Life Happens

The book of Job challenges us in several ways.  Even though a careful reading of it shows God’s grace, love and care for His people, skeptics and unbelievers often try to use it to make a case against God.  They seek to charge God with being the source of evil, or with being uncaring and arbitrary toward mankind.  The issue of suffering, they say, is evidence against belief in God.

Even believers sometimes struggle with the case of Job.  Some take the events of this book and from them teach that mankind is little more than a marionette, whose strings are pulled by a sovereign God.  In such a case, humans have no freewill, nor any capacity to determine the course of their lives.  God predetermines all that happens to them and they can only react to these things.  Others suggest that God is simply aloof to mankind’s situation in life.  They say He created the world in which we live, set a natural order of things in motion, and then He allows things to play out as they will, with little or no interest in how it all turns out.

Sometimes, believers may wonder from Job’s life if God doesn’t cause certain things to happen to us in order to test our fidelity, or perhaps just to get our attention.  They may see God’s conversation with Satan with regard to Job as evidence of this.  In such a view, any bump in the road of life must be examined to see if there is a hidden message from God within it.  This idea, as is the case with the previous two ideas, is not complimentary to our Father in heaven.  It turns Him from being a loving, nurturing Father, to little more than a mad scientist who loves to tinker with the specimens He finds on the earth.

The truth about Job’s experience is that it illustrates the effects of sin being present in the world.  Satan is the source of sin and all that is evil.  His desire is to turn as many as possible away from God by whatever means he can use to accomplish this.  Just as Satan attacked Job to try to make him curse God, he assaults godly people today.  He may use sickness, disease and death in order to make us question God’s love.  He may use evil people and evil things to cast doubt upon God’s care for His people.  He may even use our friends and loved ones to incorrectly argue God’s cause before us, in order to make us turn from Him.

The good news in all of this is that God has put restraints on Satan.  God did not allow Satan to take Job’s life, even though He allowed Job to suffer grievously.  In the same manner, God will not allow Satan to test us beyond our ability to bear it (1 Cor. 10;13).  In addition to this, God Himself does not place obstacles in our path just to test our resolve to follow Him.  James 1:13 tells us that God does not tempt anyone.  His desire is that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2: 4).  He will do nothing that might lead us to sin against Him so as to be lost.

But what about the bad things that happen to good people?  The presence of sin in the world has created an environment in which evil flourishes.  Like a disease that arises in a very narrow population due to their sinful conduct, but then ultimately spreads to the innocent, bad things happen indiscriminately in life.  We may say that “life happens,” but this is not to suggest that we are powerless to meet it, nor that our own decisions play no part in what happens to us.  It simply acknowledges that God does not purposely do things to hurt us.  If we trust in God and remain faithful to Him no matter what Satan and his minions may throw at us, we, like Job, will receive God’s blessings, both here in life and later in eternity.  This truth should comfort and sustain us.

More Blessed

When we want to find the actual words that Jesus spoke, we turn to the gospels which are the largest collection of the Lord’s sayings.  We may also turn to the book of Revelation, where the Lord spoke to John and is quoted in this marvelous vision given to the seven churches of Asia.  Apart from these two sources, there is only one other place in the New Testament where the Lord’s actual words are found.  In Acts 20:35, as Paul spoke to the elders of the church in Ephesus, he said, “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

The fact that Paul quoted this statement assures us that it is an actual statement from the Lord, and that it is worthy of our attention as His followers.  In the context of Acts 20, Paul was giving instructions to the elders of the Ephesian church.  He reminded them of the personal sacrifices he had made in providing for his own support in order to help the church.  His point was that Christians in general and spiritual leaders in particular must be giving persons.

The nature of that giving, as demonstrated in his own life, involved what Winston Churchill would later say of his appointment as Prime Minister of England in 1940:  “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”  The great apostle literally gave all of these things in service to the Lord and His church during the course of his ministry.  The recounting of some of the things he suffered early in his ministry, in 2 Cor. 11:23-28, and what we know he suffered thereafter, clearly show that he gave much.  At the end of his life, Paul was confident that he would receive the crown of righteousness because of his faithfulness to the Lord (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).  This confidence certainly affirms the validity of the Lord’s words.

Unfortunately, it generally takes us a long time to learn this truth.  We are instinctively possessive of our time and of our wealth.  We often cannot fathom how giving of what we have makes us more blessed than those to whom it is given.  This is particularly the case in modern society, where government takes so much from those who produce and gives it to those who do not.  But even in the best of circumstances this is a difficult concept for us.

Nevertheless, the scriptures enjoin us to be givers.  The reason for this is because of how much our Father in heaven has given us.  The gift of His Son as the sacrifice for our sins is a gift that is greater than any we could ever give, even if we possessed the entire wealth of the earth.  Having received such a marvelous gift, how can we withhold giving of ourselves and of our wealth in return?

In 2 Cor. 9:7, Paul told the Christians in Corinth to give as they purposed in their hearts, not grudgingly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.  Then he went on to point out that God will enable us to give generously, if we’ll just trust Him (vs. 8-11).  Those who learn this lesson will give generously of their time and efforts, and of their money, for the good of the kingdom.  Those who give generously will indeed be blessed here on earth as well as in eternity, for there is no greater blessing than to be loved by God because of our faithful obedience to His will.  God said in Mal. 3:10, “Test Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”  Amen!

My Name Is Continually Blasphemed

In Isaiah 52 God, speaking through the prophet, revealed the coming of a time of blessing for His people, when they would be freed from the oppression of their ungodly neighbors.  This message was two-fold in that it had immediate reference to their return from captivity and the restoration of their sovereignty, and it had long-term reference to the coming of the Messiah, whose future suffering is revealed in chapter 53.  In the midst of this discussion, the Lord reflected upon the attitude of the pagan nations who were then oppressing His people.  Among the things He said of them, He remarked, “Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long” (Isa. 52:5).

To blaspheme means to speak irreverently about God or sacred things.  It also refers to profane talk.  This was a serious charge, about which the pagan nations cared little.  Had they been more concerned about the God of Israel, they would have known that He expressly forbade such talk in the Ten Commandments.  In Ex. 20:7 He said, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”  Although the word blaspheme is not present in this prohibition, it certainly falls within its bounds.

In the context of Isa. 52, the pagan nations blasphemed God’s name by their disrespect for Him.  In the ancient world a nation that conquered another typically mocked the gods of that nation for not protecting them from the invaders.  So we may conclude that those who oppressed Israel made fun of God because of how easily they had defeated her.  Such was the case when Sennacherib sent Rabshakeh to speak to the besieged city of Jerusalem.   In Isa. 36:18-20, Rabshakeh spoke in derisive terms about the gods of the nations that had already fallen to Sennacherib, and warned Jerusalem that their God would not be able to spare them.

This taunt of the God of Israel did not go unpunished, for God, in response to Hezekiah’s prayer, destroyed 185,000 Assyrians and Sennacherib withdrew and returned to Assyria where he was assassinated.  The nations who blasphemed God in Isa. 52 also suffered defeat when it was time for God to restore His people to the Promised Land.  This reaction from our God and Father should be sobering, especially in our time.

Today God’s name is routinely blasphemed in all areas of society.  One can hardly watch a movie or television program without some irreverent reference to God.  Whether it is using His name in curses, or using His name in vain and flippant expressions, there is no respect for God’s holy name in the media.  Many young people, and even some adults fill their text messages with abbreviations, such as OMG, that blaspheme God’s name.  In addition to this, God’s name is often used in many irreverent and flippant expressions that punctuate our daily speech.  All of these things blaspheme God’s name, and should never pass from our lips or fingertips.

The Jews were so conscious of the holiness of God’s name that they would not even speak it.  They substituted the word “Lord,” lest they inadvertently profane His name.  This is why no one knows how to pronounce the Hebrew word YHWH, the name of God.

In a world that so carelessly blasphemes God’s name, we who are Christians must be all the more diligent to be sure that we do not.  Let us treat God’s name with all the respect and reverence it deserves, for God will not leave unpunished those who use His name in vain.

When Evil Seems To Prosper

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon bemoaned many facets of life that from his vantage point were vanity and striving after wind.  This is a somber perspective on life and in some respects reflects the effects of Solomon’s folly for having tested his ability to remain wise while engaging in all manner of foolish pursuits.  As far away from God as Solomon drifted, he did not completely forget his creator.  He came full circle in his faith and concluded this book with the charge to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Eccl. 12:13).

As Solomon made this journey, he focused on something that has troubled godly people for all time.  How are we to react when it seems that the wicked prosper in their evil deeds?  In Eccl. 8:11-13 Solomon said, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given to fully to do evil.  Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly.  But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.”

Here Solomon noted a common attitude among human beings.  When we do something we know is wrong and do not immediately receive punishment, we are emboldened to continue in that activity.  Whether it is the child getting into the cookie jar, or a criminal breaking into a house, or someone telling a falsehood, or whatever it might be, if we appear to get away with it, we are more likely to do it again.

When the righteous observe such behavior, they may wonder about the wisdom of living a godly lifestyle.  They may wonder about God’s justice in allowing the wicked to succeed in their evil deeds.  They may wonder why their lives are not as materially blessed as those of the unrighteous.  All of these are understandable reactions, when it seems that evil prospers.  They are understandable, but they are not biblical reactions.

The plain truth of scripture is that all evildoers will be held accountable for their deeds.  Solomon spoke of it in general terms in Eccl. 8:11-13.  He knew that a delay in the execution of God’s judgment did not mean that judgment would not be meted out.  The righteous will be rewarded for their godliness, and the wicked will be punished for their evil deeds.  This is an unchangeable feature of God’s character.

One statement of this truth is found in Nahum 1:3, in the words the prophet spoke to the city of Nineveh.  He said, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”  The last phrase of this statement is important.  God will not leave the guilty unpunished.  His justice will not allow the wicked to get away with their evil deeds.  This is a truth that is as fundamental to our faith as is the promise of reward for the righteous.  There cannot be a reward for obedience if there is no punishment for disobedience.

The New Testament echoes this truth.  One example of this is 2 Corinthians 5:10, where Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  So then, we do not fret because of evildoers and we do not envy them, for God will bring them to justice and put out their lamp (Proverbs 24:19).  Although evil seems to prosper, its destiny is the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:14).