Tag Archive: heaven


Understanding Job

scotland-1645868I’ve been reading through the book of Job. It’s been awhile since I read it. I think I’ve avoided it because it seems hard to understand. It’s the kind of book whose meaning scholars debate endlessly. But after going through some of the most difficult years of my life, and trying to process the grief, pain, and loss, I found myself drawn to Job’s story. So I started reading.

What I’ve found is that Job really isn’t that hard to understand. I completely relate to him (even though I haven’t experienced quite the same level of suffering that he did). I get him. His response to suffering makes sense to me, because I’ve thought similar things myself. Why is this happening? God, where are You, and what are You doing? What have I done to deserve this? When will the pain stop?

I get Job’s friends, too. There’s a part of me that feels like every time something bad happens it must be my fault. I did something to deserve it. That’s essentially the message Job’s friends tell him. You brought this on yourself. God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, so if you are suffering this badly—well, you do the math.

What I’ve realized is that I couldn’t really understand Job until I went through some major life crises of my own. Until you’ve walked through the fire and the flood you can’t relate to those who have. My wife was saying the other day that she feels like grief is its own sense. Trying to explain what it’s like to someone who hasn’t experienced it on a deep level is like trying to explain color to someone who can’t see. There’s just no way to communicate it. It must be felt.

Another thing I’ve noticed while reading through Job is that I keep wanting to get to the part where God answers Job. Quick, give me the answers so I can hurry up and finish the test! But that part doesn’t come until the very end. The book of Job is pretty long, and most of it is his anguished dialog with his friends while he is in the depths of pain and despair. That’s what the experience of suffering is like in real life. You can’t rush through it or skip to the end. It’s a long process of agonizing pain, doubt, and fear. There are no shortcuts through it or detours around it.

And some of us will never get a direct answer from God. If you read the end of Job’s story, even though God does speak to him out of the storm, He never actually answers Job’s questions about why he is suffering. He simply reminds Job that He is God, and Job is not. I know that scholars far more knowledgeable than me have offered complex interpretations of the meaning of Job’s suffering. But looking at his story from the perspective of someone who has gone through suffering, maybe the simplest meaning is that sometimes there isn’t a neat, tidy answer to all our questions. Sometimes we may never know, at least this side of heaven, why God allowed us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The point of Job’s story isn’t to give us a satisfactory answer for our suffering. It’s to remind us that God remains God even when we’re experiencing the deepest pain, even when we feel like He has abandoned us, and to give us hope that He has the solution to our suffering.

See, there’s a difference between an answer for our suffering and a solution to our suffering. I’m not sure that Job ever really got an answer. But he got a solution. In the end, God healed his sickness, restored his family and his fortune, and blessed his latter years even more than the former. Those of us who have experienced suffering in this life have the promise that one day, Jesus will come back to this earth to make things right. He can’t undo all the pain we have experienced—and we shouldn’t want Him to. That pain has shaped our characters and taught us to rely on God. But He promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes, to create a world where there will never again be death or mourning or crying or pain, and to give us life eternal in this new world, life with Him and with all those who love Him.

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I may not get an answer to all my questions about why I am suffering. But I will get a solution for every pain I’ve felt, every tear I’ve shed. And that’s enough for me to keep trusting Him.

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Christ Is Risen!

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

This past weekend we celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important event in earth’s history. Jesus made it possible for us to be saved from sin and death through His own sacrificial death. Often when we talk about salvation, we focus on the cross. That is a very important part of the plan of salvation. But the resurrection is equally important. Without it the entire Christian religion is meaningless. Check out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Some people like to say that if there was no resurrection, no heaven, no eternal reward for following Jesus, they would still be Christians because it’s still worth it. Christianity has made their lives better, so even if it all turns out to be a fairy tale, they wouldn’t change a thing. The temporary benefits of Christianity are enough.

Nonsense. If there is no resurrection, no heaven, no eternity with Jesus, then Christianity is worthless. Actually, it’s worse than worthless, because it gives us a false hope for a better future that will never come. It tells us to believe in a God who is powerless to defeat sin and death. What kind of faith is that? How does false hope make life better? It’s a pitiful way to live. We might as well pursue what little enjoyment we can get out of this life, because this is it. Later in the chapter Paul says, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor. 15:32).

The only reason that Christianity has any meaning or power to make our lives better is because Jesus is alive! “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-22).

Christ is risen! He has defeated sin and death! And the same power that brought Him forth from the grave is the same power that works in our lives to break the chains of sin and to give us hope for a better future when death will finally be destroyed forever.

Jesus’ power is still the same today; it has not diminished in the slightest. We can claim His promise and receive that power in our lives. This isn’t just a once-a-year commitment that we make after we’ve experienced a stirring Easter church service or witnessed a powerful Passion Play. The real challenge is to live every day in the resurrection power of Jesus. Jesus really is alive. Are you?

When Jesus Offends Us, Part 1

Image credit: FreeBiblePictures.org

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

– Charles Welsey

 

So goes the first verse of the old hymn. It reminds us of the little children who Jesus welcomed with open arms (Luke 18:16). The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus’ kindness and gentleness. Jesus showed the woman caught in adultery forgiveness instead of condemnation (John 8). He treated the Samaritan woman at the well with dignity, even though He knew about her sordid personal life (John 4). When He saw the multitudes He had compassion on them because He realized “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

But there are also stories that reveal a different aspect of His character. While interacting with faltering, failing sinners He was tender and compassionate. But when dealing with the religious leaders of His day, the “good” people, the “moral” people, He could be quite blunt. In fact, if we really took His words to heart we would probably find them offensive, as did the religious, “churchy” people of His day.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, could also be righteously angry Jesus, upending the tables of the moneychangers and driving those shameless swindlers out of the temple with a whip (John 2). He could also be sharply rebuking Jesus, who called the religious leaders of His day hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, blind guides, snakes, and sons of hell (Matt. 23).

To deepen the impact of some of Jesus’ offensive statements, let’s bring them into the 21st century. Imagine that Jesus walked into your church one day and declared, “The homosexuals and the Muslims are getting into heaven ahead of you Christians” (see Matt. 21:28-32). Or imagine that He told a story about two men who came to prayer meeting one night: one a good, upstanding church elder and the other a divorced, jobless, hopeless alcoholic (see Luke 18:9-14). The twist in His story is that the alcoholic, rather than the church elder, went home forgiven and accepted by God.

How would you respond? How do you think most Christians would respond? I live in the Bible Belt, not far from Chattanooga, which was recently named the most Bible-minded city in America. I can tell you how most people here would take it: not well. But that’s very similar to how offensive Jesus’ actual words were when He told the Pharisees that the worst sinners of all, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, were entering the kingdom of God ahead of them, and were justified by God instead of them. It’s no wonder why they plotted to kill Him. He called them out publicly and deeply offended their religious sensibilities—and their pride.

I believe Jesus’ offensive teachings still confront us today. Like a thorn stuck in our shoe, they make us uncomfortably aware of our true condition and they refuse to let us ignore it. That’s actually a good thing. We’ll discuss why next week in Part 2 of this blog. For now, reflect on this: What was Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth, and how do His blunt, offensive teachings serve that purpose? I believe the answer to that question tells us something wonderful about the love of Jesus. Stay tuned…