HURTING, HOLINESS, HELP, MEANS AND MEANING
The meat and meaning of pain,
the soul, significance and work of suffering,
the place and program for man, and the
wisdom of God
First, let us see a scope and spread of materials dealing with this topic, before presenting it for this Chapter itself.
PAIN AND SUFFERING
See The Shadow of a Mighty Rock ('SMR' - point 4 on Home Page for hyperlink to page counter), pp. 23ff., 30-36, 65-71, 100-101, 292-299, 315Aff., 355-370, 380-396, 422Cff., 424-431, 431, 451, 528-594, 620-623, 631A-B, 679-706, 822-829, 837-847, 1002Aff. (start by returning to top of page), 1021ff., 1074-1081, 1163Aff., 1174B-1186;
Possess Your Possessions Volume 12, Ch. 5,
Things Old and New 1
Father of Freedom; and the whole work is relevant to this point, to Part III.
As above, plus: pp. 750A and 750Bff., 986-1003, 1008-1110, Barbs, Arrows and Balms Items 2, 3 , 13, with emphasis on 31, and on SMR pp. 590-591, 480ff., 372ff., 502ff., 671ff., The Other News, No. 5. and A Spiritual Potpourri 16, as above, Biblical Blessings Ch. 2, Joyful Jottings 1, 5, 14, Spiritual Refreshings for the Digital Millenium 13, Acme, Alpha and Omega, - Jesus Christ 11, Frantic Millenium and the Peace of Faith 6, Tender Times for Timely Truths 8
A major study on the wiles of the devil is to be found Ch. 9 in the volume,
From Grace Triumphant to Face Divine.
This includes a multitude of
scriptures, not least Genesis 3.
Note and Preliminary Survey:
commencement, regard this short excerpt from SMR p. 431:
WHAT IS SEEN ?
And what is seen ? morality and putridity, personalities in arrears in ... down-payments on truth, escaping personalities, repentant personalities, guilty personalities, personalities flickering alive with self-destruct, distrust of others, seeking and humbled, overcome and remorseful: personalities sensing greatness and finding littleness through warped desires, warped treatment of conscience, warped relationship to the divinity who constructed them, pell-mell distortion of morality; and evoking hideous seeming vengeance on desecrated liberty... Yet all this is not without pity, pathos or poignancy, often even increased by the feeling that opportunities to repent, and realise and conform to design and designer, were avoided, even when new chances came. The hideous is the obverse of happiness.
All this is merely one literary expression of these daily experienced facts; and the basis is found in the concept of One Universal Design and One Universal Designer, such as the One who put the one universal micro-biological genetic language in our cells. Where the matter is visible, it is seen; where it is invisible, it is felt, it is observed.
HUMAN PERSONALITY and the GENERIC CAUSE OF SUFFERING
The fact of human personality, in brief, is hereby accounted for with nothing left over. In a short, simple, superbly adequate and uniquely explanatory fashion, the image of God statement of Genesis accounts for it all. Oh, given that this image means nothing geometrical, since God is statedly a spirit, and that it implies an aptitude for fellowship with God, a degree of independence and a capacity for good or evil, being in some ways free: and there it is. The rest ? the presence of the remedy; the folly of not finding it, using it; and the additional guilt and repression and frustration which this occasions (like seeing the only one to win Wimbledon twenty times and ignoring such a person in seeking the best player over time): all this exacerbates and explains the ever new, but always old overtones that exhibit the rotting design, the frantic failure to find the Designer's Panel-beating yard, and alas with extraordinary frequency, the failure to enter it. pp. 251 ff., 316E-G, 329 ff. supra. Cf. pp. 251 ff., 316E-G, 329 ff. supra.
Natural goodness is the natural design, soiled in sin, and the residue of conscience, appealing to right, however imperfect the flicker: this is such in principle; and the ultimate, unsoiled, unspoiled, unchanged, unmoved, the supernaturally good One, from whom goodness comes, it is God. Achieved goodness is the virtue which, a fruit of His Spirit in His people, works itself out in them, as they abide in the Lord (John 15, Romans 5:1-5), being first restored to spiritual vitality, by being changed (John 3).
End of Excerpt
Actually, in terms of evils suffered, the generic cause is sin, from whomever, seen or unseen; while the individualising grounds in dealing with it move from strict and straight rebuke for it to appeal, patient entreaty or judgment direct. One prominent example occurred when Nathan, the prophet, rebuked the morally marauding King David in his once only folly, by an incisive but indirect method. To do this acutely, he told a story of a man who had done an evil thing, and drawing the King’s wrath on that evil told in an imaginary story, one really enshrining the King's own guilt, then declared:
In that way, the story which had been taken as reality, ceased to be indirect, or strange or deep! The failure in the story, it was David. The evil in the story, David exhibited it!
You did it, you suffer in terms of your trespass. It may be that you suffer though a child of God, to straighten or strengthen or purify or develop your character; to remind you of the scalding wrath which accompanies the ruin of beauty by wild, and insupportable acts of will and so on. So does ‘evil’ in the sense of rebuke, punishment, discipline arrive.
It may in another situation be this: that you suffer as an alien to the mercy of God, in an extreme case, by endless seeming wild rejections of sensed mercy, which you carry out with a grandeur of peril, a disregard like that of an adult spoilt brat, and that you gain a magnificent rebuke; or that you do not do so, but rather find the goodness of God humbling you to the earth by contrast with your own self-righteous veneer over sin (cf. Romans 2:1ff.). It may even be that you have despised THAT display of divine mercy to lead you to repentance, and so enter into more depths and turmoil, displaying a disdain for mercy, like a cancer patient scoffing at the specialist who has the power to remove the degrading threat before it is ... too late, before it is opportunity lost, once and for all.
The options are phenomenal, the depths can become inconceivable, for God is infinite (Psalm 147:5).
Let us look further into the seething situation of sin, that generic which brings on results, on the one hand, while their distribution is a matter of vast depth, on the other. Sin, it comes and breathes and grows, reminiscent of a crafty virus, misusing what it infects and using the very resources of the "host" to bring about its destruction. Sin, that ultimate harassment and R.S.P.V. for judgment, is often found presenting its card, its request for ... results again and again, before 'rewarded' with its shame and its self-menacing ruin for renegacy.
This ruin may be physical, moral, ethical, mental, financial, personal, irremediable or tendential. The variations are like the rainbow, different in kind and degree, in portent and in divine intent.
THE YOUNG IN PARTICULAR - the nations, races and epochs too
Then there is the anguish and the angst as the young are doomed in the puny defeated 'triumphs', the ludicrous crowings of deluded adults who teach the young the ways of hell under the canopy of hope, and then wonder why these tender-aged victims fall into such delusive desires, barren activities and sheer debasements of heart and mind in musics unthinkable, morals unmentionable and slack laxities pitiable. Abandoned, and more than this, mistaught (see That Magnificent Rock, Ch.8), the young, being often not only without guide, but misled in the midst of the circling waters of meaningless whirl-pools of forces, created by the clashing tides of human desire, are 'liberated' from their Maker, 'freed' from their Guide and 'rescued' from the love of the Shepherd.
But youth ? it is is one of the measures of iniquity of a civilisation, which brings out the necessity of the mercy of God to intervene like a missionary doctor in the midst of the jungle, that it despoils this soil and pollutes what already polluted, is given pollution increment from the follies, the putrid pretence of respectability and the awful anguish of emptiness which is protruded as a boil on the nose. Not all is like this; but the current drive of culture and the contemporary movement from God to ANYTHING, in a guilt and sometimes with a guile all but inconceivable, if one did not know of the devices of the devil, it is like global warming, but in the heart, and the aridity and floods alike, follow.
Alas, often it would seem, more sinned against than sinning, yet the youth quickly develop the cataracts of evil conventions, and carry them on with their robust ways, like blind, moral dragsters, bored with life and measuring death by indifference and the 'conquest' of what kills in the end, and sometimes near the beginning. (Cf. The Generation of the Dispossessed, Appendix 1 , Barbs, Arrows and Balms.) Evils are not limited to drastic displays, or dynamic involvements, but the deadly drizzle of polluted rains of misconception, false ideals, efforts to survive without knowing what life is for (cf. ) in the midst of abysmal ignorance, preserved with increasing force by public media and often by governmentally enshrined gods (ex-name), these have a similar result, in the end.
Sin has many coasts and crags. There are also sins of city, race and province, of nation and of philosophy, of pride in this or that, there are depths and dimensions of rebuke, of restoration and redemption, of turning full circle from wildness to child-likeness.
There are demonstrations of the divine mercy and remonstrations of the divine wrath. You cannot predict God, for His is the perfect understanding; but this you can predict, that the God who is love does not willingly afflict the children of men (Lamentations 3:33). It sometimes seems to this author, all but incredible that the Lord suffers the race at all, in its nooks and crannies of self-deception, incredible cruelty, malevolent and self-seeking distortion, disregard and wild sprees of mind, spirit and body, with many are claiming to be religious or moral or good, while their ways are in fact devilish in design or in dereliction of duty to God.
God is not mocked, but here is another thing you can predict in the midst of it all: God delights in mercy, and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that such people should turn from their evil ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11).
THE LOVE OF GOD - AND ITS COSTLY EXHIBITION, AND ENTIRE EFFECTIVENESS
We know this because He says so (Lamentations 3:33, Ezekiel 33:11, Matthew 23:37, Luke 19:42, I Timothy 2:3-6). We find it so. We love to find it so. We often find it so. Yet it is not like physics, where the personality does not enter, or even like simultaneous equations, where a number of stated variables interact to a narrowed result. Rather the heart of man is desperately wicked, and who can know it, but the Lord (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The shafts of mercy enter like a splendour of light, suddenly overcoming the industrial smog of the city of debased life, picking out in its swath the ones He finds.
You cannot tell mercy what it shall do, but God tells us of His desire, of His precious and priceless provision, and so of the direct opportunity to find Him, from any quarter, in any smog, past any human relief, when He is called upon in faith, in terms of His Gospel (cf. That Magnificent Rock, Ch. 2 and 3).
Over the centuries since Christ paid the necessary price and met the cost for all who should ever come to Him, God stays His hand until the mercy in the Gospel - like fuel , gained from the tanker plane and enabling the continuance of fighter planes - circumnavigates and enters the earth in its nations (II Peter 3:9, Matthew 24:14). If it is amazing how long it takes, yet it is equally amazing how vast is the endeavour and how huge the inroads with varied and effective media now sometimes used in reaching with the Gospel, with the word of God, to many millions, the message milling into the midst of the inconceivably wretched miseries of man. These are found amid the wars and rumours of wars which man has made his own (as foretold Matthew 24, Revelation 6), though God has predicted this with unerring exactitude.
It is as if the boil of pathology, now comes to its head in the body of man. Much has underlain its production, and much results from its painful presence.
On this see NEWS 45, Parts 1 and 2, for account of some of the grandiose pretensions of man and the hopes waylaid because mislaid from their true place in God. This leads naturally to the thrusting terrain of the end, for the end shall come, as Christ intimated so deliciously clearly and explicitly (cf. Matthew 24:14 - on which also see A Spiritual Potpourri, Ch. 18 "Touchdown").
Just as He stays His hand, holding back that time as Peter foreshadowed (II Peter 3:9) - so it comes unimpeded at the time appointed; and when the end comes, there will be many who would that He had waited yet longer (cf. Matthew 25:1-10, Revelation 1:7). Thus now there are developing the immense and ramifying pathogens of society, psychology, psychiatry, some iatrogenic, caused by the treatments themselves, barren in many cases of the understanding of the essential nature of man who is sick in dimensions almost innumerable, until healed in Christ. The frogs, perhaps those of Revelation 16:14, hopping about spreading their lying messages, may be either those of Darwinianism, Freudianism and Marxism or some derivatives; for these three touch first, the physical life of man, then his mental life and then his social life, and all abuse his spiritual life (cf. SMR pp. 611ff.).
Yet while there are depths and movements of mercy and rebuke, of tenderness and appeal, of long-withheld judgments and of judgments to the third and fourth generation of those who wilfully "hate" the Lord, despising His countenance, slighting His gifts and pretending He is not to be found, through shutting their eyes so tightly it is enough to develop facial contortions (cf. Matthew 13:15), there are also very different forms of suffering. Not always does suffering come in terms of the follies of an individual's sin. There are sufferings which are only very indirectly related to sin at all, and even then, essentially they may deal rather with the sins of those who are not put to this form of suffering. Living without Christ is like crossing a highway with eyes closed, and the different drivers may respond differently to such folly. Christ enshrined this principle clearly when asked why a tower had fallen on some passing by. Were they especially evil ? Not at all, said Christ, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
That is, if not in this accident, incident, depravity, onset, assault, attack, in that disease or the other foul play, then without mercy and with the hand to take it shut tight, you will meet God in the end, and without the mercy He has given, you find the end of your illicit endurance, and the judgment of your presumption (cf. John 12:48ff., 9:38ff.)
Suffering not penal ? But of course! To "fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake" , "the fellowship of His sufferings" as the Lord is served, of which Paul speaks (cf. Philippians 3:10, Colossians 1:24): these things are those practical demonstrations which exhibit the realities which the Redeemer paid for, which express some part of the love which it took, and bear practical application to the generation now before us, so that with their own eyes they may see things their minds have long cast out..
Of this kind of willing enduring of pain in love, see SMR pp. 92-96, *27, where Corrie ten Boom's suffering had such an effect, seemingly over many years through a highly specialised ministry following her own concentration camp confinement, in a day of evils so preposterous that some even like to deny they ever existed, like a reformed gangster who prefers to destroy his photograph album. But why did this intrepid lady suffer in the first place, and why were she and her sister interned in so horrid a site ? This, it resulted from a lovingkindness to Jewish people shown by her family, in the days of Hitler!.
Before we look at this area, let us remember also that the cyclotron effect of sin unrepented and more and more actively corrosive over the erring generations is only one side of the matter.
The other is this: at ANY POINT, the whole cyclotron is shut down, or the acidic
corrosion is turned to salt with alkali, for the intervention of the mercy of
God is utter and devastating to evil. God can and often DOES ACT, rescuing from
depths not only justly deserved but moving towards the bottomless, and may do
so by acts of grace so majestic as to belong to the King of Kings.
It is a curse which may be conquered, and the cost of the conquest was infinite, one which only God could pay (cf. II Corinthians 5:19-21). This He has paid, already having covered all who would ever come to Him (John 10, Ephesians 1:4). Indeed, the force of this reality vastly overcrows the dynamic of evil, being more powerful, more pitiable, more personable and a direct and central action by the Creator of man, with that finesse of liberty which allows even Himself to be insulted or ignored ... or love. This fact is emphasised as we look at Micah 7, in Sinners Only, while the wonder and scope of it is seen in SMR pp. 582ff., where also the engulfing and engulfment of evil, in its thrust and the overpowering counterthrust is seen.
Yet it is time to return to the case of suffering only very indirectly related to sin unrepented.
It is well to consider some of the features of this present Age, as these contrary forces work, the derivative and corruptive, the divine and the constructive, redeeming and delivering, and to do this we return to SMR pp. 590ff..
THESE FEET ARE BEAUTIFUL
FOR THE NEED
OF THOSE TO WHOM THEY BRING
THE MESSAGE OF THE GLORIOUS CHRIST.
The pollution and prince of the evil of this world
While we have adumbrated this, we must focus briefly upon it, and its corollary.
This, which the feet bring, you might say is enough to send armies, legions of men to mouth the message of Christ. But it is not only a question of what the missionary of Christ brings, but also of the need of those to whom he brings it. What does Romans 10 say, in developing this: "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard ?" Their need is dire; and this lends new beauty to those journeying feet.
This is rendered acute by the presence of evil. Doubt, wanton thought, complacency, or reliance on the ready stream of bubbling pleasures ... beggar the soul. Your soul is a battle-field and if it is not ... it is because it is lost. In politics - war; in the world of ideas, strife, pride; in morality, conflict between the right and virtuous thing and the evil and desired thing. Between nations - war. Corruption, contest. Why ?
A real and present evil sends its savage static down into the divine harmonies, impels millions to misery. Is there growth in greatness ? Watch for it. How often - down go the dikes of decency, selflessness, virtue, nobility, sacrifice. In rushes the sea with all its dark creatures of sin. Murder, malice, slander, sickness, agony, follow as the flood seems to find no check. Thus an active evil, subject only to Christ, looms in the land of humanity, in the soul, in the mind, the spirit, the psychic depths.
It is intelligent. It can plead with the subtlest strokes. It matches all the more, the mightiest human personalities; and they are powerless. It is not primitive. It is polished. It is not a principle. It can propagandize better than a politician. Small wonder Luther threw his famous ink bottle. It may strike at the physical, the mental, the moral, the spiritual level. It maddens. It masters even common sense. It warps. It inflates. It flatters. It mars. When its ruin is done, it departs until it finds a more convenient season, some other virtue, height, creation to conquer. It is like a parasite, a pest. It creates nothing. It kills. It corrodes. It corrupts. It is not original. It copies. We have a name - the devil, the Satan.
It lusted after Christ. It wanted His worship. It wooed Him better than a lover, but Christ withered Satan with a word; and abiding in Christ, you with Christ and from Christ must use God's word. That is a crucial reason why we need a Saviour, to demit sin and deliver from the impact of the devil. Yet those to whom our missionaries go, to whom we as ambassadors for Christ must go, at home or abroad, they do not have a Saviour. Are we to let them drift, subject to the forces and dreadnoughts, these missiles and poisonous gases of the devil and his characteristic deceit, deviousness and death ? But lf we will act, will move, if we will go ... ah, how beautiful! what beauty the need of the task lends to its least instruments, provided only they be found faithful. (cf. I John 3:8, 5:18-19, Hebrews 2:14-15, Luke 22:31, Job:4-7, Ephesians 6:12-17, John 8:44, I Peter 5:8-9, II Corinthians 11:13-15, Revelation 12:9-12).
The judgment of the evil of this world
The need ? This is not only to find life, but to escape judgment, in which the world reels.
It was General Booth who said, I believe - If you ever doubt the horror of hell, look on the heart of sin. We have looked on the horrors of the heart: its torment, its plain expensive ruination; and we know that those who consent to be mastered by the Devil are not delivered thereby from guilt. Yet there is more. The very world where we walk, the stage where this play is acted, the ground under our feet, has been injured, "subjected to vanity", as the Scripture says (Romans 8:20). The very house of humanity is spoilt and will pass away. Stylized, strange, rich, deep, inspired by something beyond genius is this universe. Yet that insidious evil is at work: the world is harassed and vexed at every turn. The world is a prodigy, abundant past measure in fineness and delicacy, in wonder and excellence...
Consider - the dainty purity of the flower
The strange perfection of a child's flesh
The eager newness of an adolescent mind
The raptured freshness of a new-born Christian soul
The grandeur of the ocean
The poetic symphony of colour
The crisp neatness of the wood in its dew
These things ... not to mention that passion for order which even
diseases follow, and the constant supervision of all these laws
These things show the ample liberality of the great God.
But disaster intercepts, ruin...
Is God then divided ?
Is He a spastic idiot who has lost control of His creation ?
If strife were the nature of His life, then He would not be supreme,
but in conflict with the enduements with which He was ... made!!!
and in that case, no Creator but a mere creature.
Far from this lies the truth. Necessarily so. For the delicate and liberal God creates. And God has judged (Revelation 12:7-9, Luke 10:18, John 12:30-31, 16:11).
It is not His judgment but His patience which ought to stagger us. But judge He will. The creation "groans and travails" (Romans 8:22). "All these things will be dissolved" - says the apostle Peter (II Peter 3:11). "The heavens and the earth are kept in store, reserved to fire against the day of judgment" (II Peter 3:7).
Nor has God left Himself without a witness as He says (Acts 14:17, Amos 4:13, Psalm 50:20-23, Habakkuk 1:13, 2:3, 3:16, Jeremiah 7:25, Hosea 12:10-13, II Ch. 36:15-16). Nor has He left this judged world without a word of witness directing to its remedy for the sin that blasts and the judgment it has already inherited, pending the final account. God has not suffered an inane mockery and contradiction, but has long spoken and sincerely, offering salvation to a world otherwise merely unreasonably - dangling in disorderly disarray. Not at all has God been slack, as Peter strenuously affirms in the Spirit; rather is He willing for man to repent and be saved before judgment is fully expressed. The Saviour was long predicted, announced, and has now long come. Abusing man, libellously labelling God and desecrating His very word of remedy, the world has been sent the Living Word Himself.
No other Saviour has authoritatively been offered to man, but Jesus Christ, a fact to which Peter bears eloquent testimony (Acts 4:12). The facts are stark; the judgments yet starker; and the sole remedy remains unutterably clear.
But if the world itself is judged, "What manner of persons ought you to be in all holy living and godliness" (II Peter 3:11) ... and how beautiful are your feet, if in the sight of judgment aligned against the earth, and its day determined, you too, ordained or unordained, young or old will be found as one "who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who saith unto Zion, Thy God reigns!"
In and through the Lord's Christ, you will thus be showing the effectual mastery of the mystery of men.
A voice from the field - a word from missionary Jim Elliot : he being dead, yet speaks ...
In the work, Shadow of the Almighty, by Elisabeth Elliot, on p. 113 we find a perspective that not only has some apologetic force, but personal passion. It gives full scope to the fact of announcement and denunciation that resides in scripture with a total finality of force in the coming of Christ (John 15:22-24), and to the derivative fact that as far as declaration of doctrine is concerned, as far as performance of salvation is affected, it is all over.
It is finished and there is nothing more to say or be done. God has spoken, sent and the world is confronted. In one sense, God may seem 'silent' in the face of twisted theories, twisted hearts, twisted statements in a crooked world speeding towards the just and due day of judgment.
This element is well brought out in the following quotation. There is of course has the further aspect that when God saves a soul He has, by His Holy Spirit wrought on the basis of His word an applied work from the furnished base; there is no sound, but the voice of God does not need any. Moreover, the predicted paths of history echo the sovereign voice of prophecy, while God's judgments flicker like lightning into the clouded skies of history. However, having said this, one must solemnly note that there is not yet in history the full articulation of that great and dire, final, pronounced judgment.
Within these parameters, let us hear Jim Elliot...
I think there is nothing so startling in all the graces of God as His quietness. When men have raged untruths in His name, when they have used the assumed authority of the Son of God to put to death His real children, when they have with calloused art twisted the Scriptures into fables and lies, when they have explained the order of His creation in unfounded theories while boasting the support of rational science, when they have virtually talked Him right out of His universe, when they, using powers He grants them, claim universal autonomy and independence, He, this great Silent God, says nothing. His tolerance and love for His creature is such that, having spoken in Christ, in conscience, in code of law, He waits for men to leave off their bawling and turn for a moment to listen to His still, small voice of Spirit. Now, after so long a time of restrained voice, bearing in Almighty meekness the blasphemies of His self-destroying creatures, now how shall break upon the ears, consciousnesses, hearts, and minds of reprobate man the Voice of one so long silent? It shall thunder with the force of offended righteousness, strike with lightning bolts upon the seared consciences; roar as the long-crouched lion upon dallying prey; leap upon, batter, destroy, and utterly consume the vain reasonings of proud human kind; ring as the battle-shout of a strong, triumphant, victory-tasting warrior; strike terror and gravity to souls more forceful than tortured screams in the dead of night. O God, what shall be the first tones of that voice again on earth ? And what their effect? Wonder and fear, denizens of dust, for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a battle-cry, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet blast of God Himself, made more terrible, if that could be, by the long suffering of His silence.
The scripture in Hosea 5:15 gives voice to this aspect authoritatively:
I will return again to My place, till they acknowledge their offence. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will diligently seek Me.
What immediately precedes is most instructive, in Hosea 5:13-14:
When Ephraim saw his sickness and Judah saw his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria and sent to King Jareb; yet he cannot cure you, nor heal you of your wound. For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even, I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away and none shall escape.
Then in the face of judgment, we find that v.15 which we earlier noted, telling of 'returning to My place' until the offence be acknowledged. II Peter 3:7 also speaks more generally to the Gentile, indeed to the whole world:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise... but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But - the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise...
There is now the gospel call, while God sovereignly, and yet without violence to His creatures, exposes them to His grace; there is later the call to come when Christ comes for His people; and then the call of calamity when He comes with them for judgment. In the end of it all, there is the call for the collapse of the very heavens when a new stage is set fit for eternity.
Collapsing stages for active actors wrongly agents of sin, shorn of glory and without base: these things are the distorted image of the glory of the Lord to which the recipients of His mercy and grace, truth and courage pay willing testimony.
There are, indeed, within the realms of suffering, glorious objectives at times, and in a sinful world, just as Christ had to die for sin to do justice to truth, and to bring mercy to bear, so Job was used in a way less pure, since he was a sinner though outstanding in rectitude in general, and was not the Creator, though the Lord loved him. He was used to demonstrate through exemplary suffering, the reality of his love to God, and to be purified until he could and did cry out (Job 19),
"I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last upon the earth, and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"
This assurance and the faith and circumstances that went with it have rejoiced the hearts, instructed the minds and constrained the consciences of millions ever since; and Job's point was made. In the end, though he washed in nitre, yet would his sin remain, but the witness is the Redeemer and it is from Him that goodness and mercy comes to one and all, and categorically and eternally to those who receive the ministration of this mercy, wrought on the Cross, directed by the Spirit of God and freely available on call!
The matter deserves more attention and this follows.
SUFFERING THAT TEACHES, AGONY THAT REACHES
Job (see SMR Index) is the acme of this case, for this righteous and lovable man, though of course not perfect, was made a target by express permission of the Lord, in answer to the challenge of the devil to this effect: that only Job's wealth or power or position or protected status as belonging to the Lord, led to his worship and testimony of trust in God. "Does Job serve God for nothing!" came his cynical leer! LET HIM BE TRIED! He will then curse you to your face! cried the devil. God is marvellously practical, never afraid of a challenge, fearless in that He IS the truth and knows it.
The trial proceeded, Job suffered excruciatingly socially, financially, in the death of his erring children (for whom he used to pray continually despite their bad ways), and came through this distressing trial, with a few cracks here and there, but no breakage, in the end. He was also restored to his place.
That, it is perhaps the least part of it, his subsequent prosperity. WHILE he was being tried, a few other things were tried too. The devil, as sometimes, was used despite and in the very face of his active, destructive malevolence. Seeking evil, this proud spirit was to find that his work resulted in good! This neither extenuated nor confirmed it; for it merely rebutted it, like a failed assault. In this case, the failure was a triumph of the power and grace of God, in the vulnerability of one man, Job.
As to the devil: Wanting to be where God is, and not in fact being what God is, his delusive desire is not least seen in the active fostering of evil, misconception, confusion and frustration. His smell or spiritual stink is plentiful, often empowering the weakness of folly with delusive dignity, for a time, before it falls like a mud-slide under the houses built on it. His malice and envy is no excuse, naturally, for the yielding to it; just as it is no excuse if an aeroplane in a wind tunnel collapses under trial. That simply shows it does not have what is necessary.
The Christian DOES have what is necessary, for as John says,
"Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world," I John 4:3-4, 2:12-14.
With Job, the devil exposed perhaps some crucial cracks, but there was no cleavage, and the Lord delivered Job despite this severe and searching trial, which strengthened his faith and brought his purified heart close to God, ample recipient of His divine and beautiful blessing. In the process the immortal sight of eternal wonder in the Redeemer, rescuer even from death, was given to Job, and has, as he wished, been relayed to mankind ever since (cf. Job 19:23-27).
In the development of Job's situation, the relief was in the end. In the meantime, however, Job had other trials. Thus his pontificating friends who assumed constantly, either with direct insult or surreptitiously, that Job must have sinned in order to DESERVE the trials he suddenly found, they too were tried - and found wanting, appallingly so! To them, the case was JOB ON TRIAL, but in fact THEY were on trial, and were later divinely rebuked (Job 42:5-10) , so that when Job was vindicated, Job, their victim himself PRAYED FOR THEM who had so persecuted him, just as God desired.
In the process of Job's trial, then, foolish philosophies
were exposed, proud simplistic stick and carrot ideas were exposed for the
unlovely substitute for love that they really are. Trends in Job were
exposed and corrected gloriously, like some flower being prepared for a
Yet perhaps even more importantly, as we have just noted, JOB CRIED OUT FOR HIS REDEEMER, first wishing he had one who could talk to God for him, a daysman (Job 9:33-35), a barrister of compassion to put his case to God, during his acute suffering. How marvellously in his suffering he dramatised our need, and found the case answered as in Job 19, with the deed, the Redeemer Himself being very much available (cf. I John 2:1-2).
Later, in that famous Job 19, we find him in FAITH and with PRECISE ASSURANCE KNOWING that his Redeemer would come to earth in the end, crying out emphatically. What was his assertion? It was this: that he, Job would see the Redeemer with his own eyes in the latter times, and thus from his own flesh, would he see God. He would see Him for himself - there would be no intermediary or indirection, for he Job, would do the seeing and what he would see would be the REDEEMER. Death itself, he cried, would not stop this, for what after all is a Redeemer who does not redeem; and that, it was the task, to redeem, to restore from the punishments deserved, the death impending and fateful, the pitfalls and the failures, from the corruption of mind and body, that comes or may come slowly, or fast, and to restore to Himself what He had bought.
THIS, this would happen, cried Job in a wonder of faith in the midst of purifying and trying fires of a burning which yet did not destroy his soul. His cry stays still upon the listening air; his courage and conviction, his need and his realisation, the vision and the hope, the meaning in the midst of anguish, the assurance amidst what had seemed a sacking of his soul: this stands like an inspiring bridge over the turmoiled ocean. He ministered to them, he ministers to us.
The book of Job is very deep and delightful, but its major message is thus clear and inspiring. Accordingly, you may be tried for a purpose not at all concerned with rebuke, but rather with the demonstration through you of the love and loveliness of God. DO YOU NOT WANT THIS, if you are a Christian, if it will serve to awaken others ? Does not a practical example often walk into the heart which even tanks cannot otherwise enter in some cases, the mind being set against the word, but the spirit softened by sight! SUffering in the saints in their anguished work of spreading the Gospel at cost, can preach to the heart that gives interest to the ear to listen to the Gospel!
You cannot merely imagine simplistic grounds of suffering as if the wonder of God were satisfied by such insults - as Job's friends found to their demerit when God Himself rebuked them.
is this point which is simple:
without sin there would be no suffering,
and its distribution in the toils and spoils of sin,
has a multitude of grounds.
There is this second point.
Since only those reborn of God are His children,
then NONE is innocent
for all have sinned;
and the varieties of sin's just impact, though numerous,
are governed by God,
who INSTRUCTS US (in Psalm 1) of those who do not turn to Him,
that they become as the chaff
which the wind blows away.
On the other hand, He advises that as to the righteous (whose righteousness is a free gift from Him, and derives from the dynamic of God within the redeemed - Romans 5:17, Isaiah 61:10, Romans 3:23ff., Galatians 3), their way is KNOWN to the Lord.
Chaff or guide! What of the chaff ?
Detached living things, separated by severance from source,
tend to be that way. You CANNOT have it both ways.
You live in your source or are scatterable. The wonder is
that divine mercy is available, designed as adequate for any, sufficient for
all, applied to those who believing, receive Christ. It is small wonder that
Christ descended into hell as the Apostles' Creed has it (Colossians
1:19ff.), that He predestined before time, as Ephesians states, that
following the record of His resurrection, we read that He preached to the
'spirits in prison' (I Peter
3:19ff., cf. Jude 6, of those so confined ready for judgment, and The
Kingdom of Heaven
Ch. 4), those lost en masse in the time of the flood.
As to predestination, we find that this, the way in which His love is assured to reach all who in
the realm of liberty in HIS sight, relate to His love (Colossians 1:19ff., I Timothy 2:1ff., I Peter
3:9), none is lost who MIGHT have been saved, for He chose in Christ before time began
(Ephesians 1:4), and loses none of His own (Romans 8:30ff.). This CAN be because God is
almighty and omniscient and the Creator of ALL that is not God (John 1:3, Colossians 1:15);
and it in fact IS so because God is love (I John 4:7ff.), and this is the desire of His heart.
(Cf. The Glow of Predestinative Power Ch. 8, Great Execrations, Great Enervations, Greater Grace Chs. 7 and 9). This is a fact of scripture which nothing can subvert. It is written.
IF you do not know God, your eyes shut in a wilful blindness, then of course like chaff, you may be blown away by this or that event, for such is the nature of chaff, which has no grain in it; and this is precisely what Psalm 1 tells us. IF you do know God, then you also may know that God PROMISES not to try you beyond what you are able to bear, and never willingly does He afflict man (I Corinthians 10:13, Lamentations 3:33).
MAN AS A
SOURCE OF AFFLICTIONS,
PUTTING ON THE MANTLE OF MERCILESSNESS
As to affliction, look at Kosovo, at Iraq, at Rwanda, at
Afghanistan, at the Sudan, at the former Yugoslavia and USSR, and
wonder where is mercy in man in millions, and where restraint; and what is
the sin that makes men proud
v of their race
(some being taught, according to report on Rwanda, that one tribe was more 'evolved' than another, hence activating a wide spectrum of spiritual follies in response);
v of their qualities and ideas (cf. The Aviary of Idolatry, Appendix IV in Barbs, Arrows and Balms, and Chapter 7 in Repent or Perish, and Ch.5, esp. The Phantom Flotilla, Section 2).
Man is readily a very marvel of malevolence when amiss, heightened by the follies of illusory "ideals", like those of Mao, of Hitler, of Stalin, of Darwin (cf. Aviary of Idolatry), ideals which do not work and which in the case of Darwin, were so negative in their proud glory, that it seems he had vast amounts of physical vomiting before production of his simplistic irrationality, his vast rush beyond evidence into the void, occurring in his Origin of Species. As to that, it might rather better have been called, Origin of Speciousness, if there were not more than enough other vain efforts before it. This combined brew of philosophic folly and wild misdemeanour of spirit seems able to accomplish almost any ruin, any folly, any disregard of mercy, any height of hate, any spree of spirit. On this, see the tetrad, The gods of naturalism have of go!
Again, the marvel of God's restraint is not least this: His willingness still to rescue from the dusty throng which now even goes so far as to imagine that to be its glory, which is its shame. In millions of cases, there appears an apparent belief that man's thronging follies have MADE THE HUMAN RACE WHAT IT IS, rather than ruined what it might have been, ejecting its hope into an almost unrecognisable vomit of virtue into the mud that masks the mind, and sinks the soul. In one sense, It is always so (cf. Repent or Perish Ch. 7, What is Life For ? ).
The more marvellous the construction, the more horrible the devastation when it goes awry. Not the suffering but the enduring deliverance is the marvel; and while the depths of God's wisdom are infinite as He directs history*1, the one simple reality of His love, His delight in mercy, His ONE WAY home, His pre-payment on the Cross for all who will ever come to Him, this is a contrast to the point. WE do not have to direct history; WE DO HAVE TO FIND GOD, and the way is clear, and the cost is His.
His sincere and glorious appeal to come and His explicit exhibition of the nature of sin as it showed what happened to HIM in His suffering vicariously for His own, these remain the Rockies of the faith, sublime and indifferent to calumny. Yet it is not for ever; the wait is long; it is not without ground. The evangelisation of the world, the proclamation of the Gospel, nears its appointed end.
There is thus an advocate many times to be found in suffering, for it may be exemplary, illustrative, didactic, through enduring making a display of what needs to be understood, not by any means only by the recipient, but often by a whole nation (as with Jeremiah, confined in a stinking well for doing well in warning his people from God), or even epoch, a race, a civilisation or a family, a social group or an individual, who may in some cases may not even BE the one who suffers - at least... initially!
The case of Corrie ten Book has already been mentioned as both acute and famous. There is often talk of the spirit of an Age, and this too can be diverted from its often foolish preoccupations by the exposure of its blinded eye-sockets, perhaps most painfully, to a dim light which can awaken, or rather help to awaken the heart.
Nations can suffer as did Israel in precisely the way foretold in Deuteronomy 29-32, Leviticus 26, that being a very special case of a body chosen for a special purpose, as a testimony of truth to the world (Isaiah 43:21). Such is the hostility of this world to the word of God, that otherwise it would be starkly amazing that so many want not to regard the integrity of Israel in its deprived state, most of the promised Palestine (from the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the League of Nations provisions in the 1920s) already being robbed from it, and little left. It is an Israel with its citizens subjected to continual murder both from North and South, and in each case this readily comes from land restored for peace, to its adversaries, as a gruesome ogre. Why ? It is because after being threatened with extinction for so long by so many of those surrounding it with multiplied billions of oil money and vast tracts of land in many nations, after being molested continually, after seeking peace repeatedly, after withdrawing only to be further assaulted, it is taking action to reduce the endless murders in its small compass.
Nations can suffer as can
those which have not subdued or stopped this vastly merciless and grossly
extravagant aggression and inhuman desires for extinction of the nation.
Time comes when multiplied iniquities reach to those who indulge their whims
and wills, and ignore the word of God (cf. Galloping Events
Ch. 4), as well as justice. Such was Babylon,
which from a wonder in the civilised world, of imperial power and
disposition, became a mound (cf. The Pitter-Patter...
Ch. 4); and such was the determinate will of God for it, as disclosed in Jeremiah 50-51, Isaiah 13.
It had harassed with vast cruelty the people who, though immensely sinful, were assigned a duty by the Lord, and for this it would become liable! (cf. Jeremiah 51:33-45 cf. Isaiah 51:21-23!).
There are indeed times when one has to consider whether to STAY in a given nation, if its iniquity and hypocrisy reaches, say, that of Germany in Hitler's day! Not all can move, so the Lord must be sought, who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, for a close intelligence of His will for each one of Us (Ephesians 3:17ff., exemplified in Paul's movements in Acts 13, 16).
Whether however it be nation, or culture, or philosophic junta, or political ideologues in their non-innocence of diversion and confusion, or those who follow their evil ways, there is a vast provocation continually, widespread, colonising like a cancer to the parts of the body politic of man, and aggressively seeking to infect all with its burdens. Many follow the follies of these ideas, many seek just to live and have enough, ignoring what life is for or about, and stand horrified when the direction of their people or body is exposed as evil, and suffering results. In any ship, it is not nearly sufficient to seek to avoid obvious sins and inequities, while you live and work. You HAVE to CONSIDER where it is GOING!
The Christian has already found that: it is from the Creator, through the Redeemer to the haven in heaven of the Holy God of Truth. For God's people, resting on His proven word (cf. SMR), they know and experience that HIS is the way, and for Him to suffer is a reality which can be of service to Him as in His love He seeks for the full complement of the people of the Lord, as many as may be found. Such suffering has its divine comforts (I Peter 4:12-14), which are intrinsic to the fellowship with the living God, who can engulf evil in episodes now, as He will in entirety at the judgment, and has already, as far as guilt is concerned, at Calvary (II Cor. 5:17ff.).
This is precisely as in Matthew 22:10, where the invitation of ALL is shown, and the neglect of MANY, to come to the 'wedding feast becomes their self-appointment to a destiny not desired.
With what zeal do the King's servants go into the highways and byways to find those who will come, for the king's grace is vast and His mission is superb!
THE APOSTOLIC EXAMPLE - and the case of a King
Thus GLADLY will Paul suffer his infirmities (II Corinthians 12:4-10), fill up what remains of the suffering of Christ for His body's sake (Colossians 1), the church, both drawing those who might come and advancing those who have already come to Christ, by the selfless sacrificial endurance in the cause of truth and righteousness. Suffering there becomes voluntary, lovingly endured, graciously schematised, buoyantly declared (cf. Acts 4:23-31, 5:28,40-42, II Corinthians 6:3ff., I Corinthians 4:6-16). It is this not least which can inspire and fire the heart, teach the mind and stir the spirit of those who see.
There are types of suffering also, and degrees. Thus Paul had to endure what appears to have been a rather humiliating and certainly limiting eye problem (II Cor. 12). He who had healed so many with miracles as if autumn leaves (Acts 19:11ff.), he had himself to endure some affliction which evidently limited even his capacity to write clearly, unaided, at the physical level - we see reference once to his large letters, which recalls my own mother to me, who in her late nineties had difficulty in small print and would write things very large, but quite clearly.
Three times the apostle called on the Lord to deliver him from this affliction evidently of the eye (cf. Galatians 4:15, II Corinthians 12:7-9), and the Lord gave an answer very assuredly: MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU. In his own weakness, the apostle cries, is Christ's strength made perfect. When he is weak, then he is strong (II Corinthians 12:10). Doubtless the limiting in this field, for the apostle who had such extraordinary facility in many others, was a reminder, and a call and a cause of seeking more grace, which was given to him continually, and which in itself was a constant divine blessing inducing blessedness.
It was a crown of light, a touch of help, a call to co-operation and the avoidance of anything heady or headstrong, or whatever the precise dimensions of the education which it produces, were for him in the mind of the Almighty (cf. II Corinthians 12:7). Indeed, there is even a further help. "Who is weak, and I am not weak ? who is offended, and I do not burn ?" (II Corinthians 11:29). In his weakness is love operative, in empathetic solace to the afflicted. By Christ's strength, it is effective! Through the salvation in Christ, it gains meaning and establishment of the whole proceeds in pity and care, love and patience.
As to Paul's affliction noted, then, it certainly seems to have helped or sharpened or called for more light in the field of being strong when weak, that is, of being so reinforced by the Lord in His own personal presence in one's work that it is in itself a blessedness of companionship, a field of fellowship and a thrust to a creativity which is not at all barrenly selfish, self-centred, self-willed or even too tempestuous.
Indeed, in Romans 5 Paul dwells, through the inspiration of the Spirit of God, on the beautiful patience wrought amid tribulation when one is standing in the grace of God, a sort of lustre and gleam like that of polished brass, burnished and drawing to the eye. In this sort of trial and experience, says the apostle, to the eye of faith, is hope; for the consistency and availability of the divine aid and presence in the midst of what one suffers can so solace as to represent an enduement, call forth a growth in spirit, a patience of soul that we repeatedly find of great delight when it is witnessed in others! and in the midst of this hope is the impression and awareness, the evidence of the love of God poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5).
This passage in Romans 5 evidences still further dimensions of suffering, specifically here for the child of God. It can temper, like seasoning in wood, like water for steel, when there might instead have been a tampering from evil; it can endue with qualities merely potential before it,; it can be an avenue for the expression of a patient loveliness, which experiences the forbearing patience of God, like exquisite workmanship in the pillars of the Parthenon, made so that although not apparently precise in their shape, yet to the eye afar they were yet more attractive.
In all this, moreover, we can readily cite further examples.
Was not King David taught in his folly of the affair of Uriah and
Bath-Sheba, by the later atrocious outbreaks in his own
household (murder because one of the children had violated a half-sister,
treachery and rebellion against his own person, on the part of much loved
son, Absolam) ? But what was he taught ?
Again, these things,
delightful in others, may also be formative in oneself, for much good to
If we were all perfect, none need suffer; but since we are not, there are many purposes not only TO us but THROUGH us which may be of value and blessing. It is always necessary to realise that none is innocent (Psalm 51:1-5); and for any, deliverance is a mercy unspeakable, of grace illimitable; while the way in which the multiform plans of God bring out of love into the horror of mankind, the truth of His Gospel as as wide, as varied, as intense, as immense as His own wisdom.
For all this, let us never forget the Biblical message: suffering may also be straightforwardly judicial, when the harsh sun of 'reality', untempered rebuke and rebuttal, hits hard on the sun-dried clay of simple unbelief. As noted in Psalm 1, the wicked are like chaff which the wind drives away; and NOW is the time to seek the Lord, while He MAY be found (Isaiah 55 - please read this with the eyes of the heart).
- THE PEAK AND PINNACLE
OF THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS, SHOWN IN CHRIST
But wait! God has not merely stood back and watched. He has not measured out potions like a chemist. HE HAS COME and SUFFERED IN THE FORM AND FORMAT OF A MAN, in Christ Jesus the Lord (I Peter 3:17-18, Philippians 2).
He who inhabits eternity as the Son of God and the eternal Word, has
experienced and been burnished as man in the human frame (Miah 5:1-3,
Philippians 2, Hebrews 2:10-11), enduring as well as being endued, was made
an example, a vicarious sufferer, an experient on behalf of violations, a
purger of sin by adopting it to Himself who yet in His own Person had no sin
(I Peter 2:22).
THERE, it is innocence indeed, suffering more than all, vicariously, unspeakably in the unsoiled purity of infinity in His soul, for those of His creation who receive Him, who seeks for all, and in His omnipotence loses none given to Him.
Yes, the illustrative, the educative, the noble, the vicarious, the substitutionary indeed (Galatians 3:1-13, Isaiah 53, II Corinthians 5:19-21), appears in the redeeming glorious act of God in Christ. This is the acme and the unique wonder; for no man can redeem by any means another (Psalm 49:7,8,15): for the life of all perishes by itself, and sin like a crouching wolf, grabs and menaces, dealing death to all, EXCEPT FOR CHRIST and what He has provided.
in Him who made us (John 1:1-3) is the sum and summary of suffering, in all
facets, yet with this one difference,
CHRIST DID NOT ASK FOR SUCH A RESULT, BY SIN,
OR THROUGH HIS OWN FAILINGS; FOR HE NEVER FAILED.
HE DID NOT ASK FOR IT, NOR DESERVE IT, NOT EVEN IN ANY DEGREE OR MEASURE,
DEPTH OR DIMENSION, ALLOY OR PLACE.
IN NOTHING, did He deserve it. In ALL THINGS He was willing to suffer for it,
but not with it, for sin was never His; and hence the love of God was given straight,
without alloy, in a peace provision so glorious and simple to receive,
so profound and difficult to attain, yet attained for any who come,
achieved by Christ Jesus the Lord.
The penal guilt for sin, the sin of others ? All of it
however He took
from every place that would be found in the hearts of those who should ever come to Him,
from any part in the world, place in history, race or space
(cf. Colossians 1:19-23 in its profound parameters).
For in His predestining power, His own have already been chosen in Him
BEFORE HISTORY BEGAN, AND BEFORE OUR SERIAL TIME
MADE ITS STACCATO START
IN THE DAYS AND THE EVENINGS OF EARTHLY CHRONOLOGY
(Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 13:8, John 8:58, 14:1-14, Micah 5:1-3).
Suffering is therefore not the end of man or for all men; for the God who made man has endured suffering as man, that man might be delivered from merely penal suffering, judicial blighting, however righteous in itself (Hebrews 1, 2, 9);
that through grace by faith many should come
and become, one by one, children of God (John 1:12),
accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6),
sealed by His Spirit (Ephesians 1:5),
engraced in His powers and performance (Ephesians 1:19),
adopted through Him (1:5), and
given by Him visa to the Kingdom of Heaven (Ephesians 1:5-14).
On predestination, and the vast scale of the operations of God in the field of salvation and suffering, before our time and in it, see Predestination and Freewill, especially Section III, and in that, the end. Never however forget, that PRECISELY what Christ was on earth, so in His character and heart He has always been, for GOD does NOT change; and in predestining, God therefore had just that love in heart which was later shown in history; so that none ever manages to find hell, however worthy of it, except DESPITE the love of God (see The Kingdom of Heaven, Ch.4).
For all that, such is the character of sin, many there be
that go in that door, and few into that straight and blessedly narrow way of
God to heaven (Matthew 7:15ff.). Blessed is such narrowness. It is rather
like the narrow and precise specifications of a liked car manufacturer (I
like to imagine the care disposed on a Jaguar, for example, but this may be
merely a part of a boyish admiration for the sleek lines and noble
appearance), yet of some car manufacturer: it is not least BECAUSE
these requirements are narrow that they are admirable, and the car is
If its specifications are broad and lax, the car is not for me! When safety and truth are paramount, precise specifications are comforting, and indeed, in the end, necessary. That HE can make the crooked straight is the other side of freedom which through sin has created the vacuum which calls in suffering, like a mouse plague, the little items scattering onto the scene, drawn by this folly.
BUT GOD can overturn (see Hosea 13:14, where HE HIMSELF will be death's destruction); and it is the glory of God that not only these penalties of suffering, not only such has He taken for His own, but that the glories of His presence, power and direction are available past all these, in the freedom and restored liberties of the children of God (Romans 8:15-16, II Corinthians 3:17-18, 4:16-5:6). Within those hallowed walls which none can penetrate (John 10:9,27-28), He may permit a measure of suffering to demonstrate, illustrate or inculcate the truth of His word, of His love. Thus in Philippians 1:29ff., Paul gives this understanding (bold added).
let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ,
so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs,
that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition,
but to you of salvation, and that from God.
"For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
Again, He may like a loving Father, use the prongs of suffering at times to help in our correction, direction and enduement; but it is no more like chaff that we are. Thus, in one way or another, we may be given scope for tutelary suffering, either for our own soul's enlivening and advance, or even for the help of others, the opportunity to suffer for His glory (Philippians 1:29ff.), as did the apostles (and those who live in a godly fashion WILL suffer persecution, declares Paul, in II Timothy 3:12. It is then that suffering from the Shepherd is tutelary in truth itself.
As to the Fatherly function of the Lord is providing chastening by suffering, we find this explained in Hebrews 12:9-12.
Let us quote a little of this:
WE HAVE HAD FATHERS OF OUR FLESH WHO CORRECTED US AND WE GAVE THEM
SHALL WE NOT MUCH RATHER BE IN SUBJECTION TO THE FATHER OF SPIRITS, AND LIVE ? ... WE, FOR OUR PROFIT,
THAT WE MIGHT BE PARTAKERS OF HIS HOLINESS...
IT YIELDS THE PEACEABLE FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
TO THOSE WHO ARE EXERCISED BY IT.
LIFT UP THE HANDS WHICH HANG DOWN,
AND THE FEEBLE KNEES; AND MAKE STRAIGHT PATHS FOR YOUR FEET.”
You may now care to turn to SMR p.
That below begins the
first section in Ch. 5 of SMR, available from
this link. Chapter 5 overall is one of application of the demonstration
of the divine origin and absolute truth of the Bible, which precedes, and is
further verified in the
Chapters which follow.
Similarly, there is no other answer to the question of the origin and operation of good and evil, which has ever been able to stand. In the Bible, the basic answer is stunning in its simplicity, and in increasing depth, every detail is covered.
Let us now consider for good and evil:
If the whole thing, the world and so on, is a war between good (in some form or format) and evil; then how is the system, thus set up and diverse and divergent, to be accounted for ? We have already seen, it cannot be done; but that from such an hypothesis, you would be forced back to the God who made the system in which all this is. If evil is the beginning and the real, whence good ? If good, whence evil ?
But, if God is the beginning (self-sufficient, and eternal and one), then from limited initial freedom - the choice to receive and rely on God, or to deny and depart from His care - something not at all evil in itself, you have possible sin. Humanly that is the position; and divinely those are the conditions. If now this possible sin becomes actual, why then the result will be certain evil. This applies whether you think of "evil" as God's judgments on sin; or as the consequences of conflict with the creator; or both. Indeed, evil may be seen not only as judgment, but as the internal consequences of breaking the conferred constitution made availab1e to you by God. Consider doing the same to your auto: then, both the mechanics, and the thing and ultimately the law of the land, might attest your error. (See Romans 1:28 ff., Hosea 8:7, Proverbs 1:20-31 esp. 31. Otherwise put: such a consequence is an implicit judgment, to which explicit judgments may be added Hosea 8:7.)
How then does sin arise ? It arises from the disposability of the will: and how is this will so disposable ? It is so because that is how God made it. But why did He so make it ? He did so because it seemed good to Him to have such freedom and personality and everything that goes with it. I for one am exceedingly glad that He did, and certainly you can prove no evil in that, or any intellectual inconsistency.
If man could not will evil, he could not be free, being programmed or constrained or restrained to the point of puppetry; if by design, he can do evil, then a failure to be so able would simply mean a fault in the construction. On the other hand, a success, if he so wills (and we refer to the Biblical test case, the first man, freedom towards God being defiled by the sin which the race gained through the first failure, and its enduring consequences)... means that he may will good, and he may will evil: and then do it. Success, in the special case of deciding to will evil does nothing to show an evil 'bent', merely a good design. What a masterpiece is such a construction of personality!
Returning now to the aspects of good and evil, we come to:
A related point arises. For centuries, philosophers and pedants have wrestled with the fact that there is goodness that seems natural and goodness that seems achieved, that guilt and blame are accorded, by one to another, with an assurance that is not merely cultural, is often anti-cultural, cross-cultural or other, but comes with a sort of vision or splendour.
is the nature of man, that this should be so? Why do we not
simply note the data base for each individual, ah yes, so much good,
meritorious, so much not so good, type A-2b, etc., neatly categorising it
all, as with microbes for their characteristics or
There is in man a longing which is correlative with a languishing; there is an admiration which parallels blame, a joy which relates intimately to shame, in its negative format. There is a readiness to blame, a sort of assumed or assured set of criteria which, differ how they will, seem to touch the same background or basis, as if they were all radio sets, some not properly tuned, but all setting forth the noise with prodigious assurance.
C.S. Lewis has been at pains to discuss the similarities of so much of the purely ethical side of human aspirations, expectations or notations, in very many cases. He notes the tendency to blame for a certain sort of thing, over and beyond specialised details which may differ or diverge, in his Mere Christianity, the opening chapter.
Amusingly and accordingly, we recall that the Communists blame and speak of shame with no ground on their materialist system. There is no shame if you do not think there is on such a system; only punishment. Yet they do not so act or speak.
The ideologically materialist Western phalanx, often deeply entrenched with their superficial codes and self-contradictions, do no less. People will talk of ethical systems, but they practise shame and blame on very readily recognisable grounds with very considerable continuity and conformity. Why ?
It is explained by nothing else but this: that this is not universal racial lunacy (not well documented); but the result of what we are. We follow a trend because of our design. That is the way we think, because that is our construction. That is the way we blame; for we have, however dim and repressed, an awareness of what ought to be. People fume or fret because so-and-so did this or did not do that! and clearly he ought to have done so; and this happens all but routinely in wholly uncontracted circumstances.
We have a ground for our conduct; and this is that we have a ground for our personalities, and that ground is such that we react and respond with moral criteria inbuilt, even when brash theories do not agree with the way we feel and act. Man does have the power to propose otherwise; but he expresses it consistently neither in theory nor practice. Indeed godless man lacks power to account (*6) for these phenomena in ways which are verified in experience.
When we look at the fact that we are a design (that is what the scripture says, and we have proved it truth: here we merely verify what it says), then we see all this answered with a simplicity, a thoroughness and a total rational explanatory power which is quite overwhelming in its total success. Nothing is left out, all is dealt with - and easily!
We know that there is right and wrong, there is what is apt for our design and not apt, good for our souls (however disease may erode that knowledge); we are aware of the transcendent magnitude of God who created our designs and talked the language of our cells into them (however this may be repressed and rantingly argued against in desperate and often guilty fits of rebellion and folly). Hence human souls, especially in this century of the ultimate in irrational rationalisation, play-boy theories which neither explain nor satisfy nor provide the goods of living together, this ultimate century for barbarism, perhaps, in all of history: these souls suffer in torpidity, stupidity, gullibility. (Cf. Romans 1:28 ff..)
Especially is this so in religion, where rebellion makes the right answer wrong in advance, by a necessity of the will! (It is like rebellious teenagers who, whatever else, will not take 'home' for an answer.) Man thus blames and admires, rejoices and regrets, accuses and excuses, is thrilled and appalled because he is a design with responsibilities inbuilt, and to which he may consciously address himself, or from within try to escape. This increases his severity in judgments on others, because guilt writhes and a tortured or abashed soul swaggers, often, in self defence, lashing out with a frustration which exacerbates, and with a vigour derived from stored up mountains of known, if repressed wrong within.
This is one syndrome, common and often found in practice and revealed on conversion.
Because man is a design with self- and world-consciousness, he reacts according to design. Because his design incorporates a certain freedom of thought, he may reason, often ludicrously, to seek to justify what he wants; and he is not seldom disturbed because there is an innate, or partly occluded awareness that he is both wrong in action and wrong in motive to justify himself; and wrong in his reasons.1
The fact is that he often indulges in arguments in this field so absurd, so wholly absurd that for a reasonable being, we have to postulate some enormous, intrinsic force within, defiling his equipment. The Bible states that this is so, names it sin, and denotes it as a subject to both the wrath and the judgment of God. (The aids and helps... of the specialist in fallen pathology, and in applied temptation in particular, the devil, the Satan, the adversary, 'help' considerably with man's blindness, sometimes like gnats, stinging the exposed flesh. They do nothing to remove his responsibility for accepting such futile and fallacious offers of assistance, born from the first from doubt, defiance or irrational assertiveness towards the loveliness of the Lord, and the beauty of His provisions.)
Sin then is individually subject to the wrath and judgment of God (Ephesians 2:3, 4:19 - see Chapter 7 for Scriptural treatment). Of course, so it is. This is also felt to more or less degree, repressed to more or less extent, and that creates a vortex of vice within, which often leads to explosive and sometimes to expulsive results, amounting at times to ruthless conduct, so well articulated by Shakespeare, of Macbeth.
Incidentally, it is to be noted that many of the most famous plays of Shakespeare imply or teach a moral universe, a moral law, a moral accountability, a divine responsibility and a human perversity in ways expressed with singular aptitude. That is one reason why they have been so amazingly popular, granted that they are not particularly easy reading. We read of the universality and so forth, with which Shakespeare has painted his pictures: meaning the ability to touch on many things found in many cultures with much facility, because he has principles, analyses and perceptions which seem so true to so much that is seen.
Back to what immediately follows in SMR.
To Chapter 5 of SMR in which the above short quotation appears.
Finally, when if need be, suffering is imposed, imparted, permitted, allowed, not truncated or tossed aside (I Peter 1:7), then is the trying of your faith. If God is under constant review from a revisionist mind which does not actually trust Him, but is allowing Him a temporary ‘rule’ in His place, as a marked priority but by no means the highest, a religious aspect: then the party who does this is asking to be found wanting. Any narrow-eyed regard of someone is not trusting. With men, moreover, since they can err, suddenly, it is well to be circumspect, but when this is applied to God, it is trust no more. Then the trial of your faith, as Peter puts it, more precious than gold, reveals that it is not there. It is perhaps in such a case a self-centred endeavour to get the best for your life by a partial conformity; it is not the Job-like trust which declares, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
When therefore the test is on, and in this way failed, because someone or something dear to you is not being given top-billing according to your lights and to your wisdom, so that Luke 14:26-27 is simply not met, in the end you meet the exclusion clause: YOU CANNOT be His disciple. It is a contradiction in terms. Faith is a beautiful thing, given from God, yielded to God: it allows no surrogates.
If you must regard things dear to you in your own light with something like ‘hatred’ by COMPARISON with your love of Christ, in order to be His disciple at all, as Christ here declares, how then can there be anything but tedious trials and bursting losses if you try to 'do' it on your own basis! These things cannot fail to hurt. If on a bike you cannot keep yourself from knocking things clumsily as you pass, how much more ridiculous is it if you cannot keep yourself from knocking reality, indeed God Himself, since you cannot trust Him. This then brings you, in His love, to the realm of further trials, stimuli and strivings; and He does not strive forever (Isaiah 57:15), for flesh would fail before Him.
It is necessary then not to be a lounging critic of Christ, but a seeker of His will, to do it. Otherwise, what is it like ? It resembles a ship forever in dry dock, and longing for the ocean, for which it is never fit, since it does not bother to respond to the Captain when it is abroad, and so being damaged in structure and unreliable, cannot be used. But when you KNOW GOD, then as with any friend, but here to the consummate uttermost, you FIND what He is doing and REALISE its depth, even if as with Job, there are times of testing where the precise point is for a time hidden, this being part of the test. When you REST in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him, you inherit peace. When you trust in the Lord and do good, delight yourself in Him, then He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37); for indeed, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, they will be filled (Matthew 5). Leaky hoses lose water.
TO A SEQUEL, PRACTICAL AND HISTORICAL, TO THE ABOVE:
DIG DEEPER, HIGHER SOAR,
DIVINE GLORY DELIGHTS THE MORE Chs. 5 and 6.
Pain, Suffering, Evil
In all matters of pain, suffering and evil, for the individual, several important strands need a more personal application.
Thus as in all matters, if you do not understand, it is far harder. As in all family matters, if you are not in liaison and fellowship with the Head of it, is more remote that you become from comprehension; you may even imagine things and impute evil wrongly or even falsely.
Nothing like alienation is available, so fitted for making first-class distortions, whether with a degree of imaginative realisation of sin, or not.
Thus if there is not a complete clearing of the heart from all known sin, wrong done to others, to oneself, to the Lord, if there is no repentance in all frankness of evils done, intentionally or not, if there is no desire to restore things to rights in any affair, then how does one imagine there will be a good understanding with the Lord, since this is like poking out the tongue and wiggling the fingers in the ears. Instead, consider Psalm 51 for the comprehensive character of dealing earnestly with the guilt and godlessness of sin. Repentance and the cleansing of the blood of Christ is needed (Romans 6, I John 1:7ff.).
If there IS such a cleansing however, even this is not all. That is the past. There is the present.
Thus there needs to a complete surrender to the Lord of one’s will, so that one is indeed a servant of the Lord: for how else IS He one’s Lord! (Luke 14:27ff.). Without this, you CANNOT be His disciple; and it is He who says so (cf. Luke 6:46). In weakness, you seek strength (I Corinthians 9:25-27). When one is a family member in the Lord's house, then the things that are of alien nature flee. It is not without a fight at times indeed! (Galatians 5), as the flesh loves to invade, and carnality of heart and spirit delights to oppose: but the result is sure (Galatians 5:24). Some seeing the pit are drawn into it; others call on the Lord and being His, are delivered (II Timothy 1:8ff.), for those who are His, are already predestined, and His seed remains in one as soon as one is born again as the apostle John declares (I John 3:9). The profane may attack, but it can never become Lord for the children of God, begotten not of the will of the flesh or of blood, but of Him! (John 1:12, 5:24).
In addition, and thirdly, there needs to be a consecration of one’s life to Him, to His will, service and the use of His gifts to show His grace (Romans 12:1-2 and ff.). In this case, one has to realise that one’s life is not one’s own, it is bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:19-20). Christ is not a pastime or a neat addition to a self-directed life. That is one of the basics of Christianity: HE IS LORD. If He is an additive, and your FIRST desire is anything else, or even if it is competitive, you cannot be His disciple. Even relatives cannot compete (Luke 14:26). In comparison with dedication to Him, such kind of relationship – as indeed to one’s OWN life – is more like hatred: love for Him is as overpowering as that. As to Him, His Creator’s truth, justice and mercy are perfect. It is a matter of trusting Him, and in Him.
The flesh, carnal thoughts of any kind not based on God but desire, if these direct one’s ways, how can the Lord do so. There is no room for two masters as Christ made so clear in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
THEN, and only then, can one hope to understand some problem with sin, evil, suffering or pain with any depth. Being in a friendly disposition towards God enlightens the conscience, removes the guilt, massages the heart with godliness, opens the eyes to the obvious, makes spiritual things available in perspective (cf. Colossians 1:17ff.): even things such as this, that we are all sinners deserving NOTHING (Romans 6:23). Grace is the arm of salvation and of operation (Ephesians 2:1-8). The gift of eternal life is gratuitous, though blessedly utterly assured (I John 5:11-12). The reception of gifts however is no key to defiling one’s relationship with the King, but occasion for implementing His gracious will: only discipline can result from the former (Hebrews 12).
As soon as we think we deserve something, like an absolving pat on the back giving us liberty JUST TO THIS OR THAT, in fulfilment perhaps of some large life desire, then we want a movable God. But God does not move (Matthew 16:24-27).
In fact, He gives back what we need, and all He desires, and when our desires govern the ‘operation’, then the surgeon cannot act! It is as obvious as that.
Christ, in all things, must hae the pre-eminence (Colossians 1:10,18). It is then that counsel and understanding, lodged in a cleansed heart, can grow into new measures of apprehension of the Lord Himself (John 14>21-23), and comprehension of life. Of this, Daniel iws an outstanding example as Daniel 110 so well attests.
See Chapter 6 above, with Bon Voyage Ch. 1, and
History, Review and Overview, The Pitter-Patter of Prophetic Feet and
SMR Chs. 8 and 9. See also News 87.