Paul I Recognize, But Who
There might not be a more humorous
story in all of Scripture than an account given in the 19th chapter
of Acts where some “itinerant Jewish
exorcists undertook to invoke the name of Jesus over those who had evils
spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus who Paul proclaims.’” The evil spirit’s response was “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but
who are you?”
After this the “man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them
and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded”
I should hesitate to make light of this since
this, no doubt, would have been a terrifying event to observe. In fact, Luke records that “fear fell upon” all the residents of
Ephesus “and the name of the Lord Jesus
was extolled” (Acts 19:17).
It is no small thing to speak for God. Those who do so ought to do so with quivering
Not many of
you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be
judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).
How much greater judgment on those who might
recklessly claim to have the office (not merely of teacher) but of prophet or
apostle! For prophet or apostle was not
merely one who wrestled with the meaning of God’s word (the way we all might),
they spoke God’s word as if they were an extension of the lips of God itself.
Raising and Calming Storms
2370 W. Carson Street, #100
Raising and Calming Storms
Those who go down to the
sea in ships, Who do business on great waters, 24 They see
the works of the Lord, And His wonders in the deep. 25 For He
commands and raises
the stormy wind, Which lifts up the waves
of the sea. 26 They mount up to the heavens, They go down again
to the depths; Their
soul melts because of trouble. 27 They
reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, And are at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their
trouble, And He brings them out of their distresses. 29 He calms the storm, So that its waves are still. 30 Then they are
glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven. 31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His
goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! 32 Let
them exalt Him also in
the assembly of the people, And praise Him in the
company of the elders (Psalm 107:23-32).
Now when He got into a
boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great
tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He
was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 But He said to them, “Why are you
fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a
great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:23-27).
One of the younger members of our
church recently sent me an article from a web-site entitled faithit.com. She indicated that many of her friends
believed what was being taught in this short piece and wanted my opinion. I would like to offer it.
But before offering my thoughts (since
there will be some disagreement with what the author writes) I bid a brief
prologue toward a charitable spirit. The
woman who wrote the article has paddled through some rough waters and her
thoughts of God contained in her paper have provided a sort palisade, if not
stronghold, through her tunnel of affliction.
Though there is perhaps nothing more precious (even
critical) than right thoughts of God, we must recognize that the love of our
heavenly Father is not curtailed by our inaccurate theology. My children have now become old enough to
understand and appreciate sacrifices that their parents make on their
behalf—things they didn’t understand as toddlers. But this does not mean that we didn’t love
them and comfort them in their infancy.
And getting right down to it, ‘infant’ would be a generous description
of even the wisest creatures grasp of the Almighty.
But our creaturely limitations should never be a
license for lethargy in our understanding God and His requirements of us. Let us heed the instruction of Paul to the
Brethren, do not be children
in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature
(1 Corinthians 14:20).
All this to say that I don’t doubt that the woman
who wrote this article is a sister in Christ and the object of God’s love and
mercy. And there is some wisdom and
godly counsel in her words. At the same time,
I fear she is holding onto a branch which lacks depth of root—a branch she in
turn offers her readers—other Christians seeking a foothold or harbor in their
season of trial, pain, difficult or hardship—for this reason I offer the
following—that our anchorage would be deep and solid.
To summarize her thesis, she takes
issue with the notion that everything happens for a reason. She begins by recounting times in her life of
heartache and despair, being met with the “Everything happens for a reason’
bomb.” Many of us have been the
recipients (and perhaps deliverers) of a flippant recitation of Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good…”
while the blood is still flowing from the open wound of our friend.
Wisdom dictates that the “righteous ponders how to answer” (Proverbs
15:28). “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious” (Proverbs
16:23). “Judicious” yaskil includes prudence. There is “a
time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Job’s friends were doing well until they
opened their mouths. Sometimes we need
to sit with our friends in the ashes—silently.
Here I find myself in agreement with the author—at least in terms of
timing. But poor timing doesn’t speak to
the veracity of the statement. Is it
true or false that everything happens for a reason?
She then perhaps unwittingly limits God to our
knowledge and imaginations. She fires
out the challenge that her well-meaning friend couldn’t “possibly imagine a reason
for what just happened.” That may be
true, but the sovereign purpose of God in His decrees (what He has decided) and
His providence (how He works out His decisions in history) is not limited by my
Nonetheless I am not insensitive to the
confusion. I would like to know why God
has plotted out this particular painful route.
And the answer is not always forthcoming. We so often feel like the Psalmist:
are you sleeping, O Lord (Psalm 44:23a)?
But my perception does not determine
the reality, as the Psalmist will later convey.
I will lift up my eyes to
the hills— From whence comes my help? 2 My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not allow your
foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither
slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:1-4).
From my perspective God seems to
slumber—I want Him to “rouse” (Psalm 44:23b) Himself and offer me an
explanation—wake up God and let’s talk!
God may at times reveal His reason for my affliction and sometimes He
may not. Or He may be continually
revealing it and I’m simply too dim to grasp it. But in none of this should we draw the
conclusion that God’s providence is limited to my knowledge or
imagination. Simply put,
things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to
us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law
I Could Find—I Could Treat
was this dear sister’s frustration that led her to, what I would have to argue
to be, smaller thoughts of God. Add to
this, we read of a bit of a fool’s errand she put herself on which added to her
angst. Her quest was summed up with the
notion that if she could find the reasons or cause of her difficulty, she could
“treat the condition.”
may be some value, in a sociological and psychological sense, of discovering
why certain things happen. If sugar on
the counter continually results in an ant problem, I have made a valuable
discovery toward treating the condition.
But when we’re talking of the providence of God and the myriad of (as
she accurately points out) undiscoverable reasons for things like cancer in
children, death by auto accidents, rape, murder and other atrocities the if I could find the reason, I could treat
the condition becomes woefully inadequate.
It is beyond us.
even if we could find the reason, it doesn’t guarantee that we would be capable
of treating it. I, as a Christian, know
very well why it is people die—it is a consequence of the fall. But I have no power or ability to treat
it. I must go somewhere else to find a
solution to that problem. I do know who
knows, and who has the power, to address and overcome it.
finally draws the unwarranted conclusion that there “is no reason for why
tragedy occurs.” She presents an
accurate and sagacious appraisal of the human condition and attitude:
We assume that life is supposed to be easy and
when things don’t go our way, we feel like we have been wronged. Human beings
seem to have an innate sense of entitlement. We think that we are owed a
along with this she proffers a half-truth:
Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other
than we are human beings having a human experience. Pain, heartache, grief,
loss, disease and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.
It is true that pain, heartache, etc. are inevitable for
humans. But I would submit that it is
not a biblical (nor comforting) understanding of the sovereignty of God that
there is “just no reason” for our afflictions.
But here is something else critical to our evaluation of such
things—what do we mean by ‘reason’? Is
it the cause or the purpose? An athlete might say the reason he is running
sprints is because the coach told him to (the cause) or he might say the reason
he is running sprints is to get fit (the purpose).
There may be secondary causes for our afflictions (the wind
blowing a tree that lands on a house—the coach telling the athlete to run) but—and
this is the critical and ultimately comforting testimony from the Spirit of
God—God is the first cause of all things and He has a reason, and that reason
includes cause and purpose.
If you take our opening passages you will see all of
this. We learn in Psalm 107 that God “commands and raises the stormy wind.” That is to say the Lord is the cause of the
storm. We learn in the same Psalm that “He calms the storm” as well. This is portrayed later by Jesus in a very
dramatic and an almost humorous fashion where we read of Him sleeping in the
midst of the storm while His disciples panic.
A couple of interesting observations of this account in Matthew 8:
First, they are chastised for their lack of faith—and this
before He calms the storm! You would
think He would calm the storm then give the lesson, but sometimes it takes more
than mere information for a true lesson to be learned. The Scriptures teach that we are being
conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), or as Paul put it in
Galatians 4:19, Christ is being formed in us.
The theological term for this is sanctification (being made holy). You might say that God is rewiring us right
down to our DNA—soul, spirit, thoughts, passions, inclinations. This can be very painful business. Jesus was perfected through suffering
(Hebrews 2:10; 5:8), we should not think our own sanctification will be
achieved in a pain-free environment. Some
lessons will only be learned during the storm.
Secondly, as their fear of the storm subsides, another fear
takes its place—they “marveled” at
who was with them in the boat. They went
from a fear, astonishment or marveling at the storm to a marveling at the
Christ. Or to put it another way, they
shifted their focus from the creation to the Creator.
Revisiting the Psalm, we see this purpose here as well—to “see the works of the Lord, and His wonders
in the deep” that they might “cry
out to the Lord in their trouble.”
The Psalm concludes by revealing the desired purpose of the entire
calms the storm, So that its waves are
still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He
guides them to their desired haven. 31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His
goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! 32 Let
them exalt Him also in
the assembly of the people, And praise Him in the
company of the elders (Psalm 107:23-32).
Back to our sister’s take on our afflictions, she, like many
Christians is willing to acknowledge that there is a God who calms storms, but
does not want us to think that it is God who brings the storm in the first
place. To her credit, she challenges her
readers to recognize that it is through and in the midst of tragedies that
Christians have an opportunity to bring Christ’s “message of hope, grace, forgiveness and mercy.”
She is also correct (in a
secondary sense) asserting that “What happened in the Garden of Eden is
responsible for the human condition.”
But then she begins to sentimentalize God into something less than He
is. She writes, “God is not causing us
to hurt. He is hurting with us.” Jesus
no doubt feels our pain. The WLC teaches
that He has “fellow-feeling with our infirmities.”
But it is a very unbiblical notion that, as she puts it,
“there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is part of the
process.” It is, no doubt, a hard
teaching, but it is a source of great comfort for the Christian to know that
there is a reason—a wise, holy and glorious reason. The Lord is our teacher and all of creation
and every event in it is His classroom.
And it is not, as the article teaches, God merely making the best of a
bad situation—turning lemons into lemonade or seeking to unscramble the
omelet. God is never in the waiting
room. He doesn’t walk in after the
hideous diagnosis has poured out of the doctors lips.
to instill courage into the hearts of His followers, who would face the threat
of death for their ministerial pursuits, Jesus taught that the sparrow does not
fall “to the ground apart from your
Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29).
What is meant by the will of God? Here we see another possible
equivocation—that is, it can mean a couple of different things. At the risk of turning this into a seminary
class, this distinction is very important and commonly ignored. Theologians make the distinction between the
decretive will of God and the preceptive (or prescriptive) will of God. The decretive will of God is His will in
terms of events that happen—this includes every event that happens—sparrows
falling to the ground. The preceptive
will of God relates to God’s rule of duty for His creatures—the call of love
God and love our neighbors.
The writer shares her efforts to comfort a friend who was
suffering due to the recent death of a loved one. Her friend just couldn’t understand how this
could be God’s will. No doubt
well-intentioned, but highly off the mark she erases the decretive will of God
from the entire equation. In her
understanding of God, cancer, murder, rape, pain, illness, disability and death
are never God’s will.
The serious problem here is that when we remove the
decretive will of God from the equation of human affliction and suffering, we
place any redeeming quality squarely upon our own shoulders. It is up to us, and us alone, to make sense
of it all. This is a burden my friends,
that no man can life, except Christ Himself.
The author is not off when declaring that it is God’s will (in
a prescriptive/preceptive sense) for us to walk with our friends through
cancer—through the death, illness and pain.
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, 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 Corinthians 1:3, 4).
But when God’s sovereign ordination of all events (events
including peace and calamity—Isaiah 45:7) is rebuffed, all redemption, as the
author will indicate, is left to us. Her
most chilling paragraph states this in no uncertain terms:
There’s hardly ever a justifiable reason for
the bad things that happen in life. Tragic loss is not laced with inherent
specs of good. I used to get so mad when people would say, “You can find good
in every situation.” That’s just not true. There was nothing good about being
raped. There is no good in murder or abuse. We have to create the good.
We have to choose to respond in a way that brings good into an impossible
situation. We have to choose to give purpose and meaning to our suffering
should respond appropriately to the tragedies by which we are surrounded—but
what a burden is promoted when it is up to us to “create the good.” She suggests that “God can use our pain for a
greater good if we choose to let Him in.”
So it all depends on me. What if
I’m just not very good at that!
is it that creates the good?
Perhaps you are familiar with the story
of Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37-50).
His own brothers conspired to throw him into a pit (Genesis 37:24), sell
him to the slavery of Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:27) and lie to his father about
his being dead (Genesis 37:34). This
resulted in Joseph being Potiphar’s slave (a job which he handled quite well)
but Potiphar’s wife wanted him. When he
refused to “sin against God” (Genesis 39:9) she weaved a lie about Joseph
landing him in prison. Eventually he
ended up in the second most powerful position in Egypt and used his office to
prepare the entire nation to endure a famine (Genesis 41:54).
Through all this Joseph kept his
integrity and we don’t read of him whining and whimpering. He even used his power to help the very
brothers who betrayed him. But when
their father Jacob died the brothers were worried that Joseph might forget his
forbearance and lower the hammer (Genesis 50: 15). But Joseph assured them,
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive (Genesis
Joseph understood this while he rotted in prison
and sat fearfully in the waterless pit.
He knew in whose hands all of history lay. He wasn’t victim of his brothers, the devil
or the random happenings of an ungoverned universe. Joseph knew God was never absent. God was His ever present help in trouble
(Psalm 46:1). The very same events which
his brothers performed with evil intent God performed for good.
there not more than mere “inherent specs of good” when the Apostle Paul was
given a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” to buffet him? Paul understood that the devil himself—the
manslayer was a mere instrument in the hand of his Father in heaven to keep
Paul from self-exaltation. Paul knew of
his inability to create the goodness—he boasted not in his ability to give
purpose and meaning to his suffering. He
declared his own weakness—knowing God’s strength is perfected in our
weakness. Paul knew that “the poison of pride...cannot be cured except by poison.” But poison in the hands of God is medicine.
God’s sovereign ordination of tragic events and evil choices
by sinful beings is at the very heart of the Christian faith—the cross of
Christ. This was not God merely making the best of a bad situation. Surely, evil men planned it.
Satan entered Judas to betray Jesus and the entire community consented
to His death yelling “crucify Him,
Whose plan was the cross? Was it the devil’s? Yes.
Was it the Pharisees? Yes. But
whose plan was the cross?
truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand
and Thy purpose
predestined to occur (Acts 4:27, 28 NASB).
The cross was God’s plan; a plan which
would save souls and be a glory to His name forever and ever (Revelation 4,
5). The cross happened for a reason—both
in cause and purpose. We see the same
unsearchable power and wisdom at work in that wonderful verse that we often
quote so glibly, that “all things work
together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to
His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Contained in this verse is the promise to those who
trust in Christ, that everything does indeed have a glorious reason; that there
is a God in heaven who “works all things
according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). God will not apologize for one second of the
history He ordained. When our eyes are opened,
we will praise Him for every moment-even our darkest hour. But let us be clear, it is a promise directed
toward those who believe. It is the
Christian who can say with unwavering confidence “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?
theological accuracy necessary in order for us to be recipients of God’s
fatherly affections? Explain (pages 2, 3).
is a charitable spirit necessary in our discussions of the things of God (pages
you remember ever saying/hearing the right thing at the wrong time? Perhaps you can share your experience (pages
God limited by our knowledge or imagination?
How are we tempted to put parameters on God’s sovereignty (pages 4, 5)?
there value in finding the reason bad things happen? What are the limitations of our ability of
treating the condition (page 5)?
are the two things ‘reason’ might mean?
In what sense is God the reason behind events (pages 5,6)?
are the dangers of sentimentalizing God (page 7)?
are two definitions for the “will of God.”
What are they and why does this matter (page 8)?
is it a critical error to suggest that there is no good reason that bad things
happen? What burden is placed on man
with this (page 9)?
you think of some examples of bad things ordained by God in the Bible for a
good reason (pages 9, 10)?
does God’s sovereignty in evil events touch the heart of the Christian faith
(pages 10, 11)?
whom is the glorious promise of Romans 8:28 directed? Are you included in this (page 11)?