This Too? This Too.

My wife has been having some health struggles lately. Serious struggles.

This is on top of a life that’s above average on the crazy difficult scale of late.  Work has been harder than it’s ever been, and I’m not wearing the stress very well (at least until my recent vacation).  And even when I was in school, I was able to make it through because Theresa kept things running at home when I wasn’t able to find the attention span.

And when life is at a pace where I’m tempted to give up and say “I can’t take it anymore” God has added this to the pile too.  When I’m saying “no more” God says “actually, this too.”

1Thessalonians 5:18:

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

If you look up the word “all” in your concordance the Greek word there mean (wait for it) “all.”  Give thanks in ALL circumstances for this is God’s will for your life.  This one too?  Yup.  Give thanks for everything.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard or that you can handle it.  There’s another all to remember in 1Peter 5:

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Cast all your cares on Him.  There’s not a single one you should try to carry on your own.

If you’re anything like me you forget that.  Pretty much every day.  I try to handle it on my own.  And God’s the One who handles it.  And you’re thinking, again if you’re like me, do I cast this anxiety or care onto Jesus too?  And what does He answer?  Yes…this too.

His burden is light, and yours is hard.  And He wants to trade.

And this is why you can give thanks in all things:  because every hard thing He sends your way is a reminder that He’s got this and that He wants to take it off your back.  So let Him.  Walk in His grace, giving thanks for the hardest of the hard, and He’s got this.  This too.

 

He Sets the Boundaries

A few weeks ago a friend posted something on Facebook about people talking about natural remedies for cancer.  The friend’s post was (as a PSA) encouraging people who like alternative care to make sure they’re not implying “If _______ had tried _______ they’d still be alive today.”  And the reason my friend was concerned was that they’d lost a family member not terribly long ago to cancer.

Full disclosure:  My older sister died of cancer a couple of years ago and was not yet 50.  It was almost 10 years, on and off, that she was battling various forms of cancer before she finally went home to be with the Lord.  She went through a rough time, especially at the end, but God used her death and her life in some amazing ways.  And now I have to wait a long time to see her again.  Today’s her birthday, and she would have been 51 if she was still around.

The first thing I want to say is that if you’ve ever said something like what’s in the quote above you should be ashamed of yourself.  And if anyone ever says that to you about a loved one you’ve lost you have my permission to slap him.  Unless it’s me.  Ok…even if it’s me.  It’s just rude and unkind and really has no purpose.

Second point:  God determines when people die.  So the statement above, in addition to being stupidly rude and mean is theologically incorrect.  Here’s Paul speaking in Athens:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Source: Acts 17:26-27 ESV

God determined the allotted periods of each of our lives, before the world began.  Where we would live.  When you were born.  How long each of us will be here…every breath is counted.  When someone dies there is never an “if only ______” left.  Those of us who believe must trust in God’s goodness and grace in that.  He is sovereign over life and death.

The third thing I want to mention is that you need to be charitable with one another.  I know it’s hard, but if someone says “I think that chemotherapy is harmful and I wouldn’t do that to myself” it is not the same as the statement above.  Don’t assume that your friend is making a conjecture about your loved one’s death.  Sometimes people don’t know.  Sometimes people aren’t as careful with the words they use as they ought.  But all the time we need to believe the best (“love believes all things”) about other Christians and assume they don’t mean harm unless it’s spelled out clearly.

Sure, sometimes it’ll bother you and you’ll have to ask.  And that’s how people learn to be more careful in their speech.  But try to find the best possible way to take something when it’s said.

I am a big fan of alternative care in many cases.  But I don’t give unsolicited advice about health care, finances, or child-raising because I’m also a firm believer in liberty.  We’ve made a lot of mistakes in our lives, my family and me, and maybe someone else can learn from some of them.  But if you don’t ask my opinion about a specific you won’t get it.

But that’s not the same as saying here that I’d personally never get chemotherapy.  That I believe that the health care industry perpetuates bad treatments that make money sometimes and has little interest in finding cures.  That drug companies manipulate the governmental systems to make more money (they’re not alone in that, by the way).

I have strong opinions and so do you.  And one day you’ll die and so will I.  And the fact that I can’t stop that doesn’t mean I don’t take my asthma meds and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t perform CPR on you if you had a heart attack in front of me.  It does mean that once death occurs we need to trust God’s timing in it, and to remember that everyone, all of us, will die. There is no health care service, conventional or alternative, that will stay off death.  Only when Christ returns will death die.

Trouble

Last week started out with an emotional valley.  I can’t completely put my finger on it, but I was feeling down in the dumps for quite a few days.  Discouraged, feeling near hopeless, having trouble getting my mind around all the stuff on my plate.  Monday morning this post appeared in my RSS feed:

If you’re in some trouble today, reread those three facts, believer, and you should be encouraged by them—even if ‘right now you can’t see how God is at work in your problem. Some day—now or in eternity—you may understand fully. But it’s your task at the moment—to believe, and look forward to whatever outcome God may bring from it. In the long run, you may even be privileged to discover (as Paul did) what God was up to—and that you will see that it truly is good!

via Paul (or You) In Prison | Institute for Nouthetic Studies | Blog – Biblical Counseling.

It was helpful to remember that there’s nothing pointless going on in my life.  No matter how hard or easy, God is working the details for my good and the good of those He loves.  I won’t always be able to make sense of it here in time and space, but I can choose to trust the God who only does right.

For The Lord God Omniopotent Reigneth…Hallelujah!

It’s that time of year when we’ll hear people playing and singing Handel’s Messiah.  Including the capstone…the Hallelujah Chorus.  What a wonderful piece of music, and what a wonderful time of year is advent when we hear music everywhere hailing Jesus’ birth and life.

There’s a line that gets repeated in the Hallelujah Chorus quite a few times that I used in the title:  “…for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”  The Lord God omnipotent reigns.  That word omnipotent is one we don’t use in everyday language any more.  It means “all-powerful.”  To reign means to rule, to control, like a king.  Jesus, the Lord God all-powerful, rules over all.

A few weeks ago our area was hit with a couple of tornadoes, one of them extremely bad and a local town has a huge section that was just leveled, and hundreds of people are currently unable to live in their homes, if those homes are even still standing (which for many they aren’t).  After the tornado a local pastor posted a noble attempt at comforting those who have had lives turned upside down:

I believe nature happened. The weather was the optimal condition and houses were in the way. I don’t believe God sits in heaven playing with us in such sadistic ways. God did not put his finger down and wipe out your home. Nor do I believe that God was saving some people and neglecting some to suffer. Last I checked everyone – Christian or not – whose home was in the path lost. I do not believe God plays a cosmic games of “duck, duck, duck cancer/tornado/hurricane,” arbitrarily dishing out human tragedies.

via Duck…Duck…Duck…Tornado. | Charlie Dean.

I replied to the post, which while well-intended, left a picture of God that is anything but all-powerful and ruling:

While I share your frustration with many of the quotes you list, I find it very concerning that you display such an uninvolved and impotent God. Is God so out of control that tragedies like this happen outside of His will? I think Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9 are clear that this is not that case.

I find it equally puzzling that you think that there were tornadoes and hurricanes in the garden. This beautiful creation, which God pronounced “good” did not contain death and destruction until man brought sin into it. Creation itself is marred by the sin of man, and Jesus brings redemption to sinners like you and me, but also to the whole of creation.

Is it helpful to note that destruction is rooted in original sin? Not always, but I think at times it is. It is comforting to know that when Jesus restores all things in the New Heavens and the New Earth that there will be no more of this.

Our God is powerful and controls every molecule and atom in creation…there is not one stray electron in this world. And through the work of His Son and His Spirit He is over time putting all things right and will destroy every enemy including death.

I applaud your desire to ensure the watching world does not see God as displaying a sadistic favoritism, but to display God instead as an impotent overlord who couldn’t do anything about those weather conditions or uncaringly decided not to do anything about it is just as wrong as the careless use of clichés.

I had a friend in college who, while Christian, was troubled, just as this pastor is, with the idea of anything bad happening in a world ruled by a sovereign God.  A God who controls all things, and is working a plan in history, and yet who allows horrible things (like this destructive tornado) to occur.  And her solution to this troubling thought was to raise Satan to a level of power where he could wreak havoc outside of God’s control.  I remember more than a dozen conversations before we just agreed to disagree on the matter and put it aside.  And this pastor seems to have a similar difficulty, saying in his reply to my comment, “no. I don’t believe that God stirs the molecules to form a tornado to destroy a small town for some arbitrary reason.”

And there’s the rub.  In my friend’s mind, and in this pastor’s proclamation, there are only two options:  God chooses to have nothing to do with the weather and lets it roll as it will, or God does this arbitrarily (or worse yet God is actually mean to some people).  And this false dilemma leads to poor conclusions.

You see, God isn’t doing this for some arbitrary reason.  God is never, ever arbitrary!  

Consider this from Romans 9:

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

These are hard words to us.  God hardened Pharaoh?  But when we have a problem with what God says He does…the problem is not with the Word or with God…it is with us.  God is good, and does only good.  And He has good purposes in this…see what He says?

….that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

God allows evil and horrible things to occur for His own glory.  To show His power and so His Name will be proclaimed.  We may not understand at the time all the reaches of how this works (and we’re not supposed to try, cf Deuteronomy 29:29**) but we know that He is working things for His glory, and for the good of His people (Romans 8).  And He truly controls all things that come to pass.

As my college friend later came to see (we found each other on Facebook a few years ago) this isn’t problematic:  it’s comforting.  If God controls even the hugely destructive tornado then you and yours can hide in the basement and pray for God’s protection and He can do that.  If God lets the weather go as it will, there is no purpose to any prayer in the midst of a tornado or hurricane.  God won’t do anything.  But knowing that He not only can, but does control the events in this world allows us to pray and to trust in His power and wisdom.  God’s sovereign hand is reigning over all things, and can be trusted to do what is right and just in every circumstance.

So be comforted! God is good and He is powerful and He actively rules over all creation!  The Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth!  Hallelujah!

** This, in part, is what I think was frustrating the pastor I’m responding to.  People do (and did) sometimes presume to know the specific purposes God has in an event like this. And sometimes we get a glimpse of that specific in this life, but usually we don’t.  We know that God is glorifying Himself in what He’s doing.  We don’t know why he spares one person and allows another to go unless we’re specifically told (like with Pharaoh in Romans 9).  I agree that this is presumption and is problematic at best, and should be avoided.  But the solution is not to deny that God is powerful and involved in His creation in intimate detail.  Don’t let frustration with those things that the passage says are secret keep you from rejoicing in and embracing and being comforted by truths that have been revealed like His omnipotent control over all things!