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063 God Does Produce Hardship

In past newsletters I have made a point of saying that one should never blame God for the disasters we see on our fallen planet. God is not the author of evil; He does not plan bone cancer in children, nor does He break the brake lines on long-haul trucks to cause major accidents, nor does He prompt politicians in City Hall to take bribes that pervert justice. Those things do happen among human beings, but God has decreed that what happens here on Earth will happen according to what humanity decrees, and He will go along with it. 

The heavens are YHWH's heavens,
but the earth he has given to the children of man. 
Psalm 115:16


(Note: where your Bible would say "LORD" in all uppercase, I substitute the divine name in English letters, "YHWH", because that's what the Hebrew text actually says.)

It turns out that He meant business when He said that, because humans chose to let lesser spirits into the mix, "demons...that they did not know" (Deuteronomy 32:17), and God (after warning us not to) accepted those human choices and let it happen. Those spirits introduced us to the horrible things that so badly mar human history--disease, famine, murder, war, and so forth. Those things are not God's fault, they're our fault; the demons do them, but we're the ones who empowered the demons. And their favorite game is to point at the evil things they do themselves and say, "See how angry and hurtful God is?" I've said several times, we need to be alert to that ploy, and not let them undermine our faith.

Now I'm going to mess with that a little. Sorry.

God's been talking to me about it in an uncomfortable way. Everything I just said, I believe; and yet, there are several places in scripture where the text says that God, Himself, is the author of some of the serious hardships that we face. We can't simply ignore those passages.

A few passages to consider:

First, after Moses offered God his fourth excuse for not wanting to do what He was calling him to do with the Israelites and the Egyptians, God responded to him, 

"The LORD said to him, 'Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, YHWH? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.'" Exodus 4:10-12

Next, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and introduced Himself to Cyrus, the king of Persia, and He said to him,

"I am YHWH, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am YHWH who does all these." Isaiah 45:6b-7

So YHWH makes men blind, deaf, and mute, and YHWH creates calamity. He apparently said so Himself, through Moses and Isaiah. 

Ouch.

Then we get to Isaiah 10. There, YHWH speaks of the King of Assyria as "the rod of My anger" that He sent "against a godless nation." It was YHWH who selected Assyria to punish Jerusalem for their apostasy. But Assyria was arrogant and decided to do more damage to Jerusalem than YHWH had commanded. So in verse 12, the prophet declares:

"When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes." Isaiah 10:12

Ponder that for a moment. God sent a conquering nation to do damage to Judah. That nation decided to do more damage than God intended, so God was going to punish that nation, too. Presumably, though, if they had done only moderate damage, God would have given them a thumbs-up, patted them on the back, said "Well done, my servant Assyria," and maybe even blessed them a little. 

Confused yet?

Life is hard, and it turns out that it was meant to be hard. "Hard" is how God teaches us. "Hard" is how God gets our attention and puts us into circumstances where we have to rely on His love and power--which is the only way that we end up bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God.

I don't disbelieve what I said when I started out; God is not the author of evil. But it turns out that "hard" or "painful" is not necessarily evil. We actually have to discern whether what we're experiencing comes from God or from somewhere else; it takes prayer and maturity. We get to choose how we're going to respond to hardship, and if we trust God in it and keep on obeying, He uses it to produce immensely good things that could be produced in no other way.

I've written about this before. If you want to, you can go back and review RfMemo #054 and RfMemo #055 (especially #055) in which I broke down the Parable of the Sower. There, I pointed out that we don't want God to leave us in the condition of soil that can't produce fruit when He plants His word in it--and that the alternative is to allow Him to plow, disk, and harrow the ground of our souls until we're able to receive the Word and produce a crop.

Paul, the Apostle, explained to the Corinthians that some of the hardship they experienced came from God because they were not "discerning the body" properly (see RfMemo #060, or read I Corinthians 11:27-32); but then he points out that God's discipline actually arises from His kindness and good intentions toward us:

...if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (I Corinthians 11:31-32)

God's goal is to change our conduct so we won't be condemned in the end. We should thank Him for that, even if--especially if--what we're experiencing hurts.

Hebrews 12:4-13 conveys the same message. So does Proverbs 3:11-12:

My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline
  or be weary of his reproof,
  for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
  as a father the son in whom he delights.


So, continue to believe that God does not create evil things. But when you run into difficulty, discern its source, and if it's from God, face it cheerfully, thankfully, and patiently. If it's not from God, rebuke it and pray against it, but also endure it faithfully until it goes away. Let God have access to your soul, so that He can correct it and enable you to bear fruit of the kingdom of God.

Hope that wasn't too confusing. I'll see you again in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, may God shower His favor on you.

.

Phil Weingart


PS: Don't forget to order your copy of my latest book, "The Rabbi on the Mount: How Jesus' Judaism Clarifies the Sermon on the Mount." It's exactly what the subtitle says, plus it's an excellent and accessible introduction to the Jewish thought that permeates the New Testament. Click on the image to visit Amazon dot com, where you can get the book in trade paperback or Kindle format.



Also, you can get my first book, "He's Greater Than You Know: Essays for a Doubting Christian" at Amazon also, in trade paperback or Kindle format. Again, click on the image to get to the Amazon display.



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