Tag Archives: suffering

Do recent earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters indicate the endtimes?

There have been some powerful earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and other natural disasters recently, but they aren’t unique to our time. Because population density is much higher today than in past centuries, more people tend to be killed when natural disasters occur.

People of Jesus’ day were superstitious and believed that natural events contained clues about the future. When Jesus’ disciples asked him what the signs of the end of the age would be, Jesus gave them a careful response:

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:4-13 nkjv).

Jesus may have realized that the disciples would expect the destruction ofJerusalemand the temple to occur in close conjunction with His return and the end of the age. To make it clear to them that they shouldn’t linkJerusalem’s fall with His second coming, He told them specifically not to trust false Christs. He also warned them not to think manmade catastrophes such as wars or natural catastrophes such as famines, epidemics, or earthquakes meant the end of the age had arrived. Such catastrophic events should not be viewed as “the birth pains of the Messiah,” as the Jews sometimes viewed them, but as “the beginning of the birth pains” (v.8 niv) of events that would take place throughout history. Christians should be prepared for these things and for the severe persecution that would rise against the church from time to time.

What Jesus prophesied came true—Israelwas judged andJerusalemdestroyed in the Jewish-Roman wars. Yet, as He said, the horrors of siege and battle along with the natural disasters of that period were in fact only the “beginning of the birth pains.” Thousands of catastrophic events of all types—wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes—have occurred in the intervening centuries, some of them apocalyptic in scale.

Earthquakes:

Antioch,Syria, ad 525, 250,000 killed;

Aleppo,Syria, 1138, 230,000 killed;

Shaanxi   Province,China, 1556, 830,000 killed.

Famines:

“Great Famine” of Europe, ad 1315–17, millions died;

Indian famine of 1896–1902, millions died;

Chinese famine under Chairman Mao, 1958–61, 20-40 million died.

Pandemics:

Antonine Plague (smallpox),Roman Empire, ad 165–180, 5 million died;

Plague of Justinian, 541–542, 25 million died;

Black Death, the Middle East andEurope, 1338–1351, 100 million died.

Wars:

Thousands of wars and armed conflicts since the time of Jesus Christ have caused millions of deaths.

People who lived during these times can be excused for suspecting that they were living in the end time. However, the wisdom of Jesus’ words of caution regarding the linkage of human or natural disasters with the arrival of the end time has endured.  His declaration that we cannot know the day or hour of His return (Matthew 24:36) is as applicable to us today as it was to the apostolic church.

(See Can we know if current events are the fulfillment of prophecy? How often have people misapplied prophecy? and How serious is false speculation about prophecy?)

 

 

 

 

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What Is a Godly Response to Domestic Abuse for an Abused Wife?

Domestic abuse is a one-sided relationship where a spouse regularly seeks to control and punish his or her partner. The most common sort of spousal abuse is that of the husband toward the wife. The abuse can take many forms: verbal, physical, psychological, sexual, and financial. These are the primary methods a man uses to dominate his spouse.

Regardless of the form of abuse, there are no easy answers for a wife whose husband regularly abuses her. Financial concerns, intimidating threats, personal doubts, and a husband’s ability to hide the abuse or make her feel responsibile (when she most certainly is not) are just some of the factors that leave hurting and scared wives feeling cornered with few, if any, options.

As trapped as a wife may feel, she is always free to choose the option of love. Sadly, however, too many have been taught that showing love means that a wife should passively tolerate her husband’s abuse. Love is misunderstood as getting along and not upsetting one’s husband. But a weak, fearful, compliant response usually enables her husband in his abusive patterns. Meek compliance on her part is not best for either of them. Nor does it serve the larger good of a godly marriage. Therefore, it’s not loving.

The Bible says that showing genuine love is to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” ( Romans 12:9 NIV). In other words, a loving reaction is both compassionate and strong. Although her husband may not see it this way, an abused wife can show that she cares for her husband by sending the strong and consistent message that she will give him consequences for his abusive words and behavior.

A consequence is something that a wife decides to do. It’s not something that she tries to make her husband do. Consequences vary depending on the seriousness of the situation. For instance, a verbally abusive episode (although still serious) often calls for her to simply end the conversation after informing her husband that she won’t continue to talk with him as long as he remains controlling or disrespectful. Situations involving physical abuse may require calling the police and pressing charges. In other cases where there is a longstanding and oppressive pattern of emotional/verbal abuse, legal separation and even divorce are legitimate options to consider, but only as a last resort.

An abused wife shouldn’t expect the situation to turn around quickly. Many abusive husbands apologize and act remorseful, but a wife shouldn’t be misled. An abusive husband’s quick remorse is often just another ploy to regain control. Other men don’t apologize at all and resist admitting the harm they are causing. They continue to minimize their sin and put the blame on others. It frequently requires an abusive husband to undergo an extended time of his own personal suffering before he will come to his senses and begin the long and difficult process of understanding and owning the damage he’s caused. Therefore, a wife committed to loving her husband should be prepared to stand her ground for a long period of time while her husband learns necessary lessons from the consequences he is suffering for his sinful behavior.

An abused wife shouldn’t try to give consequences without help. Confronting her husband without a plan or physical protection can be a grave mistake. It will likely cause her husband to feel threatened. He is used to being in control and giving him negative consequences takes that control away. Therefore, a wife should prepare for the possibility that her husband could resort to physical intimidation and violence to regain control. She needs a plan that would help ensure her safety For example, having several friends present at a point of confrontation, having an escape plan or an alternate place for her and her children to go stay, notifying the police, obtaining a restraining order.

A wife has no assurances that his suffering the consequences will wake up her husband, end the abuse, or resolve their marital problems. She can, however, begin to love as Christ loved as she gradually begins to rest in the fact that God desires what is best for her. It may take a fairly long time to really believe this, but God is there to empower her to show love, to comfort her with love, and enliven her with a purpose for her own life no matter what happens ( Psalm 23:4 ). Her heart can begin to gain a growing confidence and peace that says, “I’m not totally powerless. I’m free to love. And although it may not work out between my husband and me, I am confident that it will work out between God and me.”

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What Was Paul’s “Thorn”?

What was the “thorn” that Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:7?

We do not know exactly what the affliction was that Paul called his “thorn in the flesh.” It probably was a physical malady. There is some evidence in Scripture that Paul had an eye problem. He spoke of the large letters he used in writing to the Galatians (Galatians 6:11). He also declared that the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him (Galatians 4:13-15). Some have suggested that this may have been a chronic eye disease or an injury suffered when he was stoned in Lystra (Acts 14:19,20).

Paul also referred to his “thorn” as “a messenger of Satan.” We know that the devil afflicted Job with a physical malady (Job 2:7) and caused physical deformity to a woman (Luke 13:16). We therefore have scriptural support for the idea that the “messenger of Satan” can be something physical.

Those who believe that the thorn was something other than a physical affliction point out that it was sent to “buffet” Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7), that is to prick the apostle’s arrogance which may have lingered on after he had been converted from Pharisaism. Some scholars prefer this interpretation and think Paul referred to Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14), Hymenaeus, and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17), as the “thorns” who were adversaries of the work and therefore doing Satan’s business.

Those who hold to this view also refer to Numbers 33:55, where Moses warned the children of Israel as they were about to enter Canaan, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.”

Another example of such a “thorn” would be Elymas, the sorcerer mentioned in Acts 13, who tried to turn the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, away from the faith (v.8) and was addressed by Paul as “you son of the devil” (v.10). And in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Satan is said to have prevented Paul more than once from visiting the Thessalonians.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible doesn’t identify Paul’s thorn. God must have had a good reason for not giving this information. He probably left it this way so that people with various kinds of physical and spiritual problems might identify with Paul and experience the grace that God has promised (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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Isn’t a Lack of Deliverance from Sickness or Harm a Sign of Deficient Faith?

It would be a serious mistake to imply that deficient faith accounts for all instances in which a person does not receive healing or deliverance.

It’s true that Scripture tells of people who were healed or delivered from danger because of their faith. Some examples are Gideon ( Judges 7:15-23 ); Naaman the Syrian ( 2 Kings 5:14-15 ); Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego ( Daniel 3:19-29 ); the centurion’s servant ( Matthew 8:13 ); the woman with an issue of blood ( Matthew 9:20-22 ); the man with a withered hand ( Matthew 12:9-13 ); and Peter’s deliverance from prison ( Acts 12:5-12 ). Even this partial list is impressive.

Clearly, faith in God may result in healing and deliverance. However, the Scriptures also show us just as clearly that there are times when a believer’s suffering or sickness has nothing to do with a lack of faith.

When Job lost his family, wealth, and physical health, his friends “comforted” him with the message that his loss and suffering were due to his own moral failure (his lack of faith). But Job was confident in his integrity before God. God Himself had declared him perfect and upright ( Job 1:8 ). Later, God Himself denied the explanation that Job’s “counselors” gave for his suffering ( Job 13:1-15 ). Even more importantly, God Himself denounced their words ( Job 42:7-8 ).

Job’s faith wasn’t the problem. In fact, Job’s faith in God was so strong that he, without cursing or disrespect, defended his integrity to God and questioned Him about the injustice of his suffering. Yet, in the midst of his agony, he continued to trust:

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. He also shall be my salvation, for a hypocrite could not come before Him (Job 13:15-16).

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).

Job’s faith was eventually rewarded and vindicated. But he wasn’t spared the terrible suffering that allowed his faith to be tested and proven.

Even at a time when miracles often occurred, God allowed Stephen to be stoned ( Acts 7:59-60 ) and James to be beheaded. Although Acts 12 tells of Peter’s supernatural deliverance from captivity in prison, Jesus had already prophesied that he would eventually die a martyr’s death ( John 21:17-19 ), as (according to tradition) did all of the other disciples except John.

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 Paul eloquently described the suffering and trials from which he hadn’t been delivered. He also suffered from a particular “thorn in the flesh” ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 10 ) for which God had not provided a remedy. When Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment, Paul didn’t exhort him to have greater faith. Instead he told him to take some wine as medicine ( 1 Timothy 5:23 ). There isn’t the slightest hint in these passages that Paul’s trials and Timothy’s sickness were the product of unconfessed sin or deficient faith. In fact, rather than proclaiming that our faith in Christ should deliver us from the suffering and trials of this world, Paul extols the spiritual benefits of suffering.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance [produces] character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

James also made it clear that strong faith is no insurance against suffering:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

On the basis of Scripture, we can say that faith is always relevant to suffering. Our reaction to suffering — whether in faith or in despair — determines whether it will produce spiritual growth or despair. But because spiritual healing is more important to us than our physical circumstances, faith is not a barrier against suffering.

Whenever we are inclined to presume that the illness or suffering of another person is the result of that person’s sin, we should recall the foolishness of Job’s “counselors” in attempting to explain the mystery of God’s will. Although faith won’t always deliver us from tribulation, it will keep us conscious of God’s promises and of the assurance that He will work everything out to good of His children ( Romans 8:28 ).

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How Could Normal People Deserve Eternal Punishment?

There are no “normal people.” Everyone deserves judgment. We are fallen creatures under a spiritual curse in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-23). Apart from God’s grace, hell is our natural state of being. Apart from God’s grace, this world would be a place of unmitigated horror and suffering.

In the natural world, a desperate struggle for survival defines existence. The strong survive by dominating or devouring the weak. Apart from God’s love, humans would never rise above the level of the law of fang and claw. An idealistic person might reject the natural order and try to establish a higher definition for good and evil than mere survival, but the weight of fallen reality would crush him. The meaninglessness of his efforts would be a vivid example of hell’s power.

Many people consider the ideas of heaven and hell too abstract to make a difference in their lives. They think it is hard to even conceive of hell and heaven, much less to be influenced by the fear of future punishment or desire for future reward. But before they dismiss the reality of heaven and hell, they should think a little more carefully. Heaven and hell are confirmed by daily experience.

Human experience affirms that virtue, honesty, and discipline are usually rewarded, while laziness, carelessness, and dishonesty bring trouble. Young children have a limited attention span with little capacity to be drawn to anything not of immediate interest. But when children become teens and adults, they are more aware of the future. The realities of life show them that the accomplishment of anything that matters requires faith, self-discipline, and work. An adult who lacks the imagination to be motivated by a vision of what he would like to do is likely to be stuck in a job he hates. Self-discipline in present time is necessary for future gains.

All human abilities, whether traits like intelligence and courage or skills like musical performance, carpentry, or golf, can be developed only through practice, and practice isn’t likely to occur without a vision of future reward. A person who behaves courageously and faithfully is rewarded with personal qualities of courage and faithfulness. Musical, athletic, mechanical, and other skills are rewarded to those who invest effort.

God created a world that rewards effort, faith, and self-discipline. But if God is concerned about the meaningfulness of life at the level of work and survival, is He less concerned about the meaningfulness of our lives in their entirety? Would He be likely to allow someone who has nothing but contempt for fellow human beings to escape the consequences of a long, vicious life? Wouldn’t He be concerned that the efforts of a person who has “by persistence in doing good sought glory, honor and immortality” be rewarded?

Jesus declared:

To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:29-30).

Nothing about the likelihood of future rewards and punishments is inconsistent with our daily experience. Even so, why do normal people deserve hell?

Normal people deserve hell because they are willing participants in the events of a fallen, cruel world.

No one consciously intends all of the evil that results from their actions. The evil that each of us contributes to the natural and spiritual worlds would horrify us if we were capable of or willing to see it. Because we are fallen, we overlook our own sins and focus on the injustices we’ve suffered. We devise a rationale to claim we are “righteous.” We willfully ignore evidence that would shatter cherished illusions about our own goodness, along with the goodness of our family, social class, ethnic group, church, and nation (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Old Testament prophets brought awareness of this self-deception to the people of Israel (Exodus 22:21-23; Psalm 12; Ecclesiastes 5:8-11; Isaiah 1:11-16; Jeremiah 7:4-11; Ezekiel 22:5-12; Amos 5:18-24). The New Testament describes the nature of the evil world system to which we all contribute (Luke 4:5-7; Ephesians 6:12).

We are much worse than we think we are. We have a remarkable determination to deceive ourselves into thinking that the web of social and economic relationships to which we belong is positive or benign. In spite of millions of horrific deaths, we assume our wars are just. We think that we have no responsibility for the violence in the Mideast or for the sweatshops and squalid living conditions of workers in the “developing” third world. This determination to deceive ourselves and cloak ourselves in righteousness and spiritual pride is evil. This aspect of our sin, in fact, is like the sin of the self-righteous Pharisees (Matthew 23:7-15).

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:7-11).

The willful blindness of the Pharisees to their sin made them incapable of seeking mercy from God or granting mercy to others. Blindness fueled complacency towards, and support of, evil.

Our Creator designed the universe as a cradle for self-awareness and freedom. If we use self-awareness and freedom for evil purposes, we will reap the consequences. We are free creatures in a finite world where the effects of our conscious sins are endlessly multiplied by the laws of cause and effect. If God ignored the consequences of our deliberate decisions, it would violate justice and our integrity.  We are all “war criminals,” worthy of the hell we have created.

Israel was our example. The prophets and the Messiah foretold the consequences of Israel’s determination to protect itself through worldly power rather than justice (Psalm 33:16; Isaiah 30:1-3; 31:1; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 5:39-47; Matthew 23:34-36; Matthew 26:51-52; Luke 21:20-24).

If we won’t acknowledge our sinfulness and the fact that we deserve punishment, we will rationalize our sins and harden our hearts against truth, grace, and spiritual rebirth. If we won’t repent, we choose to be hell’s citizens.

Hell is the natural destination for every normal person who sees no need for repentance and is unwilling to acknowledge his helplessness apart from God’s grace.

But repentance isn’t enough. No one is strong or pure enough to stand effectively against a fallen world order in the power of the evil one (Luke 4:5-6; John 12:31-32; Ephesians 2:1-2; Ephesians 6:12). Mere repentance can’t purify us or undo the evil we have done and continue to do.

How can we face the reality of such harsh facts?

How can we be delivered from hell?

Only by basing our righteousness on the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who alone can bear our sins and cure our spiritual disease.

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