Category Archives: Sin and Grace

Every Appearance of Evil, and the Billy Graham Rule

I’ve been gone and out of the loop for a while. The debate over the so-called “Billy Graham” rule, in light of the comments of Mike Pence, went on without me. That was probably a good thing.

But every generation renews its battle with the horrible interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You have probably heard it:

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22 KJV)

This is generally interpreted by small-minded men as an excuse to avoid interacting for good in the lives of others. When the passage is poorly translated, and taken out of context, it appears as if it is saying that one should avoid doing anything that someone else might take as being evil. Thus, lazy and guilt-ridden men can avoid interaction with “undesireables” and still pretend to take the high ground.

For example, I heard one man say that if he were driving alone down the road and saw a beautiful woman stranded with car trouble, he wouldn’t stop to help, but would call someone at the next town. He wouldn’t want the neighbors to think evil of him being alone with a beautiful woman. And, as he said, the Bible says, “Avoid every appearance of evil.” (This rule only applies to beautiful women, apparently.)

Another man told me once that he couldn’t be seen with a troubled teen who appeared to be “effeminate” (I hate that word), for fear that someone might think evil of him. I just can’t even…

I do not wish to judge the heart of Billy Graham. I simply don’t know enough about the situation, and God did not assign to me the task of being everyone’s conscience. I only wish to make one point. Is dining alone with a member of the opposite sex an “appearance of evil” and thus forbidden by 1 Thessalonians 5:22?

If that is the case, then Jesus himself broke the rule. He spoke with women one on one, alone. He even dined with publicans and sinners.

Further, Paul wrote that we should not seek to please men, but to please God (Gal.1:10), and Jesus commanded us not to judge according to appearance (John 7:24). So does the Bible have contradictions? Certainly not!

A quick look at the historical and grammatical context of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 will sort out the issues, if one wishes to have eyes to see.

The historical context is this: Remember that the Thessalonians were real people with real problems, and Paul knew them.  Paul preached at Thessalonica and the conversions there caused the Jews to respond with furious envy (Acts 17). The believers in that city had to send Paul away quickly to spare his life, and Paul went from there to Berea, where they were “more noble”, since they searched the scriptures daily to “see if these things be so.…”

Paul, then, is very concerned about the new church in Thessalonica. He left them suddenly without new leadership in place. This in turn left them open to various itinerate preachers. Some were good and some were not so good.

This is the historical context of 1 Thessalonians.

Here is the grammatical context:

19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
(1Th 5:19-22 KJV)

As you can see, what Paul is saying is this. “When you hear the word of God preached to you, don’t despise it. But at the same time, don’t swallow everything you hear. Test it according to the scriptures (like the Bereans do). If it is good, grapple it unto your soul with hoops of steel. If it is evil, shun it strongly and completely, no matter what appearance it takes.”

When evil comes, don’t be fooled by the mask. Shun it, no matter what mask it wears.

So, in the context, if someone comes to you and says, “Don’t do good to others because someone might think you are doing evil”, perhaps we should apply 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and reject that counsel as bad. This is, after all, what the scripture tells us to do.

Let’s be discerning in what we hear. If what we hear is good, embrace it. If it is evil, reject it – no matter how pretty one makes it sound. It is only the scripture that determines what is pleasing to God, not the envious and self-righteous judgments of passersby.

There may be all sorts of valid reasons to try to avoid getting into a situation alone with a member of the opposite sex, but the “appearance of evil” is not one of them.

You can see my follow-up post here.

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Filed under practical theology, Sex, Sin and Grace, Wisdom

I Believe in the Holy Spirit

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:31-34 NASB)

From the very beginning, the church has confessed the Apostles’ Creed. The third section of the creed begins thus: I believe in the Holy Spirit.

I wonder, though, if we have really thought about what it means when we confess it.

Jeremiah wrote about the New Covenant. God promised that the day would come when He would write the laws on the hearts of his people, instead of on tables of stone. This would mean that there would not be a need for anyone to teach each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord.” The reason is that “they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest.”

To understand what is being taught, we need to look at this New Covenant, as it is fully revealed after Christ came into the world. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect satisfaction for our sin, keeping the law (covenant) of God perfectly. He is called the “mediator of the New Covenant.” The Bible teaches that we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10), and can neither add nor take away from his perfect work. His righteousness is put on our account, as if we neither had, nor committed any sin. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

60. How art thou righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

And because we are now considered righteous by God, because Christ has completed the work, He has received “the promise of the Father” (Acts 2:33), which he has poured out upon his people. This promise, according to Peter, is the Holy Spirit, whom Christ gives to all who believe on His name.

The work of the Holy Spirit, according to Jeremiah (and Ezekiel 36:27) is to write the knowledge of God and the law of God on the hearts of God’s people, so that they will truly be “his people, and he shall be their God.”

To put this simply, the work of the Holy Spirit is to take the words that He has inspired in the Holy Scriptures and apply them to the hearts of the young and old, rich and poor, male and female. This is what Joel meant when he said,

28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.
29 “And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29 NASB)

I don’t want to get overly wordy, for there has been many centuries of excellent work done on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I just say these things as a reminder, and then make this simple application.

If we believe in the Holy Spirit, why do we flock to celebrity preachers to tell us what music to listen to, what movies we should watch, how we should dress, how to be manly, how to be womanly, what household chores a man should do, how to focus on our family, what household chores a wife should do, how to educate our children, how long should our skirts be, how high should our necklines be, where should we shop, where should we NOT shop, what books should we avoid, how often should we exercise, how do we exercise as Christians, should we have friends of the opposite sex, should we have friends of the same sex, how close should we be to them….and on and on and on and on…?

Do we, or do we not, believe in the Holy Spirit?

As I was thinking about this, I saw this documentary on the Bill Gothard cult. It is heartbreaking – not just because of the results, but because of the demonic theology that allowed him to thrive in the first place. Please do not say to me, “Well he says a lot of good things, too.” This isn’t a matter of that. The devils also believe in one God. And I used the analogy on purpose. The things that Gothard has always taught have been nothing less than a denial of Christ, and a denial of the Holy Spirit.

He has taught for decades that Christ is not enough. If you truly wish to be blessed, you must follow his teachings, go to his conferences, send your kids through his program. “He made promises” one of the participants said in the documentary. But these promises can only be given by God. Peace in the home, blessings on our lives, love and joy and peace come from only one place, according to scripture: The Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Anyone who promises that which can only come from Jesus Christ and his perfect sacrifice on the cross is not Christ, but an antiChrist. This is exactly what the devil did in the Garden, and the sons of the devil have been promising the same things ever since. It was then, and it still is now, a lie.

Please hear me closely. God favor, God’s blessing, and God’s love come from only one place: the finished and perfect sacrifice of Christ. Israel failed in the keeping of God’s law, according to Jeremiah. So God made a new covenant – where he would “forgive their sins” and they would be his people and he would be their God. God is ALREADY our God, and we are his people, because of Christ. We are heirs to the promises and heirs of eternal life already, because Christ paid it all. He did perfectly that which God required. It is finished and done. We are not given the blessings of the covenant because we went to a Gothard conference, went through the steps, or followed his rules, any more than Luther was accepted because he crawled up the steps of the Scala Sancta. We can’t purchase God’s favor through Gothard’s home school system any more than we could buy indulgences from Tetzel!

And please do not tell me that Gothard isn’t teaching this. He may add “by God’s grace” with every vile word he writes. But writing it doesn’t make it so. The Heidelberg Catechism addressed this very problem with the Popes of old, and it still applies to every minor pope of whatever stripe:

30. Do those also believe in the only Saviour Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?

No, although they make their boast of Him, yet in deeds they deny the only Saviour Jesus for either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or they who by true faith receive this Saviour, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation.

Under “anywhere else” we might add conferences, training materials, programs, steps, devotionals, and anything else that promises salvation. Anything that teaches, “do this and live” is another gospel, contrary to Christ, and under the curse. Either Jesus completed everything, or He is not a complete savior. Any attempt to add anything to the perfect work of Christ is a denial of Christ. Any attempt to gain God’s blessing by doing some kind of work, no matter what it is, is a false gospel, and anathema.

In fact, the Bible says it will always have the same results:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21 KJV)

Do not be surprised that this is what we are finding under Gothard’s umbrella. He didn’t deliver what he promised, for he worked according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit, and so reaped the corruption that he sowed. The child abuse scandals that his cult is now fighting is not an anomaly, but an expected result from the theology of the devil. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap the corruption of the flesh. God will not be mocked.

Do we, or do we not believe in the Holy Spirit? Then flee from every man who promises to hold the key to the blessings of God. They can be found in only one place. Life can only be found in Christ, who has given us his spirit, has written his laws on our hearts and has promised to never leave or forsake us.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not at all a denial of the proper offices of the church. God has indeed given pastors and teachers. The difference is that a true pastor and teacher builds up the body in the unity of faith until they become no more children, tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:11-16). A false prophet doesn’t want maturity, but wants you to stay dependent upon him forever. He will never say, “Trust your God-given wisdom.” He will continue to instruct every aspect of your lives by his own opinion. He will continue to churn out pamphlets and power-points and blogs and systems, promising God’s blessing if you just do a little more.  A false prophet rejoices when you have been made over into the image of the false prophet. A true pastor rejoices when he decreases and Christ increases. A true pastor rejoices when Christ is formed in the hearts of his people, and every opinion of man is cast off.

When the Holy Spirit is denied in practice, the only thing that can result is bondage – not only to sin and the power of the devil, but also bondage to man. Wicked men fill the heart with terror – “if you reject my teaching, God will forsake you and destroy you.”

But God says, “Fear not. I will never leave you, nor forsake you. I will be your God and you will be my people forever.”

Let’s once again confess and believe the confession: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

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The Modesty Debate Follow-up

I recently blogged about the Modesty Debate. For the most part, it garnered a great deal of support, and I thank you all for that.

But I have also received some rather interesting negative comments, and I would like to make some observations.

First, I never claimed that women should dress like harlots. In fact, I never commented on HOW women should dress at all (other than the statement “Dress like a daughter of the king.”) My ONLY point was that blaming the attire of a woman for the thoughts of men’s hearts is unbiblical, unhelpful and wrong. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

It seems a bit strange that there were so many who took issue with that. Some said that since we still live in a fallen world, guidelines for dress are necessary, just like law in general. I find it interesting how little men understand their daughters and their wives. The assumption, again, is that if we men don’t lay down the law, our women will just rush right out to Backroom Boutique and buy stilettos and fishnets.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t think that we will have a rush on miniskirts and tankinis any time soon, at least not from the readers of my blog. Those women that feel the inkling to do such might be better encouraged to examine their motives than to have someone lay down the law to them. The gospel goes to the heart. Should we not be interested in the hearts of women?

Second, please look at this masterful analysis of the modern trend towards “baring it all.” By connecting this sin with shame, the author hits the nail on the head. We as church leaders cannot assist women to overcome their shame by heaping on the shame! We must go the heart of the issue and direct them to Christ as human beings with dignity and worth. Too often, we simply get out the tape measure and start measuring skirts and think that the Holy Spirit is somehow impotent when it comes to the hearts of women. It’s the shame of the heart that must be dealt with, not the exposed ankle or knee! When shame is dealt with according to the gospel of Christ, the physical manifestations of shame will take care of themselves. Jesus told the Pharisees to clean the inside of the cup and the outside will be clean.

But we don’t stick around long enough to speak of these things because we are scared to death that the devil will get into us through an exposed cleavage!

Third, I was in no way saying that we must NEVER speak of how a woman dresses. Certainly we must speak to our daughters about appropriate and inappropriate attire. My beef was telling them that the way that they dress would lead men astray. THIS is what is unbiblical and wrong. Nowhere is the adultery of men’s hearts excused in scripture because of the seduction of the woman. The adultery is our own, gentlemen. And the only way to overcome it is by acknowledging that, taking full blame, and laying it at the foot of the cross.

1 Timothy 2:9 comes up a lot in these discussions and is relevant for how a woman dresses. But this text doesn’t mean what people think it means. It really isn’t speaking of exposed body parts at all. It is talking about dressing with respectful, well-ordered and beautiful clothing, appropriate to the occasion. Even if it does apply to covering body parts, notice that Paul does not say that the reason for this is to keep the men from lusting in their hearts.

The next passage used is 1 Peter 3:1-6. Just like 1 Timothy, the point is NOT that women should cover themselves up. This takes care of itself if the spirit is healthy. The point is that the adornment of the woman is NOT ultimately how much time she spends fixing her hair and jewelry, but in her good works. It is speaking of a godly woman’s true adornment, as opposed to outward show.

Notice also that Peter assumes that wives are big girls and don’t need their husbands to tell them how to dress. He assumes something that we men have a hard time with: that our wives are co-heirs of eternal life, are led themselves by the Holy Spirit, and can get themselves dressed all by their lonesomes without us laying down the law. If your wife starts putting on the stilettos and fishnets and heading to the bars at night, I might suggest that you could have a problem that a long denim skirt may not be able to fix.

So neither text really speaks to the issue that I was raising. In a short blog, you can’t address everything. I was ONLY speaking of the argument that women should cover themselves up to keep men from lusting.

To this, I stick by my original assessment:

Piffle.

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He Sets the Prisoner Free

For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death (Ps. 102:19-20).

“Tomorrow I will be a better person.”

How many times have you told yourself that? You may have gone to therapists. You have gone to the meetings. You may even have tried “religion”. But you still find that your conscience accuses you. At night you lie on your bed unable to sleep as your mind plays your failures over and over again.

You are told that you are basically a good person. Perhaps you have addictions – sex, drugs, alcohol. Perhaps you just can’t control your urges or your temper. You lash out at your loved ones. You stay up at night browsing porn sites until early morning. No matter what you do to stop, you still find yourself doing the same things.

You have seen the religious experts. They may have told you to try harder. “Find an accountability partner”, you are told. If you would just quit sinning and if you had better influences around you, you could overcome this. But long and cruel experience has told you otherwise. None of your good intentions can break down the walls of your prison.

Is there any hope? You have tried everything. Promises have been made and broken. You have been promised that this time it will be different. But it isn’t.

The Bible tells us what the problem is. The human race is in bondage to sin. The reason that you can’t keep your promises is that you are enslaved; you are a prisoner in the prison of your own making. You cannot break free. What you need is for someone to break down the walls of your prison and deliver you.

But the only one that can do that is God Himself. Only the Creator of heaven and earth can set you free. But now there is a problem. The Creator of heaven and earth has placed you under the death penalty – and He cannot lie. He said, “The soul that sins shall die”. You have sinned.

“But,” you say, “I have had some lapses in judgment, but I am really not all that bad.”

But God doesn’t grade on a curve. God has told us very clearly what sin is. It is even clearer than the speed limit sign posted on the highways. Don’t steal. Don’t kill. Don’t lie. Don’t commit adultery…

“But I haven’t done these things,” you say. But God doesn’t just look at your outward behavior. He looks at the heart. Have you lusted after a woman in your heart? Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever hated someone or held a grudge against someone? Have you ever wanted to steal?  Of course, these are just the “respectable sins”.  The reality is that the heart is so vile and corrupt that we dare not even acknowledge our darkest desires.  What if every thought that you ever had was broadcast to the whole world, and exposed for all to see?

You know in your own conscience that you are guilty, and the Judge is a hanging Judge who will NEVER acquit the guilty. If you need to be delivered from your sins, if the only one who can deliver you is God, and if God has pronounced the sentence of death upon you, then how can you possibly be set free?

Imagine that you are on death row. The crime that you are accused of is a capital offense. In a few hours you will be taken from you chamber, marched down the corridor, strapped into the chair and executed. You have no appeals. You did the crime and you know you did the crime. You know that the judge is perfectly just and will never go against his own justice. He has never once granted clemency. What hope can you have?

You may have heard that the prison is only in your own head. You just need to declare yourself “not guilty” and walk out. But you know better.

You may have heard that “God is love” and He would never execute judgment. But you know better.

You may have heard that all you need to do is exercise your free will and do better, and the prison doors will magically swing open. But you know better.

There is only one hope: When you are executed, the sentence is carried out. Only then can the demands of the law be satisfied. In other words, only when you are dead and buried can you be free from the walls of your prison.

But that isn’t good news. The good news (gospel) is this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

The only way to be truly free from your prison is if the death sentence is carried out. You must either do it yourself (eternal death and damnation) or believe in Jesus, who did it for us.

He came into the world in the womb of the virgin, Mary, for only one purpose: to take our curse and our death sentence upon himself. He did this on the cross. He died a death that was accursed of God, so that we might be assured that he truly took the curse upon himself. Then, on the third day, he rose from the dead – raising us up out of the grave with him, so that we might have the eternal life that he has.

If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then his death on the cross is your death; and his resurrection from the dead is your resurrection from the dead. The prison walls are broken down forever, because you were already executed, taken out of the prison, and buried with Christ. But he didn’t remain in the grave. If you believe on him, you are also raised with him to everlasting life.

When you have exhausted every other possibility; when you have reached the end of your rope; there is nothing else to do except come to the only one who can set you free. Isn’t it time that you quit trying to do that which is impossible? Isn’t it time that you quit pretending that you can escape from your prison in your own power, free-will and wisdom? Isn’t it time to come to Christ, and say, “Lord, have mercy on me; a sinner”?

9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

 10 Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed.

 11 Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die. (Ps. 79:9-11)

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It’s Probably Their Own Fault – and other marks of our idolatry

You probably know someone who is hurting.  Perhaps they put on a happy face.  Perhaps they keep things close to the chest.

Perhaps their happy family life is not what it appears to be.  Perhaps they struggle with an incurable illness year after year and have just learned to quit talking about it.

Why do so many suffer in silence?

I have frequently asked that question.

I started asking again recently.  I have been reading Predators by Anna Salter. After her chapter on Rose Colored Glasses, I put it aside and thought about it.  I think I may know why so many suffer in silence.

Dr. Salter makes the case that in her experience, people tend to view the world as a far better place than the one that actually exists.  They try to make sense of senseless violence, because their minds cannot accept a world where evil can happen to anyone, anywhere.  So they create a new reality in their heads.  In this reality, they are in control of their destiny.  People are generally good.  They can spot liars and deceivers.  They can protect themselves if they just do everything right.

She writes, “People have always wanted to feel safe in the world and to fend off the frightening reality that the death rate is one per person and that the timing of it appears to have nothing to do with goodness.”

The reality of this world is that there is death, sickness, suffering, illness and senseless acts of violence.  But this clashes with our own idolatry – that if we do everything exactly right, we can avoid anything unpleasant.  Were we not told that we control our own destiny?

But dreams do not bring with them the talent to achieve them.

Life does not guarantee health and beauty.

The death rate is still one per person.

 

I think that this explains why we as a fallen human race tend to blame the victim whenever anything bad happens.  It is the only way that we can keep convincing ourselves that we live in a safe and happy and just world with no need of either a Savior or a Judge.

A neighbor is raped.  We immediately find fault in where she was at the time.  What she was wearing.  What she was doing.  What time it was.

A man is chronically ill.  We immediately critique his diet, his habits, his health “pro-activity”.

A child rebels hard against his parents.  We immediately wonder what his parents did to mess him up so bad.  They probably didn’t spank him.  They probably spanked him.

A child dies unexpectedly.  We immediately wonder what the parents did wrong.

A woman is beaten by her husband, and we wonder if she could have been a little more submissive.

 

It is true that a prudent man will take reasonable precautions.  A man would be wise to avoid walking into a bar with a suit made of money.  We should not willfully run into danger.

But this is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about living in a cursed world.  There is wickedness, sickness, death, destruction, misery and all sorts of things that happen to all sorts of people and there is nothing that they could have done to have avoided it.

 

It appears as if we have only two options:  We can either continue to live in the reality that we have constructed in our own minds – that all reality is ultimately determined by our own free will – in which case we will make better choices, despise those who are suffering for making the wrong choices, and close our eyes firmly shut against any evil, whether moral or natural.  Or, we can become cynical, hardened and fatalistic.  Bad things will always happen to me and there is nothing that I can do about it.  Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

 

But the Bible commands us to open our eyes to a reality that cannot be seen with the eyes of the flesh.

All things are in the providential hand of God.  Heidelberg Catechism states it plainly:

What do you believe when you say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth with all that is in them, who likewise upholds, and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ, His Son, my God and my Father, in whom I so trust as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul; and further, that whatever evil He sends upon me in this valley of tears, He will turn to my good; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 26)

 

Since our Creator created all things of nothing, then He is not like his creatures. A distinction must be made.  That which would make no sense when applied to any creature makes perfect sense when applied to God, for He is almighty, everywhere present, and the Creator and Sustainer of all.

He upholds the world and governs all things by His eternal counsel and providence.  This not only includes the good things, but it also includes calamity.  Nothing is outside of His decree.

The world then is neither governed by man’s free will, leaving us in chaos; nor is it governed by empty fate and determinism, for God is our Heavenly Father, who loves us and gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

It is true that the misery is in the world because of God’s judgment on the world.

But it is also true that God Himself entered into that misery in the person of Jesus Christ in order to save us from our sins and misery.

And He governs the world not by making us inhuman, but by awakening our full humanity, conforming it to the image of Christ.  He sweetly and irresistibly draws the will by His Holy Spirit, causing us to walk in newness of life.

If this is true, then the only proper response of a Christian towards suffering is mercy.

Perhaps this illness isn’t because there is sin in one’s life.

Perhaps this abuse isn’t because the wife just won’t submit.

Perhaps this couple were good and loving parents and their son was just rebellious.

Perhaps there is calamity in this world that we simply cannot prevent or cure.

And perhaps – just perhaps – the reason why the soccer coach abused the 8 year old girl actually had NOTHING TO DO with the 8 year old seducing him.  The fact that we have to say that sickens me.  Perhaps the reason that very nice soccer coach abused that girl was because he was an evil child of the devil, fit only for the flames of hell.

In other words, sin and misery and sickness and crime are not always things that we could have prevented if we worked harder, made better choices and tried more diligently.

In fact, if we could fix the world – if the doctors were as good as people think that they are, if child protective services could solve family problems, if the probation department could cure crime, if we could prevent all calamity, crime, illness, rebellion, poverty and hatred, then we wouldn’t need a savior at all.

But the facts are different.

Certainly avail yourself of every avenue that God has graciously provided to mitigate suffering.  God is merciful as well as just, and He does work through men and women to alleviate some of the misery in this world.  But justice and mercy in this world always leave us hungering for more, lifting our eyes to heaven when every tear will be dried, where justice will flow like water, and there will be no more curse.

For even though God has provided many good things, we still aren’t in heaven.  Suffering is still the lot of men and women throughout the world, and no amount of human effort will ever eradicate it.

People who are united to Christ by faith still get sick; are still abused and ridiculed; still die; still suffer the heartache of loss and reproach and still weep over injustice, cruelty and hatred.

A merciful man doesn’t give them a list of everything that they need to work on in order to protect and heal themselves.  Perhaps this isn’t even the issue.  Besides, the thinking that all men have the power to overcome all misery is humanism, not Christianity.

A merciful man weeps with those that weep.  He points the sufferer to Christ, who also suffered on this earth.  A merciful man reminds the sufferer that Christ’s suffering also seemed pointless and vain in the eyes of the world, but through those sufferings God defeated all the power of sin and the devil.  God has plans that we cannot fathom, since we are creatures and He is the Creator.  But He HAS promised that every calamity that he brings upon us He will turn to our good.  Whatever evils we have on this earth are not even worthy to be compared to the joy that is set before us.  A merciful man brings the comfort and the power of Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, the just judge over all the earth.

 

And a merciful man always does what he can to ease suffering wherever he is called and with whatever he possesses.  He is called to imitate God, who is merciful and kind, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy (Psalm 103).

A merciful man feeds the hungry instead of telling them to work harder.

He comforts and visits the sick, rather than lecture them on their lack of faith or how to change their diet.  Those who are sick have explored every possibility, believe me.

A merciful man throws out the scoffer, runs off the wolves, opens his home to the homeless sheep.

A merciful man will rescue the sheep from the mouth of the lion, even if the lion is married to the sheep.  He doesn’t tell the sheep to not thrash about so much while the lion is eating.

And most of all, the merciful man gives himself to prayer, intercedes for the outcast, the hungry, the sick and the suffering.  He actually labors in prayer, which is far different than saying, “Praying” in a note but not bothering to do it.  The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much, James tells us.

If we suffer as Christ suffered, we may not be able to explain why.  We may not be able to solve it; we may not be able to save the world, or even ourselves – but where there is misery, there is also abundant grace.

Question 26 of the catechism doesn’t teach purposeless and fatalistic calamity.  It also doesn’t explain why calamity happens to God’s people.  It merely repeats the promise of the Bible.

Whatever evil He sends upon me in this valley of tears, He will turn to my good; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father.

 

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psa 30:5).


God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn (Psa 46:5).

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