Joy like God’s joy – but how?

Christ came to share his joy with us, John 15:11 – and all of it too, 16:24, 17:13. And once we’ve got his joy it’s good forever, no one can take it away from us, 16:22. So this is joy like God experiences joy: it never goes away; it’s constant; it’s what happens all the time. And we don’t have to wait for God’s perfect world to come first to experience it, either. We can be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” right now, in this lifetime, 1 Peter 1:8.

So where does this indescribable joy come from? From “receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls,” verse 9. Our joy comes from getting what we’re trusting Jesus for. Because that’s our life now. As Christians we put all our eggs in one basket. We put our souls – all that we are and hope to be – entirely in Christ’s hands, trusting HIM to make happen what God made us for in the first place, because when we had the chance to make it happen, we blew it. We made a right hash of things, but God sent Jesus to save us, in two ways – first, to save us from what we’d done to ourselves and, secondly, to give us another shot at what we could’ve had. It’s these two things that become the “salvation of our souls” we’re trusting him for.

And it’s for good reason that we trust him, Romans 5:10, because in Christ dying for us we know God hasn’t given up on us, despite what we’ve done. In fact, he adores us, and proved it by dying for us. We never need wonder if God loves us, then. What a relief. We’re loved, full stop, so suck it up and enjoy it!

Paul also wrote in verse 10, “how much more shall we be saved through his life,” because it’s through his life that we get another shot at what we could’ve had. Jesus, in his human lifetime, lived what we never had. He lived a marvellously real, personal and loving relationship with God, which he now gives to us by living that same relationship all over again in us through the Holy Spirit. What a relief. We never need wonder if we can love God in return, then. We can love God just like Jesus did, so suck it up and enjoy that too!

No wonder we have joy. We know God loves us and we can love him back. And isn’t that the “goal of our faith,” or our reason for trusting Christ? It’s to have both those things guaranteed to us, forever – which they are.

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Who’s to blame for natural disasters – us or God?

Natural disasters are usually blamed on God – but why would God purposely create disasters? A lot of religious people, however, believe that’s exactly what God’s doing because, they say, he gets so angry at times at the way we’re behaving that he simply can’t contain himself any longer and he has to vent like a volcano and hit us with another disaster.

“But what else should we expect from God?” religious folks ask, “We deserve God’s wrath. Look at us: we ignore and resist God. We don’t tell him we’re sorry when we mess up. We don’t look to him for help when we’re in trouble. Instead, we look to empty, useless gods of our own creation and we couldn’t care less what God thinks. So how would you feel if you were God – especially after you’d created these amazing beings to share your life with – and all they do is spit in your face? No wonder he gets angry. The way we treat him, it’s no wonder we get hit with all these disasters.”

Scripture seems to support this view too, because in Romans 1:18, God does get angry with those who thumb their noses at him, and he expresses his anger visibly by giving people over to the lifestyle they’ve chosen, verses 26, 28. God is not mocked. He lets us swim up to our necks in the mess we’ve created. We made our bed, we lie in it. We reap what we sow. Resist him, then put up with the consequences.

But does that include God purposely creating disasters? These verses don’t say that. They speak only of God giving us over to the natural consequences of our warped minds.

But these natural consequences also play a huge part in natural events taking on disastrous proportions. An earthquake, for instance, becomes a major disaster because we build ramshackle, dangerously weak buildings on known fault lines. Floods become killer floods because we destroy the forests that soak up the water. Tornadoes become extremely dangerous because we create cities in tornado alleys. Volcanoes become deadly because we live close to them.

Common sense alone surely tells us there are obvious places on this planet it would be wiser not to set up shop in, but we do it anyway. We’re idiots. But it’s no wonder we’re idiots because in wanting nothing to do with God our minds have become so twisted we can’t think straight and we don’t care. Result? Millions of humans die unnecessarily.

The unfortunate question we have to ask, then, is: Is God the cause of major disasters, or are we?

What’s God’s answer to natural disasters?

A natural disaster is usually called an “Act of God,” but rightly so, surely, because God’s the one who created sliding plates that cause massive earthquakes, and it’s he who made the weather systems that stir up hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. We might be partly to blame for lousy weather, true, but volcanoes? It was God who created our planet with a boiling centre and cracks that leak its contents to the surface with brutal results, not us.

And since we can’t stop volcanoes and earthquakes, many more thousands of people will die and suffer terrible injuries, and more children will become orphans. It’s not surprising then, that people come to a fork in the road with God after a major disaster. Do we take the road that rejects God because he doesn’t make any sense, or the other road that gives him a chance to answer for himself?

Does he answer for himself, though? Yes, in Romans 8:20 – “For the creation was subjected to frustration (or futility), not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” According to that verse, it was God’s deliberate intent and design to make our planet an absurdity, a nonsensical paradox – a mixture of beauty and wonder on the one hand, but death and dreadful suffering on the other, the stark reality of which comes into sharp focus every time a major disaster hits. In seconds, all that we love about this world – home, work, happiness and success, etc. – are blown out of existence or buried in mud or rubble. It’s a grim reminder that life on this planet may have its good times but bottom line it’s cruelly fragile.

So why did God make it that way? “In hope that, verse 21, the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The hope of human life, in other words, isn’t trying to create a wonderfully happy, pain-free existence out of whatever this planet has to offer. Our hope as humans is the freedom that comes with being an immortal child of God.

That’s not what most people think life is all about, though. They think it’s trying to make something of themselves with the tools at hand in this world – like hard work, education, religion, or graft, theft and violence. But the obvious problem with trying to make something of this life is that we die, and all our efforts are for nothing. And that’s life as God intended? That’s nuts – unless, as verse 21 says, there’s another life we could be experiencing instead.

Real living is knowing God

In John 17:3, Jesus tells us what real life – life you can live forever – is all about; it’s knowing God. But why is knowing God important? Because if we don’t know God we don’t why he made us, do we? And if we don’t know why he made us then we’re running through life completely blind, and what’s the sense in that? Think what we might be missing out on, too…

Adam and Eve didn’t care a hoot about that, though. They only had ears for a serpent who made them think God wasn’t worth knowing. So, instead of them experiencing what it meant to be “made in God’s image,” they swam off into life without a clue what life was for. And what was life like after that? It was horrible. People became so twisted in their thinking they could only think of evil things to do to each other. And after living through such an awful existence, they ended up dying anyway and disintegrating back into nothingness. It was a terrible waste of life, and all from not knowing what life was for.

It was tragic too, as far as the Word, our Creator, was concerned, because he knew what life was for. It was he who’d given life to human beings in the first place, and given us minds like God’s so we could share God’s life and love in an everlasting paradise, but look what had happened instead. It was a disaster. God’s plan for humanity was up the spout. Did the Word, therefore, want nothing more to do with us? Quite the contrary. Instead, he felt enormous compassion for us, seeing us so horribly wasted and humiliated by the Devil. He would not see us rot.

But that meant starting over again. It meant renewing us in God’s image again. It meant giving us a second chance at knowing God and why he’d made us. Solution? He, the Word, would become one of us. That way we could see God, and in seeing him, know him. And what did people see? They saw him heal everyone who came to him for healing. He cast out demons. He stilled a storm. He walked on water. He even brought people back from the dead. After seeing all that, it was obvious he’d been sent by God. No ordinary human being could do what Jesus did.

Good, because everything Jesus said and did would open their eyes to what God was like. Seeing him was exactly like seeing God, John 14:9. Imagine the shock, then, when he was killed…

God’s dilemma

God’s dilemma had come about because he’d given humans a will. As such, we could decide for ourselves what we wanted to do. Trouble is, we’d be sorely tempted with this will of ours to act independently of God. It’s the nature of the beast, it seems, just like it was for a third of the angels who were also given a will, but used it to reject God and branch out on their own.

When the serpent, therefore, gave Eve excuse to branch out on her own as well, it was an easy sell. So easy that neither her or Adam felt any compunction to check things out with God. They just did what the serpent said. But it all sounded so good being king and queen of their own castle, free to do as they pleased, and think they were so clever they didn’t need God. So they disobeyed him. Result? They would die and disappear.

But that wasn’t what God had “framed the worlds” for (Hebrews 11:3). He didn’t give humans a will so they could turn whichever way they wanted. He made us to be like him, in his image, sharing his mind and nature. That’s how he started Adam and Eve off, and all they needed to do to remain in that state was trust God, tune their will to his and follow his instructions, and then at the end of their mortal lives God would have made them immortal so they could share his life forever. It was a great plan. And if they’d followed along with it, God would have shielded them from the natural inclination of their will, just as he does for Christians today.

The cause of God’s dilemma, then, was humans who didn’t use the help available to combat the natural inclination of their will. It was the same with the angels. If they’d all tuned their will to God’s will, it would’ve kept their own will in check. It’s the same for us as Christians. We know from very real experience that constantly staying tuned to God’s will keeps our will in check. Lose our contact with God and our will soon takes over.

Which is exactly what happened to Adam and Eve. They let the serpent tune them into his will, not God’s. And the Devil’s still at it today because our inclination to want to act independently of God is still so easy to sell to. But if it’s that easy to sell to, what chance have we got of resisting? Ah, well that’s where the “Word became flesh” comes in again….

When God walked and talked with us

I’ve often wondered what kind of body God appeared to Adam and Eve in. There’s a clue in Genesis 3:8, because when they hid from God, he went looking for them, walking in the Garden and calling to them, meaning he had eyes, legs and a voice, just like a human.

It tells us something of the relationship God wanted with humans. He walked and talked with Adam and Eve at their level. It was a lovely, easy relationship between humans and their Creator, and I assume it would have continued this way throughout their lives until God made them immortal, at which point they could relate to God at his level, too.

But that was the plan. Having humans relating to him that easily and that closely was exactly what God intended, because he “created man in his own image,” Genesis 1:27. He made us in his likeness, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world…to be adopted as his sons,” Ephesians 1:4-5. We humans, therefore, had an amazing future ahead, as the only creatures God made that he could share his life with. He started that life off by sharing our realm with us, but always with the aim that we’d share his realm with him. Heaven and earth would come together as one. .

But that’s always been his intent. From the very beginning God the Father wanted to shower the life of heaven on us, Ephesians 1:3. But it all blew apart at the starting blocks when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, because from then on humans would simply live out their physical lives, die, and disappear back into non-existence again. And that created a dilemma for God, because he couldn’t go back on his word. Death meant death. But what kind of God would he be if he let humanity die out without doing anything about it, especially when he made us to bring the realms of heaven and earth together as one?

But God had the Word, and through him the dilemma would be solved, because the Word created humans in the first place (John 1:1-3), so the Word could RE-create humans too. But notice how he did it: He created himself as a human and entered our realm again. He walked and talked with humans, just like he did in Eden, and lived the life God created humans for. And through the Spirit he now lives that life in us, so that we can enter the life he how lives as a human being, the life of heaven, but lived in humans on the earth. Heaven and earth as one, walking and talking together on this earth forever.