Overcoming Suffering

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:1-4)

Sunset on green Field Landscape

There seems to be two types of suffering: (1) the suffering that comes of our own making, and (2) the suffering that comes when God prunes us. I’m sure you have experienced both. The suffering of brokenness is never easy. This second brand of suffering refers to the state of surrender and defeat we experience when hardship comes to our usually steady and painless life. Certainly, you can imagine that many of us bring about hardship based upon choices we make. In any event, the suffering of brokenness is never easy.

What’s the Point in Bringing up Suffering?

Why talk about this subject of suffering? Can we please just talk about something else? You’re going to ruin a great day. The sun’s shining. Your belly is full. You love your job. What suffering? After all, just thinking about the word or recalling the trials of Job is enough to frighten anyone. But what happens when God calls us to experience suffering firsthand? How can we bear it? It is a difficult pill to swallow, but we all suffer in one way or another. There are those who suffer physically; some suffer emotionally; others seem to suffer mentally; and, finally, many who constantly fight God’s calling in their lives suffer spiritually. Why? We suffer because we refuse to surrender and yield everything to God’s lordship. Suffering is a difficult truth, and without God in our lives, it’s impossible to understand or see any good in it. But with God’s help and His Spirit’s empowerment, it can be the sweetest thing a believer ever experiences.

God’s Spirit chooses certain people that He knows will accept the pain and sorrow of suffering.  He knows they will trust Him fully and learn How work to work.  He will make them an instrument so powerful, so special, and so sweet that no one will be able to resist them. He’s only asking us to do one thing for Him – simply put our trust completely in Him. We often forget what God has already declared in His Word. God’s ways are higher than ours. (See Isaiah 55:8-9) His wisdom and insight into who we are and what we need in our lives are perfect. And, much to our dismay, the Lord does not always reveal to us what He is doing in our lives.

When we get into the arena of suffering, often our faith begins to waver in disbelief, our hearts begin to question everything about God’s love, and our minds begin to challenge God’s authority. We take our eyes off of His love and begin to question God Himself. Satan then throws us into the pit of despair. We start spiraling out of control and we end up in a horrible and sinful place, crying out, “It doesn’t seem fair!” A question from our heart: “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous have to suffer?” Why, for example, does a young Christian woman, who is living her life for the Lord and with great virtuousness, get raped? Why must a Christian couple have to experience the pain of a child suffering from cancer?

Even in my own life I have questioned why I have needed to wrestle endlessly with the bondage of addiction despite my sincere desire to break free? Quite frankly, I don’t think any of us can truly answer these tough questions. If we didn’t know God, we could likely brush it off as the way of human existence on go on, moving forward. But because we know the goodness of God; because we know that He is filled with grace, mercy, and compassion; and because we know that no experience – painful or otherwise – can touch us unless it goes through His hands, we struggle to make sense of the pain and suffering in life. When we are struck with pain and suffering, we automatically think that we have done something wrong and that God is trying to teach us a lesson. This is not always the case. In fact, some of the most horrific suffering can take place when we are doing exactly what we should be doing! One thing is certain: suffering produces character.

SOME TRUTHS ABOUT SUFFERING

When we encounter trials, tribulations, and sufferings, it’s then that our Christian walk really meets the road. It is often during these times that the Scriptures truly become alive to us and the Holy Spirit does His greatest work in our lives.

Suffering Helps Us Comfort Others

The Bible promises us that we will be comforted in our suffering. It does not promise that we will always understand our suffering, nor does it promise that God will deliver us from pain, suffering, or even death; but it does promise He will always be with us. Perhaps the prophet Isaiah says it best: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 44:2) We receive our comfort from God, and He will use the very experience that is causing our suffering to help us comfort someone else. This concept is very much alive in the realm of addictions counseling and 12-step meetings.

Paul wrote, in his second letter to the Corinthians, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same things we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6, NIV)

At times God shakes up our lives. He brings us to a place in which we are uncomfortable in order to mold and correct us. As these verses state, sometimes we will suffer for no other reason but to make our hearts tender, and to give us great compassion toward other people. When we experience difficulty in life, we are able to turn to the Lord for His comfort. We get to mirror to others how God moves us from despair to victory. The comfort of God is something that your spouse or your best friend cannot give you. The Lord strengthens us by coming alongside us and walking with us through the storm. This coming alongside another is the very essence of the ministry of helps. (See 1 Corinthians 12:28) The Greek translation of this verse indicates literally “to relieve, succor, participate in, and/or support.” Those with the gift of helps are individuals who can aid, render assistance, or counsel others with compassion and grace.

Suffering Turns Our Focus on God

The Apostle Paul talks about the extent of his own suffering when he wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11) What was the reason for Paul’s suffering? He suffered so that he would not trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead.

I believe that every bit of suffering God allows us to experience has at its core the purpose of bringing us to a place where we do not look to ourselves, but rather to God. He wants to destroy that place of self-confidence in our lives, and to bring us to a place in which we trust only Him. God wants us to understand and know His place of comfort and, in turn, be able to reach out and comfort others just as He has comforted and taken care of us.

Suffering Allows Us to Better Glorify God

In all ways, we want the Lord to be glorified in our lives. Sometimes He gets greater glory in what may seem like nothing but suffering on our end. Remember in the book of John when Martha and Mary were crying because their brother, Lazarus, had died? Martha told Jesus that if only He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. It’s likely that the sisters had a hard time understanding why Jesus didn’t drop everything to come and rescue His friend. And, understandably so, this furthered the suffering they were experiencing. But Jesus said to them, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Jesus loved Mary and Martha. He allowed them to suffer temporarily because it was part of God’s plan to do an even greater work than healing Lazarus. That is, to raise him from the dead. Not only would this greater miracle reveal the deity of Christ and give God glory, it would also give Mary and Martha tremendous hope. God loves His children and uses suffering to bring about far greater glory than what we could ever imagine.

Suffering Allows Us to Be More Appreciative

When we struggle through difficult times, we find ourselves being thankful for the simple things, the blessings the Lord has given us. Think of it this way: When we are sick, we become very appreciative of our health. When we are broke, we become appreciative of basic provisions. When we experience a broken relationship, we become very grateful of just having someone to eat meals with. So often we ignore God’s daily provisions for our lives and the many blessings He has bestowed on us. Not taking things for granted is a key lesson of suffering. We need to appreciate what God has given us (including each breath we take) and live each day with a thankful heart. No one likes to suffer, but it’s a necessary part of life. If our attitude is right, we will thrive during the suffering and, on the other side, be better because of it.

HOW TO VIEW SUFFERING AND COPE WITH IT

Ultimately, there are two ways to look at suffering. One way is like looking in a mirror. When trials come and difficulty hits, we immediately look in the mirror and all we see is ourselves. We see our hurts, our problems, our pain, and what others have done to us, but we are oblivious both to God and to what is going on in other people’s lives. The more we look in the mirror, the further we slide into despair. If we deal with suffering when it comes by looking into a mirror, we will never overcome it. We will never enjoy and experience the fruit God wants to bring into our lives through our suffering.

However, God wants to take the mirror away and replace it with a window – a view on the rest of the world! If we look out the window, we will see other people who are also hurting. Although we may not see the purpose of our suffering at the time, we will see that God is moving, and He is placing people and circumstances in our life for a reason. When we are looking out the window, we have no time to look in the mirror.

It’s Time for a New View

I have spent way too much time staring in the mirror, feeling sorry for myself, and blaming others for my circumstances. Looking in the mirror at my own pitiful reflection causes me to dwell on the negative aspects of my situation. I develop the attitude that no one understands, no one has experienced what I am going through, and nobody cares. It took a while for me to realize that I was staring in the mirror every day, moping, seeing nothing but heartache and suffering and loneliness. Frankly, that’s enough to destroy anyone! But the day we all choose to through the mirror away and look out the window, then we can look through our pain and suffering – the agony of our own life – and see another human being.

The Lord will lift us out of the sorrow, out of the situation, and use us as an instrument of righteousness within His kingdom. He will give us His compassion to reach out to others who are suffering, to comfort them with the same comfort that we have received. Suffering is common to all men and women. Every one of us goes through difficult times. Jesus, who did nothing wrong, suffered more than any other man or woman in history. Yet, He was able to say from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Throughout His life and His suffering, Jesus looked through a window instead of a mirror and was able to see others, not Himself.

Help to Cope With Suffering

We need to get out from our looking position (the inward focus, the looking in the mirror) to a helping position –  taking our eyes off our own situation and helping others through their suffering. But how do we do this? We do it by receiving God’s comfort and strength. In the Bible, the word paraclete is given to describe the Holy Spirit. In the Greek, it means “one who comes as a pillar of fire by your side.” God will be with us through the fire. He will be with us through the fire. He will be with us through the storm. He will be with us when the rivers begin to overflow. The Lord is able to comfort and help us in all situations of life. The apostle Paul, who had his own share of suffering, wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Concluding Remarks

Are you battling a painful time in your life? Are you trying to make sense of it all? It’s important to stick with what you know. The Bible promises to help dispel the horrible and nagging question of “Why?” So stick with these truths: You know God loves you. You know God is true. You know He is righteous and Holy. You know God will not allow anything to come into your life that you cannot handle. You know God will use your suffering to help you minister to someone else. You know God will use your suffering for ultimate good.

We must look to the Lord and stand upon His promises. This is the only way to get through our personal suffering. We must remember what Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Paul suffered through beatings and stonings and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness – far more pain than most of us will ever have to endure. What did Paul say in Romans 8:18? “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

God is always around us. He is with us in every situation. When we’re ready to drop with exhaustion, or we fear we’re losing our way, are we to think, “I can handle this?” No, we remind ourselves, “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” (See Psalm 18:32)

 

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How Many?

A Sunday school teacher in Ohio asked her class how many soldiers it took to hold Jesus down while they drove the nails into His hands and feet. She was humbled to explain to them how He gave His life willingly to save all who would believe.

The following is a poem written by Connie Faust.

Water Color of Crucifixion

How many soldiers did it take to hold our Savior down
as the nails were driven into His trembling flesh?
Did they hold fast His precious head to place the thorny crown,
viciously assuring it would keep the bleeding fresh?

“How many?” asked the teacher, as she faced her little brood,
each child tried to answer, as earnestly they stood.
“Four soldiers,” called Meg,
“Ten!” said Jon, mocking her with a shove.
Jimmy rose and cried, “You’re wrong! He did it out of love!”

From lips of a child the answer in startling truth rings still:
Out of love for all mankind, He did His Father’s will.
“You’re wrong!” the answer echoes loud – He willingly obeyed;
If He had fought and struggled, the debt would not be paid.

How many soldiers did it take to hold the Savior still?
He did it all for you on that dark and lonely hill!
He did it out of love for you, to save you from your sin.
He’s offering forgiveness; will you turn and follow Him?

+++

But He was punished for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.

(Isaiah 53, Living Bible)

What Kind of Mirror?

“I believe all of you, somewhere within your heart, want to be the instruments of God’s power, and therefore, even if you don’t feel like it now, there is buried somewhere in your subconscious the longing to be a man or woman of fervent and effective prayer.” – a quote from John Piper

Man-Kneeling-In-Prayer-Silhouette

John Piper advocates what he calls Christian hedonism which teaches that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. This happens when God’s highest pursuit (His glory) and man’s deepest and most measurable happiness come together in one pursuit – namely, the pursuit of joy in God.

Every one of us is created in God’s image. Each one of us was created to be a conscious mirror of God, reflecting His very character. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve had an overwhelming longing to be used by God to carry forth His power and wisdom and love in the world. They wanted to be mirrors of His glory. That longing is buried deep within each of us today. Unfortunately, it has been smothered by sin. In a sense, the quelling is only slight, but it has a dulling effect. The wonderment of a mirror lies in its ability to put one’s face to the light and let that light shine.

The serpent, more crafty than any other beast of the field, tempted Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree that was in the midst of the garden. God warned Eve that consuming the forbidden fruit would cause her to die. The serpent, however, said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5, ESV) [Italics mine.] But what happened when Adam and Eve ate the fruit? They suddenly became aware that they were naked, and they were ashamed. In order to hide their “reflection,” they made loincloth out of fig leaves.

We want to decide for ourselves which way to turn our faces. “This is my good side.” We want people to esteem us and admire us and compliment us. We loath the idea of being a mirror which does not reflect beauty. We tire of having to turn our face wherever the light wants to go. We want to be our own light. We want to be God. This comes with our fallen humanity. It is the very essence of sin. If honest, you will admit you too have felt this way. But this universal experience of sin is Satan’s distortion of something wonderful: Our pure and righteous longing to be used by God to reflect His glory in the world. Concealed beneath our pride, craving for self-esteem, and our love of power and influence, is a good thing that has been distorted: the longing to be a mirror of God.

reflecting god.png

A mirror faces away from itself to its source of light so that it might have some use in the world. A mirror is designed to receive light and channel it for the good of others. The value of a mirror is not in itself, but in its potential to let something else be seen. It is utterly dependent upon the source of light outside itself. Sometimes it seems God shows much more of Himself to some people than to others – but this is not because He is playing favorites. Rather, it has to do with us. The instrument through which we see God is our whole self. And if our self is not kept clean and bright, as with a mirror, then our glimpse of God will be blurred – like the moon seen through a dirty telescope.

God can show Himself as He really is only to real men, who are united together in a body, aware of the importance of all the parts of the body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like: musicians in one orchestra, or organs in one body.

“For the body does not consist of one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Cor. 12:14-20, ESV)

Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the whole Christian community looking for Him together. Christian fellowship is, so to speak, the technical equipment for this search. That’s why the false prophets who turn up every few years with some patently simplified religion of their own are really wasting time. He or she may appear to be very clever; may even sound more convincing than the true men of Christ. Matthew 24:24 says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the very elect.” (NIV)

When all is said and done, God is the Gospel. Gospel means “Good News.” Christianity, therefore, is not theology but news. But what is the ultimate good in this Good News? It all ends in one thing: God Himself. All the words of the Bible lead to Him. Christ is revealed from cover to cover. “Salvation” is not good news if it only saves us from Hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt but does not open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God, but doesn’t spark fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage, but doesn’t lead us to relationship with God.

Unfortunately, many people seem to embrace the Good News without embracing God. There is no real assurance that we have a new heart – that our image in the mirror has changed – simply because we are motivated to escape Hell. That’s a perfectly natural desire, but it is not a supernatural one. It doesn’t take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God’s wrath, or the inheritance of God’s world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don’t need to be born again to want these things. Even Satan and his minions want them.

Why is this the essence of the Good News? Because we were made in the image of God, to experience full and lasting peace – shalom – and to see and savor the glory of God. He created us in such a way that His glory is displayed through our joy in it. The Gospel of Christ is the Good News that, at the cost of His Son’s life, God has done everything to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and everlastingly happy. Namely Himself. Long before Christ came, God revealed Himself as the true source of full and lasting pleasure. “You made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Then He sent Christ to suffer “that He might bring us to God.”

So here we are: image bearers. The word image means representative likeness. This tells us at once that we should be reflecting, at our creature level, what Genesis 1 shows God to be. We must always act with a godliness that comes from elsewhere, reflected – indeed, imitated – in what we say and do. Our mirror must show others what the face of God looks like. We are to be His hands, His feet, His arms, His words. God generated value by producing what was truly good – so should we. We should be showing love and goodwill toward all other persons. A distinction has to be drawn. We still bear the image of God formally – that is, we still have in us the abilities that, if rightly harnessed, would achieve a fully-righteous, God-like life – and so the unique dignity of each human being must still be recognized and respected as a gesture of honor to our Maker. This is the kind of mirror we are called to be.

The Gospel: Part Three – The Consummation of all Things

Consummation, from a biblical perspective, deals with eschatology. The part of theology concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and of all of mankind. It is commonly referred to as the end of the world, or the “end times.” Of course, most modern fiction regarding this topic does not deal with the end of time, but rather with the end of a certain period of time; the end of life as it is now, and the beginning of a new period of time. Most books or films on this subject depict violent disruption or destruction of the world. Christian eschatologies show the end times as the consummation or perfection of God’s creation of the world.

The Book of Revelation is at the core of Christian eschatology. It shows God in control as life moves toward the consummation of a great goal in accordance with the purposes of His will. Man may hinder, deflect, or delay God’s plans, but he cannot destroy them. Righteousness ultimately will win out. Evil will be utterly destroyed. The God of Revelation is the Creator. All who gather around the throne proclaim, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things.” (Revelation 4:11) In Revelation 14:7, the angel says, “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (NIV) He made us. He is with His people. He is guiding the course of human events, and His cause will ultimately be victorious.

The climax of the ages-long conflict between Christ and Satan is depicted in those scenes portraying the woman versus the dragon, the Lamb versus the beast, and Jerusalem versus Babylon. In the climax, there will be only two classes of people: those who receive the seal of God and those who receive the mark of the beast. God’s victory will give the church great assurance. Believers will be comforted and encouraged as they recall how God has upheld His faithful throughout the centuries. He has been the guard and the Great Protector of those in the church who have been loyal and true throughout the eons. He still holds the stars in His right hand. He is still the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

The last battle with be the most spectacular ever seen. Satan and his demons, indeed all his minions, will gather as an army. His opponent? The KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. According to Isaiah 25:9, “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'” (NIV) The complete work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem the entire creation from the effects of sin. His purpose will not be accomplished until He has ushered in the great new earth; until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. It is through a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth in order that we fully see God’s redemptive program in cosmic proportions. God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s Fall.

Old Testament prophesies speak of a glorious future for the earth. We are told that, at some point, the earth will become far more productive and spectacular than we can possibly imagine. The Old Testament views this future redemption as a restoration of life in creation. God picked the Israelites – His chosen people, the apple of His eye – to show the world how He intended it all to work. He gave the Jews specific instructions, shaping every part of their public and private lives. The Law was meant to govern their environment, their economy, their families, their society, their politics, their worship, their everything. As the Israelites submitted to the Law of God, they would show the nations how life was supposed to go. Israel was going to demonstrate to the world how walking as God’s image-bearers under explicit acknowledgment of His sovereignty and majesty, and in complete rhythm with God’s design, worked.

For those of us who know God’s Word, it is obvious Israel did not do so well in this regard. The Old Testament chronicles  their perfecting the art of failure. As they failed time and time again, the prophets among them looked forward to the day when Israel would return to their land,  repent of their sin, and live according to God’s will. In this way, Israel was meant to be a light to all nations. The prophets would speak, often at great length, about all nations being drawn into God’s kingdom until it encompassed the whole earth.  Escape from earth is not the goal. Old Testament Scripture views the destiny of mankind as inseparably linked with life on earth. Jesus affirms this view of salvation. The announcement of Him being God’s kingdom at hand must be placed in this very context.

Jesus was not trying to change Israel’s understanding of a new heaven and a new earth. Rather, the Gospel ministry of Jesus and his disciples shows Jesus operating in the framework of an Old Testament expectation of a new creation. His miraculous deeds demonstrate His healing of a broken world, revealing that the Gospel of the kingdom includes the eradication of disease, poverty, the usurping of death, and the ushering in of a new order. Jesus inaugurated this new kingdom in His first coming, but He hasn’t consummated it yet. We are living today in the tension of this already-not-yet world where Jesus has purchased reconciliation, but consummation still lies ahead. We get a glimpse in Matthew 19:28 when Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (NIV)

Paul’s understanding is also interconnected with the Old Testament’s forecast of a new creation and Jesus’ affirmation. In Romans 8:19-22, Paul relates that even the non-human aspects of God’s creation share in the destiny of God’s chosen people. The ground is cursed because of one man’s disobedience. It groans. It has been subjected to futility. This is not to say that the earth is alive in a pantheistic or paganistic manner, but only that Paul’s metaphorical language refers to the reality that the earth’s brokenness is bound up with man’s sin, and therefore the solution to the earth’s problems is bound up with man’s redemption through Christ.

It is common every day, all over the globe, to see man is suffering at the hands of extreme weather, wildfires, pestilence, famine, drought, evildoers, rampant sinfulness, sexual identity confusion, violence, rape, murder, envy, strife, drug and alcohol addiction, jealousy, theft, and any number of horrific conditions. All of creation groans in anticipation of its own liberation. Jesus is the answer to deliverance of the entirety of creation from the wages of sin. The end goal of redemption is a resurrected body on a new – resurrected – earth. Isaiah 65:17 tells us, “For behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” [Italics mine.] I love this verse. Having spent nearly forty years in active addiction, and having served three years in state prison, I have seen firsthand the horror of sin. Isaiah prompts me, however, to look forward and envision the day that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and all the former things – pain, sorrow, difficulty, rebellion, hatred, deliberate infliction of emotional pain will no longer be remembered at all.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1-2)

This is the ultimate fruit of the Gospel mission, and it is undoubtedly what Jesus was praying for when He prayed that God’s kingdom would come in such a way that God’s will would be done perfectly on earth as it is done in heaven. Jesus Himself was the answer to this prayer, inaugurating the kingdom through His earthly ministry and testifying that people who place their faith in Him alone will enjoy the blessings of the kingdom’s future consummation, when all the crooked ways are finally made straight.

 

Facing Late Autumn

The leaves lay like a wound,
red and deep across the lawn, while what remains
is frightened away by bursts of November wind.
I look at concrete-gray clouds and sigh,
knowing it is time to cover flower beds,
yank out roots of annuals,
their petals shriveled and frail, as fine as dust
released to the air.
Soon I will cut back roots of perennials,
until everything in the yard is brown,
until birds no longer chirp,
but vacate their nests,
more visible now as branches of trees
shake against the wind
and scrape against windows like angry fingers,
while the house creaks at its joints.

©2016 Brian Fanelli

Healing Emotional Wounds From Your Past

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, NASB)

Dan and Cindy were a fine, young Christian couple preparing for ministry on the mission field. Then tragedy struck. Cindy was attacked and raped by a stranger in the parking lot one night after work. The police were unable to find her attacker, and Cindy had a hard time bringing any closure to the nightmare. The trauma was so severe that Dan and Cindy moved out of the city. As hard as she tried to get back to normal life, Cindy couldn’t shake the horrible memories and feelings from her experience. She was trapped by her trauma.

One of the most vital things we can learn regarding our Christian life is how to handle the trials that will inevitably come our way. Many Christians naively expect a life of joy once they have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. When hit with adversity, they begin to doubt the love of God. Why me? I love the Lord. I go to church. New believers, especially those who have emerged from a life of failure, are looking for success in their new life, not suffering.

Romans 8:28 is one of the most familiar verses on this subject. The NASB translation states, “God causes all things to work together for good.” Let’s not come away thinking this verse says God causes the very thing itself in order to bring about good in the life of the believer. It is saying, rather, that things don’t just happen to work out for good on their own. God providentially works all things together for good for His people according to His purpose. But while Romans 8:28 is a source of great comfort when it is properly understood, it is often misunderstood and misapplied.

BAD THINGS DO HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE

Your story may not be as severe as Cindy’s, but all of us have hurtful, traumatic experiences in our past that have scarred us emotionally. You may have grown up with a physically, emotionally or sexually abusive parent. You may have been severely frightened as a child. Maybe you have suffered through a painful relationship in the past: a broken friendship, the untimely death of a loved one, a divorce. Any number of traumatic events in your past can leave you holding a lot of emotional baggage. Those experiences are buried in our memories and available for instant recall when we least expect it.

The cycle of emotions goes like this: (1) previous life history determines the intensity of primary emotions you experience when (2) a present event triggers the memory of your past trauma, then (3) you perform a mental evaluation in order to manage your present emotional response, attempting to apply reason, resulting (4) in a secondary emotional response, typically far less intense than your primary emotional reaction. Of course, many of these primary emotions lie dormant within you and have little effect on your life until something triggers them. Perhaps you’ve seen this happen when a seemingly innocuous conversation you are having with someone sends him or her storming out of the room. What set him off? you wonder. You unwittingly touched a nerve.

The problem is, you cannot isolate yourself completely from everything that may set off an emotional response. You are bound to see something on TV, or hear something in a conversation, that will bring to mind your unpleasant experience. Something in your past is unresolved, and therefore it still has a hold on you. I once heard it said that when we fail to deal with past events that have caused emotional baggage, we tend to bring the emotions of that past trauma into our current relationships. When this happens, our decisions are not so much undertaken by us as they are driven by the emotions of the prior event.

LEARNING TO RESOLVE PRIMARY EMOTIONS

You have no control over a primary emotion when it is triggered in the present, because it is rooted in the past. Therefore, it doesn’t do any good to feel guilty about something you can’t control. You can, however, stabilize the primary emotion by evaluating it in light of present circumstances. For example, suppose you meet a man named Bill. He looks hauntingly like the Bill who used to beat you up as a child. Although he is not the same person, your primary emotion will be triggered. So you quickly tell yourself, “This is not the same Bill; give him the benefit of the doubt.” This mental evaluation produces a secondary emotion that is a combination of the past and the present.

You have done this thousands of times, and you have also helped others do the same. When people fly off the handle, you try to help them cool down by talking to them. You are helping them gain control of themselves by making them think; by putting the present situation into perspective. Notice how this works the next time you are watching a football game and tempers explode on the field. On player grabs an enraged teammate and says, “Listen, meathead, you’re going to cost us a 15-yard penalty and maybe the game if you don’t simmer down!”

Some Christians assert that the past doesn’t have any effect on them because they are new creations in Christ. I would have to disagree, and here’s why. Either they are extremely fortunate to have a conflict-free past, or they are living in denial. Those who have had major past traumas and have learned how to resolve them in Christ know how devastating past experiences can be. Many Christians have brought their major traumatic experiences to counseling sessions. Some have been abused to such an extent that they have no conscious memory of their experiences. Others constantly avoid anything that will stimulate those painful memories. Most don’t know how to resolve those past experiences, so they have developed myriad defense mechanisms to cope. Some live in denial. Others rationalize their problems, or try to suppress the pain by an excess of food, sex, drugs and alcohol, or other vices.

A major role of psychotherapy is to determine the root of primary emotions. Sometimes psychotherapists resort to hypnosis or pharmacotherapy to get at the sources of their clients’ problems. I worked for eighteen months in a dissociative disorders unit at a psychiatric hospital outside of Philadelphia, PA. Dissociative disorders involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity or perception. People with dissociative disorders use dissociation, a defense mechanism, pathologically and involuntarily. Dissociative disorders are thought to be primarily caused by previous severe psychological trauma. Patients suffering from possible multiple personality disorder are sometimes treated with sodium amytal interviews in order to assess and manage catatonia, hysterical stupor, and unexplained muteness, as well as in distinguishing between depressive, schizophrenic, and organic stuporous states. My clinical experience at that psychiatric facility involved treating women allegedly suffering from multiple personality disorder, which was thought to be caused by severe, long-term physical or psychological trauma during childhood and early adolescence.

SEE YOUR PAST IN LIGHT OF WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST

I have come to believe that the answer for repressed memories is found in Psalm 139:23-24, which states, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (NIV)

How does God intend you to resolve your past experiences? In two ways. First, understand that you are no longer a product of your past. You are a new creation in Christ: a product of Christ’s work on the cross. You have the privilege of evaluating your past experience in light of who you are today, as opposed to who you were then. The intensity of the primary emotion was initially established by how you perceived the event at the time it happened. People are not in bondage to past traumas so much as they are in bondage to the lies they believed about themselves, God, and how to live as a result of the trauma. That is why truth sets you free.

As a Christian, you are literally a new creature in Christ Jesus. Old things, including the traumas of your past, passed away. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The old you in Adam is gone; the new you in Christ is here to stay. We have all been victimized, lo, even traumatized, but whether we remain victims is up to us. An old-timer I knew in Alcoholics Anonymous used to share, “Victims drink!” Those primary emotions are rooted in the lies we believed in the past. Now we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (See Romans 12:2) The flesh patterns are still imbedded in our minds when we become new creations in Christ, but we can crucify the flesh and choose to walk by the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22-25)

Now that you are in Christ, you can look at past events from the perspective of who you are today. You may be struggling with the question, “Where was God when all this was happening to me?” The omnipresent God was there, and He sent His own Son to redeem you from your past. The truth is, He is in your life right now desiring to release you from your past. That is the Gospel: the “Good News” that Christ Jesus came to set the captives free. Perceiving past traumatic events from the vantage point of your new identity in Christ is what starts the process of healing those damaged or toxic emotions.

FORGIVE THOSE WHO HAVE HURT YOU

The next step in resolving past conflicts is to forgive those who have offended you.  You have to break free from the typical mindset of, “Why should I forgive him? You don’t seem to understand how bad he hurt me!” The first reason is that forgiveness is required by God. As soon as Jesus spoke the “amen” to his model prayer – which included a petition for God’s forgiveness – He commented, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (See Matthew 18:14-15) We must base our relationship with others on the same criteria on which God bases His relationship with us: love, acceptance, and forgiveness. (See Matthew 18:21-35)

The second reason is because forgiveness is necessary to avoid entrapment by Satan. Unforgiveness is the number one snare Satan uses to gain entrance to our lives. I read a terrific book on this subject by John Bevere (2004) called The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. In his preface, Bevere says, “The issue of offense – the very core of The Bait of Satan – is often the most difficult obstacle an individual must face and overcome.” Bevere tells us the Greek word for “offend” used by Jesus in Luke 17:1 is skandalon, which originally referred to the part of an animal trap to which the bait was attached for luring the animal. In similar fashion regarding the sin of offense, the word signifies laying a trap in someone’s way! Paul encourages us to forgive “in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (See 2 Corinthians 2:11)

The third reason is simple: forgiveness is required of all believers who desire to be like Christ. Paul wrote, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV)

WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?

Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgetting may be a beneficial long-term byproduct of forgiving, but it is never a means to forgiveness. When God says He will remember our sins no more (See Hebrews 10:17), He is not saying, “I will forget them.” God is omniscient; He cannot forget. Rather, He is saying He will never use our past against us. He will remove it from us as far as the east is from the west. (See Psalm 103:12) Moreover, forgiveness does not involve tolerance for sin. It is proper to forgive someone’s past sins, but we must take a stand against future sin.

Forgiveness does not seek revenge or demand repayment for offenses suffered. A friend of mine is notorious for saying, “I’m all about paybacks!” I told him he must not seek retribution no matter what the offense. He said, “You mean I’m just supposed to let them off the hook?” I might have gotten through to him the last time we spoke. I said, “Yes, you let them off your hook realizing that God does not let them off His hook.” We may feel like exacting justice, but we are not an impartial judge. God is the just judge who will make everything right in the end. “‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (See Romans 12:19)

Forgiveness means resolving to live with the consequences of another person’s offense. In reality, we have to live with the consequences whether we forgive the offending person or not. Actually, we are all living with the consequences of Adam’s sin. I can’t count the number of people – believers and non-believers alike – who don’t think that this is fair. Some have even gone as far as to insist they would have obeyed God and not eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obviously, we’ll never know, will we? So our only real choice is simple: either live with the consequences of the Fall in the bondage of bitterness and offense, or in the freedom of forgiveness.

 

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
October 10

TRUST ME ENOUGH TO let things happen without striving to predict or control them. Relax, and refresh yourself in the Light of My everlasting Love. My Love-Light never dims, yet you are often unaware of My radiant presence. When you project yourself into the future, rehearsing what you will do or say, you are seeking to be self-sufficient; to be adequate without My help. This is a subtle sin – so common that it usually slips by unnoticed.

The alternative is to live fully in the present, depending on Me each moment. Rather than fearing your inadequacy, rejoice in My abundant supply. Train your mind to seek My help continually, even when you feel competent to handle something by yourself. Don’t divide your life into things you can do by yourself and things that require My help. Instead, learn to rely on Me in every situation. This discipline will enable you to enjoy life more and to face each day confidently.

PSALM 37:3-6; PHILIPPIANS 4:19

What is Your Jericho?

“Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. The the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horn in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the walls of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.'”

(Joshua 6:1-5)

Here’s what is important to know about the walls of Jericho. They were immense. They were structured on a three-tier plan. First was an earthen embankment, which ran from ground level upwards, on an incline, to a stone retaining wall. The retaining wall stood twelve to fifteen feet high. On top of the retaining wall stood a wall of mud-bricks, six feet thick and twenty to twenty-six feet thick. Overall, the structure stood thirty-two to forty-one feet high.

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The walls of Jericho were able to withstand all sieges and repel all invaders. Until the day Joshua showed up. Until the day his army marched around the city. The unstoppable fortress met the unstoppable force of God’s army. Mighty Jericho crumbled. Neither Joshua nor his men brought the walls down. His soldiers never swung a hammer. They never rammed a door or pried loose a stone. The shaking, quaking, rumbling, and tumbling of the thick, impervious walls of Jericho fell to the power of Almighty God.

THE LAND OF CANAAN

Canaan is a life defined by grace, refined by challenge, and aligned with a heavenly call. Nothing should stop us from occupying a place in our lives that has been given over by God. In God’s plan, in God’s land, we win more often than we lose, forgive as quickly as we are offended, and give as abundantly as we receive. We serve out of our giftedness and delight in our assignments. We may stumble, but we do not collapse. We may struggle, but we defy despair. We boast only in Christ, trust only in God, and lean wholly on His power. We enjoy abundant fruit and increasing faith.

Canaan symbolizes the victory we can have today. Canaan is not a metaphor for heaven. The idea is beautiful, but the symbolism doesn’t work. Heaven will have no enemies; Canaan had at least seven enemy nations. Heaven will have no battles; Joshua and his men fought at least thirty-one. (See Joshua 12:9-24) Heaven will be free of stumbles and struggles. Joshua’s men weren’t. They stumbled and struggled, but their victories far outnumbered their defeats.

Canaan does not represent the life to come; rather it represents the life we can have now! God invites us to enter Canaan. There is only one condition: We must turn our backs on the wilderness and forget about the bondage we endured in our Egypt. Just as Canaan represents the victorious Christian life, the wilderness represents the defeated Christian life. In the desert, the Hebrew people were liberated from Egyptian bondage, but you wouldn’t have known it by listening to them. Just three days into their new freedom, “…the people grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?'” (Exodus 15:24, NIV)

A few more days passed, and the Jews – troubled by the lack of food – said to Moses, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3, NASB) The people literally reviled against Moses. They were plagued by anxiety, and bellyaching to the point that Moses was afraid they would stone him. (Exodus 17:4) How did the Hebrew people descend to this point? They were well acquainted with the miracle power of God. They saw God send locusts to gobble up Pharaoh’s crops, boils that devoured skin, millions of flies buzzing through Pharaoh’s court, and, the pièce de résistance, tens of millions of gallons of water swallowing up Pharaoh’s army after the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea. Despite God rescuing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, when God called the Jews to cross over into Canaan, rather than trust God they first sent twelve spies. When only two returned, claiming “We were like grasshoppers” compared to the giants in the land, it was decided to not take the land the Lord had promised to them.

God gave the Israelites time to think it over. He put the entire nation in limbo for forty years. They walked the desert endlessly. Life was a constant Ground Hog Day, eating the same food, seeing the same scenery. Their life was nearly devoid of victories. Progress was slow as molasses. They had been saved from Pharaoh, but they were not strong. They were redeemed but not released. Stuck in the desert. Locked in a routine. Monotonous. Dull. Ho-hum. Four decades of tedium. It was a miserable existence.

THE PROMISED LAND LIFE NOW?

Does any of this seem familiar to you on a personal level? The REVEAL Research Project went on a search for modern-day Joshuas. REVEAL is an online survey that measures the spiritual growth of churches. The computerized program claims to provide a proven way to know whether or not a congregation is growing in their relationship with Christ, and in their love for God and for others. Specifically, the REVEAL Research Project wanted to determine the percentage of churchgoers who are actually propelled by their faith to love God and love others with their whole hearts. How many Christians would describe their days as though they were living in the land of milk and honey? The answer? Eleven percent!

In other words, nine out of ten Christians are languishing in the wilderness. Are they saved? Yes. Are they empowered? No! They waste away in the worst of ways – in the Land of In-Between. Sure, they are out of Egypt, but they are not yet in Canaan. Imagine for a moment if a high school graduated only eleven percent of its students, or a medical practice healed only eleven percent of its patients, or a home builder completed only eleven percent of his projects. Changes would be made to be sure!

Approximately 2.2 billion people on our planet identify themselves as Christian. That’s nearly one-third of the world’s population. If the REVEAL survey is any indication of what is happening in the church today, about 2 billion of those Christians are chugging along on a fraction of their potential power. Such sluggishness can only lead to weak churches and halfhearted ministries. What would happen if they were able to move into their Canaan and fully enjoy the power and effectiveness God intended for them? How would the world be different if 2 billion people came out of the wilderness? How much joy would be unleashed into the atmosphere? How much wisdom would be quarried and shared? How many marriages would be saved? How many wars would be prevented? How much hunger would be eliminated? How many orphanages would be built? If every Christian began to live the Promised Land life, how would the world be different?

If you began to live the Promised Land life now, how would you be different? Do you sense a disconnect between the promises of the Bible and the reality of your life? Jesus offers abundant joy. Yet you live with oppressive grief. The Epistles speak of grace. You shoulder such guilt. We are “more than conquerors,” (Romans 8:37) yet are typically conquered by temptations or weaknesses. Caught in the land between Egypt and Canaan. Think about the Christian you want to be. What qualities do you want to have? More compassion? More conviction? More courage? What attitudes do you want to discontinue? Greed? Guilt? Endless negativity? A critical spirit?

The good news is you can. With God’s help you can close the gap between the person you are and the person you want to be; indeed, the person God made you to be. You can live “from glory to glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) The walls of Jericho are already condemned. The giants are already on the run. The deed to your new life in Canaan has already been signed. It just falls to you to possess the land. Joshua and his men did this. They went from dry land to the Promised Land. From manna to feasts. From arid deserts to fertile fields. In other words, they inherited their inheritance.

“Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land which He swore to give to their fathers; and having taken possession of it they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as He had sworn to their fathers; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all had come to pass.”  (Joshua 21:43-45, RSV)

This is God’s vision for your life. Imagine you at full throttle. You as you were intended. You as victor over the Jerichos and giants. You and your Promised Land life. It is yours for the taking. Expect to be challenged, of course. The enemy won’t go down without a fight. But expect great progress as well. Life is different on the west side of the Jordan. Breakthroughs outnumber breakdowns. God’s promises outweigh personal problems. Victory becomes, dare we imagine it, a way of life. Isn’t it time for you to change your mailing address from the wilderness to the Promised Land? God wants you there. He has, in fact, done everything necessary for you to possess the Land.

YOUR INHERITANCE

When we first come to Christ by faith, we begin to enter into our inheritance. We obtain the pardon of our sins. Some believers are not sure they have a present and perfect remission, which certainly has an adverse impact on the ability to come into their inheritance. Remember, we are joint-heirs with Christ. (See Romans 8:17) Many believe they have been washed in the Blood of Jesus, but have yet to put on the righteousness of Christ. The matter of regeneration is in no way a small matter. However, we are to arise, cross over the Jordan, and take possession of the larger inheritance. Share in the bigger picture. We are to seek after holiness. Aspire to the utmost God intends for us after regeneration.

Instead, we tend to give in at times to doubt and fear. We forget who we are. Rather, who we’ve become. This must not continue! Not only must we have faith; we must have the full assurances that come with having faith. It is in this place of full assurance – our Land of Canaan – that we fight shalom. We can, indeed, have joy in the midst of trouble; confidence in the hour of struggle. The inheritance of the believer is the choicest form of life, peace, and joy. We literally come to Canaan to live with Christ, in Christ, for Christ, as Christ. This is the life which is life indeed. All other life, in comparison, is death.

The Bible is full of references to the inheritance believers have in Christ. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (NKJV) In 1 Peter 1:4, we are told of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. What we have in Christ is an enduring possession. Thing is, we must understand our inheritance and possess it. The legal term “inheritance” refers to actual property (often land or real estate) or goods received after a family member’s death.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

In Canaan, we do not fight for victory. We fight from victory. In the wilderness we strive. In Canaan we trust. In the wilderness we seek God’s attention. In Canaan we already have God’s favor. In the wilderness we doubt our salvation. In Canaan we know we are saved. We move from wanting-to-have to believing we already do. When we were born again, we were given the right be become children of God. (See John 1:12) Since we are part of the family, we have access to the family blessings. Every single one of them. “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance.” (Ephesians 1:11) Paul tells us, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)

How, then, do we explain the disconnect between who we are in Christ and our failure to take possession of our inheritance? If we are co-heirs with Christ, why do we struggle through life? Our inheritance is perfect peace, yet we feel like a perfect mess. We have access to the abundant life promised by Jesus, yet we fall short. God promises to meet our every need, yet we still fret and worry. Why?

We don’t know about our inheritance. For many believers, no one ever told them about “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:19) No one explained that they fight from victory, no for victory. No one told them the land has already been conquered. Some Christians never live out of their inheritance because they don’t know they have one.

We don’t believe in our inheritance. This was the problem of Joshua’s ancestors. They didn’t really believe that God could give them the land. The days of living in the land of milk and honey could have begun for the Hebrews four decades earlier, a point God alluded to in His promise to Joshua: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.” (Joshua 1:3, RSV)  God was actually saying, I made this offer to the people of Moses day, but they didn’t take it. They chose the wilderness. Don’t make the same mistake. Joshua didn’t. Much to his credit, he took God at His word and set about the task of inheriting the Land.

Imagine what would happen if a generation of Christians lived from the vantage point of their inheritance. Men and women would turn off Internet porn. They would stop cheating on their taxes. The lonely would find comfort in God, not in the arms of strangers. Struggling couples would spend more time in prayer, less time in anger. Children would consider it a blessing to care for their aging parents. Generations of Christians would vacate the wilderness. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead would turn every “I can’t” into “I can.” The church would start living out the edict, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV)

A new day awaits us all. A new season of accomplishment, discovery, and strength. Leave every I can’t into I can.

References

REVEAL For Life Spiritual Life Survey. (2016). Retrieved from: http://revealforchurch.com/#home

 

String Theory, Origin of the Universe and God

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Exactly What is String Theory?

String theory attempts to unify the four forces in the universe – electromagnetic, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, and gravity – together into one unified theory. When it was originally developed in the 1970s, the filaments of energy in string theory were considered to be one-dimensional objects: strings. (One-dimensional indicates that a string has only one dimension, length, as opposed to say a square, which has both length and height dimensions.) These strings come in two forms – closed and open. An open string has ends that don’t touch each other, while a closed string is a loop with no open end. It was eventually found that these early strings, called Type I, could go through five basic types of interactions.

The interactions are based on a string’s ability to have ends join and split apart. Because the ends of open strings can join together to form closed strings, you can’t construct a string theory without closed strings.  This proved to be important, because closed strings have properties that might help define gravity. Instead of just being a theory of particles of matter, physicists began to realize that string theory might explain the behavior of particles relative to gravity. Gravity, in its most basic definition, is a force that tries to pull two objects toward each other. Simple enough, right? Anything that has mass also has gravitational pull. The more massive an object is, the stronger its gravitational pull. Earth’s gravity, for example, is what keeps us on the ground, and what causes objects to fall. It is true, by the way, that the Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth affects tidal cycles of Earth’s oceans.

A Thought or Two About the Intelligence Behind Our Universe

The force of gravity is so universal that every particle feels it based upon its mass or energy. Gravity is the weakest of the four forces by a long shot; it is so weak that we would not notice it at all were it not for two special properties that it has: it can act over large distances, and it is always attractive. This means that the very weak gravitational forces between individual particles in two large bodies, such as the earth and the sun, can all add up to produce a significant force. It makes the earth revolve around the sun!

The electromagnetic attraction between negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons in the nucleus causes the electrons to orbit the nucleus of the atom, just as gravitational attraction causes the earth to orbit the sun. Even though it is very difficult to observe spontaneous proton decay, it may be that our very existence is a consequence of the reverse process, the production of protons, or more simply, of quarks, from an initial situation in which there were no more quarks than anti-quarks, which is the most natural way to imagine the universe starting out. Matter on earth is made up of protons and neutrons, which in turn are made up of quarks. This is true of bone, hair, the blood running through our veins, the veins themselves, the skin that contains everything that makes us a living organism; it’s true of the sidewalk we walk on, the footwear we walk in, the air we breath, and the lungs that turn that air into the exact mixture of oxygen needed to live. And so on.

There are no anti-protons or anti-neutrons, made up from anti-quarks, except for a few that physicists produce on purpose in large particle accelerators. In his seminal work A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking says we have evidence from cosmic rays that the same is true for all the matter in our galaxy; there are no anti-protons or anti-neutrons apart from a small number that are produced as particle/anti-particle pairs in high-energy collisions. If there were large regions of anti-matter in our galaxy, we would expect to observe large quantities of radiation from the borders between the regions of matter and anti-matter, where many particles would be colliding with their anti-particles, annihilating each other and giving off high-energy radiation.

As much as this is difficult to comprehend, it is important to note the fantastic picture it paints of intelligent design. Why should there be so many more quarks than anti-quarks? Why are there not equal numbers of each? Hawking puts it this way: “It is certainly fortunate for us that the numbers are unequal because, if they had been the same, nearly all the quarks and anti-quarks would have annihilated each other in the early universe and left a universe filled with radiation but hardly any matter.” (pg. 76) The result would have been no galaxies, stars or planets on which human life could have developed. I must mention that early in his career Hawking left the door open for the possibility of the existence of God. However, in an interview with Spain’s El Mundo in 2014, Hawking said, “Before we understood science, it [was] natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation.”

So What about these stringy thingys?

Theories of supergravity have developed from attempts to construct a unified field that describes all of the four basic forces. One of the essential features of quantum field theory is its prediction of “force-carrier” particles that are exchanged between interacting particles of matter. General relativity, which relates gravitational force to the curvature of space-time, provides a respectable theory of gravity on a larger scale. Supergravity theories permit extra dimensions in space-time, beyond the familiar three dimensions. Whoa! In essence, string theory states that there is a dimension beyond that of quarks. A quark is a subatomic or fundamental particle which possesses both an electric charge and a “strong” charge. They combine in groups of two or three to form composite objects held together by the strong force. Protons and neutrons are familiar examples of such composite objects – both are made up of three quarks.

According to Hawking, “Up to about twenty years ago, it was thought that protons and neutrons were ‘elementary’ particles, but experiments in which protons were collided with other protons or electrons at high speeds indicated that they were in fact made up of smaller particles.” (pg. 65) Quantum mechanics tells us that all particles are in fact waves, and that the higher the energy of a particle, the smaller the wavelength of the corresponding wave.

These “strings” vibrate in different patterns, thereby creating the different particles that make up the world around us. Literally, these vibrations define the very substance of the physical world. Everything is made up of tiny filaments of vibrating energy. Many physicists see string theory as the perfect solution for unifying the gravitational mechanics of astronomy with the quantum mechanics of electrons and other subatomic particles – one of the great unsolved problems in physics – because their differing mathematics resolve into one. The implication from string theory is that the underlying unity of matter is energetic “vibration.” At the root of all things is oscillation. The difference between the subatomic particles – between quarks, electrons, and neutrinos, for example – is simply the frequency at which they vibrate. Protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus are simply composites of those subatomic particles.

The Many Dimensions of the Physical Realm

The physical realm has more dimensions than what we can see. Dimensions which are based upon finely-tuned mathematics. Equations so intricate that if off by even the slightest variation the universe would cease to exist. These “extra” dimensions have a very rich, interdependent geometry. One way in which science has been able to prove the existence of these extra dimensions is by aiming particles at each other in the Large Hadron Collider. The particles are sent round and round in a circle, near the speed of light. If the collision produces enough energy, then it may eject some of the debris from the impact, forcing it to enter into the other dimensions. This could be proven because the amount of energy present after the collision would be less than before, indicating it had drifted away. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, so it had to have gone somewhere.

The Voice of God: “Good Vibrations”

Just as different tones come out of different lengths of a string being plucked on a guitar, so different properties come from the different frequencies or tones of vibration characterizing certain subatomic particles. Even our thoughts are characterized by brainwaves of characteristic amplitude, frequency, and wavelength. Thought produces energy in our brain from the electrochemical activity between neurons. As the neural networks fire in a synchronous pattern with each other, this energy can actually be observed using an EEG.

Here’s the fascinating part. The Bible tells us God’s words are the very energy behind creation. God spoke and the entire universe and all its inhabitants came into existence. God’s thoughts were transmitted as spoken sound waves, thereby creating a physical universe which, at its most fundamental level, is governed by vibratory waves of little loops of string. If vibrations are the foundation of physical reality – remember, of course, that atomic particles are in constant motion – then it’s clear that spiritual truth transcends physical truth. Why are atoms and molecules so stable and yet so full of energy and motion? Scripture says, “For in [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17, NIV) [Emphasis mine.] In this manner, Scripture illuminates science. Science does not explain Scripture.

Concluding Remarks

Hawking, in his conclusion to A Brief History of Time, said, “We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask, ‘What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?” To try to answer these questions, we adopt a particular “worldview.” Everyone has one. Just as an infinite tower of tortoises supporting the archaic idea of a flat earth is such a picture, so is the theory of superstrings. Both are theories of the universe, though string theory at least is much more mathematically practical than the turtle idea. Einstein once asked the question, “How much choice did God have in constructing the universe?” According to Hawking, if no boundary proposal is correct, God had no freedom at all to choose initial conditions. He would, of course, still have had the freedom to choose the laws that the universe obeyed. Hawking believes this may not really have been all that much of a choice; there may well be only one, or a small number, of complete unified theories. Hawking states, “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations.”

Let’s remember, however, that the very physics and mathematics by which Hawking and others attempt to explain the universe, including its beginning, did not exist at the time of the so-called Big Bang. Fascinating, no? I like this quote from NASA Science Beta Magazine Online: “According to the theories of physics, if we were to look at the universe one second after the Big Bang, what we would see is a 10-billion degree sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. Then, as time went on, we’d see the universe cool. It would eventually reach the temperature where electrons combined with nuclei to form neutral atoms. Before this ‘recombination’ occurred, the universe would have been opaque because the free electrons would have caused light (photons) to scatter the way sunlight scatters from the water droplets in clouds.” I believe Genesis has a word or two about what caused light to appear.

Pope Pius XII made a very curious remark in 1951: “True science to an ever-increasing degree discovers God as though God were waiting behind each door opened by science.” More than a few scientists over the decades have said that the facts of the Big Bang, as they are slowly uncovered, could at the very least suggest the work of a Creator. In my opinion, science will never be able to take us to the exact moment of creation– only up to that point where philosophy, metaphysics, and theology begin. Before publicly concluding he was an atheist, Stephen Hawking initially made a tentative foray into this uncertain area by saying, “The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications whenever you start to discuss the origins of the universe. There must be religious overtones. But I think most scientists prefer to shy away from the religious side of it.”

“First this: God created the heavens and earth – all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a sea of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: ‘Light!’ and light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated light from dark. God named the light Day, He named the dark Night. It was evening, it was morning – Day One.”

(Genesis 1:1-5, MSG)

References

Boslough, J. (1985). Stephen Hawking’s Universe. New York, NY: Avon Books
Hawking, S. (1988). A Brief History of Time. New York, NY: Bantam Books
NASA Science (n.d.). “The Big Bang.” NASA Science Beta Magazine Online. Retrieved from: https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang

An Argument for the Existence of God

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied regarding the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. Belief in a world birthed by accident, a life that has no purpose, morality without a point of reference except for those absolutes that have been smuggled in – well hidden behind the mask of relativism – and death that ends in oblivion makes me prefer the possibility of this oblivion to the sheer weight of the emptiness of a God-less world.

Judging that life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. As we know, everyone has a worldview. A worldview basically offers answers to four necessary questions – questions that relate to origin, meaning, morality, and hope that assures a destiny.

Origin

Big Bang cosmology, along with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, implies that there is indeed an In the Beginning. All the data indicates a universe that is exploding outward from a point of infinite density. Of course, singularity is not really a point; it is the whole of three-dimensional space compressed to zero size. It is the point at which space ceases to exist. What’s important to note is at the point of the universe’s origin, there is something rather than nothing – a mystery that leaves science totally silent.

Nothing Cannot Produce Something

The very starting point for an atheistic universe is based on something that cannot explain its own existence. The scientific laws by which atheists want all certainty established do not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because, according to those laws of science by which atheists want to measure all things, matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own. In fact, the very mathematics and physics by which atheists define or explain the universe did not exist at the time the universe came together.

The Odds of Random Life

Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000¹²³ – a number that exceeds all imagination. Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe found that the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface are 1 in 10 to the 20th power. The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only 1 part in 10 to the 40,000th power, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Moreover, nothing has been said about DNA and where it came from, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.

If you know enough about a subject, you can confuse anybody by a selective use of the facts. The inescapable fact for the atheist is that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance. An unfathomable proposition.

MEANING

If life is random, then the inescapable consequence, first and foremost, is that there can be no ultimate meaning and purpose to existence. This consequence is the existential Achilles’ heel of atheistic belief. As individuals and collectively as cultures, we humans long for meaning. But if life is random, we have climbed the evolutionary ladder only to find nothing at the top. Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure. Pleasure, not pain, is the death knell of meaning.  We have all come to know that our problem is not that pain has produced emptiness in our lives; the real problem is that even pleasure ultimately leaves us empty and unfulfilled. When the pleasure button is pushed incessantly – especially in the case of a drug addict or sex addict – we are left feeling bewilderingly empty and betrayed.

The greatest disappointment (and resulting pain) you can feel is when you have just experienced that which you thought would bring you the ultimate pleasure – and it has let you down. Pleasure without boundaries produces a life without purpose. That is real pain. No death, no tragedy, no atrocity – nothing really matters. Life is sheer hollowness, with no purpose.

Voltaire and the Fallacies of Religion

Philosophers such as Voltaire, who theorized on the fallacies of religion, had no better answer to give to the masses they had rescued from what they considered religious “tyranny.” Here is what Voltaire wrote:

I am a puny part of the great whole,
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.
The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All’s well, it seems, for it. But in a while
An eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow-men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.

Thus the whole world in every member groans;
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All’s well,”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit…
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.

Contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are so blind to the conceit of their own minds that they try to present this view of life as some sort of triumphal liberation. Sartre, as atheistic intellectual elites know but are embarrassed to acknowledge, denounced atheism on his deathbed as philosophically unlivable. Sartre said, “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.” And he used to be an atheist.

MORALITY

Not only does atheism’s worldview lead to the death of meaning, it also leads to the death of moral reasoning. Rather than a philosophy or a worldview, atheist Sam Harris says atheism is simply a refusal to deny what a person should see as obvious – that there is no God. Therefore, Harris believes atheism shouldn’t exist, saying “just as no one needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.'” Examples of what Harris sees as God’s failure to protect humanity are to be seen everywhere, he says, such as the massive destruction in the city of New Orleans brought about by a hurricane in 2005. What was God doing while Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, he asks? Didn’t he hear the prayers of those who “fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there?” These people, Harris insists, “died talking to an imaginary friend.”

Does the Reality of Evil Mean There is no God?

How conveniently the atheist plays word games. When it is Stalin or Pol Pot who slaughters thousands, it is because they are deranged or irrational ideologues; their atheism has nothing to do with their actions. But when a Holocaust is engendered by an ideologue, it is the culmination of four hundred years of Christian intolerance for the Jew. Atheists can’t have it both ways. If the murder of innocents is wrong, it is wrong not because science tells us it is wrong, but because every life has intrinsic worth – a postulate that atheism simply cannot deduce. There is no way for an atheist to argue for moral preferences except by this own subjective means. It is not okay to make absolute statements based on one’s personal feelings.

The antagonism of atheists toward God ends up proving that they intuitively find some things reprehensible. But they cannot explain this innate sense of right and wrong – the reality of God’s Law written on their hearts – because there is no logical explanation for how that intuition toward morality could develop from sheer matter and chemistry. When you assert that there is such a thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good. When you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove.

Can Morality Exist Apart from a Moral Lawgiver?

Why is a moral lawgiver necessary in order to recognize good and evil? For the simple reason that a moral affirmation cannot remain an abstraction. The person who moralizes assumes intrinsic worth in himself or herself, and transfers intrinsic worth to the life of another; thus he or she considers that life worthy of protection. Transcending value, by definition, must come from a person of transcending worth. But in a world in which matter alone exists there can be no intrinsic worth. Look at it this way: objective moral values exist only if God exists; objective moral values do exist; therefore God exists. Atheists, of course, will not admit that moral values are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful God to create them.

But What About Reason? Can’t It Provide a Moral Framework?

Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and other leading atheists opt for reason as the source for their unbelief while maintaining belief in a moral code. Reason, however, cannot decide for us what is good and what is evil. Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take us to morality. Harris claims that God breaks His own laws and is therefore evil or contradictory. This is to assume that God kills innocent people. When atheists do this, they are actually borrowing from the biblical revelation of justice and retribution while ignoring the big story into which it fits and by which it gains its purpose. In other words, they are taking God out of context.

We Can’t Have Free Will Without Suffering

Any discussion about why things are the way they are must include human autonomy (free will) versus God’s story of why we are the way we are. Though the sacred is offered to us, our will is arrogant and refuses to submit to God’s authority. No one of us is any different from or better than any other. This is true no matter their sin. Intrinsic value is not about behavior. It’s about who God says we are, and what He’s done to make us who we can become.

Could God really have created in us the ability to love without giving us the option to reject that love, the desire to trust and to be trusted without the freedom to doubt, or the privilege of making a choice without the responsibility of accepting the ramifications of that choice? A person may dismissively say that he or she does not see a moral order. The real issue is not an absence of moral order in the world, but the insistence on determining for oneself what is good and what is evil, in spite of what we intuitively know to be true. To believe that there is no moral order, one must assume knowledge of what a moral order would look like if there were one. If there truly is no moral order, any attempt to enforce one is sheer pragmatism, and is open to any challenge for other pragmatic reasons.

The Human Heart is Bent Toward Evil

Do you want empirical evidence that the heart of mankind is naturally bent toward evil? Witness the atrocities we see around us in our world. Today, October 2, 2017, we woke up to the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The worst in U.S. history. As I am writing this blog post, the death toll stands at 59, with 527 people injured. The gunman waited until cover of darkness, then, using an assault rifle modified to operate on full-auto, he fired hundreds of rounds of bullets into a crowd enjoying a country music concert on the square below his hotel room. It would seem this man decided he knew what was an appropriate way to act out his frustrations. We cannot keep blaming this “ism” and that “ism.” The decisions and actions of each individual are determined by what is important to that individual.

The Need for Faith

The worldview of the Christian faith is simple enough. God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone. Many atheists tend to misinterpret Pascal’s wager. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal didn’t say he was wagering his belief. It was not a gamble, or a hedging of his bets. He was essentially saying that there are two tests for belief in God: the empirical test – that which is based on investigation – and the existential test – that which is based on personal experience. By denying the existence of God, atheists leave just one option in their pursuit of happiness and purpose, namely, the existential test of self-fulfillment.

It appears that no matter what evidence was offered, God could never prove Himself to atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins because it’s not proof they’re looking for. The are looking for a God they can cast in their own image. Neither of these men are the first to ask God to stoop to providing proof of Himself according to another person’s agenda. I immediately think of Satan’s temptations of Christ in the desert. (See Matthew 4:3, 6, and 9)

Jesus worked by changing the heart, not by legislating. Legislation can only force compliance. It can never produce the love necessary to change an attitude.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied to the argument for the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. No physical entity can explain its own existence. Regardless of how physical reality is sectioned out, we end up with a state where the evidence of any physical entity explaining its own existence is zero. Obviously, something does not come from nothing. This violates the very laws of science atheists worship.

A can of alphabet soup dumped onto a table implies that somebody made that soup. You would absolutely deny that those letters fell out of the can in sequence every time; you would never even consider the possibility that it was accidental. In the same manner, the “raw materials” that have resulted in this universe have been brought together simultaneously in the most amazing combinations – combinations too amazing to have just happened by accident. The mathematics alone is unfathomable. This is the basis for the argument of intelligent design.

The one thing that atheists leave unaddressed is how to persuade the human heart to do, and to want to do, that which is true, good, and beautiful. Technological advance without virtue in the technician is like the nuclear button in the hands of a madman. Consider, if you will, the example of Muhammad. Islam is a religion that is academically bankrupt, for it fails to meet the ordinary tests of truth. How can a religion that claims its prophet came to the entire world then restrict its miracle to a language that is not spoken by the vast majority of the people of the world? How can a man whose own passions were so untamed gain the right to speak moral platitudes? An honest Muslim open to considering these things will readily see that the “god” of the Qur’an is not the same God spoken of in the Old and New Testaments, and that the edifice of Islam is built on a geopolitical worldview masquerading as a religion. Islam is a religion of power, willing to destroy for the sake of its ideology; the Christian faith is one of communion and relationship with the One who made us.

The greatest sacrament, compared to which all the others are types and shadows, is the Incarnation in which “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,” We have beheld His glory as of the only Son from the Father. The word, the logos, combines two notions, one Greek, one Hebrew. For the Greek, the logos was the rational ordering principle of the universe. For the Hebrew, the word of the Lord was God’s activity in the world. In Hebrew, dabar means both word and deed. Science discerns a world of rational order developing through the unfolding of process devoid of a higher power. Theology declares the world in its scientific character to be an expression of the Word of God – literally the words spoken by God. For “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3, RSV)