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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Quit Blaming God!

I have a feeling I might step on some toes with this one, but I hope that already in the short lifespan of this blog one can sense the heart with which I write. I do not write to be malicious or to point fingers. I do not write to pass judgment on brothers and sisters. And yet, there are some topics that come up from time to time in discussion that can ruffle feathers. This is probably one of those topics. I also really want to emphasize that I don't have all the answers. But I feel the need to bring some balance to this topic.

Lately, it seems that when listening to radio preachers, or when listening to Christian music, there is a strong and frequent emphasis on how God brings trials and tribulations into our lives in order to shape our character. The conclusion is always the same -- don't question anything that's going on in your life, no matter how bad, because it's something God has designed just for you in order to accomplish His desires in your life.

Lines of songs say things such as:

  • "I will follow You through dark disasters" (i.e., God is leading us into and through these disasters)
  • "This broken road prepares Your will for me" (i.e., God designed this broken road to walk on because it's the only way to get you to the place He wanted for you)
  • "In my brokenness, I see this was Your will for me" (ditto the one above)
  • "You give and take away" (more on this later)
  • "Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child" (there is probably a whole post that I could write on this song alone, but suffice it to say I wish someone would show me in Scripture one example of where God did not calm the storm...)

And I've heard preachers making comments like:

  • "Don't look to get out of the situation. Look for what you can get out of the situation." (very clever. But cute doesn't mean truth.)
  • "When these situations come into your life, don't immediately look for the way out. Instead, accept it as something that God has designed for you to go through."
  • "Don't be surprised at the things that go wrong in your life. Jesus said, 'In this world you will have tribulation.'"

Now, I recognize that some of these statements are either direct quotations from Scripture (in the case of God "giving and taking away", taken from Job) or are on the surface based on Scripture (many point to Paul's "thorn in the flesh"). But does that mean they are accurate and true statements?

As an absurd example of my point, one could quote Scripture by saying "There is no God." But the full context of the verse says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'". What a difference context makes. Now, I'm not saying that the arguments put forth on this current topic are that absurd. In fact, on the surface, many of them seem to make some sense. But the question I have is, to what conclusion does that lead us? And with relation to context, as I mentioned in a recent post, what is the context of the whole Bible tell us about our conclusions?

We must look at the context of the entire Word of God in order to gain some perspective on this. Does the Bible teach us that God regularly brings difficulty into our lives in order to "teach us something"? Can we look at Paul's "thorn in the flesh" or Job's suffering and conclude that the normal Christian experience is for many difficult things to come into our lives?

Let's look at Job, first of all. Job made a statement that "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away." And his response to that assumption was, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." While I certainly applaud Job for still choosing to bless the Lord (although one could argue that in later chapters, he seemed to move away from blessing the Lord and instead chose to call the Lord to account, a move that brought him much humiliation when God actually showed up to answer his challenge!), we have a perspective on Job's situation that Job did not have when he made his statement. That perspective is what the Holy Spirit chose to record for us in the opening of the book. If you read the beginning of Job, who was it that took everything away from Job? Was it God? No! It was Satan!

Now, I realize, many will be jumping up and down saying, "But God allowed it." OK, I do not argue with God allowing it. But let's make one thing clear. Allowing does not equal causing. Regardless of whether or not God allows things to happen, we should not jump to the conclusion, then, that God causes that thing to happen! At least to my mind, there is a world of difference in perspective between sovereignly allowing something to happen (in other words, nothing takes God by surprise) and actually causing it to happen.

When Satan took all of those physical belongings and family from Job, Job proceeded to blame God for it. "The thing that I have feared has come upon me." In other words, Job wasn't fully convinced that God was going to protect Him anyway. He saw God as some capricious Being Who just did what He felt like on any given day. That is not God's character as revealed in Scripture. Perhaps I am missing something here, but I cannot seem to find one example in Scripture (apart from Christ, Whose suffering was a substitutionary suffering on our behalf -- more on that in a moment) where God capriciously turned His power against a righteous person. We are righteous if we are in Christ, so why would we conclude that God regularly brings things into our lives that hurt us?

Perhaps the bigger issue, however, that I have with all of this teaching that is so prevalent today is that it makes a grave mistake in interpretation of Scripture. That mistake is to equate Scriptural mentions of "trials" or "tribulations" with anything that goes wrong in our life. Some examples that I have actually run into:

  • Someone battles depression, and is told that God is taking them through this battle against depression in order to strengthen them or teach them something. Therefore, they shouldn't ask for, or expect, deliverance from it because God will not deliver them until what He wants to accomplish is complete.
  • Someone struggles with a destructive habit, and says that they want God to deliver them from it, but claim that He hasn't done so yet. They maintain that He is teaching them to trust Him completely before taking this destructive (might as well call it what it is: sinful) habit away from them. The conclusion: It's not His will for them to be freed from this sin yet. (Does anyone else see the danger here?)
  • Someone is experiencing financial hardship. They maintain that God is "testing their faith" by seeing if they really truly trust Him. Therefore, it is God's choice for them to be facing this difficulty.
  • Someone experiences a life-altering physical injury and decides that this is their "thorn in the flesh" and so they say that they don't want God to heal them from it. They claim that they are better off with this injury, and that it would be detrimental to their faith and relationship with God for them to want to be delivered from what God has apparently deemed best for them.

Now, I'm not, not, not criticizing these people. Please believe me!! But I am concerned that they are held captive by a false reasoning that leads them to believe God is something He is not. Several lines of reasoning begin to emerge from this way of thinking:

  1. Whatever comes into my life is designed by God. Therefore, I will not question it.
  2. I will not seek to get out of this situation because I don't want to "short circuit" God's design for my life.
  3. Jesus said we would have tribulation. This seems like tribulation to me. Therefore, this is exactly what I should expect to happen.
  4. God works all things together for my good. Therefore, He must have designed this trial for my own good.

But in all of this, we miss the very critical truth of what "trials" and "tribulations" are. As defined in the context of Scripture, we get a very clear picture of trials and tribulations as something that come to us from the world who hates us because of our faith in Christ. For example, Jesus said, "In this world, you will have tribulation." He did not say "In me, you will have tribulation." He was talking in context of how He was leaving us in the world. But by the same token, He also exhorted us to "Be of good cheer because I have overcome the world." In other words, the world is going to hate you and mistreat you if you truly identify with me, but I've already overcome those powers on your behalf, so it does not need to negatively affect you!

Additionally, Peter and James write separately to believers who were being persecuted for their faith. They told them, "Don't be surprised at these things." What things? Loss of job because of company layoffs? Physical injury due to falling off of a bike? Depression in their spirits? No! They were talking about people being ridiculed, mocked, beaten, tortured, killed because they took a stand for Christ! (Tell the Christians in prison or worshipping underground in China that we experience trials and tribulations here in America. Somehow, I'm not sure they'll really feel like you can identify with them.) Not once did Jesus, Peter, James, or anyone else say, "Take joy because this is something God has designed to make you a better person." In fact, in the context of these writings, James actually says, "Now when you're tested, don't say that you're being tested of God." Somewhere along the line, we seem to have overlooked that bit of crucial instruction!

Finally, before I shut my mouth and wait for the arrows to fly back at me (just joking), let me address one other aspect of this. Many times when people want to explain why all these bad things happening in our lives are really God's design for us, they point to Jesus. "Look at how much He suffered," they say. "Look at all that God allowed Him to go through. He was actually nailed to the cross, and He took it all because He knew it was the Father's plan."

Yes. That is correct. But we must not stop there. Remember that the reason Jesus did that was because He was taking our place! He didn't do it simply as a model so that we would see how we should act when God deals out judgment to us. He did it so that God would not pour judgment out on us! Isaiah says it best: "He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows." So if we think that we still have to walk through things in order to become what God desires of us to be, we might as well say that the sacrifice Christ made was a waste! Now, if we choose to remain in a place where we are not experiencing all that Christ made available to us, that will result in depression or difficulty in our lives. But that's not something God designed for us to walk through! That's something He has already set us free from, but we choose not to walk in freedom.

Jesus said that the enemy is the one who comes to "steal, kill, and destroy." (This is exactly what the enemy did in Job's life.) But Jesus came to "give life and more abundantly." So when something comes into your life that seeks to pull you down, don't blame God! Rather look to the One Who is capable of lifting you above any circumstance. As Paul said in Colossians, "set your mind on things above, not on things of this world." God will most definitely use any circumstance in your life to bring about good in you and His own glory. But don't just say, "This is God's plan for me, and therefore I will not choose to fight against it at all." And definitely don't just assume that it's a "trial" that should be expected. Peter said that if you're suffering for doing wrong, you can take no joy in that. But if you're suffering because of your identity with Christ, then you can rejoice.

I don't know if all that makes much sense. I hope so. And I hope I don't regret posting this one. But I felt it needed to be said.

Until next time,

steve :)

8 comment(s):

<<"Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child" (there is probably a whole post that I could write on this song alone, but suffice it to say I wish someone would show me in Scripture one example of where God did not calm the storm...)>>

okay. i understand what you are saying here, and the point of your whole post, but i never really saw that song that way before. the way i had understood it was to mean that yes we go through trying times and sometimes God chooses to take that trial from us, and sometimes he chooses go through it with us. "he can settle any sea, but it doesn't mean he will" go back to Job - God didn't take his trial away but allowed satan to continue, but God didn't leave Job alone either. maybe i'm missing something here, or maybe i'm just seeing it differently....could be either, i'm a bit tired and preoccupied....anywho thems some of my thoughts on it.

ps - i'll be away for the weekend so if you reply to my email it'll prly be a couple of days till i get it.

By Anonymous †AJ†, at Thursday, August 18, 2005 7:35:00 PM  

Thanks for your comment, AJ. The issue that I see at stake is whether or not we're taking our theology from Scripture, or if we're forcing our views back into Scripture.

I fear that we have looked at Job through a particular lens that blocks us from being open to any other interpretations. The typical evangelical interpretation of Job makes the following basic points:

1. Job was a completely righteous man with no faults.
2. God allowed Satan to do anything that he (Satan) wanted to do to Job except to take his life.
3. Job was very patient through all of this, and continued to trust God.
4. Therefore, we conclude that it is the norm for Christians to go through trials in which we simply must patiently endure, trusting that God has some purpose in it for us.

I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that I disagree with points 1 and 3 (point 2 is stated directly in Job, so no argument there), and therefore the conclusion (point 4) is suspect.

With regard to point 1, Job admits (in Job 3:25) that he had lived in fear of this very thing happening to him. Fear is the polar opposite of faith. Or, to put it another way, fear is faith in reverse. Instead of trusting God, Job was fearful of what might come along in his life. (Sort of a "this life is too good to be true, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop" mentality.)

With regard to point 3, the third chapter of Job marks an incredible shift in Job's perspective. I'm not sure how anyone can read Job and say that Job was patient through his adversity. Rather, he begins to curse even the day he was born, and then as the book progresses, challenges God to explain all of this to him. And when God answers him, it is with anger and rebuke. Job finally repents and is forgiven by God. I really think that a large part of what angered God in this book is that Job was accusing God of doing something to him that God wasn't doing! Hence the title of my post - Quit blaming God!

What troubles me is that we don't look at this stuff for ourselves, and we're more content to get our theology from songs on the radio than from the revelation of Himself that God has given to us. You are correct in your understanding of the message of that song. But I submit that the message of the song is not consistent with Scripture.

I'm not going to try to second-guess how the story of Job could have turned out differently, but I do see that at the point that Job repented, God did remove the trial from him. I fear that perhaps we remain in trials TOO long sometimes because we're content to credit God as the source of the difficulty, and therefore choose to remain in it.

I'll restate my original challenge: I would like someone to show me in Scripture a storm that God did not calm. When the disciples were afraid in the storms, Jesus didn't say, "Aww, come here guys. Let me just wrap my arms around you and comfort you in the midst of this storm." Nope. Nor did He tell them that they should be thankful for the storm and/or try to find out what God wanted them to learn in the storm. On the contrary. Twice that we have recorded in Scripture, they were in a storm, and Jesus calmed the storm. What they should have learned was that the storm didn't need to remain there in the first place. Then he rebuked them for their lack of faith. I draw two possible conclusions from this:

1. Had they had faith, they could have realized that the storm would not harm them and they could have sailed on without even paying attention to the storm. Or,
2. Had they had faith, they could have calmed the storm themselves.

Either one is not the road that we choose if we willingly subject ourselves to the storm assuming that the storm is from God and therefore "in our best interest".

I'm not asking everyone to agree with me on this. But I am asking, begging, pleading that we stop blaming God for these things that come into our lives, that we stop looking at them as the "tribulations" that Jesus said we should expect to have in our life (in context, again, is talking about persecution by the world for our faith), and that we stop claiming to be weathering storms when we're really not weathering them at all -- I'm talking about those Christians who are miserable in the storm, but claim to be trusting God in the midst of it.

Sigh....I guess I am definitely stepping on toes here.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Friday, August 19, 2005 6:49:00 AM  

I guess I really am not sure why this is an issue. I understand your logic and exegesis, Steve. Others with a solid walk in God believe that God does send trials in sickness et. al. beyond just the events which occur that try us that are the world reacting to our faith. Norman Grubb is one. He feels that to say, "God allows the negative," reduces the love of God. Why would God allow pain and suffering He could stop? He appears to Grubb more powerful and involved in our lives by being perceived as having sent the burdens that He knows will bring closer to Him. There is a "weakness" according to Grubb in a God who allows pain which may or may not develop His children and a God who is directly involved in every detail in the life of a child.
I do not say Grubb is right and you are wrong. I wonder why we have define so narrowly what people may or may not believe? To me, this is one of those areas that whatever one chooses to believe is what one chooses believe. End of discussion. Why? Well, what is going on here? As believers, we have to develop a rationale we can accept for difficult things which come into the lives of those who believe in the power and love of the Almighty Father--Him who wrote Psalm 91.
The real issue is our response to God in the midst of the hard things. To blame God or use a hard circumstance to question His goodness is the problem. If one can accept the circumstances without pointing fingers at God, in fact, by turning more completely to Him, does it matter whether the rationale is "God sent this for me to learn from," or "God has allowed this in my life for a reason." Are these two not a similar response of submission to the will of God in the face trials (though admittedly rationalized differently) while grumbling, complaining, and questioning God are a wholly different response--one clearly lacking in a vital trust of God?
Yes, there are different types of pain with different roots. There is the pain of being caught in a sin. Sent by God? I think it is irrefutable. Pain as a result of the hate of the world attacking that which represents the Love of God. Allowed? Sent? For the one who loves God enough to be in such circumstances, did He not warn it would come? Allowed? Sent? Does it matter? What of pain that is a result of a sincere believer being separated from a soulish attachment to an earthly experience of "love" that is not of God. (We are a quizzical mix of feelings that seem righteous to us and those that are truly of the Holy One and are righteous.) Sometimes letting go of that we deemed righteous but maturity reveals as the reverse is painful. Is such allowed by God or sent?
Does it matter how people rationalize their experience with God? I think it does not. I think what matters is that in the face of pain, we have a way to release ourselves more fully into trusting God.

ded

By Anonymous ded, at Friday, August 19, 2005 8:39:00 PM  

PS It was late at night when I posted my thoughts. I have a correction and an additional thought in the clarity of the morning. The correction is in the line of the first paragraph that begins, "There is a 'weakness' according to Grubb..." The "and" which separates the two perceptions of God should be read "between."
The thought: The reason I would postulate that this difference of interpretation of God's agency is in consideration of His regency versus our utter dependency. We are such vastly complex, diverse, yet paradoxically similar creatures. He is sovereign over all of us, including the lost and the saved. Considering the trials and tribulations only of those who are in Him (the lost being a somewhat different topic), do we need to agree on this point of perception of Him? I think He will not be fully scrutinized by us who are subject to His regency (our willful acknowledgement of this being the primary difference between us and the lost) and as subjects,we are totally dependent on His goodness. Is He not able to guide those with either perspective of Him into the full revelation of Himself? I believe if we tried, we could develop a list of likely consequences of both positions which could then be sorted into pro's and con's. Ultimately, it seems to me, either position brings the believer who honestly seeks to understand pain to recognize that life in the spirit is dependent on abiding in the spirit. This is the hope of glory, "Christ in you", Colossians 1. Practicing the reality of the in-dwelling Christ develops the steadfastness and patience to which God calls those in Him. (also in Col. 1) His acts of agency (allowing or sending circumstances both appear as the agency of God to me) must be accepted as a function of both His regency and His goodness. If He is not good, why do we trust? If He is not truly the King of Kings of the Universe, why do we submit?

By Anonymous ded, at Saturday, August 20, 2005 6:54:00 AM  

PPS okay another correction. (I believe I would be a better editor and avoid corrections via PS's if I could look at these words on paper instead of inside this little box that I have to constantly scroll up and down.)
8^)

In the PS, first line under "Thought"--The reason I would postulate that this difference of interpretation of God's agency (insert:"may not matter") is in consideration of ...

hmmmm... I really need to underline sometimes in this blog communication, but I can't figure out how to do it!

By Anonymous ded, at Saturday, August 20, 2005 7:06:00 AM  

ded, Thanks for your comments. Your points are actually well-stated, and I have no problem disagreeing on this.

I think what I was reacting against was more the idea that we never consider other sources of "pain" in our life. It seems to me from a lot of what I have heard recently in music and spoken word that the first reaction offered when something difficult comes into our lives is that it is a trial sent by God in order to make us better. The reality, as you pointed out, is that it may be several other things such as a result of sin in our life, etc.

Now, the truth of the matter is that God can use anything that comes into our lives for our good, and I believe that includes consequences from sin as well.

But overall, you raise some good rebuttals, and I appreciate the tone in which you conveyed. Definitely some good food for thought.

On a lighter note, the blog response system doesn't allow underlining, but you can use bold, if you like. The secret is to type "<b>" (without the quotes) before the word (or words) you want to bold, and then type "</b>" (again without the quotes) after the word(s) you want to bold.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, August 20, 2005 8:29:00 AM  

thanks so much for the info...its way out of my price range right now as you can imagine but definately something I will consider looking at in the future! Have a great week!

By Anonymous Shannon, at Monday, August 22, 2005 3:43:00 PM  

not stepping on toes....just trying to figure things out is all. i guess i'm just not understanding this very well. *sigh* when's your performances over?

By Anonymous †AJ†, at Tuesday, August 23, 2005 2:13:00 PM  

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