Running with horses

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2014 Issue – ‘Poet of Hope’

Today’s text for reading and meditation:

Jeremiah 12: 1, 5-17 (NIV-UK):You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? …

(God’s answer) ‘If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

Your relatives, members of your own family; even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you. Do not trust them, though they speak well of you.

I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her. Has not my inheritance become to me like a speckled bird of prey that other birds of prey surround and attack? Go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour.

Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares.

Over all the barren heights in the desert destroyers will swarm, for the sword of the Lord will devour from one end of the land to the other; no one will be safe.

They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing. They will bear the shame of their harvest because of the Lord’s fierce anger.’

This is what the Lord says: ‘As for all my wicked neighbours who seize the inheritance I gave to my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country.

And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, “As surely as the Lord lives”; even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal – then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,’ declares the Lord.”

I found this to be a very good study. Selwyn looks at the question: If God is good, why does He allow evil to flourish? In a sense, this question, reveals a deeper mystery: Why can’t God’s people enjoy Heaven on Earth, free from pain and suffering?

We know, what is happening when we understand Scripture that we are on a journey through a desert – heading towards the promised land – and we trust in God’s love that He will lead us there. The answer as to why we need to suffer injustices, terrible accidents and evil acts committed by ‘terrorists’, is not provided by God, as was the case with Job; nor did God answer Jeremiah’s explicit question regarding justice.

Likewise, we – in general – will not receive a direct answer, if we ask the same question. It comes down to trust, God’s children trust their Father. As it says in Romans 8:28 – ‘in all things (including bad things) God works for the good of those who love Him’.

Now lets look at what Selwyn writes: “Jeremiah knew that God’s justice will ultimately be seen to be done and like many of us, he wants to see it now. … Have you noticed that God never answers the vexed question of why there are so many apparent miscarriages of justice in the world? Instead He questions us, re-directs us or reassures us.

God gives Jeremiah a bracing reply: ‘If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?’ Meaning that Jeremiah’s problems with the wicked now, were nothing compared with the difficulties he would face in the future. If he can’t trust God in the still darkness how will he trust Him in a raging storm?

What was Jeremiah’s response to this challenging question? … He responded not by argument but by action. He rose to the challenge. He ran with the horses.”

It must be obvious to everyone that we live in a fallen world; you just need to watch today’s news to see evidence of our brokenness: we have a horrific report of a plane being destroyed in the air with hundreds dead. There is a another conflict in Israel, with a ground offensive against Gaza. There are many people dying in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There are wars, famine and disease in Africa and other places. Plus, there are numerous accidents – many people die on the world’s roads – every day.

Yet, the worst case of evil is at the core of our being: our suffering, innocent, and holy servant, dying on the cross, for each one of us. Why?

Any comments?

A God with wounds

Selwyn continues to talk about the mystery of sorrow and suffering.

He writes: ” … Christians are people who take God on trust and, when we are lashed by the tempests of tragedy and suffering, we cast our anchors at the cross, and there we find the security we need to ride out the storm.

… Our God, in Jesus, came among us and felt all the disappointment, suffering and pain that we feel. As we walk through life and experience its pains, we can know that our God sympathises with us. And not only that, He is walking alongside us, ready not just to listen to our troubles but to enter into them with us, giving us the strength to continue and even to see good come about where we thought there was no hope. …

The God whom I see in Jesus has gone through everything I have to go through.  … His love taking our sin. A God who Himself suffers is a God who cares (and loves us).”

In the letter to the Hebrews, we hear about the humanity of Jesus, and His response to the trials and temptations of this world. Although, we don’t know the full answer as to the ‘why’ of sorrow and suffering, we can know that God does understand out difficulties in this area; and, because of His great love – we know He does care. I’ve highlighted the bits I think demonstrate this fact, in the following two passages.

Hebrews 2:14-18 (NIV): “Since the children have flesh and blood, God too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants (that is, ‘us’). For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that Jesus might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

And, in Hebrew 4:14-16, we find similar material: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The above passages are focused on Jesus helping us in our time of need when we are being tempted, however, it is reasonable to include those times of need, when we seek His mercy and grace to help us through storms of sorrow and suffering.

In John 6:66-67 (NIV), we hear Jesus, ask His disciples if they wanted to leave, as many other followers had just left because they considered that Jesus’ teaching was too hard to follow: ‘ “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” ‘

The same question is often asked of us – when times become hard; and even though we don’t have a full answer to the question of ‘why is there suffering?’ There is no where else to go, to find an answer – except to Jesus, who has the words of eternal life – a life – full of God’s peace, where we will find the complete answer.

Do you agree?

Three world-views

I’m usually not interested in other world-views by non-Christian groups, however, I guess there is some interested in how other religions deal with suffering.

Selwyn writes: “Today we ask ourselves: what is the attitude of the most well-known non-Christian religions towards unmerited sorrow and suffering? Buddhism is probably the most extreme of them all. Its philosophy is this: as long as you are in life, you are in sorrow (that is, the desires we all share, always lead to suffering because we don’t achieve what we want.)

Then take Hinduism. Hindus take the attitude that there is no such thing as unmerited sorrow or suffering. Whatever is, is just. If you are suffering now, it is because you have been sinful in a previous existence. …

When we look at the Muslim attitude, we find the approach is this – whatever happens is the will of God. … Muslims believe both good and evil are the will of God. … “

It can be seen that these three religions do not offer any hope to a person who is suffering: either because it’s just how life is; or, it’s because of some previous sin; or, it is God’s will.

If, I can just make one comment on the Muslim view point, that evil things happen because of the will of God. God will never do anything, which is evil – it’s His nature to be perfectly and eternally good (righteous and holy). He is all-powerful but He does allow Satan, some limited power, to facilitate hatred – the full reason as to why this is the case, remains a mystery.

The main lesson to be learnt from the book of Job – is that Job never curses (blames) God for his suffering (which was all Satan’s doing).  And, we know that Job never received an answer to his question to God: ‘Why, is this happening to me?’

In Matthew 13:40-42 (NIV), we read: “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man (Jesus, our living God) will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

If, God was responsible for evil, then I don’t think the above verses would make much sense –  however, it’s clear from what Matthew has written that evil is the result of a fallen world, which one day – Jesus will totally destroy.

In summary, because Jesus loves us – we can pray to Him for help when we are suffering and we can trust in His holy nature that He will ensure that we are never totally broken by suffering. He will walk with us through the dark nights – and He has promised us that we we reach our eternal home – all suffering will be at an end.

Your view?


Pain – God’s megaphone

Do you agree that Selwyn’s conclusion was good – the problem of pain and suffering in our world has driven many people away, from seeking a relationship with God? (Or, it can be used as an excuse by people – who have no interest in God; and, who are presenting, they think, a plausible explanation for their attitude.)

I was recently reading about Darwin and various aspects of his life. One point (and, I can’t verify the accuracy)  mentioned in the book was that he became very distress during the long and painful death of one of his young children – and this experience, may have cause him to wonder about the existence of a good and compassionate God. I only mention Darwin as an example, because I’ve heard a number of similar accounts from a wide range of people, along the same lines.

This is what Selwyn had to say in today’s study: “Suffering and pain, God’s megaphone, can either drive us from Him or draw us to Him. It can make us angry with God for allowing such conditions in His universe, or make us appreciative of God for building a new (eternal) environment in which sin and sorrow will have no place.”

The first eight verses of Revelation, Chapter 21, are fairly explicit – in regard to the fate of those who are drawn towards Jesus, and those who have walked away – not trusting in the existence of a good explanation for pain and suffering in this world (NLT): ‘ “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End.

To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars – their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” ‘

Did you notice that in the last verse – unbelievers, are in the same group as murderers?

We are on a long and difficult journey, across this painful desert of life – we have escaped the bondage of sin and we eagerly look forward to reaching our ‘Promised Land’. As we approach Easter – the fulfillment of our ‘Passover’, which represents the final and perfect sacrifice of our paschal lamb – we may like to meditate on Jesus’ suffering – and ask ourselves the question. Why did a good and compassionate God, need to suffer the pain of such a terrible ‘death’?

‘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.]

‘I have suffered’

The verses, set for reading and meditation, again highlight the fact that Jesus loves us so much that He was prepared to suffer for us – to give us, life. He was prepared to die for those who did not know Him.

In Peter’s first letter, [1 Peter 3: 8-9, 13-18 (NLT)] we read:   ” … all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. 

Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

[Jesus suffered for doing what is right.] Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners, to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. …”.

I thought that as we are approaching Easter, it’s good to remind ourselves of the sacrifice Jesus made to set us free from the bondage of sin and death.

Again, like the last few studies, I’ve enjoyed reading Selwyn’s conclusion: “Whenever we are in need of succour [help; relief; aid; assistance] in our lives and Jesus comes alongside, the first  thing that impresses itself into our consciousness is the fact that He has pierced hands. There is a kinship among those who suffer which others cannot share. They understand each other! In moments of trial, Jesus has no need to say anything. It is enough that He shows us His hands.”

In a way, this sentence from today’s prayer completely captures Selwyn’s theme: “You fully comfort me because You fully understand me.”