no one can answer, but the Lord

For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

2 Chronicles 20

Negro spirituals, or spirituals have a blessed heritage from the slaves who wrote and sang them, longing for the Lord’s deliverance from their unjust, abject, and at times exceedingly cruel state. We enjoy singing a few of them at the nursing home now and then. I surely thought there was a lyric somewhere from one of them that makes the point that no one can answer certain requests, except the Lord. Didn’t find any, but that’s the gist and backbone of some of their songs, I’m sure.

I love the prayer, or type of prayer which good King Jehoshaphat prayed when his kingdom was in great trouble. There was no where to turn, humanly speaking. There was no answer to the problem. But that’s when he turned in faith to God.

On the one hand, dire, perplexing circumstances can help us strengthen our faith in God through prayer. On the other hand, we might just give up, even as our Lord implicitly warns us (Luke 18), so that we fail to look to God at all. I suppose there might be something hazy, in between. But by and large, it’s either one or the other. We either turn to God in prayer, or we actually don’t.

In my life I’ve had times when I knew there was no answer to the problem other than from God. I knew only God could resolve the matter. Those ended up being times of faith being confirmed, and hopefully made stronger and more settled in my life. So that when I face a similar situation now, hopefully my first response will be to turn to the Lord in prayer. And keep praying, and not let go. Even if it takes some time. Instead of a breaking point, we can find God’s salvation,* and hold on to that. In and through Jesus.

*Salvation I use here, meaning deliverance from some trouble, just as the term is often used in the First/Old Testament. One such example: Psalm 37:39-40.

God understands

We say in Christian theology that God knows all things, the end from the beginning, in every minute detail with the big picture in mind. Precisely what that means might deviate some. Like I might ask, “Can God know what isn’t already in existence?” Surely yes, in that he can create and control all of that, but maybe no if he chooses not to control it at every turn, I am thinking of human volition. All of existence is out of God’s doing. And God can force us to choose or do whatever, if God so chooses, but it seems on the surface at least, that there’s a real give and take in life between the individual, as well as people, and God. Maybe some of this we do best to chalk up to mystery, and leave alone. But it does seem that God invites us to grapple with all he has revealed, while the hidden things remain with him, indeed surely outside of our limitation to grasp.

We can be at a place in which we’re challenged to know what to do. In small ways that happens a lot, and is usually fixable. In larger ways, sometimes that can be quite difficult, beyond our ability to navigate well, if at all. It is good during such times to be in prayer and in the word, looking to God to give us the understanding we need, and proceed from there. That is usually incremental, and one step at a time. God can be trusted to be present through all of it, but it seems to me like God leaves plenty of room for variation on our part, including even failure. God has the big picture in mind, but also wants to be present interactively with us through the small things, as well. That is lived largely in context of our day to day existence as individuals, but is best worked out in community with others in Jesus. Not to say that God might not use the broader human community as well, and another friend who does not yet know him.

I look to God for his wisdom, believing certain things are beyond me, really many things. Essentially what concerns God in us, I believe, is a character transformation rooted in God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It’s not like other things are unimportant, all within the old creation is included in the new creation in Jesus. Salvation extends to every part, but perhaps its outworking is strange to us. And the fact of the matter is that we may not be necessarily included, if we don’t look to the source which is found in Jesus. There might be some major bumps on the road, and brokenness on the way to that salvation.

God understands. And can be fully trusted. In and through Jesus.

the seeming uneven hand of God

There is no way you can live very long and thoughtfully, and not find the unevenness of life perplexing, even troubling. Why does life happen the way it does? In terms of circumstances, as well as in one’s lot. There are the crack cocaine babies, those born in places that have never heard the gospel, others having to flee their homes in war zones, not to mention atrocities from which people can never fully recover. That’s only the beginning of what we could say. I’m sure the list could go on and on.

Although we can’t say God caused these things—of course some would question whether God caused anything—the Hebrew Bible, First Testament attributes to God everything, since nothing can happen outside of his will. God could stop or prevent anything from happening. We could live in a different world. Everything would make sense to us in that world. No one would tell lies and mislead people. No one would harm people for their own self-interest, or who knows what for?

I have experienced plenty of blessing in my life, but like everyone else, I live under the curse (Genesis 3). The world is far from an agreeable place to live if one is going to take out the fairness, justice card. This is much more the case for some people other than myself, people whose progeny have suffered injustice over generations, and who still do to this day. And the syndrome that comes with that; there are some things most people never gets over at least in the way of shaping them, sometimes actually in good ways.

Turning to scripture can help us here. I think particularly of the story of Job. It is a great help in looking straight in the face the unevenness of the world, and the seeming unevenness of God. Life is messy at best, and traumatic or even catastrophic at worst.

This is where faith comes in. Do I believe in God, even in a good God in spite of the fallout of life? Do I hold on to that belief for dear life, in spite of my numbness, and even anger, in spite of unresolved questions and the reality which flies in the face of easy answers, and wooden empty platitudes? Yes, in the midst of it all, someone can say Romans 8:28 instead of simply being present with us and praying. A handy out for them, it would seem, even if they are completely sincere and only want to help.

But looking at life as it is, we do need to get back to the bedrock of our faith. We need to look both at the details of scripture, and to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. God’s ultimate answer is Jesus, and the cross. How everything shakes out in the end is with reference to that, and how God is at work in the present, as well. We do well to lay hold of the promises of God, like in Proverbs 3:5-6 with that in mind. And as Job would remind us, mystery is a major player, as well. Who can understand what only God can fully understand, if the God of the Bible exists?

Life is uneven now, but there is God in Jesus. We need to stop there, no matter what. That is where we need to take the broken, shattered pieces of our lives, our own brokenness, indeed, ourselves. And in prayer, others, as well.

We look toward an end when all will be grace, flourishing, shalom. When the end will make good sense, even if we never do understand fully what preceded that. All of this always in and through Jesus.

unanswered questions and where our confidence lies

The Bible is full of places where God’s people, even his servants question him, wondering about this or that, especially in terms of God’s justice and even goodness. Habakkuk is a good case in point, as we heard in the message (week one: “Honest to God”) yesterday. Another great example is Job, who in the end didn’t have all his questions answered, but it didn’t seem to matter. Actually in the case of Job, we might say he was intellectually satisfied, and probably more importantly, satisfied in his heart, because the essential answer which God gave him is that the God who created everything in all that wonder is beyond the scope of Job’s ability to comprehend and fully appreciate. God does give us what we need to carry on and do well in the faith which is in him in and through Jesus.

I too often, probably just occasionally have questions which while not necessarily large scale often have no quick and easy answers. Proverbs tells us that it is the glory of kings to search out a matter, so it doesn’t hurt at all for us to pray and investigate and find out what we can in trying to arrive to some satisfactory answer. But do all of our questions have to be answered? The really essential one for the Christian faith is the reality or not of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Our faith depends on the veracity of that as a historical and not just religious truth. It either happened, and therefore our faith is true, or it didn’t happen. And since our faith purports to be dependent on that, and not just some tradition or religion we do, we have nothing according to Paul if it’s not historical fact (1 Corinthians 15). The evidence from the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is quite compelling, and coupled with Luke’s account in Acts followed by the rest of the New/Final Testament and what follows in history afterward, we can say we have good reason intellectually to accept that as true. And we have found that confession of faith to be life changing, setting us on a completely new course in life (Romans 10:9-10). It’s other nagging questions along the way which subtly can eat away at our faith, at the practice of it.

And that leads me to the main question for this post: Where does our confidence ultimately lie, in God himself, or in having all of our questions answered? And the easy answer is that our confidence is in God alone, apart from whatever questions which might remain unanswered. But the more complex, true to life answer is that we can continue to wrestle with God (the meaning of the word Israel, by the way is one who wrestles with God) and ask whatever hard questions we have, big or small. We can struggle and wonder and simply not know. But ultimately we can be at rest even with that tension, because our confidence is in God. So that by and large that tension is relieved without having all of our questions answered. Even as we continue to ask and search for answers to our questions. In and through Jesus.

what keeps us going

There are many ways to become discouraged, and to essentially quit. Fear paralyzes and debilitates. Feeling overwhelmed over difficult challenges in life in which there is some inevitable stumbling. Or not measuring up to some self-imposed standard which one may have imbibed through their upbringing, experiences, ideas floating around, or a combination of a number of factors.

What keeps me going is the faith and hope and love in Jesus. To boil it down, for me, the written word and the Word himself, Jesus. I accept something of the Real Presence in Holy Communion, but I believe something of that is given to us in scripture, as well. So whether I feel like it or not, and I might say especially when I don’t feel like it, I keep going back to scripture, and seek to read it all in the light of Jesus who brings us into the life of God.

For me this isn’t a nice thing I do, or something I find enjoyable so that I do it, though there’s some truth in both. For me it’s a matter of life and death. I have to do this, but I want to want to do it as well. My want is good enough for a number of reasons, but essentially so because of God’s grace, that I just keep on doing it. When I wane in doing so, it’s not long until I feel and see the consequences.

In this is a matter of not just surviving, but in Jesus experiencing a sense of thriving. It seems like faith is always on that edge, the precipice of on the one hand falling into the abyss, though for us in Jesus, underneath are the everlasting arms. And on the other hand, finding ourselves in a kind of paradise right in the midst of a broken down world. That is known even in what can be the aloneness of life. I remember when Paul said that everyone had abandoned him, but that the Lord stood with him so that the proclamation of the gospel would go forward. God’s presence should be even more palpable, or perhaps better put, steadily manifest and tangible amongst God’s people, those in Jesus in his body, the church.

So for me, I carry on for a number of reasons I’m sure, all through God’s grace and working in Jesus. But essentially due to the written word which leads us to the Word, Jesus, Jesus actually somehow mediating that word to us through his fulfillment of it, all of this in and through the Spirit. That last sentence is breaking boundaries I ordinarily don’t believe in crossing. I am moving into what is too high for me, too much to understand. Mystery. Yet we know that it’s both the word then the Word, and the Word then the word. All of this, of course, in and through Jesus.

finding home

Like a bird that flees its nest
    is anyone who flees from home.

Proverbs 27:8

From an old song comes the well worn saying: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” We feel at home at home, for sure. It’s an escape, and more than that, it’s our abode. It’s where we’re acclimated into hopefully a place where we can rest. Of course to both build and maintain a home requires work. But home ought to be above all a place we can leisurely enjoy.

God made us for home. In a sense, humans were made to be at home in fellowship with God, in Jesus taken into the communion of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But God made humans also to be earthly dwellers in communion with each other. And even to have a relationship with animals, I’m thinking of pets. This is why the biblical promise of heaven coming down to earth and becoming one with it when Jesus returns is so appropriate. God will come to earth to dwell with his people. In the meantime, God lives with us in Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us).

So our true home is right where we live on earth, renewed in Jesus, and in God in and through Jesus. Both.

So we are at a loss, and lost when we stray from either. Especially basic for us is to find our home in God, but we are earthlings, made from the dust of the earth, so that this wonderful world in the end renewed in the new creation at the resurrection in and through Jesus is also our home. We can’t get too much of either, as we now live in the world to be renewed when God makes all things new through Jesus.

“This world is not my home,” refers to the world system, which like Babel of old (Genesis 11) is estranged from, and in opposition to God. So that this life is not our final home. We are strangers here, pilgrims on a journey, looking for a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11).

We pray for those who have strayed from their true home, that they would find it in God. And we long to be more and more at rest in that, as well. While we fulfill our calling to work and be stewards of this good earth God has entrusted to us. Knowing that our work someday won’t end, though the toilsome labor due to the curse imposed on it will. At Jesus’s return.

Home.

 

when one could quit

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

There are times when for a number of reasons life seems so discouraging. Not that there isn’t some good if you look for it. And indeed, as scripture tells us (Psalm 103, etc.), in the words of the hymn, we’re to count our many blessings. But so much can seem wrong, and at times against us. If you include with that the propensity for some of us to, if not expect the worst, try to be prepared for that, we can more or less be pushed over the edge into the precipice of losing heart, and hardly caring. Not because we want to be that way, but there are times which try a person’s soul, as the saying goes. Sometimes on a nagging, smaller scale, and at other times in a major way when one could wish that life would come to a screeching halt.

Enter Jesus, instructing his disciples about how they should always pray and never give up (NLT).

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18

Jesus told a parable to make that point. He compared God to an unjust judge, who after a widow’s relentless pleading for justice, reluctantly gives in, granting her request. And that God who is just and merciful, as Jesus taught, found amply in scripture, will respond to his people’s prayers for justice.

People ask me how I am, and some don’t seem to leave room for an answer other than “good,” having in it the possible hint that I’m not doing so well, maybe on a personal level for whatever reason, or because of a concern for the problems of others. It seems at certain times that things are out of control, that some outlook is grim at best.

Such times, and the discouragement which can accompany them should be a heads up for us, as Jesus taught his disciples, and by extension teaches us, to pray, and not give up. That order might suggest that we won’t give up if we pray. One could also aptly say, that when we are tempted to give up, instead we should pray.

God will help us in his own time and way. Praying at times for ourselves, for others, and for the world. As we look for the final justice and mercy to come in and through Jesus.