From Mark Copeland... "THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT" The Fruit Of The Spirit - Kindness

                       "THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT"

                   The Fruit Of The Spirit - Kindness


1. As we continue our look at those qualities to be present when one is
   producing the fruit of the Spirit in his or her life, we now come to
   "kindness" (gentleness, KJV)

2. The Greek word is chrestotes {khray-stot'-ace}...
   a. This word describes "the sympathetic kindliness or sweetness of
      temper which puts others at their ease, and shrinks from giving
      pain" (PLUMMER)
      1) It therefore describes a quality that makes other people feel
         at ease when with you
      2) They know you will be kind, or gentle
   b. "It is a beautiful word for the expression of a beautiful grace"(TRENCH)

3. To help us better understand what it means to have "kindness", let's
   take a look at how it is used in the Bible

[Beginning with...]


      1. For example, consider these two verses, where the word is 
         translated "good":
         a. "Praise the LORD!  Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is
            good!  For His mercy endures forever." - Ps 106:1
         b. "The Lord is good to all, And His tender mercies are over
            all His works" - Ps 145:9
      2. The reference in these verses is not to God's moral goodness,
         but rather to His kindness, especially as expressed in His mercy
      3. It is the kindness of God that moves the Psalmist's heart, and
         which should also move us to worship the LORD - cf. Ps 100
         a. In this psalm we find a call to come to the Lord with joy,
            thanksgiving and praise
         b. Why?  "For the LORD is good..." - Ps 100:4-5

      1. In nature - Ps 65:9-13
      2. In the events of history - Ps 145:1-7
      3. In the instructions of His Word - Ps 119:65-68; 25:8
      4. In special ways, to certain people...
         a. To those afflicted, who trust in Him - Nah 1:7
         b. To those poor, who follow Him - Ps 68:10
         c. To all those who hope and trust in Him - Ps 34:8
         d. To all those who fear Him - Ps 31:19

[From the kindness of God as revealed in the Old Testament, let's move
on to consider...]


      1. In nature, even to ungrateful and evil men - Lk 6:35; cf. Mt 5:45
      2. In the giving of His Son, in Whom we have salvation - Tit 3:4-7
      3. Even in the ages to come - Ep 2:7

      1. Kindness is part of the Christian "garment" we are to put on 
         - cf. Col 3:12
      2. Kindness is to characterize our treatment of one another - Ep 4:31-32


1. Do we act with kindness toward others?
   a. So that others are "at ease" in our presence
   b. So that others feel they can draw close to us?
   -- Or do we with sharp words, cold shoulders, or arrogant 
      condescension discourage others from feeling comfortable around us?

2. Remember that kindness is the "sympathetic kindliness or sweetness 
   of temper which puts others at their ease..."
   a. "This Christian kindness is a lovely thing, and its loveliness 
      comes from the fact that Christian kindness means treating others
      in the way in which God has treated us." (BARCLAY)
   b. If we truly desire to be "sons of the Highest", then we must 
      imitate the kindness of God - cf. Lk 6:35-36

3. Speaking of the kindness of God...
   a. What is in store for those who reject His kindness? - cf. Ro 2:4-11
   b. What about those who do not continue in His kindness? - cf. Ro 11:22

Have you responded to the kindness of God in accordance to His Will...?

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2011

Jesus Christ—Historical Figure or Fairy-Tale Character? by Kyle Butt, M.A.


Jesus Christ—Historical Figure or Fairy-Tale Character?

by  Kyle Butt, M.A.

Most children and adults easily recognize the name Jesus Christ. Many even can tell the story of His life. However, those same people also recognize the names Peter Pan, Snow White, and Cinderella. And they can relate the “facts” of these fairy tales as well. Is Jesus of Nazareth a fictional character that deserves to be included in a list of mystifying magicians, daring dragon slayers, and flying boy heroes? Or should His name take its well-deserved position in the halls of factual history?
Some people say that He is a myth, a legend that never walked the Earth. After all, it is true that we do not have one single book or letter written my Jesus Himself. And, of course, no one has produced any physical evidence (such as His body) to verify His existence. What evidence is available to prove that Jesus actually walked on this Earth?


Interestingly, the first type of records comes from what are known commonly as “hostile” sources. Hostile sources were written by people who disliked Jesus and His followers. Such men certainly did not want to further the cause of Christ or add credibility to His existence. In fact, they rejected His teachings and often reviled Jesus and His followers. Therefore, when these sources speak about Jesus, no one can accuse them of shading the facts in Jesus’ favor.
A man named Tacitus will be the first hostile witness called to the stand. He was born about A.D. 56 and died about A.D. 117. He was an upper-class Roman with a good education who held high governmental positions under several Roman emperors. He is most famous for writing Annals—a history of Rome written around the year A.D. 115. In the Annals he told of the Great Fire of Rome, which occurred in A.D. 64. Nero, the Roman Emperor, was suspected by many of having ordered the city set on fire. Tacitus wrote:
Nero fabricated scapegoats, and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome.
Tacitus hated both Christians and their namesake, Christ. He therefore had nothing positive to say about what he referred to as a “deadly superstition.” He did, however, have something to say about it. His testimony establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that the Christian religion was historically relevant and that its originator was a verifiable historical figure so famous that He even attracted the attention of the Roman Emperor himself!
Additional hostile testimony comes from Suetonius, who wrote around the year A.D. 120. The writings of Suetonius are reliable piece of historical evidence. Twice in his history book, Suetonius specifically mentioned Christ or His followers. He wrote, for example: “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbance at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from the city” (note that in Acts 18:2 Luke mentioned this expulsion by Claudius). Chrestus is probably a misspelling of Christos, the Greek word for Messiah. Suetonius further commented: “Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.” Again, it is clear that Suetonius and the Roman government had feelings of hatred toward Christ and His so-called “mischievous” band of rebels. It is equally clear that Suetonius (and, in fact, most of Rome) recognized that Christ was the noteworthy Founder of a historical religion.
Another Roman by the name of Pliny the Younger also provided hostile testimony to the life of Jesus. In a letter he wrote around the year A.D. 110, he used the terms “Christian” or “Christians” seven times, and wrote the name “Christ” three times. It is undeniably the case that Christians, with Christ as their Founder, had multiplied in such a way as to draw the attention of the Emperor and his officials by the time of Pliny. After examining this kind of evidence, it is impossible to deny the fact that Jesus Christ was recognized as an actual, historical person.
Even a casual reader who glances over the testimony of the hostile Roman witnesses will be struck by the fact that these men did not portray Christ as the Son of God or the Savior of the world. They verbally stripped Him of His Sonship, denied His glory, and belittled His magnificence. They described Him to their contemporaries, and for posterity, as a mere man. Yet even though they were greatly mistaken about Who He was, they nevertheless documented that He was. And for that we are indebted to them.

God and Katrina by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


God and Katrina

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

In the early morning hours of August 29, 2005,
Hurricane Katrina
Courtesy of ORBIMAGE
hurricane Katrina made landfall, devastating the Gulf Coast of the United States from New Orleans to Mobile, earning for itself recognition as one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Though the city was placed under a mandatory evacuation order, many residents remained due to lack of transportation, health, or age. The furry of the hurricane created three breaches in the Lake Pontchartrain levee system—causing a second, even greater disaster: heavy flooding inundated 80% of the city, making it uninhabitable. While the final death toll is still unknown, thousands are believed to have been killed. More than a million people have been displaced, creating a humanitarian crisis on a scale unseen in America since the American Civil War (“Hurricane Katrina,” 2005).
As shocking and heart-rending as this event may seem, many other natural disasters have occurred in human history that exceed Katrina and even the 2004 tsunami in their toll of death and destruction. For example, throughout China’s history, extensive flooding has occurred countless times as a result of the mighty 3,000-mile-long Hwang Ho River. Several of the most terrible floods, with their ensuing famines, have been responsible for the deaths of more than a million people at a time. The southern levee of the river failed in Hunan Province in 1887, affecting a 50,000 square mile area (“Hwang Ho,” 2004). More than 2 million people died from drowning, starvation, or the epidemics that followed (“Huang He,” 2004).
In reality, such events have occurred repetitiously throughout the history of the world, and continue to do so—constantly: hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, tornados, floods, tsunamis, droughts, and volcano eruptions. In fact, natural disasters kill one million people around the world each decade, and leave millions more homeless, according to the United Nation’s International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (“Disasters...,” 1997).
This circumstance inevitably elicits the pressing question: “WHY?” “Why would God allow such loss of life, inflicted on countless numbers of seemingly innocent people?” The number one argument marshaled by atheists to advocate their disbelief in God is the presence of widespread, seemingly purposeless suffering. They insist that if an infinite Being existed, He would exercise His perfect compassion and His omnipotence to prevent human suffering (e.g., Lowder, 2004; cf. Jackson, 2001). Even for many people who do not embrace formal atheism, the fact that God apparently seems willing to allow misery and suffering to run rampant in the world, elicits a gamut of reactions—from perplexity and puzzlement to anger and resentment.


But the Bible provides the perfect explanations for such occurrences. Its handling of the subject is logical, sufficient, and definitive. It sets forth the fact that God created the world to be the most appropriate, suitable environment in which humans are enabled to make their own decisions concerning their ultimate destiny (Genesis 1:27; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). We humans have been provided with the ideal environment in which we may freely accept or reject God’s will for our lives. Natural disasters and nature’s destructive forces are the result of specific conditions that are necessary to God’s providing humanity with this ideal environment.
God is not blameworthy for having created such a world, since He had a morally justifiable reason for having done so. Human existence on Earth was not intended to be permanent. Rather, the Creator intended life on Earth to serve as a temporary interval of time for the development of one’s spirit. Life on Earth is a probationary period in which people are given the opportunity to attend to their spiritual condition as it relates to God’s will for living. Natural disasters provide people with conclusive evidence that life on Earth is brief and uncertain. God has even harnessed natural calamities for the purpose of punishing wickedness (see Miller, “Is America’s Iniquity...?”, 2005). [NOTE: For further study on this thorny issue, see Thompson, 1997 and Warren, 1972.]
Christians understand that no matter how catastrophic, tragic, or disastrous an event may be, it fits into the overall framework of soul-making—preparation for one’s departure from life into eternity. Likewise, the Christian knows that although the great pain and suffering caused by natural disasters may be unpleasant, and may test one’s mettle; nevertheless, such suffering is not intrinsically evil. Nor is it a reflection on the existence of an omnibenevolent God. The only intrinsic evil is violation of God’s will. What is required of all accountable persons is obedience to God’s revealed Word (given in the Bible)—even amid pain, suffering, sickness, disease, death, and, yes, hurricanes.


“Disasters: A Deadly and Costly Toll Around the World” (1997), FEMA News, [On-line], URL: http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/stats.pdf.
“Huang He, or Hwang Ho” (2004), Britannica Student Encyclopedia, [On-line], URL: http://www.britannica.com/ebi/article?tocId=9274966.
“Hurricane Katrina” (2005), Wikipedia, [On-line], URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina.
“Hwang Ho” (2004), LoveToKnow 1911 Online Encyclopedia, [On-line], URL: http://32.1911encyclopedia.org/H/HW/HWANG_HO.htm.
Jackson, Roy (2001), “The Problem of Evil,” The Philosopher’s Magazine Online, [On-line], URL: http://www.philosophers.co.uk/cafe/rel_six.htm.
Lowder, Jeffery (2004), “Logical Arguments From Evil,” Internet Infidels, [On-line], URL: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/evil-logical.html.
Miller, Dave (2005), “Is America’s Iniquity Full,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/305.
Thompson, Bert (1997), “Divine Benevolence, Human Suffering, and Intrinsic Value,” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/198.
Warren, Thomas (1972), Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).

Britain as Evidence for the Flood by Kyle Butt, M.A.


Britain as Evidence for the Flood

by  Kyle Butt, M.A.

On July 18, 2007, Nature magazine’s news writer Quirin Schiermeier reported on a scientific study that has made headlines around the world. Since the 1980s, various scientists have proposed that the island of England was created by flooding. Recently, Sanjeev Gupta, from the Imperial College of London, and his research team explored the geological features in and around the island. From the study, Sanjeev and colleagues discovered some very interesting features that led them to an even more interesting conclusion.
Schiermeier wrote that Gupta and his team “used data from the UK Hydrographic Office, collected for the purpose of ensuring safe navigation, to map the sea floor.... More recent data was collected by ships equipped with GPS and high-resolution acoustic measurement devices” (2007). From the data, Gupta and his co-researchers concluded: “The data show a collection of landforms that, taken together, indicate a catastrophic flood origin” (Gupta, et al., 2007). They further stated: “Our study provides the first direct evidence that a megaflood event was responsible for carving the English Channel valley network” (2007). [NOTE: It might surprise the reader that, although megafloods are so massive, geological records of their impact are often subtle and difficult to identify according to Gupta and his colleagues (Schiermeier, 2007).]
How big do the researchers estimate that this “megaflood event” would have been? Associated Press writer Thomas Wagner explained: “The flood unleashed about 35 million cubic feet of water per second, 100 times greater than the water discharge of the Mississippi River” (2007). Philip Gibbard, a geologist from Oxford University, noted: “It is no exaggeration to say that this Channel flood was probably...one of the largest ever identified...(and) it had profound long-term geographical consequences” (as quoted in Wagner, 2007). Gibbard further commented: “This was perhaps the biggest flood on Earth we have evidence for” (as quoted in Schiermeier, 2007). Science reporter Jonathan Amos noted that not only was the flood huge, “at its peak, it is believed that the megaflood could have lasted several months” (2007).
Gupta’s article in Nature consists primarily of detailing the geographical and geological features that led the team to conclude that a huge flood was responsible causing Britain to be an island. As with most information reported in such peer-reviewed science journals, however, the article turns to hypothesizing about the cause and timing of the huge flood. Supposedly, the flood was linked to events that happened about 400,000 years ago, and a second catastrophic occurrence about 200,000 years ago. Victor Baker, of the University of Arizona in Tucson, commented that Gupta and his team made a strong case for a huge flood, but he also concluded that “the complex issue of timing the events is the main caveat of the otherwise convincing study” (Schiermeier, 2007). In essence, then, we have overwhelming evidence that a huge flood caused the geological formation in and around England, but we are not sure exactly when or how this gigantic inundation occurred.
To the Bible student, evidence such as this is not at all surprising. The geological features formed by a massive flood that could have lasted several months and displaced 35 million cubic feet of water per second fits perfectly into the biblical account of the worldwide Flood as recorded in Genesis chapters 7 and 8. The biblical text notes that “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:11-12). As a result, the “waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth.... And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered.... And the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days” (Genesis 7:18-19,24).
What would a person expect to find if a flood like the one described in Genesis actually took place? The exact type of evidence that Gupta and his fellow researchers reported in Nature. Add to that the convincing evidence of the various flood legends that circulate worldwide (see Lyons and Butt, 2003), and you have a remarkably strong case verifying the Genesis Flood. People who refuse to recognize the weight of this evidence fall into the same category as the gainsayers about whom the apostle Peter wrote. He stated that there would be those who “willingly forget” that the ancient world was flooded by water (1 Peter 3:5-6). To deny the global Flood of Genesis, a person must intentionally choose to reject the evidence available from both the Bible and accurate geology.


Amos, Jonathan (2007), “Megaflood ‘Made Island Britain’,” BBC News, July 18, [On-line], URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6904675.stm.
Gupta, Sanjeev et al. (2007), “Catastrophic Flooding Origin of Shelf Valley Systems in the English Channel,” Nature, 448:342-345, July 19, [On-line], URL: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v448/n7151/abs/nature06018.html.
Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (2003), “Legends of the Flood,” Reason and Revelation, 23[11]:102-103, November, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/40.
Scheirmeier, Quirin (2007), “The Megaflood that Made Britain an Island,” Nature News, July 18, [On-line], URL: http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070716/full/070716-11.html#B2.
Wagner, Thomas (2007), “Study: Flooding Left Britain an Island” [On-line], URL: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070719/ap_on_sc/britain_megafloods;_ylt =Akls1sqXJTH2y_VwjtoIPiLMWM0F.

Did Jesus Break the Sabbath? by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Did Jesus Break the Sabbath?

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

One common misconception regarding the behavior of Jesus is that, on occasion, in healing the sick and performing other benevolent actions, He broke the Sabbath in order to accommodate the higher law of love. This viewpoint leaves the impression that law is sometimes, if not frequently, antithetical to being loving. It implies that sometimes breaking God’s laws is necessary in order to be loving. This notion, of course, is flawed and contrary to Bible teaching. As Paul explained to the Romans: “he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments…are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). Paul meant that when you obey the law’s directives concerning how to conduct yourself toward your neighbor, you will be engaging in loving behavior. To love, one must enact God’s laws.
The fact is the perfect Son of God obeyed all of God’s laws, never violating even one Divine precept (Hebrews 4:15). Sin is defined as violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4). Since Jesus was sinless, He never broke God’s laws. Hence, He could not have broken the Sabbath. Those who leveled such an accusation against Him were, in fact, mistaken.

the pool

Take, for example, the incident in John 5, when Jesus caused a man, who suffered from a 38-year-old ailment, to rise from his bed of confinement and walk. The fact that Jesus’ action took place on the Sabbath drew the criticism of the Jews who promptly informed the man, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed” (vs. 10). Many would suppose that Jesus would not be concerned with careful conformity to the Law. They would assume that He would chide the Jews for their “nit-picky, legalistic” approach to religion, and that He would be quite willing to dismiss the requirements of the Law in order to give priority to human need in the name of compassion. But this viewpoint is fraught with error, not the least of which is its demeaning assessment of law—law which God, Himself, authored. Law, according to God, is given for human well-being (Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:13; Proverbs 29:18). God’s law is “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12), and serves divinely intended, positive purposes (e.g., Romans 3:20). Indeed, Jesus’ handling of His critics illustrates the high regard He had for law, the necessity of carefully conforming to that law, and the critical importance of applying it accurately.
In John 7, calling attention to the miracle He performed in chapter 5, Jesus offered a logical rebuttal to the allegation that He violated the Sabbath. Here is that argument placed in syllogistic form:
Premise 1: If the Law of Moses requires the circumcision of a male infant on the 8th day after birth—even when the 8th day falls on the Sabbath—then healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.
Premise 2: The Law of Moses requires the circumcision of a male infant on the 8th day after birth—even when the 8th day fell on the Sabbath.
Conclusion: Therefore, healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.
Jesus then offered a concluding admonition that cinched the validity of His argument: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (vs. 24). Making application of God’s laws based on “appearance” refers to doing so based on how things seem or look to the person making the judgment, i.e., forming an opinion based on inadequate evidence. To the contrary, to “judge with righteous judgment” means to make accurate assessments by drawing only warranted conclusions from the evidence, i.e., thinking and acting rationally. One must be very careful that he is “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB) and not “handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

The Synagogue

Another instance in which Jesus was falsely accused of breaking the Sabbath is seen on the occasion when Jesus entered the synagogue and encountered a man who had a deformed hand (Matthew 12:9-13). This circumstance prompted His enemies to ask Him a question in hopes of being able to accuse Him of breaking the Law. They asked: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Of course, they had pre-decided that the answer to the question was “no,” and that, in fact, the Law would naturally forbid such an action.
Unfortunately, the prevailing interpretation of the Law of Moses at the time, at least among the Jewish leaders, was that the Sabbath law enjoined total inactivity—as if everyone was to sit down for 24 hours and do absolutely nothing. This view was a distortion of God’s Law on the matter. The Law gave the right, even the obligation, to engage in several activities (that could rightly be designated “work”) that did not constitute violation of the Sabbath regulation. On this occasion, Jesus pinpointed one such instance: “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?” (vs. 11). Jesus was recalling a directive from the Law of Moses:
You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him. You shall do the same with his donkey, and so shall you do with his garment; with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost and you have found, you shall do likewise; you must not hide yourself. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again (Deuteronomy 22:1-4; cf. Exodus 23:4-5).
Such passages give insight into the nature of God and provide tremendous assistance in making proper application of God’s laws to everyday circumstances.
Observe that God’s laws never contradict or countermand each other. Unlike manmade laws which often manifest inconsistency and contradiction, God’s laws function in perfect harmony with each other. The Mosaic passage to which Jesus alluded demonstrates that the general principle of the cessation of usual work on the Sabbath did not conflict with any number of specific circumstances in which benevolence and compassion were to be expressed. In an agriculturally based society, a family’s survival depends on its farm animals. If a sheep, ox, or donkey were to break out of its stall, flee the premises, and then fall into a pit from which it would be unable to extricate itself, the animal would most likely die or become seriously ill if left in its predicament for 24 hours. To expend the necessary effort (i.e., “work”) to retrieve the animal from danger was not considered by God to be included in the Sabbath prohibition. Hence, Jesus stated the logical conclusion: “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?” (vs. 12). If action could be exerted to see to the well-being of a dumb animal, then obviously, God would approve of action taken to see to the physical care of a human being! Here, once again, is Jesus’ argument placed in syllogistic form:
Premise 1: If the Law of Moses requires a person to manifest care, concern, and physical effort to recover a neighbor’s escaped, endangered farm animal—even when the incident occurs on the Sabbath—then healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.
Premise 2: The Law of Moses requires a person to manifest care, concern, and physical effort to recover a neighbor’s escaped, endangered farm animal—even when the incident occurs on the Sabbath.
Conclusion: Therefore, healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.
The logic is penetrating and decisive. Indeed, “they could not answer Him regarding these things” (Luke 14:6; see also Luke 6:6-11). Far from suggesting that law is unimportant and may be ignored under the guise of “human need,” or implying that humans can break the “letter of the law” in order to keep the “spirit of the law” (see Miller, 2003), Jesus demonstrated that inherently built into God’s laws are all concerns deemed by Deity to be necessary. The benevolent, loving thing to do will always harmonize with God’s laws, since “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10), i.e., every truly loving action has already been defined by God in His legal admonitions.

The Grain Field

A final instance in which Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath is seen in the grain field incident (Matthew 12:1-8). Many commentators automatically assume that the charge leveled against Jesus’ disciples by the Pharisees was a scripturally valid charge. However, when the disciples picked and consumed a few heads of grain from a neighbor’s field, they were doing that which was perfectly lawful (Deuteronomy 23:25). Working would have been a violation of the Sabbath law. If they had pulled out a sickle and begun harvesting the grain, they would have been violating the Sabbath law. However, they were picking strictly for the purpose of eating immediately—an action that was in complete harmony with Mosaic legislation (“but that which everyone must eat”—Exodus 12:16). A modern equivalent might be reaching for a box of cereal on the pantry shelf, pouring it in a bowl, retrieving the milk from the refrigerator, pouring it on the cereal, and eating it. The Pharisees’ charge that the disciples were doing something “not lawful” on the Sabbath was simply an erroneous charge (cf. Matthew 15:2).
Jesus commenced to counter their accusation with masterful, penetrating logic, advancing successive rebuttals. Before He presented specific scriptural refutation of their charge, He first employed a rational device designated by logicians as argumentum ad hominem (literally “argument to the man”). He used the “circumstantial” form of this argument, which enabled Him to “point out a contrast between the opponent’s lifestyle and his expressed opinions, thereby suggesting that the opponent and his statements can be dismissed as hypocritical” (Baum, 1975, p. 470, emp. added). This variety of argumentation spotlights the opponent’s inconsistency, and “charges the adversary with being so prejudiced that his alleged reasons are mere rationalizations of conclusions dictated by self-interest” (Copi, 1972, p. 76).
Observe carefully the technical sophistication inherent in Jesus’ strategy. He called attention to the case of David (vss. 3-4). When David was in exile, literally running for his life to escape the jealous, irrational rage of Saul, he and his companions arrived in Nob, tired and hungry (1 Samuel 21). He lied to the priest and conned him into giving to his traveling companions the showbread, or “bread of the Presence” (12 flat cakes arranged in two rows on the table within the Tabernacle [Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-6])—bread that legally was reserved only for the priests (Leviticus 24:8-9; cf. Exodus 29:31-34; Leviticus 8:31; 22:10ff.). David clearly violated the law. Did the Pharisees condemn him? Absolutely not! They revered David. They held him in high regard. In fact, nearly a thousand years after his passing, his tomb was still being tended (Acts 2:29; cf. 1 Kings 2:10; Nehemiah 3:16; Josephus, 1974a, 13.8.4; 16.7.1; Josephus, 1974b, 1.2.5). On the one hand, they condemned the disciples of Jesus, who were innocent, but on the other hand, they upheld and revered David, who was guilty. Their inconsistency betrayed both their insincerity as well as their ineligibility to bring a charge against the disciples.
After exposing their hypocrisy and inconsistency, Jesus next turned to answer the charge pertaining to violating the Sabbath. He called their attention to the priests who worked in the Temple on the Sabbath (12:5; e.g., Numbers 28:9-10). The priests were “blameless”—not guilty—of violating the Sabbath law because their work was authorized to be performed on that day. As previously noted, the Sabbath law did not imply that everyone was to sit down and do nothing. The Law gave the right, even the obligation, to engage in several activities that did not constitute violation of the Sabbath regulation. Again, examples of such authorization included eating, Temple service, circumcision (John 7:22), tending to the basic care of animals (Exodus 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15), and extending kindness or assistance to the needy (Matthew 12:12; Luke 13:16; 14:1-6; John 5:5-9; 7:23). The divinely authorized Sabbath activity of the priests proved that the accusation of the Pharisees brought against Jesus’ disciples was false. [The term “profane” (vs. 5) is an example of the figure of speech known as metonymy of the adjunct in which “things are spoken of according to appearance, opinions formed respecting them, or the claims made for them” (Dungan, 1888, p. 295, emp. added). By this figure, Leah was said to be the “mother” of Joseph (Genesis 37:10), Joseph was said to be the “father” of Jesus (Luke 2:48; John 6:42), God’s preached message was said to be “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21), and angels were said to be “men” (e.g., Genesis 18:16; 19:10). Priestly activity on the Sabbath gave the appearance of violation when, in fact, it was not. Coincidentally, Bullinger classified the allusion to “profane” in this verse as an instance of catachresis, or incongruity, stating that “it expresses what was true according to the mistaken notion of the Pharisees as to manual works performed on the Sabbath” (1898, p. 676, emp. added).]
After pointing out the obvious legality of priestly effort expended on the Sabbath, Jesus stated: “But I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple” (12:6). The underlying Greek text actually has “something” instead of “One.” If priests could carry on Tabernacle/Temple service on the Sabbath, surely Jesus’ own disciples were authorized to engage in service in the presence of the Son of God! After all, service directed to the person of Jesus certainly is greater than the pre-Christianity Temple service conducted by Old Testament priests.
For all practical purposes, the discussion was over. Jesus had disproved the claim of the Pharisees. But He did not stop there. He took His methodical confrontation to yet another level. He penetrated beneath the surface argument that the Pharisees had posited and focused on their hearts: “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (12:7). In this verse, Jesus quoted from an Old Testament context (Hosea 6:6) in which the prophet of old struck a blow against the mere external, superficial, ritualistic observance of some laws, to the neglect of heartfelt, sincere, humble attention to other laws while treating people properly. The comparison is evident. The Pharisees who confronted Jesus’ disciples were not truly interested in obeying God’s law. They were masquerading under that pretense (cf. Matthew 15:1-9; 23:3). But their problem did not lie in an attitude of desiring careful compliance with God’s law. Rather, their zest for law keeping was hypocritical and unaccompanied by their own obedience and concern for others. They possessed critical hearts and were more concerned with scrutinizing and blasting people than with honest, genuine applications of God’s directives for the good of mankind.
They had neutralized the true intent of divine regulations, making void the Word of God (Matthew 15:6). They had ignored and skipped over the significant laws that enjoined justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). Consequently, though their attention to legal detail was laudable, their misapplication of it, as well as their own neglect and rejection of some aspects of it, made them inappropriate and unqualified promulgators of God’s laws. Indeed, they simply did not fathom the teaching of Hosea 6:6 (cf. Micah 6:6-8). “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” is a Hebraism (cf. Matthew 9:13) [McGarvey, 1875, pp. 82-83]. God was not saying that He did not want sacrifices offered under the Old Testament economy (notice the use of “more” in Hosea 6:6). Rather, He was saying that He did not want sacrifice alone. He wanted mercy with sacrifice. Internal motive and attitude are just as important to God as the external compliance with specifics.
Samuel addressed this same attitude shown by Saul: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Samuel was not minimizing the essentiality of sacrifice as required by God. Rather, he was convicting Saul of the pretense of using one aspect of God’s requirements, i.e., alleged “sacrifice” of the best animals (1 Samuel 15:15), as a smoke screen for violating God’s instructions, i.e., failing to destroy all the animals (1 Samuel 15:3). If the Pharisees had understood these things, they would not have accused the disciples of breaking the law when the disciples, in fact, had not done so. They “would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7, emp. added).
While the disciples were guilty of violating an injunction that the Pharisees had concocted (supposing the injunction to be a genuine implication of the Sabbath regulation), the disciples were not guilty of a violation of Sabbath law. The Pharisees’ propensity for enjoining their uninspired and erroneous interpretations of Sabbath law upon others was the direct result of cold, unmerciful hearts that found a kind of sadistic glee in binding burdens upon people for burdens’ sake rather than in encouraging people to obey God genuinely.
Jesus placed closure on His exchange with the Pharisees on this occasion by asserting the accuracy of His handling of this entire affair: “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (vs. 8). In other words, Jesus affirmed His deity and, therefore, His credentials and authoritative credibility for making accurate application of the Law of Moses to the issue at hand. One can trust Jesus’ exegesis and application of Sabbath law; after all, He wrote it!
Matthew 12 does not teach that Jesus broke the Sabbath or sanctions occasional violation of His laws under extenuating circumstances. His laws are never optional, relative, or situational—even though people often find God’s will inconvenient and difficult (e.g., John 6:60; Matthew 11:6; 15:12; 19:22; Mark 6:3; 1 Corinthians 1:23). The truth of the matter is that if the heart is receptive to God’s will, His will is “easy” (Matthew 11:30), “not too hard” (Deuteronomy 30:11), nor “burdensome” (1 John 5:3). If, on the other hand, the heart resists His will and does not desire to conform to it, then God’s words are “offensive” (Matthew 15:12), “hard,” (John 6:60), “narrow” (Matthew 7:14), and like a hammer that breaks in pieces and grinds the resister into powder (Jeremiah 23:29; Matthew 21:44).


The religion of Christ surpasses all human religion. It is rooted in the very essence of Deity. When Jesus took on human form on Earth, He showed Himself to be the Master logician and exegete Who always conducted Himself in a rational manner and conformed His actions to divine law. May we do likewise.
[NOTE: For more on Jesus’ handling of the Sabbath, see Miller, 2004.]


Baum, Robert (1975), Logic (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston).
Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Copi, Irving (1972), Introduction To Logic (New York: Macmillan).
Dungan, D.R. (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Josephus, Flavius (1974a reprint), Antiquities of the Jews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Josephus, Flavius (1974b reprint), Wars of the Jews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Miller, Dave (2003), “The Spirit and Letter of the Law,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=1225.
Miller, Dave (2004), “Situation Ethics—Extended Version,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=7&article=645&topic=38.



No “cure” here!
As sure as it’s true that the only real cure for death is resurrection the only real cure for all our ills is the actual curing of all our ills. Sermons, booklets, books, inspirational classes and seminars, profound challenges from cheerful people who are themselves great sufferers—these sometimes do and often don’t really “help”. Whether they do or don’t help, the sufferer is still left with the blood cancer or the crazed and brutal government or the beloved but dead child that they now sob over. The worker who’s just been “let go” and will now lose the family home and doesn’t know what he, his wife and three children are going to do, the helpless girls forced into prostitution by thugs without feeling or conscience, the desperate families of drug addicts—they’d rather be without the tragedy as have a truth to help them live with it; they want the loss avoided and the pain to stop!
All the “prayer warriors” in the world don’t make a bit of difference to the concrete situations of multiplied millions. Despite all the prayers and the longing, the sobs and the begging, marriages fall apart or continue to be relationships of abuse, infants live in agony for mere days before expiring, aged men and women live for years tormented and oppressed by heartless megalomaniacs and cruel, raping and torturing militias that keep them in power.

There’s pain and loss, God or no God
If you believe in God you get cancer or the one you love most in life dies or, worse, deserts you. If you don’t believe in God you get cancer or the one you love most in life dies, or worse, deserts you. No one’s exempt from trouble and finally death.
It could be you’re an atheist who still holds on to some common sense and refuse to believe that we can obliterate all that devastates us in life and you just accept the reality of inevitable loss. You might be one of those atheists that believe that one day we will obliterate all that troubles us. In the meantime, silly or realistic, while we’re becoming gods, millions go down to nothingness after a life of torment to join the billions who’ve gone down before them. Still, you get cancer or the one you love most in life dies, or worse, abandons you.
You might believe there is a God with unlimited power though you don’t pretend to live for him. You might well despise him because he’s doing nothing about your suffering and loss and what’s more he’s doing nothing about the world’s great sufferings and wrongs. So you dismiss him from your thoughts or rage against him for his heartlessness. Still, you get cancer or the ones you love most in life die, or worse, use and then desert you.
Maybe you believe in God and have lived a life of decency and kindness, with a conscious effort to please him. Then the thing you feared most falls on you and you call on all the “prayer warriors” who (you’re told) will wrestle God into a “yes” to remove the causes of the agony. But nothing changes; you lose your health or your family or your freedom or your job and your home and, perhaps worse, your assurance that God cares for you. You see many others delivered from trouble—at least temporarily—and you are left sobbing and desperate in yours.
God or no God—there’s universal agony!

So what are we to do?
There's nothing at all profound in the remarks that follow. I'm just another person who has given some sustained thought to the suffering of the human family that lives in the presence of the God of the Bible and feels the need to speak about it.
An OT professor told me (and about two thousand others) that we shouldn't talk about such matters; we should just get involved in the lives of people and help sustain them in their need, showing compassion and giving practical help where we can. [He said it as though we didn’t know we should give “practical” help where we can; help that would include things like sympathy or food or clothing or shelter or a job or a listening ear.] But, bless me, most of the real sufferers I've come across in life want to talk about such matters. If speakers or authors don't bring the subject up the sufferers do and, in fact, Rabbi Kushner was close to correct when he said that's all they want to talk about; wherever the religious discussion starts, he said, it ends up on why bad things happen to good people.
The OT is filled with “why?” because people believed God had made a commitment to them and it looked like he hadn't been faithful to it. To say we shouldn't talk about suffering is astonishing, especially when it comes from an OT scholar.
   The dialogue about God and human suffering didn’t begin with the 21st century and it won’t end with it.

We should talk even though talk is limited

When we talk we’ll often be talking to people hanging by their thumbs. If we don’t talk we’ll be silent in the presence of people who are hanging by their thumbs. It’s better to talk! It’s better to talk if we have something worthwhile saying!

People hanging by their thumbs don’t make good listeners and people who want to make students out of people hanging that way have a massive job on their hands. So talk like this should be modest in its expectations and even then it’s best addressed to people who aren’t yet in the agony of desperation. Let me say it again, people in agony don’t want “explanations” (good, bad or indifferent)—they just want the pain to stop or the crisis to be averted!
That makes sense but for millions it isn’t going to happen! The pain will continue and what they fear most will happen.  And maybe at this very moment you’re one of those millions.

But what’s the point of talking if…?
But what’s the point of “talking” if the cancer’s still there or marriage is the hell you live in or the debt is still mounting or the daughter’s still in the hands of pimps and abusers who have enslaved her?
I’ve learned long ago not to believe that just because people like me are talking that people are listening. Often they’re not! Often they’re not because the situation is so pain-filled that they presently can’t!
If the only thing hurting people want is the immediate cessation of the pain then for them talking is pointless at present. In their fever of desperation their minds will be running everywhere looking and listening for a “cure” even while we’re talking.

The astonishing gallantry of humans
The astonishingly good news in the middle of all this bad news is that humans are incredibly brave, even gallant.
Setting aside the level of suffering that is so extreme that it leaves us speechless we see humans day after day, year in and year out, wrestle against odds that we’re sure would drive us over the edge but hasn’t managed to do it to them—yet.
To people like that (and they number in the millions!) we have the opportunity to speak about the God of the Hebrew—Christian scriptures; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
They will be able to give us a hearing! They’ll do it not because we’re smart or eloquent or profess to have all the answers but precisely because they’re gallant and because like most of us in life they want to “make some sense” of the harsh realities in a world governed by a God who said he “loves” us all. Up till now they refuse to believe that this is “as good as it gets” and they’re looking for a reason to support that kind of gallant defiance. The gospel gives just such a reason (1 Peter 3:15, which is set in a suffering context).

The reality and proof of this gallantry
The Bible insists that God made us “humans” and that means we enjoy “pleasure” so we try normally to avoid what’s truly “unpleasant”. [God doesn’t object to that—he made us that way.] Just the same, if we come to think that enduring even a marked degree of what is distressing is for a greater good we gladly take it on. Just look around you at parents who choose burdens for the children’s sake or in times of war or profound need in distant lands. Of course we’re selfish but that isn’t the entire story about humans and it is nonsense to say it is. What’s more, to deny the existence of kindness, unselfishness, compassion and bravery across the board in the human family is to rob God of praise for the goodness he has generated and nurtured in humans (see Acts 17:25 and note “everything else”).
Because this is true about multitudes of suffering humans they give us the chance to “talk” and “make some sense” of the chaos and pain in the world. Of course, the vast majority of them who already trust God will continue to trust God with or without our “talk” but there’s no doubt about this: Truth makes free and if we can offer truth about God, his nature, character and purpose, the life of the suffering believer can be even richer and more peaceful in trouble and even more of a voice for God and good.

We won’t have all the “answers” but…
It’s in the context of suffering that 1 Peter 3:15 urges believers to be ready to give a good response to those who question them about their faith during trials (see 3:14-18).
It seems foolish to me that we will hunt the scriptures for “answers” to all manner of moral questions—even questions about truly exceptional circumstances—and we spend little or no time developing a rich theology of suffering. Here is something the entire human family experiences—no exceptions—and the most of what we do in the face of broken hearts and devastated lives is sympathetic hand-wringing. If we don’t do that we tell people to avoid studying or talking about the matter and “pray your way through.” If we don’t do that we dabble with verses here and there and call it “teaching”.
We don’t need to know “all the answers” and as sure as the sun rises in the east we won’t come up with all the “answers”. But that doesn’t excuse us the prayerful patient study that seeks the mind of God to help sustain the troubled.
Compassionate humans are called to give many kinds of help to the weak and needy (and they will!)—that’s written all over Matthew 25, but to deny these suffers the “help” that comes from knowing that God is at work in and through their suffering is to deny them help!
To give the suffering warm hugs, food, shelter and whatever else we can wisely provide is imperative but we’re to give them fresh courage and strength in God as Jonathan gave to David when he was hunted like an animal and fear-filled (1 Samuel 23:16). To have these people survive only on our handouts (gracious and generous though they are) is a great blunder. We must link them to God who is in and behind these practical gifts. To change their situations—where we can—is important but there will be a time when we can’t do that and that’s why it’s important that we make the attempt via truth to transform and strengthen them and enable them to live on.
If they’re in for a long rugged journey we need to empower them and give them an eye for the future, the patient heart of a pilgrim. John Masefield was right, especially right for those whose lives are not sunny and pleasant and will not be while this world stands as it is.

Not for us are content, and quiet, and peace
of mind
For we go seeking a city we shall never find.
There is no solace on earth for us—for such as
Who search for a hidden city we shall never
Only the road, and then the dawn, the sun,
and the wind, and the rain.
And the watch fire under the stars, and sleep,
and the road again.
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
We travel the dusty road, till the light of the
day is dim,
And the sunset shows us spires, away on the
world’s rim.

To give rich truth to hurting souls and to help turn them into “brave-hearts” is no little gift! When people like that see the spellbinding “City of God” they’ll thank all who helped them get there with gracious gifts of food and shelter and sympathy. They’ll also thank those who strengthened them in God with the gospel of God. We must have something to say!

What are we to say?
John Mark Hicks, theologian and experienced sufferer, who has given this subject prolonged critical reflection, has come to the conclusion that what people really need is a proclamation rather than a theodicy (a rational explanation that vindicates God). It’s a gospel people need; a message from and about God that sustains and liberates even during sore trials.

Begin with God
    It’s no surprise that many people will see God in light of life’s harsh realities. [“A God who would allow a world to be as pain-filled and unjust as this is must be…”] How could that be surprising?
   Still, however sensible it sounds that’s not where the Christian should begin. The Christian should see the harsh realities of the planet in light of God rather than the reverse. [“If God is like Jesus Christ he must be…”] The Christian has no other ground to stand on so as a matter of fact the Christian can do nothing else but start with God, his character and purpose.

Begin with which God?
In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 Paul says that to others there may be many gods and lords but to Christians there is but one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. [Here he gives us new insight into The Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4.]
The only God the Christian knows is the God who has made himself known to us finally in and as Jesus Christ who said, “If you know me you know the Father; if you see me you see the Father” (John 14:1, 7, 9).
God had made himself known in creation and in his redemptive work with Israel but we didn’t really “see” him until he fully revealed himself in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3). If we can be brave enough to trust to that even in the face of crushing trouble and sore years we have what we need most because the reality of Jesus and his Story gives a complexion to the world’s great suffering and wrong.

Better no Plutarch than an evil one
“I for my part would much rather have men say of me that there never was a Plutarch at all, nor is now, than to say that Plutarch is a man inconstant, fickle, easily moved to anger, revengeful for trifling provocations, vexed at small things.” In our better moments we all feel that way and in our thoughtful moments we’d say the same about God. Better that there was no God at all than that there was a self-obsessed, tyrannical, spiteful, arbitrary or heartless one. That’s why some have said that if God wasn’t like Jesus we’d throw him off the throne of our hearts and put Jesus there!

God’s view of himself
God was well aware of what he had done to the planet in Noah’s day and what he had done to Sodom and Gomorrah in terrifying judgment. But when Moses asked God to show him his glory he gives him a revelation of his goodness and describes himself as “a God compassionate and gracious, ever faithful and true, remaining faithful to thousands, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin…” (Exodus 33:18-23 and 34:5-7.)
Though he says he’s willing to have the consequences of sins work their way down through the generations (34:7) and though he knows of the “tsunami” of planetary proportions that he sent in Noah’s day he still describes himself as gracious, compassionate and faithful. That’s a real challenge to faith. To look at what he’s done and then look at him with skepticism in our eyes and have him look back at us saying, “Yes, I am compassionate and gracious and faithful; will you believe that?”—that’s the challenge.
He’s willing to risk our unbelief and rage and jeering—and he gets them! But what if he knows things that we don’t? What if he purposes wondrous things beyond our imagining—a future that’s sin and oppression-free, joy-filled, where warm righteousness reigns in the human family and disease and death are abolished? What if that’s what he’s bringing about and he is working it out even in the bedlam and chaos of this world? When having trusted him we find ourselves in such a world, astonished and forever safe will we not look at him then and hear him say, “Yes, well, I always knew that you couldn’t fully believe me but you will from now on, won’t you?”

God in view of Jesus, his life and death
The future will vindicate God but we’re not left only to the future. Whatever we humans might have thought of God prior to Jesus (and we were given reasons to trust him then) he vindicated himself in Jesus and his sufferings and death. If having seen Jesus and come to know God, really seen and come to know him—after that, if we still doubt God, he has no other “argument” that will persuade us to trust him. We’ve beaten him.
Peter in Acts 10:37-38 summarized the life of Jesus this way: “You know what has happened…How that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
This text isn’t only about Jesus; it’s about the God who empowered Jesus to give us a sample of what will be universally true and complete in a coming day. He went about healing and rescuing because God was with him!

Jesus’ view of God
The glorious future to which God is bringing us will vindicate him and the incredible past of the person and suffering of Jesus has definitively vindicated him but Jesus insisted that all around us were “proofs” that God was to be trusted. (Incredible or not, one of his “proofs” is the existence and life of his Body, the Church, in which the Lord Jesus now rehearses and re-tells his redeeming work and purpose in each generation.)
Jesus told believers that when they prayed they should say, “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9-13.) He said if sinful human fathers wouldn’t cruelly mock their children in their needs but would care for them that God would do no less (Matthew 7:9-11)? “If you, bad as you are, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”
This raises questions we could perhaps look at another time; the point here is that Jesus says that if we can only open our hearts and minds then the everyday sight of caring fathers and mothers is a witness to the caring character of God. He said the proofs for God’s goodness and kindness are everywhere around us, birds, fields, flowers and family love. (Every word of Acts 17:24-29 is an education and see Isaiah 49:14-16!)

Anything that contradicts, “Our Father”
In Edna Lyall’s novel We Two, the family had been to church and heard the preacher describe God as heartless and cruel and it led young Ralph to say, “I don’t like God.” His father Donovan asked the little boy what he’d do if he heard someone say that he (Donovan) was anything like that or that he’d stop loving him. “I’d knock them down,” he said fiercely, with fists clenched. “Why?” the father asked. “Because it would be a wicked lie,” Ralph said passionately. “That’s right,” his father said, “but you just believed something of God that you wouldn’t believe of me… Never believe anything that contradicts, ‘Our Father’.”
Jesus would not only approve of that—he would insist on it as he did in his own life and teaching; in truth it is his teaching and Lyall is only repeating it. This is especially good news for we need to remember this: The God who has been the God of our fathers, the God who is our God will be the God of our children. Nothing’s going to change (see Hebrews 13:8).

The wreck of a planet
If our suffering is not so extreme that we have the energy and desire to look for “some sense” in it all, the only place we’ll find it is in God because only God is “big” enough to exercise control in human affairs and if he’s not bringing us to a new heaven and earth in which righteousness and joy and peace prevails then nobody is. If we can believe that he is doing just that, then the astonishing mess the world is in would take on a new complexion.

Horror at the side of the road
Picture this true-to-life situation; something that happens again and again and again every day somewhere in this wild world.
A lady and her little girl are in their car in a ditch; a man runs up and tries to drag the door open but can’t; begins to scream at the woman through the window, the child is silent and the mother is yelling for help; he smashes the window, pulls the door open and drags the woman from the car on to the ground. The child is now deathly silent and the man cuts her throat and then cuts off a hand.
He’s a paramedic! They’ve been in a terrible wreck, the car is about to go up in flames and the child couldn’t breathe and was trapped. [A surgeon friend of mine was in this very situation and did what under other circumstances would have murderous.] In such situations the “cure” is ghastly but those who love the victim most would urge the rescuer to get on with it.
The “big picture” transforms what appears to be callous and heartless into a labor of love.

The moral wreck of a planet
What if it’s true that the human family has had a vast moral wreck and the “divine paramedic” is doing for humanity what only he can do? But even if we believed the wreck of the universe to be real, might we not think the awful pain and loss of the world is “overkill”? I’m certain we would and I’m certain many of us do think just that. I used the moral wreck metaphor to express the world’s situation to a dear friend. He immediately accepted the point but his first response was: “overkill”.
Maybe if we knew what God knows about sin and the depth of its roots and devastating power; maybe if we knew as he knows that sin is the cosmic parasite that feeds on us and will not allow us hope or health unless it is dealt with ruthlessly and finally—maybe if we knew all that we wouldn’t think “overkill”. Maybe then we’d urge him on as adoring families urge the paramedics to do whatever it takes to bring life and health even when it horrifies us.
What if it’s true that God is dealing with the central and “behind the scenes” cause of the human family’s ceaseless woes?

The saving of “a world”
It cannot be otherwise than that we think first of those nearest and dearest to us and it’s no surprise that our pain and loss is what we’d like God to deal with—immediately! But we need someone to remind us—however painful it sounds—that God is working to save “a world”; an entire human family and not just a great number of individuals.
Sometimes human fathers can deal with specific issues involving only one of the children but almost all the time each child must be worked with as one member of a family!
To blame humans for the agony of the world makes some sense but who would allow morally -crazed villains such power in the world if he could prevent it? Besides, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornado, earthquakes, floods and disease don’t care who is running things in a country or nation—who controls them?
Millions of us insist that God is not “to blame” for the tragedies, catastrophes and evils in the world. Yet when we’re done placing the blame here or there we end up looking to heaven and in our pain we ask God what he’s up to and why he doesn’t do something about it all. In our bones we know that somewhere in the middle of all this sobbing, injury, disease, loss and loneliness God is playing a part or should be playing a part.
We’re not to be reluctant in finally holding God in some way responsible. Not only can he bear the “accusation” he takes it on himself. Job’s friends kept saying it wasn’t really God who put Job through his trial and Job kept yelling that it was God and God makes it clear that Job was right (see Job 1:9-12, 20-22; 2:3-6, 10 and 42:7, 11).
Many authors and ministers are afraid of God getting bad press so they keep shoving God out the side door and telling everyone, “God didn’t do that; he wouldn’t do such a thing.” (A prominent author of “Good Grief” told me that when Job said God did it he was wrong and was speaking lies.) They worry about people thinking God did it and God now and again worries that people will think he didn’t do it (be sure to see Deuteronomy 32:26-27). God’s judgments on the human family are always redemptive

The Bible versus life’s harsh realities

If you read the Bible you have to come
away thinking that God is supremely interested in the life of each one of us. Then there are those scattered but critically situated texts about prayer that seem to assure us that God hears our every prayer and that he will grant what we ask. Add to that the mass of books, written by people who say they are speaking for God, that assure us that our reading of the Bible is accurate. (“No, you haven’t misunderstood it; that is what it says.”)
So here comes Francois who wrestles with that way of reading scripture and those claims made by confident authors. Because the texts and the books by cheer-filled authors don’t square with the realities he and a host of his friends and acquaintances he gives up on the biblical God.
The choice seems clear: believe the Bible and act blind, deaf and dumb when life crushes texts or believe pitiless life and have the courage to scrap the Bible and all these cheery books.

Getting as much as you can of what
                     you want
Of course, masses of us couldn’t care less. We’re off to the bars, the partying, the fishing, the travel or television re-runs in a comfortable chair with a good lie-in on Sunday mornings. We're too busy working five days a week or raising kids or both (and more) to want to bother. But there’s a host of people that work equally hard and face important responsibilities in life and they care if God exists and they care if the Bible is believable or not.

No simple answers
I’m one of those that think the Bible tells us the truth and that the harsh realities of life also tell us truth. I think our difficulties are the result—in part—from our inability to understand both life and scripture and God’s overarching purpose that climaxes if the Lord Jesus.
Our difficulties will always be with us and no one, not even God himself, can soothe our raw emotions and ease our mass of exposed nerve-endings. Bless me, if more than two thousand years ago the psalms and the prophets are filled with protest and people asking God and one another for explanations what would make us think we’d come across simple answers?

It isn’t “explanations” we want
It isn’t that God hasn’t spoken clearly; it’s that he speaks to sinful and hurting people and it’s hard for people like us to hear even if Jesus himself is talking. People hanging by their thumbs aren’t the best students. But we’re not all in such torment that we’re incapable of reflecting and listening. As pained as Francois is he still asks questions and levels his protests. Some poor souls don’t have the time or energy to do even that. They only have the time to crawl into some hiding place before the Darfur rapists and murderers come around again; in Zimbabwe they only have the time to dig in the ground for mice and roots to feed their family and keep it alive or in some parts of Haiti they cook and eat soil. And nearer home vile people do the unspeakable to the defenseless who don’t want “answers” and wouldn’t understand them if you offered them; they just want someone to put a stop to their torment. There are some tortured souls whose experience is so extreme that we feel even to speak is obscene so we look at them—speechless. But for those whose lives are hard but not so hard that they can’t ask questions the wrestling is legitimate and warranted even though the gallant suffering of many around them makes the questioner wonder if they aren’t wimps to moan and lament.

Is the God of the Bible a heavenly
God has spoken clearly! He hasn’t spoken clearly on every conceivable question. He has said enough for us to work with. We don’t like the fact that God hasn’t spoken on every question we would like to ask, and that’s understandable. But I think that’s only part of a part of the problem. We don’t like it that he hasn’t said enough but we like even less much of what he has said. We go through and pick out the things that please and assure us and pay little or no attention to what he has said that we don’t want to hear.
But it’s worse than that. We who say we speak for himdon’t like a lot of what he says. What’s more, we’re not prepared to say many of the things he has said and said plainly. We come across people who don’t like much of what they hear in scripture and we hurry to assure them that that isn’t what the scriptures say. “Oh, no, God wouldn’t say something like that!” we tell them. We meet people who don’t like what they see in life and we hurry to assure them that God has nothing to do with things that are unpleasant. We who say we speak for God and scripture tell some biblical truths and rework the rest so that it suits the critics or the peeved or ourselves. We speak some truths about life and “explain” the rest in an attempt to please everyone but the God we say sent us to speak for him. We present “a biblical” picture of God and how he relates to the human race that is neither true to the whole counsel of God or life as it comes to us.
Some of the disappointment, desperation and pain (or at least their intensity) that suffering people endure rises because of the difference between their expectations and the reality they live with. We teach them to expect certain things and when they don’t arrive as promised they’re gutted. [You can see this in its most obvious form when people go to these big-wheeling “healers” and are diverted into a side tent or building and never get to see “the main man”. Or those that are bundled off the stage; assured that they’re healed when nothing’s happened and everyone concerned knows it!] I would guess that by far the bulk of the disappointment and pain that Western believers experience comes when the biblical promises fail—when God let’s you down.

Still, if we could just make sense of it
But here we go again, “explaining” why the promises aren’t fulfilled. Why doesn’t God just fulfill the promises and we wouldn’t need “explanations”? For those who have no time or interest in “explanations” the Bible has nothing to say, so you can be sure I have nothing to say and reading this is a waste of precious time. I can speak a little from my own limited experience and say that “explanation” has made some of my life much more bearable. I’ve known a little pain and disappointment down the years and even though I had explanations, now and then I’ve sobbed because the explanations didn’t remove the experience of hurt but they threw light on the hurt so that it didn’t consume me. Tens of millions experience that every day. If we can just “make sense” or get a glimpse of “purpose” it makes it easier to endure—easier but not always “easy”. If our child’s surgery is purely routine and he or she dies during it—we’re devastated, even more so than if we’d been told it was a touch-and-go operation. The husband or wife we love brings down the curtain on our marriage because we “cannot” behave—we’re devastated; but more so if they walked off without reason or explanation. Give us something to hold on to that makes sense and people are amazingly resilient.
I think we who talk for God and people have distorted the message in some really critical areas. I don’t believe that I have the answers for everything; I’m not even a minor verbal-messiah but I have deep convictions that enable me to work with the hurt that makes me weep; and they might be helpful to someone else. I struggle to speak to keep from saying nothing. They’re complex convictions that can’t be fully developed in a brief offering like this and you’d need to be patient even to hear them, and, then, having heard them you might well think them nonsense. But that’d be all right too; at least you would have heard them.

“Natural laws” are the will of God—

              don’t deny it

We speakers talk so much rubbish about prayer and create expectations that God nor Bible ever created. By the time we’re done talking, God dare not say “no” or we’re sure he has proved himself faithless. That isn’t the biblical doctrine of prayer! Prayer is one of those massive and grand realities God has blessed the world with but it is one reality that functions within other larger realities.
The will of God is seen in what we call “the laws of nature”. It’d be foolish to suggest that he isn’t Lord of these laws but it’s equally foolish to suggest that they aren’t an expression of his will. The water that keeps us clean is capable of drowning us precisely because it’s capable of washing us. The fire that warms and cooks our food is capable of burning us precisely because it’s capable of warming and feeding us. Two cars meeting head on at speed results in injury or death—these are the “physics” of the matter. The “laws of nature” include the laws of personal development, including environment, relationships, neural pathways, genes and the rest. These “laws” are the expressed will of God. They exist because God continuously wills them to exist. That God can work outside and above these is clear but that they’re his “normal” way of expressing himself is also clear; even when he answers prayer with a yes or no.

God can and does say “no” to personal
To say God couldn’t prevent a wreck (or a cancer or an earthquake) is nonsense but to say he must because we ask him to, that’s presumptuous. To understand a text of scripture to mean that whatever we ask for, God has already committed to give it to us is sheer nonsense.
Paul asked “three times” to have a chronic and gouging pain removed and God said no (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Isolate the prayer from the context and we’re left with a perfectly reasonable request by a good man that a miserly and unfeeling Lord refused to grant. But look how the scene changes when we note the context that shows that a “no” to Paul’s request made perfect sense and that he was glad for the no when he finally understood. Yes, but what if we can’t see how a “no” would fit into a redemptive context? What if we view our requests as trivial compared with Paul’s and can see no good reason why they got a no? What if we’ve had “no” so often that we wonder if God knows the word “yes”?

God’s ceaseless stream of “yeses”
I find all those questions sensible and reasonable—and human. But they’re questions that come from (understandably) irritated and disappointed people who are ignorant of so much of God’s cosmic purpose. [Sometimes they come from people who care nothing for God or his purposes and who just like to hear themselves talk.] In any case, believers need to remember that we’re showered with “yeses” from God day in and day out. I’m not now speaking about people in extreme poverty and danger—even if they had the time and energy to read this—they’d fling it from them and sob for it all to stop; I have the rest of us in mind. Day in and day out God gives us blessings. Clean water, fresh air, a democratic government, health, a clear mind (which we often use to criticize him), friends and acquaintances, good education, decent jobs, warm clothes, homes, parents and a mass lovely things. He knows how to say “yes” but because we’ve had a lot of “no” and have to endure severe trials we tend to forget this.

The connection’s real even when we
              can’t stomach it
And when we say we can’t see the connection between our losses, disappointments, pains and God’s cosmic purpose we’re expressing only our ignorance—pained ignorance but ignorance just the same. But because we don’t know the connection doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  What if in bringing the human family to a glorious finale that “no” is one necessary strand of God’s way of working? What if he isn’t mad at you, what if he isn’t mad at anyone at that point? What if in the “land of the Trinity” where the redemption and glorification of a sinful humanity has been planned that “no” is as much a part of the way to life for the family as “yes”? In a wise and loving human family “no” is required for many good reasons and “no” is required even to reasonable requests. Because children often have conflicting desires and needs, a “no” to someone is the wise and loving response. If only in this phase of living we had hope then every “no” would be magnified. If the final purpose was our being happy then every “no” could be a black hole that swallowed all.

If God was kind he would…
Yes, but if God’s kind he would prevent an injustice, a car wreck or a rape or a murder. Would he indeed? Did he prevent the injustice heaped on his own Son or the brutal murder of that Son? When the holy and obedient Son expressed his desire to avoid the cup, the Father refused to grant it. A kind Father would have exempted his Son from the cup! Would he indeed? It was precisely because he was a kind and Holy Father who loved all the children he created that he wouldn’t exempt this unique Son from the cup. His “no” to the Son was part of his “yes” to all his created sons and daughters. Christ’s request was perfectly reasonable, it wasn’t that he was asking for a billion dollars in a Swiss bank account; agony was tearing him apart and he asked to be released from it. If we ignore the biblical Story as a whole, if ever there was a time when a prayer should have been given the green light it was then. If you isolate his request from the larger world and vaster purpose within which it occurred you have a different prayer! Rip his prayer out of its cosmic, redemptive and holy context and it isn’t the prayer that was prayed in the garden. Place the prayer in the biblical context and the “no” becomes not only understandable, it becomes the only answer we can expect and the one we’re glad to hear.

What if it’s true that…
And what does all this prove? Well, for starters it proves that God can love supremely and say “no”. And what if it’s the case that his “no” to Jesus and his “no” to the followers of Jesus (and to his human family at large) on a host of occasions—what if they have the same nature and are part of the unfolding saving drama? What if his “no” to Christ and his no to us rise out of the same soil? What if we bear loss and pain as part of God’s redeeming agenda and method? Of course Christ is unique! But what he experienced isn’t unique—it’s because he is unique that what he shared with us in common becomes the redemption of the world. What if he continues to rehearse his suffering in those who are the body of Christ?
What if “no” to all the righteous women and men and boys and girls down the ages comes to focus and crowning glory in God’s no to the sinless Christ? What if it is part of the means by which God exposes sin, teaches utter dependence, bears the sin of the world and brings humanity to glory?
What if the pain and disappointment that the believers experience is nothing other than Christ filling up the cup of suffering that he is destined to suffer in and through his body? Compare Colossians 1:24 and Acts 9:4-5.

God’s “no” to a man who should have

                    had a “yes”

Whatever Paul’s thorn in the flesh was it was causing severe distress (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). It was “to buffet” him and the word doesn’t suggest anything like “inconvenience”. The very reading of the text suggests that the distress and pain is enduring and in light of God’s response it was to last even longer.
Paul tells us he prayed to God about it and asked him three times to remove it. Three times might be literal and it might also reflect his imaging out of the Christ’s experience in Gethsemane. Imaging it, not in any slavish artificial way. And since he models his own life on that of Moses we will remember that Moses spoke to God more than once, asking God to let him into the promised land. We’ll recall that God told Moses the burden wouldn’t be lifted and that he was not to mention the matter again (Deuteronomy 3:23-27). We’ll remember too that in 1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul doesn’t wish to experience the rejection Moses experienced at the end of his life of service.
In any case, Paul prayed fervently and asked for relief. In saying he asked he used an aorist verb in the indicative. This suggests that his days of asking were decisively in the past; he did it back then and was done with it. The reason he was done with it is because the Lord (in this text probably the Lord Jesus) who knew all about being denied a request denied his request and gave him assurance.
When he tells us about the Lord’s response Paul uses a verb in the perfect tense. And if we allow it to function as a perfect tense verb then Paul hears the word of the Lord ringing in his ear even as he writes to the Corinthians. Back then Paul used to ask for relief but he put a stop to it. And he stopped it because the Lord said something to him that he hears even now as he writes.
Before we read what it was that the Lord said we need to note that for Paul it was decisive and satisfying. We need to note also that the man who was begging for relief was God’s faithful servant who was on the rack. Instead of rushing over that truth to get to another we need to feel for the depths of it.
This was such a person that we might have thought should get a “yes” to the plea for relief. We sort of feel that he “earned” it. This was the sort of person we would be especially eager to relieve and if the Lord has any compassion about him the kind of “compassion” that means something to us, surely Paul’s hurt was a strong appeal.

Making it easy for God to trust us!
 But this was such a person that in some ways made it easy for the Lord to say “no”. Paul’s desire for ease was real and urgent because the pain was prolonged and severe. (Underscoring the obvious sound of the text, the lexical work and grammar make that clear.) But down below his strong desire for relief was something profoundly stronger—his hunger to serve God’s redeeming purposes. The situation here was such that relief would not have served God’s gracious purposes best and that more than he wanted relief Paul wanted God’s glory and our redemption in Christ. In this we find Paul going through his own Gethsemane. His Master too had longed for relief but below the hunger for ease there was a deeper and more pulsating hunger to do his Holy Father’s will. In this text Paul is finding part of what he longed for in Philippians 3, to enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. And listen, because Paul was that kind of man and because Jesus was that kind of Son they made it easier for God to say “no”. God knew he could trust them. They so responded to God that he knew he could trust them!

Is God heartless then?
Here is a section of scripture that urges us to believe that pain and loss delivered by the hand of some satanic messenger is made to serve the glorious purposes of God. Here is a section that urges us to believe that God looks at some among us and by the depth of their devotion to him and to the world that he loves God is free to say “no” to their fervent pleas for ease.
And it isn’t that God’s glorious purposes are heartless! The person and work of Jesus Christ bury that notion forever. God says “yes” to teeming millions of requests but he not only reserves the right to say “no,” he does it. Sometimes the no is at awful cost to the sufferer and it makes perfect sense that they would rather have a yes—how could it be otherwise? We’re dreaming if we think Paul always walked around grinning and didn’t at times double up in pain and wish the answer could be yes. Christ left the garden as faithful as he went in but you can be sure he came out trembling. No one waved a magic wand and pain and anguish vanished. There was assurance, explanation and comfort (comfort, and not mere consolation).
Job’s later word to God could have been: “You know, for a while you made it hard for me to believe in you.” God’s word to Job could have been: “Isn’t that interesting, you made it easy for me to believe in you.”

So should we just shut our mouths and


So are we not to expect anything from God? Does prayer make no difference? Does what we need have no effect on God’s governing of human affairs? Does the fine print in the Bible effectively empty the more obvious words of their meaning?
Well...yes and no!
Should we expect God to provide for us? Jesus insists that God does provide for us whether we pray or not and even whether we believe in him or not. He sends the sun and the rain on both the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45 and Luke 6:35). [What about those places where he sends the rain on neither the evil nor good? It’s a good question but it’s for another time. I’m addressing those of us that have no experience of extreme poverty.] For those who are able and willing to believe what Christ said, God gives life and the things necessary to sustain life. Paul insists in Acts 14:16-17 and 17:25 that God not only gives to all nations fruitful seasons and times to be glad, he gives them “everything else”. Why this isn’t the present experience of every individual in the world is an important question but at this moment we need to settle the one we’re working with.
There are people who enjoy countless blessings of friendship, health, income, food, family, job, political freedom, education and more. Who provides these? Biblical writers insist that they come from God and Jesus, in the Lord's Prayer, urges us to believe that. It simply won’t do to look at life and say it in no way matches the biblical claims and promises. Yes, of course, there are many reasonable desires that we ask God for and don’t get. To say that is correct but to move from that to claim he gives us nothing makes no sense at all.
So, should we just be grateful for what we get and shut our mouths? We certainly should be thankful but he doesn’t speak to shut us up and neither should those that profess to speak for him. Philippians 4:6 and Ephesians 6:18 urge believers to make their requests known to God. Loving parents provide for their children and should one of them ask for something that is beyond the basics we wouldn’t expect to hear them told that they’re not to ask for more than the parents have decided to provide. It’s very clear from both scripture and life that God has blessed some people with more than others and it’s very clear that he has blessed them with a lot more than they need simply to exist. [He also expects them to share!]

God to Job: “You think you know what’s
                       going on?”
I understand that some non-believers find that too much to swallow but then I’m not addressing non-believers at this moment. Those who are willing to give scripture a hearing will accept that claim. All right, it generates difficult questions even for believers but why should that surprise us? Just trying to figure out how to take care of the conflicting needs and wants of a small family can tax the brain and patience of loving and wise parents. As soon as you increase the size of the family, the urgency of their needs and the depth of their desire for some beyond-the-basic things everything is so much more complex and harder to assess. When it becomes a national family and you watch a government trying to satisfy the needs and wants of various sectors—if you’re fair—you begin to see the difficulty in providing. But more than that—again, if you’re fair—you know that the rank and file that are being represented by government are not able to see the difficulties involved in providing. I don’t say God sits wringing his hands wondering what to do. I do say that needy and acquisitive humans aren’t able (or always willing) to admit the complexities of the situation. Job, the wise man, knew he was hurting and so did his wise friends but they hadn’t a clue about the cosmic ramifications of what was going on.

“I want you to give me…” and “What will
                    you give me?”
And then there’s this—and we don’t like to be reminded of this, especially when life has been hard for a long time—it just isn’t right to see our relationship with God as a one way affair where he does all the giving and we do all the taking. What if he asks us to give him something? What if he wants to use us to bless others and it means that it’ll cost us something?
He called on Joseph to serve him in Egypt and despite the boy’s pleas (Genesis 42:21) God chained him and sold into Egypt (Genesis 45:5-8a, Psalm 105:17-18). Joseph wanted to go home and God said no and sent him into slavery. If we didn’t know the whole story we could easily—and understandably—think this was another case where God shrugged at injustice and cruelty or wrung his hands in despair because he could do nothing about the evil that humans choose to do. But the Bible doesn’t see things that way. God’s no to Joseph was his yes to tens of thousands of others in time of famine and it meant the elect line was kept alive and finally led to the Messiah. God’s no to Joseph meant thirteen long years away from home but if you asked Joseph, the lord of Egypt, if he would rather that God had let him go back home instead of into Egypt he would have said “no!”
The Bible is filled with texts that believers avoid while they’re rooting out all the “assuring” texts. Amos 4 tells us explicitly that God sent drought and famine and pestilence and war on apostate Israel [in order to bring them back to him and to life] but what of the innocent children and the righteous men and women who didn’t turn from God? They suffered along with the guilty. God wasn’t punishing them but they got it in the neck just the same! What would we have said to such men, women and children? Well? When they said they just wanted the pain to stop what would we have said? When they prayed for their family to be exempted what would we have said? It was a bad request? They were just being wimps? That their pain wasn’t real and excruciating? A pox on that kind of talk! They were bearing and sharing God’s judgment on the guilty that he might bring the guilty back to life and God wouldn’t exempt them just as he wouldn’t spare his own Son (Romans 8:32).

God’s “no” to Jesus as his definitive and
                      eternal “yes”
It’s true that in scripture prophets, psalmists, kings and peasants all cried to God in protest at the profusion of “no’s” without explicit explanation, but why should that startle us? They were just like us, bewildered and disappointed. The Bible wants us to understand that God understands our protests and feelings. But when you take the biblical narrative as a whole and have Jesus as the final “yes” to all the promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20) then we have the normative teaching. In Christ as the “Yes” of God we hear that all that we rightly expect from God is being and will be fulfilled.
We will discover in the end that the “no” is a purposed part of the complex whole and that we to whom so many no’s were said are part of the redeeming vehicle. God eternally purposed to say no and then did say no to his own unique Son, though it led that Child to sob his heart out and feel as though he was being crushed to death (Hebrew 5:7, Matthew 26:38). If that’s true then surely we need to embrace his “no” as part of a glorious and ultimately life-bringing agenda.
And if we say he could have worked world redemption without a “no” or that he could have created a world and a humanity in which “no” had no place, just look what we’ve done! To keep us from having to come to terms with a long list of painful disappointments we want the whole universe constructed differently. And maybe that’s understandable too. But what if God has made the right choice? What if his way of dealing with humanity’s rebellion and bringing us to deathless life and unbroken peace is the best way? What if “no” really is what must be in a world of choosing, inter-dependent humans where to say “yes” to some means “no” must be said to others? What if God is honoring us by saying “no” to us and by that lays on us a burden that we carry for others? What if “no” is one of the essential elements in bringing about the final and profoundly satisfying “yes” from a generous and holy God whose agenda is infinitely more wonderful than our present complete satisfaction? Imagine him coming into your room, looking you right in the eye and telling you, “I mean you no harm. Trust me when I tell you that in a sinful world ‘no’ is only part of the final ‘yes’ to which I’m bringing you.” As sinful as I am and as selfish as I’m capable of being I’m still assured by that thought.

Simple answers to complex questions—

                always “wrong”

We make complex matters too simple. We feel God lets us down—in part—because we don’t really know what we’re asking or what’s involved in getting what we want. John is unemployed and prays God to get him a job. He’s thrilled when he gets an interview at Holsen’s Machine Parts factory and thanks God for answered prayer. Hmmm. Holsen is expanding at the expense of Fleet’s and they had to lay-off seventy-five of their workers. Peter worked for Fleet for twenty years and needed the job. He knew lay-offs were coming and had prayed that he would be spared. Peter and John go to the same church, pray to the same God for the same but conflicting things.
Rachel has been praying for a fine Christian husband for her daughter Mary—why wouldn’t she? And the newcomer to their church—Charles Petrie—is just that. Despite Rachel’s fervent prayers Mary isn’t interested in Charles and, anyway, Belinda Hathaway has been praying as well—why wouldn’t she?—and she and Charles hit it off. They’re planning to get married in about six months. Rachel wanted what Mary didn’t want and Belinda got a “yes”, which meant that Rachel had to get a “no”.
The national economy is on the decline, tens of thousands pray for serious improvement—why wouldn’t they? And it comes—in the exports sector. The national currency has weakened so outsiders can buy more from the home nation so all who work in that sector thank God for answered prayer. But because the national currency has weakened the imports industries have to pay more for foreign goods and materials and this rise is passed on to the rank and file in either wage cuts, job losses or price increases for the goods. Import businesses go under and the whole workforce is laid off. Huge numbers in the export trade gain and huge numbers in the import trade are squeezed.
Nations go to war. Families pray for the safety of their loved ones—why wouldn’t they? But their Tom or Ann is kept alive at the expense of someone else’s son or daughter. Those now dead sons and daughters were prayed for and while some families celebrate a homecoming other families mourn the arrival of corpses.

Raw power can’t cure everything
Yes, yes, but why does there have to be all this confusion and conflict of interests? Why doesn’t an all-powerful and all wise God work it out where no one is ever disappointed or hurt? Maybe if we were as wise as God we would know not to ask such questions! Some things can’t be fixed with just “power”. If God had a jillion times more power than he now has (and he has all power) he still couldn’t do some things. Not being able to make a square circle or a four-sided triangle has nothing to do with power! And if we had half a brain we wouldn’t set such tasks within a “power” context. God can't give a “yes” to both Rachel and Belinda about Charles and it has nothing to do with how wise or powerful he is.

Sinners can’t be trusted with prayer as a
                   blank check 
God’s wisdom and power and holy love serve an eternal agenda that takes into account our freedom to rebel against him, war against each other, be greedy and predatory. It takes into account that we are a single human family, inextricably bound one to another and who therefore affect one another for good or ill by our attitudes and behavior and desires. He has created us as one and means us to live in response to one another and he refuses to live our lives for us in a ceaseless stream of divine interventions that negate our humanity and responsibility toward each other. If he didn’t want us to live our lives he wouldn’t have given them to us!
If we don’t open our hearts to another way of looking at life we’re beat before we begin. There are tens of thousands every day and in every generation that are praying for the rich blessing and happiness of the whole human race. If all prayers got an automatic “yes” then no one would need to pray for anything because everyone would already have everything.
Don’t let anyone kid you into thinking that prayer is a simple matter. And don’t let them con you into believing that God has committed himself to say “yes” to every reasonable request. And don’t rob yourself by thinking that prayer is nothing more than asking for things. And don’t let life’s disappointment and pain lead you to be permanently angry with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Don’t let it become all about us wanting things and God being so stingy that he won’t give them to us. What if he doesn’t want to give them to us? What if he thinks it’s our turn to go without for reasons at present known only to himself? (Some of you who are suffering greatly must surely find yourself getting angry in light of such remarks. Get angry with me if you must but do your best to remember that you see him best in Jesus Christ and he would never treat your awful hurt as of no account. Trust him and believe that he will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten—compare Joel 2:25.) What if the God who shed blood for us unto death in Jesus Christ is doing what is best for a sinful human family’s ultimate blessing? What if he came saying: “This is all too complex for you to grasp the whole. When the drama is completed you will understand and be glad that you committed to me in trust. I...will...not...let...you...down!”

What kind of God does he have to be to

           gain our commitment?

What kind of God must God be for us to serve him and rejoice in a relationship with him? This is a good and fundamentally important question. Whatever we say, we could not and should not worship a deity that is demonstrably worse than we are in our worst moments! If we have no good reason to believe he is good and if we have well-established reasons to believe he is cruel and capricious, we should renounce him. [We have a lot of people picking verses from here and there in the Bible to show God is cruel. We have a lot of believers who “explain” texts like that to keep God from getting bad press.]
Of course God could bludgeon us into saying worshipful things or he could turn us into automata and he’d get what he wanted. We would be afraid of him and grovel before him—if he tortured us enough he could make us do that but he could never get us to freely love and worship and enjoy him. I think the agnostic John S Mill took himself a bit too seriously but surely he was right when he said that God must be “good” in the way that good people are “good” if we are to praise him and love to be in his presence. If “good” has no meaning that we can recognize, then why would we praise him for being “good”?
So the question is a good one and an important one in the realm of moral philosophy but in the light of Jesus Christ in particular and the entire biblical witness as a unit it’s a redundant question. For those who commit to the truth about Christ the case is closed—God is good in the way that good people can understand goodness! [“If you, then, evil as you are know how to give good things to your children how much more does your Father in heaven…”] I realize that non-believers dispute that but at this moment we’re not dealing with non-believers. These remarks are addressed to disappointed and hurting believers whose questions arise precisely because they believe God is good. If they didn’t believe God existed or if they believed that he was cruel and capricious their questions about prayer and God’s behavior wouldn’t exist.
But even believers are tempted to debate about the kind of God they want to welcome into their lives. There are those who have trusted in God but because he didn’t or doesn’t respond as they think he should they have walked away from him. Oh, they’re pretty sure he’s still around; but what use is he if he doesn’t provide as they think God should provide? They too work with the question: What kind of God must God be for us to serve him and rejoice in a relationship with him? So the question remains a good one and an important one.

But the first question should be…
But it’s not the first question that should be asked! That question is asked from the creature’s standpoint and it’s asked very often from a selfish creature’s standpoint. A creature richly blessed but wanting more. The creature has become the center around which everything must revolve. Certainly it isn’t always selfishness that drives the question—sometimes it’s desperation and anguish but even then, it’s not the first question that should be asked! Even then that question comes from a human that sees him or herself as the center of reality. The hurt and anguish makes them their center!
The first question should be: “What kind of person must I be to welcome the only God there is into my life?” In light of Jesus Christ and the Hebrew-Christian scriptures God is good and has an agenda that offers fullness of life to a sinful humanity. As far as Christ and scripture is concerned it isn’t for us to make God in our image but for us to seek his image. He isn’t the one that needs to change.
So, that’s it, is it? God has all the power and we’re simply to knuckle down to him? We’re to grovel at the feet of the omnipotent bully that can out-talk and out-think us? No, that’s not it at all! We misunderstand the notion of “power” in relation to God and we certainly haven’t seen nor heard of Jesus Christ if we think God is an omnipotent bully. God help us, because we’re sad and lonely and hurt and high strung with anguish we want him to make the world work differently or we want him to change so as to give us some peace and longed-for joy. It all makes so much sense when we think we’ve taken as much as we can take. But give us some lovely days or weeks, give us some joy, some things that make us smile for a while and we know better. Ease the burden a while, give us a chance to gulp in some fresh air when we’ve been smothering, give us a few truths—especially if they’re embodied in gallant people—and we smile ruefully at God and tell him, “Don’t change. I wouldn’t want you to be unlike Jesus Christ. I’ll change.”

Simple charity and sympathy: the danger
Let me say it again, anyone who simply refuses to give material and social help to those in need is liable to have Matthew 25:41-46 stamped on his forehead! Any congregation that caters massively to its own physical/worship comforts and offers a sheer pittance to the countless Lazaruses lying around locally and all over creation—that congregation is asking for the same judgment.
Inspired and strengthened by bread from the Hebrew—Christian Bible (though they don’t or won’t admit that) huge numbers of non-believers are up to their necks in easing the burden of the needy. Huge numbers of believers are doing the same thing and in many cases they (understandably) avoid linking their work with their faith.
The danger in this is that humans see kind humans giving them “real” help and God is nowhere in sight. Weak and limited humans are left to help their fellows live another day or ease the pain for another day or kill a parasite in another child for another day. This is glorious work and should be praised no matter who it is that’s doing it! But it underscores the “absence” of God! If decent, compassionate humans weren’t there, there’d be no help at all.
Because what the humans can do is so limited and God with all his power “sits idly by” he is
despised or raged against by the millions left without a shred of help. The believers are honored by the needy for their compassionate involvement but their faith is dismissed. Non-believers admire the involved believers but think they are better than their faith and their God.
Not to bring God into the suffering of the world is to do less than we can. To give a cup of water in Jesus’ name is to harm no one.