It’s likely over the next few posts some of us will have our ideas of God challenged. But I want to encourage you to just read each post all the way through, even though they are lengthy in content. You owe it to yourself. Take time to digest it and then to take the Bible yourself and see if what is said is true. I’m convinced that if God in the flesh were here this morning there are at least two things He would say to us on this topic.
I’m convinced God would say, “Let me be God.”
We must begin by having an accurate understanding of God and His character. How many of you are familiar with this thing called Glamour Shots? Have you ever walked into somebody’s house and one of the family members have had a Glamour Shot and they have it setting up on their mantle. You go, “Wow! Who is that?” The guys and the gals that do these glamour shots are miracle workers in my opinion. A lot of times what they do is not just a touchup. It’s a complete remodel. I’m very impressed.
Here’s the point: Some of us carry around a glamour shot image of God. We’ve airbrushed it and changed it and remodeled God just a little bit so that it barely resembles the real thing and reflects more how we think God should be rather than what He’s really like.
It reminds me a little bit of a little boy in the third grade named Danny. Danny received the assignment in the third grade to explain God. He has a pretty interesting explanation. He said, “One of God’s most important jobs is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on and because of it God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or watch TV. Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work like walking on water, performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of Him preaching to them so they crucified Him. But He was good and kind like His Father and He told His Father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said OK. His Dad, God, appreciated everything He had done and all His hard work on earth so He told Him you don’t have to go out on the road anymore. He said He could stay in heaven. So He did. And now He helps His Dad sort of like a secretary but only more important. You can pray at any time you want and they’re sure to help you because they’ve got it worked out that one of them is on duty all the time. You should always go to church on Sundays because it makes God happy and if there’s anybody you want to make happy it’s God. Don’t skip church or do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. Besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.”
All of us carry around in our lives and hearts an image or idea of what we think God is like. But I think it’s important that we let God speak for Himself. So many of our ideas are shaped by the media, by culture, by our past, by our parents, sometimes even by disappointments in life. But let’s let God speak for Himself. Here are three statements of what I think reflect what God says about Himself in the Bible.
1. God is in control and decides what He allows into my life. I think it’s a healthy place to start by reminding us that He alone is God. The Bible is absolutely clear that God is in control over the affairs of the world and He is in control of the details of your life and mine. So no matter what situation you’re facing I can tell you based on the authority of scripture that God is not surprised. Your situation has not caught God off guard. He is not sitting in heaven ringing His hands wondering whether all of this is going to work out. Proverbs 19:21 says “We may make a lot of plans but the Lord will do what He has decided.” Daniel 4:35 “All the people on earth are nothing compared to Him. He has the power to do as He pleases among the angels in heaven and with those who live on the earth. No one can stop Him or challenge Him by saying, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’” The Bible is so crystal clear that God is all powerful and nothing happens to me or to you without Him allowing it.
Some people, because of their own personal journey in pain, have decided to give God a makeover. They haven’t been able in their minds to reconcile the kind of pain they have experienced and endured and a God who is all powerful and who may not change that situation. One of the best examples of that is by Harold Cushner who many years ago wrote a book called When Bad Things Happen To Good People. After watching his son die of a disease Cushner concludes that even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check. And that God is a God of justice but not a God of power. Millions of readers bought the book and found a kind of comfort in a God who is kind and compassionate but weak and powerless. A famous survivor of the holocaust responding to Cushner’s book said, “If that’s who God is why doesn’t He resign and let somebody more competent take His place.”
I don’t know about you but there’s not much comfort in a God who is kind but powerless. Nor does such a view reflect the God of the Bible. The very essence of what it means to be God is to have absolute power and control and sovereignty. And God gets to decide what happens in us.
2. Secondly I think He would tell us that pain and difficulty are a reality but not always as a result of sin or a lack of faith. The reality is that for purposes that we don’t always understand God allows painful and difficult experiences in our life.
James is so clear about this out of James 1:2-3 “Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way [not “if” but “when”] let it be an opportunity for joy. When your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow.”
The reality is you and I don’t get a vote. Suffering simply happens. We cannot choose whether or not we will suffer. We don’t get to choose how we’ll suffer. We don’t get to chose necessarily how long we’ll endure it. But one thing we do get to choose is how we respond to it.
When you read through this history of the Bible or the history of the Christian faith you will see a trail of suffering and struggle. But somehow in our generations many Christians have come to believe that pain and hardship must be a sign that we’re doing something wrong. Or that God doesn’t care about us. Or that we must not have enough faith. And nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many of the heroes of the Bible, both men and women, were people who never were delivered from their struggles. In fact, in Hebrews 11, that great chapter on faith says “But others trusted God and were tortured preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains hiding in caves and holes in the ground. Their life was hard.” Verse 39 “All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith yet none of them received all that God had promised.” They didn’t just not have the good life. They suffered and had significant struggles. But they are honored here for their faith in spite of the fact that they weren’t always delivered. They rank among the greatest Christians of all times.
One day Jesus was asked very directly about this whole issue of sin and suffering. In John 9 the Bible says that Jesus was with His disciples and the disciples come to Jesus when they confront a man who was blind from birth. And they say, “Jesus who sinned? Was it this man or his parents?” Jesus very directly and clearly says “Neither one. This has happened so that the power of God and the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Pain is often not at all about punishment but rather about God’s desire to demonstrate His power. Many times suffering is not at all about a rebuke but about a refinement. It is often not about your failure but rather about God’s attempt to build your faith. So God says, “Let Me be God. I’ll decide what I’ll allow into your life but don’t think your suffering is necessarily connected to any kind of sin or lack of faith.”
3. God is not obligated to explain Himself or His purposes to us. I’m sure most of us have heard of a man in the Bible named Job. The Bible says that when he lived he was the most righteous man on planet earth. One day the Bible says that Satan came before the Lord and said, “The only reason Job serves You is because he’s got it made. You’ve given him the good life. But if You took all of that away he would curse You.” So God allowed Job to be stripped of everything. Remember, as we go through this, Job is completely unaware of the conversation that took place in heaven. But here’s how the story unfolds.
Not long after that conversation the Bible says that a messenger came to Job and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this but all your animals, all your livestock have been raided. They’ve been stolen and the family business is gone and your wealth has vanished.” And as he was speaking another messenger came in and said, “Job, that’s not all. When they raided your flocks all your servants were murdered. Not one of them is still alive.” And while he was speaking another messenger came in. You can almost hear the panic as you read the story as he says, “Job, there’s been a freak windstorm and the house collapsed and all ten of your children have died.” And to compound the problems the Bible says that Job also loses his health and from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head he has sores all over his body. And finally in total agonizing desperation his wife comes to him and says, “Why don’t you just end it. It’s not worth going on. Just curse God and die.” And Job somehow finds it within himself the ability to say to her “Should we accept only good from God and not trouble?” And for the next 35 chapters you and I have a front row seat as we get to watch Job wrestle with the questions of pain and suffering.
His friends come to him and say, “Job, the reason for your problems must be because of some sin in your life.” There are times in the book when Job goes through deep depression and grieving. There are times when his faith surges and he declares his loyalty to God. There’s a couple of times when he demands that God give him the answers to his problems. And there are even some times when he regrets that he had ever been born.
But chapter after chapter goes by and there is no response from heaven. Finally in chapter 38 God breaks the silence. For 37 chapters the silence is deafening.
What would God say to Job? “Job, I’m really sorry for all you’ve had to go through but there was a purpose in it. And Job I have my reasons and you passed the test with flying colors. I’m really proud of you.” A little compassion, a little bit of answer, a little encouragement and compliment? That’s not at all what God says.
In fact, God doesn’t explain Himself at all. He simply explodes. God doesn’t explain His grand design. He just reveals Himself and He doesn’t answer one of Job’s questions. But for four chapters all that God talks about is His own power, His majesty, His sovereignty, His creative ability. And at the end of it Job’s response is this, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” God’s answer to Job is, “Job, I am God.”
And as hard as it is to accept, you will go to your grave and I will go to my grave with some questions unanswered.
I remember when I was a young preacher I would walk through a time of tragedy with some family in our church I always felt obligated to try to explain what God was doing. Somehow to justify what was happening in their lives.
I have long sense learned that the most important thing you offer to people in crises is your presence and your love and your support. Let’s face it. Sometimes there are no words to adequately explain. Sometimes there is not a Bible verse that can be pulled out of the scripture that somehow erases all the pain and explains what God is up to. The reality is that sometimes there are just no answers.
1 Corinthians 13 “Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. We don’t understand Him always. But later we will see Him face to face and we will understand.”
So God says, “Let me be God.”
In the next post we will discuss a second thing God would say to us.