When God seems unfair

In the book of Job Satan appears before God like a prosecutor in a court case, along with his demon angels as witnesses. But Satan isn’t charging Job with anything; he’s hoping instead to get Job to charge GOD for inflicting needless suffering and for not dealing fairly.

God gets it in the ear today too, for letting people die needlessly and undeservedly in natural disasters and senseless killings. He’s blamed for good people dying prematurely and evil people getting away with murder. And what about all those good Christians who suffer terribly too, from persecution, accidents, financial ruin, destructive gossip, rejection by their family, bullying at work, and loneliness? Worse still, why does God let some Christians lead charmed lives, with their happy, successful children, good jobs, great retirement packages and excellent health, while other Christians have to hobble through life with all kinds of aches and pains, insecure jobs, endless debts, cars breaking down, marriages breaking up, children going nowhere, and working parents spending long periods away from home?

It all seems so unfair, which is exactly what Satan hoped Job would think – which Job did: “I am innocent, but God has denied me justice,” he cried (Job 34:5). God wasn’t being fair at all, and Job wanted to know why. If only God would explain himself.

But God doesn’t explain himself. He simply says, “I know a whole lot more than you do, Job. I know things you could never discover for yourself. I was there when this planet was formed, and I know every detail about anything you’ve ever wondered about. You may not understand what I’m doing, therefore, but I do.” It’s like dealing with a child who feels his parents are not treating him fairly. The parents only have to ask, “Do you know more than we do?” Obviously not. “So why, my child, are you acting as if you do?”

And when Job realized he too had acted as if he knew more about life than God did, it deflated him. God was on the hilltop with a much better view of things than Job had, just as parents have a much bigger picture of what’s best for their child, and when that realization dawns, hopefully trust follows.

God did not condemn Job for thinking him unfair, nor did he defend himself to Job either. There was no point, just as parents realize it’s pointless trying to explain their actions to a child who, at his age, would not understand. So when things seem unfair, it still comes down to, “Trust me, son, I know what I’m doing, and one day so will you.”

Advertisements

Is the world getting worse or better?

Whether the world is getting worse or better is not for me to decide. That’s Jesus’ business since he’s King of the world. What IS my business is whether the world is worse or better where I am, based, of course, on Jesus’ definition of worse and better, not mine.

The world’s getting “better” from his point of view when people repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15), that Jesus is bringing Heaven to the Earth in humans. He brought Heaven to the Earth as a human, and he’s been sending out witnesses ever since to do the same thing. Wherever those emissaries go they do things on Earth as they are done in Heaven. That’s what they pray for, that God’s Kingdom come, his will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. And as they pray that – and by the power, love and wisdom of the Holy Spirit are able to do it too – the world gets better in their small sphere of influence.

We’ve each been given a brief window of life to catch on to what Jesus is doing, believe it’s true, and stir up the Spirit to make it true in ourselves. And it takes the Spirit to do it because Jesus instituted a totally radical, new way of being human, patterned purely on how things are done in Heaven. He spent three and a bit years teaching and demonstrating that new way – in the Sermon on the Mount, in his compassion and care for the sick and troubled, in his criticisms of the religious folks of his day, and finally in his suffering and death. He was a living demonstration of how a human being can make the world better.

All he asks us to do, then, is repent and believe the good news, that we’re not helpless tools of the Devil, we are, in fact, carriers of Jesus’ way of being human wherever we go, meaning we can make this world better wherever we go. Ever since Jesus took over as King of the world, he’s been giving power to his emissaries to fulfill the purpose of Creation, to bring Heaven and Earth together in humans and to put things to rights on this planet, and we are his witnesses to that.

If we don’t believe that, and believe instead that things are only going to get worse and worse no matter what we do, then what’s the point of living? But if you believe the Spirit is providing a constant flow of power, love and wisdom to make the world better wherever you go, does that not make life already a bit better?

Is the Rapture coming soon?

Christians don’t have to worry if the world gets worse, because, as some Christians believe, Jesus comes down and whisks us off to heaven just before all hell breaks loose on earth. He tucks us safely away from it all while this evil world gets what it deserves.

That’s assuming, of course, that the world is getting worse, to the point a rapture is necessary to spare Christians from Armageddon and all the other horrific things mentioned in the book of Revelation. But the world isn’t getting worse, all hell is not going to break loose, and Christians aren’t going to heaven either, so there’s no need for a rapture in the first place.

Jesus has already set up his kingdom on earth, and this is where the action is. He’s not sending anyone to heaven, he’s bringing heaven to the earth. That’s always been his goal, to set things up “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). His plan has never been to separate out those who believe in him and lift them OFF the earth and up to heaven. Jesus came to put this earth to rights, not leave it a burning wreck while all the good people watch from afar in the safety of heaven.

But what about when Jesus comes in Matthew 24 and “Two men will be working in the fields – one will be taken, one left behind”, and 1 Thessalonians 4 when Jesus comes down from heaven and lifts Christians off the earth to meet him? Aren’t they talking about a rapture of God’s people? But a rapture to where? There’s no talk of being whisked off to heaven in either of those verses. In Matthew 24 Jesus is talking to the Jews of his day about the destruction of their temple (verses 1-2) and the horrific things about to happen to them (verse 16), and he’s warning those people to get out of Jerusalem while they can. There’s no mention of them going to heaven. Nor is there in 1 Thessalonians 4. It’s about Christians meeting Jesus in the air and the clouds of earth (verse 17), and no mention of going to heaven after that.

The rapture misses the entire point of Jesus’ coming. Jesus came to fight the last battle against the powers and kingdoms of this world, declare the Jewish system of sacrifices, rituals, the temple and its priesthood dead and gone, and announce the start of a new creation all together, patterned on the Kingdom of Heaven in spirit and attitude. In other words, Jesus came to put things to rights here in the earth, not talk about the earth becoming so evil we’d need to be raptured off it.

“The time is fulfilled” – meaning?

Jesus’ first announcement after John the Baptist was thrown in prison was Mark 1:15, “The time has come” – or in the KJV, “The time is fulfilled.” On God’s time band, the arrival of Jesus marked a new moment. All that had gone before him and led up to him was now fulfilled.

To a Jew in the First Century that was a staggering statement, because for centuries they’d been hoping for just this moment, the time when the Messiah would deliver their nation from its enemies and rule the world. And here was Jesus now saying that time had come, and it was being fulfilled before their very eyes.

You have to think as a Jew to grasp what Jesus was saying, because week after week they’d set aside the seventh day to remember that God had a plan. It began at Creation, and it was complete and ready to go by the seventh day. There was a purpose, therefore, to everything that happened after that, and Israel would know better than anyone what that purpose was.

Because they experienced it every Sabbath. They put aside the things of this world and experienced a little taste of heaven, as a grand picture of what God had made this world for. Every seventh year they rested their land too, and after seven times seven years they celebrated a Jubilee year, in which all slaves were freed and all debts were cancelled. All these sevens pointed to a time when the whole Creation would be free of its enemies and life would be “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

But up to the time of Jesus’ arrival that had not happened. For all their Sabbath keeping, rebuilding the Temple and being restored as a nation, the Jews were still slaves, this time to the Romans. But then, suddenly, Jesus bursts on the scene announcing the time had come, and all those Sabbaths they’d been keeping to remind them of God’s plan had been fulfilled with his arrival. All that they’d been looking for and keeping Sabbaths for was now happening. Heaven was now filling the Earth with God’s glory, exactly as God had planned from Creation. The Kingdom of God now ruled the Earth. The whole world had now entered the Jubilee, or “the year of the Lord’s favour,” as Jesus called it in Luke 4:19.

And now that the reality was here, there was no more need for the Sabbaths that pointed to it. The time of all those Sabbaths had been fulfilled now that the Kingdom of God, Heaven on Earth, had arrived in the person of Jesus.

But WHY did their “hearts burn within them”?

“Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road?” is how The Message phrases Luke 24:32. It wasn’t how they felt a few verses earlier, however. They were in a state of shock at Jesus dying and now they were moping their way to the village of Emmaus trying to make sense of it.

That’s when Jesus joined them and asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They “were kept from recognizing him” (verse 25) so they were able to talk their hearts out as to what was troubling them. Cleopas answered: “We had our hopes up that Jesus of Nazareth was the One, the One about to deliver Israel” (verse 21). But now Jesus was dead, and his body had disappeared too (verse 23).

It tells us what they saw in Jesus. It wasn’t salvation from their sins, it was salvation from their enemies and the deliverance of their nation. And Jesus didn’t try to correct that either. All he said was, “You’re so thick-headed. Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?” – with the emphasis on the word “all”, because INCLUDED in what the prophets said was the clear fact that “these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory” (verses 25-26).

It had been there all along, you two thickos, Jesus said, that the Messiah would deliver Israel as promised by his death. So three days ago their nation had been delivered, and Jesus was now King of the world in all his glory, exactly as the prophets had said he would be.

What? You mean it’s all done and dusted and Jesus now rules the world? That’s right, Jesus replies, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (verse 27). And that’s when their hearts burned within them, as verse after verse from the Old Testament hit them between the eyeballs that Jesus truly was the Messiah, because he’d fulfilled ALL that the prophets had said, including suffering and death, which Moses and Isaiah had clearly written about.

Jesus had also told them before he died WHAT all those prophecies were leading up to. “Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful me, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” (verses 6-7). So that’s what all that prophecy was about, and it had happened exactly as Jesus had said, which meant he’d also now entered his glory as King of the world.

Why did Jesus die (from the OLD Testament)?

I must have read and watched thousands of murder mysteries, but the one I keep coming back to is the mystery of why Jesus was murdered.

Years ago I was a novice detective, so I approached the death of Jesus with untrained eyes. My teachers were veterans of Protestant tradition, most of whom had settled for one set of clues to explain Jesus’ death. It was an easy case, they said: Jesus died to save humanity from its sins – case closed.

But disturbing new evidence came to light that made me think there was more to Jesus’ death that needed to be investigated. It was called the Old Testament. Most of my training and investigation into Jesus’ death had come out of the New Testament, which had focused my mind on Jesus dying to save me from my sins. But the Old Testament wasn’t about Jesus dying to save me from my sins, it was mostly about the story of Israel.

So where did Israel fit in with Jesus’ death? And if it didn’t fit in, what was the point of all that Old Testament stuff in the first place? Or could Israel be the biggest clue of all?

It was a clue from the New Testament that set me off, in Luke 2:34, when Simeon sees the baby Jesus and says to Mary, “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel.” Oh, so Israel was the primary reason for God sending Jesus. That means Israel must be the starting point in investigating Jesus’ death.

And of course it is, because Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. For centuries the Jews had been hoping the Messiah of the Old Testament would come and save them from their enemies, and restore their nation to the glory it had in Solomon’s day. And the Old Testament scriptures are full of that, of story after story of God delivering Israel from its enemies. When Jesus arrived, then, hopes soared that their Messiah had come to deliver them again.

But then he died, and none of them had a clue why. It was all there in the Old Testament, though, in dramatic prophecies that told of a final great battle between the Messiah and the kingdoms of this world, and the Messiah emerging victorious – not by military might but by suffering and death. The reason for Jesus dying, then, was to become King of the world. The Jews of Jesus’ day missed that, and so did I. It was time for me to open the case on Jesus’ death again, therefore, and this time using all those clues from the Old Testament.

Is the gospel about personal salvation?

One of my teenage sons was accosted on the street by a group of Christians who surrounded him and wanted to know if he was saved and did he believe in Jesus as his saviour? They certainly gave him the impression that personal salvation was at the heart of the gospel.

But is it? Because in Mark 1:14-15 Mark writes: “After John (the Baptist) was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.'” Jesus did not say, “The time has come. Personal salvation is near.” Nor did he ask people if they were saved. And when he said, “Repent,” it wasn’t about repenting of personal sin to be saved, it was attached to believing the good news of the kingdom of God being near.

The heart of the gospel Jesus preached, therefore, wasn’t about personal salvation, it was about the kingdom of God. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,” Matthew 24:14. What that group of Christians should have asked my son, therefore, was: “Do you believe in the gospel of the kingdom?” Or, better put, “Have you heard the incredible news yet, that Jesus is our king and it’s God’s kingdom that now rules this planet?”

My son would have every right to ask for proof of it, of course. Well, Jesus himself gave the proof. When Pilate said to Jesus, “You are a king, then!” in John 18:37, Jesus replied, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world.” I AM a king, not I will be. He’s not king some time in the future, he’s king now. To become king of our world in his lifetime was the reason he was born as a human being.

In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10, the first thing on Jesus’ mind wasn’t, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your salvation come.” Nor was it your forgiveness come, or atonement, or justification by faith, or being whisked off this earth and going to heaven. It was quite simply, “your kingdom come.” The first thing on Jesus’ mind was God’s kingdom coming to this planet, so that it could rule “on earth as it is in heaven” (same verse).

And the reason Jesus came as a human being was to make that happen. That’s the heart of the gospel, not personal salvation.