O Wretched Man!

How do we respond to those struggling with immoral attractions and desires? Or who believe deep down they’re in the wrong body? Or who fantasize about unspeakable wickedness?

It does seem as if we’re not all deliberately choosing the feelings and tendencies with which we struggle; they’re evidently inherent in our nature, as if we’re born with them: and Christians are not immune from the fight. (Ro 7:7-8) How then can we condemn such behavior? Why resist it at all? (1Pe 5:9)

God gives us over to a reprobate mind, to harm ourselves and others, when we don’t keep Him central in our world view. (Ro 1:28) Yet many struggle with evil within while pursuing God (Ro 7:18-19); we may indeed be resisting quietly, doing our best to walk uprightly in spite of how wretched we feel, unable to figure out how we got here. (Ro 7:24) What hope do we have in such a struggle?

Perhaps our instincts, apart from our conscious will, spring from our sub-conscious, from beliefs and thinking patterns programmed into us from infancy through a variety of traumatic, social and cultural factors. How have these millions of signals, most of which we didn’t choose, impacted us?

It may also be that we inherit moral tendencies through ancestry (De 23:2), from our culture (3-4), and even from mankind in general (Ro 5:19), infected just being part of the vast, living human organism. (Ep 4:25)

We may not fully understand how we’re influenced by our own thoughts and actions, or those of others, either in the present or in the past, but one thing is clear: as we succumb to these immoral desires and begin to practice them they become much stronger, creating a bondage that deepens and strengthens over time. The more we engage and pursue them the more firmly their stranglehold on our hearts and minds becomes.

We also know that pursuing these immoral tendencies doesn’t tend to satisfy us, to enable us to live balanced, healthy, resilient, joyful, peaceful lives. Giving in to them makes us prisoners of war (2Ti 2:25-26), and most of us aren’t even aware we’re in a battle.

The only other obvious option is to continually resist these impulses, to struggle against them and deny ourselves the pleasures they promise. (Ep 4:22) While this is clearly better than giving ourselves over, the “Just say no” strategy tends to fail over time. Is there a better way?

God tells us knowing the truth makes us free (Jn 8:31-32), that acknowledging the truth delivers us from spiritual slavery and bondage. (1Ti 2:25-26) Truth is the weapon of our warfare here (2Co 10:4); there’s no bondage or instinct too strong for God to heal (Ep 3:20), if we’re willing to pursue and receive the truth. (1Pe 1:4)

Everyone experiences sinful tendencies and attractions which seem beyond our control; we can deny and resist them, but we can’t simply turn them off altogether and choose to feel differently. Rather than presuming “God made me this way” whenever we have an instinctive reaction that’s contrary to moral law, perhaps we should offer up these instincts to God and ask Him to help us re-program both our conscious and sub-conscious minds.

Consistently and prayerfully exposing our minds and hearts to truth, asking God to work it down into the deepest recesses of our being, this is the way to cleansing and freedom. (Ps 119:9) It may not be the quick fix, any more than our initial programming happened overnight; the web of lies may be extremely deep and complex. Our hope is that God knows us better than we know ourselves (Ps 139:1-4), and has given His very best to set us free. (Tit 2:14)

We may not understand exactly how we fell into bondage, but we can still be set free: ask and seek. (Mt 7:7-8) If we want to be healed and pursue God for it, He’s on our side and will be with us every step of the way. (He 13:5-6)

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Resist Not Evil

The fact of evil in the world may constitute the greatest proof of God’s existence; we recognize people doing wrong and we’re moved by moral instinct to condemn and resist evil behavior. Yet without God there can be no such thing as evil.

Recognizing and responding to evil is fundamental to both our spiritual nature and our entire legal code, so we must be very careful when Christ says, “Resist not evil.” (Mt 5:39a) Taking this out of context sets us up for failure.

This is not about being passive as someone is abusing us, or inviting random acts of violence, or even being persecuted for our faith, but a civil context where we’re found guilty of harming another and justice requires similar harm be imposed on us, the offender (38). In other words, the context is where we already have a moral obligation to endure a given level of inconvenience or punishment (evil) in resolving an injustice. (Le 24:19-20) In such cases, mere justice is insufficient for the follower of Christ: we must go beyond the letter of the law in making things right. (Php 2:15)

This is most clearly seen in Christ’s second example, in the immediate context of how we’re to voluntarily offer to suffer more than we already have: we’ve been sued in court and found guilty, and the penalty is that our coat is being taken from us and awarded to the plaintiff. (40) When our community has found us guilty (implying we resisted resolving the offense out of court (Mt 5:25), and the offended party had to take us to court to find justice), it’s certainly appropriate for children of light (Ep 5:8-10) to go above and beyond what the law requires and voluntarily offer more if our adversary wants it. (1Co 6:7b) In other words, we’re to go out of our way to make things right once we’re shown by due process to be in the wrong. (Mt 5:16)

Christ’s third example is similar; one is compelling us to carry their burden a mile. (41) In other words, we have a moral obligation to comply with their request, as when Roman soldiers conscripted subjects into short-term manual labor to assist with military duties. (Mt 27:32) When one with such authority lawfully engages us to do something most people would resent, we show our integrity by willingly and cheerfully going well beyond what is required.

There’s a sense of resolving injustice even in Christ’s first example: someone strikes us on our right cheek. (39b) This would either be done with the left hand or with the back of the right hand, and would therefore be a formal insult. Presuming it is deserved, and lawfully dealt, Christ is telling us to submit to more harm than required to ensure any and all wrong on our part is fully resolved.

We see then by repeated examples in the immediate context that Christ is not teaching us to be passive in the face of wanton malevolence, but to voluntarily accept additional suffering (evil) as needed to fully resolve our offenses and fulfill our civic duties. He is calling us to live above reproach. (Tit 2:8)

It’s important then to consider how others might abuse this concept and teach us that it’s inappropriate to resist evil people, to defend ourselves and others, that we’re never to confront and challenge those who would wrongfully and maliciously harm us.

Yet Christ Himself does not do this, passively stand by as others harm Him contrary to the Law; He does not turn the other check when He is slapped; He publicly resists such abuse by pointing it out as unlawful and challenging it. (Jn 18:22-23) The Apostle Paul acts similarly, even cursing his perpetrator. (Ac 23:3)

So, when Christ’s teaching here is understood as a general requirement to defer to evil people in their malice, rather than simply accepting additional harm in resolving a civil dispute, suggesting we ought to voluntarily submit to arbitrary wickedness and not defend ourselves (NASB, NIV, RSV, ASV, ESV), we must be very careful; the examples Christ gives don’t appear to support such a conclusion.

It may very well be that one is being malicious and evil in taking advantage of our willingness to go the extra mile in resolving a dispute, yet we ought to maintain a spirit of generosity and love toward them regardless (Mt 5:44), just as we would towards all people. (42) This is the spirit of our Father, who is benevolent toward the evil as well as the good. (45)

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Lord of the Sabbath

When Christ says the sabbath was made for Man, and not Man for the sabbath (Mk 2:27), we might conclude the same about the rest of Torah, that it was made for us: we weren’t made for it. We might also conclude there might be times when it’s OK to break certain parts of God’s law, as when we’re in danger or have an emergency.

The immediate context is about harvesting on sabbath when we’re famished: the disciples were plucking grain (23) and the Pharisees accused them of breaking Sabbath. (24)

Christ counters with David eating bread he wasn’t allowed to eat; David and his men were famished and there weren’t any good options. (25-26) Christ seems to be saying there are times when God mercifully overlooks certain kinds of Torah violations: it isn’t that they aren’t violations; God just doesn’t call them out or hold us accountable for them in the same way.

What shall we say of god-fearing people who lied during the Holocaust to save innocent lives? Do we really see ourselves standing up on Judgment day condemning them? (Mt 12:41) We might be quite alone if we do; while God doesn’t officially approve of this kind of behavior, neither does He explicitly call it out as evil (Ex 1:19); He does seem to overlook it. (20-21)

The fact that plucking grain on sabbath actually doesn’t violate Torah at all, just Jewish tradition, may then not be the point; perhaps the point is that God is free to mercifully overlook certain kinds of sin without being unjust. (Ge 19:21) Perhaps it’s also about us being overly scrupulous in evaluating others’ behavior, especially in difficult, unusual or trying circumstances.

In reminding us He’s Lord of the Sabbath (Mk 2:28), Christ wasn’t telling us it’s OK to violate the sabbath now, or any part of Torah (Mt 5:19), but that He knows best when and how to show mercy when we break it.

It’s one thing to appreciate the mercy of God (Ps 136:1), yet it’s another matter altogether to presume He will be merciful when we deliberately choose to break Torah for our own pleasure and convenience. (He 10:28-31) When obeying God will bring suffering and difficulty, how committed should we be to honoring and respecting God’s Law? Should we break sabbath to keep a job? Or lie to save a loved one? Would we rather starve than eat unclean food?

Every one of us will give account of himself to God (Ro 14:11-12), and we’re all at different stages of maturity; some have faith to suffer for minor Torah violations, while others may not yet be so well grounded, becoming bitter and resentful in premature sacrifice. We should not create burdens for ourselves and others (Ac 15:10) which we’re unable to gladly bear. (He 10:34) Sorting this out is no small matter.

Whether God will slam us to the mat if we happen to break His Law under duress may not be the right question. Would Jesus break God’s Law to convenience Himself? or to accommodate someone He loves? Even to spare His own life? He never did sin like this (1Pe 2:22) and we’re to follow His steps. (21)

A better question might be, What kind of Resurrection do we want? (He 12:35b) What kind of testimony? (Re 12:11)

It’s a matter of faith to trust God to work out the details when we’re in a bind, to give us the strength to walk in joy, honoring Him as we suffer. Staying alive isn’t the ultimate priority (Php 1:21-22); neither is comfort or pleasure – ours or anyone else’s. We’ve not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (He 12:4) The goal of God’s love is holiness: it makes no room for sin.

Shall we be so delighted in God’s ways that as the pressures of life mount up and threaten us (Ps 119:61), closing in about us until our very life hangs in the balance (109), we’ll not neglect or forsake His precepts? (87) Clinging to them as unto Him? (31) If we’ve yielded our body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God (Ro 12:1), we’ve already decided.

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Works of the Devil

When we observe inconsistencies between our rational minds and our emotions we discover our subconscious: underlying beliefs controlling us which are contrary to our intellect. What we actually believe and who we are is a composite of all these beliefs, and it’s a bit mysterious.

Many fight intense negative emotion, fear and anxiety, when they’re in no danger; others, a critical voice relentlessly discouraging and crippling them; still others wrestle with a debilitating sense of shame and worthlessness they can’t shake off. We all have spiritual wounds keeping us from functioning according to God’s design.

A girl, having done her best, hears, “Why don’t you do better? You’ll never amount to anything!” Satan whispers, “Something’s wrong with you; you’re unloved, worthless, unimportant, unnecessary.” As an adult she’s working herself to the bone serving others, but she’s constantly anxious, restless, no satisfaction or peace.

A boy is sexually violated and hears the insidious whisper, “If God loved you He wouldn’t have let this happen to you; you’re dirty, flawed, worthless.” As an adult he’s filled with fear and shame, hiding in rebellion and perversion.

We might frame all of this up in terms of lies and truth: when we’re acting inconsistently with reality we’re believing a lie. We might call the resulting damage to our souls works of the devil, the consequence of believing Satan’s lies about our lived experience (Jn 8:44b), and see Jesus Christ, the Truth (Jn 14:6), as our Deliverer: He destroys the works of the devil. (1Jn 3:8b)

The Passion of the Christ

Whenever we experience trauma, Satan is at hand to feed us the lie: “God isn’t good; you’re the problem.” But it’s just a lie, and there’s no reason to believe it. Yet we do tend to believe it, and this is the problem.

These lies are often buried so deeply within our subconscious we don’t even know what’s happened to us, or where to begin in dealing with them. So, how do we get free? (Ro 7:24)

We get into spiritual bondage in stages, gradually, starting in childhood and believing more and more lies as we go through life. So, it should come as no surprise that we generally get free the same way, over time, in many small steps, believing more and more truth (Jn 8:32) as we pursue God (Mt 7:7-8) and He teaches us His Way. (1Jn 2:27)

The only path to freedom is going back the way we came: realigning our mind with reality, believing differently; it’s called repentance, and it’s the gift of God. (2Ti 2:25-26)

Freedom comes as we internalize three primal truths: [1] God is good; [2] God is sovereign; and [3] He created each of us for a unique purpose. Like a three-legged stool, remove any of these fundamental principles and we have an unstable foundation.

We must know deep down that God loves us and that He’s ultimately benevolent towards us. (Ps 27:13) We must also know He’s in charge of everything: nothing ever happens without His permission. (Ro 11:36) And we must be confident that He has a unique design and purpose in creating us (Re 2:17b), and that all He has ever allowed to happen to us, or ever will allow, is ultimately for good. (Ro 8:28)

God calls us to pursue His purpose for us (2Ti 2:17), and He will help us as we turn to Him and follow after Him. (He 4:16)

The more deeply we know these things the more we align with reality and deliver ourselves from Satan’s devices.

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Full of Sores

Until very recently, I’ve been troubled by the idea of arbitrary suffering; not persecution, but the agony which falls upon many of us for no apparent reason. It was perhaps my greatest fear, that some day I’d be abandoned to suffer pointlessly and alone.

God’s promise to care for me (1Pe 5:7) wasn’t actually helping much; He does, in fact, let some of His children suffer unspeakable things for prolonged periods, not for any obvious wrong-doing, like Lazarus: immobile, full of sores, exposed, vulnerable and dependent, begging for scraps until his very last day. (Lk 16:19-21) This was a mystery and a worry, until I heard Maybel’s story.

Maybel, an elderly, ailing woman with no family or friends, suffered for over a quarter century, wasting away in a convalescent home. Blind, mostly deaf, ravaged by painful stomach and back issues, debilitating headaches, disfigured by facial cancer, constantly drooling, surrounded day and night with unbearable stench and shrieks of the insane, she spent her days strapped in a wheelchair – her only human contact from overworked nursing staff, who considered her the most daunting to care for of all their patients due to the horror of her appearance.

She was discovered quite accidentally by a seminary student back in the mid-70’s, as he offered her a flower and wished her a Happy Mother’s Day, not expecting much of a response. She held up the flower to smell it, thanked him for his kindness, and promptly asked if she could give it away to someone who could enjoy its beauty, since she was blind. He wheeled her over to another patient, and she offered it up saying, “Here, this is from Jesus.”

As he wheeled Maybel back to her room and learned more of her story, it became clear that this was no ordinary woman. Over the course of the next three years they become friends. He often read scripture to her, pausing to let her continue quoting from memory. They’d sing the old hymns; she knew them all by heart and would pause to explain how much a certain phrase or verse meant to her. He took notes from their conversations as she encouraged, challenged and comforted him, ministering to him and praying for him. She never complained, always cheerful, thoughtful, kind and joyful.

One Sunday afternoon during final exams, overwhelmed with distraction and worry, unable to keep his mind in focus, he wondered what Maybel thought about, lying in bed or strapped to her wheelchair, as the seconds ticked by, day after day, year after year … decade after decade. When he asked her she said, “I think about my Jesus. I think about how good he’s been to me. He’s been awfully good to me in my life, you know … I’m one of those kind who’s mostly satisfied … Lots of folks wouldn’t care much for what I think. Lots of folks would think I’m kind of old-fashioned. But I don’t care. I’d rather have Jesus. He’s all the world to me.” She then began to sing an old hymn …

Jesus is all the world to me,
My life, my joy, my all.
He is my strength from day to day,
Without him I would fall.
When I am sad, to him I go,
No other one can cheer me so.
When I am sad he makes me glad.
He’s my friend.

Mabel was an overcomer, remaining thankful, cheerful and joyful through the most unspeakable afflictions. God worked in the midst of what appeared to be arbitrary and pointless suffering to glorify Himself and His mighty power through the frailest and ugliest of us. Maybel was a broken woman in every earthly sense, but she was powerful (Ep 1:19-20), a Spartan on the spiritual battlefield until she went home to glory.

It turns out my greatest fear wasn’t being left alone, or suffering, in itself. I was afraid I’d never be able to glorify God in such a state. (1Pe 1:7) After hearing what God did in Maybel, I’m no longer afraid; she’s living proof that we can suffer with God, in God, and for God no matter what the trial. (Ro 8:35-37)

I will overcome, I already have, because greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world. (1Jn 4:4)

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Friend

When Judas was in the very act of betraying Christ, Christ knew exactly what Judas was up to, how wicked it was, and how much pain and suffering it would bring upon Himself. Christ saw Judas coming toward Him in the garden of Gethsemane, temple guards in tow, to betray the Son of Man with a kiss.

The Passion of the Christ

Judas was committing, in all likelihood, most evil act in all of human history. Nothing else compares to it, betraying the perfectly innocent, precious Son of God to crucifixion and death. Jesus had already warned, The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.” (Mk 14:21) This was evidently a peculiarly unique and wicked sin. No other act is ever described in such grave terms.

Yet, as evil as this act was, as sold out to Satan himself as Judas Iscariot was at that moment (Lk 22:3), Christ addresses Judas as His friend. (Mt 26:49-50) Christ extends the offer of friendship one last time, as if to give Judas one final opportunity to be honest with himself, and with Christ, before they took Him away.

This may be the greatest example of fulfilling Christ’s own command, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) We’re to bless those who wrong us, do good to them, wish them well, not decide what their punishment should be or wish them any harm. If we truly believe God is perfectly just, and also perfectly merciful, we’ll not hesitate to leave all in His hands.

It’s not that we shouldn’t acknowledge sinful behavior for what it is, or protect ourselves and those we love from abuse, but when God calls us to suffering, we should not retaliate. We should be praying for our enemies and seeking their welfare, regardless what they’re up to.

When we behold the wicked, it’s so tempting to allow unrighteous indignation to well up within us, as if we’d never do such things, and begin to posture ourselves as knowing what they deserve and wishing it upon them. But this disposition doesn’t spring from humility and love; it isn’t Christ in us. It springs from the lie that God is unjust, that we can do better. We can’t. God is good, only God is good, and He is always good.

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What Manner of Love

The Apostle John encourages us to behold the love of God, to study His love and contemplate it, to recognize what kind of love this is, to try to comprehend how immense and immeasurable it is. How profound and unfathomable is it to be called a child of God? (1Jn 3:1)

The key to perceiving God’s immense love lies in recognizing what God does, how He demonstrates His love and acts it out: He lays down His own life for us. (1Jn 3:16) He does this for us while we’re still His enemies. (Ro 5:10) This is amazing love indeed!

The Passion of the Christ

If we dare to dig a bit deeper, we contemplate the kind of death He chooses to die for us: it is perhaps the most painful and humiliating kind of death – Roman crucifixion. (Php 2:8) It’s brutal beyond comprehension, yet in itself a hideous metaphor, a window into something utterly profound.

The fierce agony in God’s physical death is symbolic of His spiritual suffering: the reality of its depth and breadth lurks in the separation imposed by our sin within the very Trinity itself. As He voluntarily accepts the penalty of our sin and fully identifies with us as sinners, as He becomes our sin, the Son is forsaken by His Father. (2Co 5:21) This causes a deep separation, an annulment of the infinite, loving communion between Father and Son. (Mt 27:46)

This may very well be the most intense kind of suffering possible: separation from God within God himself. It is certainly well beyond any possible form of physical or emotional suffering, and it’s endured by the infinitely precious Holy One, Who deserves it the least.

Yet God suffers this willingly for us — for anyone, for all who come to Him. (2Pe 3:9) The totality of God’s personal suffering is thus multiplied by His suffering personally, in person, for the multitudes. His suffering surpasses that of every other living thing, in both degree and scope, in both depth and breadth; it’s infinitely more than anyone could ever suffer, even for eternity, even if God only experienced this vast suffering for a few dreadful hours, many years ago.

We might presume this was indeed merely a one-time occurrence, buried in the distant past, such that God has now put this atrocity behind Himself and moved on, seeing it as only a distant memory.

The problem with such sentiment is that it presumes God is bound by time when He is not; He is ever present in every moment of time. Duration means nothing to Him; past, present and future are meaningless in His timeless experience. (Jn 8:58)

Anything God experiences, He experiences infinitely and forever. God never stops experiencing anything which He ever experiences. So the unthinkably painful separation between the Father and the Son is something they live with even now, to this present day; they will live with this anguish continually, and forever.

God has voluntarily entered into an eternal suffering from which they will never escape, and which they have always known. (Re 3:18) Father, Son and Holy Spirit have chosen to suffer for us like this from eternity past. It is almost like God is forever going to Hell for us Himself, giving up His eternal safety and welfare for us, taking your place, suffering in my place.

Who would you give up your eternal welfare for? Who would you burn in the flames of Hell forever for? If you would do it for anyone, would you do it for an enemy?

Doesn’t this change everything?

What has God done, my dear friend? Do I really think I have any clue how much He loves us? and whom He loves? Is it even for the worst of us?

What does my mistrust of Him look like now? In the presence of such love? What is my complaint now, my uncertainty, my selfishness, my fear … it is all a lie, darkness fleeing the Light. (Jn 1:9)

If I could keep the taste of this wonder in my spirit, let the fragrance of it dwell within and permeate all that I am, the very first glimpse of this immense, divine passion, truly, would it not begin to fill me with all the fullness of God? (Ep 3:19)

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An Austere Man

In the parable of the talents, Christ suggests that God is austere, hard (Mt 25:24), severe, stern, harsh and rigid. The wicked servant makes this accusation (Lk 19:21), and his master evidently agrees with him. (22) The Greek is austeros, from which we get austere. What do we make of this?

If we happen to think of God as a doting old grandpa, a Santa figure who never gets stern or angry, who’s extremely lenient, primarily interested in our happiness, finding out that God is austere might be troublesome. The fact is, He’s not at all like a gentle old grandpa, and this turns many of us off.

It’s actually a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (He 10:31) He’s extremely strict (Ps 119:4); He won’t by any means acquit a guilty person. (Ex 34:7) We’re to serve Jehovah with fear, rejoice with trembling (Ps 2:11), and work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) He scourges all his children (He 12:6); it’s incredibly painful and grievous. (11)

Even when we’re trying our best, and doing quite well following Him, God may choose great affliction for us for a season, offering us no explanation, comfort or ease, and for no other reason than to teach us a little more about Himself and His ways, and to glorify Himself through our response. He even tells us to rejoice in this (Ja 1:2-3), and to count it a privilege to suffer for Him. (Php 1:29)

This is, in fact, exactly what God did to Job, and He didn’t apologize for it. When Job complained and challenged God, He answered Job quite roughly … out of a tornado! (Job 38:1-3) Even after Job apologized, stunned into silence (Job 40:4-5), God continued to challenge Job in the most stern, confrontational and intimidating manner. (7-8)

Christ Himself rebukes churches, even those working diligently for Him, threatening to remove them unless they repent of their coldness and return to the love they initially had for Him. (Re 2:4-5) He ordains sickness, and sometimes even death, for partaking unworthily of The Lord’s Supper (1Co 11:29-30), and commands the church to excommunicate us if we don’t peaceably and fully resolve our offences. (Mt 18:16-18)

And if one of His elect ever chooses to sin, deliberately and willfully, God becomes very angry, and sees to it that we deeply regret defying Him (He 10:26-27); He arranges punishments far worse than death. (28-29)

I’ve actually heard people say that if God’s like this, demanding obedience, rigid, stern, not primarily concerned with our happiness, austere, they don’t want anything to do with Him. This is wicked, arrogant presumption, and it’s also extremely unwise: there are no good options once we turn away from God.

We must learn to worship God both in His goodness and also in His severity (Ro 11:22), meditating on and rejoicing in all His ways. We’re either seeking God as He is, to worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24), or fashioning idols for ourselves. Either way, we’ll all eventually face Him exactly as He is: a consuming fire. (He 12:29)

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Job Cursed His Day

A dear friend tells me they regularly wish they’d never been born. I may have some vague idea what this feels like; it certainly can’t be good. My heart aches for them.

Having such a feeling implies our pain and suffering swallow up and extinguish the very lovingkindness of God, that no future good, even the majesty of Heaven, justifies the struggle of our existence. It’s giving up on God, and giving in to hopelessness. (1Th 4:13)

This is, of course, all a lie (Ps 63:3), but coldly relating truth as a clinical fact to a despondent, suffering soul may very well be unhelpful and counterproductive. (Pr 25:20) They likely already admit this truth, at least intellectually, and want to believe it deep inside, but when we lose sight of God’s goodness we faint (Ps 27:13), and words lose their meaning.

Before passing judgement, or reprimanding, let’s note carefully that Job did this in spades: he cursed his birthday (Job 3:1), in the strongest possible language, demanding it be forgotten (3), set apart from the rest of the year as a day of blackness and despair (4), and God never scolded Job for this. God let Job honestly express his suffering in the extreme and bore patiently with him … and didn’t curse his birthday.

The complexities of the snares and wounds of the depressed, the anxious, the neurotic, the layers of pain and deception and strongholds, are only known by God. Without divine perspective life can indeed be too painful for us to bear. (Ps 73:16)

As we look for ways to help our suffering brothers and sisters, we submit to God and bear one another’s burdens, fulfilling the Law of Christ (Ga 6:2), gently (2Ti 2:24) speaking truth in love (Ep 4:15), and only as He leads (1Pe 4:11), asking Him to minister grace through our words as He wills. (Ep 4:29)

Deliverance often comes one layer at a time, one puzzle piece at a time, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. (Is 28:10) God must give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth (2Ti 2:25) so they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil: until then, they’re prisoners of war, taken captive by Satan at his will. (26)

Let us comfort (2Co 1:4) by first listening and being present (Job 2:13), empathizing with their pain and feeling it with them as best we can. (Ro 12:15) Knowing that we care, that we’re there for them, may be all they need from us for now.

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The Valley of Baca

The Psalmist describes those who walk with God by what they do to the valley of Baca – or weeping. As they pass through this dreadful place they transform it into a well; rainwater refreshes and overflows, turning the lowest places into pools of beauty and mystery. (Ps 84:5-6)

The vale of tears is at times a long one, taxing all but the holiest souls. Most every soul passes through it, one way or another. This life is one of suffering; no one escapes unscathed. (Job 14:1) The journey is transformative for those seeking truth, stripping off dross like a refiner’s fire. (He 12:11)

What do we do in the valley of Baca? that season where there’s little physical or emotional comfort in our circumstance, when there’s so much to mourn? Do we merely endure, or do we transform this valley as we’re transformed through it?

There’s certainly a time to mourn. (Ec 3:4) But if we aren’t careful we can be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (2Co 2:7) We’re to be afflicted and mourn (Ja 4:9), but not like the world. (1Th 4:13) What we have in God ought to bring an undercurrent of rejoicing, even in our sorrow. (2Co 6:10)

How do we mourn with those who mourn (Ro 12:15), without it becoming too painful, overcoming us with grief? How do we turn these inevitable seasons of weeping into wells overflowing with the abundant water of life? (Jn 7:38) Perhaps it lies in gaining heavenly perspective in our suffering. (Ps 73:16-17)

Those who’s strength is God Himself go from strength to strength (Ps 84:5), walking with God through this world of suffering (7), knowing He’s good, that He works all things to the good of those who love Him (Ro 8:28), and that He Himself is the eternal reward of those who seek Him. (He 11:6) They know all with heavenly perspective are rejoicing in all of the works of God (Ps 145:10), highlighted and revealed through all the evil and suffering He allows. (Ps 76:10) In the end, the righteous rejoice in all of it (Re 15:4), and glory in God Himself. (2Co 10:17)

Our light affliction is but for a moment, but it works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:17) It’s only as we look at the eternal that we gain divine perspective and properly align ourselves with reality. (18)

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