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Monday, April 23, 2007

God is sovereign at Virginia Tech

I preached this as a sermon March 22nd, 2006 to group of high school kids and young adults. Truth be told I was emerging from the most testing experience of my life. As I am preparing a short post on my thoughts regarding the VT massacre last week, this sermon came to mind. It is NOT a comprehensive treatise on the subject. Nor is the prose as clear and ordered as I'd like. In fact, it is mostly just a slightly fleshed out outline that I’ve slightly edited for blogging format. Regardless, I believe what I write here is true, as opposed to the religious escapism offered by much of evangelicalism. My desire is to foster a stalwart hope in the immutable purposes of God.

How Do We Respond When Life Hurts?

Life hurts. Sometimes it hurts so badly it overwhelms everything else. Physical pain manifests in the way of disease and sickness, natural disasters and accidents. And the thing is oftentimes it is the “innocent” who suffer most. Emotional pain is something that everybody lives with in varying degrees. Really this is the pain we hate the most. Probably the biggest bringer of emotional pain in American culture today is the impact of divorce on the family. To many kids get caught between feuding people unable to endure their commitment. When someone dies we feel pain- that sense of loss that perhaps a life that we needed (like a parent) or that we loved (like a child or friend) is gone. Suffering is real and it manifests in a variety of forms. Here is an example of evil that results in suffering, one that I pulled fresh off the internet this afternoon.

N.Korean defector says disabled newborns are killed
By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has no people with physical disabilities because they are killed almost as soon as they are born, a physician who defected from the communist state said on Wednesday.
Ri Kwang-chol, who fled to the South last year, told a forum of rights activists that the practice of killing newborns was widespread but denied he himself took part in it.
"There are no people with physical defects in North Korea," Ri told members of the New Right Union, which groups local activists and North Korean refugees.
He said babies born with physical disabilities were killed in infancy in hospitals or in homes and were quickly buried.
The practice is encouraged by the state, Ri said, as a way of purifying the masses and eliminating people who might be considered "different."
The group urged the South Korean government to change course away from "silent diplomacy" and immediately begin taking action to pressure the North to improve its human rights record.
The South Korean government has refused to join international condemnation of human rights abuses in the North out of concern that such a move could rattle ties with Pyongyang, which considers any criticism of its human rights as deeply offensive.
"The government should stop trying to avoid upsetting Kim Jong-il," said another defector, Kim Young-sun, 67, referring to the North Korean leader. "It should try to upset Kim Jong-il," she said, adding it would be the best way to change the North.
Kim Young-sun is a survivor of the North's Yodok prison camp, notorious for its forced labor and life-sentences for people charged with conspiring against the Kim Jong-il leadership.
Mun Hyon-ok said women from her hometown in the northern region of North Korea bordering China were taken by a ring of human traffickers and probably ended up in China.
"And there are women who are selling themselves for a handful of rice," she told the forum.
North Korea has called itself a people's paradise and said criticism of its human rights was motivated by a goal of toppling the leadership of Kim Jong-il.
South Korea has come under fire from human rights groups and some countries for abstaining in votes on U.N. measures to condemn the North's human rights record.

This is taking place today, in our world.

So we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation. Here we are as Christians bringing forth a message of hope and salvation, yet so many people have a hard time seeing the possibility of God through the mire of their own strife. In fact, the most common argument for atheism and against Christianity and a belief in God in general is the problem of pain. The atheist says, “The world is full of pain and suffering, either God is an evil torturer, or He doesn’t exist.”

We must be ready to answer that. We can’t blame the devil; and we can’t blame each other, because ultimately God has created this universe. To suggest that human freedom or the devils schemes are the ultimate cause of suffering is to usurp God of his authority as God. It is to say that the universe is chaotic and out of control, and all he can do is react and try and fix it. We cannot allow such a belittling doctrine of God to take root in our hearts for this is not who the Bible says God is. God is unchanging, all-knowing, all-powerful, wise, just, loving and good. Therefore, we must search the scriptures and see how these attributes of God are to be reconciled with the reality of the universe that objectively brings misery into people’s lives seemingly without discrimination.

To understand suffering Biblically is to undergo an entire shift in attitude. It is to recognize one's self as a small and humble, and recognize that God’s main purpose in creating is to demonstrate the fullest measure of his glory. We must realize that the Gospel message does not just save our souls, but it saves our minds, bringing us to right understanding of God and his plan for human history.

Suffering is purposed by God
In one of his famous WWII radio addresses to the British people, C.S. Lewis said the following “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This is not a concept that Prof. Lewis invented independent of orthodoxy. Scripture teaches that God decrees the evil acts of man and the calamities of the natural world to accomplish his purposes, namely, that his glory might be known.

In Isaiah 45:6-8, God speaks. “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none beside me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

The Apostle Paul articulated this reality well. In Romans 9:17, he explains that God hardened the heart of Pharoah against the people of Israel, writing “For the very purpose I have raised you up, that I might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

The Cross: Climax of Human History
The mind should marvel at the reality that all of human history is an epic story God has written with purposed intent, namely the magnification his glory. The crucifixion of “God with us” is the central theme and climax of existence itself. The cross is where the magnitude of God’s righteousness poured out wrath and burning hatred on sin, and the infinite depth of his mercy and loving kindness for his people, culminated simultaneously for the purpose of the praise of his glory. Jesus nailed to the cross is in the most evil act in the history of the world, yet it was God’s ultimate goal decreed in eternity past. What man had intended for evil, God intended for good.

Isaiah 46:81-13 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed and I will do it. Listen to me, you of stubborn heart, you who are far from righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

The Suffering Christian: Discipline for the one God loves
God disciplines those whom he loves, so sometimes he is using suffering to get our attention back on him when it isn’t. He molds us and shapes us into the likeness of Christ with the events of our life.

Hebrews 12:5-6 “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Romans 5:3-5 teaches that suffering is to be celebrated as a joyful thing. Why? Because, God in his love disciplines us for our sanctification; in Phippians Paul reminds us that we “have been granted for Christ’s sake… to suffer.” From this suffering three things derive that are essential for a Christ exalting life unto the glory of God.

Perserverence. Or, the steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness. When God stretches our faith to the breaking point, the result is a greater capacity to endure.

Proven Character. Or, the experience of being tested and approved. When we respond to trials with persevervence it demonstrates the surety of salvation in Christ, for how we respond to trials proves that (in Christ) we have the strength to endure.

Hope. Or, the Christ exalting confidence that God is in ultimate control. He is working out his perfect plan despite circumstances that throw our lives into perceived chaos. This is why faith is “the assurance of things hoped for.”

In Summation
The Westminster Confession states, “The chief end of man is to love God and enjoy him forever.” I’ve heard it said that the most righteous deed in this life is to value most that which is most valuable. It should be obvious therefore, that anything that would deliver us from crippling idolatry and free us from self occupied myopia, drive us to our knees and focus us on the glory of God himself, is to be embraced and proclaimed. We must reckon the suffering and evil in this world for what is- the working out of God’s purposes for his glory and our joy.

“Momentary, light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” II Corinthians 4:17-18

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