Monday, June 17, 2019

The Suffering Question: Suffering and Sovereignty

The Lord is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.

Nahum 1:7 NKJV
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Psalm 34:8 NKJV

We've been in an ongoing study examining the suffering question. We are exploring human suffering in light of the Finished Work and God's Grace and all the time Goodness. So far we've seen God is not the author of sickness, disease or the one sending you trouble. We've looked closely at the concept of "hyper-control" that is, God, controlling and ordaining all events on Earth.

As of late, we've been on a journey through the book of Job. The reason being, whenever Christians begin discussing either human suffering or God's goodness the book of Job will be mentioned. You will hear Job mentioned even more if you speak of the God who heals and sets free and brings blessing and wholeness. 

 You see when the fullness of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, that is His all the time Goodness and willingness to save, heal and deliver, traditional religion will inevitably ask well, what about Job? The response? What about Job? Well, what about Jesus? What about the Finished Work? What about His perfect redemption purchased and paid for? What about His unconditional love and mercy? What about His Grace? What about His healing power? As one minister said, Job may be the question but Jesus is the answer!

I want you to see from the New Covenant what we are to take away from the story of Job.
 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. James 5:11 KJV

 In this passage, we are exhorted to look at the end of the Lord. How God was full of compassion and merciful. Interesting we are not told to focus on Job's suffering or why it even happened. We are told to look at God's compassion and Goodness. 

Who was Elihu?

 Last week we looked at some of the theological debate between Job and the three "comforters." We saw that the main point of this long discourse between all these people was to reveal what man does when he tries to understand and interpret God in light of feelings and circumstance and rather the credible source of His eternal, infallible Word. 

 This week it seems good to address the discourse of Elihu and then see the end of the Lord. When studying Elihu we have some school of thought that says he was some divine spokesperson. That he was a prophet and even a type and shadow of Jesus. Then other schools think he was a young fellow who was just nobody to pay attention to.

 I like what one minister said about him, the truth is somewhere in the middle. He couldn't be a spokesperson for God, a prophet, or a type of Jesus because if he was why did God basically interrupt him and address Job and all five generally? Some create these ideas because God is not recorded to have rebuked Elihu.

 Does that mean all he said was right and proper? I refuse this view for one major reason. When we talk of Elihu we are merely speculating. Because the truth is we are arguing from a place of silence. 

 We can't with definitive certainty make claims about Elihu because the Word never speaks of why God didn't rebuke him. It also doesn't confirm that as Elihu claimed to be God's mouthpiece. What we can see is the entirety of his words or his arguments. 

 Look at the entirety of Elihu's words. Not a snippet. His whole discourse from Chapter 32 onward. It's not good to just take a portion here and there to argue what was said. 

 Elihu did make some right points about God. That God is just and doesn't necessarily afflict people. However, Elihu does promote a theology that is seen today in many religious quarters of the Church today. The idea that perhaps the suffering isn't because of your sin but because God is chastening you, that is teaching you and God can do this because He is sovereign and how dare we question God, the supreme ruler.

 Elihu in light of the New Covenant does proclaim a performance-based faith. That God punishes us when we don't produce fruit. He claims if we obey and serve Him we will spend all our days in blessing but if we fall we will suffer for it. He teaches suffering is God's training method. That God with pain will chasten you

 Elihu's point is that God is God and you are not and who are we to question Him? What Elihu was right about is the fact that Job was questioning God's justice and righteousness. In other words, Job knew He hadn't sinned so why is God punishing him or putting him through so much he questioned. 

 Where all these people missed it by miles is the basic foundation of all the debate. The premise all five are operating on is this idea or concept that God is behind this suffering. That God was punishing Job for some sin. That God is testing and perfecting him through this suffering, that God is in charge and can do what He wants. 

When God shows up, see His first words
“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge? Job 38:1 NKJV

 What God did is remind all of us that all five were debating without full knowledge. What we also know is that Job had not sinned causing God to punish him for his sins.  We also know God wasn't exercising His sovereignty by killing Job's family and taking away his possessions. What do we know for certain?

 What we know for certain is that God was not an agent in the suffering of Job. When God speaks He begins to reveal the existence of the wicked one, the enemy, satan.  He reveals the work of the enemy to Job. 

 The point is Job wasn't suffering because of anything he had done, as in sinful deeds. He wasn't suffering because God was chastening him. He wasn't suffering so God could teach him or humble him. He wasn't suffering because God was sovereign, he certainly wasn't suffering just so God could win a "wager" with satan. Job was an upright man who began to fear, which comes from trusting in our works and not in God alone, and in this state the enemy simply came in doing what he loves to do, to steal and kill and destroy. 

 In summation, God's sovereignty isn't an answer to why bad things happen. We live in this fallen fractured creation. God has given us His Word, His Spirit within, the whole armor of God, His great Grace, His goodness and mercy that follow us always and His Gifts to overcome in this world. 

 What we should take away from Job's life is the fact that Job didn't quit, and that God showed up in His love and all the time Goodness. God turned the captivity of Job. God gave him double for his trouble. God turned the tragic situations around and blessed and restored Job.

 Why we are told to look to the end of the Lord in the New Covenant is because one, there can be no New Covenant Jobs. We have an intercessor, we have a mediator, we have the Finished Work of the Cross and God's Spirit within. Secondly, I believe the exhortation to look to the end of the Lord, is because God is showing us if He can turn around one of the most extreme cases of personal suffering humanity has seen, surely He can turn your situation around for you good. Because of this, we know God is with us always and therefore we can completely trust Him no matter what we're experiencing. 
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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Suffering Question: The "Gospel" of Job

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.                      Psalm 107:1 NLT
The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works      Psalm 145:8-9 KJV

 We've been in an extended study of the suffering question. We've been focusing on God's role in human suffering. In light of Grace, the New Covenant, His love and the Finished Work, what is God's hand in tragedy, disaster or death?

 So far, we've seen God is not sending firey judgment on nations. We asked and answered questions like, is God in control, is God the author of sickness and disease, is God the source of our troubles. As of late, we've been focusing on the Book of Job. 

 We've addressed the traditional view that God gives and takes away. That God gives the devil some form of permission or access to your life to wreak havoc. Today, I sense the leading to head into the fray that was the theological debate between Job, his three friends, and the young man. If you study this long drawn out debate, you will find some of these same arguments made today in traditional religious quarters of the Church. 

Why the debate?

 When studying the debate phase of Job there are two principles you must understand. One why the debate was included in the Book of Job. As you can see this debate takes up most of the 42 chapters of Job. Why was it given so much attention? 

 This debate phase was included because of the infinite wisdom of God. He wanted a source we could all readily see as what happens when men debate about God without knowledge. God wanted us to see the concepts mankind comes up with when they attempt to understand, reason, and interpret God in light of their circumstances, their experiences and not the Word of God.

 The second principle you must understand when studying this debate is knowing that this debate occurred between five people who had little to no information about God. That God Himself in a general sense rebuked all of them and said they had spoken wrong about Him. So to get a better understanding, know that none of these men knew anything, God corrected them, and only included this debate to illustrate what happens when ignorance about God meets more ignorance about God.

“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge? Job 38:2 NKJV

Wrong concepts of God

 Let's begin looking at this debate and see if you have heard some variation of these concepts taught in churches before? Now I am not going to give exact chapter and verse. I know it is a great benefit to study the Word for yourself. I will, however, give the chapter where the idea is spoken about and you can go and study it further.

 1. God is an angry God, God is a God of judgment and wrath. God is judging you for your sins. Your sins are why you are suffering. 
 In Job 4, we see this concept being argued for. If you are suffering it must be because you've sinned and God is punishing you. If you didn't get the promotion it must be because you sinned too much. If you lost a loved one, your sin opened the door. 

 We've addressed this idea that God is sending judgment on nations or cities. Yet so many believe and teach that God is punishing you when you sin. Does sin cause problems?

 When we sin, there can be natural consequence. Cheat on your taxes and you could go to prison as an example. However, God didn't cause this or punish you. God punished Jesus' body on the cross for your sin and mine. He isn't punishing us also when we blow it. Let go of this lie of tradition that God is sending destruction because we sinned.

2. God chastens us with tragedy. God uses destruction and calamity to instruct us or mature us. 
 In Job 5 we see this concept. This is a lie that is so often repeated by tradition it is nauseating. When one goes through a difficulty or experiences loss, tradition will say God was trying to teach you something. Is this God's method of instruction?

 Is God killing your children to teach you? Is He causing your business to go bankrupt to instruct you? Is God taking away your health to make you a better believer? 

 God has given us His Spirit. God has given us His Word. God has given the keys to growth and maturity by following His Spirit within and knowing and understanding His Word. God doesn't bring destruction to make you wiser or more spiritual, reject that religious notion.

3. How can a man be just? How can a man be righteous? Man is but a worm. Man is so unworthy
 In Job 25, we see this concept. Man is nothing but a worm. Man is a sinner. Man has no right but to accept what comes. He is so unworthy before God. 

 How often does traditional religion deny the truth of Christians being in perfect right standing with God? Our righteousness seemed easily revokable by our words or actions according to tradition. Religion likes us seeing ourselves as mere worms in the dust in respect to God.

 This is that suffering "gospel" so many preach. That we shouldn't expect any good this side of Heaven. A parking lot at the mall? How dare you ask for that? Don't you know all God cares about is you being more holy and submitted? 

 If you dare believe God has a plan for your life or has a desire to increase you in any way then you are said to be preaching a false gospel. If you say God wants us to live in victory and walk in blessings and to enjoy life this side of eternity we are told how that is merely a "prosperity" gospel and God wants us to suffer and struggle here on Earth.

 God is a good Father. He has a perfect plan and purpose for your life. He has called you and given you gifts and talents and abilities He wants you to grow in so you can be a light to this World. Contrary to religion, He does want you to enjoy life and be a blessing to those around you.  

4. God purposes you to suffer. God has preordained your calamity. God has predestined this tragedy. God has appointed you to suffer.
In Job 23, we see another traditional lie. God ordains you to suffer. God has appointed you to go through this hardship. 

 God's plan and purpose for you is not cancer. It's not loss of a loved one. It's not the dissolving of your marriage. Reject this lie. We have already dealt with this lie extensively. This is the insidious lie that God is controlling everything. 

 In summation, we can see that when pressed with circumstances we don't understand, we can form traditions to try and bring clarity. Many have suffered things they just don't know why or can't make sense of. We don't have all the answers as finite humanity. What we do know for absolute certain is that God is good and not the author of our troubles or sorrows or tragedy. With that foundation, we know God is always with us, and He isn't the source of our trouble, so we can trust in Him.

The Lord is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble;
And He knows those who trust in Him. Nahum 1:7 NKJV

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Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Suffering Question: the Lord Gives and Takes Away?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.                      Psalm 107:1 NLT
The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. 
                                                                          Psalm 145:8-9 KJV

   We've been in an extended study of the suffering question. Living in this World there are situations that we encounter that leave us with concerning questions. There are circumstances we may have experienced or see others walk through, that we just can't seem to make sense of. Hence the purpose of this study. We are examining the suffering question in light of God's goodness and Grace.

 So far we've seen God is a Good Father. He isn't judging nations with catastrophe. He isn't the author of sickness or our troubles. He isn't controlling every facet of human behavior on this Earth. Last time we saw God isn't giving the enemy permission or access to your life. Today, I sense the strong leading to answer another traditional stronghold.

The Lord giveth...and then taketh?

 The concept that God gives and takes away is a long-standing tradition in many quarters of the Body of Christ. Little "Johnny" was playing near the road and tragically was hit by a vehicle and killed. The response? "well, the good Lord gave and took away..." 

 Young "Sally" was stricken ill and suddenly passed. The response? "The Lord giveth and hath taken away..." Brave "Jimmy" went off to serve his country but was killed in action. The response? "The Lord hath given and hath taken away..."

 Next to there will be "peace in the valley someday" and the 23rd Psalm, "the Lord giveth and taketh away" are staple traditions at funerals, or spoken about tragedies, or any event we can't seem to understand. This phrase is a traditional stronghold with so many. Where does it originate? 

What about Job?

 This famous phrase was spoken by Job right after his initial attack from the enemy, see here. What's interesting to note is that when he spoke it out he was speaking from a place of ignorance, that is a lack of knowledge. Today, this phrase is spoken for the same exact reason, ignorance of the Word. 

 Once you understand the truth about the first and second chapter of Job the whole book makes more sense in keeping in step with who God is. Who Jesus revealed the Father to be. In order to do this, we must interpret Job with the light of the New Covenant. 

 Brother, doesn't the Bible say all Scripture is inspired by God? Whenever we challenge the traditional view of Job this is the usual response initially. I did the same when I first began exploring the truth of God's goodness in light of what I saw written in Job. 

 I began to gain a better understanding of the Father's all the time goodness. I saw that He was a Savior and healer and provider and deliverer. Yet, I'd hear sermons about tough times and tragedy and they use Job as some "excuse" for it all. 

 Then others I'd read after or a sermon they taught, would challenge the traditional narrative. I would revert back to the traditional religious default setting. It couldn't be true. These people are attacking the validity of Scripture I would say to myself. 

 What they really challenged me with was who was speaking in Job 1:21? Did God say He gave and took away or did Job? This was one of the most difficult truths I had to discover. The Word of God is given by inspiration of God, that is, all Scripture was truly stated, but not all Scriptures are a statement of truth. 

Truly stated but not a statement of truth?

This sounds like we are attacking the validity of Scripture or its inerrancy, but holdfast, we are actually defending it. You see the Word records accurately times that the devil spoke. We can see where it records satan saying he will ascend above the Most High God. Is that a statement of truth? No, because God said no devil and kicked him out. 

 So who said God gave and took away? God or Job? Job said it not God. It was truly stated that Job said that but that wasn't a true statement. Once I saw this the house of cards of tradition fell. God is a good God. He isn't taking away life, He is giving life!

You give and take away?

 The phrase Job said is found in many Christian slogans and even in worship songs. What we are doing is slowly reinforcing a wrong concept of God in our thinking. Is God taking away your health? Is God taking away your marriage? Is He taking away your job or children?

 Religious Tradition sees it as God's discipline program. You like spending time on a lake? God will "take" that boat. You like watching TV? Sports? Well, He will "take" that TV or interrupt service. This will teach you to enjoy life!

 Religious tradition uses this concept to make God more than just a harsh taskmaster. He is the brutal tyrant who demands attention nonstop or He will decimate your life. Is it any wonder the lost want nothing to do with God? Is it any wonder young people as they grow older flee from regular Church attendance?

 Go back to Job 1. He said God gave and took away. Is that a true statement? In context, no, we see the enemy taking from him, not God. What is really Good News is in the back of the book God speaks to Job. He gives him some insight he desperately needed.

 Let me share a passage to further explain.
10 And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:10 KJV

 God turned the captivity of Job. If He had him captive how could He "turn" it. This is revealing our Father is the God of the turnaround. He takes what the enemy is doing and turns it around for your good. God turned the tables on the enemy, and where he was bringing destruction, poverty, and sickness and death, God came and brought healing, deliverance, and total restoration. 

 God didn't give and then take away. No God gave and then the enemy came in and took away. The enemy came in bringing death and loss and God came in bringing life and restoration. 

 Well if what Job said wasn't true why does the next verse after the famous phrase state that Job didn't sin or charge God foolishly? Some translate that He didn't blame God. Yet, you're saying Job didn't speak the truth.

 The key is found in the verse. Job didn't sin or charge God foolishly. Job was living in the light he had. He was faithful to that light and knew of only God and His mighty power. 

 What God did when He showed up was point Job to the existence of the enemy. You see the whole book of Job can be divided into three phases. The destruction phase, the debate phase and finally deliverance. 

 The majority of the book basically operates on the presupposition that Job committed some sin and was receiving the just "reward" for his sins. The three friends basically try to convince Job that he was in sin and God was punishing him. Even the young man Elihu comes on scene trying to convince Job he was in some secret sin and God being just wouldn't punish Job for no reason.

 The problem is all five people in Job were operating on limited knowledge. All that happened was the enemy attacked Job, hoping he'd have a mere superficial relationship with God that had little to no trust whatsoever. When God showed up, gave insight into who the enemy was, Job changed his mind and admitted he was wrong about God. 

 In summation, is God giving and then taking away? No! Remove that religious tradition from your thinking. Job occurred when there was no intercessor on our behalf. When there was no Bible to consult for truth. No Holy Ghost on the inside and no Finished Work were Jesus totally defeated the devil. There are no New Covenant "Jobs". 

 God is your Good Father. He gives and doesn't change His mind. The gifts of God are irrevocable. He can't give and then take it away. That would make Him a liar, and He isn't! You can fully trust Him. He is with you and will never forsake you. Even when we don't understand it all, the one truth we must always remember is that God is good and not the author of evil or the One ordaining trouble. Deliverance, freedom, life, and wholeness are always found in Him. He is for you not against you!
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