If you were God …

Selwyn continues to look at the issue of suffering and pain.

A lot of our suffering is bought upon ourselves by our expressions of freedom – especially, our freedom to act independently of God’s will.

In these days, the use of words, like ‘free will’,  is of little value because these words now bring with them –  a  battered history of debate –  having been endlessly tossed around by theologians and philosophers.

Clearly, Adam and Eve had the ability to express their freedom to choose to eat the fruit – to disobey God.  I don’t think this post is the place, to present my views on our ability to express our freedom; and, the confusion caused by the underlying expression of many actions of life; which are based on preferences, born and developed, out of both our genes and parenting outcomes. A good summary of this, is: God made us different to animals – freedom of expression, is one aspect of that difference. [And, ‘No’, is my answer to anyone who wants to quote Romans 7:7-25, as a reason for our lack of freedom. It’s an example of Paul’s (Hebrew) rhetoric, to demonstrate an important point.  🙂 ]

As Selwyn writes in today’s study: ” … by giving us free will, God had to take the risk that we would misuse and misapply our freedom.” I also liked Selwyn’s quote regarding C. S. Lewis, in regard to Lewis’ response to the question: ” If you were God, would you make a man like a machine or with the freedom to choose?” Lewis replied: “I would do as God did.”

God could have made us to be like puppets – who faithfully followed – His every direction; and, He could have made this world a safer place, free of all accidents and disease.  This would have solved the problem of pain and suffering. So, then, why do you think that our life’s journey is not like heaven, on earth?

‘Trust my love’

I always feel some reluctance when writing about this issue – the issue of suffering and pain.

Selwyn, opens today’s study with these words: “We  turn now in the days that lead up to Good Friday and Easter to focus on another aspect of the way has identified with our humanity – the aspect of suffering and pain.”

He says, further into the study: “… all our attempts to chop down the arguments of atheists and agnostics in relation to suffering and pain are met with writhing new examples, each one seemingly worse than the others.”

I think that at the core of this issue – is the fact that we have not been given a clear answer to this question in Scripture. One of the earliest books written – Job, deals with this question: in various ways Job asked for an explanation for his torment and despair – yet, when God comes to Job – a ‘complete’ answer is not given.

You can feel Job’s suffering in these words: [Job 7: 11, 15b-16] : “I cannot keep from speaking. I must express my anguish. My bitter soul must complain. … I’d rather die than suffer like this. I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh (God), leave me alone for my few remaining days.”

Instead, God reminds Job that He is the creator, and that Job does not know about many aspects of His creation:  [Job 40:2] “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?”  [Job 40:8]  “Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right?”

Upon hearing God’s words, Job responds [42:1-6, NLT], as follows:  ‘Then Job replied to the Lord:  “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

Job does not receive a direct answer to his questions concerning his suffering but upon ‘seeing’ God, he trusts God – takes back everything he said, and repents. So, too I believe that we will also take back our complaining when we ‘see’ God.

Suffering does happens to good – innocent people, and we have no better example of that – than Jesus.

We can say all sorts of things, for example, “it’s because of the Fall”; or, ‘Satan is responsible.’  And, in a generalised sense there is some truth in these words – but they don’t (in my view) provide a full explanation – there is something more –  a lot more; and the full story will be revealed to us, after we die.

What I do know is this – we can fully and completely trust in God’s love.

I entirely agree with Selwyn’s conclusion: “This is how God deals with us in the presence of suffering and pain. He says, ‘ What I permit may not make much sense to you now … but there is a purpose. Trust my love!’ “  [Keep in mind that Selwyn suffered in terrible ways during his life – as he mentions in today’s study – ‘having watched my wife die … ‘.  He is not writing his thoughts based on a purely intellectual approach but also well-soaked in the tears of personal experience.]

Guilt by association

In today’s study, Selwyn looks at two examples of how Jesus was unjustly criticised. In a sense, those who are standing on flawed value system as their basis for making judgments – tend to habitually make harsh and unfair decisions.

If, I can turn around Selwyn’s theme – I think there is some truth in the statement that the people we associate with, will influence the way, we think and act. There are many sayings, some very old, such as; “Birds of a kind and colour flock and fly, always together  (William Turner, 1545).”  These sayings reflect our human tendency to form groups based on shared, common characteristics.

In Selwyn’s first example Luke 15:1-10, we read in the first two verses (NLT): “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people – even eating with them!” Keep in mind, at that time, there was a lot of emphasis placed on preserving your ‘spiritual cleanliness’,  by carefully following the Jewish food and purity laws – as defined, in great detail, by the teachers of Jewish law.

Jesus’ response to this criticism was to give them three parables – all concerning the restoration of the ‘lost’: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

It’s interesting that as we read about this incident in Luke 15, we come to verses 28-30, the older brother’s reaction to his father’s restoration of his lost son: The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money  on prostitutes, (that is, a sinner – one, you should not associate with) you celebrate by killing the fattened calf, (and eating with him)!’” However, the spiritually blind, teachers of the law, who were listening to Jesus, would have missed the significance of these verses.

Selwyn’s next example, comes from Mark 3:1-8 (NLT): “Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand. “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?”

But they wouldn’t answer him.

He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.

Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!

At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.

[Later], Jesus went out to the lake with his disciples, and a large crowd followed him. They came from all over Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.”

As Selwyn states: “In this action Jesus defined the nature of righteous anger – a grief at what is happening to another rather than a grudge at what is happening to oneself.”

Our God – can use the hurts you suffer – not only to help transform you into His likeness, but for your right response to be an example to others – a steam of living water restoring those who thirst for Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

[As a side issue – here’s a question, which group do you associate with, are you: one of those who follow Jesus for the companionship, free food and healing; or, a  member of the large group who are angry at the way Jesus restores the lost – either because you don’t believe any are lost, or that they deserve to be ‘lost’; or, are you one of the few, who is a sinner – seeking to be saved and restored?]

The prayer for today, is good – don’t you think? “O Father, is this really possible? Can I, too, handle my hurts so that my reactions turn into revelation? Your Word says, ‘Everything is possible for those who believes’. I believe – help my unbelief. Amen.”

God’s absolute justice

I really like these verses taken from those set, for reading and meditation,1 Peter 2:11-12, 21-25, NLT: “Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners (of this world)” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. …

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered.

He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”

One reason why these verses stand out for me – is that I’ve come across these same verses, in a number of different ways, over the last few weeks – perhaps I’m being told something and just a little slow in discerning what that is. 🙂

Another reason, why these verses are so good; they tell us that we are not the natives of this world; we are ‘aliens and strangers’, and we are called to abstain from sinful desires. Some people may say – to justify their sinful ways – ‘this is the way God created me’. God did not create anyone to live a life of sin – He died, so that you could be free from the bondage of sin and death. Sin, is that serious – our God died on a cross – to free us from its chains.

Yet, another reason – while saved from our sins, we are reminded that we must not continue in our old sinful ways – we are called, to be good. We must continually strive to obey Jesus’ commandments  – to love, as He does.

Finally, these verses also support Selwyn’s conclusion: “When we get hurt, our natural (and sinful) reaction is to hurt the one who has hurt us. We cry out for justice – ‘I have been hurt, now let the one who hurt me, be hurt too.’ That is the only perspective our ‘human’ nature knows. Christ’s attitude, however, was to transfer the whole matter into the hands of God and trust Himself and everything to Him who judges fairly. … God’s absolute justice heals wounded spirits (and hearts).

On that final day, perfect absolute justice will be delivered; all those who have caused suffering, in the public eye – or behind closed doors, will answer for their actions – before the throne of the one, true and just God. Those, who are His children – trust in His absolute justice!

Any comments?

The University of Adversity

[It’s nineteen years today, since I became a Christian – it was in a motel room in Brisbane; when at approximately 9.30 pm at night – I heard a voice, spoken, about half a metre behind me, say: “I am your God, who loves you.”

Exactly one week before that day, I went to a bible study for the first time in my adult life. I only went because my wife was constantly requesting  me to attend (as she had been attending the study group for years). I was hostile to the idea – but went along for a ‘peaceful’ life.

At the study, the discussion somehow drifted onto the subject of near-death experiences; and, as I had some close encounters regarding car accidents, and similar close shaves due to the folly of youth. I made the comment, ‘I wonder if there is any significance to these events?’ The guy next to me said: ‘It probably means that Jesus loves you.’

Every moment from then on, over the following week – those words, ‘Jesus loves you’, totally dominated my thoughts. No matter what I did – I could not silence or stop the constant repetition of those special words – didn’t matter if I was in the middle of a meeting at work, or standing in a lift, or driving my car – those words were constantly with me.

A week after the bible study, I was travelling for work – I decided to retire early because I had an important meeting with government officials the following day. I was resting on top of the bed covers in the motel, when – more out of exasperation than anything else – I said, out loud: ‘Jesus, do you really love me?‘   Then, He responded – with the words that I can never forget or doubt in any way: “I am your God, who loves you.”

So, here am I – nineteen years later – telling people through the stuff I write – ‘Jesus loves you’! ]


Now, to Selwyn’s study – he reaffirms, his comment, which he made yesterday: ” … it is not a sin to be or feel hurt; it becomes a sin when we harbour a hurt and allow it to distort our judgment or provoke us into unrighteous anger.”

I think this sentence, taken from his conclusion, is good: ” (Jesus) says, ‘I see you are hurt, I have been hurt too. Let us work together so that it does not infect your soul (with anger and resentment)’.”

The other area I would like to comment on, is the subject of the verses which are set for reading and meditation. These verses [1 Peter 4:12 (NLT), as follows], are addressing the issue of suffering for being a Christian; and, they’re not specifically looking at the full range of hurts – that may come our way. It is an important distinction – do you agree?

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.

If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?”

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your (eternal) lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.”

I’ve added the word ‘eternal’ in the last sentence, as I feel that there is ample evidence that Christians often suffer death, from the hands of evil people.

What are your views?

A right response to hurt

Selwyn opens today’s study, with these words: “We continue pondering the question: does Jesus know how we feel when we are hurt by cruel and unkind criticism?”

He answers his question, as follows: “The Christian world-view (as Selwyn, sees it), is to face and acknowledge your feelings and recognise they are there. It is not a sin to be hurt. This is a very human response to the instinct for self-preservation that is within all of us. It is a sin only when we harbour a hurt. In my opinion, cruel and unjust criticism would have hurt our Lord deeply, but He made sure that the hurt would be quickly offered to God and not allowed to develop into bitterness in His soul.”

What do you think of his answer?

In Matthew 14:18b-23, NLT, we read: ” … Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. … “

Just before Jesus feed this crowd of people, He was told about the execution of John the Baptist, this news would have greatly distressed Him – yet, as was His practice – He took His grief to His Father. Soon after, He was able to look at the crowd and see them, not as an inconvenience at a time of grieving but as a people, lost without a shepherd. He had compassion on them and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

After feeding the people – He went up into the hills by himself to pray – again, to share with His Father (I think), His feelings and thoughts on the progress of His journey; and, to hear His Father’s words. In summary, Jesus provides for us, an example – that in the bad times as well as the good times, we should always take our emotions (joys, as well as hurts) and thoughts to God, on a regular basis – and, we will find compassion in Him. 

When was the last time you went to a place by yourself with your hurts and joys, and prayed – offering to God – yourself, and your future?

Cruel and unjust criticism

Selwyn, in today’s study, talk s about coping with cruel and unjust criticism; and, briefly covers his experience with constructive and destructive criticism.

I liked his conclusion:” … the way I evaluate a situation determines my feelings, not necessarily the event itself – hence I have a responsibility to evaluate things correctly and put them in their right perspective. Allowing for all that, however, I still feel hurt. Does Jesus know how I feel? I would feel utterly bereft and alone if I did not believe that He does.”

It often happens that sometimes we hear a person say something, and we mis-intrepret the intention of their words – this type of mistake does occur yet the hurt and rejection felt at that moment – is real. That’s why it’s important to ‘evaluate things correctly’; and, it may be appropriate to seek clarification from the person as to what they meant. I think it’s better to ask the questions (after presenting the matter to Jesus in prayer) and risk some embarrassment, than to ‘stew’ on the person’s words for weeks – and make yourself miserable – over a misunderstanding.

The other area which I liked – is a subset of the verses set for reading and meditation (Mark 8:6-13, NLT): ‘So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.

They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten.

Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed overto the region of Dalmanutha. When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.

When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.’

After reading these words, I wondered:  Just how much, are we, causing Jesus to sigh deeply; with the demands we constantly place upon Him – in an attitude of – ‘if you love me, You will give me a sign from heaven, and produce a miracle for me’?  Is His patience with the western world coming to an end – and, in a symbolic way – cross to the other side of the lake and turn His back and block His ears, to our constant whinging and hypocrisy? Thankfully, His grace is such –  that it’s infinite!

In Luke 12:4-7 (NLT), we hear Jesus saying: ‘ “Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.

“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.’

At those times when you are hurt by cruel and unjust criticism keep in mind that God will never forget you, He knows you so well – that the smallest detail of your life is known by Him.  He knows when you are hurt, and when He sees you in the distance walking towards Him, burdened by your pain – He will run towards you – arms outstretched. Such is God’s love for you!