1 Corinthians 13:13 | Why God?

The mantra of the church in modern times is that God is love. Jesus loves. This view is taken to such extents that now the question arises… If God is love, how can he allow such evil in this world? And we can be honest here… modern peoples don’t deal with problems very well. A loving God that allows a pandemic. A loving God that allows gun violence, domestic abuse, sexual predators, climate change, racism, inequalities, … Why, if he is love, would he allow this?

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV

To answer the “Why God?” question we must understand our own progression through, faith, hope, and love, in relationship to God.

Faith πίστις (pistis) is believing that God exists. Faith is believing God is who he says he is as reviled to us in the beauty of creation and even more specifically who God says he is as revealed in the Bible. The Bible is a love letter from God to the people he made. He spells out details of his nature and details of his expectations. Faith is that first step. Faith is a transforming step where the creation interacts with the Creator. Without this agreement that God is the creator and author of life then why do we even need to answer the question why would God allow evil in the world?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 ESV

After faith comes Hope ἐλπίς (elpis) and it is here that we recognize the reality of evil. The very existence of Hope demonstrates that we recognize the shortcomings of this present reality. It seems strange that on the topic of Hope that I immediately bring up the topic of evil but hope represents an acknowledgement that the present circumstances are messed up. My hope is in Jesus not this evil world. My hope is in the strength of God the creator not my own limited abilities. My hope in the pandemic rests in God’s mercy and grace not in a government of flawed individuals. In the same way my hope for this life and the life to come rests in what Jesus, God in the flesh, has already done. Faith leads to Hope. And Hope is a realization that this world is not home. Why God is there evil? That question becomes less imperative when I recognize my hope is not in the present but in the future.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:22-25 ESV

Faith, Hope, and now Love ἀγάπη (agapē). With agape Love being the greatest. Agape love is the love of a benevolent Creator God. Agape love is the love of a brother and a love of good will toward others. Agape is not selfish. Agape is not demanding. Agape is not evil. God is agape. He loves the world so much that he took on the human form and then paid for my crimes by dying on the cross on my behalf. That is a benevolent fatherly love that is the greatest of all acts. In this pandemic the government and those with no hope demand that everyone get vaccinated. They shame. They demand. They wish death on those that are not vaccinated. This is what a faithless, hopeless, and most importantly loveless world looks like.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

As we grow in faith we grow in our understanding of God. With that faith we can hope against all hope in a future. This world is in fact evil and in hope we understand and trust that God will undo the curse of sin and death that this present world is suffering from. Why does God allow evil? His love is not demanding. He will not force people to be “good”. He permits evil, death, and destruction here and now. This temporary cursed world is not my hope. God will not allow death and destruction to carry on forever. It is temporary and this world is not our home. Are you making this world your home? Then you will be the saddest person to have ever lived. As a faithful and hope filled follower of Christ it is my job to continue on loving those in this world of evil. You who make your home here in this world. The greatest action I can give is to love you by writing these words today. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus saves from the evil of self and the evil of this world.

Isaiah 7:9 | Christmas Hope

hope

Ahaz the King of Judah, an heir in the line of King David, receives news that Israel the northern kingdom that split from the kings of David has joined forces with Syria to attack Judah. Fear grips the nation of Judah over this news.

When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. Isaiah 7:6 ESV

Isaiah the prophet of Judah is instructed by God to give encouragement to the people and the king that they can win this battle if they would trust in God and have faith in him. God has made promises in the past. Ahaz is an heir to that promise. Ahaz has a responsibility as leader of the nation to live up to the promise made to each king to succeed David.

4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 1 Kings 9:5 ESV

God has instructed Isaiah to remind Ahaz that this promise is still in effect. Isaiah calls Ahaz to stand firm in faith as the nation of God’s people.

If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” Isaiah 7:9b ESV

The fear of war is ahead not because all will be lost but because the faith of Ahaz is not in God but in his own power and strength. Ahaz knows he will loose his kingdom and his life when these armies march to own his land. One would think that Ahaz would at last at this moment turn to the God of his fathers. God reaches out with loving mercy. Through Isaiah God wants to give Ahaz encouragement and strength.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Isaiah 7:10-12 ESV

Ahaz however is an evil and rebellious man. Facing a war, he can’t win God tells him to ask for a sign in advance of the deliverance that God will bring about. God is telling Ahaz he can ask for anything and it will be done. But Ahaz refuses the request.

Often, I hear from the Atheist or the skeptic. If God is real then why does he not just speak and reveal himself. Why must he remain hidden. My response is that based on the numerous examples throughout the bible when God does speak audibly and reveal himself the outcomes remains the same. The person is still an Atheist and a skeptic. Ahaz is such a selfish evil man that he refuses to acknowledge God because if he did then there would be an obligation to submit to God’s authority. Ahaz would rather die at the hands of men than submit to a God other than himself.

13 And [Isaiah] said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:13-14 ESV

God would have welcomed and given power to Ahaz but Ahaz did not want any part of God’s plans. The problem for Ahaz however is that God is going to move forward because God’s will not be stopped. One has a choice to follow God where he is a work or one has the choice to avoid God’s work and be swept away into a life apart of God which is hell. Ahaz failed himself and his people but God’s work was still completed. Not only was it completed but one of the greatest signs of deliverance to ever be promised was given at this time. This prophecy, a sign, was held for hundreds of years until Jesus was born.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:20-23 ESV

Not only would God deliver Ahaz from this temporary crisis. God promised to deliver the world’s sin by coming to earth in the form of a man. God with us. Immanuel. The greatest event in the history of the world. God taking on the form of a baby born to a virgin in order to save His creation. It is beyond belief. It is an amazing, epic event that we celebrate every year at Christmas. The birth of God in the form of a baby boy. God just as he spoke to Ahaz thousands of years ago he speaks to us now. A sign has been given to all people. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The miracle has been recorded. The event came to pass just as Isaiah foretold and we each have a decision to make. Remember the words of Isaiah to Ahaz.

If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” Isaiah 7:9b ESV

Do you choose to be like Ahaz and refuse the miracle of salvation accepting death and hell or do you accept by faith the firm hope of “God with us” in the form of Christ and what he has sacrificed?

Everyone Loves a Party

faint

Jerika Bolen is a young girl with spinal muscular atrophy. It is a disease that destroys nerve cells that interact with voluntary muscle movement. She has a ventilator for breathing assistance much of the day and she is in a significant amount of pain trapped in a body that will not function as it was originally designed. What has captured the news for this story is that this 14 year old has decided that she wants to be moved into hospice and taken off of her ventilator which will end her life earlier than if she continued on in the present state. It is no small choice the young lady has taken and I grieve with her and her family that this cursed world would even need such a choice. I am not in her situation so I cannot speak to this being a good or bad choice. I would only say that as a general rule human life even when difficult should be something all of us would fight to preserve.

What I would speak to is the reaction and obligation of the community. Jerika wanted to have a party to celebrate what little time she has remaining. The grand idea of going out with a bang. YOLO. Those close to her raised money and planed an event to celebrate. Jerika has an amazing support team. Maybe a better support than many in her situation. There was even a local reporter there to cover the event and it was published in the USA today. The quotes and story in that article are just astonishing to me.

The reporter Jim Collar opens the article with a profound quote, a question from Jerika about all the people who have given her attention in this event. Her question is profound and it is a question that I would like explore.

“It’s awesome,” she said of Friday’s party. “It’s fun. It’s a lot of people, and they look up to me. It’s kind of scary because I don’t know what they’re looking up to me for.”

When you throw a party people will show up. It is a fact of life. Add free food and even more people will show up. But this party was even more than that it is a going away party if you will. People attending might have answered Jerika’s question on why they look up to her with something like she is inspirational, she is brave, she is amazing for such a young girl, and she is strong. Many people may be moved by her story and her choice, and all of those things may be true about this 14 year old who has lived confined by this for so many years. But why such attention now? How should we respond?

First the party is a wonderful thing. This money raised by the community and the show of support from the community is an awesome gesture. People want her to know that she is loved. Jesus in the lead up to his eventual crucifixion is given an extravagant gift by Mary. She washes his feet with an expensive perfume. Judas, who ultimately betrays Jesus, objected saying the money received for that perfume could have been spent on the poor.

6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. Mark 14:6-8 ESV

A celebration of a life in advance of their death is a perfectly wonderful way to honor them. When I read about the donations, and the community support of this young girl I know that it speaks about the mercy we all want for our own lives when we see someone in such pain. Interviewing people who came to the party the reporter captures an interesting quote from the father of a family that drove thousands of miles to this event to meet the young girl they do not know personally.

The long drive was worth it to see her smile, and “out there on the dance floor looking like she’s living life,” he said.

“Looking like she is living life” is an interesting phrase, because I think this might contain some unrecognized honesty about the situation. This dance floor is life and it is living but it is not real life. The dance floor is always only a temporary distraction and entertainment from real life lived out day to day. For those that live daily with pain, a loved one who cannot take care of themselves, or any number of ongoing permanent disabilities a recognition that when the party ends Jerika will still be in pain, she will still need support from nurses and loved ones to care for her every moment and need. That realization is also reported in the article as the grief of the moment overtakes Jerika’s mother.

But as midnight arrived and the lights went on and the banquet hall began to empty, Jen’s emotions began to crack. The reality of what’s to come began to settle in. Prom planning had helped take her mind off her daughter’s coming death. Now what?

Now what indeed. The party is over and a hospice awaits. Will it take days, weeks, or months for life to end? Is the pain so great that this is the only answer? Are her family and friends so few that there is no one to share the effort of daily care? Are the financial cost so great that it would be better, honorable, and responsible to choose such terms at this point in life? I do not see the answer being yes to any of these so why?

Worn out and a lack of hope. It comes to this. What is the point? Why should she continue in pain, why should she be a burden, and why should she be a drain on resources of the community? Going back to the words from Jesus to the disciples “you always have the poor with you” is a reality we must accept in this broken, sinful, and cursed world. When Jesus speaks about the poor he is not only talking about those who are in simple financial destitution. He is talking about people who have no hope and are worn out. He is talking about people who are powerless and hidden from society. I believe in many ways Jerika and those who are unable to fully participate in society and those cut out of many joys of life feel this kind of powerlessness in a real meaningful way. It breaks my heart. God has created us as relational beings both with other people and with himself. Jerika and others in her situation within our own communities need to know that they are loved. They need to know they are loved by providing attention and acts of service toward them and their caretakers. Through Jesus and his saving power everyone has hope. Everyone has purpose. God has unlimited powers of peace and love. Are we working in our own community to serve others with that love that has been so richly poured out?

25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25 ESV

To anyone that is struggling know that God loves you. Know that He has a plan for you in this life and in the perfect eternal life to come. Do not grow weary, do not give up hope. Trust him for each day. For those of us that know people who live life in pain each day reach out and be a friend. Show your smile, give encouragement, and serve them in love.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV