how do we face the evil and trouble of this world?

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Live and you will see trouble. You don’t have to look for it. Sad to say, even evil, as well.

Job challenged it head on, both complaining about God and to God. Although he maintained his integrity, and did not abandon his faith in God, God was not entirely pleased with him as we can tell from God’s answer to him out of the whirlwind indicating his displeasure (Tremper Longman III) later. Job received what for him was a new revelation from and of God.

There’s no escape from trouble in this world, both in simply being human, and in following the Lord. We live in the midst of it. I once heard of a community built to avoid it. But alas, it is in this life, in this world, the real world. That community I think, no longer exists. Such a place truly does not exist in this life. So we’d better get used to it. So what are we going to do about it?

It turns out that what we can do is often limited. Job’s friends did well when they simply sat on their hands in silence for seven days with Job. They didn’t do well when they began to open their mouths, neither did the young man at the end, for whatever truth they told. They had it all figured out. Job himself was trying, but more like challenging God based on what he thought he knew.

My only answer, myself, is that God is with us through the troubles. It’s not like God can’t deliver us from them, but ordinarily it seems like God is simply with us.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

And we take comfort in the fact that just as the psalmist says, God is at work in it. Indeed, as it says, comfort comes from God’s care over us. So maybe that means we simply need to settle in, in faith believing that God will see us through.

It can become more difficult in a way when our concern is for others. In fact it can become too heavy a burden to carry. We need to keep coming to God in prayer. God can do what we can’t possibly do. Even undo what has been done. And redeem. We need to hold on in faith, knowing that in the end, God and his good will prevails. Not only out of the trouble, but somehow through it. In and through Jesus.

 

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turning old troubles into new opportunities

At this point I have quite a lot of life I can look back on. If I care (and dare) to reflect on it, I can somewhat see from my own perspective, hopefully with something of God’s help, how and why I either made mistakes, or was stuck in certain patterns I never really got out of.

Nowadays I’m more and more seeing old troubles that inevitably come around as new opportunities to trust God and be obedient to his word as never before. This involves spiritual growth with its fits and starts. Of course it’s not easy, but by grace it’s definitely doable. And it’s not at all to say that new troubles won’t come along. But working through the old in a committed faith in God will help prepare us for whatever is to come. The God who came through before will surely come through again as we trust in him.

This can be considered not only about troubles, but whatever else we need to work on in our lives which is lacking. All of it should be done in prayerful dependence on God as we continue in his word. In and through Jesus.

keep your eyes ahead on the goal: Jesus

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-14

Yesterday at work I was steering a pallet truck with a load in front of me (usually it follows me) and like other times noticed that as long as I look far ahead in the distance toward where I want to go, I can usually keep it going pretty straight. But as soon as I start looking elsewhere, like at the load itself or things around it, I’ll veer off course. That reminded me of how farmers used to do in olden days when they would look far ahead so as to make straight rows in planting their crop.

Life isn’t easy for anyone, and particularly hard for some. Most of us are all too easily taken off course by this or that. But for us who name the name of Christ, believers and followers of him, we need to keep in mind and heart our ultimate goal, which in simple terms is Jesus himself, who leads us into the life of God, the eternal life in him and the Father, by the Holy Spirit. So much comes and goes in our lives, like Jesus said, trouble and this life go hand in hand.

So we have to keep our eyes on the goal ahead: Jesus. And keep moving that direction ourselves, and with others. In and through Jesus.

God’s word keeping us keeping on

Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

Psalm 119:89-96

The entire passage is important of course, and we need to read any part in its context, but I want to focus especially on one part of it:

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

That is what I do, where I live. In the real world in all its brokenness. And what sees me through is God’s word. When I refer to God’s word, I mean Scripture, the Bible. But I also mean the gospel to which that word points, to the Word himself, Jesus.

The word doesn’t save me in ways I anticipate or come up with myself. In some intellectual sense, I might anticipate such, but when you’re afflicted and feel lost, you’re living in an experience, and what you’re thinking has limited if any effect.

I know there are people who think the Christian faith is mostly all psychological. And let me acknowledge that it’s not like one’s attitude and frame of mind isn’t important. But God’s word goes way beyond that. We are given hope in the midst of utter despair and brokenness. Belief that through God’s word in and through Jesus there’s always salvation.

What God requires is faith. And how we get faith is by hearing or reading about and focusing on the object of faith, God’s promises, and especially God’s promises in Jesus.

I can testify again and again, and actually every day that this make all the difference in the world for me. I get up with God’s word in mind, and begin to look at it immediately ideally. And going to bed in prayer ideally, after being in the word. God’s word is multifaceted, and therefore, our response to it. A response of faith. Through which God sees us through in and through Jesus.

 

fear an opportunity for faith

In this world there are endless possibilities to be anxious about something. And there are indeed many things to be concerned about. I am the kind of person that when troubled can pray and get God’s peace, but can almost immediately think of something else that troubles me. And that really never stops when you consider the nature of things in this life. What if we lived more of an anxiety-less existence in the midst of the inevitable trouble that comes our way? Scripture tells us how, and perhaps no more clearly and to the point than here.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I think quite often our breakthroughs come when we’re in the midst of the worst of what we experience. When we’re in that kind of struggle, we need to be in prayer. And we need to go on what God gives us, the thought as well as whatever peace might come our way, of course I’m talking about inward peace. Maybe even our own thought, or so it would seem. Recently I had what I would call a major breakthrough on an issue, deciding that I was no longer going to concern myself so that I actually break that old rule and simply trust in God, come what may. We can fashion many ideas or practices simply out of fear. That’s a sign it’s not good. And as a former pastor told us, we should never act from fear.

Except that fear can oddly enough become an impetus to move us to faith. There are few things worse than living in fear. For some people they have certain phobias, fear of this or that. Or some may just live in fear of just about everything. These people need special help. Psychiatric counseling might be good; how many of us have seen a psychiatrist or psychologist? I have, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, and indeed can be helpful. But what I’m getting at here is more the fear we normally encounter usually over one matter at a time. As a good Christian man who worked where I work in the past used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Yes, we want to be alert and do what we can. It’s not like we just become passive in our faith. But we ought to start with prayer in faith in the midst of the worry. Keep praying. And act from there or not act at all if we are unsure of what to do. Of course we use common sense in seeking counsel (Proverbs).

In the end we bring all our fears to God. Believing he can take care of everything. Notice that the passage above says nothing about the actual outcome. The promise is that God’s peace will settle in, in a way canceling out our own understanding, certainly surpassing it (Proverbs 3:5-6). And so our fears can oddly enough become an opportunity for faith. As we keep turning to God again and again in and through Jesus.

 

good and bad times

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

Somehow God is at work in the world. For good always, but sometimes it unfolds in what’s bad for humans. The book of Ecclesiastes is steeped in mystery, part of why I like it. It deals with real life, not some fanciful make-believe romantic notion. Life can be the pits. And yet the good times roll as well.

Both are certain, the timing is not. Humankind is involved in all of this. We make bad choices; we get bad results. God’s grace can relieve some of that. And even good times will come. What is not certain is just what’s up next.

Being aware of this can help relieve us of the notion that things will always remain the same in this life. They won’t. Trouble and the stress which accompanies it will come. But so will the good times. It’s something that we simply have to accept and learn to live with. So that we while we enjoy them, we don’t get too up or complacent during good times. And when things are difficult, we don’t get too down, but accept that as a matter of course, that it’s simply the way life is.

Though we can’t know the future, we can rest in the truth that God is sovereign over it all.

 

 

the kind of help God gives

Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:8-12

For whatever reason, many of us can find ourselves in a pinch, maybe a pickle. Of course no one escapes trouble. It will come regardless. Some of it can be self-inflicted for sure.

The psalms have many instances of people in trouble, even complaining to God about their lot, or about life. I’ve picked up from some that to be worked up emotionally over a matter which affects us is unacceptable. What actually is unacceptable is when we don’t handle such times well. And the psalms over and over again give us examples of people turning to God in the midst of such trouble, emotionally spent (and spending).

The perspective in the passage quoted above is helpful. It’s good to consider it in the context of the entire psalm of course (link above and here). It’s instructive how God is at work for our good even in what in itself is not good. But God isn’t just at work to bring us through it, essentially out of it. But for our good, to make us better human beings, more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). In the end God indeed wants to bless us, and make us a blessing. But a big part of the blessing is the impact for good as a result of our response to the trouble. If we look to God in faith and keep doing so, God will be at work in that way. We have to be willing to go through the trouble in faith, not just escape it.

It may be perturbing at times, but part of the beauty of the above passage is that it’s specific in an instructive kind of way, while being general enough to encompass all kinds of situations and people. It is best to meditate and pray on it, and go from there. Scripture is for life, no less. God will see us through as we look to him. Not just to get past the trouble, solving the problem. But to change us through it. Yet at the same time yes, to help us, to see us through. In and through Jesus.