, He does as He pleases, all for His purposes. Everything is within His control, and nothing goes on without His knowledge or supervision (Job 42:2).
  • In every circumstance, we can worship. Even in our loss, we can bring Him praise, because in all that God does, He deserves praise. We don’t worship Him because He brings us good, but because He intrinsically deserves worship.

Worldly riches are like nuts; many a tooth is broke in cracking them, but never is the stomach filled with eating them.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Job reads like a play, with the prologue (Job 1-2), monologue (Job 3), dialogue (Job 4-42:6) and epilogue (Job 42:7-17). He shows us that our questions regarding suffering are often inconsequential because once we have a correct view of the sovereignty of God, none of those questions need answering (Job 42:3-5). All we need to do is to focus on Him.

Sometimes I feel like God is toying with my life and I am no more than a pawn in a game of chess between God and Satan, but really Satan wasn’t playing chess with God. There was no competition at all, there is no question as to who is right, who has the final say, and who has the authority. Beyond that, who are we to dictate our own lives? We are simply trying to play God and equate ourselves to the Maker in that statement. The fact is: God is sovereign over us.

Now comes the important question: is this view of suffering still relevant in the New Testament, after the cross?

Yes it is.

Read:
http://au.christiantoday.com/article/suffering-in-the-new-testament-part-one/9286.htm
http://au.christiantoday.com/article/suffering-in-the-new-testament-part-two/9287.htm

One other strange reaction to suffering that I often hear is to “rebuke the devil for stealing away “. Saying that suffering comes from Satan and not from God offers no comfort and implies that Satan is in control. If Satan can do nothing without God’s permitting, we might as well be rebuking God. Perhaps instead of rebuking Satan, we need to focus on God. The New Testament passages about suffering point towards the work of God in our lives, not towards Satan.