God Didn’t Make Me to Suffer!
Last fall these words came from the lips of a young Ethiopian man. We were sitting on the “front porch” outside my room. He had been working hard in the church, and Life was not as easy as he had expected it to be. His heart was full of bitterness, anger, disappointment; he felt betrayed by others and by God.
In the ensuing months, I decided to study the Scriptures on the issue of suffering. I had no idea that God would bring this cancer to me, and that I would be referring to my own research so quickly.
There are voices out there who say, “If you belong to Jesus, then you should expect a life of comfort, even luxury. After all, God delights to give good things to His children, and you are a child of the King!”
This is a false Gospel and wrong doctrine. Those who counsel and teach along these lines have excluded from their Bibles major portions of Paul’s life, even of Jesus’ life, and almost all the book of Acts, and of the Old Testament prophets. Where do they get this idea? It is a mixture of the American Dream, their own desires for a successful “ministry” (people will send money to preachers who tell them what they want to hear), and a few isolated verses taken out of context. It is certainly not the message of the whole of the Scriptures.
That which is taught in the Scriptures is Truth. Truth does not change from culture to culture, from generation to generation, or from continent to continent. It is timeless. It is not a fad that comes and goes. It is not a new way of thinking that some high-profile person is promoting on the talk shows! Truth is anchored deep in the heart of God Himself.
And that is why it is absolutely essential that we know the Truth, that we study the Scriptures under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, taking the whole of Scripture (not a verse here and a verse there as it suits us). We must not be satisfied with being spoon-fed by other people, who themselves are subject to error. It is not enough to sit for an hour in Sunday services and listen to 20 minutes of teaching. This is a spiritual starvation diet. It will do nothing to make us spiritually strong for the times of stress that will invariably come into each of our lives.
We must grapple with the Scriptures ourselves…reading, studying, meditating, digesting…looking always into the face of our Teacher, the Holy Spirit.
How can we look into the face of the Teacher? Only if we are clean in our spirit. He cannot abide sin. He cannot look at sin. And if we have sin in us, known or unknown, then He will close Himself away from us.
How can we possibly rid ourselves of sin? There is only one way: confession of our sinfulness and placement of ourselves under the blood of Jesus.
What a mouthful that is! Confession of our sinfulness is more than simply naming off sins; it is admitting, openly and honestly acknowledging, our propensity toward all that is against a holy God. Our thoughts, our desires, our dreams, even our “good works” have this streak of selfishness in them, this bent towards independence, this stubbornness of spirit.
We can confess to each other, or to a religious professional….but what good is that? The other person is in the same boat as we are! It’s like two people in a lifeboat, and one confesses to the other, “I’m lost. I’m going to die.” The voicing may ease the conscience a smidgeon, but not much of value is accomplished.
No, we must confess our sinfulness to Someone who can do something about it; we must confess this to the Lord Jesus.
And He has said, “He who comes to me, I promise you, I will not cast away.”
What a relief! What a comfort! He not only doesn’t cast us away, and He doesn’t request or demand a payment for His confessional services…..but He spreads Himself over us, covering our sinfulness with His own holy body, much like He covered the sinfulness of that first man and woman with the lamb that was slain for them. At the right time in history, Jesus left Heaven as God and became a man….the result was the one person in the history of the world who is a God-Man, capable of being a mediator between the holy God and the sinful man.
“There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” When there is an international crisis, we cannot send just any old American citizen to represent our government in negotiations. Only the word of an Ambassador has the authority of our government. And so it is in dealing with God. We cannot send any old person to deal with Him; we must only send the Lord Jesus. Only He is Holy enough to be accepted by God. As holy God, Jesus became man, so that as a holy man he could represent sinful man. And as holy man, he offered himself to “negotiate” our spiritual release from sin. He took our sins on Himself, and died in our place the death of a criminal…the Just for the unjust, the Sinless for the sinner, the Perfect for the imperfect.
And in His covering of us, our sinfulness is removed from the sight of the holy God who wants to teach us the Scriptures, who wants to relate intimately and personally with us, who wants to heal us spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and physically.
So, before we can know Truth, we must have a Teacher of Truth…the Holy Spirit…and before we can have the Teacher, we must have our sinfulness covered by the Person of the Lord Jesus.
Only then can we understand suffering in Life.
(Recommended readings: 1 John 1:3-10, John 6:35-40; John 3: 13-21; 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Romans 5:1-21, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, Romans 10:8-17.)
(Part 2 to follow.)
August 13, 2009