This was probably the most difficult series that I’ve really ever prepared for. I think I spent more time on it than any that I’ve prepared for in quite some time. I don’t know if you remember about 11 or 12 years ago, I spoke on this subject, and so, I went back and got all of my teaching and my research, and then I read five or six more books, books that have come out since then. Tim Keller’s, I can’t remember the name of it, it’s a long name, I think it’s, Walking Through Pain and Suffering, something like that. Philip Yancey has written two books. Dinesh D’Souza has written a really wonderful book, but then, to try to take all of this and condense it into two 40-minute sessions is a real challenge, but I’ve made a go of it, and we’ll see how that goes.
I think this is a most crucial issue, because the bottom line is, every single one of us is going to experience pain and suffering at some point. In fact, I would venture to say, a number of you have been through a lot of pain and a lot of suffering, and maybe some of you right now have a lot of pain in your life. You never know with men, because we have somehow come to believe that men, real men, don’t suffer, we don’t struggle, real men don’t get depressed, which, of course, is false. But the bottom line is, we are not immune to it. Christ even tells us that the storms in life are going to come at some point into your life.
Now, I have to tell you real quick there aren’t any real pat answers when it comes to pain, suffering, and particularly, evil. I’ve kind of lumped all of them together, but, there aren’t any pat answers to the questions on human suffering and evil, because we really are not dealing with a problem that needs to be solved, because it’s not going to be solved. Instead, we’re dealing more with a mystery that needs to be understood, and so, that’s a big part of this series, and really, one of the purposes of it is to try to gain understanding, to make sense of it.
So, today I’m going to look at some real important issues that will hopefully provide you some understanding. Next week is where there’s real application, and this is the application, and that is, how to prepare for, and then respond to, pain and suffering when it enters into your life. Today, I want to start with this observation. That modern man struggles with pain and suffering more than anyone else in all of history. Now, that’s a pretty bold remark, but that’s what several of the authors of the books said, and I, also, would point out that we who live in such prosperity and such comfort here in the Western world, have a much more difficult time with it, dealing with it, than people in other parts of the world.
Listen what Philip Yancey says. He says, “Books on the problem of pain divide neatly into two groupings. You have the older ones by people like Aquinas, Bunyan, Donne, Luther, Calvin, and Augustine, and they ungrudgingly accept pain and suffering as God’s useful agents. These authors do not question God’s actions. They merely try to justify the ways of God to man. The authors wrote with confidence, as if the sheer force of their reasoning could calm emotional responses to suffering. But then, you have modern books on pain, and they make a sharp contrast. Their authors assume that the amount of evil and suffering in the world cannot be matched with the traditional view of a good and loving God. God is thus bumped from a friend of the court position to the box reserved for the defendant. ‘How can you possibly justify yourself, God’, these angry moderns seem to say. Many of them adjust their notion of God either by redefining his love or by questioning his power to control evil. When you read the two categories of books side-by-side, the change in the tone is quite striking. It’s as if we, in modern times, think we have a corner on the suffering market. Do we forget that Luther and Calvin lived in a world without ether and penicillin, when life expectancy averaged 30 years, and that Bunyan and Donne wrote their greatest works, respectively, in a jail, and in a plague quarantine room? Ironically, the modern authors who live in princely comfort, toil in climate-controlled offices, and hoard elixirs in their medicine cabinets, are the ones who are smoldering with rage.”
There’s a Dr. Paul Brand, that you may or may not be familiar with. I’ll probably quote him next week. He is a famous, he’s deceased now, he’s a famous orthopedic surgeon, his specialty was hands, and he lived in different parts of the world. He spent a good bit of time in India working with leprosy patients, and he made this observation. He says, “In the United States, I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. Patients live at a greater comfort level than any I have previously treated, but they seem far less equipped to handle suffering, and far more traumatized by it.” And the question we need to maybe ask is, why is this, if this is true, why is this true? And to answer it, I think you have to go a little deeper. I think you have to start by asking this question, what is the ultimate good in life? What is the ultimate good in life?
Aristotle raised this question. He called it the Summum Bonum, the greatest good, the highest value, the ultimate end of life, and his answer is what you might, or might not, expect, I don’t know. He said, the ultimate answer is happiness. Happiness. Pascal said the same thing. The problem is, is what was his definition of happiness? That’s a hard question to answer. You see, for the Greeks, ironically, the answer was virtue and wisdom. That’s where happiness came from, a life of virtue and wisdom. In other parts of the world, you know what the ultimate good is, in many places? Survival. Just making it through another day. But for here, in our country, the answer generally is comfort, pleasure, and feeling good, is the key to happiness, and the problem here, guys, is that feeling good is not compatible with suffering. You see, people in our culture have come to assume that God, if He does exist, is there to make us happy as we define happiness. And this is why we have such a false and inadequate view of pain and suffering. This is why philosopher Peter Kreeft says, “Suffering has become, for modern people, what it never was for any pre-modern civilization, the greatest problem in all of life.”
I want to read to you something. I think that it’s very powerful. It comes from a non-religious philosopher, as far as I could tell, this man has no faith. His name is John Gray and he wrote a very thought-provoking book called Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, and one of the things he did was examine drug abuse, and alcohol abuse, and other addictions in our culture, which are rampant, and he said this. “Drug use, for instance, is a tacit admission of a forbidden truth in Western culture. Nobody wants to admit it. What is that truth? It is that for most people, happiness is beyond reach. Human life is unavoidably hard and unhappy for the vast majority of people, and always will be. In the secular worldview, all happiness and meaning must be found in this lifetime, and in this world, because that’s all there is, because they say, when you die, that’s it.” He said, “To live with any hope then, secular people must believe that we can eliminate most sources of unhappiness for the majority of people, but that’s impossible,” he concludes. “The causes of suffering are infinitely complex and impossible to eliminate,” and then in kind of a startling admission, Gray says, “But the religious cultures were able, by the nature of their beliefs, to be far more realistic about how common human misery is. Religious cultures could admit that earthly life was hard, for they promised another world in which all tears would be wiped away. But the humanist skeptics affirm something still more incredible, that in the future, even the near future, everyone can be happy. That’s what everybody is promoting. There is happiness out there in this life, but societies like ours cannot admit the normal unhappiness of human life.”
Gray is saying that life is hard, life is painful, and modern people don’t know how to deal with it. And so, it leads to a great deal of unhappiness, disappointment, and then, the abuse of things like drugs, alcohol, and all the other things that people are addicted to. Now, let me take this a step further. From the Christian point of view, the ultimate good in life is to be reconciled to God, to live in relationship with Him, and then to see your life transformed, so that you become what the Bible calls ‘sanctified’ which literally means, the process of becoming more like Christ. A lot of people, that doesn’t have a lot of appeal to them, but Christ-likeness involves three things. One is your character, two is your wisdom, and three is your ability to love and have substantive relationships. And that’s the ultimate good from the Christian point of view, but contrast that with the modern point of view. The modern point of view is more into what you’re experiencing and feeling. God is more interested in the man that you are becoming. I share that because pain and suffering may play a vital role in seeing that come to pass. Then furthermore, the great enemy, death and dying, is defeated, in fact, that’s the incredible thing, is that from a Christian point of view, death is nothing more than going home to be with your Father.
Before I move on to something else, I thought I’d mention this. There’s a psychologis, his name is Jonathan Haidt, he’s a secular psychologist, and I share this because it’s interesting how his observations line up with Biblical truth. He says, “Empirical evidence supports the view that people need adversity in their lives. We need setbacks. We perhaps need even trauma to reach the highest levels of strength, fulfillment, and personal development.” We don’t like to hear that. We think, isn’t there a better way to do it? He says, “Those who suffer and respond proactively and correctly,” which we will look at next week, how to be proactive, how to respond positively to pain and suffering, he says, “you’ll see three results. First, people who endure and get through suffering, become more resilient. They know they can do it again, and therefore they live life with much less anxiety.” Isn’t that what Paul tells us in the book of Romans? He says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulation, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance, and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint.” Haidt says, “Second, pain and suffering strengthens relationships, particularly, with those who walk with you through suffering.” And then, thirdly, maybe most importantly, he says, “Suffering changes your priorities and your goals.” As Keller says, “Suffering tends to force us out of certain life agendas and into others.”
Now, we’re going to go in a completely different direction, and I want to take a few minutes and consider, I think, the most natural question that is raised when we see dreadful suffering out in the world. And that question is, does a good and loving God, when it gets right down to it, does He really exist? I mean you would think that if He does, that He would figure out a way to eliminate pain and suffering in life, and this is what Tim Keller sees so much in New York City where he has his church, and he deals with a lot of well-educated people, and he encounters a number of skeptics, and he says, “The main reason most people are skeptics, or religious skeptics, is because of affliction and suffering out in the world.” How could a good God, a just God, a loving God, allow such misery, depravity, pain, and anguish? But then he points out, on the flip side, and says, “I’ve seen just as many people find God through affliction and suffering as those who question God and his existence, because, he says, “Adversity,” he finds, “moves them toward God rather than away. Troubled times awaken people out of the belief that they’re sufficient without God. Often, it leads to a serious search of the divine. C.S. Lewis put it this way. “Suffering plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” And this is what I’ve learned and recognized guys, is that suffering ultimately makes you realize that you’re not in control of much of anything. You really aren’t. Dinesh D’Souza speaks of a man that he has debated a number of times. His name is Bart Ehrman, and what’s so unusual about Ehrman is that he was, at one time, a conservative evangelical Christian. He went to Moody Bible Institute. He got a degree from Wheaton College, but somewhere along the way, he abandoned the faith because of what he called “the unspeakable suffering” he saw out in the world. He says, “I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life,” and yet, Ehrman acknowledges he’s never experienced hardly any suffering. He said, I’ve had a great trouble-free life, but he says, what troubles him most, and obviously he’s traveled the world, is the sufferings of people he’s seen in Asia, Africa, and South America, and yet, you know what the irony of this is? It’s that Christianity is flourishing in the place where all this suffering is going on that he’s witnessed.
Historian Philip Jenkins says that, “In the third-world countries, suffering turns people towards God,” he says, “Christianity is flourishing wonderfully among the poor and the persecuted, while it atrophies among the rich and secure.” And guys, there really is something off-key when Western intellectuals tell you that they’ve lost their faith because of what happened in Rwanda, yet Rwandans will tell you our faith draws us closer to the only one who can console and protect us, and that’s God Himself.
I don’t know how many of you watched Netanyahu the other day speaking before the Congress and I was kind of listening to it, in the background, and he stopped and he introduced Elie Wiesel, who’s probably close to 90 now, and you may know of him, he’s written a number of books, but he lost his faith in a Nazi concentration camp. In fact, this is what he said, “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul, turned my dreams into dust.” And yet, what’s ironic is, when I was in college, I read a book that’s become a classic. It’s called The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, and it speaks of her and her sister Betsy, who died in a concentration camp, but it speaks about their time in a German concentration camp, and what’s so interesting is, you see the incredible presence of God. In fact, you know what you see? You see the miraculous take place. If you want a book to really encourage your faith, read the book The Hiding Place. It was written about fifty years ago.
You know I like great stories, and this one, to me, is really great, but you have to have to kind of think through what this is saying, because, but this is powerful. It’s about a woman by the name of Andrea Dilley. She was raised by medical missionaries in Kenya, and she was exposed to a great deal of darkness and death, and so, as a teenager, she began to question God and His goodness, and then, in her early 20s, she just completely rejected God and Jesus. She said what drove her away was her anger at God over suffering and injustice in the world. But then she says, one night she got into a philosophical conversation with this really bright young man, who was an atheist, and he told her, I do not believe because, since there is no God, there is no absolute moral law. Well, Dilley found herself arguing with the guy, saying, that if morality is subjective, you can’t say that Hitler was wrong, and you can’t condemn evil, and they were going back and forth, and then, all of a sudden, she stopped, and she says, “It dawned on me that I was arguing with this guy from a theistic perspective. I was arguing for God,” and she says, “When people asked me what drove me out the doors of the church, and then what brought me back, my answer to both questions is the same.” She said, “I left the church, in part, because I was mad at God about human suffering and injustice. Then I came back to the church because of that same struggle. I realized that I couldn’t even talk about justice without standing inside of a theistic framework, because in a godless, naturalistic worldview, take a parentless orphan in the slums of Nairobi. That child can only be explained in terms of survival of the fittest, and then we’re all just animals slumming it in a godless world fighting for space and resources. The idea of justice and compassion doesn’t really mean anything. To talk about justice and compassion, you have to talk about objective morality, and to talk about objective morality, you have to talk about God.” You see what she was saying? You have to bring God into the picture for justice and compassion to make any kind of sense. And so, guys, this is so crucial to grasp. Andrea Dilley recognized it is a great contradiction to say you don’t believe in God because of the evil and suffering in the world. Back in college, I remember, I got into a conversation with a really brilliant guy, and he began to quote someone that I really was not familiar with at the time but, as it turns out, he’s probably one of the most famous skeptics to ever live. His name was Frederich Nietzsche. Some pronounce his name Nietzsche (phon. ‘NeeChah’). I call him Nietzsche (phon. ‘NeeChee’). Nietzsche was the one who coined the term “God is dead.” But he was a great thinker, because he believed that if you give up your belief in the Christian God, you therefore have to give up Christian morality, particularly pity and compassion. And therefore, Nietzsche says, when people suffer you have to let them suffer, because the strong will ultimately survive and the weak will die out. You see, he endorsed strength and power where Christianity endorses love and compassion. He cherished, and these are his words, listen, I’m quoting him, he “cherished the will to inflict great suffering because the great empires of the world were soaked in blood thoroughly, and for a long time.” Can you believe that? And Nietzsche believed that Christianity was for weak people, because it fostered the emotion of pity, compassion, and concern for the poor, and the suffering of the world. And that’s why Nietzsche would tell you, you know the New Atheists, which is so popular today, you know what he’d say to the New Atheists? He would say, quit being such wimps and whiners and stop complaining about suffering, and don’t use it as an argument to disbelieve in God. Guys, you can see why Hitler was such a big fan of Nietzsche. In fact, he built his worldview, and his beliefs about Nazism, on Nietzsche’s teaching, and this is what led C.S. Lewis out of atheism and eventually to Christianity. If you ever read his famous book Mere Christianity, one of his primary arguments for God’s existence, he lays out in the first few chapters, and he says, “That we recognize there is certain behavior we agree all ought to follow. Fair play, unselfishness, courage, honesty, truthfulness. We expect this from others. This is the way people ought to live. But where did we get this sense of oughtness? Where did that come from? Where did these moral obligations come from?” He concluded it had to come from the divine. C.S. Lewis recognized, that if there is no God, there is no place for genuine moral obligations of any sort, and that there’s no such thing as genuine appalling evil and wickedness. But he says, “If you think about it, if you think there is such a thing as appalling wickedness, you have a powerful argument for the existence of God,” and this is what Lewis believed, and this is what led him to God, and ultimately, to Christianity.
To gain further understanding on this issue, you have to understand this. That so much of the suffering in this life is a result of two principles that God has built into the world. The first principle is that we live in a physical world that runs according to consistent natural laws, and these laws give life order and stability, and the second, of course, he says, is human freedom, which you must have so that you can truly love in this life. Listen to this observation by Philip Yancey. He says, “By committing himself to these two principles, both good principles in themselves, God allowed for the possibility of their abuse. For example, water proves useful to us and all creation, because of its softness, its liquid state, and its specific gravity, yet those very properties open up it’s rather disagreeable capacity to drown us, or the even more alarming possibility that we might drown someone else.”
Now a question that will come up, and I’ve heard it often is, couldn’t God have figured out a better way to pull this off, this life that we live? Couldn’t he have given us free wills, but don’t have, we don’t have the capacity to harm others, or there can’t be suffering. Free will, but no suffering. Well, there’s a guy by the name of Dr. John Hick, who is a theologian, and wrote a kind of a landmark book called Philosophy of Religion, and there’s a part of it that’s brilliant, but it’s lengthy, and I don’t have time to read it, but what he did, was he tried to envision a utopian world where we still have free will, but where there is no pain and suffering. And he spent a long time thinking through it, all the ramifications, and he says the consequences, if we had that kind of world, would be far-reaching, and he says this, life really wouldn’t work. For example, he said, “No one could ever injure anyone and therefore, the murderer’s knife would turn to paper or his bullets to thin air. Of course, if bullets turn to thin air, why even have a gun? Fraud, deceit, conspiracy, and treason would somehow always leave the fabric of society undamaged. People would never experience failure, because, you know, failure is one of the most painful things to deal with in life. So therefore, I guess everyone would be guaranteed success in this life. You wouldn’t have to worry about your health, you wouldn’t have to take care of your health. You wouldn’t have to worry about heart attacks. You could eat as much red meat as you’d like. You could smoke and not worry about lung cancer. You wouldn’t have to worry about cirrhosis of the liver. You could take any drug you wanted. You wouldn’t have to try hard at relationships.” That’s the thing about life, to have good relationships, you really have got to work at it. It’s hard, and awful painful, but you wouldn’t have to worry about that, and you wouldn’t have to worry about the pain of rejection, or divorce. You wouldn’t even have to try hard in your marriage. There’d be no pain of divorce. He said you wouldn’t have to restrain your desires in any way. You wouldn’t have to worry about safety. You could live as recklessly as you wanted. He says, “Courage and fortitude would have no point in an environment in which there is, by definition, no danger, no difficulty, no pain. Generosity, kindness, the agape aspect of love, prudence, unselfishness, and all other ethical notions which presuppose life in a stable environment, could not even be formed. Consequently, such a world, however well it might promote pleasure, would be very ill-adapted for the development of the moral qualities of human personality. In relation to this purpose, it would be the worst of all possible worlds to live in. It would seem, then, that environment intended to make possible the growth in free beings of the finest characteristics of personal life, must have a good deal in common with our present world. It must operate according to general and dependable laws, and it must involve real dangers, difficulties, problems, obstacles, and possibilities of pain, failure, sorrow, frustration, and defeat.” And so, Hicks concludes, that the world we live in, one of the things that makes it such a great place to live, is that it provides the opportunity of what he calls, “soul making”. For character development, for transformation, for what I said earlier, to become more Christ-like. I know, we’ve got about 10 minutes left, and I know some of you, are saying, well, you’re gonna say anything about free will? That’s the hard part in all this, understanding free will, and God’s sovereignty, operating at the same time. Tim Keller says, “The Bible depicts history as a hundred percent under God’s purposeful direction, and yet filled with human beings who are a hundred percent responsible for their behavior.”
I had a man who came to see me who, his son was killed in Afghanistan, and we talked about this issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, and he pointed out something to me, and he was right. He said, you know, nowhere in the Bible do you see that word “free will”, and I said, you’re right, but the fact that we are responsible for our sinfulness is an indication that we have the freedom to choose our will, and what we want to do, otherwise, we wouldn’t be responsible. And really, understand why we have a free will is that God wanted to create a special type of creature that could relate to Him and who could love Him in a meaningful way, a creature that He could have a love relationship with. You see, true love cannot be compelled. It can’t be forced. It has to be freely chosen. Søren Kierkegaard, some of you may have heard me share this story, it’s been a while since I’ve shared it, tell, it’s a kind of parable, but he tells a story of a young king who ruled over this magnificent Kingdom. The problem is the young king didn’t have a wife, didn’t have a queen, and he desperately wanted one, but he was obviously picky, I guess, and one day, he’s sitting in his palace, and it overlooks the marketplace, and he sees this beautiful young peasant girl come into the marketplace with her parents. And he was just kind of taken by her because she was, you could tell she was friendly, and she was kind to everyone that she dealt with, and the next day, he found himself drawn back to the same place hoping he might see her again, and eventually, he did, and every day, he would go look to see if she was coming, and one day, as he was sitting there looking at her and watching her, he realized that he was in love with this young girl. And he realized, at that point, that as the king, as the sovereign King, he could force her to marry him, and be the queen, but he had some wisdom to him, because he also recognized that, that wouldn’t be real love. You can’t force someone to love you, so, he made the decision to take off all of his royal garments, and dress as a peasant with the intent to go out and win her love, which he does, and she becomes his queen. Kierkegaard tells that story to show you that true love can’t be forced it has to be freely chosen. The problem is, just as you can freely choose it, there’s the built-in risk that you can freely reject it. Reject the one that wants you to love them. You know, this is true, also of virtue. You can’t, basically, coerced actions have no real moral value. You can’t force people to be good people. You can force certain behavior, but you can’t force people. That’s why I love what Hick says, “The world we live in provides the opportunity for soul making.”
Tim Keller says, and this is the best teaching I found on free will, he says, “In the end, the Christian concept of God’s sovereignty is marvelous, and it’s a practical principle. No one, however, can claim to know exactly how both God sovereignty and man’s free will, how these two trues fit together, and yet, even in our own ordinary experience, we know something of how to direct people along a path without violating their free will. Good leaders do this, in part. If that’s the case, why would the infinite God not be able to do it perfectly? The sovereignty of God is mysterious, but not contradictory. It means that we have great incentive to use our wisdom and our will to the best effect, knowing God holds us to it, and knowing that we will suffer consequences from foolishness and wickedness.” But you know, guys, even when we mess up, even when we make horrible decisions, and in those decisions, bring great pain and suffering in our lives, God can take it, and redeem it, if we’ll let Him. It’s based on how we respond, which, again, that’s what I’m going to focus on next week.
Let me wrap this up with just a couple of final thoughts, and we’ll be done. In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 8 and 9 (Isaiah 55:8-9), God says this, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” He’s saying, God’s ways are so much higher than our ways, particularly guys, as it relates to time. You see, God has an eternal perspective. We don’t. In fact, we read in, I believe it’s first Peter, that a thousand years of earthly life is like one day in the sight of God. Now, if you do the math on that, fifty years is about an hour in the sight of God, and therefore, when you go through a period of suffering, we really can’t see how He might purposefully use this in our lives, and in the lives of others, particularly when you might look at over a period of, say, 50 years. You see, often, there is a ripple effect that we never will see or understand in this life.
I’ve used Tim Keller as an example, and I quote him often, and I don’t know if you know who he is. He is a pastor, and he began a church in New York City called Redeemer Presbyterian and today, it’s the largest church in that city, and they do great work. They plant churches all over the world, and they work with the poor and the needy in that city, and he tells a great story about Redeemer. I want you to listen to this. He says, “I sometime ask people at my church in New York City, Redeemer Presbyterian, are you glad this church exists? And fortunately, they usually say yes. Then I point out an interesting string of coincidences that brought it all about. Redeemer exists, to a great degree, because my wife Cathy and I were sent to New York City to start this new church. Why were he sent? It was because we joined a Presbyterian denomination that encouraged church planting, and that sent us out, but why did we join a Presbyterian denomination/ We joined it because, in the very last semester of my last year in seminary, I had two courses under a particular professor who convinced me to adopt the doctrines and beliefs of Presbyterianism. But why was that professor at the seminary at that time? He was there only because of a long period of waiting. He was finally able to get his Visa as a citizen of Great Britain to come and teach in the United States. This professor had been hired by my U.S. seminary, but he’d been having a great deal of trouble getting a Visa. For various reasons, at the time, the process was very clogged, and there was an enormous backlog of applications. What was it that broke through all the red tape, so he could get his Visa and come in time to teach me that last semester? And I was told that his Visa process was facilitated because of one of the students at our seminary at the time was able to give the school administration an unusually high-level form of help. The son, the student, was the son of the sitting president of the United States at that time. Why was his father president? It was because the former president, Richard Nixon, had to resign as a result of the Watergate scandal. But why did the Watergate scandal even occur? Well, I understand it was because a night watchman noticed an unlatched door. What if the security guard had not noticed that door? What if he had simply looked in a different direction? In that case, nothing else in that long string of coincidences would have ever occurred, and there’d be no Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the city. Do you think all that happened by accident? I don’t. If that did not all happen by accident, nothing happens by accident. I like to say to people at Redeemer, if you’re glad for this church, then even Watergate happened for you and for your benefit.” And, as someone pointed out to me Wednesday, one of the great things about Watergate also was that Chuck Colson started one of the great ministries in our country called Prison Fellowship. Never would have happened without Watergate, and remember, Watergate, it happened 43 years ago, and was a very dark period in our nation’s history.
As you see, in this life, seldom do we glimpse even a fraction of the ways God is causing all things to work together for good. My final thought, and then I got one conclusion that I want to make, and we’ll be done. In Psalm 50, verse 21, God says “You thought that I was just like you, but I’m not.” I think that happens to us guys that we falsely believe that God is like us, and that He should operate this world the way we would if we were in charge. You see, we think He is a God who should support our plans, and how we think the world and history should go, and for so many people, God is someone we will relate to, as long as He’s doing what we want. But if He does something else, we naturally want to fire Him as if He was our personal assistant who was being insubordinate, and that’s a lot the way a lot of people treat God. But guys, He’s not like us. His ways are not our ways. In fact, His ways are often at cross-purposes with ours. It’s like Keller says. He shares the story of a man in his congregation who was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he says, “The day after the diagnosis, the man cried out to God and said, ‘You are pulling me out of the game Lord, I still have something to offer You.” He says, a few days later, he realized that God was saying to him, no, you’ve been on the sidelines all your life, and you’re now just getting into the game.” Clearly, God’s ways are not our ways. They are so much higher than our ways, and He is not like us.
Concluding thought, which opens the door for next week’s lesson. You know, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals that each of us is building our lives on some type of foundation. It may be solid rock, or it may be sand, but we are building some type of foundation. Everyone, He says, is looking for something to anchor their lives upon, and He says, we should, because, He warns us, He warns us that the storms of life are gonna come. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. That’s almost like He’s asking us, are you ready? Are you ready? That’s what we’ll talk about next time. But I’m reminded of the lyrics of a song by Elton John, in fact, many people think this is his greatest piece of music, “Goodbye, Norma Jean”. It was a tribute to the life of Marilyn Monroe, who, a number of you probably don’t know who she was. She was a beautiful movie star, but then he also sang the song at Princess Diana’s funeral, and he changed the lyrics up a little bit, but in both tributes, you hear these words, “It seems to me you live your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain sets in.”
And this is a question we all should ask, who are we going to cling to when the rain sets in? When the storms of life come? And we’ll pick up on that next week.
Let me close this in prayer. Father, we are truly thankful that You give us light to live by, though we feel like we’re sometimes out in the dark. We know that You give us light, and understanding, and truth, and I pray, Father, that You would use these words to encourage us and that You truly would help us to build our lives on a strong foundation so that we can weather the storms when they do come. We do thank You for Your goodness and mercy. We thank You that we know that You love us even as we look around this world and see all the pain and suffering and evil. We thank You that You have not abandoned us. We pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.