How I Read My Bible

I asked an evangelist once how she read her Bible. I had the privilege of driving her to the airport and I wanted to know about her Bible study habits. I expected her to tell me she read so many chapters a day, or maybe that she studied the Bible for an hour a day. Her response was, “I read until it speaks to me.”

I have met Christians who have a light in their eyes and sometimes even a glow on their faces. It is as though they have a secret “source.” I’ve heard testimonies of people who could tell  before they became Christians which people were Christians. The Bible actually instructs us to identify and “mark” those who stand out as Christian leaders. I compare this to placing a bookmark in a book where there is an important passage I want to return to. I remember them because I have “marked” them.

This evangelist had that light in her eyes and I have met others like her. I think this light comes from seeing God on the page when they read the Bible. They read it in such a way that it speaks to them and feeds them and gives life to their souls.

In the Bible we read accounts of people who understood God in a unique way. I sometimes feel an intimacy with characters like Queen Esther, Ruth, Sarah, Mary, and other women. I have studied them, and I get a thrill of expectation at the thought of meeting them one day. They are almost as real to me as the evangelist whom I drove to the airport.

One of the characters that I have “bookmarked” in my Bible is Job. I sense there is so much to learn from him. In my recent study of Job certain passages leapt out at me with a compelling message. I often have this experience when I read the Bible. It is as though new sections are highlighted each time I read and they speak to me in a specific way.

Job was highly honored in his community before tragedy struck. He lived an outstanding life. People greatly revered him. We can read about his former honor in Job 29. Here Job is reflecting on a time in his past when the people “waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain.” He starts the chapter this way,

How I long for the months gone by,

for the days when God watched over me,

when his lamp shone on my head

and by his light I walked through the darkness!

Oh, for the days when I was in my prime,

when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house,

when the Almighty was still with me…

The poetry of this book is a true work of art. Job clearly had a very personal intimacy with God and now he feels he has lost this. It is heartbreaking to read.

The core issue of the book is something I have struggled to understand and accept. Why would God remove his protection from one of his favored servants and allow Satan to torment him?

The understanding in Job’s time was that tragedy was a sign of God having removed his presence from a person or a nation. Even Job has this perception. It was believed that God allowed bad things to happen to cause people to reflect on their path and change their course and then God would once again restore them to a place of favor. The only thing is, Job does not agree that he has transgressed and so he is at a loss to understand why God is punishing him. We find out later that he was right. This was not the reason for what happened to him. It wasn’t punishment.

Job’s friends, who are sincerely trying to make sense of what is happening to Job, insist his trials are a consequence of Job’s sin. This is their limited understanding of the workings of God. However, they are about to receive a broader understanding of God and his ways.

I find this is often the case when I read my Bible. It speaks to me and opens my understanding to things I have not previously seen.

Job’s friends were in the wrong and God forgave them. God actually required that Job pray for his friends so that he would pardon them, after his trials ended. It appears that God was not too pleased with them.

There is much wisdom in the words of Job’s friends but not all they say about Job applies to him. The disrespect his friends show to Job makes it apparent that he is no longer favored as in former days when “old men rose to their feet (and) the chief men refrained from speaking” in his presence. Now even “young men mock me (and) throw off restraint in my presence.”

Job is tormented by his loss of family and possessions and the afflictions in his body, but he is also tormented in his mind by the loss of his former status. We can imagine how we would feel in his place.

I have been baffled to think that God allowed Satan to torment someone, essentially to prove a point. I’ve been tempted to think this was some sort of “sport of the gods.” But I’ve been humbled by a deeper reading of the text to see that it is actually a story about God’s confidence in his servant. It also reveals the sinister intention of the enemy of our souls to “take out” God’s faithful servants and the fact that he has access to us in some cases. Although God allowed the match, he set parameters and kept a watchful eye throughout.

Satan claimed Job only served God because God blessed him. I suppose he was trying to argue that God had an unfair advantage and Job would not honor God for his goodness alone if God removed his blessings. Job proves that his commitment to God is not dependent on blessings. Job makes the striking statement, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” Job 13:5 KJV. In his heart and mind Job believes there is no better alternative than to trust and serve God.

There are many kinds of writings in the Bible and they speak to us in different ways. We find comforting passages, convicting passages, wisdom and guidance passages, inspiring stories, disturbing stories, eternal hope passages, laments, praises, histories and genealogies, laws, theology, prophesies, condemnation passages, salvation passages, and more.

The beauty of the Bible is that it communicates to us in so many different ways. If we approach the Bible with an expectation that God will guide us in our reading, he will speak to us.

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Knowing the Will of God

Many people have wondered how they can know the will of God.

I’ve wondered about this myself. I’ve thought a lot about it. In considering writing on this topic, I hesitated because I am not an expert in this area. But who is?

I have a small book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. It is an account of the devotion of Brother Lawrence, who became a Lay brother of the Carmelites in 1666. We read, “His conversion, at eighteen, was the result of the mere sight on a midwinter day of a dry and leafless tree standing gaunt against the snow; it stirred deep thoughts within him of the change spring would bring” (Lawrence, 1973 p 9). After that time he sought to  “practice the presence of God” daily in every activity. He lived with joy doing the most mundane tasks, like washing pots and pans in the monastery kitchen. The book was originally published in French in 1958 and contains a collection of fifteen inspirational letters written by Brother Lawrence.

I believe knowing the will of God begins with an orientation such as that of Brother Lawrence. If this is our attitude, to live daily in God’s presence and to delight in serving him, then we will probably never stray far from the will of God.

The basic will of God is a matter of keeping the commandments. It appears that Christ tried to simplify even this by stating that all of the commandments can be summed up into two, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

But in our daily lives we have choices to make and we want to be guided in the right direction. How can we know which path to take?

Like Brother Lawrence showed us, it all seems to hinge on our willingness to have God be the centre of our lives. Many times it is simply a matter of doing the thing that is set before us. We look after the mundane chores of life, like washing dishes and cooking meals. Or going to our job and working every day.

Gidean put out a fleece to determine God’s will. Old Testament leaders sometimes used the Urim and Thummim in questions of yes and no for decision making. We have all probably used something similar, like drawing straws or pulling a ticket out of a hat. The question is then whether we are willing to act in obedience with the “guidance” we have received. Even Gideon required two proofs. In my case a decision in one direction sometimes reveals my heart, or confirms that I do not have peace about that particular choice.

There are times when we step ahead without complete assurance. We see in hindsight that we made the right choice. There are also times when it is as though we receive a sign from heaven–a prophetic word, perhaps, and we cannot be more sure. I’ve often desired prophetic guidance as I struggled to determine the will of God. There have been times when I truly believe I received supernatural direction, but these times tend to be infrequent. On the other hand, I look back some days and wonder if I was not very specifically guided in many areas.

There has been a question in my mind about whether a new believer receives more remarkable guidance than someone who has walked with God for a long time. It has at times appeared to be the case. On the other hand, some seasoned Christians do not “run after” revelations and seem to do quite well just abiding quietly in an assurance that all is for the glory of God. I tend to think that we become more in tune and learn to hear better after years of listening and following in obedience.

We live in a natural realm where we are aware of things we see and hear. There is also a spiritual realm where we discern things that are not subject to our physical senses. Clairvoyants make their money with their claim to be able to access the supernatural. As Christians I think there can be a danger of stepping into “supernatural” manifestations that do not originate with God. God was not pleased when Saul asked a medium to allow him to speak to Samuel who was already dead. The outcome was not good. There clearly is a supernatural realm, but we must be careful to discern whether evil spirits may in fact be disguised as angels of light.

Some years ago I read a book, the title of which I’ve forgotten, that helped me see there was a difference between faith and presumption. Faith has a biblical basis. Regular Bible reading is helpful to align one with God’s will and help us determine if we are acting out of faith or presumption. There is a certainty and a soundness about the revealed will of God.

God is not the god of situational ethics. He does not have one standard for one situation or person and another for another. His righteous will is consistent throughout. If he says a thing is sin, it remains sin. However, he may have a different calling or purpose for each person and a different mode of operation.

God’s wisdom greatly exceeds ours and I, personally, would like to tap into that wisdom. He encourages us to ask for wisdom and says he will not withhold it from us. We are to ask, seek, and knock, with persistence. We are taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I went through an unusual year trying to determine the will of God as I was working on developing a writing career at home. Repeatedly I was given attractive job offers. I would move in a particular direction and then, almost to my embarrassment, I was compelled to refuse the offer. I had no peace about continuing and accepting the appointment. In the back of my mind I remembered that I had received an impression that I thought was from God, telling me I should no longer “work for man.” I am grateful that God was patient with me as I continued to veer off the course.

I have had very specific instructions “from God” at times. A minister under whom I was employed assured me that there is no revelation outside of the scriptures. After the Bible was written, God stopped speaking to people. The message was complete. I disagree. I believe God still speaks prophetically. I have plenty of confirming evidence in my own life and in the lives of others I know.

We need to be responsible and test “prophesies.” Even the Bible instructs us to do so, and to study the scriptures to determine if what we are hearing is consistent with God’s revelation. A wise person once pointed out that if we receive a prophetic word it needs to bear witness with our spirit as truth. We do not need to follow it blindly. Often it is only a confirmation of what we already know.

If you were faced with a question right now, for instance, such as should I marry this person, how would you know the answer? Perhaps the best way to know is to ask yourself 1) Does God forbid it for any reason? 2) Does it seem to be a good thing? 3) Are people I trust in favor of this choice? 4) Are other people involved agreeable to this decision–will she have me? 5) Can I see a positive outcome from making this decision? 6) Can I point to anything God has spoken to my spirit in favor or against this choice?

I was once expected to play the organ in a church when I had very limited experience. I felt extremely inadequate. But there was no one else to do it. Of the people there, I was the most qualified one. I wanted to say no, but I decided to step up to the challenge and I was able to do it, even though I didn’t think I was capable. There are times when it is only our fear and feelings of inadequacy that are preventing us from stepping out in a direction. It is important to discern if this is the case.

I delight in “practicing the presence of God.” There is no higher goal for me, and no more fulfilling lifestyle.

Why Does God Allow Evil in the World?

Why does God allow evil? Because to prevent it would go against his just character. I will explain my reasoning.

In the book Worldviews in Conflict, Ronald H. Nash tackles the question, Why is there evil in the world? I think he merely side-steps the issue with his explanation:

  1. God exists, is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and created the world.
  2. God created a world that now contains evil and had a good reason for doing so.
  3. Therefore, the world contains evil (p. 98).

It is rather like a parent saying to a child, you must obey me because I know better than you, instead of going through the work of giving a deeper explanation. Admittedly, the explanation may need to come later when the child has developed a capacity for reason.

Because humans have this capacity for reason, we are restless when it is not satisfied. This is particularly the case when we consider that a God we believe to be loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful would withhold significant information from us. We long to have a full understanding, but, temporarily, we only see through a glass, darkly.

For some this creates an internal dissonance and may even give rise to a belief that God is malevolent. But, like children, we are not always ready for deeper truth. We may even find ourselves rejecting truth claims that do not agree with our worldview.

I agree with Nash that God has reasons beyond our comprehension. After all, he is God. However, I am not satisfied with stopping there on such an important subject. We also have to consider that we may be the ones hindering our own understanding by holding to our preconceived or trite notions.

In cases like this I am overcome with wonder to have possession of written accounts of men and women who, through the ages, have lived with a consciousness of God as a God who communed with them. God actually revealed his character through his dealings with them. This is the revelation we find in the Bible. I am astounded that the Bible contains conversations God had with people. There is no other source of information about God that compares with what is found in the Bible and the Bible contains a component that needs to be a part of this discussion of the reason for evil in the world.

I’d like to take you to the story of Adam and Eve, God’s first created human beings. If you are not a believer in the creation story, please bear with me for the sake of this discussion.

We read that evil was introduced in the Garden of Eden through the serpent. The serpent had a nature contrary to God. It is reasonable to assume that this particular serpent was indwelled by a spirit that spoke through it. The serpent had a knowledge of God and of his instructions to Adam and Eve. God had told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any tree in the garden; only one tree was forbidden—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God warned Adam and Eve that they would surely die if they ate of this tree.

The serpent came with a different message. He began a conversation with Eve by cleverly introducing doubt into her mind, “Did God really say you must not eat from every/any tree in the garden?” Well, no, not exactly. Just the one tree.

Now that Eve’s focus was on the tree in question, the serpent continued with the reassurance that, contrary to what God had said, she would not surely die if she ate of the tree, thereby attempting to allay her fears.

Before this there was no dissonance in the garden. There were no conflicting worldviews.

The serpent apparently had new information for Eve. Since we know the story, we know what he said was untrue. He was introducing an alternate worldview. But, as is usually the case, there was still an element of truth in what he said. The serpent slightly embellished it, “God knows that in the day you eat of the tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods (or like God, in some translations), knowing both good and evil” (Geneses 4). Yes, their eyes would be opened. But this was not the good thing he made it out to be. The knowledge of evil would spell disaster for them and their offspring.

The serpent’s deceptive worldview has been successfully perpetuated through the ages. Summarized, it is the concept that God is not truly good. That what he says cannot be believed. That he is withholding something from you. And that the real reason he does this is because he doesn’t want you to have access to the same power he has. He doesn’t want you to be like a god. He doesn’t want you to have this much control. He wants to limit you.

I’m reminded of Bob Dylan’s song, Gotta Serve Somebody… “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”

Who would refuse the possibility of becoming like a god? Remember that Adam and Eve will not have known the meaning of the word evil at this time because they had never experienced it. They didn’t know what they were buying into.

The way to obtain this supreme knowledge of good and evil is simple. Just question the ultimate goodness of God and defy his command.

The Creator placed Adam and Eve in a garden, a protected place, a unique place, a place of beauty and sustenance. However, he did not withhold choice from them. In the middle of the garden was a tree from which they were instructed not to partake. They most likely had not concerned themselves with this one tree, until now, because there were so many other trees they could eat from freely. But this tree, of course, was the central focus of the serpent. It was his entry point. It was the means for him to gain access to humans and wield his influence over them.

After they ate of the tree, there was an immediate change in their outlook. Shame and guilt—the natural consequence of disobedience—became a part of their reality. We see these emotions in every child who willfully disobeys his parents. Suddenly there is a divide, a distance. There may also be sorrow and regret. All of these emotions were foreign to Adam and Eve up to this time.

These emotions wreck havoc in our lives. We don’t know what to do with them. We feel uncomfortable, even tormented. We want to rid ourselves of them. If we cannot find forgiveness and be restored to our former relationship, then we will struggle to justify, or excuse, or numb our feelings.

Thankfully, in the Bible, God explains how we can be free from our sin, as well as the consequence of eternal death. God never intended for Adam and Eve to die. It looked, at first, like the serpent was right because they did not die immediately. But they ultimately died.

God is the life-giver. The serpent destroys life. All of his work is contrary to God’s goodness. There is evil in this world because God allowed people to choose. Even today we battle evil spirits, serpents of various kinds seducing us into unbelief.

That brings me back to Nash’s insufficient explanation for why there is evil in the world. I would revise his explanation as follows:

  1. God exists, is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and created the world.
  2. God created both heavenly beings and humans with the power to make undetermined choices.
  3. God allows heavenly beings to influence humans and impact life on earth.
  4. Heavenly beings influence humans to rebel against God’s perfect will.
  5. Therefore, the world contains evil.

The logical conclusion of allowing “undetermined choice” is that it will result in “alternate choice.” God knew this, and he allowed it. He would not dictatorially override another who willed to disregard his wishes, be it angels, or demons, or humans.

A righteous and loving God is engaged in a battle against evil forces in heaven and on earth. He will prevail. But we will need to wait for the end of the battle before we see justice meted out and his full glory revealed.

We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We read, “Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” There is an interplay between earthly and heavenly powers.

Jesus was constantly confronting demonic forces. Only demonic powers could cause men to nail the righteous Son of God to the cross. Is it any wonder that believers continue to be under vicious attack? Is it any wonder that the church so often falls under deceptive influences?

One of the most clever tricks of the enemy has been to misattribute his actions to others, and to cause people to believe that there really is no enemy—no devil, no demons, no evil spirits. Without this understanding of the spiritual realm we will never be able to grasp why there is evil in the world.

God has allowed choice. God has determined to deal with the consequences of choice. We can be assured that he is opposing evil. We might also appreciate the dilemma he has created for himself. He allows the evil one to sow bad seed. The bad grows alongside the good. To uproot the bad may mean to uproot some good. So he has to wait for the harvest. One day there will be a harvest, a separation, a judgment. Even the devil knows this and trembles. Without redemption, the consequence of sin is still death.

To conclude, I add the following

  1. God exists, is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and created the world.
  2. God created heavenly beings and humans with the power to make undetermined choices.
  3. God allows heavenly beings to influence humans and impact life on earth.
  4. Heavenly beings influence humans to rebel against God’s perfect will.
  5. Therefore, the world contains evil.
  6. God will deal justly with evil in his own time.

Imagine there’s no heaven

I am reading Matthew 10 today and I admit I am surprised. Jesus sends out his disciples to declare the message of the kingdom of heaven and instructs them to heal the sick, cleanse the leprous, cast out demons and even raise the dead. This seems to be common around Jesus and his ministry.

What surprises me is that people will hate them for it. Hate them for preaching about the kingdom of heaven. For living it. Why?

I’m of the naive school that believes that if I am kind to others they will be kind to me. It works, sometimes, but not always. And when it doesn’t, I am always surprised. But I shouldn’t be. Because Jesus warns his disciples of this very thing happening to them. In fact, he says parents will turn against their children, and children against their parents and actually have them put to death. Why? It looks to me like this will happen because they hold strongly to different beliefs.

Many wars have been fought over ideologies. Some of my readers will recall the John Lennon song, Imagine. “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Aha-ah…. Imagine there’s no countries, it’s easy to do. Nothing to kill or die for, no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace….” Lennon’s dream was that the world would live as one, admittedly a good dream. In the song the enemy appears to be religion, the fact that people hold to different beliefs, ideologies, worldviews.

Religion is pretty diverse. I recently read in a book by Bruce K. Wilborn, entitled Witches’ Craft-A Multidenominational Wicca Bible (2011), that Wiccans consider themselves as part of the oldest religion on earth. I read further that, although they don’t believe in “hell,” in regards to the breaking of one particular law they will condemn the violators to the “Curse of the Goddess” with the result that they are never to be reborn, but to remain, “where they belong, in the Hell of the Christians.” It fascinated me that Wiccans may not not confess to believing in hell, yet are quite willing to utilize it on their enemies.

We can imagine whatever we desire about the life hereafter. It will not make it real or false, although it will create a sort of “reality” for the present life and possibly affect our behavior. I am of the Christian belief that there is both a heaven and a hell and that I can’t wish them away, even if I try. In other words, there is future reward and judgment, or punishment, for behavior. Some would call this justice.

On a personal level, I have family who don’t believe in hell because they cannot reconcile a “God of love” being a God of judgment as well. In their mind evil doers will go unpunished. At least, not sent to hell.

I have a lot of questions about hell. Do only our spirits go there, or do our bodies go there too? Do people go there immediately after they die, or is there a kind of “purgatory,” a holding place, where they wait until the judgment on the last day? The Bible doesn’t give us a clear treatise on hell, just bits and pieces of information here and there and some of them don’t jive. One thing seems to be clear in Jesus’ mind. God, his father, ought to be feared as the one who has the power to cast both body and soul into hell (Matthew 1:29).

I’m very uncomfortable talking about hell. I don’t like the idea of the motivation for serving God being to avoid being sent to hell. I admit that I, too, am culturally influenced. I may even find, down the road, that some of my current beliefs need to be modified. But one thing seems logical. It seems logical to hate someone who believes in hell. It seems logical to hate someone who declares evil will be punished. It seems logical to hate someone who calls you out on your lifestyle, maybe even on your beliefs, and says you will go to hell if you don’t change.

Christians have been called haters (because they believe in hell)…by haters. But we can’t change the score. Nobody can. What will be will be. We may have faith that it will be one thing and find out one day that it turns out differently.

John Lennon’s song has a basic flaw. He believes the world will “live as one” if we do away with religion. The trouble is that religion is just the label we put on a set of beliefs and the practices flowing out of those beliefs. Religion generally involves a deity or deities, and, depending on your definition, it can even have no “god.”

People will always organize themselves around a set of beliefs. That is where the song is flawed. One man may believe that he can have many wives and another that he ought to have only one wife. Because there will always be greed, there will always be unfairness. And for this reason there will always be rules made around distribution and things like how many wives a man can have or how many husbands a woman can have.

The early Christians sold property and had everything in common, we read in the book of Acts, much like Lennon says, “no possessions…no need for greed or hunger.” But later we read that other churches had to make donations to the believers in Jerusalem. Who bought the land that they sold, I ask? Where was the power re-distributed? After they sold their land they no longer had a place to raise their livestock and grow their crops and so they became impoverished and dependent on others for supply. It was a very short-sighted plan.

Jesus saw that religion was not the issue. There was a heart issue. People lacked love, compassion and generosity. When he told one man to, “Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor,” he was not setting him up as an example of a precedent. He was merely pointing out how attached we can become to our possessions. He was encouraging generosity and sharing as opposed to hoarding for ourselves.

The reason Marxism, for example, does not work, is that people actually need leaders and unfortunately leaders will often be corrupted by power. Even in Marxism there will be leaders who will tell people what they should and shouldn’t do and who will feel responsible to police this. Who owns the land? Who distributes resources? Who decides how much a person receives? Who decides what they must do in exchange? This quickly turns into a situation resembling slavery if people do not own land.

We will never all “live as one” as long as not every single person has a perfect heart towards God first, and then towards his neighbor. We need to be answerable to someone, and we need someone to settle our disputes. We need a common compass. This is what religions have sought to give us. They have sought to teach us “what is right” as opposed to “who is right,” so that we all adhere to the same guiding principles.

We need commandments such as “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, not his ox, nor his ass.” Without this, we will covet. It is not because some people have more and some have less that we see corruption, as it is a lack of generosity on one side, and jealousy and resentment on the other. We need exhortations like “Godliness, with contentment is great gain.” We need to aspire to something higher and greater and more righteous and more loving than merely acquiring and hoarding in this life.

We need to believe this world can be better. That people can be better. John Lennon was definitely right about that. We need to believe that we have a significant part to play in making this world a better place, by virtue of the fact that we were born on this earth.

In fact, we need heaven. We need the hope of heaven on earth. We need the prayer, “Thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” John Lennon didn’t know how close he was to saying this.

 

Can a Person be Righteous?

I have long been fascinated by the story of Job. When I was in Bible College I was taught that Job was a righteous man and his friends were wrong when they insisted that he must have done some evil to cause this calamity to fall upon him. Through the years I have met Christians who insisted that Job’s friends were right and Job was indeed presumptuous to claim to be righteous. This caused me to dig deeper into the text, and every time I do so I come out believing more firmly that Job was righteous.

Today as I read the book of Job, something leapt out at me.

The story begins, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job even offered sacrifices for each of his children after they had enjoyed a time of feasting and reveling on their birthdays, just in case they had sinned and “cursed God in their hearts.”

What an interesting thought, cursing God in their hearts. Later, in chapter two, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” Job said she was speaking as a foolish woman. The text continues, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

What stood out for me today was Satan’s response to God. When Satan appeared before God with the other angels, God asked him if he had considered his servant Job, “There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan’s reply is, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not…blessed the work of his hands….But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s wife essentially told Job to give up on God. Why would you serve a God who sends such calamity? What is the point? This is exactly what Satan was saying. Job would no longer serve God if God stopped blessing him. People only serve God for what they can get. The big question is, Will Job still trust God if God removes his hedge of protection from him?

Satan argued that Job’s reverence for God was conditional. It was dependent upon God’s goodness to him. Satan was convinced that if God would strike Job, Job would indeed curse God.

Job’s response to his wife, however, was, “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?”

Throughout the Bible we see a pattern of God blessing his people when they obeyed him and causing evil or harm to come to them when they disobeyed. The Bible literally says it will be well with us if we obey God. The King James Bible version puts it this way:

Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:33).

As a result of this scripture and others like it, people have concluded that if something bad happens to us, we are somehow at fault. Presumably we have sinned or not been righteous enough. Job’s friends took the view that the trouble he was experiencing was evidence that he must have some sin he needed to confess.

Jesus challenged the belief that if something bad happens it is because a person has sinned. When he was about to heal a man who was blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This association of sin with affliction was deeply rooted in their understanding. Jesus responded that neither was true. Rather, this would bring glory to God (John 9).

If we look in the Bible we find stories of people who were not evil and still experienced great trials. Think of the story of Joseph, as an example (Genesis 37-46). The Bible teaches that God will give us the grace and strength to endure trials (2 Corinthians 12:9), that God can cause good to come from harm (Romans 8:28), and that he will not allow us to be  tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Clearly trials will come.

While the Bible says God will bless us if we are faithful, it does not promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. After all, it happened to Job.

The Bible also does not say that God will not bless us if we are unfaithful. In fact scriptures like Psalm 73 wrestle with the fact that sometimes the wicked prosper.

We tend to read the story of Job through the grid of our New Testament understanding that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We understand that “…by one man sin entered into the world….” (Romans 5:12), speaking of Adam and Eve in the garden. In light of this it could appear presumptuous for Job to claim that he is righteous.

When Jesus healed the man who was born blind, the leaders of the synagogue questioned the man, wanting to know what had happened to him. His response was “All I know is that once I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25). I propose that Job knew he was righteous because he experienced the difference between being blind, living in darkness, and seeing. He recognized what his friends were trying to pin on him. It may have been his past, but of one thing he was certain. It did not describe his present.

Christians who cannot accept that Job was righteous are in fact aligning themselves with his friends. At the end of the story we read that God was angry with Job’s friends and required a sacrifice of atonement from them. He accused them of not speaking the truth about him. He also instructed Job to pray for them, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8).

We see here that the very knowledgeable friends of Job were wrong in their conclusions about Job, and that this, in the sight of God, was a serious offense which required sacrifice and intercession.

Although all that Job valued was taken away and he suffered incredibly, he possessed what his friends did not have. Job possessed righteousness. To say he was not righteous would have been to slander God. The truth Job spoke was about God.

I think today the “Christian” thing to do, if we were in Job’s place, would be to offer a show of humility and say something like “we all sin.” Job’s friends would probably have been satisfied if Job had just conceded that much. But Job refused. Job possessed an incredible understanding of God and righteousness.

Job’s relentless refusal to yield continues to challenge me, personally, especially when I think of how easily we confess to sin. Job’s testimony of righteousness was so powerful that God and Satan engaged in a contest to test its veracity. Wow!

Some people would accuse Job of self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly what his friends did. But God didn’t see it that way. There was a purity to his confession that could not be any further refined in the furnace of affliction. The trials he suffered only proved that what he had was real.

How to guard your heart

I want to talk about something close to my heart. It is the need to guard our hearts. “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it proceed the issues of life” Proverbs 4:23.
 
What does it mean to guard our heart? Recently I felt like my heart was broken. My heart has been broken many times over in my life. How do I respond to a broken heart? I allow myself to grieve. It’s alright to feel the pain.
 
Sometimes our heart is broken because of injustice, or what we perceive to be injustice. Even injustices in the past that we did not personally experience. Or injustices in other countries. Or injustice that has happened to other people.
 
We are in a dangerous place when our heart is broken. The easy response is to become bitter. There are so many things we can become bitter about in the world.
 
In the Bible we read the story of how Cain became bitter towards his brother Abel. Cain’s heart was broken because the sacrifice he offered was not acceptable to God, while his brother Abel’s sacrifice was received by God. Pain can quickly turn to anger and this is what happened in this story.
 
When we become bitter, we instinctively want to cause pain or even destroy the people who caused the pain. Cain ended up killing his own brother.
 
God warned Cain when he noted that Cain’s “countenance was darkened.” He told Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door and it desires to have you.” Cain ended up yielding to this influence, despite the warning.
 
The Bible instructs us not to let a root of bitterness grow in our hearts. This can apply to any situation that disturbs us, past or present.
 
Guarding our hearts means we don’t allow our hearts to harden towards other people or people groups. We can separate the sin from the sinner. We can still pray for the tyrant leader, or the molester, or the hater.
 
Our pain does not have to cause us to become insensitive and uncaring like the ones who caused the pain. Neither does our pain need to cause us to turn bitter against God when we think he is unjust.
 
God’s response to those who question his justice is found in the book of Job, chapter 38, “Where were you when….” I love Job’s faithful response, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” Job 13:15. He was saying, God you can do whatever you choose to do in my life, I will still serve you. This is ultimate faith.
 
Cain’s real anger was towards God. And if we look deeply inside ourselves we will see we are no different.
 
Let’s guard our hearts from growing cold and loveless towards people and towards God. Instead, embrace a soft heart, a heart that can be broken and continue to love. I have found that this is actually the path to healing.

The Challenge of Reading the Bible

How many of my readers have read the Bible from cover to cover? It may surprise you how few Christians have done so.

Reading the Bible can be a challenging endeavor. I have seen young Christians start at the front of the Bible, treating it like any other book. I think by the time they got into Judges they had some questions about where this was going and why. Chances are they got stuck and gave up back in the book of Leviticus.

It is not surprising to learn that church leaders in the past actually discouraged lay people from reading the Bible, believing that the average person without theological training would not properly understand or correctly interpret the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is difficult to understand, even today.

When the printing press was invented the Bible was one of the first books to be printed.  Before that, we must remember, there were only a few cherished copies in the possession of church leaders. Significantly, the Protestant Reformation began as people saw discrepancies between the Bible and the teaching of the church.

It seems logical that we would want to read the Bible and study for ourselves the source of the teachings of the church, rather than rely on priests and ministers.

I didn’t read my entire Bible until I was in Bible College, at which time I had some helpful guidance. Before that I probably read most of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, the book of Genesis, and a few other select passages. This may actually be a good way to start reading the Bible.

The New Testament is generally easy to understand, with the exception of the prophesies in the book of Revelation. It is the Old Testament–the first half or more of the Bible–that can be difficult to grasp.

In a nutshell, the OT is the story before the story. It is the backdrop. It sets the stage for the New Testament. For this reason, it is helpful to be familiar with the NT before beginning to read the OT.

The meaning of the NT is enhanced by an understanding of the OT. The writers of the NT had a considerable grasp of the “Scriptures”–the collection books we call the OT. These books include history, law, poetry and prophesy and were written by various authors. The OT is the greatest collection of ancient books in the world, and today we have numerous actual copies and fragments dating back to before Christ.

At the centre of the OT we find the poetic books, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, followed by a collection of prophetic books. At the beginning of the Bible are the historical books and books of the law. It helps to have this understanding of the genres as you are reading.

The historical books begin with the story of God creating the earth and then relate how God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation to whom he would reveal himself and show his glory. The Bible contains not only the story of a nation but many personal stories as well. Sadly, many of the stories are about how God’s people failed to obey and serve him, and missed out on the blessings he promised. We read story after story of God “delivering” his people, only to have them turn away from him again in disobedience.

The prophets prophesied that God would send a “deliverer,” the Messiah who would save his people from their sins. There is a four hundred year break between the OT and NT writings before this story continues with Mary, a virgin, being visited by an angel who tells her she will conceive a child, Jesus, by the Holy Ghost. He will be the “Savior” of the world, the Messiah promised by the OT prophets.

The first four books of the NT are different perspectives of the life of Christ, written by different authors. They are commonly called the gospels, gospel meaning good news. In the gospels Jesus Christ prophesies his own death as a sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. The need for sacrifice is understood in the context of the teaching of the OT books of the law in which God required animals as a sacrifice for sins. Jesus also predicted his resurrection after three days, as proof that he was indeed the Son of God.

The gospels are followed by the book of Acts which is a continued history of what happened to Jesus’ followers after he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

The remaining NT books are letters, or epistles, from Christian leaders giving instruction and encouragement to churches and individuals, with the exception of the final book, Revelation, which is a book of prophesy.

The Bible contains the story of the origin of three religions–Jews, Muslims, and Christians. All three consider the Old Testament as a holy book, but only Christians are accepting of the New Testament as a continuation of the story. Muslims and Jews both trace their lineage to Abraham.

The Bible is the story of faith in one God, a righteous God who expects to be honored and obeyed. It makes the claim of literal inspiration by God. Each book is written from the perspective of faith in one God, creating a consistent narrative. Christians, as distinctive from Muslims and Jews, see God as a triune being with different expressions as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The over-arching theme of the Bible is, The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

This message of grace, compassion and love was introduced in the book of Exodus when God revealed himself to Moses.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands,and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34:5-7 NIV

Our modern cultural view of love makes it difficult for some to embrace the biblical message of a God who not only rescues the oppressed but also punishes evildoers. There are things in the Bible which we may never understand.

I hope this summary is helpful and I encourage serious readers to seek out and study other resources.