Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Figuring Out Why

Do you ever wonder about (1) your purpose in life, or (2) God's purpose in allowing hardship and sorrow into your life? I've been thinking about this, and it seems to me that Christians of yesteryear didn't overly concern themselves with those questions. I think the reason is that more of them were acquainted with the big themes of Scripture, which end up answering those questions very satisfactorily.

The Bible had taught them that their purpose in life as the redeemed of God was to let their lights so shine before men that men would see their good works, and so glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16); to tell to the next generation the glorious deeds of God, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:4); to love one another, fervently and from the heart, rejoicing with those who rejoiced and weeping with those who were weeping (Romans 12:15). Stuff like that. And all that stuff was summed up in Romans 8:29, which told them that God was at work through all things to make them more like Christ. They knew that their purpose in this brief life was to sojourn faithfully, as pilgrims and aliens "looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). They were to help each other along this troubled (but blessed) journey, and they were to bring along as many as they possibly could, strengthened for the task by God himself. That's quite a purpose!

So that's the purpose for every Christian; but what about God's purpose for allowing all the hardship and sorrow in our lives? The Bible had given those stalwart saints of yesteryear all they needed to know about that, too. It's important to know that they didn't ask for tailor-made answers to their individual circumstances... they understood that the only real answer to "why" came from Scripture, and though it was the same answer for all believers, it was wonderfully sufficient.

The Scriptures told them that not only was their purpose to live a life of increasing conformity to Christ, but that God's purpose in it was for a very exciting outcome: "So that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7), and so that they may be presented "blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy" (Jude 1:24). God's main purpose for them in this life, having delivered them from the domain of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of his beloved son (Colossians 1:13), was to prepare them, through this (comparatively) "light, momentary affliction", for "an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). If we are God's children then we are heirs with Christ to this eternal weight of glory, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). God's purpose in our suffering? Future glory with him!

Christians of yesteryear understood these things, often going back to the message of patient Job, who did not, in this life, know the full story about why the hard trials had to come his way; but who trusted the God who knew. These saints of old didn't fret it, and neither should we. "Farther along we'll know more about it... farther along we'll understand why." God has given us his word to cheer us on our way as we travel with hope toward the coming resurrection of the body and of the glorious new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells-- where we shall no longer see as through a mirror, dimly, but shall at last see "face to (beloved!) Face". "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What The Bible Considers "Trouble"

"No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble" (Proverbs 12:21).

When the Bible talks about the follower of Christ being free from trouble, it isn't talking about temporal trouble. Jesus promised his disciples in John 16:33 that "in the world" they will have tribulation. What the Bible is saying is that the Christian will not be ultimately harmed but will be brought safely through all the trials of this world and into Heaven at the last.

The Bible also does not say that "the wicked" (all of us who scorned and rejected Christ) will necessarily lead troubled and unhappy lives on this earth. But the Bible does make clear that the rejector of Christ is '"storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will appear" (Romans 2:5). In this way they are "filled with trouble" and this trouble certainly begins in this temporal life, even though it may not be outwardly apparent.

This is a brief, brief life; begun and then quickly over, and then eternity, and the great settling of all accounts before God. The righteous will suffer no harm in that accounting, because they have placed all their hope for rescue from wrath in the work of Christ on the cross.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Proverbs 9: Two Feasts

Wisdom's feast is set. She has already done it all: slaughtered her beasts, mixed her wine, and set her table. All is prepared and waiting; this is Wisdom's feast, not to be confused with other feasts that are set before men and women. Great care has been taken. Now she has sent out her young women (not to be confused with other young women) to call out from the highest places in town, "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" To him who lacks sense she entreats, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight."

On the same highest places in the same town, a woman named Folly has taken her seat. She also has spread a table. She also is calling out to those who pass by (and her voice is loud, and she is seductive), "Whoever is simple, let him turn aside here!" To him who lacks sense she purrs, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant!"

The simpleton-- the one passing by, the one just going along straight on his way, hears the two voices entreating him to turn in. One offers bread and wine, life and insight. But to have it, she says, he must leave his ways (ways that he is very attached to, actually...). The other, loud voice offers him, if he will just turn aside from his straight way to see, something a little more enticing, a bit more exciting: Stolen water. Bread eaten in secret. Something is alluring about that. Something compels the simple man to turn in here, to know what this woman is offering: to taste, and to see.

Poor simple man. He didn't understand one very important thing before he turned aside to Folly's feast, and it was this: only the dead are there. Her guests are all in the depths of Sheol (the grave, or Hell). It is a ghastly feast; there were no slaughtered beasts, no mixed wine or even beautifully set table, at all. All on her table was death and corruption, and he found out too late that there was also no escape. Pity this man. He only wanted satisfaction for his desires and his senses-- he only wanted what seemed most natural to him to want. And he got it.

And Wisdom grieves for him, and sends out her young women to the highest places in the town again the next day, and the next, to proclaim her compelling message of life and of escape from death, sin, and folly. She will keep on sending them until there is no more Today, because she knows that a simple young man, here and there, will hear the voice of Wisdom and believe the invitation is true, and see that Life! Life! is only to be found at Her table; and he will turn in, and he will have escaped the grave and Hell forever. And oh, what a feast there will be.