Coping with Suffering  

Dr Daniel Fountain  

(Chapter 9 from Health, the Bible and the Church, a BGC monograph) 

Every religion, culture, and civilization has wrestled with the problems of suffering, disease, and death. The questions raised by these problems have received a myriad of answers. It is not our purpose here to probe the depths of these questions or to look for old or new answers to them. But among these questions is an intensely practical one that comes to almost everyone who suffers: how can I cope with this? This is what we will address here and for which we will seek the necessary resources in our Christian faith. In this chapter we will look at suffering from the standpoint of persons suffering from illness, tragedy, or loss, and from the standpoint of those who reach out to care for them. 

Taking Stock 

Can We Overcome The Problem? 

Simple problems usually require simple solutions. A toothache, tonsillitis, or a mild attack of malaria can be handled quite easily provided that the necessary resources are available. More serious problems, like tuberculosis, leprosy, diabetes, or severe coronary artery disease require much more effort and many resources. 

The little boy with the roundworms, in Chapter 1, had a simple problem that suddenly became more complicated. Nevertheless, we were able to help him cope with it, only to discover later than our traditional solution did not cope with the real problem. Those who cared for Mrs. Avila, in Chapter 1, felt that their solution was adequate. They were unaware of the complexity of her problem, and so they failed to help her become whole as John Malinga became whole. (Chapter8) Coping with the problem requires first of all an understanding of the whole problem. 

Then we need to mobilize all available resources; medical technology, social, psychological, and spiritual resources, the support of family and friends and often community resources should be called into play to help us overcome the real causes of the suffering or disease. 

If We Cannot Overcome It, Then What? 

Not all problems of suffering can be overcome. Not all diseases can be cured. Some of them lead to physical death. Others cause persisting disabilities or suffering, and we must accept them and learn how to live with or in spite of them. How do we deal with these situations? 

True healing means the restoration of the person to wholeness, and this includes body, mind, spirit, and relationships. The healing process is a journey toward this wholeness. In many cases an accident or a disease leaves permanent disabilities which cannot be fully restored. This, however, does not necessarily cancel the journey toward wholeness. How can we cope with the incurable or the unchangeable? 

  1. Because we are in the image of God, we have within our human nature a strong drive for creativity. Some channels of creativity may be altered or even destroyed by the accident or disease. In this case, what other channels can we develop? 
  2. Certain diseases can damage our self-esteem especially if there is disfigurement or loss of function. Can self-esteem be restored even in the face of continuing disabilities? Courage, determination, and great encouragement from family and the caring team are indispensable for this. 
  3. Relationships are vital to our self-affirmation. If relationships have been damaged, how can they be restored? Can existing ones be strengthened, or new ones established? The restoring and strengthening of reciprocal ties with others is a very needful part of the restoration of wholeness.
  4. What about the meaning, purpose, and destiny of life? Restoration of hope and a firm conviction that good can be brought out of suffering or disaster help rebuild the will and the determination to live and continue growing. Faith in God and the support of family and the caring team can strengthen the will to live and grow. How can they help scope with the threat of death?

Because the nature of this world is flawed, complete wholeness is unattainable during our temporal existence. Physical death is an irreducible reality which every one of us must face. A realistic preparation for this ultimate journey is healthy whereas attempts to suppress or deny it are not. 

The Christian faith gives us the strong assurance that physical death is not the end of life. It is rather a door through which we all must pass. Those who have a relationship with God will enter into the complete wholeness which is God’s ultimate intention for us. This hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death, and we will discuss it in detail later in Chapter 11. Suffice it to say here that, even when facing death, the journey toward wholeness can continue. Happy are those persons who find within themselves and in family members, friends, and members of the caring team the resources and encouragement to prepare for the final step in this journey. 

Suffering involves much more than just physical pain and impairment. Suffering and disease threaten us with annihilation and the consequent loss of meaning and purpose without which life cannot be healthy. Therefore, we need to know where suffering, disease, and death fit into the meaning and purpose of our lives. Difficult questions confront us which require our response, such as the question of causes. ”What is causing my suffering or disease?” Let us consider first of all the origins of the many diseases that afflict us. Where do they come from? 

The Origin of Diseases 

This raises an issue that is very important for us to understand clearly, namely the multiplicity of the causes of disease. Diseases in general come from a variety of sources. Furthermore, a specific case of disease may have more than one factor involved in the cause. 

Throughout history we have often erred by assuming that all diseases come from one general source. The ancient Hebrews believed that all diseases came because of sin and were a punishment from God for sin. Many traditional religions ascribe disease to disruptions in the social order. Illness comes because of the curse of another person who is angry with the sick person, or from ancestral spirits because of neglect of traditional regulations or values. 

In modem times, with the development of our sciences of bacteriology, biology, chemistry, and others, we came to believe that all diseases have natural causes: bacteria, viruses, chemical imbalances in the body, and other physical problems. Some believe they can explain all diseases as the result of nutritional imbalances. Others believe the basic problem to be skeletal mal-alignment. Still others believe that illness is due to negative mental and psychological processes, with healing coming from a change in thinking. 

There is truth in all of these beliefs. A relationship does exist between health and behavior as we shall see in our next chapter. Disorders of social relationships, of nutrition, of thoughts, emotions, and feelings can all cause illness. And the germ theory has not been disproved! 

But we now recognize that the origin of diseases is very complex. No one set of causes can explain the multitude of diseases that affect us. Even a specific case of a disease like tuberculosis can have several causal factors, as our high school friend John Malinga demonstrated. It is extremely important for us to recognize this as we grapple with the problem of suffering and search for the lessons to be learned through specific illnesses. Let’s look briefly at the many possible causes of disease (see Figure 12). 

Natural Causes 

Some diseases come from disorder in the natural realm. Viruses, bacteria, and parasites are present throughout nature, and some of them can install themselves in us and cause disease. Lightning falls and can strike us. Genetic defects produce a variety of congenital abnormalities. Drought can cause famine or malnutrition for thousands. 

To put this in biblical terms, we live in a world that has been corrupted by evil. This evil has produced disorder in the natural environment, and we are part of this environment. Although this evil and disorder are historical and will ultimately be eliminated, they are nevertheless frightfully real for us now. We can consider some sicknesses and disasters as due to the effects of disorder in the natural realm. 

We must use every means at our disposal to combat the viruses and bacteria, the biochemical imbalances in the body, and the nutritional deficiencies of the sick person. This includes the many technical means we have to overcome the disease process and its noxious effects, and the psychological, social, and spiritual support necessary for restoring whole ness. We also need to use the means of protection we have or are developing to prevent some of these conditions from occurring. All of this is, legitimate because God intends us to be healthy, is working actively for our health and wholeness, and has given us these means to combat disease. 

Behavior 

Certain diseases can come because of unhealthy personal behavior. If we eat too much or too little, we suffer from it. If we eat the wrong foods, we suffer from that as well. Perhaps we engage in activities that permit the transmission of diseases or use substances which are toxic and cause disease. There is a close association between our health and our whole lifestyle, and we will explore this in much more detail in the next chapter. 

Attitudes 

Attitudes lie behind behavior, and our attitudes toward the world affect our health. Much impressive research is now being done which indicates a very intimate relationship between our complex immune system and our emotions, feelings, and attitudes. Certain attitudes tend to increase the efficiency of our immune mechanisms; others seem to depress them and thus render us more susceptible to certain illnesses. Still others apparently turn part of our immune system against the very body they are designed to protect. The result is one of the “auto-immune” type of illnesses. 

Relationships 

Other diseases come because of unhealthy relationships. The resulting stresses and conflicts generate strong feelings and emotions which can produce a variety of physical and emotional illnesses, or else can so reduce our immune mechanisms that we become susceptible to viruses or bacteria that normally we would be able to resist. Mrs. Avila’s physical problem of peptic ulcer came because of the effect of unhealthy social relationships in her family. Rejection and alienation can lead to loss of self-worth which, in turn, can bring on diminished resistance to disease, mental depression, or the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. 

Behavior of Others 

It is unfortunately true that disease can come to one person because of their responsibility of others. Unhealthy behavior of parents can cause illness in their children. Economic and political conditions that maintain millions in poverty produce tragic suffering through nutritional disorders, infectious diseases, and substance abuse. Wars, oppression, and robbery affect adversely the health of untold numbers of persons. Neglect on the part of the community of matters of sanitation, hygiene, refuse disposal, discipline, and order result in many types of diseases in the members of the community. 

Despair 

Certain diseases come because of despair, the inner turmoil resulting from the loss of meaning and purpose in life. When we have no satisfactory purpose for what we are doing, and when we have no hope for an ultimate destiny which is good, there is no point in struggling against the difficulties which surround us. Resistance to disease diminishes, and we become susceptible to a variety of physical illnesses and emotional disorders. 

Certain unbiblical social, economic, and political structures in many nations today suppress and even destroy the beliefs and values of whole groups of people. They deny to them any possibility of fulfillment of their hopes, aspirations, and creativity. Those enforcing these structures are, by their behavior, reducing large numbers of persons to personal and cultural despair with all the ill effects on personal and community health resulting from it. 

No Known Cause 

In many instances illnesses come to us for which we can discern no reason, no evident origin. Chronic headaches, high blood pressure, certain gastro-intestinal disorders, and many other illnesses often defy finding a precise etiology. This is particularly true when tragedies or disasters strike in a seemingly arbitrary or haphazard way. At such times it is healthy simply to say, I do not know what is causing my suffering.” To ascribe such an illness wrongly to a supposed cause may create false guilt or painful relationships that can aggravate unnecessarily the suffering. 

Growing Through Suffering 

When I am ill or suffering because of an illness, an accident, or the irresponsibility of others, part of my coping response is to look for the causes of my problem. In searching for the cause or causes of an illness, medical science and technology are of invaluable aid. They are particularly useful in determining physical causes of illness and may also be able to discern certain behavioral factors in the etiology. But my quest must go further if I am to cope adequately with the illness and grow in the process. Self-examination can be very useful provided it does not lead to self-flagellation or morbid reflections. In this quest, sympathetic family members and caring persons can be of assistance.  

In this self-examination I must address several important questions. 

  1. Is there a lesson of personal hygiene, eating habits, rest, recreation, or exercise that I need to learn? 
  2. Is there a habit or behavior pattern to be changed? 
  3. How are my relationships? Are there grudges, resentments, jealousies, tensions, or guilt which I must deal with and resolve? If so, how do I go about this? 
  4. Are there social or economic problems responsible at least in part for my predicament? If so, is there anything which I, my family, and my community can do constructively to solve these problems? 
  5. What does my inventory of values, priorities, and goals look like? Are there problems in these areas affecting my condition and requiring my attention?

It is incorrect to assume that sickness, suffering, and tragedies come to us with their agendas as if they were entities with personalities. It is likewise erroneous to think we must put up with illness until we have extracted every possible lesson from it. We must combat the causes of suffering and disease with every constructive means at our disposal. But it is equally wrong to neglect the opportunities to learn and grow which accompany these problems. 

On a deeper level, suffering raises the discomfiting question of WHY. Why me? Why this? Which leads us directly into the age-old problem of evil. 

Where Does Suffering Come From? 

  

Philosophies and Religions 

Many ancient religions and contemporary traditional and tribal religions are based on a philosophy of ethical dualism. For them good and evil exist together, are both eternal, and are equal in power. Humankind is caught in the eternal struggle between good and evil; there is no escape from this struggle nor possibility of changing the situation. Evil is an essential part of existence and is unchanging and unchangeable. Resignation is the only reasonable response to suffering and disease. The only hope is for a temporary respite from evil through magic or through great spiritual effort. 

In ancient Greek philosophy and in many Eastern religions, evil and suffering come from ignorance, individuality, and matter. Good is in the realm of the universal spirit. The only hope of salvation is to lose individual selfhood in the anonymous and amorphous world of spirit. Evil as such cannot be altered or even effectively resisted; the only hope for escape from it is by a return to the universal whole. 

The philosophy of naturalism, which is dominant today in our secular culture, sees good and evil as the workings of blind chance, of tough luck. Both exist and are an essential part of nature. By our human powers we can protect ourselves somewhat from evil and our skills and technology can overcome to a degree the ravages of disease and suffering. But there is no escape, nor is there any ultimate purpose or meaning in the struggle between good and evil. 

These religions and philosophies explain evil as the product of some basic and essential part of reality. Evil has a rational explanation; it is simply a part of life and we have no ultimate recourse from it. On the other hand, they have no solution to the existential problem of evil, the problem of how to cope with it. They can give no hope for redemption from evil or for an ultimate triumph over it. Consequently, these religions can explain evil, but they cannot deal creatively with it. 

The Biblical Perspective 

Present within our spirit is the suspicion that existence is supposed to be better and that there is an ultimate hope for meaning, purpose, and wholeness in life. Such a hope raises the possibility of being able to deal creatively with evil, and this brings us to the biblical philosophy or world view. The Bible gives no complete answer as to why evil and suffering exist, but it does give us the hope of ultimate liberation from evil and the strength to cope with the present experience of suffering. 

As Christians, we must seek our understanding from what God has revealed to us. When God made the heavens and the earth, everything was good, and evil was not present in the creation. Evil and its consequences came into the created world as an historical event and are a present reality. The Bible does not explain to us the reason why evil exists or God’s underlying purpose in it, so for Christians, the question as to why a good God allows evil is the wrong question. The real questions for us are, “Does God care? How does God help us cope with evil?” 

We cannot say that evil, pain, and sin were meant to be inevitable, for this would be equivalent to saying that they are essential parts of reality and are on an equal footing with God and his goodness. We cannot do this because God is the Sovereign Lord over all. We can admit no dualism. 

On the other hand, to deny their reality by claiming that they result only from our ignorance, individual selfhood, or negative thinking is also impossible. Evil, pain, and sin are very real and are part of our daily existence. So, we must deal with them. Our selfhood is good because God has created the human self in his own image and that image is good. Our whole ministry of bringing health and wholeness to the world exists because we know that disease, pain, and death are real but that good can triumph over them. The human self is good and is worth saving and restoring. 

How then do we cope with the frightful reality of evil and the many unanswerable questions it poses to us? Again, we must start from God’s perspective. We must see what God himself has revealed to us and, through faith and reason, attempt to comprehend his revelation to us and apply it to our situation. We cannot deduce the nature of God from what we observe in the world. So, as we wrestle with the problem of evil, our starting point is the goodness of God and not the evil we see around us in the world nor the pain from which we may be suffering. 

What God Says About Evil 

  1. God has shown us that he is good, that he is the source of all things, and that all things are good. God created us, and we are very good. There was no evil, disorder, pain or disease in the original creation. Goodness is therefore an essential part of creation and of our human nature, but evil is not. 

2.God permits evil. We do not know why God permitted evil to come into creation and to be so powerful. Nevertheless, it is present because God permits it and works somehow through it to accomplish his good purposes in us. 

  1. Evil came after creation when Satan rebelled against God and then succeeded in inciting our ancestors to rebel (Isaiah 14:12-15, and Genesis 3). Evil is an aberration of the good and comes when good things are used for destructive purposes. It is not an essential part of creation but is a distortion that has come into creation. Pain, suffering, disease, and death are intrusions into the essential goodness of creation. 

  

  1. Evil is that which separates us from God and therefore from life. Evil is morally wrong because it destroys life and leads to death, eternal and spiritual death. 

  

  1. Evil is temporary, but God is eternal. Evil came into history at the beginning and it will be abolished at the end of history. Since eternal life is to live with God, evil will not always be a part of our existence. Physical death is that point when all who live in relationship with God pass beyond the temporal realm where evil exists into the eternal realm where God’s rule is absolute. 

  

  1. Evil is nevertheless real now. We live in a world thoroughly permeated by evil and are subject to its influences. It is within us as well as around us and our whole nature is contaminated by it. Jesus attested to the reality of evil within us when he said, “From the inside, from a person’s heart, come the evil ideas which lead him to do immoral things, to rob, kill, commit adultery, be greedy, and do all sorts of evil things; deceit, indecency, jealousy, slander, pride, and folly-all these evil things come from inside a person and make him unclean” (Mark 7:21-23). 

  

  1. We are to resist evil. We cannot combat it with our strength alone because evil is within us and its power is vastly greater than our own. We can combat it effectively only with our faith in God and with the power he makes available to us through Christ (I John 5:3- 5). 

  

  1. Evil confronts us with a choice, the choice to succumb or to overcome. The manifestations of evil which confront us in suffering, disease, tragedies, and death bring us to a moral decision: do I succumb to this power seeking to lead me to despair and death; or do I, with the help of God, my own spirit, and all those who are caring for me, seek to overcome it by bringing good out of it? My response determines whether I move toward life and wholeness, or whether I permit the power of evil to destroy me as a person. Disease may destroy much or all of my body, but I can choose between life or death for my person. The response to this last question has vital implications for healing and the restoration of wholeness. As we care for sick persons, how can we help them triumph over that which is trying to destroy them? How can we encourage their progress on the journey to wholeness? We will address these questions shortly. But first an important digression.

  

Is the Devil for Real? 

In the of Bible, evil is personified. The Bible gives many the names ruler of to the “person” of evil: the serpent, Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, the ruler of the spiritual powers in space. This means that we can enter into a personal relationship with evil similar to the way in which we can relate to God. Evil can pervade our inner mind in the same manner that the Spirit of Jesus Christ can dwell within us. This “evil power,” however, will ultimately be destroyed (Revelation 20:7-10). God is still the Sovereign Lord and in control over all things, including the Devil. 

Talking about evil as a person, as Satan or the Devil, can be frightening. It conjures up all sorts of images like heads with horns, forked tails, demons, or hobgoblins. At first glance such talk appears childish and mentally unhealthy. On the contrary, recognizing evil as a real power and as a personal force is mature and healthy. It enables us to get a handle on it. Instead of fearing some impersonal and amorphous power which we can neither clearly define nor resist, we can deal with evil in a personal way. We can, if we wish, relate to it by entering into a Faustian relationship with the Devil and thus submitting- to his destructive power. Unfortunately, many do this. Or we can say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Mark 8:33KJV) and choose to defend ourselves from the Devil by our faith in God’s sovereign power. 

When we have an identifiable enemy, we can learn how to cope with it even if that enemy is, in a certain sense, in us as well as around us. Christ has unmasked evil and identified him as Satan and gained ultimate power over him. Christ referred to him as the “prince of this world” (John 14:30 KJV). As Satan had no power over Christ, so we can resist his power by our faith in Christ. This is why faith in Christ is such an important part of the process of healing and restoring wholeness. 

If on the other hand we deny the personal power of evil, we open ourselves to control by the Devil, as C.S.Lewis has so cogently pointed out in The Screwtape Letters. It behooves us therefore to think biblically, to acknowledge the reality of the Devil, and to deal with him through the power of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus and the Devil 

John tells us that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the Devil” John 3:8 KJV). The Devil is trying to destroy the image of God within us. If he can succeed, he separates us from God; he brings us into spiritual death which is eternal separation from God, and he effectively reduces us to being simply Homo sapiens. Yet the Devil cannot accomplish this without our permission and cooperation any more than God can make us follow him without our consent and cooperation. 

Satan’s aim in the Garden of Eden was to separate Adam and Eve from God, and he succeeded partially. He had the same aim with Jesus in the Wilderness of Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), and he was unsuccessful. He tried again in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the hill of Calvary where he was completely, though not finally, defeated. He continues to try to destroy God’s image in us today (I Peter 5:8). 

The Devil had destroyed the image of God in the man who lived in the burial caves in the region of Gerasa (Mark 5:1-5). This man lived an animal existence and even mutilated his own body. The Devil had destroyed the image of God in the boy with a convulsive disorder (Mark 9:14-29). The child was non-communicative, was the victim of uncontrollable seizures, and on occasion fell into the fire. The Devil was attempting to destroy his body as well as his mind and spirit. In each of these cases, Jesus overcame the works of the Devil and restored mental, spiritual, and physical health to both persons. 

What about leprosy, devastating droughts, and the innumerable diseases and disasters that continue to plague us? Are these the works of the Devil? Most certainly they are, although we do know that God is in ultimate control over them. We cannot unravel the mystery of God’s direction and the Devil’s role in these matters, but we can affirm that they are the works of the Devil because they can potentially destroy the image of God within us. 

Leprosy is more than a disease of the nerves, or even of the whole body. It torments the spirit and can destroy human relationships. Drought, famine, and other disorders of nature threaten us with destruction of the body and even of the spirit if we succumb to the evil intent of Satan. They likewise can destroy the whole web of relationships in a community. Yet we can bring good out of these tragedies even though we cannot always eliminate them. Our spirit can survive and even triumph over evil by God’s grace and power if we so choose. It is to this that God calls us, and Jesus is our Helper. 

Demons 

We must say a word here about demons, or evil spirits. The Bible teaches us that there are personal forces in the spiritual realm which can affect the human personality. The Spirit of God is one of these forces, and He can live within the human personality and influence it for good. 

There are likewise evil forces in the spiritual realm that can intrude into the personality. We give various names to these forces depending on our world view. By whatever name we call them, they can influence or dominate a particular aspect of the personality (they are the control of the will) and can provoke outbursts of destructive behavior which the person cannot restrain. The basic structure of the personality usually remains intact and the person maintains a self-awareness and often a painful awareness that these forces are present and produce such outbursts of behavior. 

This is an extremely complex area, the therapy of which is difficult and requires persons trained and equipped to handle it adequately. For those wishing to pursue the matter of the demonic control of the personality and the ministries of healing through deliverance, they would do well to consult some of the texts listed under the notes. 

One further confusing issue remains. The Bible on occasion refers to certain physical or emotional ills as coming “from the Lord.” Elsewhere it speaks of disease, disaster, or death as the “curse of God.” We must be very careful here in our application of these passages. All that destroys is evil and we must not ascribe evil to God. God has created all things according to his orderly laws and patterns which permit the harmonious productive functioning of the world, including us. If we rebel against these laws which govern the physical, social, and spiritual environment, we incur the consequences of our rebellion. If we label these consequences as God’s punishment or “curse” because they come from the rejection of God’s laws made for our benefit, we must remember that the responsibility for bringing these consequences upon us is. ours, not God’s. 

In summary, when we approach disease, we are approaching not only the manifestations of bacteria, destructive emotions, disordered relationships, or the results of tragedy. We are facing deep and complex questions regarding life itself, the satisfactory personal answers to which can assist in the restoration of wholeness. We are likewise approaching the works of the Devil, works which the Son of God came to destroy. So, our faith in God, in his Word, and in the power of Christ over all manifestations of evil should be as real a part of our therapeutic armamentarium as are antibiotics, surgical procedures, pastoral counseling, and disaster relief. 

How Do We Cope With Suffering? 

We return now to our original question of how to cope with suffering. We must look at this question from two points of view, from that of the one who suffers, and from that of those who help by caring and working for healing and restoration of wholeness. 

The One Who Suffers 

Questions to Ask 

  1. Inquiring about the causes of my suffering can assist me in coping with it. The questions listed on page 109 help in considering these factors. 
  2. Can I profit from this experience in terms of attitudes, behavior, relationships, life-style? Are there changes which I need to make to restore my health and to avoid problems of this sort in the future? 
  3. How can I respond constructively to this suffering?

Responses To Suffering  

Acceptance 

There is first of all the difficult matter of acceptance. What has happened has happened; it cannot be reversed, nor is there a benefit in trying to deny it. Only when I am able to accept reality can I confront it constructively, painful as that may be. This is not resignation to an unalterable fate. It is rather taking stock of the situation with the purpose of determining how to bring good out of it. The recognition of the certainty of what has happened frees me to evaluate my situation and the possibilities for a creative response. 

  

Prayer 

Prayer is entering into what God is doing. In the midst of suffering, the purposes for praying are: 

  • To acknowledge God’s sovereign Lordship over all things;
  • To praise him for his goodness;
  • To seek his guidance for our response to the problem;
  • To ask him the questions which are troubling us, as Job did (God never rejects those who, in perplexity, inquire of him; Job’s comforters talked about God, but Job himself inquired of God).
  • To request healing and restoration, knowing that this is his intention for us;
  • To leave in his hands the means, timing, and ultimate results of what he is seeking to accomplish in us.

Transformation of Evil Into Good 

Three options are possible. I can succumb to the evil afflicting me and s1,1bmit to its destructive effects. I can angrily rebel against it in futile frustration, as Job’s wife counseled him to do: “Curse God and die!” Job 2:9 NIV). Or else I can determine to “make the best of this, “and to transform this evil into good. How can we convert the destructive effects of illness or tragedy into constructive, creative channels? This may be a very difficult process, requiring much time. It needs the sympathetic help of others, their care and encouragement. Bearing suffering alone can often be almost insupportable, whereas sharing pain and suffering with those who can truly bear them with us can be our salvation. A caring community has tremendous healing power. 

Active and determined resistance to a disease is a very significant part of the process of restoration. A decision of the will to overcome the disease and to recover strength and health help mobilize our resistance to disease. Answering reasonably the questions as to causes of the illness and lessons to be learned from it facilitates this decision. A clear idea as to the meaning and purpose for all of life reinforces the recuperative powers of the body and mind. A person with long range creative goals, with a reason to live and a desire to keep on living, will be much more likely to make a decision to strive for recovery than will a person who sees the illness as the end of the road and who has no reason or desire to continue living. Acceptance of the reality of the illness and a mature evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, of the obstacles to be overcome, and the ways of overcoming them can be a very constructive part of the decision-making process. 

There is growing evidence that feelings and attitudes can influence the recuperative powers of the person. Strong “positive” feelings of joy, optimism, and anticipation of good things ahead can strengthen the immune mechanisms and the resistance to disease. Negative feelings of fear, guilt, pessimism, and melancholia seem to depress these mechanisms and delay or prevent healing. Norman Cousins gives a striking account of recovery from a seemingly fatal neurological disease. He consciously willed this recovery and took charge of his own situation. This seemed to be facilitated by his active programming of positive feelings through entertainment, laughter, and the regular monitoring of progress. 

Joy In Suffering 

God has a purpose for us in suffering. This is a deep and awesome subject, and here we can only state it briefly. Paul put it this way: ”We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God desires to meet us in our suffering and in our pain. He wants to draw us beyond simply the physical dimension of life, to open doors for us into deeper wisdom and humility, and, most of all, to reveal himself to us. Suffering is a door through which we can pass into a broader, deeper, more glorious view of life-if we choose. Job suffered, questioned, and struggled. In the end he did not find answers or a complete understanding. But he met God, and he was satisfied. 

The Apostle Paul suffered from an unknown ailment which persisted in spite of his prayers for healing. He sought for God’s purpose for him in this suffering and discovered that God wanted to show him how strong was his grace, that it was greater than Paul’s suffering. In this Paul could rejoice (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Peter, writing from prison while awaiting execution, counsels joy because it strengthens faith and hope (I Peter 1:6,7). James describes the patience and fortitude which suffering can produce in us if we respond in acceptance and joy (James 1:2-4). In other words, suffering presents us with opportunities to grow in patience, maturity, and strength if we seek to rise above its destructive effects while we are, at the same time, combatting its causes in whatever ways are possible. Even more, it brings us within earshot of the God who calls us by our name. 

Does God deliberately send pain and suffering to us for this purpose? I do not know, for lam not God. Does God speak to us in our suffering? Yes, if we listen for him. This I do know because I have heard him, and so have countless others. 

Does it mean that we should permit suffering to run its course until God’s voice is clearly heard? Do we refuse treatment, or withhold it as some church fathers counseled centuries ago, until the necessary spiritual lessons have been learned in the classroom of suffering? A thousand times NO! Jesus did not do this; he healed immediately. Furthermore, we are not God and thus we cannot determine when school is out. Neither should we seek suffering in order to learn such lessons. God has many different classrooms in his school of growth, and we can let him decide the curriculum which is best for us. Yet God will meet us in our suffering if we reach out to him, because he loves us. When we do meet him, he leads us on toward wholeness, and our wholeness then becomes larger than it was at the beginning. 

Praise 

All of this can help me praise God for his goodness in the midst of suffering. I may be unsure of the reasons for my suffering and how he expects to accomplish good through it. But God says he knows what he is doing and that the end result will be for my good. What greater good can there be than meeting God himself? Praising God in the face of great pain, grief, or approaching death can be excruciatingly difficult; it may require a sheer act of the will. But an attitude of praise can tum my attention from fear, resentment, rebellion, and anger to the good which God is accomplishing in me through this. It can free my spirit to respond creatively to whatever the difficult circumstances may be. This combination of trust and praise can have a powerful effect for healing by reinforcing my God-given processes of immunity and recuperation, by releasing me from depression, and by stimulating my growth in faith and maturity. 

Such was the faith of the prophet Habakkuk in the face of the threat of an overwhelming disaster to the nation of Israel. ‘”Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19 NN). 

Active Resistance 

The person who suffers from sickness, disaster, or persecution is not simply a passive victim of unchangeable tragedy. The sick person is an actor in the conflict for her or his life and spirit. He or she has a crucial role to play in determining the final and eternal outcome of the disordered circumstances. This involves: 

  1. Earnest, confident prayer for healing to the Maker of heaven and earth who is also the God of love and intends our health, 
  2. The realistic acceptance and appraisal of the circumstances, 
  3. A decision of the will to respond by mobilizing conscious and unconscious defenses, 
  4. Making use of all means to overcome the illness or the effects of the tragedy, 
  5. Seeking the causes of the suffering and the lessons to be learned from it, 
  6. An attitude of thankfulness _toward God who is at work to bring good out of this evil.

We must recognize, however, that the presence of pain and anguish often impedes or prevents the suffering person from developing positive attitudes and actions. Therefore our role as healers and the role of the caring community are very important in helping the sick person move toward healing and restoration of wholeness. 

The Ones Who Care 

Here we are speaking not only to medically trained persons but to all Christians who care and who are concerned for the healing and restoration to wholeness of other persons. How can we be of help to those who suffer, grieve, or are in pain? 

Compassion 

Compassion is a mark of the Christian. Jesus was filled with compassion as he saw the multitudes of sick persons, spiritually hungry persons, and those who were lost or trapped in tragic circumstances. Compassion means an entering into the feelings of another, hurting with them, grieving with them, or rejoicing with them. Our first role as healers is to enter into the feelings of those to whom we minister. Gentleness, patience, thoughtful care, a loving touch, consideration of emotions, feelings, and hurts, these must be our attitudes, because, as we care for those who suffer, we are in reality taking the place of Christ himself. The impersonal coldness of efficient modem hospitals presents us with the enormous challenge of how to recover this compassion and demonstrate it effectively. 

Prayer 

Prayer is an indispensable part of Christian caring, compassion, and healing. The Bible commands us to pray for those who suffer. Often, we can pray with them. In our praying we bring the one who suffers into the presence of the Lord. We can be a channel for the presence and the healing power of the Spirit of the Lord coming into her or him. We can attempt, through our faith, to discern how God is working so as to cooperate better with what he is accomplishing. 

Encouragement 

Encouragement is a part of caring. Much depends on the decision of the suffering person as to whether or not to resist or to surrender, to rise above or to sink beneath the suffering. A word of encouragement, or sometimes even a challenge to the basic motives of hope, self-esteem, or even survival can make a great difference as to whether suffering turns into good or evil. 

  

Technology 

We bring into the drama of sickness and suffering an increasingly diverse and effective technology. Our knowledge of the human being as a person and of the functioning of body, mind, emotions, feelings, and spirit is constantly growing and we must apply this knowledge with the utmost skill. We know something of the dynamic of relationships, and we need to apply this to the healing of suffering persons and be alert to learn much more. Our knowledge, skill, and technical expertise and equipment come from the study, analysis, and practical application of the principles of God’s created world. These are therefore gifts which we have acquired and the application of which is an integral part of our faith in the providing care of God. 

Listening 

Can we find the meaning and purpose in the suffering or tragedy of another person? No, we cannot, and we must beware of trying. Only those who suffer can find meaning and purpose for them in the suffering. Job’s “comforters,” sincere and well-intentioned though they were, only aggravated the spiritual pain of Job. Job alone could work through the meaning and purpose of his tragedy, and work through it he did. 

On the other hand, we can be helpful in the quest for meaning and purpose. We can listen. We can show concern and sympathy. We can be present to help, to give a touch of caring and love, to share the sorrow and concern. On occasion we can as questions, though we cannot give the answers. We can be fellow travelers on the journey toward meaning, purpose, and wholeness. 

Often the questions of those who suffer must go unanswered. A group of people are forced to flee from their homes and land and there is no one to receive them or to feed them. God is present with them, and he is active in all things. Did he force them to flee? A young man is thrown from his speeding motorcycle, breaks his neck, and is totally paralyzed for life. God was present with him. Could God not have prevented the wheel of the motorcycle from slipping and throwing the young man into this horrible situation? A child is dying painfully of AIDS because of a contaminated blood transfusion. God knew the virus was in that blood. Why did he permit the child to receive that blood? In the face of such questions there is only one valid response that we can make as Christians. That is the response of Job: ‘1put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more” (Job 40:4,5 NIV). 

Reflecting God 

God desires to meet us in our suffering. He can speak to us directly as he did to Job, or he can speak through those who care. In caring for others, we should consciously and constantly attempt to reflect the image of God within us so that those for whom we care can perceive him. Denise Katay did this to John Malinga; when John encountered the living Christ reflected through her, he was made whole. 

One day a man from a far distant region was flown to our hospital after sustaining third-degree burns over 75% of his body in a truck accident. We put him in a private room, on a bed covered with sterile sheets under a mosquito net and began intensive rehydration. In the evening I went quietly into his room and remained while the nurse went for more supplies. I felt deeply moved in my spirit for this man, a total stranger to us, dying in a place unknown to him and far from his family. Assuming him to be unconscious, I gently grasped his hand and prayed out loud in English, commending him to the mercy of our loving God. To my amazement, as I finished, he prayed in his own language. When the nurse came back, I left to visit other sick persons. When I returned a few minutes later, he had already passed into eternity. Yet I could still sense the presence of Almighty God in the room and I was aware that, somehow, in my own feeble way, I had been able to reflect God into the spirit of this unknown brother during his last earthly moments. I knew that he had been made whole. 

How do we reflect God to those for whom we care? By our compassion, a loving touch, a gentle spirit. By sharing our experience with Christ as Denise did. By reading from God’s Word. Or simply by our silent presence. We must always maintain a constant attitude of prayer, of being in the presence of Christ ourselves, for we can reflect him only when we are in his presence. 

There are many occasions when progress in the restoration of whole ness seems impossible. With severely disabled children, persons who are terminally ill, or those who are unconscious, caring and compassion are always possible, but their conditions may be so frustrating and discouraging that courage grows dim. Nevertheless, we are always the image of God, the representatives of Jesus Christ. We have the high privilege as well as the awesome responsibility of reflecting the image and glory of God to those for whom we care. Who can know to what extent the love and grace of God can penetrate into the depths of their spirits when we, by our attitudes and devotion, are reflecting Christ’s love? 

Suffering, God, and Us 

In our suffering and disease God plays a role. He seeks above all else our wholeness here and now, although we know that this will not become complete in this life. To this end he works in all of our circumstances to speak to us, yes, even to shout to us to call us to a response of faith, and this response is up to us. Whether or not a horrible situation becomes truly evil depends on us, not on God. The situation becomes evil if we turn away from God in anger and rebellion; in this case we die spiritually. But any situation, no matter how bad, can become the means through which eternal redemption and healing come to us if we reach out to God in acceptance, in faith, and in hope. 

    We know also that we ourselves often play a role in the origin of our suffering and disease. Our own behavior can bring many diseases upon us or at least make us susceptible to them. It may likewise cause others to suffer, become sick, and even die, and this should concern us very much. Therefore, in the origin of suffering and diseases and in our response to them, we ourselves are very much involved. We must turn our attention to the relationship between our health and our behavior. 

 

 

No one knew just a few weeks ago what the extent of the impact of COVID19 would be on a global scale. The impact is beginning to be understood. It will be an impact unlike anything since the second world war. Surpassing even the fallout from 9/11. (which one could argue is STILL being felt) The present situation has gone beyond being a complex problem and is now into the category of chaotic in many locations. (at least in my opinion) There any number of good news sources for keeping up-to-date on the situation and in the western context many resources are available online which help us to understand how to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We know who the most vulnerable are; the elderly, the immuno-compromised and pregnant women. But in places where such information is lacking or where it is mis-leading and dangerous, there is still a very high risk that COVID19 will continue to spread and cause much suffering and death.

Considering the number of very high density large population centers in the developing world we can begin to comprehend how much more damage will be done if this virus begins to infiltrate these locations. We won’t be talking just thousands of deaths but the 10’s if not 100’s of thousands. At this point it seems it’s not IF but WHEN. And considering the weak healthcare systems in these locations one can imagine the horror that could follow.

But taking our thinking even further consider how many locations and people groups don’t even live with the peace/shalom that comes with truly full health through a relationship with our creator through His son Jesus the Messiah.

Health for All Nations offers this space to share links to resources as they are made known to us. Send me additions to [email protected]

Resources

Martin Luther on how Christians should respond during plague

This is what Martin Luther said during the bubonic plague of the 16th century:
You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree, the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely.” for the full tract go HERE.

as always, I recommend buying this book and reading the full text. I summarize in many places, what I think are the most important points Dr Fountain wanted to make.

Reading this week: John 11:1-44

The raising of Lazarus from the dead. Why did Jesus weep? Why didn’t he have a bit of a grin on his face knowing that Mary and Martha would soon be rejoicing as their brother walked forth from the cave? The disciples had witnessed Jesus healing people of diseases and making them whole. But now He was going to show His power over death.

I (Dr Fountain) believe that here Jesus saw the frightful effects death has on the living. The fear of death is dreadful and can destroy people. The agony when death separates husband and wife, father or mother and child, close friends or relatives, is a terrible thing. When Jesus saw the agony reflected in the faces of the mourners whom He loved, He was overcome with anger – anger at death itself and how it destroys human relationships. He was also deeply moved with compassion for the mourners.

That’s why Jesus wept. He weeps for me and the countless host of brothers and sisters from whom someone dear has been torn away from them by physical death. (Dr Fountain had recently lost his beloved wife, Miriam, after a long battle with cancer) Knowing that Jesus knows my (our) pain in the depths of His spirit helps me/us to know that I am not alone – the Lord of glory has His arm around me and assures me that He has taken that pain into himself.

Jesus knew that in a short time death would shame Him and kill Him. Yet He would gain the ultimate victory over death when raised from the grave by His Father. But at this moment His emotions overwhelmed Him (for He was also fully human) as He saw His friends suffering, and He recognized the excruciating agony that the separation of death brings to us whom God has made in His image. Composing Himself, He strode toward the tomb and when Martha objected noting there would be a terrible odor, Jesus simply dismissed her fears by saying, in effect, “Trust me.” He commanded Lazarus to come out and out he came. Living evidence of the power of the King over death!

Question:

  1. What do those two brief words, “Jesus wept,” tell us about the character of Jesus?
  2. When a loved one dies and we face the agony of separation, where is Jesus and what is He doing?
  3. How can we share this hope of victory over death with the people around us who are grieving?

 

Readings for this lesson: Matthew 16:13-28, Mark 8:27-38, Luke 9:18-27

These 3 passages describe the same conversation between Jesus and His disciples though each is unique. Jesus knew the end of His earthly ministry was near and wanted to be sure His disciples were prepared and that they understood who He was. The location was important in that the major religions of the western world were represented there. Jesus announced the beginning of the Church here to make clear that it is the Church for the whole world. The Ecclesia – the gathering of God’s people – would include people of the whole world and replace the pantheons of the world with the foundational truth that Jesus the Messiah is King of kings and Lord of lords.

With His disciples He wanted to:

  1. affirm to them His messianic identity
  2. provide a community structure for His followers to carry on the work
  3. prepare them for the difficult events of the next weeks that were essential for the establishment of the Kingdom among people
  4. describe what would be required of them

The Community of Jesus: Identity and responsibilities

  1. the faith expressed by Peter would be the foundation of the Church
  2. the Church would prevail over all the forces of evil by the power of God operating through the faith of His people. Hell would not be able to withstand it. It is crucial to understand that we are to be on the offensive, fighting with the power of the spirit of Jesus against the evil in the world.
  3. keys are a symbol of the authority to enter new domains or to close and protect domains. Jesus says He is delegating His own authority to His followers.
  4. He tells us that the decisions we make in His name have eternal consequences, either for good or for ill. We have the awesome responsibility to determine His will and act on it.
  5. His death and resurrection would be central to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The life of the cross and the hope of resurrection are central to our life in His Kingdom.
  6. To live in relationship with Him we must release to Him all personal desires and aspirations. We follow wherever He leads. Even if this means suffering and death. Te cross is our decision to obey the specific marching orders He gives to us with no regard to circumstances, difficulties, or our own aspirations or comfort.

Questions:

  1. What awesome responsibilities has Jesus given us/you as His community on earth?
  2. How are we to obtain Jesus’ help in making decisions in the Kingdom of God?
  3. What does Jesus require of us to become His followers?

Reading is very brief for today: Matthew 13:44. The parable of the hidden treasure. “The kingdom of heaven is like something precious buried in a field, which a man found and hid again; then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.”

This is an interesting parable for its brevity and for what it does not explain. Dr Fountain states it relates to a man who was looking for something he did not have, (implied) otherwise why was he searching, and when he found this treasure hid it again and liquidated his assets in order to purchase the field. It would seem this must have been something that could not be easily removed or he could have simply taken it with him when he found it. But he had to do something in order to complete the purchase of what he believed was an inestimable treasure.

Dr Fountain posits that this man was not satisfied with his present life and worldview. (or at least with the outworking of his worldview) That he was looking for something better to fulfill his life. The hidden treasure is eternal life, a deep, personal relationship with God that lasts forever. The field thus represents the Kingdom of God, a way of life radically different from the man’s old way of life. And this man knows that he cannot get the treasure without leaving his old kingdom, ‘buying’ the new kingdom, and living under the rule of God. We cannot fully possess this marvelous treasure without giving up our old, self-centered way of life. Most people in the world believe the most important person in the world is one’s own self. But the Kingdom of God is completely different. In this kingdom our life is God-centered, not self-centered. He is to rule over all aspects of our lives, affecting all our decisions. We must renounce our old self-centered way of life, accept the rule of God over everything, and enter into a daily walk with Jesus. Too often our evangelistic message has been “Accept this treasure and you will be saved. It is transportable, and you can take it into your old way of life.” But we too often do not each people that salvation means an entirely new way of life. What is the result? Confused Christians, a weak church and idolatry in the Kingdom just as in the days of the Kingdom of Israel.

Questions:

  1. Why is this treasure of eternal life so valuable?
  2. Is it possible to receive eternal life without submitting to the rule of God? What did Jesus say about this?
  3. In practical terms, how are you allowing God to rule over your life?
  4. What will it require to have a strong church that can bring transformation to the world? Why hasn’t this happened yet?

 

Related reading: Mark 1:29-45, Matthew 15:29-31

Dr Fountain states that “The healing of sick people played a prominent role in the ministry of Jesus. For Jesus, healing, teaching, and preaching went together. I would go so far as to state that for Jesus, preaching, discipling, teaching, delivering people from demons and curing disease were a seamless part of His ministry. (He did all these in the first 24 hours of His ministry as related in the First Chapter of Mark)

Dr Fountain used to refer to this passage in Mark (it was a passage he referred to frequently) as the first open to all “general” clinic in written history. He even states this is when health care as we know it began! The Matthew passage is a bit different in that it says nothing about Jesus doing any preaching or teaching (though we cannot be absolutely certain of this) but that He spent 3 days healing people of all kinds of dis-eases. This He taught to His followers so that they too could save people from the things that destroy life and that mar God’s image in us.

The early Church did indeed carry on this important ministry and became know as a healing community. Rodney Stark in his 1996 work “The Rise of Christianity” explains how this aided in the relatively rapid expansion of the early Church.

What was so unique to this ministry ushered in by a crucified and risen Savior? It was certainly uniquely powerful in the way in which it combined physical and psychological principles of healing with the miraculous power Jesus gave to the Church to carry on His ministry. As Dr Fountain states “He brought healing to the whole person – body, mind and spirit – and He restored people to functional wholeness and the to their community. And modern medicine is coming to recognize the importance of the impact that feelings, emotions, desires, etc can have on human beings. Painful, conflicting and destructive thoughts can, over time, cause damage to many of our organ systems. As God’s word states in Proverbs 14:30:”A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy, and wrath are like rottenness of the bones.” Amp version. Jesus healed people as whole persons, showing concern for their feelings, emotions and social conditions and by doing the same we can help many sick persons resolve inner problems and broken relationships. This is the unique calling of the Church and should set our health care efforts apart from the rest. Healing is a ministry of the whole church as well as of trained medical people. The healing of sick persons is part of the work of the Kingdom and should point people to Jesus as the Messiah.

Relevant questions:

  1. Would you agree with Dr Fountain that the Mark 1 passage discussed represents the first “general clinic” in recorded history? Is it a relevant model for today?
  2. What role did healing sick people play in the ministry of Jesus? Should it be that way for the 21st century Church? How can it be?
  3. What is lacking in modern “medical” care? What can we do about it?
  4. What should our churches be doing to care for the whole person?

 

as always I recommend you buy the book this series is based on.

Reading this week is Matthew 5, 6, and 7.

I think Matthew 5 (specifically what is referred to as the Beatitudes) is one of the most beloved sections of the NT. If anything represents what non-Christians love about Jesus and His ministry it is what he teaches in Matt 5: 3-12. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and those who are gentle. As are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and those who are merciful. The pure in heart and the peacemakers, etc. These are characteristics we all can agree are worthy of our pursuit. But that is just the beginning of Jesus’ teaching in these 3 chapters. It is one continual sermon. Dr Fountain simply and effectively outlines things for us:

Matthew 5:3-12 – attitudes. We are to be :

  1. without pretension spiritually, recognizing our dependence on God
  2. aware of our sinful condition
  3. humble, accepting the role the Lord has given us no matter what it is
  4. driven to conform to God’s daily requirements for us, and to live in a right relationship with Him and with those around us
  5. merciful, showing kindness and compassion without prejudice
  6. pure in heart, being obedient to Him in all things
  7. peacemakers, bringers of shalom/peace
  8. willing to endure abuse for His names sake

Matthew 5:13-48

  • being disciplined in living a Kingdom life we bring light into dark places through good works that have a saving effect within the society in which we live
  • life in the Kingdom is primarily an inward life of being conformed to the minds and will of God. Outward actions are the expressions of our inner life. We are to live in full obedience to His law in our thoughts and attitudes as well as in our outward actions.
  • we must control our anger
  • adultery begins in the desires of the heart and is not just an outward immoral act. Marriage is sacred.
  • our speech and communications must show complete integrity, consistency and sincerity.
  • revenge has no place in the kingdom of God. We resist those who seek to do evil by shaming them with our good works and our refusal to become violent. Love our enemies and reach out to them to help and bless them.

Matthew 6:1-18 Acts of charity, private and public prayer and fasting are between us and God. We should do them with diligence, humbly and without seeking the attention or praise of man.

Matthew 6:19-34 Confidence in the provisions of God

  • spiritual treasure is eternal; material is temporal.
  • we accumulate real treasure serving God and others
  • we should return to God what remains beyond our needs.
  • we should plan but not worry!
  • we are to consult with Him constantly and trust Him to handle our resources better than we can

Matthew 7 Further instructions.

  • being judgmental of others has a reverse effect. The way we judge others will be applied to us.
  • God is the only one who can judge the inner character and motives of people.
  • we can ask God for what we need for our life and our service for Him but not in a selfish and self-centered way.
  • the kingdom of God is real. So is that of the enemy.
  • the path to the kingdom of God is narrow and will be difficult but it is the path of life.
  • we see the true values that people cling to in their actions
  • obedience to God characterizes people in the Kingdom of God. We enter by faith, He knows us personally, provides for us and works with us.

Some questions:

  1. What must we do to learn the discipline of the Kingdom of God?
  2. How does this inner discipline manifest itself outwardly in our behavior?
  3. How will it affect our relationship with other people?
  4. How will it affect our relationship with God?
  5. How should we go about providing for our needs and for those of our family and using the rest for God and His purposes?

Reading for today: Exodus 20:3-6, Deuteronomy 18:9-13 and Ephesians 5:3-5.

The Ephesians passage is ” 3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes – these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Excerpts and paraphrased from the book.

Idolatry is trust in anything that is not God. Since humans were deceived in the garden, God has been vehemently opposed to idolatry since He recognizes its destructive power. God wants our minds and spirits (we could say our Spirit and Soul) to be in communication with Him. He alone is sufficient to provide the knowledge, wisdom and protection we need. To idolize anything else is divisive and leads to the destruction of personal integrity and social cohesiveness. Any idol or image of God we make diminishes our understanding of God and our identity as His image.

Modern day idolatry: modern man still worships objects (not so much graven images though that does continue and may be growing as a problem) but more so we worship money, possessions, personal attractiveness or power, many types of pleasure, sports, certain forms of technology and psychological stimulants. (and depressants I would add) These do not give us life (in fact lead to death) and pull us away from worshipping the one true God. They cannot give us LIFE, yet we feel we cannot live without them!

Paul, in the Ephesians passage talks about greed as a form of idolatry. These are highly deceptive and are based on the false assumption that these things can satisfy the deep desires of the human heart. God forbids greed vehemently because it is destructive and leads to despair, corruption and violence.

The occult: magic, sorcery, omens and curses (Deut 18) Occult practices are a search for power – power over other people, over nature or in the spiritual realm. They are based on the false assumption that living things (aside from humans) and non-living things in nature possess spiritual power. This is in contradiction to what Genesis reveals which is that only humans are imbued with a spirit. To attempt to manipulate spiritual powers, energy fields, or life force of other people or objects in nature is disobedient to God. Our trust is to be only in Him.

People and nations who engage in occult practices suffer from dissension, conflict, lack of trust and the inability to work together for the common good. The practices are a sign of rebellion against God, who desires to being unity and blessing to all people.

Question to consider:

  1. Why is God so opposed to idolatry?
  2. What are the idols in the culture in which you live?
  3. What does idolatry do to us?
  4. What might be idols in your own life?
  5. How can we protect our children from involvement in occult practices?

if you like the contents of this post and want to go deeper please do purchase the book.

This weeks biblical reference is Exodus 20. The contents? The Words of God to Israel. (We call them the 10 Commandments)

God commands us to be like Him. (like Jesus) Dr Fountain points out that He does not kill, (I would say murder) steal, lie or behave in ways that are unfaithful. The purpose of the moral law are:

  1. to demonstrate God’s character so we can emulate it
  2. to bring clarity, order and fairness into human relationships – love of God and love of neighbor
  3. to regulate individual and collective behavior
  4. to promote unner discipline

God did not give the moral law as the means of salvation. We receive salvation by our faith and trust in God that leads us to obedience to him. Grace does not eliminate the moral law of God. True salvation be grace though faith should lead us to obedience of the moral law. This moral law is universal. It is for every person, ethnic group and nation. The Law shows us that we need Christ to save us because no one can keep the law. Nevertheless the law remains intact.

God also gave Israel two other large blocks of laws as part of their distinct culture. The ceremonial laws and civil laws and instructions. The ceremonial were instructions regarding worship, offering and sacrifices and religious feasts in order to bind His people, Israel, to Him. The civil laws and instructions were to establish their culture. How they were to live as individuals and as a people and provided the values on which this behavior was based. These were about family relationships, sexual behaviors, use of the land and property, agriculture, sanitation, food laws and many others. Neither of these laws were universal. Many do not apply to His Church today but we will benefit much from studying the underlying principles on which these instructions were based and applying those principle to our cultural context. The Kingdom of God includes His rule over our cultural values and behavior and shows us that we are accountable to God for our physical, social and economic relationships.

How can we distinguish between the universal laws of God and the particular cultural instructions He gave to His people then?:

  • God’s moral law is general and applies at all times to all peoples
  • Culture is particular and related to circumstances. The cultural laws and instructions He gave the people of Israel were for them, not for us. However, we need to discern the principles underlying them and discover how to apply those principles to our culture.
  • in the NT we find cultural values and directives appropriate for us.

Questions to ask:

  1. What is the role of the law for us as people of the Kingdom of God?
  2. What role does God play in shaping culture in the 21st century?
  3. How much of our church culture comes from God and how much comes from our surrounding culture?
  4. How can we bring biblical values now into our own culture?

 

Hard to believe we are not that far from the half-way point in the year! Today is week 17 and as always I recommend purchasing for yourself the book I am using for these posts.

Today’s title on the surface doesn’t seem to have much application to the theme of the kingdom of God. But of course as we deepen our understanding regarding the reach of the Gospel of the Kingdom we will see it encompasses all aspects of our lives. Government included. The text for today is Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1:8-18. The story of the origins of representative government. Moses has led his people out of harms way (at least for the time being) and it appears that the major threats have been squelched. Relative peace has descended on the nation of Israel and it was time to establish some ground rules for the governance of the Jewish nation. Moses had placed himself over all as judge of the quarrels and conflicts that invariable cropped up. When his father-in-law visited Moses and saw how he was going to burn himself out with the system Moses had established he gave the following advice:

Exodus 18: 17 “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. 18 “You’re going to wear yourself out – and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. 19 Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. 20 Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. 21 But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 22 They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. 23 If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.”

Great advice and whether or not any other culture at this time used this wise system I do not know. But Moses made a slight modification which goes unnoticed unless you read carefully in Deuteronomy 1:8 – 18. 13 Choose some well-respected men from each tribe who are known for their wisdom and understanding, and I will appoint them as your leaders.” Moses asked the communities to choose their leaders and Moses respected their choices. (or so we are led to believe) This was putting the decisions into the hands of the people more than at any time in their history. Think of the difference that decision has made in the world.

Hierarchical governments (not representative as above, China would be an example) have advantages as pointed out by Dr Fountain:

  1. Decisions can be quickly made
  2. Decisions can usually be carried out quickly and efficiently because the leaders have the authority to force the decision without questions from those effected.

But the disadvantages are numerous:

  1. The people don’t participate (much like what has happened in China the past 20 years) so they don’t have to think for themselves but rely on their leaders to do the thinking for them.
  2. Decisions are imposed on the people.
  3. There is low trust and cooperation because the people have not been part of the decision making process.
  4. Relationships are vertical and not horizontal. This tends to lead to people not needing to listen to each other nor work together.
  5. There is a tendency toward exploitation and corruption.
  6. Much depends on the quality of the leaders at the top. There is no accountability at the top.
  7. Power is invested in a human authority rather than in God.

Representative governments in contrast:

  1. Invites participation of the people in decision-making and implementation.
  2. Encourages communication b/w the people and their leaders.
  3. Leaders are accountable to the people.
  4. Promotes trust, cooperation and a sense of ownership.

The downside can be it is more cumbersome and decisions are made more slowly. (or not at all)

Dr Fountain points out that in all forms of government, communications with God and His truth’s is essential. We must follow Moses instructions to the people: “Choose God-fearing men who are wise, experienced and impartial.” Today in nations where the “Big Man” rules, trust is low, corruption is high, and social and community development rarely occurs.

Questions for thought:

  1. Have you seen or experienced both forms of governance? Does your experience coincide with what today’s devotional says?
  2. How does this thinking apply to the local church?
  3. If you are living in a western context to do you see this form of representative government functioning well or do you think your country/culture is regressing to the “Big Man” form of governance?
  4. What role does the Church have in establishing or maintaining representative governance?