Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’

Once upon a time, a well-intentioned ministerial friend, speaking within the context of Christian leaders who make mistakes and emotionally or psychologically hurt their congregants said: “You don’t have a right to be hurt–you have a right to be healed.” Such is the psycho-babble of religion. At the time I did not know how to respond, but I do now… horse-hockey (I’ll be moderately polite). What a load of cheese-whiz. This is nothing but arrogance camouflaged as wisdom. Of course everybody wants to be healed, which causes us to conveniently ignore the outrageous insult handed down in the first clause. Does someone with a broken leg not have the “right” to be injured? Does someone with cancer not have the “right” to be in pain? Would we ever say something so ridiculous to someone with a physical malady? The implication is, “You’re not ‘really’ in pain.” But emotional injuries are no less real–especially ones at the hands of those in positions of influence or authority in our lives–parents, employers, teachers, ministers, etc–that often take years to recover from. To unilaterally dismiss someone’s genuine emotional injury and the accompanying pain re-opens the wound, rubs salt in it, and then blames the one injured for not being compassionate enough to “forgive” their attacker of any responsibility or consequence for their actions–the implication is cover for the abuser because of the position. When Jesus encountered sin due to genuine human frailty he always demonstrated enormous compassion. But there was a certain group that garnered little to no compassion from Jesus, but stern warnings. Woe unto you religious leaders for you shall receive the greater condemnation. This does not mean that so-called Christian leaders are unforgiveable–God forbid. But statements such as the one quoted above are asking us to excuse the inexcusable–and there’s a huge difference.

For me, in my journey from religion to relationship, this revelation broke the back of the “Do good, get good—do bad, get bad” mindset.

In the story of Job, starting immediately in Job chapter one verse one, we are told that Job “was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” We are also told that he had a large family, and that he was very rich.

We also learn that Job’s children were apparently prone to wild parties, and that whenever this occurred, Job would offer sacrifices on their behalf, given the possibility that during their less inhibited state they may have “sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Job performed this priestly function on their behalf whenever it appeared to be needed.

We are also offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the counsels of heaven and read that Satan was allowed to test Job.

And we all know what happens next…

Job lost everything. His flocks and herds were destroyed and his children killed. Then after another round in the celestial counsel chambers, Satan “smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” It appears that Job’s wife did not leave him, but she wasn’t much help or comfort. Job, to put it mildly, was afflicted. He had lost his health, his wealth, and his family.

Then in due course Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, appeared on scene and “made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him.”

Initially Job’s friends did what was right—they offered their support by lamenting with him for seven days in silence because they saw that Job’s pain was very great.

But oftentimes what appears too good to be true is exactly that, and Job’s so-called “friends” soon turned on him. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and later Elihu, effectively harassed and harangued Job for the remainder of the entire book—close to 40 chapters worth!

And although there is some subtle variation in their tirades, the essential accusation remains consistent—somehow Job brought this upon himself. The innocent do not suffer. God is just. God rewards those who are good and deals with the wicked. In other words: Do good, get good—do bad, get bad. And since Job has gotten bad, axiomatically he must have “done bad” (real bad, and lots of it!).

And yet throughout the entire scenario, Job maintains his integrity and his righteousness, refuting his friend’s claims that he has done something wrong, or has not repented of “unknown” or “un-confessed” sin.

In fact the paradox is stupefying—and this appears to be precisely the point—Job seems to be suffering in extraordinary disproportion to whatever sins he may have committed. Therefore, there can only be one of two logical conclusions: 1) If God is adjudicating a divine system of justice, and God is a just judge, and if Job is indeed receiving just recompense for his sins, then his sins must have been equally extraordinary. 2) God is not just. And since we know this is not true, again, Job’s sins must be extraordinary, and one of these extraordinary sins must be his pride and refusal to admit his wrongs, and confess and repent!

But to make things even more incongruous, consider this: Job clearly believed in the efficacy of sacrifice. And not just sacrifice as recompense for sins already committed, but in pre-emptive sacrifice in anticipation of possible transgression. Furthermore, if Job saw fit to offer sacrifice preemptively for his children, it is only consistent to believe that he offered preemptive sacrifice for himself. And this is on top of the plain reading of scripture that says Job was a righteous man, “upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

Job’s situation is already beyond paradoxical—and yet there’s more.

There is a word used to describe Job back in chapter one that pushes this over the edge…

Job was blameless.

Take note that neither the scriptures nor Job himself testifies that he is sinless—Job was human just like anyone else, and although scripture never records or emphasizes his sin, there is little doubt that Job sinned.

The word blameless is a judicial word best understood by our modern legal concept called “double jeopardy.” Once a person has been adjudicated “not guilty” they cannot be charged, or blamed, for the same crime (or sin), again.

So Job’s defense basically boils down to three significant points. 1) I (Job) fear God and avoid evil—I am not perfect, I am not sinless, but I’m pretty darn clean. 2) I (Job) have never sinned even remotely in proportion to the degree I am suffering. 3) If sacrifice is efficacious, then I AM FORGIVEN! And I cannot be punished for what I have been forgiven of!

So how is this possible? How can God be just, Job forgiven, and yet suffer so insanely?

The answer comes at the very end of the book—a verse I read many times and yet it never quite registered until a few years ago.

When eventually God appears on the scene and sets the record straight, note what He says…

It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. [Job 42:7 NAS, emphasis added]

Let’s repeat this for emphasis…

God is furious with Job’s “friends”—why? Because they did not speak rightly about God. In other words, their mindset of a divinely adjudicated system of “do good, get good—do bad, get bad,” is INCORRECT!

But more importantly, note what is also said…

Job did speak what was right about God! The implications of this are staggering.

First, we have to take note of the fact that there are sections of scripture such as Eliphaz’, Bildad’s, Zophar’s, and Elihu’s monologues, that although inspired by the Holy Spirit, record a incorrect human perspective of what God is like, and are therefore not necessarily a discourse on the nature of God.

Second, if Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu are incorrect in their appraisal of what God is like and their assumed system of so-called divine jurisprudence—then we do not live within a “Do good, get good—do bad, get bad” system. What many mainstream Christians believe is a just and fair system adjudicated by a just God is simply not in effect the way they believe it is. (And God is none too happy with the “Do good, get good–do bad, get bad” paradigm either.)

Finally, many Bible scholars now believe that the book of Job may have been the first book of the Bible to be recorded—predating Genesis and the rest of the Torah. Additionally, many scholars likewise advocate reading the books of the Bible is chronological as opposed to canonical order. If this is the case, then the book of Job would be the first book to be studied by the “new” believer. This would make the book of Job one of the most striking prophetic foreshadows of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Job knew (and contended) that he was forgiven and that no accusation could land on him because of it. It wasn’t easy, and he faced extraordinary opposition from those around him who believed otherwise. And yet this is merely a foreshadow, and we as members of the body of Christ have the privilege to live in the authentic new creation reality—we are forgiven, and no accusation, past, present, or future, can land on us and stick.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that our negative circumstances are just going to magically drop away, but it does mean that we can recognize them for what they are—negative circumstances caused by the enemy, not the consequence of our sins. As members of His body, no sin we have committed, or the sins of our ancestors provide the “open door” for the accuser to do his dirty work. Even our own wrong ideas about God do not provide the open door. We live in a very broken world and unfortunate circumstances beset us all, oftentimes in what seems outrageously unfair proportions. Like Job we may suffer affliction, but we can rest assured, and rest in Christ, that God is not punishing us for being human.

If you had one child in whom you found unspeakable delight, would it not be normal as a parent to want many more? And if you had many more, you certainly would not want them to be identical to one another. Similar maybe, but you would also want each one to be his or herself—to be distinctly unique—thereby experiencing tremendous pride and joy in each one, and yet multiplied by their numbers, and multiplied exponentially by their combinations and interactions.

This is exactly the case with the eternal Father, who by nature and choice has desired and purposed to have a vast family of children like His only begotten Son.

This desire becomes all the more evident when we realize that the Father made all His plans with the Son in view—looking from the eternal past into the unfolding ages to come, that Jesus Christ would have a glorious body and resplendent bride to be the visible expression and perfect counterpart (ezer kenegdo) of the unseen God in the earth.

And even more so when we apprehend that the Son has in turn dedicated Himself to helping the Father realize His eternal purpose—His ultimate intention—that the Father might have innumerable children in whom He can have parental honor, glory, pleasure, and delight.

So it is with the Godhead. No one member lives for or unto Himself, but each for the other. The Father intends that in all things the Son might have preeminence. The Son lives to reveal the Father. Likewise the Holy Spirit dedicates Himself, as the “operating system” of the Godhead, to revealing and realizing the purpose of the Father and the Son.

This innate attitude of selfless giving, serving, and sharing is the divine rule of action that pours forth from the very heart and nature of God, and is seen nowhere clearer than in the eternal cross.

Eternal cross, you say? Yes, eternal. The cross is not a one-time historical event in the material realm, but an eternal principle and action conceived and executed in the councils of the Godhead from before the foundation of the earth (Rev. 13:8). The cross is inherent and eternal in God.

The cross (death and resurrection) is and always has been the one method by which God moves His purpose and advances His kingdom. It expresses the very qualities and manner of life of the triune God. It is the life-giving, light-sharing, and love-bestowing principle by which God has dealt with mankind since the very beginning.

Among the manifold tragedies of the fall of mankind—symbolized by Eve eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as opposed to the tree of life—is that mankind refused to “live” by the “cross-principle.” (And yet this was paradoxically and immediately followed by Adam eating of the same fruit with the knowledge that he would die—in effect laying down his life for his bride.)

If we see the cross strictly as a redemptive measure in time and space, we miss the bigger picture—that from the beginning the Father has longed for a family of children who would embrace the same divine rule of action that has eternally governed his own heart. It was God’s intention, that by choosing to live by the tree of life—that is, to live by divine life—that the way of the cross would likewise become mankind’s manner and purpose of life.

Essential to the cross-principle however is the exercise of free moral choice—to choose to live to love, to give, to serve, and to share. And essential to free choice is the presence of a legitimate alternative—an alternative that in this case would ultimately prove to be fruitless—but a legitimate offer nonetheless. And given the choice of living unto the Creator’s purpose, the fitting alternative was the option to choose to live unto the creation’s (the created thing—that is—mankind’s) purpose. In other words, the choice was between living unto God’s purpose, or living unto self-purpose. For mankind, choosing to live unto God’s purpose would mean yielding back to God his own rights, goals and dreams. By choosing his own way and self-purpose however, mankind chose to live by his own knowledge, exercise his own rights, and pursue his own goals by his own strength, ability, and effort. The choice between God’s purpose and his own self-purpose was mankind’s first opportunity to choose the way of the cross, thereby setting the stage for each successive choice to more fully fashion the cross as an operating principle in the heart of man—thus God and man would have become two hearts living in common unity (community).

By choosing God’s way, the way of the cross would have become inwrought within the human race—God’s own divine rule for realizing his eternal purpose. In doing so, Adam would have entered into his high calling—to share God’s divine life, to bear His image, to fill the earth after his kind, and to have dominion over the earth. By choosing his own way, mankind became blind to God’s methodology and instead chose to advance his own agenda by his own efforts.

The eternal cross demonstrates that free choice, giving, serving, and sharing have been God’s chosen methods of operation since before time began, and will continue to be His primary intended methods of operation in perpetuity. As the manner of life within the Godhead, it demonstrates that genuine relationship is “unto the other” by definition.

In contrast, successive generations of the human race living by self-effort and in self-interest have only succeeded in establishing the opposite attributes—controlling, taking, and commanding (regardless of how cleverly disguised they are as virtues)—as mankind’s modus operandi. Human nature, and thereby all human systems and institutions—including and especially religion—default to these methods, although again, they are frequently camouflaged as being admirable qualities, or as being necessary for effectiveness or efficiency.

Unfortunately, we know all too well the way Adam chose, and that due to selfish choice and henceforth limited by sin and his natural senses, mankind could not understand the cross-principle of self-giving without an outward demonstration—hence the necessity of the historical cross.

For this reason, as well as by nature and by choice, the Father clothed the Son in human flesh and sent Him to walk among men. From the moment He emerged from the Jordan, every step Jesus took and every word He spoke was a revelation of the divine rule of action and was thus immediately and irrevocably at “cross-purposes” (pun intended) with human paradigms.

Cross Purposes-

Whether tempted by the enemy in the wilderness, facing down the Pharisees, or mysteriously slipping through a crowd that would make Him king, Jesus refused to do anything by self-effort or in self-interest. The eternal cross-principle had invaded space-time. Every encounter revealed the contrast between man’s way and God’s way. Whether offered by the devil in the wilderness, or attempted to be forced upon Him by the people—He refused the crown apart from the cross. When Peter rebuked the necessity of His death, Jesus responded at cross-purposes. When His own mother sought to press her maternal claims to His affection, Jesus responded at cross-purposes. When the Pharisees sought to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus responded at cross-purposes. Thus the road to Golgotha was strewn with many crosses.

Time and again Jesus cut “a-cross” the grain of human self-interest and worldly paradigms until fallen man nailed Him to one.

And while we may marvel at the blindness of those who made this fatal error, we must use great caution so as to not make a similar mistake. To limit the scope of the cross to a one-time historical event as a remedy for sin, and as a source of blessing and power, may be to see the cross as only an answer to our needs as opposed to an eternal rule of action, the point of which is to become the operating principle whereby God fulfills His eternal purpose and ultimate intention.

The way of the cross is a way of life. It has been practiced by the Godhead since time immemorial, and likewise will be for all the ages yet to come. But it is only as the cross becomes an inwrought rule of action in his children that we become truly alive to God and able to realize His eternal purpose in us.

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. [Philippians 3:10 KJV]