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Wordwise Insight, Issue #010 --how God could allow suffering, should Christians tithe, and more
October 14, 2005
Greetings

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of Wordwise-Bible-Studies.com

IN THIS ISSUE...

BIBLE INSIGHTS. A longer article relating to recent tragedies in the southern States. "Where Is God?" deals with the issue of how a God of love could allow such things. You are welcome to reprint or use the article as you like.

READER Q & A. On whether Christians are obligated to tithe, and whether Christ not only did not sin but could not sin.

IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH. An exciting project for your church: have a service honouring some group that serves your community.

NEWS & REVIEWS. Two great books you will be blessed by


BIBLE INSIGHTS

WHERE IS GOD?
Some of the things that have been happening lately almost make you wonder where God has been hiding. I can recall the horrific spectacle of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre collapsing in a smouldering, smoky ruin. I remember seeing grieving families, the families of police officers, and fire fighters, who raced into an inferno to save lives, only to lose their own. Where was God, then? And what of the sudden and terrible destruction caused by hurricane Katrina? Tens of thousands homeless, and many dead or missing. Where was God then?

War and crime, accidents and natural disasters, all are the daily grist for the news mill. Partly as a result, worry and anxiety are on the rise. And some wonder: “What new horror will we hear about tomorrow? What’s next? Is my community next? Am I next?” Some have begun to voice doubt and disbelief, saying, “How could a God of love allow that?” Or, “Where is God in all of this? And do you know, that very question appears in the Bible.

Psalm 42 begins, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’” The question is repeated in vs. 10. “My enemies reproach me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God.’”

Who is this besieged and bereft soul? We cannot be sure. But we can hazard a guess. The inspired text has the heading: “To the chief musician. A contemplation of the sons of Korah.” Or, it could be translated “for the sons of Korah.” They were Levites who made up the temple choir. They were not likely the authors of the psalm. Rather it was delivered to them, to be sung as part of the temple liturgy.

Who wrote it? Quite possibly it was King David of Israel. Many of the psalms are credited to him specifically. But there are others that, by their style, and by the kind of experiences described, are likely from his pen as well. This is one of them. Second Samuel (Chapters 15-19) records how David’s own son, Absalom, incited a rebellion against him. The king was driven from the throne, and became an exile, on the run from his own son. Psalm 42 may well relate to that time. David is surrounded by those intent upon slaying him. And he hears their mocking cry, “Ha! Where’s your God, now, David? You counted on God. So where is He?

A variety of answers are being offered to that question in our own day. Some miss the mark completely. Others, perhaps, can help us to understand--or at least point us toward the light. The moralists come along and say, “It’s a punishment from God. A luxury-loving, materialistic society, a society that condones and glorifies moral perversity, and a society that’s virtually forgotten about God--no wonder this happened! Our country deserved what she got!” But that kind of answer only works when you deal in vague generalities. Not when you start getting down to specifics. Is it only terribly wicked people that were killed down in New Orleans? (No, certainly not.) And surely there were some bad people that were not killed. So I am not sure that is much of a solution.

Others offer a kind of statistical answer. That there must have been some form of divine intervention to keep those tragic happenings from being far, far worse. Thousands more could have been killed that were not. So, if we are asking “Where is God?” the statistical answer could be that the majority of people have been protected and delivered by God. That is a help...maybe. But it is not much comfort if you belong to a family that has lost someone.

It is only as we turn to the Word of God that we get enough information to put things in a proper perspective. To that end, I offer several truths, biblical truths, for your meditation.

1. Personal wrong-doing brings personal suffering.
When someone does wrong--and let’s call it what God calls it...“sin.” When someone sins, there will be a payday--sooner or later. The Bible says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). And if the sin also violates the law of the land, that “reaping” may include a court appearance, and time behind bars.

But even if it does not come to that, the Bible talks about the “reproofs of life” (Prov. 15:31), life’s painful consequences that arise from wrong-doing. It may be a loss of friends, or a loss of health, or of peace of mind, or something else. Those are the “reproofs of life.” Personal wrong-doing brings personal suffering. But it gets a bit more complicated than that.

2. Sin can also be the indirect cause of suffering.
We know that sin brought suffering into the world, in a general sense. But not all suffering is directly related to that person’s own sin. One day, Jesus and His disciples passed by a blind beggar, and they asked Him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And the Lord’s answer was, “Neither.” (Jn. 9:1-3). Now, He was not saying they were all sinlessly perfect. What Jesus meant was whatever they had done was irrelevant to the man’s suffering. Their sin did not cause his suffering.

And that is a common thing--people suffering without it having any direct connection to some personal misdeed. Someone else’s evil actions can affect me, even though I did what was right. The bank teller that is shot during a hold-up. Or the fireman killed trying to put out a fire set by wicked people. Yes, sin can be the indirect cause of human suffering.

3. Though evil is a reality, so is goodness.
Someone might ask, “If there’s a God, how come there’s so much evil in the world?” But Augustine turned that argument on its head. He asked, “If there’s no God, how come there’s so much good in the world?” Think of the mercy and goodness of God to those who, by their actions, deserve just the opposite! The Bible says, “He makes His sun [and notice, it is His sun] to rise on the evil and on the good, and [He] sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). If the evil that good people suffer is a mystery, so is the good that sinful human beings receive every day from the hand of God. Certainly there is evil in the world. But there are lots of good things, too.

4. God has a purpose in allowing evil to continue.
And far from His purpose demeaning and diminishing us, it elevates and ennobles us. The Bible says, “God created man in His own image” (Gen. 1:27). As a result, unlike any other creature He made, human beings have the unique potential to enjoy a personal relationship with Almighty God. To know Him, communicate with Him, and fellowship with Him. To love Him, worship Him, and serve Him.

But you cannot have that kind of intimate relationship with a puppet, or with a machine. If a creature is to have the capacity to love freely, it also must be able to choose to hate. If it is to have the capacity for faith and obedience, it also has to have the free choice to doubt and rebel. So for now, those who choose the path of wrong-doing must have room to make that kind of choice--and to experience the consequences of it.

Evil will not continue forever. We have God’s Word on that. (Read the last three chapters of Revelation.) But in His wise and good purpose, His long range purpose, God has allowed evil and its consequences to intrude upon us for a time–because He does not want human beings to be puppets on a string. We have choices to make. Choices that have eternal consequences. And choices require that both good and evil are options open to us.

5. Suffering can have a positive result.
We see that time and again. And there are certainly examples of it in recent crises. Look how the disaster to the south has awakened a new sense of caring, and concern for others. It is wonderful to see. There is also a renewed consideration of values and priorities. And for many, a concern for what comes after this mortal life.

Comedian George Carlin once said, “Our house is where we put our stuff, while we’re out collecting more stuff!” And if we think that is what life is for, then we have forgotten about eternity. We need to take another look at our value system.

As the Bible says, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (I Tim. 6:7). Nothing in the material sense that is. So the obsessive striving for money and the things it buys is misguided folly. And it is crisis situations, and human suffering, that challenge us to face that. C. S. Lewis, in a speech during the Second World War, said, “War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”

After confessing the pursuit of riches, pleasure and acclaim are “vanity,” King Solomon warns that “God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). Judgment Day is coming, and we need to live like it. We need to get ready for it. Perhaps the present destruction in the States, with its multiplied human tragedies, will cause many to reassess where they are going. If it does, then the suffering has had at least one beneficial result.

6. God is not unfeeling or unloving.
The question being raised today is the same one King David faced 3,000 years ago. “Where is your God?” And that question seems to imply that He is unconcerned, and uninvolved. But He is not. We have clear evidence of that. Evidence that David perceived only dimly, if at all. I see an orchard, shadowy and dark, and men huddled there waiting, praying. And I see torch-light, flickering through the trees, as a large group approaches. They single out one Man, and seize Him–after He is betrayed by a traitor’s kiss. Where was God, then?

I see Him dragged here and there, as the night-hours wear on. In one place, rough hands blindfold Him, then start punching Him--as those around taunt, and call for Him to guess who did it. I see Him stripped and beaten–with a whip that has pieces of metal woven into the leather thongs. Soon He is cut to the bone, His back a bloody mess. Where was God, then?

I see Him in a Roman barracks, with a make-shift crown woven of ugly-looking thorns, pressed down upon His brow. I see grinning and jesting soldiers, bowing before Him at their silly games. Where was God then? I see a rugged, rocky hill, outside the city wall. A place of execution. On that hill is a cross. And on that cross the One previously brutalized hangs, suspended between heaven and earth, impaled by cold iron spikes. Where was God, then?

Let me tell you the answer. He was there! And whenever we confront the puzzle of the evil in this world, we must not forget the cross.

Look at what God allowed sinners to do to His Son. And did He have the power to prevent them from having their way? Yes, He did. He could have stopped what happened at Calvary. But the Bible says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...” (Jn. 3:16). What? His only Son? Yes, and the Son of whom He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). How could God the Father stand by and allow wicked men to so mistreat His Son? He did it for love--love for you and me. In fact, at one point Jesus says to His heavenly Father, “You have loved them as You have loved Me” (Jn. 17:23). How astonishing! That the same infinite, inter-Trinitarian love the Father has had for the Son from all eternity, He pours out on you and me--“that whoever believes in Him [Christ] should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

You see, God takes the long range view. While He grieves over the pain and the brutal wickedness of His creatures today, His greater concern is for tomorrow. His greater concern is for their eternal destiny. For our eternal destiny. Because we are all sinners. That is not merely a designation for murderers, rapists, and terrorists. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And sin leads inevitably to eternal judgment. But God’s great heart of love went out to sinners facing eternal ruin, and He did something about it.

He visited His terrible judgment on His own sinless Son. That is what was happening at the cross. The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). It says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Pet. 3:18). And we have an open invitation to come to Him, trusting ourselves to the finished work of Christ.

Way back before the cross, David expressed his faith in the psalm we have been looking at. He finally says to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope...in...God” (Ps. 42:5, 11). And though David may not have realized it, that hope is rooted eternally in the work of Christ on the cross. The Bible calls Him, “the Lord Jesus Christ our hope” (I Tim. 1:1). The message of the gospel is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

But God will not bribe us, or force us to put our faith in the Saviour. He waits for the sinner to turn to Him. So I plead with you today, if you have never done so before, turn to Jesus. Say, “Yes, I believe that Jesus died in my place. He took the punishment for my sins upon Himself at Calvary. And I trust in Him, today, as my only Saviour.”

That will not resolve all the puzzles of evil in the world at the present time. Perplexing questions remain. But when faith reaches out to Christ, it solves the puzzle in part, and at a personal level. Because faith can answer the question I have posed by saying, “Where is God? God is here. God is with me. He is my Saviour. I’m His child, through faith in Christ, and He’ll never forsake me.”


READER Q & A...

Question: Some say a Christian is obligated to tithe–to give ten percent of his or her income to the Lord. Others say that is legalism. So must Christians tithe?

Answer: The short answer is no. And I believe a careful study of the Scriptures will show that is the case. Nowhere is tithing imposed on the church of Jesus Christ. For a full explanation of what the Bible teaches on the subject see on the website Tithing--Is it for today?

Question: (This is a follow-up question from a reader of Glenn’s query last month on the sinlessness of Christ. In my response I indicated that not only did Christ not sin, He could not sin.)

Matt asks, “How does Hebrews 4:15 fit in what you say? In whose ‘like as [we are]’ is the temptation? Would this not suggest that Jesus had two natures? One nature is God. The other nature is human. Jesus felt the temptation on his human side and could have sinned if He wanted to do so. He did not want to do so. How could He be touched with our infirmities if Jesus could not sin?”

Answer: You ask a good question, Matt, and I hope I can clarify things for you. The issue is what’s known in theology as the impeccability of Christ. Could Jesus have sinned if He wanted to? Or was it impossible for Him to sin? There are conservative scholars on both sides of the debate, but I believe the greater weight of argument falls on the latter position. Let me make several points.

Christ was indeed “in all points tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15). Not that He experienced every single temptation we do. (For example, I doubt He was tempted to smoke cigarettes as they had not been invented yet.) But He experienced every category of temptation common to humanity. The same Greek word is used in Acts 10:12. “All kinds of four-footed animals” does not mean every species on earth, but representatives of the various kinds.

As God the Son, Christ cannot be tempted to sin (Jas. 1:13). But as Man He willingly exposed Himself to the temptations common to humanity. Christ was truly tempted (in your words, He “felt the temptation”), but He did not sin. This truth is emphasized many times (e.g. II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26; I Pet. 2:22; I Jn. 3:5). In being tempted He is like us, and can sympathize with us when we are tempted. He did not have to be able to sin to do that. One theologian uses this illustration to support the point: We cannot say because a powerful army cannot be conquered that it cannot therefore be attacked.

Yes, Christ has had, since His incarnation, two natures. He is both fully God and fully Man. But we must not divide those in a schizophrenic fashion as though He had some kind of split personality. The two natures are fully integrated. "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). He is one Being, not two. And He cannot do something as Man that would be impossible for Him to do as God. For example, the Bible says God “cannot lie” (Tit. 1:2). It is an act which is contrary to His nature.

As perfect Man Christ possessed no sin nature, and in His perfection He fully submitted Himself to the will of God the Father (Jn. 5:19; 8:29). As God the Son--and therefore also as the God-Man--it was impossible for Him to sin. In fact, one of the purposes of His temptation may well have been to demonstrate without doubt that He could not sin!

Next Month: Is Catholicism Christian?


IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH

1) HONOUR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Have you ever thought of having a service in your church to honour some particular group of care givers in your community? (We did it for those involved in health care. But it could be done for those in law enforcement, fire fighting, education, or some other group.) It is a way of demonstrating that your church is supportive of the community at large, and provides a unique audience for the gospel.

Whichever group you decide to work with, you will need a good liaison person within that group. This is key. Someone who will pass on the information and actively encourage attendance.

We built our service honouring health care providers around the theme Helping Hands. Each person who came received a pen inscribed “Thank you for the helping hand!” A couple of members of our church gave a word of commendation in the service, thanking doctors and nurses for their care for them personally. After the service we served a lunch, giving more of our folk a chance to express their gratitude. We donated a podium to the hospital which could be of use in the chapel area. In addition, a plaque was prepared which was put up in the local hospital, expressing the appreciation of our congregation. I preached on “The Hands of Jesus.” (There are many references to the hands of Christ in the gospels.) Outline: 1. Curing Hands; 2. Caring Hands; 3. Crucified Hands.

2) On the Website!--Interim Pastoral Ministry
Has the pastor of your church recently resigned? As well as beginning the search for a new undershepherd, have you considered the possibility of calling an interim man to minister for a shorter period of time? On the Wordwise website is an article called Interim Pastorates. Check out this practical material.

3) Also see, on the website, an article called 12 Keys to Good Music, giving you 12 biblical principles to evaluate the music in your life.

4) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

5) Check out a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

COMING NEXT MONTH: The greatest Bible study tool of all! You may debate the point, but I can only say after using this method for 40 years I have never found anything better. One fellow I showed it to, after trying it awhile, came and told me he was mad at me for not teaching him this 20 years ago. (I didn’t know him 20 years ago!) Another sent me a note that said, “Since I started...I have experienced more depth and consistency in my devotional life than I had even come close to before....Thank you so very much!”


VIEWS & REVIEWS

THEY LOOKED FOR A CITY
The Holocaust has been documented in a number of secular films and books. To cite two examples, the story of Oscar Schindler’s rescue of hundreds of Jews has been dramatized in the motion picture Schindler’s List; and the treatment of the Jews through the war years is the connecting fabric of the two historical novels by Herman Wouk, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance. But to get an exciting look at what the Lord did for one Jewish family read Lydia Buksbazen's book They Looked for a City. The true story of a family of Polish Jews, the book gives us a glimpse of their culture and customs, as well as witnessing to the wonderful saving grace of God. A love story, an adventure in faith, it is one of those books it is difficult to put down. Highly recommended. You can order a copy of the book from Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

ONCE UPON A TOWN
This is not a Christian book, but its application to the body of Christ will be apparent when you read it. Using extensive interviews, journalist Bob Greene has put together the true story of a little town in Nebraska and what they did to help and encourage those in the American military during World War Two. The publisher calls it “The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen,” how a small town of 12,000 people served coffee and sandwiches (and more!) to some 6 million servicemen and women, all without any outside help. It is an incredible, heart-warming story. One you will not only be blessed by yourself, but will want to share with others. Highly recommended is Once Upon a Town.


If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.

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