Suffer, suffer, suffer: why oh why did God set it up this way?

It’s two weeks to the day when I slipped on the ice and did a face plant into the road requiring eleven stitches in my nose alone. Three days after that happened I fainted twice from low blood pressure and off to hospital again where among the tests I was given was a test for Covid, and yes I had Covid too, that hit me while I was already down with a raging sore throat, relentless coughing and deep fatigue.

But that’s just my little tale of woe. Much bigger and much worse things are happening to other people. Canada was supposedly at war as a War Measures Act was voted in to deal with protesting truckers. Russia is at war wth the Ukraine, and countries all over the world are at war with their governments and their police state restrictions. The working class is at war with the stuffy elites, truth is at war with lies and propaganda, free speech is at war with censorship, respect is at war with smear campaigns, integrity is at war with hypocrisy, and transparency is at war with hidden agendas.  

And who suffers the most? The little guys, of course, as always, who are losing hope and patience as governments rip away their jobs, bank accounts, businesses, crucial stages of childhood development for their kids, friendships, family relationships, and worst of all, trust in just about every institution that had given us decades of peace and security. For the little guy it’s been suffer, suffer, suffer – suffering personally, suffering for family and friends, and suffering globally in the news every day. And all this over one tiny virus and trillions of dollars spent with little to show for it but misery we’ll be paying for way into the future.  

If only we could get back to “normal,” right? Get back to chatting with friends over coffee, building up a family business, not walking on eggshells around easily offended people, and governments actually listening to the people who pay their wages. Instead we’re having it shoved in our faces yet again that suffering is the underlying story of our history as humans. Which raises the question, that if God truly is the one who created us and our human experience, then why did he set it up this way? 

The first person to learn the answer to that question was Jesus, who “In the days of his earthly life, offered up petitions and urgent supplications with fervent crying and tears to the One who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his unfailing determination to do his Father’s will,” Hebrews 5:7.  

So we know Jesus suffered greatly too, to the point that, like Paul, the pressure was “far beyond his ability to endure,” 2 Corinthians 1:8. He could not cope a moment longer. He felt like he could die any second as his heart gave out. He was giving up, slipping away into the blackness of despair (verse 9). 

So why did God set it up this way, even for his own Son?

Paul’s answer was, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead,” verse 9. God set it up this way so there was no choice for Paul but to turn to God in desperation to catch him and lift him up and out of his downward spiral into hopelessness. And it was the experience of extreme suffering that taught Paul that – that God really could and would save him from that awful feeling of death.  

Jesus learnt the same thing too, because “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered,” Hebrews 5:8. He too learnt that there was only one way to survive his whole being spinning out of control into oblivion, and that was turning to the God he was so determined to obey, and trusting him to see him through. And again and again, just like Paul, Jesus experienced very personally “being heard,” and feeling himself being lifted in the nick of time, so to speak, from falling over the cliff edge.  

How else does God make himself so real to us than that, though? Paul got to the point he knew God would deliver him again and again whenever he felt like death was swallowing him up. And Jesus learnt that too, so that whenever we feel like death is swallowing us up, he can now be the One lifting us up (Hebrews 5:9-10), making himself real in our experience as he raises us from the dead again and again too. 

And that now puts us in the wonderful position of being able to tell other people with absolute certainty that God will lift them up when they turn to him (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). And this too is why God set it up this way.  

When life doesn’t work out the way we wanted

I simply had to write this blog after falling flat on my face from slipping on the ice. I crashed face first into the road and there was an instant flow of blood spurting out from a large cut on the end of my nose and from an abrasion above it that broke my glasses. Eleven stitches later and a face like Frankenstein, all plans had to be put on hold. 

It reminded me of the Christian couple who finally got the chance to go somewhere a little exotic for their holiday, but one of them ended up sick the whole two weeks. Or the Christian couple that finally decided to try investing their savings, but lost over half their money in a Ponzi scheme. 

But that’s life on this side of death. It would be nice to know if the sufferings we go through, therefore, have some kind of purpose. It’s not as if we’re being persecuted or suffering because of our Christian beliefs. Instead, our suffering can often lead to being less effective as Christians, because an injury or an accident or a loss of income mean we’re out of action for a while and we’re unable to serve. So why on earth would God allow that to happen? 

Is it, or was it, to punish us or make us pay for bad choices in the past, or to point out something we’re lacking? But I remember one lady who opened up her house every week for a home church study and a table full of goodies to eat, and we ended up with twenty-five people in attendance, including a baby placed in the centre of the table we were studying at. It was like a grand family get together and it was growing, but then she became very sick, bedridden and she could only communicate by pointing to letters of the alphabet on a card. But amazingly, she was totally at peace, and even with splitting headaches too. 

I simply had to know from her how she could be at peace in such a disappointing and excruciatingly painful situation, not only physically but also in the shattering of her dream to provide a happy place for fellow Christians to learn and grow together. So one day I sat beside her bed and asked her. I held the alphabet card while she pointed to the letters, J,e,s,u,s., and that was it. 

I was in no condition at the time to know what she meant by that, until I was working my way through Hebrews a long time later and up popped four words in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus” – just like she did.  

In what way do we see him, though? Well, in him living the same kind of life and disappointment that we go through (verse 14). He preached his heart out, spreading hope and the good news that he’d been sent to prepare us humans for eternal life – and giving us a chance to taste it during our lifetimes now too. But who listened? A few people did, but most rejected him and believed lies about him spread by the leading religious folk. And it wasn’t just his face that was injured, it was his entire body.

So why did God allow that to happen? Because it was the perfect training for him as a high priest, the primary part of that training being trusting God no matter what happened to him (Hebrews 5:7). It was the toughest thing to do, because surely there had to be a better way than what looked like unnecessary suffering, or suffering with no obvious purpose to it. But that’s how God had set things up (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-10). 

And that’s how God set things up for us too, in our training as priests to work alongside Jesus. We too learn to be gentle with others like he was (Hebrews 5:2), by facing situations we cannot see the purpose of, but trusting God that it somehow fits in with our training too, the proof of which is receiving from him a “peace that transcends all understanding,” that also “guards our hearts and minds” from the temptation to just give up, Philippians 4:7. Jesus as a human received that help from God (Hebrews 5:7), so do we. 

Can I be at peace with a smashed up face, then – and when life isn’t working out the way I hoped or wanted? Scripture says, “Yes,” and it explains how and why too. 

Detecting Jesus “being a blessing” in our own experience

Following on from the last blog as to why Jesus is a blessing, Peter boils it down to Acts 3:26 and the reason “God raised up (resurrected) his servant,” which was (and is) “to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

So the reason Jesus was resurrected is very much something we experience personally, it’s very much meant to be a blessing, and it very much involves a noticeable transformation in who we are. So it should be easy for us to detect all three – but even more so with the help of what happened in Ephesus in Acts 19. 

Because when Paul arrived in Ephesus in Acts 19, it was to a city heavily influenced by evil spirits (verse 12). So how could God “bless” people in such a city and turn them from their wicked ways?  

Well, first of all, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” in verse 11, which included dislodging the “evil spirits” that inhabited people (verse 12). When other Jews tried to cast out demonic spirits too, but couldn’t (verses 13-16), people were “seized with fear” and “held the name of the Lord Jesus in high honour,” verse 17, to the point of “openly confessing their evil deeds,” verse 18.

So here’s a city dripping with evil spirits and evil deeds, but in Acts 19:18 people are already confessing their “wicked ways,” and in verse 19 they’re even burning their sorcerers’ scrolls in a massive public bonfire. So, owning up to evil’s influence and turning from it, even in such an evil city as Ephesus, is possible – thanks to the resurrected Jesus doing what God sent him to do.  

But it’s in the book of Ephesians by Paul that we get to see the blessings that come from Jesus turning people from their wicked ways – real examples, in other words, that we can expect to happen to us too. 

We see God as “kind,” for instance, in Ephesians 2:7. What an easy but remarkable change that is to detect, especially when compared to our view of God before Jesus got to work on us. Now we see God as a loving, big-hearted and affectionate Being we can “approach with freedom and confidence,” Ephesians 3:12.  

And instead of seeing people as enemies, we are freed from that evil too, just like the Jews and Gentiles had their enmity stripped away in Ephesians 2:11-19. We actually find ourselves happy being “completely humble, gentle, patient, and bearing with one another in love,” Ephesians 4:2. And being “kind, compassionate and forgiving each other” in verse 32 as well, rather than being eaten up with the evils of “bitterness, rage, anger and malice” (verse 31). 

These are easily detectable differences that prove Jesus is on the job turning us away from our old wicked ways, just as “building others up according to their needs” in verse 29 is, and so is our revulsion of “obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking” in Ephesians 5:4, or being addicted to “greed” (verse 3) and getting drunk (verse 18). 

What maybe appealed to us before, but did no one any good, including ourselves, we now find we have no love for. What we find instead is our love growing for our mates and wanting the best for them (5:25-29), and for our children (6:4), and for those we work for or employ (6:5-9).   

And when personally overwhelmed by the world in which we live we reach for the armour and protection God has provided for us – as described by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-17 – to remain positive, hopeful and encouraged, rather than try to fight through our problems ourselves. 

These all make “Jesus being a blessing” in our own experience easy to detect, and they also prove it’s true that Acts 3:26 is very much something we experience personally, it’s very much meant to be a blessing, and it very much involves a noticeable transformation in who we are.

WHY is Jesus such a blessing?

Following on from the last blog as to how people who reject Jesus come to see him as a blessing, Acts Chapter 3 explains WHY Jesus is a blessing. 

Acts 3 had to wait to be written until after Jesus was resurrected, however, because it’s his resurrection that opened the windows wide to seeing why he’s such a blessing. And it all began with a healing.  

Take into account that everything from this point on would be new and never experienced before. An entirely new world was opening up, which for people back then must have been hard to come to terms with. But reading Acts 3 maybe it’s just as hard for us, because everything we go through on entering this new world is new and different for us too. But it’s meant to be experienced personally so that we too can see for ourselves why Jesus is such a blessing.

And it goes back to that healing in verse 2, of “a man crippled from birth” who’d been carried to the same spot he’d occupied “every day” to “beg (for money) from those going into the temple courts.” But when he asked Peter and John for money he got the surprise of his life, because instead of money he was told, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk,” and “instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong” – enough for him to jump to his feet and leap around (verses 6-8). 

But when people “were astonished” when they saw this familiar figure leaping around, Peter asked them, “Why does this surprise you?” – which seems like an odd question to ask when faced with such an amazing and obvious miracle. But it shouldn’t have been surprising, because this was  proof, verse 18, that “God had fulfilled what he’d foretold through all the prophets”  – the same prophets these Jews had heard from in the synagogues all their lives – about the great “times of refreshing” that would “come from the Lord,” verse 19.

And how would these great times of refreshing happen? Through God “sending the Christ (the promised Messiah), who has been appointed to you – even Jesus,” verse 20.   

You mean, because of Jesus the times of refreshing had already begun? Begun, yes, because, as Peter immediately adds, “Jesus must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything as he promised long ago through his holy prophets,” verse 21. So this amazing healing of the cripple wasn’t the sign of the total restoration of all things yet, but it was the starting pistol setting off what “all the prophets from Samuel on” had foretold (verse 24). These Jews could now read what those prophets wrote and realize their words were already in operation in their own lifetimes, thanks to Jesus being resurrected. 

And did that mean the marvellous prophecy God told Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed,” had also begun, then (verse 25)? Yes, the healing of the cripple being the proof of it. It was done in Jesus’ name, so Jesus was the bullet in the pistol that fired off that blessing too. So these Jews were now living in the time when they could see for themselves what that blessing to Abraham would look like.

And what it would look like is in the last verse in Acts 3: “When God raised up his servant” – when Jesus was resurrected, in other words – God’s purpose in sending him from this point on was “to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways,” starting with the Jews but extending to everyone else too. 

So this was how the great blessing to Abraham and the restoration of all things would happen, by a great healing, pictured by the crippled beggar, from everything that evil has crippled us with. It is now Jesus’ job to scour out every bit of evil that has infected this world, and each of us personally.

And this is why Jesus is such a blessing, because our history and our own experience has proved beyond any shadow of doubt that we cannot scour out this evil ourselves. Until Jesus was resurrected we were lumped with evil, suffocated by it, unable to ever subdue it. But now we can experience in the most personal terms being healed of evil’s effects and influence by the resurrected Jesus. 

The restoration of all things began, then, with the miraculous healing of a cripple, but it continues every day with the miraculous healing of us cripples too.    

How do those who reject Jesus come to see him as a blessing?

Following on from the last blog, and the need for those who rejected Jesus the first time he came to realizing he is, in fact, the greatest blessing they could possibly have so that the next time he comes they totally welcome him rather than reject him, how do they reach that point

How do any of us reach that point for that matter? From either not knowing about Jesus at all, or not wanting to know anything about him – and for some even hating the mention of his name – what creates that change of heart toward him? 

Paul, for instance, wanted to wipe Christianity out. He admitted to being “the worst of sinners,” because of his outright blasphemy and violent persecution of Christians (1 Timothy 1:13 and 16). Could you find a more evil man in all human history so deserving of eternal torment in hell than Paul? No? Good, because he now becomes the perfect example of someone who can and did reach that point of seeing Jesus as a blessing, and not an object to hate.

So what happened to get Paul to that point? Fortunately, Paul himself answers that for us. First and foremost, verse 13, “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” It was mercy based on Luke 23:34 when Jesus, hanging on the cross, asked his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Paul was just such a person. He had no idea he was venting his fury on Jesus when making life hell for Christians. And even if someone had told him that’s what he was doing he wouldn’t have believed it. “Ignorance and unbelief” on his own admission had blinded Paul to any acceptance of personal blame for his actions, or that he was committing a hate crime against his Creator. 

But that made him into the perfect explanation for what, at heart and core, Jesus came for and longs for. Jesus “came into the world to save sinners,” 1 Timothy 1:15. That does not take away from, or dilute, the clear fact that Jesus fully accepted we humans deserve hell and destruction (Romans 9:22) and that justice demands no sin goes unpunished (Romans 3:25), but his Father had sent him to save us, not condemn us (John 3:17). And being his Father’s beloved Son he shared his Father’s desire, 1 Timothy 1:14, to pour out his grace abundantly by filling Paul with faith and love. And this is what transformed Paul from rejecting Jesus to seeing Jesus as a great blessing. It was, and could only be, by God’s doing.

But is that fair that God did that for Paul but not for others who reject Jesus and deserve hell? But God’s reason for it was to set Paul up as an example, or better put a gigantic billboard, that Jesus’ patience is “unlimited,” verse 16, a point well worth noting for those who believe God has a ‘deadline’ for sinners to repent, or else. 

Because why else would someone come round to seeing Jesus as a blessing? Why would anyone contemplating “believing on Jesus and receiving eternal life,” verse 16, follow that up if all they see and hear of Jesus are his dire threats to the religious and political leaders of his day, and not what he did for Paul, the very “worst” of them? 

That’s why it’s so important that we give a full and clear description of Jesus, that he’s all for justice, oh yes, but all for mercy too. He is his Father’s Son, sent by the Father to demonstrate and reveal God’s undying love for humanity. How? Through the worst and biggest monster of all time, Paul, who would have destroyed Christianity in its infancy if given the chance to. 

And in seeing that, with God’s help, it dawns on people, buried in their ignorance and unbelief, that there really is a living Being above all this mess who loves us that much. He may be invisible to us, yes, verse 17, but he also makes himself real through the faith and love he fills us with for his Son, so that we can truly see him as the greatest blessing ever bestowed on us humans.  

Are evil people destroyed (or in hell) forever?

In my last blog is God’s promise that all evil will be destroyed and “no sinner will be allowed in the assembly of the righteous.” So, what happens to those who persist in their evil ways, and refuse to change? 

Jesus talked about people like that. They were mainly the rich and powerful in Matthew 19:23-24, but they were also the political and religious leaders in Matthew 23 who loved their status and power over people (verses 6-7), but cared nothing for them (verse 4). They also expected everyone to obey their rules and regulations, but they didn’t obey those rules themselves (verse 3). 

Jesus had strong words for such people. He called them “sons of hell” (verse 15), “blind fools” (verse 17), and “whitewashed tombs” (verse 27). They were “full of greed and self-indulgence” (verse 25), and such “snakes” and “vipers” that it raised the question in Jesus’ mind, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” verse 33.

And Jesus wasn’t finished with his scathing criticism either, because in the next chapter, Matthew 24, he tells the story of the master (of a servant he’d trusted to look after his household while he was away) “returning on a day when the servant didn’t expect him” and finding the servant drunk (verses 48-50). The master is so angry he’ll “cut that servant in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” verse 51. And there’s no guessing who the “master” is here. So, again, these are very strong words from Jesus’ own mouth about people he considers worthy of hell

And he still hasn’t finished, because in Matthew 25 he also talks about “throwing worthless servants into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” verse 30, and others suffering “eternal punishment,” verse 46

So in answering the question, “Are evil people destroyed (or in hell) forever?” – in Jesus’ own words it sounds like it. In which case, how did he tie that in with his ministry of “proclaiming the good news of God” in Mark 1:14? Where’s the good news in condemning people to agony in a hellish darkness, or in cutting people in pieces? And what does it say about Jesus himself too?

For some people it might say great things about Jesus, because he gets rid of people who thoroughly deserve hell. But should that not include us too, for “we are ALL falling short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23? “Where, then, is boasting (for any of us)? It is excluded,” verse 27. When it comes to justice based on our thoughts and actions, no one is ruled out (Luke 12:2-3 + 8:17).

But for those hypocrites in Jesus’ day was that the end of the line? Had they gone too far, no more chances, and it was either hell or destruction forever for them? 

Well, back in Matthew 23 where Jesus asks, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” – it sounds like it is either eternal hell or destruction for them, because he also tells them in verse 38, “your house is left to you desolate.” There is is nothing left but ruins – demolished and wiped out, and all memory of their rotten lives erased.  

But then, amazingly, tucked away in verse 39, Jesus leaves a tiny crack open, for he also says, “you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

But that involves a person moving from rejecting Jesus to seeing him as a blessing, and how does that happen? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it, so what’s the answer?…

“Baptism with fire” sounds ominous…

Having written about “trials by fire” in my last blog it reminded me that we’re also “baptized with fire” according to John the Baptist in Luke 3:16. And how ominous does that sound?

But to John it was “good news,” verse 18. So being baptized with fire isn’t ominous, it’s good. But how?

In context John connects baptism with fire to Jesus having a “winnowing fork in his hand to clear his threshing floor,” verse 17. Winnowing follows threshing. Threshing – or the flailing of grain – separates the grain from its inedible covering or husk. Winnowing then gets rid of the husks, so you’re left with just the edible seed.  

Winnowing involves wind. Fortunately, the husk of a seed is lighter in weight than the seed, so wind can separate the two, by throwing the combined seeds and husks up in the air with a winnowing (or pitch) fork, or dropping them from a height in a wind, or today by forced air fans. 

Jesus enters this picture at the winnowing stage, to illustrate what he’d be doing after John the Baptist’s work was done. Jesus is the pitch forker chucking the seeds and husks in the air, while the wind, presumably the Holy Spirit “wind” (John 3:8), blows away the husks. What’s left is the good and useful bit of the grain that can be ground into flour. 

So far, so good. But it’s what happens to the husks (or “chaff”) in Luke 3 that sounds ominous, because Jesus will “burn them up with unquenchable fire,” which harks back to verse 9 when John says, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire,” thereby associating “fire” with destruction, and clearly referring to the destruction of people (verses 7-8).

But why would Jesus want the chaff husks burnt with “unquenchable fire”? Well, that harks back to Psalm 1:4-5, that the wicked “are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous,” totally assuring us in verse 6 that “the way of the wicked will perish.” 

It simply won’t exist anymore. So all those evil people, who think they’re invincible and untouchable in their protected castles of power and control, need to take note – that Jesus is an “unquenchable fire” in his insatiable desire to rid this world of evil once and for all.

Jesus is going to reduce all evil to ashes, so it has no power whatsoever. Evil is not indestructible, which it seems to be in this world, where evil people so often get away with their evil. But Jesus assures us that no sinner is indestructible. And it’s a total lie by Satan that “You shall not die if you disobey God” – meaning “You can get away with it” – because no one will. 

“Unquenchable,” therefore, means Jesus won’t stop until all evil in every symptom and cause is removed and full justice is done. Nothing will be allowed to fester or simmer below the surface. God’s allowed evil to exist, yes, but in Acts 17:30, Paul tells us that “In the past God overlooked ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed,” and he’s “given proof of it,” verse 31, “by raising him from the dead.” 

No wonder John the Baptist said a baptism with fire was “good news,” and especially for those who feel powerless against evil, because in the coming of Jesus is the promise that one day evil will have no power at all. It will be baptized with fire, burnt to a crisp, and real, true, beautiful justice will prevail for all. 

When even Paul hit the wall…

Following on from the last blog about keeping calm and carrying on, there were other times in Paul’s life when God did not say to Paul what he said in Acts 18:9, and Paul went through excruciating suffering of mind – and body. 

Paul gave us a list of his “troubles, hardships and distresses” too, in 2 Corinthian 6:5-10, which included “beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, and being regarded as an impostor (a fake).” It seemed the whole world was against him, which he expressed two chapters earlier, about him and those with him being “hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down,” and it never seemed to end. 

He was also “given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me” in 2 Corinthians 12:7, which clearly bothered him terribly, but God did not stop it or remove it (verse 8). Put all that lot together and it’s not surprising there came a point when Paul hit the wall, and he came to the end of his rope. 

Mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually he was shot, and no way could he “Keep calm and carry on.” Or, as he expressed it in 2 Corinthians 1:8, the hardships he and his companions suffered were so stressful they were “far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” Today we’d likely call that suicidal, or at best a “major depressive disorder.” Either way, deep down Paul had had it. He was done: “In our hearts we felt the sentence of death,” verse 9.

We know God had his reasons for allowing all these things to happen to Paul, like teaching him and his companions “not to rely on themselves but on God” (verse 9), and that the “all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” 2 Corinthians 4:7, and in 2 Corinthians 12:7 it was to “keep me (personally) from becoming conceited” because of the “great revelations” God had been giving him. But that doesn’t sugar coat a clear fact we face as Christians, that life now can be tough to the point we can hit a wall too. We can’t just stay calm and carry on. We’ve had it, and we can’t take any more. 

I remember saying exactly that to my Doctor when I’d hit the wall too. His advice was to “walk through it,” which has proved helpful, but I’d rather hear it from my spiritual Doc, the Holy Spirit. And true to him being our Comforter he tells us, “for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials,” 1 Peter 1:6, so at least we have someone “up there” who truly understands what we go through, and he also gives us the reason for it. It’s “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold” is being “refined by fire,” so that what we’re left with is “proved genuine and results in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed,” verse 7.  

Genuine means it’s real. We’ve reached the point of God being so real that we really do trust him no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. But how do we reach that point? According to Paul, who must’ve known this from his considerable experience in suffering, it comes from “in everything  by prayer and petitions, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” Philippians 4:6. We can do that legitimately, which is where the “thanksgiving” part comes in, that we really can take “everything” we’re anxious and worried about to God, because how else will he become real? 

That’s our bit in the process, but God then responds too, because in verse 7, “the peace of God, which transcends (our) understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In other words, he’ll enable us to “Keep calm and carry on,” just as he did Paul. Despite the constant battering Paul got he was never “crushed,” nor did his “despair” and endless persecution leave him permanently scarred or feeling abandoned (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

So God may not actually speak to us to “Keep calm and carry on” like he did with Paul, but he’ll prove it instead through our experience.  

Keep calm and carry on

On a search for the origin of Keep calm and carry on I found this longer version of it, that “Keep Calm” meant, “We may be suffering something of an invasion at the moment, but that’s no reason to start acting in a rash and hot-headed manner. We may be a subjugated nation but we are not about to start acting like savages.”

And the “Carry on” bit meant, “As a nation, we’ve been trained to look past the bad behaviour of our rudest guests, especially the uninvited ones, and rather than cause a scene, we shall just go about our daily business as if nothing has happened.”

It’s a little difficult fitting all that on a cup or poster, but it easily fits in a scared mind. Which reminded me that it was God who came up with the “Keep calm and carry on” message first, for a very scared man called Paul nineteen hundred years earlier. 

The circumstances were a little different, in that Paul wasn’t facing an invasion of planes with bombs intent on blowing up British cities and killing thousands of civilians, but he was being faced with the threat of “subjugation” by the “bad behaviour” of some very rude people. 

And all he was trying to do was prove from Scripture to his fellow countryfolk “that Jesus was the Christ (Messiah),” which was the best news they’d heard after hundreds of years of hoping for the Messiah’s arrival. But, as Acts 18:6 continues, “the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive.” 

In ‘Greek speak’ the word abusive in that verse means “blasphemous,” meaning totally disrespectful of God, even to the use of profanity. It was total madness, because these people weren’t even interested in the facts of their own history or the marvellous prophecies of what the Messiah would do, repeated dozens of times in their scriptures. 

It was scary stuff, because it was they who were now “acting like savages.” And in their own minds they’d justified it too. They felt totally free, therefore, to slander, censure, condemn and stigmatize Paul as a law-despising enemy undermining the very fabric of their culture (verse 13).

So Paul knew he was in deep trouble, because there was no reasoning with them. In their state of mind these people would stop at nothing to have him silenced, and only that would do. 

But, fortunately, God knew. He also knew that Paul, stalwart fellow that he was, having been beaten up and abused by mad crowds before, was really scared this time. There was something more going on, more sinister, more evil, more twisted, more unrelenting, and more hateful – and from his own countryfolk too. It was like men and women who’d been friends for years turning on each other in unbelievable savagery in times of war. 

So, “One night,” verse 9, “the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision” – like a dream, perhaps? Whatever it was, the message was clear: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.” In other words, “Keep calm and carry on.” Don’t, as the longer version of it stated at the beginning of this article, “start acting in a rash and hot-headed manner,” but rather “go about your daily business as if nothing has happened.” 

And the reason for God saying that was because “I have many people in this city,” verse 10, who desperately needed such a man as Paul to get that message about Jesus across loud and clear. Because Jesus being the Messiah and fulfillment of every good news prophecy in the Old Testament is our only hope of a better world, free from the mass formation hypnosis caused by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4), free from corrupt and emperor-seeking politicians, and free from our own culture-tainted minds (Romans 12:2). 

Above, and yet with us in this mess of ours, is Jesus, sent by God to save this world, so any corrections that need to be done, he will do them. 

All good reasons for us to “Keep calm and…..” 

Respecting our differences

Following up on the last blog about the Holy Spirit being our guide as Christians, Romans 14:23 seems to be saying we should be following our conscience too, because “everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Or, as the New Living Translation phrases it, “If you do anything you (personally) believe is not right, you are sinning.” 

Are we only good Christians, then, if we do what we, personally, believe in? But if what we believe in is (or has been) heavily influenced by what our conscience for years in the past has interpreted as right or wrong, what then?   

What if, for example, it’s stuck in our heads as Christians because of our background or upbringing that we should “only eat vegetables” and never eat meat (Romans 14:2 and 6), or that we feel some days are more “special” or “sacred than others” (verses 5 and 6), or that we shouldn’t “drink wine” (verse 21)? Are these conscience issues that we had better follow, and we’re sinning if we don’t?

Or what if we were brought up in a Muslim or Jewish household that thinks of pigs as “unclean” or filthy animals that God never meant us to eat? Or that eating “food offered to idols” (1 Corinthians 8:4) – or eating processed junk food in our terms today – is totally wrong, or that Saturday or Sunday should be observed as “holy Sabbath” days? Should we persist in these habits as Christians because we feel they might “weaken” and “defile” our conscience if we don’t (1 Corinthians 8:7)? 

On the other hand, does sticking to these habits show “our faith is weak,” compared to the faith of those who can kick these habits and be free of them, Romans 14:2

But if a person can’t kick these habits because he’s “fully convinced in his own mind” they’re the right thing to do in God’s sight, verse 5, and he’s doing them “to the Lord, giving thanks to him,” verse 6, and therefore, as Paul says, “God has accepted him” in verse 3, it means we’re now stuck with fellow Christians who may have vastly different or even totally opposite views, so how on earth can we keep the peace between us, or even relate to each other at all?  

And what a question that is, and especially in a pandemic too, when some Christians strongly believe in God’s sight that they should be vaccinated, but others just as strongly believe in God’s sight that they shouldn’t be.   

Paul’s answer is simple: respect our differences. And he says it in several ways too, like not “passing judgment on each other” (verses 1 and 13), not “looking down” on each other (verses 3 and 10), not “putting any stumbling block or obstacle in our brother’s way” (verse 13), and not “distressing” a fellow Christian by pushing what we believe as “good” and what he believes as “evil” (verse 16), because if that’s what we’re doing we’re “no longer acting in love” (verse 15), and we could even be “destroying the work of God” in a fellow Christian’s life too (verse 20). 

And Paul offers some pretty compelling reasons for stepping carefully too, like “Who are we to judge” a fellow Christian as being out to lunch in what he believes or burdening himself with unnecessary and silly obligations, when “the Lord is (fully) able to make him stand” (verse 4)? And even if he dies because of his beliefs, “whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (verse 8), which is why “Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (verse 9). Jesus can sort anyone’s life out, so that we can “ all stand before God’s judgment seat” to “give an account of ourselves to him” without worry (verse 12).

On the other hand, Paul did express his own belief when he said “I’m fully convinced no food is unclean of itself” (verse 14) and “all food is clean” (verse 20), making room for discussion and reasoning together. But if there’s any hint of sensitivity on a subject that might unsettle someone it’s better to “keep what you believe between yourself and God” (verse 22). 

Because the kingdom of God we’re all part of is about “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (verse 17),” and “anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men (creating good relationships).”   

Hopefully, then, these tricky differences between us can actually build our love for each other, making us a wonderful example in a world where differences can be so destructive.