Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Why Question

Recently, in my previous post, I shared the heart-wrenching stories of several people that I personally knew that just simply died...all in a two week period. A young father in Florida, a mother of teenagers in Massachusetts, an infant baby boy in Alberta. On the heels of this was another heart-wrenching story of a three or four year old boy that we know that has a heart that beats at about 20 beats per minute. Sometimes at night it even stops beating! This lad now needs a pace maker.

It's these situations that these people had, you had, perhaps we all at one time had, where we asked God "Why?" Sometimes we crumble into a heap of desperation. Sometimes we may shake our fist in anger and scream the grand question "Why God? Why?"

Why do the young die? Why are people victimized? Why do people starve? Why do people murder? Why do natural disasters happen? Why doesn't God do something? You can fill in your own question of "why" and join the list.

You may have heard preachers and teachers share that personal and corporate tragedies are all part of the sovereignty of God's working among mankind. I'm not saying that they aren't. I am just not going to give a pat answer and move away from people's pain at this point. We may not want to hear that our suffering has anything to do with God's sovereign plan but it might. Even more frustrating is the fact that even though our suffering may be part of God's plan, he may not be inclined to share with us what that plan is at any given time.

The example of Job is a great way to look at human suffering in relation to God's plan for any given individual for it teaches us many lessons. Perserverance, longsuffering, faithfulness, God's restorative grace etc. But what we often overlook is the "why" question in the book of Job.

God never answered Job's "why" question. He may not answer mine or yours.

Look in Job chapter 1 verses nine through twelve where God is almost bragging on Job's perfect uprightness...

9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."

12 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."

We know the bits and pieces of the story. Sickness, loss of all material possessions, the loss of the lives of his children and even his own wife urged him to curse God and die in light of all the aftermath.

I mean think about it. He lost everything in life based on what looks like a "double-dog-dare you" from Satan. So God allowed it.

Forget the friends of Job who came to "comfort" him in his state of despair. Forget the fact that bad things sometimes happen to good people. This is the worst season of Job's life. It's worse than most of us have ever lived through. What was Job's response?

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised."

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Job didn't say that God did him wrong, even though God is personally responsible for it all. Unbelievable! Perhaps you don't think God is responsible? Look at Job 2...

3 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason."

There you have it. God admitted that he was responsible. He ruined Job for no reason. Or was there a reason? Lots of people will try to tell us, explain to us, teach and preach to us the reason. The fact of the matter is, although there are lots of life lessons to be gleaned from Job's story of tragedy to triumph, the one thing we really don't know is "why".

So keep believing, keep walking and when life's stuff happens to you, don't be surprised if you don't always have the "why" question answered. Just keep going. Just "because".

Monday, May 26, 2008

Living With Death

The words that are to follow this introduction are deep feelings of mine but I must admit that they pale in comparison to those who have been directly affected by tragedy, namely, the death of a family member. It has been the tragic events of others connected to me that have spawned these words. It has been the death of three that have provoked much thought, introspection and prayers to God.

Within eight days three people that were connected to my family in one way or another passed from this life. The first was thirty five year old Benji. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Massachusetts. The youngest of eight brothers and sisters, vibrant, charming and full of life, he inexplicably collapsed and died putting his son in his car seat in Florida. A couple of days later "baby Jacob" as our kids referred to him as, lost his fight for life in a Calgary, Alberta hospital. Our family and many others in our church family prayed for him daily. His heart condition did not get better. He died. Just a couple of days after that, my good friend Rose from Massachusetts emailed me the news that a lady named Kim had lost her battle with her disease. Her kids were in my youth group. My wife taught her children. Three deaths. Eight days.

When I got the news that Kim had passed away, I was overcome with emotion. Not that I was a close friend to all of these, no, the miles and years had separated us. However as tears flowed down my cheeks I left my office for the sheer fact that so much death in such a short amount of time had cut my heart wide open. I couldn't hold it in.

So many things were going through my mind, all of which were disturbing on some levels. Why does a man in his mid thirties just collapse and die? What will those kids do without their mom? Why do 18 month old babies die? Then there is the BIG question that my daughter asked. Maybe God didn't hear us when we prayed. Now that haunted me.

When we heard all of this news my wife said, "you can't have life without death". She was making the statement not as a teaching moment, but as an observation. In this life we will have troubles, sorrows and difficulty. Jesus pointed that out to us. Living with death has to be about hope. We do not sorrow as those who do not have hope. We hope that we will see our loved ones again in the resurrection. We hope that the pain goes away eventually. We hope that we can learn from our difficult circumstances. Yes, even death can teach us things. It teaches us that our days are numbered. It teaches us that we are mortal. Death teaches us the value of life and the value of the living. Death teaches that all of us will be touched by it's cold hand eventually in life. Death reminds us that what we know and experience will end and most of it is meaningless. Death conjures thoughts of standing before God.

So I walk away from this sorrowful situation a hurting but hoping human. I realize that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the perishing of his saints." I hurt in myself and for those I know who experienced the tragic loss. I hope one day to see them again.


I Corinthians 15:55

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Work it Out

Back in 2005 I wrote a blog on "The Excorcism of Emily Rose" and in doing so, solicited a comment. The commentator had asked me to expound on the scripture that says, " out your salvation with fear and trembling". It's long overdue. Here goes. Philipians Chapter 2.

At first glance it would seem like the Bible is saying that we can make up our own rules, our own parameters and guidlines for living the Christian life, so long as we do this in a careful manner. In the pluralistic culture we live in, it is more palatable to tell people to live how they think would be right but to do so carefully and thoughtfully. If we were to simply take the words "work out your salvation with fear and trembling..." it would seem that way. Therein is the great danger. We must allow scripture to tell us what it means, not insert our own assumptions and interpretations.

When the Bible tells us to work out YOUR salvation with fear and trembling, we can't interpret YOUR salvation as uniquely yours with no bearing on anyone else.

I have heard pastors allude to the dangerous and erroneous teaching that in life there are so many gray areas and Christianity has them too. So, instead of offering loving correction and right teaching, people are simply told to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There are a few things that raise the proverbial "red flag" for me and I think should be addressed.

1. In Philipians 2, the Church is being addressed collectively by Paul. The letter was not addressed to individuals, nor was it appealing to anyone's individuality or personal experience. It was a "one size fits all" type of letter and it had several purposes. It was written for an intended audience of more than one person.

2. In the first eleven verses of Philipians 2, Paul basically told the Church to take themselves down a few notches. Be careful not to be too arogant. Be humble. Remember Jesus' attitude and how he humbled himself. He also said to not be selfish, put other people first and also, to be concerned with other people's things and not just their own.

3. In verses 25 to 30, Paul is telling the Philipian believers that he is sending them a person to help them in their discipleship process. This work of the gospel was being done by Paul and he felt very passionate about it. He wanted disciples to get it right. He was so bent on this that he wanted to make sure that there was a person in Philipi to help the believers in receiving right teaching.

So to correctly interpret "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" doesn't mean one has the license to simply make up what he wants to believe about Christianity and apply it in a compartmentalized environment of one (self). Let's not forget what the rest of that very verse tells us. It says, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

In a nutshell, working out our own salvation is just as much connected to living and being connected to the believers around us as well as the will and the purpose of God. The will and the purpose of God is clear. He is not willing that any should perish but that all would have everlasting life. The purpose of God is the redemptive plan he has for mankind. If what we perceive to be the elements of the Christian life are not related to being concerned with others around us, humility and the the redemptive purposes of God, then I don't think we've worked it out yet.