Luke 12:4-7 The Sovereignty of God, and Hearing the Master’s Voice

10 04 2013

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(Jesus said:) “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”- Luke 12:4-7 (NRSV)

Today I was reminded in a deep and touching way, that God is in control.

Lately I’ve been been challenged by a number of things, the combination of which caused me to go back into panic/anxiety mode for several days.  Most of my life, especially in childhood, I have lived with deep and pervasive fear and anxiety.  I am prone to panic attacks, as well as I’ve had three episodes of major depression.  When I’m entrenched in anxiety, or despondent about my circumstances, it’s really hard to stay encouraged.   It’s especially difficult for me to know that God has a purpose for me and cares about my life when external circumstances act as a spark to light up my vulnerabilities to anxiety and depression.

There are people who will say, “How can you be a Christian and be depressed, or have panic attacks?” I want to answer back, “How can someone be a Christian and get heart disease, or get a broken leg or a case of pneumonia?”  We know that Christians suffer illness just as others in the world do.  Illness, be it a visible, physical illness or mental illness, which is harder to quantify, is part of the human condition.  Even the Apostle Paul had a “thorn in his side”- some sort of ailment or suffering, that he prayed would be taken away, and God’s answer was no.   God heals some believers’ illnesses in this physical body, but not others.  I don’t claim to understand why some people are healed and other people have to deal with the thorn.

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Is it prudent or consistent with a Christian witness to tell someone with an illness that they wouldn’t be ill if they just had more faith?

What I think Jesus is emphasizing here is that physical or mental anguish are not the worst possible things that can happen to a person.  There is an end to physical suffering and mental anguish in this life, if only because this life is temporary, though I’ll be quick to point out that temporary does not imply meaningless.  This temporary existence is important.  It is in this temporary existence that we start to get to serve and get to know and trust God.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. Psalm 139:16 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;  for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 (NRSV)

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I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to go to the indoor pool at the “Y” for the past few months.  I usually go a few times a week, early in the morning, to swim laps and to do exercise that increases my mobility and strength without tearing up my joints.  I’ve never been a sports fan or a particularly athletic type.   When I was a child I had rheumatic fever, and I was forbidden from playing any sort of sports, even had I been coordinated enough to play them.  I have slight damage to two heart valves as well as severe degenerative joint disease from it.  I still need exercise, but with the joint damage, working out is a bit of a challenge for me.  I don’t mind the pool though.  I can get a very thorough workout and I get some blessed quiet mental time with that workout as well.

When I was leaving and heading back to the car, I looked up to the sky and was treated to a majestic sunrise, complete with a few lingering stars, and living, dancing cloud formations.  I remembered Psalm 19:1 – “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

I don’t have the answers for illness and tragedy and suffering any more than Job or Paul did.  Though other believers may disagree with me on this, I do believe that God has a purpose in suffering, although I admit I don’t understand the why of suffering, and I don’t know what the purpose of suffering is.  Theologians and higher minds than mine have discoursed for centuries on whether or not God causes suffering, allows it to happen, or if it’s completely a result of human rebellion and sin.  My take on it is that if God is omnipotent and omnipresent- and if He is not omnipresent and omnipotent, then how can He be God?- then He has to be in suffering, and have a purpose in suffering as well as in everything else, which is hard for some people to accept, and an idea that many reject entirely.

All that I can know right now is that God is not only with us in the suffering of this life, but He is also with us beyond that suffering, and for now that understanding has to be enough.





Proverbs 28:14 The (Reverent) Fear of God, and a Heart of Flesh

8 04 2013

Banner red hearts-heart of worship

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:14 (AMP)

Fear is generally a negative concept for me, so as I was drawn to the second part of this verse (“he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity”) I wondered why (in the NRSV translation, which is the one that my church generally uses,) the first part of this verse reads, “Happy is the one who is never without fear.”

Say what?  How many times are we told in Scripture, “Be not afraid?”  The other thought that crossed my mind, was that if fear makes you happy, then I should be the most elated woman on earth.

This is one reason why I do eventually want to learn Hebrew and Greek, so that I can read the words from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  But even if I were to start my education in the Hebrew language today, it’s going to take awhile before I learn what the letters and phrases really mean (denotations as well as connotations.)  So when one Biblical translation doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t clear, I like to try some different ones.  The Amplified Bible that I quoted above can be a bit cumbersome to read, and in that translation one can lose the poetic literary feel of Scripture, but it does draw out and clarify seemingly contradictory verses such as this one.  It is generally a good idea to look at a few different translations of confusing or seemingly contradictory verses:

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble. Proverbs 28:14 (NIV)

Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV)

A tenderhearted person lives a blessed life; a hardhearted person lives a hard life. Proverbs 28:14 (MSG)

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The fear of God is not the same thing as the pervasive anxiety that can and (sometimes does) paralyze me and keep me trapped in terror. I like the word “reverence,” because it does insist respect for God, but it doesn’t quite convey the same idea as when Isaiah fell flat on his face, exclaiming, “I am a man of unclean lips, because I have seen the Lord, God of Hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. Psalm 111:10 (NRSV) 

Here where the psalmist is speaking of the fear of the Lord, I can assume he’s talking about that reverent fear, the condition of putting God first before one’s own understanding and one’s own wants.

It is a good thing to be tenderhearted, but I don’t think that just being tenderhearted is the entire picture here either.  There are plenty of atheists, agnostics and humanists out there who are tenderhearted and will do anything to save the trees or save the bees, or “stop global warming,” or “end capital punishment,” and so on, but who do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  The Apostle Paul saw the humanists coming, and he gives us a warning about serving the creation versus the Creator:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”  Romans 1:18-25 (NRSV)

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The problem with just being tenderhearted, is that it matters what you’re tenderhearted toward.  It is good and right to be respectful of God’s creation and to be a good caretaker of the earth and of the blessings He has given us. God does reveal Himself to us in His creation.  That’s sort of His point toward the glory and beauty and majesty in nature and in all the wonders that can be observed in the cosmos.  He put that stuff there to point to Him!  But when the love of nature or the love of stuff, or the sovereignty of science become your god(s), and hedonism is your creed, there’s a problem.

Then there’s the person like me, who has (I hope) a healthy, reverent fear of God, but little to no natural tenderhearted tendencies.  (Empathy is not generally a strong trait in those on the autistic spectrum.) I’m wary.  I’m cynical.  I’ve been deeply wounded emotionally, and trusting people is next to impossible for me.  How am I supposed to have a tender heart- because I wasn’t really wired that way?

The sin of the Garden – the sin of the Fall- was the sin of wanting to be as God.  To see good and evil.  To hold the power of life and death.  To think that humanity has all of its own answers and fixes and solutions for everything.

The surrender in another Garden was the sacrifice of the Son of God- Who put aside the authority of His deity and took on human flesh, to die an ignominous death- to save both the unbelieving (but tenderhearted) hedonist, and the believing (though wounded and hard-hearted) runt kid nobody wanted.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

Lord, let it be so.  Give me a tender heart toward You and Your will, and eyes to see people as You do.