Purposeful Seasons

CC-Public Domain

Drawing close to God will destroy our assumptions about who he is. That is a good thing and shouldn’t be a surprise. A growing relationship is a learning process that helps us discover things about ourselves and the other, replacing error with knowledge. We assume many things about God and about his motives. People will proclaim “God won’t let” this or that happen, and I will think, Don’t be so sure about that. The notion develops when we are not intimately acquainted with God in a bond cemented by relationship in the best and worst of times, often at his behest. It is to trade insight of his character for low-level spiritual experiences that do no more than keep us excited and “churchy”Read More »

God’s Love, Our Security

The Unfailing Love of God Series

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” IN ALL THINGS, God is at work. Often we do not read this scripture correctly with God as the subject of the verse.

CC NC, Kat N.L.M., Flickr
CC NC, Kat N.L.M., Flickr

“All things work together” because God causes them to do so. The family member’s addiction, the boss’s malice, and the devastating illness are incapable of rendering good of their own accord. Evil, sorrow, and the fallen, sinful world do not produce or lead to good things. So we may not be able to thank God for all things, but we can learn to thank him for refining our lives in our trials.Read More »

Faith in Clutch Moments

Geoffrey Fairchild, Flickr
Geoffrey Fairchild, Flickr

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…But even if he does not…we will not serve your gods.”

A few months into my work at a fast food restaurant, I sauntered in for my evening shift. The place was quiet and the manager stood at the register and greeted me as I entered the service area.

“Mike, you missed all the fun last night.”

“Oh, really,” I replied.

“We got robbed last night,” he said.

“Yeah, right.” I passed it off as a joke, but he was serious.

This store was two years old and sat on a state highway in a suburban area. Still, that meant little in the scenario he proceeded to explain. My co-worker Richard who first encountered the robber relayed the following account.

Beginning his nightly breakdown and cleaning routine at 9 p.m., an hour before closing, with no customers in the store, a man entered, drew a gun three inches to his face, and ordered him and all other staff to the back. There he made them lie in the floor on their stomachs in an enclosed area while he and the shift manager went to the safe. He left with $1,500 without harming anyone.

Alarmed by the details, I felt sorry for the people who had experienced the ordeal, some of whom were traumatized. It scared me to think of the outcome being any different. The robber was never caught.

Just, Why?

Obviously, I’m grateful I hadn’t been working. Would the situation have been worse if another set of people were present?

Why does God allow such things? Why doesn’t he clearly intervene in crisis…manifest in some way? It’s his world, after all. I think of super-scale natural disasters and heinous moral evils—where is God? These are tough questions to which there are no answers and the Bible offers none.

One of my favorite pastors whimsically asks, “If God is so powerful and good, why doesn’t he just erase the Devil?” I think we all can agree.

Playing with Fire

The topic makes me consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who boldly confronted evil in their uniquely dicey situation. For it’s one thing for misfortune and tragedy to strike and overcome you; it’s another thing to have a choice in your fate, which can be much more difficult. “God, I’ll trust you”—because I have no other choice is easier than “God, I’ll trust you”—when I do.

Yet the ‘Hebrew Boys’’ resolve convinces me that questioning, the struggle to understand why, is limited to its ability to make us feel our experience and to induce personal growth and, hopefully, deep faith in God. And that role should not be underestimated. Deep inquiry can even provoke change; however, it just won’t ever halt wickedness. Nebuchadnezzar will have his way.

So evil in the world will continue, yet God remains sovereign and providentially good to humankind. On that basis alone he is to be trusted. God rescues all, the believer and non-believer. I’m so thankful he protected my co-workers. And although only he can fully explain why, I doubt those answers outweigh our rest in his abiding care for us. We wouldn’t understand if he did explain.

In the end, why questions must give way to how questions that confront us about our response. Otherwise, we won’t emerge from fear or pain to wholesome life. Circumstances often don’t change but we must.

{Too, let us praise God for all the ways he does deliver that we never see! There could be far more hardship in the world.}

The Usefulness of Pain

CC BY-NC, Alex Abian, Flickr
CC BY-NC, Alex Abian, Flickr

“If I had only listened…” Sometimes that’s the saddest statement to hear, especially when disease is involved. Men particularly have a tendency to avoid doctors and linger with health issues. It is crushing when I learn that so-and-so now has prostate cancer or some serious malady that probably wouldn’t be if precaution had been taken when the symptoms first surfaced.

In the final portion of the quote I’ve raised, Augustine uses bodily health to express the utility of pain:

But evils without pain are worse: for it is worse to rejoice iniquity than to bewail corruption…in a body, a wound with pain is better than painless putrescence.

My Painless Evil

“Health is wealth” is a worthy saying. I think all of us would trade riches for a well body. Yet when sickness does come, pain serves a real purpose for the body. Already we mentioned the idea of good and bad pain, bad pain stemming from a less than good or malicious source working against the good.

Augustine now suggests the notion of evil without pain, which is rich in a spiritual context but won’t be dealt with here except to advance his illustration. Doctors can quickly acknowledge the truth of this, and so can I.

I have hypertension, which I discovered in my 20’s. Interestingly, I was home from college on Christmas break and suffered a painful neck injury during horseplay. At that time of my life I was really fit and active; and although some family members dealt with hypertension, it made little sense to me that I should suffer with it. I was too young and doing the right things.

That “silent killer” was an evil without pain in my body. Yet Augustine posits that it is worse to go about dying unawares than to grieve over a bad diagnosis. After all, some people never discover their hypertension because it kills them first. I can be thankful that I learned of my condition.

The God Who Controls All

Instead, says Augustine, “a wound with pain is better” because one without it is too risky. Moreover, although the source of pain may not be good, the pain may be of immeasurable value, one reason Augustine refuses to classify it as evil. The (bad, evil) pain stemming from disease is an alert, which is a good thing; and we cannot deny that the body is designed to facilitate pain and other dangers our senses should indicate.

CC BY-NC, Piers Nye, Flickr
CC BY-NC, Piers Nye Flickr

Certainly pain should be avoided if possible. I cannot believe that God created life with pain in his purpose for it. But although life allows for the possibility of it, pain does not exist without usefulness. Even the pain of the soul and relationships are critical indicators of complications to be healed.

Gratefully, God being sovereign has a design for all evil and pain and that only demonstrates his profound wisdom and glory.

It should give us great comfort that our personal pain is seen and felt by the Lord. It is never wasted of purpose. We cannot always perceive God’s purpose, but we can be sure that all our involvements hold purpose in his hands. This is also why he tells us to do good despite evil individuals and mistreatment. It’s because he backs the good; and as the landowner in Matthew 20:7 says, so declares the Lord—“Whatever is right, I will pay.”

The New Testament is correct in explaining that perseverance is born of faith. When we possess an assurance that God has a purpose and design with our most hateful experiences, we will endure them better.

More in the series: On Goodness and Pain and The God of All Purpose

The God of All Purpose

Moore Tornado, May 20, 2013 CC BY-NC, US Air Force, Flickr
Moore Tornado, May 20, 2013
CC BY-NC, US Air Force, Flickr

Previously we gathered from Augustine the idea that pain generally intrudes where conditions are prime. In his next words he delves deeper into the nature of pain:

But when a being is compelled to something better, the pain is useful, when to something worse, it is useless. Therefore in the case of the mind, the will resisting a greater power causes pain; in the case of the body, sensation resisting a more powerful body causes pain.

Augustine’s acumen here is to distance pain from being classed as something entirely evil. Instead, he implies that it takes on the character of its source. But before I deal with that, some perspective is in order.

Do All Things Bear Purpose?

We’ve already had it explained that nature and being is good because its Creator is good. But what is evil and sin? The biblical definition is plethora involving several words and concepts. Augustine offers the idea of a diminution or privation of goodness and the corruption of what is good (Ch. 4).

Since all things were created good—and evil is not a created thing—then less goodness, a lack of it, or its corruption are verily evil. Evil is always a potential with the existence of good the way darkness depends on the actuality of light.

A takeaway is the question of purpose. Years ago I watched a talk show and the question came up concerning autism—“Is there a purpose for everything, including disease?” Everyone nodded in agreement that there must be some purpose for it.

I couldn’t believe that based on what I knew of the scriptures. Disease (a natural evil as opposed to a moral one) holds no goodness, nor does it bear essential value. Regarding this in a post entitled “Help My Unbelief”, I wrote:

“I am not sure all things have purpose and moral value, and some things, like disease, may exist in a state of failed purpose…to assert that all things do indeed have purpose, from my Christian standpoint, may be leading to the justification of evil and sin’s existence in the world…although some things are mysterious and without apparent purpose, and perhaps consequently evil and used (by Satan) with evil intent, they can be used purposefully, but only if one possesses the power to cause it.”

Good Pain and Bad Pain

Flickr Moore Tornado 2That last line lands us here, squarely in Augustine’s logic. If God doesn’t create evil, he certainly doesn’t create pain. That is not to equate the two, nor is it to say good things may not result from pain, like courage or charitableness.

“But when a being is compelled to something better, the pain is useful, when to something worse, it is useless.” Rather than calling pain evil, Augustine suggests a “symptomatic” approach whereby pain is the result of an opposition between good and less good entities. Pain can be good pain or bad pain.

A body festering with disease and racked with pain is bad pain. Killer germs seek to take control of a healthy body. The agony of running a marathon or weightlifting is good pain. Although the vigorous exercise causes the lungs and muscles to burn, it enhances the body’s overall health. The examples continue and nicely apply to spiritual things.

God, the Great Weaver

Now if we ended here, we’d have evil on the loose, a loophole with purpose, and many tough questions. But preceding all created good and ensuing evil is God, who is the Guarantor of all experiences, good and bad, for those who believe.

“Only God has the power to use all things in purpose,” I conclude—all sorrow, disappointment, disease, and loss, in a plan well beyond our comprehension. Augustine agrees (Ch. 37):

“If anyone should wish to misuse these good things, not even thus does he vanquish the will of God, who knows how to order righteously even the unrighteous…he through the righteousness of his power may use their evil deeds rightly.”

More in the series: On Goodness and Pain and The Usefulness of Pain