Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 6

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is that every verse is God-breathed or from God’s mouth. Every verse is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John, we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

The sixth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is so we may DISCOVER CHRIST’S COMPASSION (John 11:28-37). Jesus has arrived at the grave side of Lazarus. He has already spoken with one of Lazarus’ grieving sisters, Martha, and now He converses with the other sister, Mary. In His conversation with Mary, Jesus shows sensitivity to her specific need. Whereas Martha needed instruction to cope with her loss, Mary needed an understanding friend to weep with her.

Martha secretly informs Mary that Jesus had arrived and was calling for her. “And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, ‘The Teacher has come and is calling for you.’ ” (John 11:28). Jesus was reaching out to her. This message was given in secret so Jesus could have a private conversation with Mary to comfort and instruct her. Martha refers to Jesus as “the Teacher,”not “a Teacher.” Christ is the only teacher of His kind. His three years of ministry had accomplished more than the combined one hundred thirty years of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Only Christ can save a soul from hell. Philosophy… art… literature… music and science cannot accomplish that! Only Jesus Christ can break the enslaving chains of sin and Satan. He alone can give eternal life to those who are spiritually dead. He alone can grant everlasting peace to the human heart.

Jesus wanted to teach Mary about what He could do in her situation. He wanted to show her that she could trust Him while she dealt with her pain. The Lord uses disappointments in our lives to teach us.

29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.” (John 11:29-30). Jesus waited outside the village because He wanted privacy with Mary. Perhaps He also wanted to be closer to Lazarus’ tomb. “Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, ‘She is going to the tomb to weep there.’ ” (John 11:31). The secrecy of Martha was of no avail as these Jews followed Mary thinking that she was going to the tomb to grieve.

“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:32). Nothing is said of Martha falling at Jesus’ feet, but Mary does. Like Martha, Mary expresses her anger and disappointment to Jesus. She is hurting because Lazarus’ life ended too soon. Mary blames Jesus for this. “You could have prevented this from happening, Lord!” She says no more than this and then weeps.

“Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” (John 11:33). Unlike the Greek gods who were apathetic and lacking emotion, we see Jesus is quite the opposite. Jesus connected with the emotions of others. Christ’s own emotions swelled up inside of Him as He observes the pain and sorrow of death. The word “groaned” (enebrimēsato) is used to describe an angry or indignant attitude. Perhaps Jesus was angry with the consequences of sin (death is the penalty of sin – Romans 6:23). He may have been agitated with the misery that Lazarus’ death had caused His friends. Or maybe He was irritated by the unbelief of Mary and the Jewish mourners who did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection power.           

Christ was not apathetic or indifferent to the grief of others. He was sensitive to the feelings of those around Him. “And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ ” (John 11:34). Christ wanted directions to the tomb because He knew what He was about to do.

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35). Martha had testified that Jesus is fully God (John 11:27; cf. 1:1), and now Jesus’ tears testified that is also fully human (John 1:14). Two natures in one Person, unmixed forever. Even though Christ knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He grieved with the pain and sorrow as well as the death-dealing effects of sin on those He loves. The Bible tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). 

Jesus did not hide His emotions. He was spontaneous with them. This word “wept” (edakrysen), is a quiet form of weeping compared to the loud form of weeping by Mary and the mourners surrounding her. Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He is sad that Mary and the mourners were so distressed. He has compassion for those who are hurting.

One of the best things we can do for those who are grieving is to cry with them. No speeches. No exhortation or Bible study. Just being there for them speaks volumes to the person who is grieving. Jesus understood how Mary and the mourners felt. He had lost John the Baptist by this time. And Jesus understands how we feel today when we lose someone close to us. He weeps with those who weep. He does not say, “You should not cry when you hurt.” Instead He says, “I understand Lazarus was very important to you and it hurts to see him pass away.” Jesus does not want us to deny our humanness.

God sometimes delays His answers to our prayers so we may experience His comforting presence in the midst of loss. He permits us to go through painful times so we may know the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our pain and trials can never exceed God’s comfort (“comforts us in all our tribulation”). He uses our losses to equip us to comfort others who go through a similar difficulty with the comfort we received from the Lord in our loss. If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave.

In December 2016, one of the pastors I enjoyed serving with in the Philippines was tragically murdered while driving his wife to a public school where she serves as a teacher. This deeply impacted my soul. I wept over this unfortunate death for days. During this time of grieving, Matthew 12:20 leaped off the page of my Bible as I read it: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.”Jesus will not pour salt into our wounds. He will not treat those who are “bruised” with grief and pain harshly. He comes along side of us to strengthen us with His presence rather than step on us to advance His own plans. He will not “quench” what little flame for the Lord or life (“smoking flax”) we have left inside of us. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28).

Many Christian leaders can add to the pain of the broken and bruised by being harsh and demanding. But not Jesus. He is always available to empathize with us and understand us when we are hurting. He knows exactly what to say and do when we are vulnerable so He can lift us up and set us in a broad place. He is on our side. He is not against us (cf. Psalm 118:5-9; Romans 8:31-39).

I am impressed with the emotional health of Jesus in verses 33 and 35. Christ experienced emotions of anger (11:33; cf. 11:38) and sadness (11:35). He did not deny them nor stuff them down. When we experience losses, God wants us also to pay attention to our emotions, including anger and sadness, as part of growing in the discipleship process. God made people in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) which includes emotions. God has feelings of anger (cf. Exodus 4:14; Number 11:10; Deuteronomy 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; 11:33, 38; Romans 1:18; 12:19) and sadness (Genesis 6:6; I Samuel 15:11; Isaiah 63:10; Mark 3:5; Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Ephesians 4:30), so emotions in themselves are not sinful. Denying our emotions is denying our humanity given to us by our Creator. But acknowledging and processing our emotions with the Lord leads to healing and a greater capacity to love the Lord and other people.

Some Christians have been taught to be ashamed of their emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness, so they stuff those feelings instead of processing them. Often times, the result is those emotions “leak” through in indirect ways such as passive aggressive behavior (e.g. showing up late, etc.), sarcasm, a spiteful tone of voice, withdrawing from others, and giving them the silent treatment.

“Two-thirds of the psalms are laments, complaints to God.” 1  Several Psalms are imprecatory Psalms (cf. Psalm 35; 55; 59; 69; 79; 109; 137) whereby the writer curses God’s enemies. Is it wrong to ask God to punish our enemies since Jesus taught His followers to bless their enemies and not curse them (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28)? Why would God inspire the writers of Psalms to record these kinds of prayers if it was wrong to pray in this way? I personally believe God has included these Psalms to help us pray honestly to God about our own feelings. Grieving our losses God’s way includes paying attention to our emotions, so we can process them and release them to the Lord.

“Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ ” (John 11:36). According to this group, Jesus’ tears showed how much He loved Lazarus. Evidence of sincere love for others can have a powerful impact on those who witness it. As believers show compassion to those who are broken and hurting, God can give them opportunities to share the gospel with the lost.

“And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ ” (John 11:37). Others near Lazarus’ grave were not impressed with Jesus’ tears. They were angry. They thought Jesus should have prevented Lazarus death. “He had healed the blind so it is obvious He could have healed Lazarus to prevent all of this sadness and blubbering.”

If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave. Likewise, if Christ did not allow situations to worsen in our lives after we pray, many of us would be unable to know what His compassion is like for us. 

What is your response to Jesus today? Can you relate to Mary and Martha who were angry and disappointed with Jesus? Have you asked Jesus where He was when your loved one died? Or perhaps you wondered where Christ was when you were abandoned or abused as a child?

Christ wants you to know that He was there when you went through your loss or your trauma. And the look on His face was not one of apathy or anger. The look on His face was the same look that Mary saw that day when Jesus came to her brother’s grave. His was the look of compassion with tears streaming down His face.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your humanity which enables You to be an understanding Friend Who weeps with me when I lose a loved one or have to process a painful memory. Knowing that You understand how I feel gives me hope that You know what to do to help me heal. My trust is in You to meet my deepest needs at this time. Your tears demonstrate that You truly do care about my pain. Thank You for helping me to face that pain so I can heal and move forward with You. In Your name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), pg. 126.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 2

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign recorded in John’s gospel (John 11:1-44) why the Lord allows a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? The first reason is to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4). Raising Lazarus from the dead would bring more glory to Jesus than raising him from his sickbed. We see today that the second reason for Jesus’ delayed response to our prayers is to DECLARE HIS LOVE TOWARD US (John 11:5-6). This may sound strange to us at first, but let’s listen to what the Bible says in these verses. John reminds his readers that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5). The word “loved” (agapáō) means to choose to do what is best for another person. Christ wanted to do what was best for this family. This may seem hard to believe when we look at what Jesus does next.

“So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:6). If Jesus loved this family, why would He wait two more days before going to help them? We must keep verses five and six together. Christ delayed His going to them because He did love them and wanted to do what was best for them in God’s eyes. From Mary and Martha’s perspective, Jesus needed to move faster – “Hurry up, Lord, our brother may die!” But Jesus says, “Slow down and do this My way.”

From this we learn that God’s love may delay His answers to our prayers in ways that we cannot understand at that time. Mary and Martha had no idea what Jesus was going to do when He would come to them later. I’m sure it did not feel like Jesus loved them or Lazarus when He delayed His coming. Perhaps Mary and Martha’s distress over Lazarus’ suffering caused them to forget that death was no obstacle for Jesus. Christ could raise Lazarus from the dead with no more effort than it would take Him to raise Lazarus from his sickbed. Christ delayed His coming because He did love this family. Waiting until Lazarus was dead for a few days would enable Jesus to reveal His love in a deeper and more powerful way to them. While Jesus’ absence caused Lazarus’ death, his death caused his resurrection, and the glory of God was manifested and many people believed in Jesus (cf. John 11:43-45)!

When the Lord does not answer our prayers right away, remember that this does not mean He loves us less. It means He loves you more and knows what is best for you. The apostle Paul reminds us, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, including our feelings. Just because I do not “feel” the Lord’s love during difficult times, does not change His love for me.

For example, when I am standing in our living room at night amidst our furniture which my wife has beautifully arranged, I then turn off the light so I cannot see the furniture. Does that mean the furniture is not there? Of course not. Just because my eyes and feelings tell me there is no furniture in front of me does not change the truth of the furniture’s existence. God’s inseparable love for us is the same way. Our senses do not always detect what is true. They can be fooled. This is why God calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith enables us to experience God’s love when our senses tell us the opposite.

Sometimes we can misinterpret difficulties in our lives as God’s attempt to punish us. Some of us may be running from God right now because of this assumption. For example, “some time back, newspapers carried the story of a young fellow named William who was a fugitive from the police. The teenager had run away with his girlfriend because the parents had been trying to break them up. What William did not know was that an ailment he had been seeing the doctor about was diagnosed just after his disappearance. It was cancer.

“Here was William, doing his best to elude the police, lest he lose his love, while they were doing their best to find him, lest he lose his life. He thought they were after him to punish him; they were really after him to save him.” (Howard Hendricks, Don’t Fake It, Say It with Love).

God is not out to punish us when He permits a situation to get worse after we pray to Him. He loves us and He wants to show Himself to us in deeper and more powerful ways. Don’t run from the Person Who loves you and wants to rescue you. Let Him find you and hold you in His arms.

Prayer: Father God, it is easy for us to quickly assume that You do not love us when bad things happen to us or to those we care about. Thank You for reminding us today that You allow those You love to suffer. After all, You allowed Your only begotten Son Whom You have always loved, to suffer in our place on a cross. Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his family led Him to delay His coming to them so they could discover His love in deeper and more powerful ways. Christ’s absence caused Lazarus’ death, but his death caused his resurrection which would manifest God’s glory so many would believe in Him. Father, when You are absent, we can seek You by faith. Please help us to walk this life on earth by faith and not by sight so we can experience Your love even when it is contrary to our senses. Hold us in Your arms of everlasting mercy when this life does not make sense to us. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Why is there pain and suffering? Part 3

“When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.” John 9:6

A third reason why God allows pain and suffering is TO DISCLOSE HIS PITY OR COMPASSION  (John 9:6-12). After Jesus reaffirmed His identity as the Light of the world (John 9:5), we read, “When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.“ (John 9:6). As He did with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:6b, 8), Jesus stooped down to the dirt. But instead of writing in it, “He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva.” Why did Jesus heal the blind man in this way? Why didn’t He just say the word like He did with the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8-9) or with Lazarus at his grave (John 11:43-44)?

Saliva was a well-known Jewish remedy for eye trouble. Clay was the same substance from which man was created (Genesis 2:7). “Thus the word of God (i.e., spit from Jesus’s mouth) mixed with humanity (i.e., dirt from which man was created) provided the basis for the miracle. By using His saliva, Jesus was imparting divine DNA to the human defect in order to bring about a supernatural transformation of his humanity. This was to serve as a physical illustration of the supernatural spiritual transformation Jesus came to bring (see Isa 35:4-5).” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, p. 1782).

This was a creation miracle since this man’s blindness was congenital. Jesus used the clay as a tool to develop the blind man’s faith. The touch of a friendly hand would be reassuring to this man who had known darkness all his life. While the disciples showed insensitivity toward the blind man when they asked Jesus within earshot “Who sinned?” Jesus showed great compassion or pity toward this blind man by providing a gentle and soothing touch.

When Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath with clay He had made, He broke two man-made laws of the Jewish people. Making clay and healing were both forbidden by the Pharisees on the Sabbath. This would cause more tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders.

“And He said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:7). After anointing the blind man’s eyes, Jesus instructs him to go wash at the pool of Siloam. The man’s healing required an act of faith on his part. “The pool of Siloam” was originally built by King Hezekiah to provide a reservoir for water flowing through the Siloam tunnel from the Gihon Spring (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:2-4). Rabbinic teaching associated this free-flowing fountain with God’s fountain during the Messianic kingdom. John informs his readers that the word “Siloam” is translated “sent.” The blind man was “sent” by the One “sent” by the Father.

Jesus did not promise he would be healed. He just told him to go wash. Christ did not give a speech about accepting your lot in life or taking the medicine that God has given you. Jesus was especially sensitive to the groans of suffering people. He cared more about His relationships with hurting people than He did about the rules and regulations of the religious establishment. The Bible says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18). The prophet Isaiah reminds us concerning the Messiah, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3). The Messiah would not deal harshly with those who are already hurting nor would He extinguish what little hope a broken heart possessed. He uses His supernatural power to heal, not to punish. Jesus spent much of His ministry fighting disease and despair, not asking “Why?” or condemning with “Who sinned?”

When you hear about another’s misfortune, how do you react? Like the disciples – questioning and condemning? Or like Jesus with compassion to treat the problem?

John tells us that the blind man “went and washed and came back seeing.” His obedience to Christ’s command to wash in the “Sent” Pool enabled him to experience supernatural healing and gain his sight physically. This is a beautiful picture of salvation. When a spiritually blind person obeys the command to believe in the Son of God (I John 3:23), he or she is WASHED by the One “sent” by God, the Holy Spirit, who washes us clean with the waters of regeneration so we can SEE spiritually (John 7:37-39; Titus 3:5).

There is also an important lesson here for Christians. The blind man’s obedience to Christ enabled him to experience the blessing of physical sight. Likewise, OBEDIENCE to Christ is necessary for believers to see Jesus more FULLY. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” The pursuit of holiness is the prerequisite for seeing the Lord. Without holiness, no one can see God now or in the future.

Jesus said something similar in Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity of heart is necessary to see or perceive God. If a Christian is not pursuing holiness, there is a sense in which he or she cannot see God (I John 3:6). But when a believer’s eyes are enlightened, he can see many different facets of God (cf. Ephesians 1:17-21; 3:17-19; Colossians 3:9-11). Since all Christians will be without sin when they stand in God’s presence (I John 3:2), they should pursue holiness here and now. As we already learned in John 2:23-25 (cf. John 14:21; 15:14), Jesus will reveal Himself in a more intimate way to believers who obey Him.

This miracle raised the question about the man’s identity. 8 Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, ‘Is not this he who sat and begged?’ 9 Some said, ‘This is he.’ Others said, ‘He is like him.’” (John 9:8-9a). But the former blind man said something that Jesus often said, “He said, ‘I am he.’ ” (John 9:9b). This healing of the blind man was another proof that Jesus was the Messiah-God. Those who knew this blind man best, his “neighbors,” were amazed at the remarkable change they saw in him. To see this man, whom they knew so well, walk with normal sight was so incredible they thought it must be a case of mistaken identity.

“Therefore they said to him, ‘How were your eyes opened?’ ” (John 9:10). To deny the miracle, certain ones raised the question of how this miracle took place. “He answered and said, ‘A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.’ ” (John 9:11). The man’s matter of fact report explains what happened. There is no exaggeration in his personal testimony. His reply indicates his faith – he accepted the miracle as fact. At this point he does not know who Jesus is – “A Man called Jesus.” “Then they said to him, ‘Where is He?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’ ” (John 9:12). Since he was blind at the time of the miracle, he had no idea where Jesus went. What is disturbing, however, is that no one celebrates with this formerly blind man regarding his restoration of sight. They can only ask, “Where is He?”

Jesus did not perform this miracle because of this man’s faith in Him to heal since the man did not know Jesus’ identity yet. This miracle was an incredible expression of God’s grace toward him. Supernatural healing does not take a special kind of FAITH. It requires the GRACE of God to intervene and heal.

Why is there pain and suffering in the world? We learn from Jesus’ encounter with a man born blind that God allows pain and suffering…

1. To demonstrate His power. He may not perform a dramatic miracle as with the man born blind. But He may transform our attitude or heal a broken relationship. He may lift burdens of guilt and legalism off our shoulders so we can serve Him.

2. To display His promise. God allows pain and suffering to display His promise of hope and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Christ can bring light to the spiritually blind. He offers the promise of eternal life to those without hope.

3. To disclose His pity or compassion. In the midst of much pain and suffering, Jesus’ reveals His gentle and healing touch in order to bring glory back to God. He is a gentle Savior with an abundance of grace for those in need of His healing touch.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are far more concerned about relationships with people than You are about keeping man-made rules and regulations. Thank You for pursuing me when I was spiritually blind and under the burden of religious rules and regulations. Thank You for using Your supernatural power to heal instead of to punish. I am very grateful that You gently touched me with Your Word when I was spiritually blind and without hope so I could see You for Who You truly are – the Christ, the Son of God –  Who gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him! Forgive me for the many times I have been insensitive to others who are in need of Your life-giving touch. Help me to see other people as You do – as broken and blind sinners who need the gentle and loving touch of the Savior. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Why is there pain and suffering? Part 2

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:4-5

A second reason why God allows suffering and pain is TO DISPLAY HIS PROMISE (John 9:4-5). Jesus continued His response to His disciples’ question about whose sin caused the man to be born blind, his parents or his own. “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4). The words, “I must,” reveal the sense of urgency Jesus possesses to do His Father’s work while it is “day” – the time to do God’s work. When Jesus says, “the night is coming when no one can work,” He is acknowledging that the opportunity to work ends as night arrives. For Christ, this would refer to His death, but for believers it can refer to physical death or the sudden removal of the Church at any time (cf. I Thess. 4:13-18). In either case, the opportunity to do God’s “works” is limited by time. Since Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9-11), God continues Jesus’ works through His body, the Church (John 14:12; 20:21; Acts 1:1ff; cf. Ephes. 1:22-23; 3:10).

Then Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5). “As long as” Jesus is “in the world” He will manifest Himself as “the light of the world” by exposing sin and providing hope for healing and eternal life. As the Light of the world, Jesus would bring light to the one who had been in darkness from birth, both physically and spiritually.

God allows pain and suffering to display His promise of hope and eternal life through Jesus Christ. The world is full of examples of people with learning disabilities, broken relationships, illness, the fear of rejection, guilt, and shame that Jesus has turned into an opportunity to display His promise of hope and eternal life (John 1:4-5). Christ uses the limitations or afflictions of people to bring them to faith in Him.

One such person was a nineteen-year-old college student who aspired to be a professional football player. But after a knee injury during the fourth football game of his first year of college, he lost all hope of playing professional football. As he sank into a depression, he kept asking himself, “What is my purpose in life if I cannot play football? Why am I here? A few months later, a professional football player named Archie Griffin came to his school to share a message of hope through Jesus Christ at an evening assembly. As this student listened to Archie talk about his personal relationship with Christ, God removed his spiritual blindness with the light of the gospel so that he believed in Jesus for everlasting life that evening. That student was yours truly. God used my football injury to prepare me to hear and believe Jesus’ promise of hope and everlasting life (John 3:16).

While serving the Lord in the Philippines for nearly six years, God enabled me to teach at a nearby provincial jail. One of the inmates who came to our weekly chapel service had a master’s degree in engineering. Since coming to faith in Christ, he is thankful for his incarceration because God used it to reveal the light of Jesus Christ to him. He told me he did not think he would have come to faith in Jesus if he had not been arrested. Even though he has more education than most Filipinos, his education could not give him spiritual sight. Only Jesus could do that and give him eternal life. Thank God for his arrest which provided the opportunity for him to learn this life-changing truth behind bars.

God uses pain and suffering to display His hope and promise of everlasting life to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. During this season of pandemic, social unrest, and political and economic hardship, God may be nudging you to draw near to Him. Are you overwhelmed with your circumstances and/or your pain? Come to Jesus Christ for everlasting relief.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I am so glad You approached the man born blind even though he was considered unclean by the religious community. No doubt that blind man heard many insensitive comments about the reason for his blindness. But You, Lord, showed Him compassion and gently restored his sight physically and spiritually. You truly are the Light of the world who brought hope to a man who had been in spiritual and physical darkness since birth. As the Light of the world You continue to expose sin and offer hope and everlasting life through Your promises today. Thank You for seeking me out when I was spiritually blind and without hope. Thank You for the pain that began my search for something more. Thank You for extending Your grace and forgiveness to me when I was still Your enemy. And thank You for the precious gift of everlasting life I received the moment I believed in You. My Lord and my God, please shine the light of Your love and grace into the hearts of people that are shrouded in darkness so they may experience Your everlasting hope and life. In Your name I pray. Amen.  

Why is there pain and suffering? Part 1

“Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’” John 9:3

When I was working as a security officer at a high school while church planting, I got to know my fellow officers quite well. One such officer was approaching sixty years of age and told me he once believed as I did about Jesus Christ and the Bible. But now he said he no longer believed in God. When I asked him why he stopped believing, he told me because he could not reconcile how a God of love could allow so much pain and suffering in the world. He believed that if God truly existed, He would not allow pain and suffering especially among people who seemed to be innocent.

Why does God allow pain and suffering in the world? That is, how can a God of love allow such things in His world as war, sickness, abortion, rape, disease, and other types of suffering and death, especially among those who are apparently innocent? For example, why does He allow dedicated Christians to be slaughtered by radical Muslims in the Middle East and in Africa? Why does He allow babies to be born with deformities? Or why does He allow unborn babies to be torn apart in the womb through abortion procedures? Why does He permit a madman to shoot and kill many people gathered outside at a concert? Why are thousands of innocent people killed each year from earthquakes and typhoons? Unbelievers claim, “Either He is not a God of love and is indifferent to human suffering, or else He is not a God of power and is therefore helpless to do anything about it.”

This is a difficult question for Christians to answer. Certainly, atheism or agnosticism are not the answers to this dilemma. However, in John 9, we will discover that Jesus was asked a similar question. After claiming to be the Light of the world and the eternal I AM in John 8, Jesus encountered a man who was blind from birth. “Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.” (John 9:1). The words “as Jesus passed by” do not tell us the exact time frame or location for this miracle. It may have taken place as Christ left the temple (8:59) or somewhere else. This man’s blindness was congenital and was not expected to be healed. He had lived in darkness all his life. No doubt he experienced helplessness and hopelessness as a blind person.

From birth, however, all people are spiritually blind, hopeless, and helpless without God. All non-Christians lack the ability to see Jesus spiritually. The apostle Paul writes, 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they do not believe in Christ. God must remove the veil from non-Christians so they can believe in Jesus. No amount of education or information is going to remove the spiritual blindness of the lost. God must be the One to give them spiritual sight.

Christ focuses on the blind man. His disciples probably would have gladly passed by the blind man, but Jesus would not. I imagine at this juncture, the disciples had no idea why Jesus focused on this man when there were thousands of beggars in the temple area.

“And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ” (John 9:2). The disciples ask a theological question, not a compassionate question. “Why does this man deserve blindness?” they ask. It was insensitive of the disciples to ask this question within earshot of the blind man. The Jews, like many people today, believed that all suffering was caused by specific sins. So, either this man sinned in his mother’s womb (Genesis 25:22; Ezekiel 18:4) or his parents sinned (Exodus 20:5; 34:7). Examples of children suffering for their parents’ sin today include babies born to a drug-addicted or alcoholic mother, or to a mother with AIDS. They can suffer from physical and mental impairment. Children whose parents are verbally, physically, or sexually abusive suffer deeply. The disciples wanted to look backward to find out “Why?”

Isn’t that what we want to do? We usually want to figure out the cause of our pain before we decide how to respond. Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention and ours. He points forward instead of backward. “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’ ” (John 9:3). Jesus says this man’s blindness is not due to his sin or his parents’ sin. Instead, Jesus answers a different question. He does not address the backward-looking questions of “Why?” He points to hope for the future. A human tragedy, like blindness, can be used to display the power of God at work. This man was born blind to demonstrate the power of Jesus. Why does God allow pain and suffering?

The first reason is TO DEMONSTRATE CHRIST’S POWER (John 9:1-3). Sometimes the work of God is manifest through a dramatic miracle, as with the man born blind. Sometimes it is not. Suffering always offers an opportunity for us to display God’s work. A sick person is not unspiritual, rather he is a vehicle through which Jesus can demonstrate His power. God’s work is a miracle to man, but normal work for God. It is unbiblical to assume that all suffering is the result of a specific sin. It is also wrong to conclude that all suffering is allowed by God so He can heal the person. This is the reason for this man’s suffering, but we cannot conclude this is the reason for all suffering. Notice that the disciples focus on the man’s blindness as an act of God’s displeasure, but Jesus sees the man’s blindness as an opportunity to display the power of God at work. 

How do we respond to someone with an emotional or physical handicap? Are we condemning by asking, “Who sinned?” Or are we compassionate by asking, “How is God going to show His power at work in this situation?” The first question focuses on the problem. The second question focuses on the solution. Regardless of the cause of this blind man’s affliction, he was a picture of all people who are born spiritually blind and in need of a Savior.

In summary, God allows suffering and pain to demonstrate Christ’s power. He may not perform a dramatic miracle as with the man born blind. But He may transform our attitude or heal a broken relationship. He may lift the burden of guilt and legalism off our shoulders so we can serve Him freely without shame. Whatever the form of our pain and suffering may be, God wants to show us His loving power if we will let Him.

Prayer: Father God, many people are asking, “If You are a God of love, why are You allowing so much pain and suffering in the world today?” Your answer is clear. It is because You want to demonstrate the power of Jesus in the midst of peoples’ suffering. It may not be an instant fix as it was with the healing of the man born blind. It may involve a process of gradual healing and transformation whereby You walk with people through their pain. The suffering that we experience may be Your way of bringing us to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the man born blind, all people are born spiritually blind and unable to see Jesus as the Savior of the world. They need You, Lord, to perform spiritual cataract surgery on their eyes so they can see Christ for Who He truly is – the Eternal I AM Who can wash away their sins and give them everlasting life the moment they believe in Him. They do not have to clean up their lives any more than the blind man had to clean up his. They simply must believe in Jesus, and He will do the rest. Thank You my Lord and my God, for the simplicity of the gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Why does God allow Christians to struggle? Part 3

“But He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ ” John 6:20

The third reason why God allows us to struggle is to ENCOURAGE US TO RELY ON CHRIST’S POWER (John 6:19-21). “So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” (John 6:19). The disciples battled this raging storm through the long hours of the night. Mark says they were “straining at rowing” (Mark 6:48). By 3 a.m. they had rowed only 3-4 miles with about 2 miles to go. Even though these men were exhausted, they faithfully kept trying to row across the Sea. And when they looked over their shoulders, they were “afraid” or literally they were “terrified” to see a ghostlike form walking on the water toward them. These men were expecting to die, and they thought the angel of death was coming to take them. But this was no ghost. This was Jesus walking across those waves. And He was using those immense waves as pavement for His feet. The sea that had impeded the disciples’ movement, was no obstacle for Christ, and all that they feared brought no fear to Jesus.

Above the raging storm the disciples heard a familiar voice bring a word of comfort. “But He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ ” (John 6:20).When Jesus says, “It is I,”He identifies Himself as “I AM”(cf. Exodus 3:13-14) in the Greet text (egō eimi). The verb (phobeisthe) translated “do not be afraid” is a present imperative and means “Stop being afraid.”What Jesus is saying is, “That which scares the living daylights out of you, this strange form walking across the stormy sea, doing what is absolutely impossible for men to do, that is Me – the Eternal God! And the very waves that are over your heads I already have under My feet. I am in control of these events, therefore there is no need for you to fear. Simply trust Me to take you where you could never take yourself.”

Jesus silences our fears with His Word. And there is tremendous power in the Word of God. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6, 9). The same voice that spoke this universe into existence out of nothing, can also calm our fears in the midst of the storms of life. This same voice can give us the power to overcome problems that we could never overcome in our own strength.

Life is filled with fierce storms. Where do you turn when you just discover your son is a practicing homosexual… your mate is talking separation or divorce… you’ve lost your job and it’s your own fault… your parent is an alcoholic… your spouse is having an affair… you flunk your entrance exam or you messed up the interview… your faith is persecuted? Where are you going to turn when the storms of life batter your soul? The disciples turned to Jesus.

“Then they willingly received Him into the boat.” (John 6:21a). Recognizing His voice, the disciples want to receive Christ aboard their boat. The New King James inaccurately translates the Greek phrase as, “They were willing to receive Him into the boat”(ēthelon oun labein auton eis to ploion).A better translation would be, “They wanted to receive Him into the boat.”

The moment the disciples recognize Jesus, based on His word, they want to receive Him into their boat. Then a second miracle took place. … And immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” (John 6:21b).  The moment the disciples wanted Jesus in their boat, “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. Nothing is said about Jesus stepping onto the boat. Matthew says the wind stopped (Matthew 14:32). There was peace on that lake and in the disciples’ hearts. The boat traveled the two remaining miles in an instant as Christ brought them safely to their destination.

There is a message here for non-Christians. Like the disciples, many people work hard to get to their final destination. They think that getting to heaven is based upon their own efforts and works. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, they are not willing to come to Jesus to have life (cf. John 5:39-40). If they were willing to believe, they would recognize who Jesus was (the Christ or Messiah-God, John 20:31) and then, immediately, they would have been safe in His family forever (John 1:12; 6:37; 11:25-26)! Their destiny would have been assured by none other than Jesus Himself. In the discourse to follow (John 6:22-58), Jesus will not only stress His eternal sufficiency as the Bread of Life, but He will also emphasize the believer’s absolute certainty of reaching a safe eternal destination. Jesus will “raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).

There is also a message here for Christians. Some of us may face some very frightening circumstances in our lives in the months ahead. Disease, disappointment, death, an accident, desertion or divorce, loss of religious freedom, or even persecution may take their terrible toll on our lives. We may all find ourselves in a sea of trouble like these disciples. But what Jesus is saying to the disciples (and to us) is, “That which frightens you, that very thing which scares you, is Me. I am coming to you in and through that circumstance, so you don’t need to be afraid. I am in charge of it. I have chosen it for you, therefore you do not need to be afraid. Simply trust Me to do through you what you could never do on your own; and if you do that, you will experience My peace.”

Whatever storm you are facing, are you willing to permit Jesus to come to you in that storm? Are you willing to ask Him, “Lord Jesus, what do You want to say to me in this storm?” His answer may surprise you and it can calm the raging storm inside of you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You promise that I will face storms or tribulation in this world (John 16:33). I may face tremendous toil and trouble, heartbreak and heartache, and yet in the midst of it, Lord, You have promised to be there, and You can come through the darkest night and over the most troubled waters into the boat of my life. May the eyes of my faith be fixed upon You, Lord. Instead of trying harder, may I start trusting in You because You are in charge of the storm. Help me to be still so I can hear Your voice say to me, “It is I; Do not be afraid.” You are in control of my past, present, and future. Thank You for calming my fears and replacing my storm-tossed feelings with Your powerful presence. Your voice is enough to calm my storms. You, my Lord and my God, are more than enough. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Why does God allow Christians to struggle? Part 2

16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.” John 6:16-17

The second reason why God allows Christians to struggle is to EDUCATE US ABOUT HIS PLAN (John 6:16-18). “16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.” (John 6:16-17). The disciples were being obedient to Christ. He commanded them to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.” (Matthew 14:22). This was His plan for them while He went up on the mountain to pray (cf. Matthew 14:23).

So the disciples started to cross over the Sea toward Capernaum, but trouble was coming. A story is told about a tourist who was sports fishing off a Florida beach, and he capsized his boat. He could swim, but his fear of alligators kept him clinging to the overturned craft. Spotting an old beachcomber standing on the shore, the tourist shouted, “Are there any gators around here?!” “Naw,” the man hollered back, “they ain’t been around for years!” Feeling safe, the tourist started swimming leisurely toward the shore. About halfway there he asked the guy, “How’d you get rid of the gators?” “We didn’t do nothin’,” the bum said. “The sharks got ’em.”

Just like this man, the disciples were in a heap of trouble. It was getting dark, but more importantly, Jesus had not come to them. They had started rowing across the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum, but stayed close to shore, because they were going to pick up Jesus along the way. But it was not working out that way. “Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.” (John 6:18). A strong northwesterly wind began to blow, driving them farther and farther south, so much so, that they lost sight of shore and the possibility of picking up Jesus.

The sea of Galilee is 600 feet below sea level, in a cuplike depression. When the sun sets, the air cools and rushes down over the hillside, resulting in winds churning the sea. Since the disciples were rowing toward Capernaum, they were heading directly into the wind, making very little progress. Matthew is very graphic in describing the storm. “But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.” (Matthew 14:24). The storm was raging. The wind was against them. The waves were immense. The sea was engulfing their boat and threatening their lives. Although these fishermen had experienced storms before, their experience probably taught them that you don’t go out on the lake in this kind of weather!

Imagine how the disciples must have felt. Here they were trying to cross the sea just like Jesus told them to do, but the storm prevented them from fulfilling Christ’s command. They were exerting themselves to the max against the winds and the waves, yet they were unable to make any headway. They must have felt alone. After all, Jesus had sent them out here. Did He somehow forget all about them? Didn’t Jesus care about the fact that they could lose their lives in this storm? What was going on?

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever wanted God to use you only to have your life become more difficult? You know what God wants you to do, but circumstances don’t allow you to do it? You try with all your might and strength to obey the Lord, but you can’t go where God wants you to go. You can’t do what God has told you to do. And you feel as though God has betrayed you. Like He has played some mean trick on you and set you up for failure. Why does this happen? Why do people who want to be used by God find themselves facing more problems? Problems too big to overcome in their own strength. Because God is trying to teach us about His plan. His plan cannot be carried out without His power. As long as we keep trying to do the will of God in our own strength, we will fail.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).  God never expected us to live the Christian life on our own. We must let God live the Christian life through us. What this means is you must come to the end of yourself. And often times a storm will bring us to that point where we give up on ourselves and give in to God.

When I was about seventeen years of age on a canoe trip in Minnesota’s boundary waters with my church youth group, my Dad and I had to paddle across a large lake with two passengers in our canoe. I was in the front of the boat and my Dad was in the rear, with our passengers on the floor of the canoe between us. One of our passengers had accidentally made a deep cut across her hand while whittling on a piece of wood at our campsite. We left half of our camping group at the campsite to take the woman to a ranger’s cabin to radio for medical assistance. When we were in the middle of the lake about a half mile from the shore, I looked behind me to see a storm heading toward us with a wall of torrential rain. The wind was blowing extremely hard now, causing the waves to rise above our canoe. I felt helpless and out of control. My only recourse was to cry out to God for help.

When I did, my Dad and I could see a light swinging from the ranger’s cabin on the shore, about a quarter of a mile from us. Eventually we were able to safely arrive at the shore only to discover that the ranger cabin had been vacated. After the storm passed, my Dad and I paddled all the way back to our campsite with our passengers. I will never forget God’s presence with us in that storm.

God allows storms in our lives to educate us about His plan for our lives. He uses difficulties to bring us to the end of ourselves so we will surrender more fully to Him.

Prayer: Gracious Lord of the universe, thank You for teaching me about Your plan for my life through the storms You send my way. Many times I have set out to do Your will only to be impeded by a storm. Each storm has a common theme – to bring me to the point where I give up on myself and give in to You. You alone have the power to carry out Your plan for my life. Every storm reminds me of this important truth. Apart from You I can do nothing of eternal value. Right now my Lord and my God, I surrender everything to You. I give all that I have to You, Father, to You, Jesus, and to You, Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Why does God allow Christians to struggle? Part 1

14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” John 6:14-15

Some Christians are taught that once you come to Christ, you will not experience hardship or suffering. However, the apostle Paul would not agree with this conclusion. He writes, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Being a Christian does not exempt us from suffering in this life.

What about you? Have you experienced some storms in your life? The storm takes many different forms, and affects our lives in many different ways. But all storms contain some common elements: they usually come on rather suddenly, they take us by surprise, they tend to fill our hearts with fear, and they test our faith.

Think of some of the storms of life which have invaded your life or someone’s you know: the storm of illness – sudden or prolonged death – the death of a loved one – a child, a partner – especially one not expected to die; rejection – divorce, separation, abandonment; unfair criticism; emotional trauma – hatred, anger, resentment, bitterness; the storm of physical loss – loss of home, loss of job, loss of money, loss of security;  an accident, or some event which may change the course of your life in an instant of time.

You may wonder why does God allow Christians to struggle or suffer? Why does He allow me to suffer? Perhaps you have asked the Lord to use you for His glory, and life has suddenly become tougher for you. Take heart: the disciples of Jesus were not exempt from difficulties either. They, too, struggled. In fact, it was Jesus who sent them into the storm. Let’s look in John 6:14-21 to discover the lessons God wants us to learn about suffering. Why does God allow me to struggle?

TO ELIMINATE MY PRIDE (John 6:14-15). After Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with a happy meal, the crowd perceived that Jesus was the Prophet whom Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18:15. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” (John 6:14-15). Now the crowd wanted to make Jesus King by using force. They were seeking a political leader with power who could lead them against the oppressive Roman government. They weren’t ready to trust Jesus as the Messiah-God, but they were willing to use Him to accomplish their own agenda. They focused on Christ as someone who could serve their physical needs, but they had no interest in Him spiritually.

But don’t we do the same thing? Have you ever become angry with God because He didn’t give you what you wanted? I don’t know if you have done that, but I have. I have been very upset with God sometimes because He did not do what I asked Him to do. I am ashamed to admit this, but it is the truth. This event in John 6 is given to teach us that this is not the kind of relationship that we are to have with God.

Jesus was not tempted to yield to the crowd’s desire to make Him King, but the disciples may have been tempted. After all, they saw the huge crowds following their Lord; they saw His miracles of healing and multiplication of food; and now the people wanted to crown their Jesus as King. So what does Christ do? Matthew tells us, “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.” (Matthew 14:22). Jesus sent them into the storm. Why does our Lord do this? Because He wanted to eliminate their pride – to keep them from thinking that they had something to do with His growing popularity.

The apostle Paul states, “So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to … keep me from being too proud.” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NCV).  God allows struggles in our lives to keep us from thinking to highly of ourselves. Maybe you have battled an ailment for years that causes you pain and limits your ministry. You have asked the Lord to take it away, but He has chosen not to and it may be because this ailment keeps you from becoming arrogant and self-sufficient. It reminds you of how much you need the Lord Jesus every day just to do what He has called you to do.

Charles Spurgeon, one of the most powerful preachers in the Victoria Era, had a lifelong battle with depression. He viewed his depression as God’s instrument to keep him dependent on the Lord and more compassionate toward others who suffer pain. It was in his weakness that he experienced the compassion of Christ. Again and again, Spurgeon would speak about the tenderness of Jesus. He longed for any in his audiences who were discouraged or prone to give up, to approach the Lord Jesus for His gentle and healing touch.

It is through suffering that we not only draw closer to Christ, but He also draws near to us to walk with us through the storm. He is a compassionate and gentle Savior who knows how to comfort and console those who are alone in their pain. He also was alone in His pain when He died in our place on the cross. Through His sufferings, He was equipped to be our sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:15). He understands our struggle and He invites us to come to Him in the midst of our storm (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I look back on my life, I see Your gentle and thoughtful orchestration of many storms in my life that were intended to take me deeper in my relationship with You. Some of those storms were much worse than others because of my prideful resistance to Your leading. Thank You for not giving up on me during those times when I was so stubborn. Without Your intervention in my life, my pride would have destroyed me. Thank You for sending me into those storms which eventually removed my pride and brought me closer to You. You are a good and faithful Friend. I am so glad I have You in my life. In Your name. Amen.

How are we to respond when God does not make sense to us?

There are tragic things that happen in life that cause us to ask a familiar question. This question may fall from the lips… of a young mother whose twins are joined at the head… of emergency response crew at the scene of a fatal bus accident…  of flood victims in Manila… of a rescue worker pulling dead bodies from the rubble left by an earthquake… of soldiers whose comrades were ambushed… of COVID-19 frontliners … from our own lips when suffering impacts our lives. “Why?” we ask: “Why me? Why this? IF God is a loving and caring God, why does he allow suffering in my life and in the lives of those I care about and love?” 

The fact of the matter is that sometimes God just doesn’t make sense to us. We may have different backgrounds, goals and motivations. But there is one thing we all have in common: We all know what it means to hurt. Tears are the same for Jews, Muslims, or Christians; for white, black or brown; for children, adults or the elderly. How are we to respond when God doesn’t make sense to us?

Consider Job in the Bible – imagine how he felt when he heard these words… “You’ve lost your livestock, they’ve been stolen. Your sheep were destroyed. Your employees were murdered. Your children were crushed in a freak windstorm – they are dead – all ten of them.” This is how the book of Job begins (Job 1:1-19). One calamity after another strikes this godly father and business man. “Godly?” you may ask. The Bible says, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job was not perfect, but honest before God. Job’s calamities were connected to a contest between God and Satan. Satan is saying that Job is motivated by self-interest, not love for God. Satan says. “Take away Job’s blessings and he will curse You, God” (Job 1:8-11).

So God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s property. After Job loses his wealth… servants, and children, we read: “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:20-22).  

How many of us would respond the way Job did? When God Doesn’t Make Sense… 1. SURRENDER TO HIS CONTROL (Job 1:1-2:13). How do we do this? First, we grieve. “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head” (Job 1:20a). These are all expressions of grief. Tears are God’s way of washing away the pain. Second, we worship God. “And he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20b). 

When bad things happen, will we grow bitter or will we bow before Almighty God? Focusing on God keeps pain from swallowing our soul and it also brings us to the point of acceptance: “And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job accepted the fact that all his wealth, his employees, even his own children belonged to God – so he surrendered them all to the Lord. He let go. “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). A person who surrenders to God doesn’t accuse God of wrongdoing. Have you surrendered all that you have to the Lord? 

Satan comes back to God and says, “Sure Job didn’t curse You because You didn’t let me touch his body. Let me afflict his body and he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 2:1-6)! For example, when I am in good health, I’m a happy man. But when my body is hurting, I’m a grump. Can you identify? 

Now Job is covered with boils from head to toe (Job 2:7). Job’s wife asks Job to do exactly what Satan wants him to do (although she doesn’t realize it) (Job 2:9). Job responds to his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity” (Job 2:10)? This is an incredible response to calamities which were not the result of Job’s personal behavior, but the result of a contest between God and Satan. Job continues to surrender to the Lord  and accepts the good and the bad in his life as part of God’s plan.

Most sermons on Job end right there. If Job had just kept quiet, we would not have the rest of the book. But Job doesn’t remain silent. Job’s three friends come to him and they sit quietly with him “for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13).

Job doesn’t remain silent, however: “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth” (Job 3:1). When we are hurting physically, we become more vulnerable to despair and depression. After all of his suffering, Job is wishing he had never been born. He is down in the dumps. When Job opens his mouth, it starts a long avalanche of words between Job and his three friends. This time Job is not blameless with his lips. For the next thirty chapters there is a long exchange between Job and his friends. From this exchange we learn a second principle.

When God doesn’t make sense… 2. DON’T TRY TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING (Job 3:1-31:40). Explanations never heal a broken heart. If his friends had listened to Job, accepted his feelings, and not argued with him, they would have helped him greatly; but they chose to be prosecuting attorneys instead of witnesses.

For example, the first friend, Eliphaz, essentially says to Job, “If you sin, you suffer.” “Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquity without end” (Job 22:5)? Eliphaz is saying, “Job, the reason people suffer is because of personal sin in their lives.” It is easy for Eliphaz to say this when he is not the one with boils all over his body.  

Job’s second friend, Bildad, basically says, “You must be sinning.” “So why don’t you turn to Him and start living right? Then He will decide to rescue and restore you to your place of honor” (Job 8:5-6 –  NLT). Bildad is saying, “If you were living right, Job, God would heal you and prosper you. But He hasn’t, so you must be sinning.” 

Job’s third friend, Zophar, basically says, “You are sinning.” “Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear” (Job 11:14-15 – NLT).  All three of Job’s friends reasoned, “Job, the reason you’re suffering is because you have sinned.”

But Job insists that he is innocent: “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me. Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your hands, and smile on the counsel of the wicked?… Although You know that I am not wicked, and there is no one who can deliver from Your hand” (Job 10:1-3, 7). Job is saying, “God, I’m bitter about my suffering because You oppress me even though You know I am innocent.” Job wants his friends to know that God has wronged him: “Know then that God has wronged me, and has surrounded me with His net” (Job 19:6). Job goes so far as to say if he could get God to appear in court with him, Job could prove that God was wrong to afflict him (Job 23:3-7). Essentially, Job is saying, “I am righteous. God is wrong.”

What has happened to Job? He has gone from “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord to the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, I am bitter.”  He has gone from blessing to bitterness. 

Has this ever happened to you? You experience a painful divorce… devastation of bankruptcy… betrayal of a trusted friend… slow painful death of a loved one… your own health issues… an unhappy marriage… social distancing… loss of a job? At first, you surrender to God’s control – grieving and then worshiping God. But the suffering has lasted so long that your grief has turned into constant complaining. Instead of focusing on the truth of who God is in worship, you are now accusing God of wrongdoing. Instead of walking through your pain, your pain is walking all over you? 

How do we get back to that place of blessing God instead of blasting Him? This leads to a third response when God doesn’t make sense. Since God alone can adequately deal with life’s problems, 3. TRUST GOD, DON’T ARGUE WITH HIM (Job 32:1-41:34). Let’s look at the process Job goes through. At the end of chapter 31, Job is silent. Then a new figure arises named, Elihu.

Elihu tells Job that he won’t be as harsh as Job’s three friends and God were (Job 33:6-7). Elihu says, “God is leading you away from danger, Job, to a place free from distress. He is setting your table with the best food. But you are obsessed with whether the godless will be judged. Don’t worry, judgment and justice will be upheld” (Job 36:16-17 – NLT). Elihu is saying,“God would have already ended your troubles, Job, if you had remained silent.” In essence, to sum up Elihu’s message to Job, “Humble yourself and submit to God,” then your troubles will come to an end.

Elihu has finished lecturing Job. Strangely, Job has no response. He remains silent. God then comes right up behind Elihu to speak to Job. The last four chapters are God’s words. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me’ ” (Job 38:1-3). God is saying, “Job you don’t know what you are talking about when you accuse Me of being unfair… You have said I’ve been hiding from you and unwilling to debate with you. Well, let me see your qualifications, Job. I’m going to give you an exam consisting of over seventy questions. They are quite simple actually. If you can answer these ABC questions, then I will address the questions you have in your heart.” 

Job is questioned like a first grade student. He is asked about the basic laws of nature, physics, astronomy, mathematics, ecology, zoology. After the first exam, we read, “Moreover, the Lord answered Job, and said: Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it’ ” (Job 40:1-2). God is saying, “Job, if you cannot understand My ways in the realm of nature, how can you understand My ways in dealing with people?” All of us should be slow to claim that we know God’s will about the affairs of a person’s life, whether it be our own or someone else’s. We still don’t know all the facts as to why God is allowing what takes place. 

“Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:3-5). Earlier in the book, Job was hesitant to confront God (Job 9:14). Gradually he became more confident and demanded an audience with God (Job 13:22a). Later he even spoke like he was God’s equal bragging that he would approach God as a prince (Job 31:37). But now, God had humbled Job. Job had nothing more to say. But Job was not yet repentant. He had not confessed any sin. 

So God gives Job another exam focusing on two animals: Behemoth– probably an Apatosaurus (Job 40:15-19), and  Leviathan, a dragon-like dinosaur which primarily lived in the water (Job 41:1, 14-15, 21, 31). God was challenging Job to subdue these mighty creatures – something Job could never do. But God could. God not only controlled these dinosaurs. He also controlled the entire universe. 

God is telling Job and us in these final chapters, “Job, if I can manage this whole Universe, from the basic cell up to monsters and mega-galaxies without your understanding, I can take care of you… If I can manage the universe, I can take care of YOU. Therefore trust Me, don’t argue with Me.”

There’s a fourth way to respond when God doesn’t make sense. 4. WE WILL STOP ASKING “WHY?” WHEN WE SEE THE “WHO” BEHIND LIFE’S HEARTACHES (Job 42:1-17). Job acknowledges God’s sovereign ability to govern the universe. “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You’ ” (Job 42:1-2). Only God has the right to use people for whatever He desires. Not all suffering is because of personal sin, but because it accomplishes God’s sovereign purposes.

But many of God’s purposes are beyond our ability to understand. Job said, “You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). Job is saying, “I tried to talk about things I didn’t understand. I flunked Your exams. I was way in over my head.”

Job continues, “Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’  I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:4-6). At the end of chapter two, Job had not sinned with his lips. But forty chapters later he has to admit, “I’ve sinned with my lips and I therefore repent.” 

“And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has…And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:7, 10). Isn’t this a fascinating story? Job’s repentance brought an end to God’s discipline of him. When Job repents, his troubles stop and God restores Job’s prosperity. God never gave Job a reason or an explanation for his suffering – He offered Job Himself.  

As God revealed Himself to Job, Job stopped asking “Why?” Job stopped asking WHY when he saw the WHO behind his troubles. Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll states, “No single truth removes the need to ask ‘Why?’ like this one… God is too kind to do anything cruel… too wise to make a mistake… too deep to explain Himself.” Like Job, we will stop asking ‘WHY?’ when we see the WHO behind life’s heartachesGod offers you Himself as you read this article – not reasons for your hurts, but Himself. 

Do you know the WHO behind life’s heartaches? Do you know Jesus Christ? You may be wondering how can a loving and caring God allow so much suffering in the world or in your own life? Just because God doesn’t intervene in world events or stop the pain in your own life, does not mean He does not care. Any injustice or hardship grieves Him more than it does anyone else. If you tried to see suffering in the world today through God’s eyes, your view would be so different. Even if God tried to explain things to you, you wouldn’t understand. His mind is so beyond anything ours is capable of comprehending. If it weren’t, He wouldn’t be God. 

Today, I want to encourage you to look at the good side of God. When thinking about how loving God is, please start with the cross. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

Think about the suicide bomber who recently killed over one hundred people at an election rally in Pakistan. If the bomber had not died, would you die as his substitute if he had been sentenced to die for his crime? Like me, you’d probably say, “No way!” Yet that is exactly what God’s Son Jesus Christ did. He died for sinners – people who should have died for their sins like you and me. Why? So that when He had paid for our sins and rose the third day, He could forgive us for all of the wrongs we have done and give us His absolutely free gift of eternal life if we would believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift (John 3:16). Since God allowed His Son to take the place of all sinners on a cross so they could live with Him forever, doesn’t that remove all doubt about His character?  

You may say, “What about the tyrant who slaughters thousands of innocent people?” God is not standing unaware. If that tyrant doesn’t come to faith in Christ, his punishment awaits him (John 3:36b). The Bible says, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). In an eternal hell, that tyrant will want to die but won’t be able to.

We live in a fallen world. Every day people drift farther away from God. So until Christ returns to earth, the situation will get worse, not better. God could step in and stop it right now, and one day He is going to do that. But understand He is a Savior, not a Dictator. He has given everyone a choice. They can choose to come to Him in faith just as they are and receive forgiveness for all their sins and live with Him in eternity.

You may say, “What about the victims of catastrophes like COVID-19 or violence?” God grieves for these victims more than you or I ever could. Yet these are the results of living in a fallen world. But this is also why God begs people to come to Christ now. You’re not promised tomorrow. Until God establishes a new world, there will always be violence and suffering.

Please remember that God has not rebelled against people; people have rebelled against God. According to the Bible a day is coming when the earth will know no more violence, suffering, shootings, hijackings, viruses, catastrophes, pain or hardship of any kind (cf. Revelation 21-22). All who trust in Jesus as their Savior will be with Him in a perfect, problem-free place. When they see things from His perspective, they will realize how just and righteous God has been and is. God really wants you in His family. 

Will you trust Christ to give you the free gift of eternal life? Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Come to Him just as you are in faith and receive His forgiveness and everlasting life, and then you can share this good news with others before it is too late for them. 

Prayer: Almighty God, I am so broken over all the confusion and pain that is in the world today. I often find myself asking “Why?” instead of “Who?” I dislike the feeling of being out of control. Please forgive me, Lord, for arguing with You and complaining against You when I feel out of control. Thank You for reminding me in the book of Job that You are in control no matter what I face. Since You can manage this whole universe, from the basic cell up to dinosaurs and mega-galaxies without my understanding, I can trust You to take care of me even when it does not make sense to me. Please help me to focus on You during these difficult times so I can be the opposite of Job’s friends who acted more like prosecuting attorneys towards Job and his sufferings. Use me to listen to those who are hurting and to accept their feelings. I pray Your Holy Spirit will draw people to Jesus during this time so they may discover how great His love is for them and receive His free gift of everlasting life by believing in Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Facing the storms in our lives

9 So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. 20 But He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” John 6:19-20

After Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people (John 6:1-14), He sent His disciples in a boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (cf. Matthew 14:22). The disciples started rowing across the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum, but they stayed close to shore, because they were going to pick up Jesus along the way. But it was not working out that way. John tells us, “Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing” (6:18). A strong northwesterly wind began to blow, driving them farther and farther south, so much so, that they lost sight of shore and the possibility of picking up Jesus.

Matthew is very graphic in describing the storm (cf. Matthew 14:24). The storm was raging. The wind was against them. The waves were immense. The sea was engulfing their boat and threatening their lives. Although these fishermen had experienced storms before, their experience probably taught them that you don’t go out on the lake in this kind of weather!

Imagine how the disciples must have felt. Here they were trying to cross the sea just like Jesus told them to do, but the storm prevented them from fulfilling Christ’s command. They were exerting themselves to the max against the winds and the waves, yet they were unable to make any headway. They must have felt alone. After all, Jesus had sent them out here. Did He somehow forget all about them? Didn’t Jesus care about the fact that they could lose their lives in this storm? What was going on?

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever wanted God to use you only to have your life become more difficult? You know what God wants you to do, but circumstances don’t allow you to do it? You try with all your might and strength to obey the Lord, but you can’t go where God wants you to go. You can’t do what God has told you to do. And you feel as though God has betrayed you. Like He has played some mean trick on you and set you up for failure. Why does this happen? Why do people who want to be used by God find themselves facing more problems? Problems too big to overcome in their own strength. Because God is trying to teach us about His plan. His plan cannot be carried out without His power. As long as we keep trying to do the will of God in our own strength, we will fail.

The disciples battled this raging storm through the long hours of the night. Mark says they were “straining at rowing” (Mark 6:48). By 3 a.m. they had rowed “about three or four miles” with about two miles to go (6:19a). Even though these men were exhausted, they faithfully kept trying to row across the Sea. And when they looked over their shoulders, they were “afraid” or literally they were “terrified” to see a ghostlike form walking on the water toward them (6:19b). These men were expecting to die, and they thought the angel of death was coming to take them. But this was no ghost. This was Jesus walking across those waves. And He was using those immense waves as pavement for His feet. The sea that had impeded the disciples’ movement, was no obstacle for Christ, and all that they feared brought no fear to Jesus.

Above the raging storm the disciples heard a familiar voice bring a word of comfort. “It is I; do not be afraid” (6:20).  When Jesus says, “It is I” He identifies Himself as “I AM” (cf. Exodus 3:13-14) in the Greet text (egō eimi). The verb translated “do not be afraid” (phobeisthe) is a present imperative and means “Stop being afraid.” What Jesus is saying is, “That which scares the living daylights out of you, this strange form walking across the stormy sea, doing what is absolutely impossible for men to do, that is Me – the Eternal God! And the very waves that are over your heads I already have under My feet. I am in control of these events, therefore there is no need for you to fear. Simply trust Me to take you where you could never take yourself.”

Jesus silences our fears with His Word. And there is tremendous power in the Word of God. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:6, 9). The same voice that spoke this universe into existence out of nothing, can also calm our fears in the midst of the storms of life. This same voice can give us the power to overcome problems that we could never overcome in our own strength.

Life is filled with fierce storms. Where do you turn when you just discover your son is a practicing homosexual… your mate is talking separation or divorce… you’ve lost your job and it’s your own fault… your parent is an alcoholic… your spouse is having an affair… you flunk your entrance exam or you messed up the interview… your faith is persecuted? Where are you going to turn when the storms of life batter your soul? The disciples turned to Jesus.

“Then they willingly received Him into the boat” (6:21a). Recognizing His voice, the disciples want to receive Christ aboard their boat. Zane Hodges points out that the New King James inaccurately translates the Greek phrase as “They were willing to receive Him into the boat.” Instead he notes that it literally means, “They wanted to receive Him into the boat.” The moment the disciples recognize Jesus, based on His word, they want to receive Him into their boat.

Then a second miracle took place. “And immediately the boat was at the land where they were going” (6:21b). The moment the disciples wanted Jesus in their boat, “immediately” the boat was at the land to which they were going. Nothing is said about Jesus stepping onto the boat. Matthew says the wind stopped (Matthew 14:32). There was peace on that lake and in the disciples’ hearts. The boat traveled the two remaining miles in an instant as Christ brought them safely to their destination.

There is a message here for non-Christians. Like the disciples, many people work hard to get to their final destination. They think that getting to heaven is based upon their own efforts and works. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, they are not willing to come to Jesus to have life (cf. John 5:39-40). If they were willing to believe, they would recognize who Jesus was (the Christ) and then, immediately, they would have been safe in His family forever (John 1:12; 6:37)! Their destiny would have been assured by none other than Jesus Himself. In the discourse to follow (6:22-58), Jesus will not only stress His eternal sufficiency as the Bread of Life, but He will also emphasize the believer’s absolute certainty of reaching a safe destination. Jesus will “raise him up at the last day” (6:40).

There is also a message here for Christians. Some of us may face some very frightening circumstances in our lives in the months ahead. Disease, disappointment, death, an accident, desertion or divorce, loss of religious freedom, or even persecution may take their terrible toll on our lives. We may all find ourselves in a sea of trouble like these disciples. But what Jesus is saying to the disciples (and to us) is, “That which frightens you, that very thing which scares you, is Me. I am coming to you in and through that circumstance, so you don’t need to be afraid. I am in charge of it. I have chosen it for you, therefore you do not need to be afraid. Simply trust Me to do through you what you could never do on your own; and if you do that, you will experience My peace.”

Whatever storm you are facing, are you willing to permit Jesus to come to you in that storm? Are you willing to ask Him, “Lord Jesus, what do You want to say to me in this storm?” His answer may surprise you and it can calm the raging storm inside of you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You promise that I will face storms or tribulation in this world (John 16:33). I may face tremendous toil and trouble, heartbreak and heartache, and yet in the midst of it, Lord, You have promised to be there, and You can come through the darkest night and over the most troubled waters into the boat of my life. May the eyes of my faith be fixed upon You, Lord. Instead of trying, may I start trusting in the One who is in charge of the storm. Help me to be still so I can hear Your voice say to me, “It is I; Do not be afraid.” You are in control of my past, present, and future. Thank You for calming my fears and replacing my storm-tossed feelings with Your powerful presence. Your voice is enough to calm my storms. You, my Lord, are more than enough. In Jesus’ name. Amen.