The Incredible Message

I admit that I have been wrestling with a big question. Why would God entrust the message of “Salvation” for the entire world to such a small group of followers? Spreading the news to every person on earth, in my view, is an impossible task.

Then I ask another question. Why was the message not there from the beginning? The Old Testament pointed to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In other words, the Old Testament patriarchs and matriarchs had an incomplete message. However, it must have been sufficient.

We read in the New Testament that even the angels are amazed by the message of “Redemption.” Those who benefit from a knowledge of Christ are of all people on earth most blessed and even celestial beings acknowledge this truth.

So why the incomplete message, in the Old Testament? And why the partial knowledge among people groups of the world, historically, and in the present?

What greater message than the possibility that our sins can be forgiven and we can begin a new, guilt-free life? Why withhold or obscure this message? This is a really big question for me, and, as I usually do, I lay it before God and wait for an answer.

Today, as I was reading in the book of Luke, I began to get a glimpse of understanding. I read about Peter leaving his great catch of fish and following Jesus. Earlier Jesus spent some time speaking to the people on the shore from where he was, in Peter’s boat, before he told Peter to cast his net in the water. Peter explained to Jesus that fishing had been futile that day. He still did as he was told. He had nothing to lose. The catch he drew caused Peter to fall down in worship before Christ. This is our response when we encounter the supernatural, unfathomable provision of God.

The provision of God is something we can’t make happen. We can only be open to it.

I have sought God in conventional and unconventional ways. In fact, it has been my mission in life to know God. This has turned out to be the most stimulating and rewarding search. Because of my fabulous journey, I am particularly concerned about the message getting out. I want everyone on earth to have the same opportunity.

As I ponder the message, and the distribution of the message, and the reception of the message, my mind goes to another problem and this is the matter of “predestination.” So much ink has been spilt on this topic, I’m not going to belabour it. But we have to ask, are there some people who will be “saved” because it was “predestined from the beginning”?

In the early chapters of Luke, I saw references to “angels”, the “Holy Spirit”, the “devil”, “sickness”–which Jesus healed, and “demons” he cast out. I say this because I am made aware that we are not just dealing with a message. We are dealing with resistance, too. We are informed of a “spiritual” realm where there are spiritual beings, in opposition to one another. There is a confrontation. Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, God, and the angels, are on one side. The devil, demons, imperfection, oppression, sickness and evil are on the other.

There is opposition, not only to the message, but to the delivery, which makes it even more amazing that the spreading of the message was entrusted to so few.

I have noted that shepherds learned about the birth of Christ through the supernatural message of angels. The wise men who came from the east, followed a star, also a supernatural phenomenon. Herod, the king, was so threatened by the message conveyed to him by the wise men–the possibility of the birth of another king–that he ordered all of the newborns in the district killed. Note that this was foretold, prophetically in the Old Testament: “Rachel” would not be comforted because of the loss of her children. This raises another question, concerning the justice of God. Why did these mothers endure such sorrow, as a consequence of the birth of Christ? This story also reminds us of the birth of another “deliverer”–Moses. The Pharaoh of Egypt sent out an edict to have babies of Israelite mothers killed. Ironically, the “deliverer” was raised in the royal household, right under the Pharaoh’s nose.

From this I learn that, 1) sometimes the message is spread supernaturally, and, 2) the message and the messenger will be interpreted as a threat and fiercely resisted in some corners. The most radical evidence of this resistance is the crucifixion of Christ.

Every healing, every miracle, every true word spoken, by Christ, was a confrontation. I fail to comprehend the need to crucify the most loving, generous and wise person that walked the earth. It is so paradoxical–the need to kill the “Savior.” We can only understand this within the context of true evil. We are told it was because of “envy” that they delivered him up to be crucified. Jesus Christ was going to displace the thing they relied on, weak and faulty as it was. But that is the nature of deception. It does not see what really is.

God is able, and sometimes chooses, to spread the word without the assistance of mere humans. However, it is through the “foolishness of preaching” that we often receive the message, implying that talking about the message is a very imperfect form of communication. It is still essential, however, and we are encouraged to spread the word verbally. The apostle Paul, probably the greatest preacher of the message of Christ, claims he did not come in man’s wisdom, but in humility, recognizing his inadequacy, and total dependence on the “demonstration of power” that would accompany the message. This demonstration, I might add, is sadly lacking in Christian contexts today.

Jesus’ miracles of provision, of casting out demons, and of healing the sick, were demonstrations of the power of God at work. Jesus knew people would struggle with the message, so he pointed them to his ministry–the evidence of the power of God at work.

God at work. That is what we see. That is the message.

God is not willing that any should perish, the Bible tells us. The gift of salvation–the forgiveness of sins— is extended to all.

We tend to make Christianity complicated. The scriptures are profitable for correction and instruction in right living. From the beginning we were intended to live a life free from fear, a life of worship towards God and care for our fellow human beings, a life that is at peace with our God-given conscience.

This begs the question, can we be saved without a knowledge of Christ?

When people do not receive the message of Christ delivered to them, can they still be saved?

Salvation is restoration to a relationship with God, our creator, through forgiveness of sins, and the embarking on a new life. I may be wrong in this, but I think it is possible to believe in God without a knowledge of Christ, as we see in the Old Testament. But when Christ is introduced, the believer will recognize Christ as God.

The Bible says, “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” It also says, “demons also believe, and tremble.” So, it is insufficient to merely acknowledge the message. One must engage with the message, as a believer. The Israelites who looked on the serpent Moses lifted up on a post, were healed from the plague. They accepted the hope and deliverance offered to them. This was a symbol of what was to come, Christ lifted up on the cross, for the healing of many.

In the book of Luke the crowds initially heard Jesus gladly, but then the people turned on him. It happened after he told them about the healing of Naaman and God’s provision for a widow during a time of drought. There were many other lepers, at the time, who were not healed, and many other widows who were not provided for in the same way. When Jesus pointed this out to the people, it incited their rage. I don’t fully understand why, but it could be for the same reason people react negatively towards the message today. They think all should be healed and provided for.

It seems that God is not troubled by the fact that only Naaman was healed and only one widow was helped. And he apparently is not overly disturbed by the fact that only a few will be saved. This is a fascinating thought to consider. We might be tempted to say God is unjust. And by what standard of judgment would we declare this? Only by the one we have derived from our limited understanding of justice and of God, as revealed, primarily, in the Bible. Be angry at God, if you will. Lift your fist in his face. Tell him he is wrong. Tell him he is unjust. He will still choose whom he pleases.

So, when he chooses us, we fall on our face before him, like Peter. Maybe we think to ourselves, at first, this probably won’t work. We’ve already fished all day and caught nothing. But we have nothing left to lose. And then the wonder happens.

Jesus, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Living Water. He is the missing element of sustenance we need in our lives. He will come and abide with us, live in us, by his Holy Spirit. He will guide us–He is light. He will nourish us–He is bread. He will quench our thirst--He is water for our souls.

“To whom shall we go, for you have the words of life,” Peter declared to Christ. He believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus’ response to Peter, as we read in Matthew chapter sixteen, was, “this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” The message, ultimately, is revealed, supernaturally.

We may participate in the distribution of the message, but God ultimately takes responsibility for the revelation.

Things Won’t Come Easy

I’ve read through the laments in the Psalms and asked why the writers were so often at the edge of despair. There is constant reference to opposition from enemies. Real, or imagined, in my life I definitely experience what can only be explained or understood as attacks and assaults from enemy forces. Things don’t come easy.

I say imagined, because I don’t see physical enemies, so I tend to think I am imagining that I have real adversaries who hinder me, and even attack me. In our enlightened era of science and logic it is easy to dismiss anything supernatural, but travel to an underdeveloped country and people will tell you of indisputable experiences with evil spirits. Just because we do not believe a thing, does not mean it does not exist.

I spoke with a missionary who confessed outright that he did not want to confront demons because of the story of the seven sons of Sheba in the book of Acts who were overcome by the very demons they tried to cast out. Confronting demons is serious business. If we believe in Christ, we cannot deny the existence of demons. In the gospels we read that the major part of Jesus’ ministry involved teaching, healing the sick and casting out demons.

It is easy to be spooked and be fearful of the idea of demons. Maybe this is why we tend to ignore the subject. For me the question is not whether there are demons, but how do we deal with demonic manifestations.

I am reminded of reading the story of Smith Wigglesworth who awoke one night and saw a demon sitting at the end of his bed. “Oh, it’s just you,” was his response, and he turned over and went back to sleep. This is the kind of acceptance that comes from a rounded understanding of the activity of demons. Faith in God dispels demons. It takes away their power. Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one, Satan, and his demons. He made an open show of them and he triumphed over them. Satan threw everything he could at Jesus. He even killed him. Jesus triumphed over sin and death by his resurrection. If we place our trust in him, we can do likewise. We do not need to be fearful or intimidated.

However, things will not come easily to us. We are going to face trials. We are going to encounter incredible opposition. I have seen people go through unimaginable pain and loss and suffering. And I have seen them come out on the other side.

One thing I tell myself when I am in the middle of a very challenging situation is not do anything that would make it worse. Don’t say anything I will regret later. Don’t indulge in any behavior that would hinder my judgment. Don’t yield to self-pity and be petulant. I may not have much strength to rise to the occasion, but I don’t need to diminish the little I have. I need to use what is available to me. It has always been sufficient and I’ve lived to see another day.

What is available to us in this fight? First of all we must recognize that it is a fight against evil, and we can withstand it. The Bible instructs us to gird ourselves with our spiritual armor. So much attention has been given to the various pieces of armor that we tend to overlook the significance of the components, namely, faith, righteousness, truth, the word of God and the Holy Spirit, the gospel of peace, and prayer.

When Cain killed his brother Abel, he was warned beforehand. Cain’s sacrifice was not as acceptable as Abel’s and Cain began to sulk. Inevitably trials require that we humble ourselves and become contrite in the realization that we do not fully understand what is happening nor do we possess all that we need within ourselves to overcome the temptation to respond in a harmful way. We are dependent on God’s grace. “Sin is crouching at the door, and it desires to have you,” Cain was told. This is the reality we face. There is a choice to be made. Yield and be overcome, or stand up inside and resist and be the overcomer.

Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness and then angels came and ministered to him. I think this is the cycle we experience. Angels minister to us when we choose the high road. It may feel like we are at the end of our road, but faith can always take us one step further.

 

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.