Monthly Archives: December 2012

Suffering in a Fallen World

Monarch butterfly#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 our now 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 discoveOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAr evidence of defects. Weeds continue to choke the iris and day lilies I’ve planted around the edge of our front lawn. Mosquitoes and black flies pester us in summer. Mice and ants invade our home. Our mature birch trees are dying from the top down. Cankers attack our 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 26 lives in Connecticut 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, tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhey 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 Christmas 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 rOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAestore 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 Christmas, the promise of its ultimate extinguishment. [Continued]

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Why Suffering?

Among the seasonal letters we’ve been getting from friends, the news from five has hit us like a punch in the gut. Four struggle to lovingly care for partners with Alzheimer’s. One just received the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. All five have served God long and consistently. They still do.

Their situations dredge up the 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 the next blog.

Meanwhile, as I struggle with interrupted sleep, aching knees and blocked arteries I need to remember 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.

The Twelve Original Participants in Christmas

Throughout December we hear uncounted replays of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. You know the one, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know.” Now, I must admit I love to wake up Christmas morning to a blanket of white covering field and forest. The season brings a certain nostalgia as Christmas cards start arriving with idealized villages deep in snow, kids skating on frozen ponds and sleighs drawn by high stepping stallions. In our partOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA of the world we expect a snowy Christmas. Even south in Florida and across the globe in Australia and Fiji, it’s part of the mythology of Christmas.

Of course, some Christmases are green. Temperatures stay well above freezing. Maybe that’s not a bad thing—reminding us to get back to the real history behind the myth. The story behind the fairy tales of Santa Claus, Frosty the snowman, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer—the truth beyond the tinsel and trees, the feasting and buying. Merchants tell us they sell more at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Anyone who has tried to find a parking space at a mall during December will have to agree. Christmas means crowds of often grumpy people thronging the shops.

Was the first Christmas green? Does it snow in Bethlehem? Rarely. We do know that there were no crowds around the manger. God chose only about twelve or so people to participate in the original pageant. Most of the relatives and neighbours of Mary and Joseph had no idea what was happening. The religious leaders took no note of the birth of this child until foreign visitors arrived. King Herod and the political establishment missed the event that would separate history into AD and BC time. The innkeepers of Bethlehem were too busy counting their coins to notice another arrival, even if the woman was heavy with child.

Very few had a clue that history would never be the same. Fifteen months before the birth of Christ, an angel informed Elizabeth and Zechariah that their son John would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. That makes two who had an inkling. Nine months before Jesus’ birth Mary, and then Joseph, became participants. On the night of his birth an angel gave the news to two or three shepherds. That makes six or seven. Eight days after his birth God moved Simeon and Anna to celebrate the arrival of a Savior when his parents brought him to the temple. That makes eight or nine included in the drama. Almost a year later the Magi arrived. Although the text does not specify that there were three wise men, we know there must have been at least two. If we add up all the participants we find that God specifically chose eleven or twelve people to take part in the most astounding event in history—the incarnation of the Son of God.

Why so few? The record indicates that all shared something in common. As a young woman, Mary could say, “my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46,47). Joseph “was a righteous man” (Matt. 1:19) who did not want to expose Mary “to public disgrace.” Elizabeth anCountry Road,Frostd Zechariah “were upright in the sight of God observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). Simeon “was righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25,26). Anna “worshipped night and day” (Luke 2:37). The text reveals nothing about the character or habits of the shepherds, however, the speed with which they went to find the baby and the way they left “glorifying and praising God” leads me to believe they were very sensitive to God. The Magi undertook a lengthy and dangerous journey with the express purpose of worshipping Christ. (Matt. 2:2)

Spiritual sensitivity links these twelve participants. They were conscientious worshippers—devout seekers after God.

In his Sermon on the Mount Christ taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) Martyn Lloyd Jones points out that the purity mentioned here denotes singleness of vision and freedom from defilement. By singleness of vision, he means a focus on God—a God-centredness. This clear vision of God, in turn, leads the pure in heart to embrace what is good and true and holy—to flee defilement of any kind. In the grubby world in which we live such purity is rare. Those who treasure such purity see beyond the tinsel and trappings of Christmas—they see God. May that be true of us this Christmas!