He said, “Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it” (Jeremiah 5:22).
“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (Jn. 3:27).
What do you have that is not from God?
The Bible answers, “Ultimately, absolutely nothing.”
Your response to this may vary. Some may be thinking about good things for which they should be grateful. Others may reminisce over fond memories of past blessings. Still, others may recoil at the thought of their trials, pains, and obstacles having come from God. Whatever your immediate response, consider with me the profound comfort we may find in this truth.
First, meaning for the past. Since nothing has come to you that is not from God, you can know that there is meaning and purpose in all that you have experienced. This is a particular comfort to Christians, because we may also know that God is working in all things to bring about our good (sanctification, holiness, joy, and more [Rom. 8:28]). You haven’t gone through anything for nothing.
Second, trust in the present. Since nothing you are facing now is outside of God’s good design, you can trust Him in the midst of the storm. The Christian is not left to wander alone through the trials of life, but he/she can (and should) find great comfort in the reality that God is in control and He is near. This is, in fact, what Jesus prayed for His followers, not that we would avoid suffering in this world, but that God would be with us in and through it (John 17:14-21).
Third, hope for the future. Since nothing will ever come to you that is not from God, you can know that all God has promised will most certainly come to pass. While the sovereignty of God may cause many questions to arise in our minds, the most important thing such a concept should do is bring us great hope. I am not talking about wishful thinking… I am talking about hope in the way the Bible uses the term. The Bible says every Christian enjoys the “hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2).
May God comfort your heart and mind today with this fact… “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (Jn. 3:27).
Last weekend was emotionally demanding. I received phone calls from two different sources, and each reported the death of a person I knew. A 92-year-old man had been part of my church family for years, and I had spoken with him several times about his impending death. When he died, it was no huge surprise, but it still stings.
The other news of fatal events focused upon one of my younger brothers. He was 29 years old, and he died of a gunshot wound on Saturday.
Saying it out loud and typing it here still feels strange… My brother is dead.
On Saturday night, I was lying in bed beside my 9-year-old son and my wife. I was making some last minute adjustments to my notes in preparation for officiating the older man’s graveside funeral service on Sunday afternoon. My wife and son were playing and talking beside me, and they were not trying hard to keep from distracting me. Once I finished, we talked a bit and prayed together, and then I carried my son to his bed.
Coming back to my own bed, I returned a call from my dad that I had missed a short time earlier. He relayed the terrible news, “Eric was shot, and they could not save him.”
Thoughts raced through my head. I recalled having said (on more than one occasion) that my brother would likely end up dead or in prison if he remained on his current path, but understanding the logical progression does not prepare one to absorb the decisive reality. Eric had been on a path of self-destruction for many years, with varying degrees of vigor. It seems this end, for him, was inevitable, but it is not welcome.
And yet, the middle-class, war veteran, upstanding citizen, nonagenarian still faced the same end as my brother. Of course, the means were quite different. My brother faced an abrupt end while he felt he was at the height of his life’s energy; and the old man died while he rested peacefully in a hospital bed after his days of vitality had long passed. But, the fact remains… Both men died.
This is the haunting reality that every person cannot escape. I will die. You will die. We will all face that dreaded and immediate removal of all of our illusions of power and grandeur. While we may pride ourselves on our ability to elude that final foe thus far, his stamina and success is sure.
This is what makes death life’s definitive equalizer. No matter what you do, you, like everyone else, will face death on equal footing – with your feet planted firmly in midair.
What will you do with this knowledge? How will you ease your anxiety?
The Bible tells us why all humans experience death, and why we all face such an enemy without hope of escape. All humans die (sooner or later) because of our collective rebellion against God’s divine authority (Rom. 5:12). All humans remain under God’s condemnation because of our collective disobedience (Rom. 5:16). Therefore, we are equally guilty before God, and we will face the judgment we deserve – no matter how much we tried to make ourselves believe otherwise in this brief mortal life.
And yet, there is hope. Not a hope in you or me, but hope that comes from God Himself.
God sends grace instead of justice, and provides genuine hope for all those who will trust Him, in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:21).
Jesus, the Son of God and God the Son, was born perfect, and He lived perfectly obedient to God’s authority. This morally pure God-man was counted as the vilest rebel before God who ever existed when He hung on a Roman cross. God poured out His unbridled fury against rebellious sinners on Jesus Christ, and this incomparably gracious substitute died. Jesus died. He, like all humans, died. Ah, but His death was the death of death itself!
In the death of Jesus Christ, the ultimate penalty for sin was paid. All those who look to Christ (who trust in Him as Rescuer, Redeemer, and Ruler) may rest assured that Christ’s death counts for them. Furthermore, Jesus Christ conquered death by resurrecting to eternal life. Indeed, He promises that all who love and trust Him will enjoy the same resurrection He experienced, and such a glorious end is the bedrock of hope.
So, what will you do with this knowledge?
I know what I do with it… I cling tightly to this Christ who has loved me so. I ache to know Him more and long to be with Him in eternal glory. Daily, I recount His promises, contemplate His work, and ponder His character. In times of greatest trial, when I am tempted to despair and even disbelief, I squeeze tighter to the divine hands that always maintain their grip on me.
The Psalms are a fascinating compilation of Hebrew poetry. The rhythmic and emphatic language soars in joy-filled air and plunges into sloughs of affliction and misery. While Hebrew poetry is not marked by sounds of rhyme, it does have many distinguishing features. Parallelism (using different phrases to say similar things or contrasting things), structure (moving from line to line in a pattern), and posture (distinctly celebrating, lamenting, or requesting something) are some of the features of Hebrew poetry.
Once you understand the movement and methods of Hebrew poetry, it can be a stimulating exercise to formulate your own heartfelt prayer with similar features. The Psalms are uniquely God’s authoritative Word (just as all of holy Scripture), but the Psalms are given as exemplary prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession, and supplication. Therefore, it seems warranted that the Christian disciple should follow these examples.
Here is a psalm-like prayer I wrote some time ago:
Oh God, my Redeemer and Comforter,
My fear and insecurity confuse my awareness of Your presence.
Here I am, alone and anxious in the confines of my mind.
I feel around in the dark, but my hands do not touch You.
Where is Your kind countenance in the fog of my despair?
Am I not helpless when my thoughts possess me so?
Oh God, have You forgotten me? Have I become too much a burden to You?
I am tossed to and fro by waves of my own miserable invention.
These panic inducing torrents are the concoction of my own sinful suspicions.
I despondently seek safety among the wind and waves.
What an abandoned wretch am I!
I know the place of hope and light, yet I seek it not.
I hear the chant of Sirens, and long for their embrace.
I prize esteem from others, and cannot bare the loss of it.
When some prestigious adage is presented, I want it too.
Is there anyone else who cannot resist these?
Am I the only one who loves You and loves sin as much?
I scarcely meet a soul who admits such a rivalry within.
My own soul looks for refuge where it cannot be found.
What a tormented degenerate am I!
Who will deliver me from this ocean of bondage?
How can I be free from my stormy sea of self-inflicted anguish?
Will You wait forever and only listen to my helpless sobs?
May it never be! I know these thoughts to be foolish!
Oh, my soul, God is my Rock and my Redeemer!
The Lord is the saving God and the refuge of the weary!
In Him I will find all the security and affirmation I was created to know!
Oh God, my Redeemer and Comforter,
You are near indeed, and my soul rejoices at Your warm gaze.
Behold love and grace, joy and peace; in You only are they found.
What a beloved child am I!
I know I am loved and accepted for Another’s sake!
I am upheld and raised to heights unknown to worldly men.
God is my safety; He is my ever-present help in time of need.
The Lord has kept all His promises and none will ever fail.
Oh, my soul! Bless the Lord of your salvation!
Do not think of the surges about you, but love the Rock of Ages!
So many swells are only His beckoning call to find your mooring in Him.
Behold, God is; He is good; and He loves me!
What a gracious and merciful Father have I!
If satisfaction is a sense of pleasurable fulfillment derived from met expectations, then many people are dissatisfied today. If you happen to be less than satisfied with your current life experience, then I would like to ask you to consider something.
Do you feel frustrated or disappointed because you are assigning expectations to things that cannot measure up?
Think about it.
Might it be that the reason your expectations continue to go unmet is because they cannot be met by the things upon which you are placing them?
Maybe you expected to be more successful than you are right now, maybe you expected that your marriage wouldn’t be quite so difficult, or maybe you expected your child would have already been past that ridiculous phase. Maybe you expect that your house should not be so small, maybe you expect that your bank account should be bigger, or maybe you expect that your reputation should be more prestigious.
Whatever your expectations are, they may come from a desire to find satisfaction and contentment in something or someone who simply cannot measure up. If you are like most people, then the search for satisfaction often leads us away from the only place it can be found.
Allow me to illustrate:
I sometimes seek my own satisfaction and contentment from my wife. When she is not as affirming of me as I would like her to be, then I take this as a personal offense to my own worth. If I do not feel that she is meeting my needs as I would want, then my joy is stolen. In fact, in my dissatisfaction, I am very likely to react badly towards her. She then feels unloved and dissatisfied because of my attitude towards her. I am using myself in a personal illustration because I am sure that nothing like this has ever happened in your house…
You will never be satisfied or content if you look for these things in your spouse, your children, your parents, your lifestyle, your house, your job, your success, your good health, or yourself.
Let that sink in for a moment. None of these will satisfy your longing for something worthy of high expectations.
Alright, so how do we make this right?
Well, you could keep doing what you are doing right now. How is that working out for you? Or maybe you could look for someone or something that actually has the ability to satisfy your deepest longings.
I propose that you pursue the God of the universe, by reading and trusting His Word, so that you will really know Him. God, in Christ Jesus, is capable of satisfying you like you cannot imagine. Just consider what the Bible says in the Psalms:
“The [word] of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:7–10).
I don’t know about you, but soul-reviving, trustworthy, wisdom-giving, heart-rejoicing, purifying, enlightening, cleansing, true, and right words are exactly the kinds of words I want in my head and in my heart. That sure sounds satisfying to me.
May God help us to seek our satisfaction in Him, so that we may actually be satisfied.
When the atheist raises a fist against the Creator of the universe, he does so with contempt against God because of the tremendous pain and suffering that humanity experiences while living under the sun.
The Christian Faith has had many antagonists over the centuries, but it seems that the boldest and noisiest adversaries of Christianity in recent decades have been those from an atheistic position. From this vantage point (though atheism is certainly no belvedere), some have postulated the finding of Christianity’s death knell. Feinberg describes the theistic conundrum by citing the philosopher David Hume.
“The problem of evil as traditionally understood in philosophical discussion and debate is stated succinctly in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he [God] able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he [God] both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
Long before Hume, Epicurus (a third and fourth century BC Greek philosopher) articulated much the same analytical dilemma against theism. While this form of argumentation has been around for a very long time, it seems to have gained some traction in contemporary minds. Whether or not this is truly a problem for theists is the subject of this essay, but it is important to note at the outset that such a problem is really shorthand for multiple problems concerning at least three basic assumptions in the syllogisms represented above. Feinberg lists these suppositions as “(a) God is omnipotent (in some sense of “omnipotent”), (b) God is good in that he wills that there be no evil, in some sense of “evil,” and (c) evil, in the sense alluded to in (b), exists.”
The problems of evil, then, are the difficulties one might face in defending a theistic position that holds to one or more of these suppositions. Each supposition may be dealt with individually, but the theist must construct a consistent view of the character and nature of God while acknowledging that “evil” is experienced in this world.
The problem of evil is important to address for several reasons, but it may be most interesting to humanity because of the universality of suffering and pain. It is quite reasonable to perceive that when a person rails against the being of God because of the experience of evil, they likely mean to use evil as a synonym for human suffering and pain.
It is hardly conceivable that an atheist would intend to argue that God does not exist because of the ills humanity has inflicted upon the mountainous Alps as they utilize climbing equipment to bash and injure the spectacular terrestrial protrusions or because of the painful astrophysical results of human interference with the lunar landscape. Even less we might expect an atheist to speak of the human offense to God’s character or His holiness when they continually rebel against His kind and good directives. No, when the atheist raises a fist against the Creator of the universe, he does so with contempt against God because of the tremendous pain and suffering that humanity experiences while living under the sun.
The atheist perceives these experiences to be unjust, unacceptable, and incongruent with the existence of any good and powerful God.
Atheists notwithstanding, many people struggle to understand their own experiences with incredible pain and suffering. The problem of evil is important to address for the sake of all those searching for some kind of prism through which to view their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering so that they might make sense of it. Many have sought to excuse God from the pain and suffering of humanity, some have tried to justify pain and suffering as a means to some greater end, and still others have decided that the best answer to the problem is that God simply must needs create a world in which evil runs rampant to some degree or another.
The “Free Will” advocate claims that the best way to defend the existence of a good and powerful God in spite of evil is to lay the blame for such evil upon the shoulders of free volitional creatures who have brought about the disparaging pain and suffering we now endure. This sounds enticing to many theists, and at first glance may provide the uncritical mind some sense of refuge from the atheistic assault.
However, it is conceivable that God could have created free volitional creatures without the possibility of sin, disobedience or evil. Indeed, this is the hope of all biblical Christians – namely that sinners saved by God’s grace will live in perfect freedom for all eternity without ever experiencing another moment of pain, suffering, sin or evil. Thus, the Free Will advocate falls short of adequately answering the challenge.
The consequentialist asserts that the temporal evils of pain and suffering are regrettable, but they are also part of the building blocks of a future and greater good. This sort of reasoning may dance dangerously close to the line, which distinguishes good from evil, calling those things that are evil the very things that are necessary to bring about final or ultimate good. This defense too may have an initial appeal, but it falls apart when pressed further and when contrasted with the biblical position.
What kind of good God must use evil to bring about good? Can evil ever be called good without serious injury to the term good? It seems quite unappealing to think of a good God who is confined to merely manipulating evil ingredients to bring about His good purposes.
The rationalist position is that of reason and God’s acting out of rationalistic compulsion. This seems the most arrogant position of all, positing that God must act according to sufficient reason (that is according to some humanly accessible rationale). According to this view, “human reason, apart from divine revelation, should be able to discover that reason and ascertain what God would choose.” Under this rubric of thinking, God has created a world with the presence of pain and suffering because such a world is the best possible world that God might have created.
However, this position fails to measure up to the biblical standard as well. First, God’s volition and intelligence are both infinitely greater than the human capacity; and this is so even before the gnoetic effects of the fall of sinful humanity. Second, and yet again, the biblical Christian awaits exactly such a world as this position claims impossible. The hope of eternal glory is that God will reconcile fallen humanity to Himself in such a way that sinners will ultimately be glorified and free from evil, sin, pain and suffering.
There seems to be many insufficient answers to the problem of evil, and so too there may also be several productive ways to address it.
First, before any theist feels the burden of defending theism against an atheistic accusation concerning evil and the existence of God, he may ask the atheist, “What is evil?” The atheist must assume evil, which assumes good, which assumes God who calls things good, in order to accuse this same God he has just charged with non-existence.
Under the atheistic worldview, there is no such thing as moral good or moral evil. In fact, there is no reason to suppose the universe to be reasonable or coherent at all – especially in terms of morality. Therefore, the theist is not obligated to answer the atheist’s accusation.
Second, the question or problem of evil may be raised by someone who is not antagonistic to the theistic worldview, and in such an instance it seems good that a Christian would be prepared to answer with truth, and in a tone of compassion.
In my view, God has created a good world (Gen. 1:31), and human existence is better than non-existence. Additionally, God has intended to create un-glorified humans (at least initially) rather than glorified ones, and this is the reason (though not necessarily the purpose) for the possibility of pain and suffering (Gen. 2:17).
Un-glorified humans possess volitional freedom to the extent that they are capable of choosing rebellion or submission towards God. Having chosen the former in no way releases humanity from God’s sovereignty, though it does place humanity under the curse of God’s wrath (Gen. 3:24); and God’s sovereign rule over all that comes to pass in no way releases humanity from culpability for such rebellion. Blameworthy for all manner of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, humanity has fallen under the curse of God’s wrath and lives in a world full of pain and suffering (Eph. 2:1-3).
This pain and suffering that is now endured is not good, and it is never to be called good (Isaiah 5:20).
However, God has not left un-glorified humans without hope in the face of such evil; rather, God Himself has invaded human history in the person and work of Jesus Christ in order to suffer the greatest pain – the unbridled wrath of God – on behalf of fallen, un-glorified humanity.
This same God-man (Jesus Christ) has also conquered death and brought about final and ultimate victory over evil, pain, and suffering. The God of Christianity is a God of justice, righteousness, mercy, and grace. He has scandalously suffered as a human, and this provides not only hope for suffering sinners, but also a gracious and empathetic Savior.
Ultimately, my position is one of trust in the God who has revealed Himself through special revelation, recorded on the pages of Holy Scripture. I do not intend this as a cop out, rather a humble submission to what God has revealed about Himself and about humanity. God is both absolutely sovereign and perfectly good, and un-glorified humanity is radically sinful.
Within this tension lies another stark truth: good is always good and evil is always evil.
God does not build out good ends through the use of evil means. Instead, He providentially orchestrates all of creation for His glory and for the greatest joy of all those whom He loves. God’s good and sovereign providence and man’s sinful activity, which results in prolific pain and suffering, is a tension in the Scriptures that must not be lost. Carson addresses the matter by saying,
“[W]e will avoid implicitly denying one truth when we affirm another; we will grow in stability; above all, we will better know the God who has in his grace disclosed himself to rebels like us, taken up our guilt, participated in human suffering, and sovereignly ensured that we will not be tempted above what we are able to bear. In knowing him better we will learn to trust him; and in trusting him we will find rest.”
In summary, the atheistic accusation, “If evil, then no God!” simply cannot fly; it does not even leave the ground. If there is no God, then the possibility of any moral good or moral evil is nil. Yet, there are those who find themselves suffering tremendously who seek some comfort in their time of pain. For them, the Bible offers a God who rules sovereignly, graciously, and lovingly.
Only the Bible provides the opportunity for sinful, suffering humans to learn of a merciful, suffering King; and it is this King who promises the hope of glory – the final and eternal freedom from evil, pain, and suffering – through His finished work of redemption.
Carson, D. A. How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990.
Feinberg, John S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.
 Feinberg, Kindle Locations 179-182
 Feinberg, Kindle Locations 222-224
 Feinberg, Kindle Locations 736-737
 Carson, 214
In his devotional “Mornings and Evenings,” Charles Spurgeon wrote his own commentary on the passing of Christians from security and strength to further stability and power. This progression is contrary to much of our natural experience, and Spurgeon acknowledges the same. A runner, for instance, begins with full energy and ends with none; and the wrestler finishes his long match with much less vigor than he had at the start. But Christians are anchored and empowered by someone who is unnatural, and their advancement from strength to strength is observable as well as biblical.
The Bible speaks of a God who is not merely a passive all-observing eye. No, the biblical God is the creator and sustainer of every aspect of His creation; He is the ever-active, sovereign king of the universe (Acts 17:24-25).
This brings great comfort to the humble Christian. Spurgeon says, “Thou shalt never find a bundle of affliction which has not bound up in the midst of it sufficient grace.” This means that there is no amount of suffering, no tumultuous season of life, no seemingly unrewarded effort expended that is completely in vain. The Bible never calls evil by the name of good, but all things are by God’s design and for the ultimate good of His children (Rom. 8:28; Lam. 3:37-38).
Much more could be said on this biblical assertion of God’s sovereign work to bring about the sanctification of His children, but Christians may be observed as having lived out this surprising experience as well. While not all churchgoers exhibit this same development, the mark of mature Christianity is finding secure refuge in Christ.
Consider the believer who receives a terrible diagnosis from the doctor. She may recoil and feel distress just as much as anyone, but her soul is eventually steadied and the Commander of the storm calms the gales of her mind.
Think also of the young Christian couple that rushes their newborn to the emergency room only to learn that their child’s mortal life has ended much too soon. Their pain and anguish is beyond words, but the light of life somehow invades their dark night of the soul.
Christ is their portion, and He is enough.
Once, Christians were commonly noticed as experiencing joy in the face of their own sorrow. In our day of commonplace denial and distraction, it is not so normal to see anyone bear the load of suffering well. Yet, when the Christian does it is a bittersweet site indeed.
What a peculiar beauty it is to see the Christian rejoice in the Lord while they are enduring significant pain. Others may even become irrationally envious of the agony of these exemplary saints when that agony is born steadily by the grace of God.
Spurgeon is also quoted as having said, I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.
The counter-intuitive destination of a Christian’s suffering is safe in the arms of Christ. Isn’t it a wonder that Christians will often find themselves crawling out of Christ’s bosom and onto the floor of life until they encounter some strange pain or confusing fear? Upon such an encounter, they cry out for the embrace of the Father’s care and find Him worthy of their full trust and reliance.
Only in this light may we perceive suffering as a gift.
Oh, that you and I would know the strength of God’s abiding Spirit – with or without the common suffering of life under the curse of sin. May the Lord bless us with His caring allotment of energy and affliction, for His glory and for our greatest joy.
“[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
“God will give the strength of ripe manhood with the burden allotted to full-grown shoulders.”