Month: November 2013

The Discipline of Pain

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. (Hebrews 12:10-11a NIV)

There is nothing quite like pain. It motivates like nothing else. Just try touching a hot iron. Your hand will move away before you can even think to move it. It is one of the greatest tools in the hand of the potter who forms me.

God loves me so much that he is willing to discipline me for my good. Yes, it hurts, it is painful but there is a purpose in the suffering. God is using discipline in order that I may share in his holiness.

Holy, Holy, Holy

If I asked most people to complete the sentence “God is _____” what do you think they would say? I suspect that the number one answer would be “love”. While God certainly is loving towards mankind this is not the sentiment that the angels gathered around the throne use when worshipping Him.

And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV)

This most defining characteristic of God, holiness, is a mystery. Try looking up what holy means.

Belonging to, derived from, or associated with a divine power; sacred.

Frustrating isn’t it? Whatever holy is, it most definitely is something God cares about. It is also something that you can know when you see it because the Spirit reveals it to us so we can live it.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 NIV)

God commands us to be holy; to be like Him in our conduct. And how do we know what holy conduct is? For any given thing that we do or choose not to do can we put a label on it as holy or un-holy? Perhaps the best concept I can think of to map to holy is morality.

Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.

The truth is that most things that we do are morally neutral, but all of us live with the reality that we are not as moral, or holy, as we know we ought to be. The strange thing is that the more we know of the Holy One the less satisfied we are with our own holiness. As Peter says, we used to live in ignorance. We didn’t know what holy was and so we simply conformed to our evil desires. Yet strangely even then we knew deep inside that something was very wrong with that kind of life.

So here we are a deeply flawed people. Evil desires shaping most of our conduct and even our own attempts at morality are an abomination to the Holy One. Helpless and hopeless we had nothing to commend us to God. Could it be that our deepest need is not to be loved but to be holy?

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 NIV)

Jesus came to save sinners. Saved from what? Saved from the wrath of God. Saved from the brightness of unimaginable light that would consume anything un-holy in it’s presence.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV)

There is nothing greater than to be in the presence of the Holy One. To miss this is to miss the entire purpose of life. God’s love for me is so great that He is willing to use pain to train me so that I can one day stand in His presence. Not rejected, but accepted, not by my holiness but because Jesus has cleansed me from the un-holy by exchanging my sinfulness for His righteousness.

Yet here I am; living… breathing… doing… hurting… and God has a purpose for all of this. This is the season of planting and these seeds of pain can, later, bring a wonderful harvest.

No Pain No Gain

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11 HCSB)

Later on… the harvest. There will be a harvest but pain alone does not guarantee a good harvest. The harvest or peace and righteousness is only to those who have been trained by it. The word translated trained here is gumnazo.

gumnazo (G1128) primarily signifies “to exercise naked” (from gumnos, “naked”); then, generally, “to exercise, to train the body or mind”

In the ancient world athletes trained and competed naked. The picture here is not some poor fool tied to a post being beaten by God.  The picture is one of an athlete enduring grueling training. They could stop at any moment but they endure, they “stay under” the training because they want to win. Those are the ones who will receive the benefit of training.

Don’t Give Up

When I wanted to run a half-marathon I knew that I would have to push myself harder than I ever had before. I had never run more than 7 miles and I was going to have to run 13.1 miles; nearly twice my farthest run. I plotted courses on the computer that would take me 8, then 9, 10 and 12 miles.  I ran each course and I found that after about 8 miles my body would really start to complain. Back then, before Dercums Disease, I could just ignore the pain and push on. I endured because I knew that I had to push my body if I was going to run that race.  In Sept 2010 I ran the half-marathon and it was very tough but I made it to the end.

Here I am today with Dercums Disease; perhaps one of the most painful diseases on the planet. I can’t just quit Dercums Disease can I? Yes, I could end my life. Even to mention that thought is taboo but anyone with severe pain has probably thought about this more than once. I don’t know how long this pain will go on and I would be happy to leave this body but that is a decision I leave with God. I have to push on until the day when I can say with Paul

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 HCSB)

As I rounded the bend of the final turn of the half-marathon and saw the finish line in sight I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew that I was going to make it. I think Paul must have had that sense as he knew the day was drawing near when a Roman sword would remove his head. He knew that it would not be the end but a crossing of the finish line when the righteous Judge would give him a crown of righteousness. Not because he deserved it, but because Christ purchased him.

One day, the pain will be over. One day, I will cross the finish line. Until then I must fight the good fight knowing that not one seed of pain is wasted.

God’s Will – Give Thanks

Previously I argued that God’s will is not a dot but rather a field with some boundaries that you should not cross.  I should like to add that while we sheep are enjoying this field, God does have a will for us and sometimes it has to do with what we should do rather than what we should not do.

Rejoice always!
Pray constantly.
Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 HCSB)

Do you want to know God’s will?  This is God’s will for you.  I can say that with confidence because “it is written”.  This is God’s will for all Christians everywhere for all time in every circumstance.

This command is particularly relevant on Thanksgiving Day here in the United States.

eucharisteō – to be grateful, that is, (actually) to express gratitude (towards); specifically to say grace at a meal: – (give) thank (-ful, -s).

Thanksgiving is “An act of giving thanks; an expression of gratitude, especially to God.”  Paul qualifies this by saying “in everything” or as some translations say “in every circumstance”.  The Greek word pas means “all” or “every” so no matter what our circumstances, we ought to be thankful.

  • When life is hard… give thanks.
  • When my health is failing… give thanks.
  • When I’m alone… give thanks.
  • When I’m in pain… give thanks.

As a child I was taught to say “please” and “thank you”.  My giving of thanks was an expression of gratitude for the things I have received.  It was thank you for.  

  • Thank you for the birthday present Grandma.
  • Thank you for the dinner

Thank you for is appropriate on occasions like this but I think that the biblical injunction for give thanks goes deeper.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;
(Colossians 4:2 NASB)

Today is probably the most difficult Thanksgiving day of my life.  Dercums Disease is thought to be one of the most painful diseases you can experience.  At the same time as it causes extreme pain it attacks my nervous system resulting in in uncontrollable shaking, seizures and the worse part is the way it affects the brain.  It becomes very difficult to think clearly.  Difficult to concentrate and at times you feel like you are losing touch with reality.

The natural response to this disease is an attitude of despair.  Despair so deep that you simply want to die. A close second to despair is anger.  Anger at God, anger at my circumstances, anger at people and worst of all anger at myself.  I cannot escape the feeling that somehow I deserve this pain… this suffering is God’s retribution for my failures.  I know that isn’t true, but still I cannot help but feel this.

Today I must choose to give thanks

  • Thank you Jesus that you endured a cross for me.  You suffered the punishment for my sin.  I know the pain I feel today is not punishment for sin because you endured all of God’s wrath for me.
  • Thank you God for taking care of me.  I have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear and I have never gone without these things for a single day of my life.
  • Thank you God that you have prepared a place for me.  One day I will leave this body and I will be with you for eternity.  There will be no more pain and joy forever more in your presence.
  • Thank you for your Word.  You revealed yourself in your Word.  You showed me how to live in your Word. Your Word is life.
  • Thank you for your Spirit dwelling in me.  Thank you Spirit for leading me, and working in me in ways that I will never know.  You are more committed to my transformation than I am.  You comfort and sustain me even in the depths of despair.
  • Thank you for your church.  I’m so grateful that there are believers that I can meet with.  I’m a part of a body that is bigger than me.  There are teachers and preachers who help me to understand your word.
  • Thank you for my friends and family that love me even when I don’t deserve it.
  • Thank you for my dog Zeus my faithful companion.


Lie to Me

Tell Yourself

Doe Zantamata

This sounds good doesn’t it?  If I’m having a hard time I just need to say good things to myself.

  • When I’m feeling weak I just say “You are strong”
  • When I’m trying to do something that I cannot do I just tell myself “You can do this.”

First off, allow me to affirm the good intentions of people who circulate such things on the internet.  I know that they were just trying to do something nice.

Is This True?

We Believe What We Tell Ourselves

 What is belief?

Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.

So we could say

We accept as true what we tell ourselves

This poster suggests that I should tell myself a list of positive things.  I suppose that on the surface that is not particularly harmful is it?  Is it a bad thing to accept as true these many nice things?

Take for example “You can do this.”  A noble sentiment if ever there was one. And a particularly helpful sentiment when you are trying to encourage someone (even yourself) to attempt something that they can indeed do.  I suppose it all depends on what “this” is.

If for me, “this” is dunking a basketball on a regulation height hoop without the aid of a ladder or trampoline.  I have tried at various times and I can affirm that I cannot touch the rim much less dunk the basketball.

According to this poster, if I tell myself “You can do this” (in spite of the fact that all evidence seems to indicate that I cannot do it) then if I say it enough and want to believe it to be true then I will eventually come to accept as true the idea that I can dunk a basketball.  So what?  I will be another 50 year old guy who thinks he can dunk when clearly he cannot.  I’ve lied to myself enough so that I’ve come to believe it.

I might head down to the park, find a bunch of guys playing basketball and even tell them that I can dunk.  As their jaws drop in disbelief I can take the ball in hand and attempt a dunk only to find that indeed, in spite of my belief inspired by my words I in fact cannot dunk.  My words and my belief do not create the ability to dunk.  So what? Does it hurt if I want to believe in a fantasy?

To thine own self be true – Polonius (Act 1 Scene 3 – Hamlet)

Recently somebody comes up to me and says “How are you doing?” and at that moment I am in severe pain. How shall I respond?

  • Truth – “Honestly, I’m having a lot of pain right now”
  • Lie – “I’m fine” (which really means I don’t believe you really want to know how I’m doing)
  • Lie – “I’m healed and whole – I feel no pain at all”

The fact is, if I want to answer honestly I’m going to speak the truth.  However I believe that Doe (the author of this poster) would caution me that if I speak the actual facts of my situation then I will in fact strengthen my belief in my sickness.  Doe would probably also say that because I affirm this negative belief, I am in fact attracting pain and sickness to my life.

So… instead of telling the truth of what is, I need to tell myself a lie of what I want to be.

In her book Happiness in Your Life – Book 1 – Karma. Doe advises people in difficult circumstances to “Get out of that angry victim state of mind as soon as possible. Know that Karma does always come through.”

Karma comes through?  Is this something that I should be dabbling in as a Christian?  Seems harmless on the surface doesn’t it?

Who doesn’t want to be positive? After all, we all know that negative self-talk makes you feel bad and you want to feel good.  Maybe Karma is just another word for God?

Karma in Hinduism & Buddhism: The total effect of a person’s actions and conduct during the successive phases of the person’s existence, regarded as determining the person’s destiny.

Karma is a belief rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism which argues that we are accountable (to the universe?) for our actions and that there will be retribution in future phases of existence.  So if I am born into the lowest caste of untouchables in India then I am likely being punished because of my wicked actions in a past life.  If you have compassion on me you are actually working against Karma by helping me.

Should I “Accept as True” whatever I say to myself?

If my saying something enough times to make me believe it can make that thing come true then I as a human being have the power to make whatever I speak become true for me.  The New Age thinkers (including Doe) call this the law of attraction.

The law of attraction is the name given to the belief that “like attracts like” and that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results.  This belief is based upon the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from pure energy, and the belief that like energy attracts like energy. One example used by a proponent of the law of attraction is that if a person opened an envelope expecting to see a bill, then the law of attraction would “confirm” those thoughts and contain a bill when opened. A person who decided to instead expect a check might, under the same law, find a check instead of a bill. – Wikipedia – The Law of Attraction

Christian believers in such phenomenon call this the law of faith.  Tim Greenwood in his web page Faith is a Law writes

Mark 11:22: And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God, 23: For verily l say unto you, (Jesus is saying: This is the truth! 1 promise you!), That whosoever shall SAY unto this mountain, (Your mountain may be a problem, sickness, disease, etc.), Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall BELIEVE that those things which he SAYS shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever, (Anything, in line, with the Word of God), he SAYS. 24: therefore 1 say unto you, what things so-ever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, (Prior to their manifestation), and ye shall have them.

You have to SPEAK His Words concerning healing, You are SPEAKING them to:

  1. Confess, (affirm), to God;
  2. Proclaim to the devil; and
  3. Confirm to yourself;

that you BELIEVE, what you are saying.

So it seems that the truth or falsehood of what you say isn’t really important.  After all “You can do this” is a statement that could never be true for all people and all things that they are attempting to do.  Regardless, they say that you just have to say it, believe it (accept it as true) and you will receive it when you act on it.

The sad truth is that this doctrine has invaded many churches today and is being passed around between Christians as truth.  People at my own church actually suggested to me that it would be better for me to say (confess) that I am in healthy and in no pain and believe (accept this as true regardless of what my body tells me) and then act on that belief.

In other words, I should tell myself something I know to be a lie under the belief that if I lie to myself long enough and believe in my lie enough that somehow I have the power to make that lie become truth.

How would I act if I really believed a lie that I told myself like I’m healed and whole?

  • I would refuse to acknowledge my pain to myself or anyone else.
  • I would refuse medications to treat my disease because every act of taking a medication would be an acknowledgement that I am sick.  If I truly believe I am not sick, why take a medication?
  • I would avoid going to the doctor.  After all, that is an action which affirms that I am sick so by going to the doctor I am actually making myself sick.

Sadly, I have observed this path in the lives of people close to me.  Often people with mental illness are told that those medications which the doctors prescribed to them are simply a crutch for people without faith.  People with faith have no need for such crutches but simply declare their wholeness and live in it.  Then when the person acts out with strange behavior because they are not taking their medication obviously they are demon possessed.

Consider this case

“Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian church that believes in faith healing. They lost their 8-month-old son, Brandon, last week after he suffered from diarrhea and breathing problems for at least a week, and stopped eating. Four years ago, another son died from bacterial pneumonia.”

These people have had two children die because of the false teaching that suggested that taking their child to the doctor would indicate a lack of faith.  Of course this is an extreme case but if you truly believe this line of reasoning and take it to it’s logical conclusion then they did exactly what they should have done.

Test the Spirits

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 HCSB)

This scripture is a call to discernment.  That is, the act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment.

You can make yourself believe whatever you want to believe.  You can accept as true anything that you read on the internet but that would make you the opposite of discerning.  Instead you would be gullible – easily deceived or cheated.

The fact is that there are many false prophets and you need to exercise keen insight and good judgement as you carefully consider what they say.

Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. (1Ti 4:1-2 HCSB)

The bible does not promise that you can create reality by the words you speak.  This is a fantasy that gullible people are falling for.  Christians should not fall for this and they should not promote it by passing around teachings like this.

What is God’s Will?

Suppose I have a big decision to make.  Let’s say I feel called to ministry but I’m not sure.  I seek godly counsel, I pray, I fast and then one glorious day I take my first job as a vocational minister.

Was that decision God’s will for my life?

To listen to some people, It depends on how it turned out.  If you are listening to a successful preacher then they will likely say that this was God’s call on their life and their success proves it.  Perhaps, but perhaps they are gifted, hard-working and God was pleased to let them choose any career they wanted.

How often do you hear the same beginning to the story of someone who failed in ministry.  Someone who left devastated and swore never to return to it.  That person may have felt just as called but perhaps they lacked the skills they needed or maybe they just had a bad experience.

How can this be?  Two godly men, prayed, fasted, sought counsel and both felt they were called but one ended badly while the other went well.

Feeling Led

In our pop Christian culture we strive to do God’s will.  To marry the “right” person.  To have the “right” career. To go to the “right” church.  We speak of God’s mysterious will being known through a “feeling of being led”.

  • Anyone feel “led” to pray?
  • I felt “led” to pick up a hitchhiker
  • I feel that I’m being “led” to go to another church

Later we judge the “rightness” of our feeling based on the outcome.

  • If the marriage works – I was right.  If it ends in divorce my feeling was wrong.
  • If the hitchhiker comes to Christ I was really right.  If they don’t I was wrong.
  • If the other church is great – I was right.  If it turns out to be a mistake – I was wrong.

What does the Bible say?

  • Does the Bible teach that God has a specific “right” choice for me when it comes to things like a career, a spouse, a church etc.?
  • Does God lead Christians to make such decisions through a “feeling”?
  • Does a good outcome of the decision mean it was God’s will?

Behind these questions is an assumption.  The assumption is that God has a perfect plan for your life.  Everything has a right choice and a wrong choice.  People think of this will as a circle with a dot in the middle.  The goal is to live life in the circle, as close as possible (given our failings) to the dot.  We even hear people say “I want to be in the center of God’s will.”  Oh – so you want to stand on the dot do you?

Of course, life moves through time so the dot becomes a line and at any given point in time the decisions you make will either follow the dot as closely as possible or perhaps stray from the dot because you made a wrong choice.  But here is the problem (thanks to James MacDonald for this illustration).

Suppose that there are 2 men and 2 women.  Jane and Joe Smith and Mary and Mark Johnson.  Years ago, Jane and Joe were deeply in love but today their marriage is crumbling.  Joe recalls how he dated Mary Johnson and even thought of marrying her.  Joe wonders if he missed God’s will by marrying Jane.  Joe decides that he feels “led” to have an affair with Mary and try to get back on the dot by taking her away from Mark.

Of course, if Joe was supposed to marry Mary, then Mark was supposed to marry someone else and that person was to marry someone else and so on.  One person marrying the wrong person would mess up God’s will for thousands of people.  And it gets worse of course because Joe and Jane had kids who were never supposed to exist.

You can easily see that if God’s will were a dot none of us would be on it.  We would be hopelessly distant from it and by the poor choices we made never able to get back to the dot.  If the dot were God’s Plan A for our life, we have gone through every other plan and are now on plan Z.

A Grassy Field

Now let’s imagine a beautiful grassy field. A green meadow that stretches across the hills.  We can see that there are fences around the edges but within the field there is more than enough for all the sheep.

The fences represent scriptural boundaries.  God says you shouldn’t marry an unbeliever (2 Cor 6:14) that is a fence.  Crossing that fence would be clearly outside of God’s will revealed in scripture.

Who can you marry then?  As long as you stay inside the fence marry whomever you will.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. However, if you do get married, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But such people will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:27-28 HCSB)

In this passage, Paul is giving advice to Christians about marriage.  He tells them that it is better to stay unmarried like he is but if they do get married they have not sinned.

Does this sound like a man who believes God’s will is a dot?  If it were a dot wouldn’t he encourage them to seek God’s will for whether or not they should marry?  And who they should marry?  There is no discussion about listening to a feeling in your head.

Examples of God’s Leading in the New Testament

There are some examples of God leading people to do specific things

  • Acts 8:26 – An angel of the Lord spoke to Phillip
  • Acts 9:4-16 – Jesus appears to Paul and Ananias and speaks to them
  • Acts 10:13 – Peter has a vision and God speaks to him
  • Acts 11:28 – Agabus prophesies a famine by the Spirit
  • Acts 13:2 –  the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.”
  • Acts 16:6-7 The Holy Spirit does not allow them to preach in Asia or Bithynia
  • Acts 16:9 – Paul has a vision during the night of the man from Macedonia

Does the Bible teach that God has a specific “right” choice for me when it comes to things like a career, a spouse, a church etc.?

Clearly there were times when God directly spoke through angels, prophets and the Holy Spirit to direct the church in it’s early days.  But this is just a few cases in 20-30 years of history.

When Saul was first converted he is so determined he goes to the synagogues first in Damascus and later in Jerusalem.  In both cases he argues so effectively that Jesus is the Christ that the Jews want to kill him and the brothers had to smuggle him out of town.  There is no mention of anybody receiving guidance from God with regard to this.  Nobody praying, no angels appearing, no prophecy no Word from the Lord.  Eventually they send Paul back to Tarsus and he spent time in Arabia.  One could have thought during those years that Paul was absent from ministry that he must have been wrong about his calling based on how it turned out but we know differently.

When Paul and Barnabas disagreed about John Mark in Acts 15 there is no record of divine guidance on this matter.  Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along and Paul did not.  They disagreed and parted company.  No angel, no word of the Lord, no “feeling led”.

Wait a minute you say – in Acts 16 – somehow the Holy Spirit didn’t let them preach in Asia or go into Bithynia.  Doesn’t that indicate leading?  Yes, it does but it also seems to indicate that they were going and ministering wherever they pleased.  Rather than simply asking where should we go an waiting for an answer they simply went.  When they tried to go somewhere that the Spirit didn’t want them to go he then led them to Macedonia through a vision.

What about Rom 8:14?

All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. (Romans 8:14 HCSB)

I like what the John MacArthur Commentary says here

led by the Spirit. Believers are not led through subjective, mental impressions or promptings to provide direction in making life’s decisions—something Scripture nowhere teaches. Instead, God’s Spirit objectively leads His children sometimes through the orchestration of circumstances (Act_16:7) but primarily through: (1) illumination, divinely clarifying Scripture to make it understandable to our sinful, finite minds (Luk_24:44-45; 1Co_2:14-16; Eph_1:17-19; cf. Eph_3:16-19; Col_1:9); and (2) sanctification, divinely enabling us to obey Scripture (Gal_5:16-17).

If we  want  to know God’s will then we simply need to focus on the person he wants us to be and the fences of the field.  As God transforms our mind we will naturally gravitate to choices that please the Spirit.

Does God lead Christians to make such decisions through a “feeling”?

If you listen to anyone teach about prayer they will no doubt spend some time chastising you for not “listening” to God.  They say that prayer is meant to be a conversation not simply presenting a list of requests to God.

If this is such an important element for your prayer life why didn’t Jesus mention this when teaching the disciples to pray (Luke 11:1)?

If the normal pattern of prayer is to pray a phrase or two and then “listen” for something.  An “impression”, an “inaudible voice”?  Have you ever tried this only to find an odd mix of thoughts streaming through your mind?  Some are obviously not from God because of their content but some could be.  How would you know?

If this was vital to our spiritual growth, why didn’t Paul or the other apostles teach about this?  There are no commands with instructions for sifting the thoughts in your head so that you can tell which ones come from God.

Finally there are no examples where a believer receives a message from God via an “impression of being led”.  There were audible voices, dreams, visions, angels  but no impressions.  When the believers spoke of messages from God they spoke with certainty of the message received.  They didn’t speak of the uncertainty that comes from following a voice in your head.

Tragically many people have done incredibly stupid things because they were told to simply listen to the voice in their head. I am one of them. If you want to hear from God study the scripture and do what it says.

Making Sense out of the Senseless

Often after a tragedy we hear people say something like “I believe everything happens for a reason.” Really?

  • A child killed by a drunk driver
  • A family lost to a terrible storm
  • A young man opens fire in a crowded mall

Is there a reason behind all this?

Reason is defined as “The basis or motive for an action, decision, or conviction.”

In other words, reason implies that a rational mind lies behind these things.  If that is true, then this rational mind has control over all things.  It then follows that this being has the power to

  • Direct a drunk driver to impact the child at just the right place to cause death.
  • Move a hurricane or tornado to impact the home that a family has taken shelter in with enough force to kill them
  • Cause a young man to steal a gun, load it with ammunition, dress in body armor and head to the mall to cause mass killing and death before killing himself.

If we want to say that there is a reason for everything we must acknowledge that a supreme being with the power to make these things happen is causing them to take place.  And we wonder what kind of being would causes such suffering.

The bible does not say that there is a reason for everything.  The truth is that we live in a fallen world that is inhabited by fallen people.

When the LORD saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time, the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  (Genesis 6:5-6 HCSB)

What was happening that caused God to be grieved over man?  Let’s take just one example from Gensis 4. Did God have a reason for Cain to kill Abel?  Did God inspire Cain to kill him? No, in fact, God warned Cain about the path he was on.

“If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  (Genesis 4:7 HCSB)

Did God know what Cain would do? Yes he did.  Could God have stopped Cain from doing it? Yes, he could have.  Why didn’t God stop Cain? We will never know for certain.

My Free Choice

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15 HCSB)

God gave humanity the choice to sin and the choice to obey.  The fact that he gave us a choice speaks volumes.  It says that God respects my free choice to obey or not.

If I go down to a bar and get very drunk tonight and then drive my car into a vehicle killing an innocent child God may not stop me from commiting that kind of evil.  God will allow some family to experience the great pain and loss of this unspeakable tragedy.  Could God have stopped me?  Sure he could have.  He could have made somebody at the bar call me a cab.  He could have made me crash into a pole and not hurt anybody else.  We may never know the ways in which God prevents tragedy but one thing is certain God does not prevent all tragedy.

God Works Good

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 HCSB)

We know (oidamen) means to know by perception or intuition rather than by experience.

that all things work together for the good of those who love God.  All things – senseless tragedies to our happiest joys

work together – sunergeō – a fellow worker.  The circumstances we face are changing us constantly like a river shaping a gorge.  This verse says that God works alongside our circumstances.

And are called according to His purpose.

called – kaleo – means that this promise applies only to believers – the called same term as in Rom 8:30 – those whom he predestined he also called (kaleo).

His purpose – prothesis – God has a purpose.  He knows the end from the beginning and He has a purpose.  And what is His purpose?  His goal is to bring the called to perfection in His presence.

From the murder of Abel to the most recent murders of Christians around the world today God knows what is happening.  He is not suprised by the senseless but his is also deeply grieved by the evil that is done around the world.

Unsearchable and Untraceable

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36 HCSB)

As Paul is contemplating the problem of the unbelief of Israel – his fellow Jews – he ends this section with these three verses.

His judgements? Unsearchable.  The word anexereunetos means “not searchable.” You want to understand the reason behind God’s judgement?  Google cannot help you.  Bing cannot find it.  It is unsearchable.    Perhaps this is like trying to explain a internet searches to a slug.  The slug does not have the capacity to understand it.

His ways? Untraceable.  anexichniastos means “not trackable.”  You can’t hire a tracker to find God’s footprints in this situation.  You cannot see what things he did or did not do.

What can we say then?

But Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.” (John 5:17 HCSB)

God is working.  He is always working to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and to work all things according to the “counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11).

The ways in which he works are untraceable.  The reasons why he does things are unsearchable.  We will never know this side of heaven but he calls us to trust him and be faithful with what we do know.

Is there a reason for everything?

If by that we mean that God has ordered every act of sinful man and every tragic consequence of this fallen world then I say no.  Some bad things just happen.

When some disciples begain asking questions about this Jesus had a perfect opportunity to explain it.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 NASB)

Jesus is addressing two tragic events where people lost their lives.  One was the result of the evil acts of man where Pilate had some worshippers killed.  The other was the result of building collapse.

Jesus said that in both cases if people assumed that these innocents died because they somehow deserved death because of their sin that they were wrong.  Why did he say this?  Because people at that time (and today as well) naturally assume that if something bad happense to a person that somehow they deserve what they got.

The world would make more sense if bad people got bad things and good people got good things but the world just doesn’t work that way.  This is why I am so bothered by people who imply that sickness is God’s judgement on those who have weak faith.  Those who don’t have enough strength to appropriate the faith to be healed.

Why were those people killed by Pilate?  Because Pilate was a sinful man who didn’t care about killing as long as Rome retained their power.  Did God make Pilate kill them? No – he didn’t have to; Pilate was doing just fine at killing.

Why were those people killed by the tower?  Perhaps it was nothing more than random chance.  Perhaps the workmen who built the tower used inferior materials.  Perhaps there was a slight earthquake or a stiff wind that day.  When the tower fell, someone just happened to be in the way and they died.  Did God push that tower over?  Did the people who died somehow deserve what they got?  No.  It just happened.

We don’t like random tragic events.  They make us feel that the world is somehow out of control.  We like to imagine our loving heavenly Father pulling levers and pushing buttons to keep us out of harms way and giving us smooth sailing but that doesn’t always suit his purpose.

Everyone who reads this will one day become sick and eventually die.  Some will die “old and full of years” and others will die young… too young.  Some will pass quickly and some will suffer an for an extended period.  Suffering and death are just a part of life that everyone will face.

When you face it, you will be tempted to look for the reason.  Surely there must be a reason?

We die because we live in a fallen world where everything is crumbling.  Where particles from distant stars pass through our bodies and collide with DNA resulting in mutations that lead to hideous diseases.  Did God send that particle? Did he have a reason?

Even if he did have a reason, you will never know what it is.  It is unsearchable.

What you can know and must hold on to

  • God is both righteous and just
  • God is working all things together for the good of those he has called
  • God is perfecting us by the things he allows into our lives for our good even when we do not understand why

God’s Training Program

But if you are without discipline–which all receive–then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:8-11 HCSB)

In ancient Rome the sons of the family were often trained by educated slaves that acted as tutors.  This process was known by the name paideuo.  Paul used this term in Acts 22:3 to describe his training in the Jewish law as a child.  In this passage the term is translated discipline perhaps because it focuses on the less pleasant aspects of training.

As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. (Revelation 3:19 HCSB)

Jesus is so committed to his children that he rebukes and disciplines them.  I’ve had many people suggest to me that my sickness was caused by demons or Satan, but I’ve not heard anyone say to me that Jesus may be using this sickness in my life as a tool of training.  Perhaps that is because it is hard to imagine our gentle loving savior doing this but the author of Hebrews says “He does it for our benefit so that we can share in his Holiness.”

But It’s Painful

If your child had cancer, you would send them to receive radiation and chemotherapy which are dreadful, painful treatments.  You would do it to save their life.  You would do it because it is the only way.

Are there some things in my life that have such a hold that God had no other choice than to allow sickness to devastate my body to be rid of them?  I don’t know and I could probably never know for certain but the writer of Hebrews instructs me to “Endure suffering as discipline” so I should think of it this way.

My Father loves me too much to cater to my sinful desires.  He loves me enough to cause pain so that I can share in His Holiness.  This tent, this body is outwardly decaying but the inner man is being renewed day by day.



Endure Suffering as Discipline

And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives. Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:5-7 HCSB)

Do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly

When you were a kid and (if you are an old guy like me) you received a spanking but it wasn’t very hard.  Did you ever kind of laugh to yourself?  You probably knew better than to laugh out loud.  In this passage there are two “Do not” commands that represent the extremes of how you could respond to the Lord’s discipline.

The first response is to take it lightly.  To oligōreō, that is to have “puny care”, little regard, despise.  The idea is that you were disciplined and you didn’t learn a thing from it.  You didn’t think about it.  You didn’t ask why.  You didn’t really care.

The second response is to faint.  To ekluō, is to “out loose”.  The picture is of loosening a bow string making it useless.  With people the term is translated as “grow weary” or “faint”.  This is the person who just wants to give up when things are hard.

Is This Discipline?

If I am facing trouble in my life, is it discipline from the Lord?  The author doesn’t give me any kind of test to know if the hardship is discipline or isn’t.  He simply says to “Endure hardship (suffering) as discipline”.  The idea is to stay under (hupomenō) the discipline (paideia – tutorage) by not giving up on your faith.

This is a way of thinking about the suffering you face.  There are false teachers who view suffering as a sign of failure.  They say you should not suffer (except perhaps persecution).  But the scripture says that we should think of our suffering as a teacher, a tool in the hands of God to train us.

He says we should see this suffering not as evidence of failure but as evidence of true son-ship.  In the Roman world an illegitimate son had no inheritance rights.  Who is going to bother training him?  But a true son will be trained, disciplined and taught.

Is my struggle with Dercums Disease discipline from the Lord?  I don’t know.  But I do know that I can think of it as such.  I can see it as evidence of my relationship to God.

This is exactly what Paul did when he contemplated his own suffering. He said his thorn had a purpose. To keep him from becoming puffed up.

If the goal of life is to know Christ more deeply then I would have to commend sickness to you. When your body fails you and your strength is gone you have nothing to lean on but Christ alone. To survive you will have to lean. This of course does not mean that your sinful nature is gone. You will still struggle with sin but this tutor is relentless.