The Sovereignty of God and Healing Its Implications for Africa
The Sovereignty of God and Healing Its Implications for Africa
In order to illustrate the struggles many Christians experience with issues of healing I would like to start with a few stories that I have gathered from a variety of publications:
The first one comes from the book of Joni Eareckson Tada. The title of the book is When God weeps; Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty. It is published by Zondervan in 1997.
Laying on my back in a Stryker frame with my head immobilized in steel tongs, I could look only up. A natural position for talking to God. I tried to imagine what He was thinking. If God were God - I was convinced he was all powerful and loving - He had to be as anxious to relieve my pain as I was. A heavenly Father had to weep over me as my daddy often did, standing by my bedside, white-knuckling the guardrail. I was one of God's children, and God would never do anything to harm one of his own. Didn't Jesus say, "Which of you fathers; if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then. ..know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven!" (Luke 11:11-13).
A God this good is worth pursuing. And so, when I was released from the hospital, my friends would drive me to Washington, D.C., so I could be first in line at the door whenever the famous faith-healer, Kathryn Kuhlman, came to town. Miss Kuhlman breezed onto the stage in her white gown, and my heart raced, as I prayed, Lord, the Bible says you heal all our diseases. I'm ready for you to get me out of this wheelchair. Please, would you? ,
God answered: I never walked away from my chair. The last time I wheeled away from a Kathryn Kuhlman crusade, I was number fifteen in a line of thirty wheelchair-users waiting to exit at the stadium elevator, all of us trying to make a fast escape ahead of the people on crutches. I remember glancing around at all the disappointed and confused people and thinking, Something is wrong with this picture. Is this the only way to deal with suffering? Trying desperately to remove it?
When I looked in the mirror after I got home, I saw their sullen expression staring back. I was just as perplexed as the people near the elevator. Okay, let me get this straight: God is good. God is love. He is all powerful. Plus, when he walked on earth, he bent over backward to relieve the sufferings of people, everyone from the hemorrhaging woman to the centurion servant. So why does my five-year-old niece, Kelly, have brain cancer? Why did my brother-in-law abandon my sister and their family? Why does Daddy’s arthritis not respond to medication? …`
Yes, Jesus "took up our diseases" (Isaiah 53:4). His cross is our ship to heaven; his miracles gave us glimpses of Paradise; he ladles out foretastes of bliss by a thousand blessings large and small. But they are all just that - glimpses, foretastes. We're not in heaven yet. So, godly Timothy had stomach ailments and "frequent illnesses." Epaphroditus, who hand-delivered Paul's Philippian epistle," was ill, and almost died." Paul left his friend Trophimus "sick in Miletus. "The apostle himself admitted to his Galatian readers; "It was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you " -apparently he had detoured to Galatia to recuperate.
Some Christian teachers have explained this by saying, "Paul and his friends lacked faith."
She then continues to relate her story of how a new and fresh acceptance of the Sovereignty of God has helped her to find peace and discover a new purpose in her own life.
At the end of her book she wrote: “The girl who became emotionally distraught, and wavered at each new set of circumstances is now grown up, a woman who has learned to rely on God’s sovereignty” (Joni, p. 190).
Dr. C. Everett Koop recalls a particularly brutal episode of healing practices that do not reckon with the sovereignty of God:
We hired an investigative writer to look into some of the cults and into faith healers specifically. Our investigator traveled to a Southwestern city where a healing campaign had been advertised some weeks in advance....
Among those who applied for healing was an elderly Christian gentleman who lived out on the prairie. His vision was becoming dim, and he most likely was developing cataracts. The only lighting in the little cabin where he lived was a kerosene lamp. He was a devout Christian, read his Bible daily - or tried to - and had all the faith necessary for healing, if faith indeed does secure healing. His major complaint was that his sight had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer read his Bible.
On the night of his appearance before the healer, the old man was brought up in the atmosphere of a sideshow. The faith healer said, “Well, Pop, you can’t see anymore. You’ve gotten old, you can’t even see with your glasses. Your vision is failing.” Then he reached over and took off the old man’s spectacles, threw them on the platform, stamped on them, and broke them. He then handed the elderly gentleman a large-print Bible, which, under the lights necessary for television in those days, enabled the gentleman to read John 3:16 out loud, to the astonishment and applause of the audience.
The elderly gentleman praised God, the healer praised God, the audience praised God, and the old man went back to his dimly lit cabin and could not find his Bible, because his glasses were destroyed. The man went back to the healer but was told the most discouraging thing a godly man like that could possibly hear: “You didn’t have enough faith, or the healing would have stuck.”
Healing and Prosperity Preachers in Africa⤒🔗
Isaac Phiri and Joe Maxwell wrote an article in Christianity Today in 2007 in which they gave a picture of how charismatic renewalists in Africa move beyond traditional Pentecostal practices of speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing to the belief that God will provide money, cars, houses, and even spouses in response to believers' faith — if not immediately, then soon. Many of the renewalist leaders in Nigeria preach prosperity as a biblical concept based on the promises of Deuteronomy, proclaiming that when people serve Jesus Christ and renounce other gods, God blesses their nation and economy.
“I preach prosperity and the message of salvation, too," says Joe Imakando, a former cessationist Baptist who now pastors the 6,500-person Bread of Life Church in Lusaka, Zambia. The church has sprouted 53 branches around the country, as well as church plants in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Malawi, and Tanzania. Like many successful megachurch pastors in Africa, Imakando headlines his own local television show.
In its 2006 survey, Pew Research Center (an American think tank organization based in Washington, D.C. that provides information on issues, attitudes and trends shaping the United States and the world) asked participants if God would "grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith." Eighty-five percent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 percent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes. Similarly, when Pew asked if religious faith was "very important to economic success," about 9 out of 10 Kenyan, Nigerian, and South African renewalists said it was.
Made in the USA←⤒🔗
The Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is the biggest religious television network in history. Founder Paul Crouch is close friends with Hagin, Copeland, Hinn and other Word of Faith teachers. As Pentecostal-charismatic programming has flooded Africa, renewalist numbers have risen from 17 million in 1970 to 147 million in 2005. The continent's largest religious broadcaster is TBN, followed by Europe's GOD TV.
- American lifestyles have led African believers to equate Christian faith with wealth.
- Traditional African values often link material success and spiritual success.
- The African "Big Man" ideal honors rich, powerful leaders such as prosperity preachers.
"It seems hypocritical for Western Christians who live in their nice suburbs to criticize Africans who want to 'prosper' — when many of those Africans are just beginning to leave grass huts and experience for the first time the joys of owning a car, holding a decent job, or enrolling in college," Grady says. "Do we really believe it is wrong for them to want those things?"
In these renewalist churches in Africa a mixture of traditional African religious beliefs and modern day renewalist charismatic thinking are mixed. In traditional African religion, healing and prosperity are already there anyway and dreams have always been seen as extremely important. Once this idea of African interest in dreams catches on, everything else follows.
There are many indigenous critics of the health-and-wealth message. Bishop Joseph Ojo, national secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and pastor of Calvary Kingdom Church, says certain pastors have "invaded the pulpit but do not have the calling. Their god is their belly."
David Oginde, senior pastor of the 10,000-member Nairobi Pentecostal Church, believes he could triple his membership by promising wealth. "But if that is all I am teaching, then I have lost the message," he says. "The kingdom of God is built on the Cross, not on bread and butter."
Oginde sometimes counsels Christians burned by health-and-wealth preachers. One student "planted" his school money as a seed offering, then was thrown out of college for not paying tuition. "I gave my money to God, but it has not come back," the student said. Oginde replied, gently, "You did not give your money to God."
Oginde warns that unethical preachers turn God's provision into "a sweepstakes", "distorting a good thing."
The greatest danger is that in this kind of religion man is elevated to become a god. In his book THE PROSPERITY MOVEMENT: Wounded Charismatics, Roger L. Smalling exposed the deepest core of the idolatry by comparing the concept of God in the writings of Prosperity Gospel preachers with pagan concepts of God.
He explains that Pagan religions split the difference between God and man, by reducing God to become more like a human and exalting man to the status of a god. Mythology, whether ancient or modern, invariably diminishes God to less than what he is, and exalts man to more than what God is.
The Apostle Paul referred to this reduction-exaltation process in Romans 1:22-23:
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Christian revelation, in contrast, brings man and God together in a relationship, while leaving both intact.
In the gospel, God remains the sovereign, infinite, all-powerful being the Scriptures portray him to be. Man remains a dependant created being.
In paganism, a progression takes place. First, a human is like a god. Then he is part god. Then he is a god. In the final stage, he thinks he is God himself.
Smalling points out how large sectors of the Charismatic movement have been hijacked by a bizarre gnostic cult, known variously as The Prosperity Movement, Word of Faith or Faith Movement.
Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network close friend of Hagin, Copeland, Hinn and other Word of Faith teachers, exclaims:
Christians are little gods.
God draws no distinction between himself and us.
God opens up the union of the very godhead (Trinity), and brings us into it.
Word of Faith teachers replicate pagan thinking by redefining the Christian God as less than what the scriptures reveal him to be and granting divine status to man.
Word of Faith teachers are therefore prophets of a false god.
The movement teaches that Christians are little gods, of the same essence as God himself. These teachers confuse man as image of God with man as a duplicate of God.
The Bible teaches union with Christ through the Spirit. Word of Faith doctrine teaches joining with Christ though a mixing of our supposed divinity with his.
In pagan thinking where gods are seen like human beings people think that they have to manipulate gods with sacrifices and rituals to obtain health, wealth and prosperity.
That is why God revealed himself as totally different from the pagan gods when he said to his people according to Deuteronomy 10:17;
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
The options are clear: Either God is Sovereign or he isn't.
Definition of the Sovereignty of God←⤒🔗
The assertion of God’s absolute sovereignty in creation, providence, and grace is basic to biblical belief and biblical praise.
In the book of John Piper and Justin Taylor Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, published by CROSSWAY BOOKS IN 2006 John Piper says:
The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like land mines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty.
The sovereignty of God indicates his absolute authority and power over all creation for the purpose of accomplishing his divine will.
The Sovereignty of God indicates the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psalm 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psalm 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as it pleases Him best. He declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, by saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:10)
The essence of God’s sovereignty according to Jerry Bridges is his absolute independence to do as he pleases and his absolute control over the actions of all his creatures.
To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the,
the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, and should receive honor and glory forever and ever.1 Timothy 6:15
Such is the God of the Bible.
We are constantly told in explicit terms that the Lord (Yahweh) reigns as king, exercising dominion over great and tiny things alike. God’s dominion is total: he wills as he chooses and carries out all that he wills, and none can stay his hand or thwart his plans.
He may smite with plague or bless with health; in short, being God, being absolute Sovereign, He is bound and tied by no laws of Nature, but governs the material world as it pleases Him.
To acknowledge and confess his sovereignty is to have peace that no matter what happens to me, He is in control because He has even counted the hair of my head. What minute knowledge is this!
The reformer Ulrich Zwingli (Quoted in Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Broadman, 1988), 123.) said:
We cannot but admit that not even the least thing takes place unless it is ordered by God. For who has ever been so concerned and curious as to find out how much hair he has on his head? There is no one. God, however, knows the number. Indeed, nothing is too small in us or in any other creature, not to be ordered by the all-knowing and all-powerful providence of God.
God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11).
With His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them, that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand (Heidelberg Catechism LD 10).
To confess that He is sovereign with regard to health and sickness and life and death, is to confess with the words of Deuteronomy 32:39 that He alone is God and there is no god beside him, He kills and He makes alive; He wounds and He heals; and there is none that can deliver out of his hand.
None lives and none dies but by God’s sovereign decree.
Ultimately God controls the ability of people to hear or see, as he says to Moses at the burning bush, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11; see also 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
The testimony of the Word rings clear: God shoulders ultimate responsibility for life or death and health or sickness.
He holds our lives in his hands as James reminds us: “Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
If the Lord wills, we will live. And if he doesn’t, we will die. God, not Satan, makes the final call. Our lives are ultimately in his hands, not Satan’s. God is sovereign over Satan’s life-taking power.
Effects of the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God in Our Lives←⤒🔗
John Calvin said:
Certainty about God’s sovereignty helps us in all our adversity.
Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, many churches are focusing on becoming more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to provide comfort in the midst of massive suffering, many diseases and evil in the world. The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too easygoing and affable to hold a hurricane in his hand or to enable a suffering Christian to persevere with thorns in his flesh to confess in the midst of severe trials: I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
True faith takes hold of the God who is ordering all towards His appointed ends, the God who stands beside us and goes before us, who promises never to abandon us, even — especially — when all the evidence is to the contrary. Now we see in a mirror dimly, but one day we shall see clearly. Luther’s words put this into perspective:
The doctrine of God’s sovereign providence provides a bulwark against the ideas that God is detached from the present workings of the universe or that we are caught up in fatalism. It tells us that the world and our lives are not ruled by chance or fate but by God, whose hand is at the helm.
God nurtures our wonder at his deity by directing our attention to his sovereignty. Why? Because without sovereignty there is no true God.
Indispensable to the holy praise of God is a kind of stunned sight of his absolute sovereignty. When God says: “I act and no one can reverse it,” He means for our jaws to drop. Genuine faith is expressed in, and animated by, a reverential awe, and this is the basic meaning of the biblical idea of the fear of God. Unless there is personal awareness of the awesome and majestic sovereignty of God, it is impossible to have a meaningful faith existing in one’s heart (Psalm 5:7; 89:7).
God is at pains to declare that he is God and he alone. And to drive that home he speaks of his sovereignty. He is willing to go so far as to claim final responsibility for all the calamities of the world. “I am the One who forms light and creates darkness, who causes prosperity and creates calamity; I am the Lord who does ALL these things.” Why does God take final responsibility for all the disasters of the world? Because he wants to fill us with trembling awe that he is God. And that means He is sovereign. He acts and none can reverse it!
None of this should cause anxiety. In fact, we are told all of this to encourage and strengthen us in the uncertainties of life. We should celebrate the sovereignty of God over Satan and his sovereignty over all the evils that Satan has a hand in. Letting God speak his word will stir us up to worship — like Job — and worship will shape our hearts to understand whatever measure of God’s mystery he wills for us to know. We must remember that it is God our heavenly Father who is ordering our lives according to the love and mercy in his heart. He knows and loves us infinitely; even the hairs of our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30). He who clothes the grass and flowers of the field in striking beauty will also take care of us (Matthew 6:25–32) and nothing is left to chance. A heavenly Father guides our lives.
Those who resist or deny the sovereignty of God rob themselves of peace and courage. “There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than the doctrine of divine sovereignty,” said Charles Haddon Spurgeon. “On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings.” Why? Because the human heart is proud and does not want to submit to Almighty God. People want to “do their own thing” and “do it their way,” rather than find delight in doing the will of God.
I don’t think enough Christians believe deeply enough in the sovereignty of God. We say we believe it, but we often live our lives as if everything depended on us rather than on him. It is a marvelous thing to know you are a child of the God who holds everything in his hands. Not enough Christians know the joy of that, or the dignity of it.
Value and Sanctity of Life←↰⤒🔗
Recognizing that humanity is created in the image of God has far-reaching personal, theological, and cultural implications, including the rejection of euthanasia in all of its forms. To ignore the Creator God and His purpose for creating humanity in general, and every individual in particular, is to miss the fact that we exist for a purpose beyond ourselves and that we, therefore, do not have the right to abandon our own lives or the lives of others to premature death.
For Christians, human dignity resides in the fact that a person is a creature of God and has value simply because he or she is a person and not because others attribute dignity to him or her. Human dignity, therefore, can never be lost, even when one is diminished in one’s own eyes or the eyes of others, even when one is shunned because of one’s appearance, incontinence, or pain. A human person is a creature for whom God chose to die. How can such a creature lose his or her God-given dignity?
Human dignity is not diminished by illness or circumstances, though such a thought is a common mistake when people are in the midst of extreme pain and illness. In particular, we must resist the temptation to relieve our own frustrations and bitterness over the prolonged deaths of others by pretending that we can kill them to sustain their dignity
In their landmark book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? dealing with several sanctity of life issues, the late Christian theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer and former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop warned that the legalization of abortion was merely the first in a series of life-ending decisions to be made by the courts: First there was abortion (stage 1), then infanticide (stage 2), and finally euthanasia (stage 3).
In 1991, the Dutch Committee to Investigate the Medical Practice concerning Euthanasia reported that 10,615 patients’ lives were terminated voluntarily, i.e., with patient consent. The committee also reported that 14,691 patients’ lives were terminated involuntarily or nonvoluntarily, i.e., without expressed patient consent. The practice of euthanasia has moved from the terminally ill to the chronically ill, from those with physical illness to those patients with psychological distress, and from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia.
A study in 1995 revealed that the total had jumped by 27% in 5 years to nearly 6,400 cases, which represented nearly 5% of all deaths. Even these figures may understate the total, with some estimates running as high as 20,000 per year, or nearly 1 out of 7 deaths.
We will all die, if Jesus postpones his return. Not to think about what it will be like to leave this life and meet God is folly. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says,
It is better to go to the house of mourning [a funeral] than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
How can you lay it to heart if you won’t think about it? Psalm 90:12 says,
Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Numbering your days means thinking about how few there are and that they will end. How will you get a heart of wisdom if you refuse to think about this? What a waste, if we do not think about death.
Wisdom Through Suffering←↰⤒🔗
There is nothing more inevitable in life than suffering.
The book of Job faces the issue of suffering with more emotional realism, intellectual integrity and practical wisdom than any other book in the Bible and perhaps any other book of world literature.
Job was plunged in the deepest agony and he then wrestles for chapters and chapters and chapters of long speeches and discourses to make sense of all that has happened.
Chapter 28 is a poem by Job and is the apex of Job’s artistry, and the artistry of his insight. In the midst of all his struggling he comes to a deep insight of what he must do, what he must face, and what the suffering means. The poem is all about wisdom. Essentially he is saying that you require wisdom to handle suffering rightly and if you handle suffering rightly, suffering produces more wisdom.
The Source of True Wisdom←↰⤒🔗
In verse 12 he asked, where can wisdom be found? But in verse 20 he asks: Where does wisdom come from?
After reading verse 12, you may ask: If I use science and technology and human learning, can I find wisdom? The answer is: NO!
After reading verse 20 the question is: Can I receive wisdom? The answer is YES!
You can find it with God. You can find it when God speaks into our world and tells and teaches us how life really works and how we can handle suffering.
Verse 24 says He views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.
Verse 25 -27 says he made the world in wisdom. He established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, and made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm, and then he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it and tested it.
There is a God-made pattern to this world. There are pathways. He measured things out and it was all done according to wisdom. There is a God-given physical spiritual and moral order to this world. But only God can see the whole thing.
On the one hand everything is created according to a God-given order.
On the other hand everything in life is fallen. There is evil in the world. And because of the reality of the brokenness of the world and the finiteness of our minds, the order of the world is to a great degree hidden from us. If you do not reckon with the reality of sin and depravity that came into the world, your mind and heart will become so clouded by legalism, moralism or stupid arrogance that somewhere, sometime, your whole understanding of life and your ability to cope with the reality of the brokenness of this world will fall to pieces, because the wisdom of God has not become part of your life.
Job is touching here on a key aspect of the Bible’s teaching on the reality of sin and brokenness.
In Romans 5:12 the apostle Paul put it like this:
Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
So when Adam sinned, death and suffering and futility and groaning came into the world. Why? Because God said it would: “Eat of this tree and you will die”.
Which leads us to a massive and incredibly important truth of life: the futility and corruption and groaning of the creation are judicial, not just natural. They are a divine, judicial decree, not just a natural consequence of material events. God decreed the futility and corruption and groaning of the world in response to sin. It is a judicial act, not just a natural consequence.
Since the fall, futility is built into the whole of universe.
The miserable condition of the world today – its futility and corruption and groaning – are owing to the judicial decree of God in response to sin.
Therefore, the meaning of all the misery in the world is that sin is horrific. All natural evil is a proclamation of the horror of moral evil. If you see suffering in the world that is unspeakably horrible, let it make you shudder at how unspeakably horrible sin is against an infinitely holy God. The meaning of futility and the meaning of corruption and the meaning of our groaning is that sin – falling short of the glory of God – is ghastly, hideous, repulsive beyond imagination.
This is part of the true wisdom that is needed to cope in this life: On the one hand God has created the universe with a certain order and pattern.
On the other hand there is such a brokenness and finiteness that mere human knowledge is not enough to be wise enough to handle suffering.
You need to come to grips with both these realities to be able to handle suffering and be enriched by suffering.
There are two kinds of fools in the world; two kinds of people who can’t handle suffering:
On the one hand there are moralistic fools. Those are the friends of Job who came to him in his suffering with the message: “Job if you live right, everything will go well with you. If things go bad for you, you must be sinning.”
You get the same idea today in the Prosperity Gospel; the Name it and Claim it teachings. They preach: if you have faith then health, wealth and happiness is inevitably coming to you.
But this just does not fit with the book of Job. How come that God in heaven testified about Job, that there is no one on earth as godly as he is, and yet black waves of disaster upon disaster flowed over him. Today’s preachers of the prosperity gospel would definitely sided with Job’s friends who was later rebuked by God himself as moralistic fools. I have so often seen in my own personal ministry experience, that when disaster strikes, the faith and godliness and often the morals of people with this legalistic mindset, fall to pieces.
On the other hand there are relativistic fools. The waves of postmodernism is breaking over the world, where the mindset is, you do what is right for you and I’ll do what is right for me. I have seen bumper stickers with the slogan: If it feels right, do it!
People today do not think, they feel. And that leads to disaster, because our feelings are through and through influenced by sinful lust. The Bible often makes it clear that the deepest root of a destructive lifestyle, violating God’s order for life is a lifestyle driven by physical desires and lust. Unsaved sinners are gratifying the cravings of their sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts and that makes them objects of wrath.
The history of the world is full of examples how great civilizations were ultimately destroyed by people whose highest priorities in life were the fulfillment of physical cravings.
The relativistic fool ignores God’s teaching of creation and sin.
The moralistic fool may accept the biblical teaching of creation and God’s order in creation but denies the doctrine of sin and the fall.
Through the years as I have been sitting with people in hospitals, or weeping with them in their houses over great suffering, one thing has become as clear as daylight to me. Some people are hardened by suffering. They become embittered and more selfish and harsh and develop ugly personalities that clash more and more with everybody around them.
Other people become more delightful characters in the midst of their suffering. They become kinder, softer and more self-denying and attract people around them with winsome personalities and deep growing wisdom that radiates from them. They radiate deep wisdom.
One devout mature experienced elder of our church said to me one day: Pastor, you basically get two kinds of people: Some are like clay. When the sun of God’s afflictions start to burn down on them, they become as hard as rock. Others are like butter. When the same sun burns down on them, they become soft and melt.
What is the secret? What brings you in touch with the wisdom of God so that you become a butter Christian when God takes you through fires of affliction?
The Secret of True Wisdom←↰⤒🔗
The apex of the poem in Job 28 is found in verse 28:
The fear of the Lord — that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.
For many Christians, one of the most perplexing commands in the Bible is this command: “Fear God!” although it is a key concept in the wisdom literature in the Bible. Modern people feel uncomfortable with such an exhortation. Now that through Christ we call God “Father,” is there still any room left for fearing Him? Surely we are meant to love Him, not to fear Him. Doesn’t the Bible say (1 John 4:18) perfect love drive out fear?
Yet if we study all the biblical witness, we discover that the concept of the Fear of God is a central part of genuine Christian spirituality.
Many places in the Old and New Testament the Bible makes it clear that the heart of true religion is this fear of God.
Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…
1 Peter 1:17, we read: Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
In fact, God's wish for his children is that they should fear Him. He says to Moses according to Deuteronomy, 5:29:
Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
The deepest wish of any true child of God is to truly know this fear of God.
Therefore, each true child of God will pray with sincerity, as David prayed in Psalm 86:11:
Teach me your way, O LORD, … give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
What does the Fear of God Mean?←↰⤒🔗
It is not always easy to give the exact meaning of the Hebrew word fear (yare') that has been translated with the word fear. It is sometimes translated with reverence, sometimes with serve. Perhaps one of the German paraphrases comes closest to the full rich meaning of the Hebrew when it translates: “Mit Gott Ernst machen” (To be serious with God).
True fear of God almost defies definition, because it is really a synonym for the heartfelt worship of God for Who He is and what He has done.
The true fear of God is a child-like fear. Some of the old puritans used to call it a filial fear. It is a combination of holy respect and glowing love. To fear God is to have a heart that is sensitive to both His God-ness and His graciousness. It means to experience great awe and a deep joy simultaneously and produces peace in the heart of a child in the presence of a strong and loving father when you begin to understand who God really is and what He has done for us.
Therefore the true fear of God is not a fear that makes you run away and flee from God, it is a fear that drives you to God.
Scripture portrays the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord as companion emotions.
F. W. Faber saw this clearly when he wrote:
They love Thee little, if at all,
Who do not fear Thee much:
If love is Thine attraction, Lord,
Fear is Thy very touch.
It is a feeling of deep awe and respect about his magnitude. It gives the child of God a deep inner peace and calm. It lets him cry out in amazement: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
This kind of spiritual experience makes you kneel down before God in amazement and adoration and with deep thankfulness for his indescribable mercy.
To fear God is to completely surrender one’s life to God and lose it, in order to regain it from God. It is fear that is in the same time confidence; surrender, as well as enthusiasm and boundless trust in God’s presence and leading in your life.
How does one get to know and grow in the true childlike fear of God and receive his deep wisdom for your life even in the fires of affliction and unbearable suffering?
You need to gain an experiential, a heartfelt realization of the greatness and majesty, what is called in theology the sovereignty of God. When a respectful awe settles in your soul, when you become amazed with the wise rule of God, then you really start to fear God.
We see later in this book of Job how the fear of God developed in his heart. After God had revealed something of his predominant, flabbergasting majesty to Job, in chapter 38 and 39 God asked a speechless Job who was overcome with astonishment:
Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his?Job 40:9
Job humbly replied;
… I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted….
… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes… Job 42:2, 5, 6
You see, a realization of our insignificance before God Almighty lets us bow before God with awe and true fear.
But this realization is not enough to produce the true filial fear of God in our hearts. The main thing needed for growth in the filial fear of God, is the realization of God's amazing love, grace and mercy for us as lost sinners.
Job experienced something of the words of the poet of Psalm 130:4
But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared.
What does this mean? It means that an understanding of God's mercy and loving kindness in the final instance produces the true fear of God in our hearts. The realization that the sovereign, the great and Almighty God, who should have destroyed and condemned me about all my sins, has forgiven me, has sent his Son to save me, has adopted me and made me his heir. This realization generates the true fear of God. As John Newton says in his song;
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
Let me close with an illustration I have heard from Elizabeth Elliot, a Christian author and speaker. Her first husband, Jim Elliot was killed in 1956 while attempting to make missionary contact with the Auca (now known as Huaorani) of eastern Ecuador. She later spent two years as a missionary to the tribe members who killed her husband. Returning to the United States after many years in South America, she became widely known as the author of over twenty books and as a speaker in constant demand on issues of suffering and wisdom.
She says she once observed how a shepherd of a large flock of sheep was dipping his sheep into a big vat containing antiseptic and poison to protect them from literally being eaten alive by parasites and insects. When she saw how fiercely he would seize the hesitating sheep one by one and force them into the vat and hold them under, ears eyes and nose totally submerged, she then thought of how God often did that with her through sufferings she has gone through in her lifetime. She also realizes that the sheep would never be able to communicate with their shepherd and understand that the whole exercise was actually a loving act of saving them.
You and I will only be motivated to full surrender when we realize that the almighty God of heaven and earth actually threw his own Son that he loves with everlasting love into a world of sin and totally submerged him in the worst suffering in which he had to cry out on the cross: My God my God why has you forsaken me?
Through his suffering our suffering becomes bearable.
It reminds me of the poem of Totius, a well known Afrikaans poet wrote after his young daughter was struck by lightning an fell dead in his arms:
The poem starts with the sentence: Where is a fate or a lot as hard as my fate (Waar is ‘n lot wat soos my lot so hard is…?)
Then he meets a lady whose husband died on the way in the middle of nowhere as they were travelling with an ox wagon. She had to fabricate a coffin from a table and boxes to bury him and now had to beg for piece jobs to raise money to feed herself and her little boy. After listening to her heart braking story the next verse of the poem is: Where is a fate as hard as her fate. … a night as black as her night? (Waar is ‘n lot wat soos haar lot so hard is?… ‘n nag wat soos haar nag so swart is?)
Then she points him to the cross of Jesus Christ and says to him:
Sir I was forsaken but not like him: forsaken by God
I was anxious unto death, but not like him: into the depths of hell.
Heaven was always open,
Hell was always closed.
Thus it was for me for the sake of Christ
Meditating on the sufferings of Christ Totius closes his poem with the words:
Where is a lot as hard as HIS lot?
Where is a human being
With grief as horrendous as his grief?
Where is a night as pitch dark as his night?
Surrendering to the sovereignty of God enables one to sing with William Cowper:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
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