FOOLISH CHOICES AND SUFFERING – CAUSES OF SUFFERING #4

Have you ever wondered if your problems, or even your suffering, stem from foolish choices? We’re just coming out of two days of ice pellets and freezing rain. Life ground to a frozen halt. It would have been foolish to venture out and chance getting a broken leg.

Choices are important. I agonize over decisions, especially big decisions like whether to move to another house or what kind of car to buy. That’s not to say that I take long over the choice of what brand of toothpaste or shampoo to buy or whether to plant petunias or pansies in the garden.

But too often I allow price to determine my choices rather than quality. I once bought a pair of attractive loafers because they were half price. They were a bit tight, but so desirable. That purchase doomed me to pinched toes until I gave up. I could give other illustrations but they would be too embarrassing.

Even when I determine to balance quality against price, it’s not always easy to make a good choice in our media-saturated world. One report lists butter as harmful to our arteries. Another labels margarine as a dangerous culprit. Or take coffee, or chocolate. How do we navigate through all the shoals that we’re told can shipwreck our lifeboat?

Doubtless, bad choices can lead to great harm. And some of those bad choices are clear. Smoking. Overeating. Taking addictive drugs. Avoiding exercise. A steady diet of high calorie fast-foods. Too much sugar. Pornography. Sleeping with prostitutes. Drunkenness. The list is long; the effects devastating in terms of ill health, lost jobs and broken relationships.

Many of our bad choices lead to long-term suffering, or at least, suffering that catches up with us as we age. Why do we choose things we know will be harmful? Often, it’s to find immediate pleasure through gratifying a craving. Dare I say it, lust banishes reason? Donuts and cookies and mega-burgers taste so good! Indulge. Enjoy right now. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with an occasional indulgence but the danger occurs when indulgence becomes a habit.

The danger is magnified when the indulgence breaks one of God’s commandments. Outbursts of anger can not only shatter relationships, but, as Jesus said, even lead to murder. One pilfered item from a warehouse or an act of cheating can encourage a lifestyle of dishonesty that ultimately ends in incarceration. Envy or jealousy indulged can foster lifelong discontent. One act of adultery might ruin a marriage or promote a careless approach to marital fidelity or lead to catching a sexually transmitted disease.

So why is there suffering in the world? Much of it is caused by human foolishness, indulgence, sinfulness and ignorance. We would be wise to re-read the book of Proverbs often. “He who speaks rashly will come to ruin. The sluggard craves and gets nothing…Dishonest money dwindles away…”(Prov. 13:3b, 4a, 11a).

Fortunately, God is a forgiving God. There is no sin, no matter how grave, that He will not forgive if one but bows in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. “His blood can make the foulest clean.” Forgiveness, however, does not necessarily deliver us from the practical consequences of our sins. The forgiven smoker will still have damaged lungs. The forgiven murderer will still have to finish out his jail sentence. The indulgent eater who is forgiven may still have clogged arteries.

Let’s not blame God for the suffering we cause. Instead let’s make wise and godly choices. Let me know what you think about this issue.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

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A Strange Tale of Mystery

There is a great mystery which is far beyond the understanding of mere men. Why we are here? Where did it all came from? Well, yes, that too, but I’m talking now about the DSCN5069mystery of a woman’s purse.

In its mysterious depths such a purse contains whatever it is that lesser mortals such as men or children are looking for. Chewing gum? Why yes. An extra pen. Of course, 10 or 11 reside there. What about paper to make a note? No problem. Kleenex? Indisputably. A little bottle of stuff to clean your hands before a meal. No need to ask. Sunglasses, lipstick, rouge, comb, brush, wallet? Of course. Keys? Just a minute, which one, the lady asks, for she has assorted keys from several previous incarnations.

“I’m peckish.” To which, the lady of the house responds, “No problem, just a minute, I have a candy bar in here somewhere or at least some throat lozenges.”

I’ve just scratched the surface of what is in the mysterious depths of a woman’s purse. I could go on describing the contents of this enchanted piece of leather, but you get the idea.

However, there is a great danger here as well. Things get lost in there. It’s as if the purse has a mDSCN4962 (2)agnetic field that attracts assorted flotsam.

At an appointment a few months ago, I lost my watch. Strange. Did I leave it behind? Two or three weeks later when I was about to buy a new one, presto, out it popped from my better half’s purse. Wow. Magic.

Then more recently, I lost my bifocal glasses. Oh, no! Expensive to replace. But the other day they just appeared from the depths of this mysterious hold-all. This could be positively scary, but I’m determined not to be anxious but just accept the mystery of the handbag. And make my needs known.

The Cruelty of Oppressors – Why Suffering, #3

Oppressors cause much of our world’s suffering. Our televisions daily project stories of suffering inflicted by the oppression of powerful and cruel men. Two years of warfare in Syria has claimed 60,000 lives due largely to the intransigence of President Assad. Meanwhile, the Taliban in the border regions of Pakistan continue to spread fear by targeting innocent villagers on both sides of the border along with coalition soldiers and Pakistani troops. As long as genuine participatory democracy fails to take root in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the future looks bleak—unless God should step in.

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;…defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more” (Psalm 10:17,18).

But let’s think closer to home. In 2008 powerful institutions in the US manipulated the mortgage market and precipitated the worst recession since the thirties. The suffering of hard-working Americans who lost their homes was incalculable. Indeed, the whole world felt the fallout. Or consider North American tobacco companies who promote their cancer sticks wherever laws are lax. Then there are criminal gangs who promote drugs, prostitution, and gambling. 

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Prov. 14:31).

Powerful multi-nationals run rough-shod over the rights of aboriginals in many parts of the world. Greedy industrialists pay workers a pittance to labor in terrible conditions producing consumer goods. Landlords keep tenant farmers in perpetual debt in Pakistan.

James warns the oppressive rich. “Weep and wail…your gold and silver are corroded…Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you…have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:1,3,4).

Religious groups are not immune. When religious men gain unbridled power, they often abuse. Consider the crusades, the Inquisition, oppression in reformation Geneva, abuses in Puritan New England and in first nations’ residential schools. Islamists today use suicide bombers and threat of terror to intimidate whole populations. Muslim villagers in Nigeria murder 500 Christians. Villagers in Pakistan try to coerce a young Christian boy to recite the Muslim creed.

Oppressors have bloodied history with their atrocities. Think Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 18:13ff), Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 25:8,9), Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Idi Amin—the list is endless.

Power corrupts, whether it is in the hands of an abusive husband, a king, or an industrialist. In the west we are very fortunate to have democratic governments, subject to an independent judiciary and a system of checks and balances. [Unfortunately, our western democracies are weakening.] The development of democracy can be traced to the Protestant Reformation with its acknowledgement of God as the Judge of all the earth, not some priest or pope. It revived a sense of individual freedom under God and responsibility to God. In France where the Reformation was weak, their revolution resulted in a period of terror. In England where the Reformation was strong, a constitutional government of checks and balances developed.

Instead of blaming God for suffering, let’s lay much of the blame at the feet of oppressors. And let’s determine to personally fight for justice and abhor all forms of intimidation and coercion. “Redeem me from the oppression of men” (Psalm 119:134).

Only in coming to know Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour can we find the spiritual resources necessary to prosper in an unjust world. And the hope of His return creates within the expectation of a future reign of righteousness.

Let me know your thoughts

Where Did All This Evil and Suffering Come From?

#2 in a series.
The universe displays breath-taking beauty. Sunsets and starry skies. Soaring mountains and spiral galaxies. Lilies and roses and frangipani. But! Every leaf that fell from the naked deciduous trees proclaims an unpalatable reality; everything has been marred by some malevolent influence. Each leaf bears evidence of the depredations of either insects or disease.

Not only in the leaves, but everywhere we look we discoverr evidence of defects. Weeds continue to choke the iris and day lilies I planted around the edge of our front lawn. Mosquitoes and black flies pester us in summer. Mice and ants may invade our homes. Birch trees die from the top down. Cankers attack beech trees. Our world often seems like a dangerous place. Floods and drought, typhoons and earthquakes, volcanoes and storms threaten populations. Human beings provoke wars, distribute poison in the form of drugs, abuse children, oppress the poor, and enslave the powerless. And too often an atrocity like the deranged gunman who took 17 lives in a Florida school occurs.

Microbes and bacteria infect our immune systems. We come down with colds and flu, hepatitis and clogged arteries, diminished memories and arthritic knees. Despite the claims of the beauty industry, an aging clock relentlessly ticks away within all of us. Whenever we honestly look in the mirror, we see its effect. Let’s face it, we will all die. One hundred per cent of us.

Why is it like this? For the origin of all imperfection and suffering, we must go back to origins; back to the historic, space-time fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. (Read Genesis 3) As the progenitors of all people, they chose to disobey God and as a result fell from original goodness into sin. Their fall not only set in motion their own deterioration and death but fractured the harmony of the cosmos. And all their progeny have inherited a sinful nature with a twisted bent to selfishness and evil. Women inherited great pain in childbirth. Painful toil in tilling the ground became man’s lot. Thorns and thistles arose along with a myriad other malevolent influences. As someone has said, “All nature is red in tooth and claw”.

Since that historic fall, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”(Rom. 8: 22). This is why the incarnation is so central to history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into our world to begin the restoration process. He calls all men and women to allow him to inject the antidote into our hearts, the antidote that will conquer our bent to selfishness and sin. He earned the right to call us to faith and repentance by dying for our sins upon the cross. Everyone who heeds His gospel call finds himself beginning to be changed from the inside out. (The new birth.) Ultimately, Christ will return to right all wrongs and to restore  the earth to a state of goodness and grace.

So, why do apparently good people, even God’s children suffer? It’s inevitable. We live in an imperfect, fallen world where bad things happen indiscriminately. Fortunately, in the lives of His children God is able to squeeze good from evil. So in spite of evil, let’s celebrate Jesus coming and look forward with hope to His return. Jesus is the promise of the ultimate extinguishment of evil and suffering.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject.

Dealing With Suffering

Among the seasonal letters we’ve received and in the weekly church prayer list we read a litany of troubles and trials. Several struggle to lovingly care for partners with Alzheimer’s. Some face operations or long periods of recuperation. A number struggle with the grief brought on by the death of life partners. Both Mary Helen and I seem to be in a period of physical challenge.

The reality faced by so many dredges up perennial questions. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do those who serve God seem to suffer as much or more than others? Why not just give up and wallow in misery?

Can the cause of personal suffering be found in the sufferer? The catastrophes that burst on Job led his friends to search in Job’s life for some root of rebellion against God, some sin that would cause God to judge him. They were wrong in thinking that Job brought it on himself. The reasons for Job’s trials were not to be found in him but in a clash between God and Satan. Ultimately, God vindicated Job but did not explain why he lost his sons and his wealth. Instead he called upon him to trust in the infinite and inscrutable wisdom of God.

The story of Job tells us that we will rarely understand why suffering occurs. The cause may be rooted in the rage of Satan in the heavenly places. (Read Job 1) The devil knows that his time is short. He hates God. He hates God’s beautiful creation. And he especially hates all God’s redeemed children. Living as we do in a conflict zone, we must learn to trust in God and put on his full armor. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”(Eph. 6:12).

Asaph had a similar quandary in Psalm 73. He was astonished at the arrogance and prosperity of the wicked in the light of the sufferings of the righteous. Why do they have so few struggles? Why are they so healthy? While, “all day long I have been plagued”(Psalm 73:14). It was only when Asaph took the long view that he saw the doom toward which the wicked were racing—the judgment of God.

In the midst of suffering let’s remember that if we believe in Christ as our savior, we “are aliens and strangers on earth”(Heb. 11:13). Like Abel, Enoch, Abraham and Noah along with the whole catalogue of the faithful in Hebrews eleven may God help us to live by faith, “longing for a better country—a heavenly one”(Heb. 11:16). Jesus has promised to prepare that heavenly place for us. (See John 14:1) And what about our aching, failing bodies? Jesus rose from the dead to be the first-fruits of all those who will inherit an imperishable, immortal, glorious body free from pain, a body like unto His. (See 1 Cor. 15:50-57.)

While faith and hope give us glimpses of a glorious future, let’s not forget to look back to the beginning for the real cause of suffering. Remember, “the sting of death is sin”(1 Cor.15:56). And where did sin come from? I’ll tackle that ultimate question in a subsequent blog.

Meanwhile, as Mary Helen and I struggle with physical ailments, we need to remind ourselves that spiritual health is more important than anything. “Be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise…understand what the Lord’s will is…be filled with the Spirit…always giving thanks to God the Father…put on the full armor of God”(Eph. 5:15,17,18,20; 6:11).

Let me know your thoughts about these issues.

What I’m Learning From Unanswered Prayer

For 62 years, prayer has been an indispensable part of my life. Admittedly, it has often been either formal or hurried, weak or stumbling. I’m no model of a praying Christian. But like many believers I’ve often pondered the mystery of unanswered prayer.

After all, Jesus said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). But Lord, why didn’t you answer my plea for X’s salvation or my healing? Oh, I know the standard answer; “God always answers, either yes, no, or wait awhile.” I believe there is at least another reason.

Let me give you some personal background that has led me to this conclusion. Five or six months ago the date was set for my knee surgery. We immediately began to pray for results that did not include complications, as surgery on the other knee had been accompanied by problems. The surgery took place. The surgeon was pleased. Everything seemed good. But shortly we realized that it was infected. Dealing with the infection delayed healing for some time. Why Lord did this happen? Was the answer to our prayers a simple, no? And why did you not answer our plea?

In the months that followed, prayer for ability to sleep at night was also put on the unanswered prayer pile. What’s going on Lord? Do you not want my joy to be full?

Let me be clear. As a couple, Mary Helen and I have no right to complain to God. He has blessed us in abundant and unusual ways. And my quibble about pain and sleeplessness is minor compared to those who suffer with cancer or debilitating diseases or deal with a tragedy. I’m just trying to understand the many invitations in Scripture to bring our requests to our heavenly Father with the assurance of an answer. So what am I learning?

PATIENCE: God has laid bare my impatience. Why do I have to keep relearning lessons about patience? Have I taken my supposed maturity for granted? Unfortunately, for most of us, patience is something we have to keep relearning. And we can’t develop it without going through trying situations. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3).

EMPATHY: I’m also learning empathy for others, especially those who suffer. This will be a hard lesson. I’m not a very empathetic person. I don’t like hospitals. I don’t even want to go near them. But many in my age group have to visit doctors and hospitals often. And each of us need encouragement, comfort and love. I’ve got a lot to learn about compassion and without it I’m not much use in the kingdom. Paul reminds us of a related reason God sends tribulations into our lives. “The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3). We face troubles so we can understand and empathize with the troubles of others.

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP: I’m also trying to remember that I should lean on God for help more than on my own grit, experience, gifts, and abilities. During my missionary and pastoral career, I often faced tasks beyond my ability. During those years several key verses encouraged me to believe that the very unlikely could happen. One was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Another pointed me to the source of help. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God has worked in wonderful ways down through the years. But I wonder today, how much was His work and how much was me trying to accentuate my own efforts and abilities. I’m realizing more clearly, that when Jesus says, “you can do nothing,” He really means it. We may be able to build a chicken coop or send a man to the moon, but we cannot accomplish anything positive for the Kingdom without His help. And before we realize that we have face to situations where nothing we do works.

FAITH: Christians know that faith is foundational. In the case of a leper and a centurion (in Matthew 8) who came to Jesus, their faith led them to trust him for healing. But faith, as in the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, does not always lead to healing. Abraham and the other patriarchs trusted God’s promises of a glorious future—not for them but their descendants. I wonder if for many of us today, faith requires us to trust God in the dark. Trusting God even when our requests are not met. Walking with God in apparent darkness, sure of our ultimate destination. We are to, “walk by faith not by sight.” We need to be able to say, “though He slay me, [doesn’t answer my prayer] yet will I trust him.”

Trusting God during periods when He seems distant or silent is not something unusual. Think of slaves trusting God in their misery. Think of Christians wallowing in foxholes during wartime. Think of Christians waiting for healing in cancer wards.

Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers? Often it is because He knows that we will learn more about Christian living and walking by faith if He doesn’t respond to our every request. When He seems silent, He is probably working to make us more Christ-like in patience, faith, compassion, and a host of other godly characteristics. Lord, help me to learn more and grumble less. Help me to accept these tough but necessary lessons in discipleship.

How do you respond to this blog? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have something to add to this meditation?

ABRAHAM, MAN OF FAITH

The biographies of notable men and women teach us a great deal about how to live and how to be successful. Many have been inspired to innovate by reading about Bill Gates and Paul Allan, co-founders of Microsoft. Others have been inspired to show courage in peril by Churchill, Britain’s leader through the terrible days of the Second World War.

Most bdscn4962-2.jpgiographies are flawed, however. They don’t give an unbiased record of the mistakes and sins of their heroes. Some inflate the good qualities of the subject; others exploit their flaws for sensational effect. The Bible alone can be fully trusted. In the Bible we have an infallible record of the whole story, good or bad. Because of this, the Bible is a peerless source of life principles; giving us both inspiration and warnings.

Let me introduce some of the life lessons we discover from the life of Abraham, who was first called Abram.

Abram’s father Terah, brought up his family in the teeming cesspool of idolatry that was Ur in present day Iraq. The environment of Ur must have grieved Terah. When God called his son, Abram, to leave Ur and go to the promised land of Canaan, Terah immediately affirmed his calling. He “took his son Abram and his grandson Lot,…and his daughter-in-law Sarai…and they went out” (Gen. 11:31). They got as far as Haran where Terah died. When God speaks to our children we should encourage them to follow God’s leading and not throw hindrances in their way.

The Lord “spoke to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great…’” (Gen. 12:1,2). Imagine leaving all you know, trusting in a promise of God, and becoming a wanderer with no fixed address. “By faith Abraham obeyed” (Heb. 11:8). Genuine Christians are called children of Abraham—not liberals or conservatives, democrats or republicans—because they obey God’s promises. In reality, Christians are sojourners on earth, citizens of a higher kingdom, travelling through life on their way to heaven. In this life, they are often called to go to in unknown and surprising directions. Are we open to hear God’s call on our life? Are we submissive to His will even if it means uprooting our family?

God promised Abram “I will bless you and make your name great”. In the 4000 years since few except Moses, David, Elijah and Peter have names as honourable as Moses. A person doesn’t become truly great by winning an election or excelling in sports or getting an Oscar or making millions. No, true greatness comes to those who obey and trust God fully. “Abraham believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness”. Help us to entrust our salvation and our name-recognition to God.

Abraham built altars and “called on the name of the Lord” wherever he traveled. May the Lord help us to make our homes—or our hotel rooms—altars where we call on God’s name daily.

Abram was chosen by God to receive a covenant promise of a land, a nation, a great name, and of being a blessing to all nations. His descendants had to wait 400 years to receive the land, “until the iniquity of the Amorites [was] full.” Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this covenant promise, for through him and by the proclamation of the gospel, all nations are blessed.

Sarai, Abram’s wife, was very beautiful. During a famine in Canaan, Abraham took his family to Egypt, but feared that Pharaoh might lust after his wife and kill him. He persuaded her to pretend she was his sister. Although Pharaoh was attracted to Sarai, he saw through Abram’s lie, rebuked him, and sent him on his way. How could Abram do this? Because he was sinner like all of us. This record of his sin demonstrates the honesty of the Bible. No other religious book is as honest and accurate about its heroes, as the Bible— a mark of its inspiration from God. Lord help us all to trust the Bible as the Word of God. [This study to be continued.]

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )