From Gray to Gold

You are the God who changes death’s cold gray
To life’s resplendent shades of greens and golds.
You are the God who overflows with day
And crushes night for those inside your fold.
You are the God who reaches down not shamed
To put a hand on broken sinners’ backs.
You are the God, despite your hallowed name,
Who condescends in light of desperate lack.
What joy is patiently afforded those
Who cling the more to God’s dear son revealed.
Ev’n when the heart is caught in death’s dark throes,
The promise rings of life and heart soon healed.
How great and kind and beautiful the God
Whose love spares not his harsh yet healing rod!

© 2011 Eric Evans

Lessons from Job, Part 4

If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series, you can read them here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). In Part 1 you’ll find an introduction to this series as well as a summary of the book of Job. Part 2 contains the first two lessons and Part 3 the following two.

Lesson 5: “What For?” is a Better Question than “Why?” When it Comes to Suffering
For Job and for the Christian today, “What’s God’s purpose in my suffering?” is a much better question than “What caused me to suffer?” It’s better because it’s more helpful, and it’s better because it more than likely gets closer to what God is up to in your suffering. “Why?” wants to know cause. “Why?” wants to know where the suffering came from. “What for?” wants to know purpose. “What for?” wants to know where God is going with this suffering. It changes suffering from being the end to merely being a means to some greater end.

With this in mind, while God had no obligation to explain himself to Job, there are some clues as to what God was up to in light of a statement that Job made at the end of the book (and in light of the New Testament, which I will merely mention for your reference: 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 and 16:6-10, 1 Peter 4:1, and Hebrews 12:3-11). After God made it very clear to Job that God was God and that Job was not, Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). After suffering, Job knew God like he had never known him before. Job said, in essence, that his knowledge of God before his suffering was nothing compared to his knowledge of God after his suffering. And remember, Job was a very honorable, God-fearing man already. For Job and for many like him today, suffering has revealed God to them like nothing else. That’s difficult to write, but that was Job’s testimony. We would be wise to listen and beg God for grace to conclude the same when it’s our turn.

Lesson 6: It is Possible for Suffering to Reveal Sin When Sin is Not the Cause of the Suffering
Amid his horrendous suffering, Job said some things he never should have said. He basically challenged God’s righteousness. Not a good idea. Job’s words fully warranted God’s harsh response in chapters 38-41. In fact, they warranted much greater severity.

It is important, here, to understand that sin doesn’t simply appear from nowhere, nor do mere circumstances cause the human heart to sin. Sin is present within us (Romans 7:20). Circumstances merely reveal the sin that’s already there. This, I think, was what was happening with Job. He was an upright man, but he wasn’t perfect. Pride lurked in his heart somewhere. Doubt had taken hold at some deep level of Job’s inner man. He probably didn’t even know it. For sure no one around him knew it. Nevertheless, such pride and doubt is sin, and that sin was very suddenly revealed amid unimaginable suffering.

However, as I’ve argued thus far, Job’s sin was not the cause of his suffering. His sin was merely revealed by suffering. And Job repented for it. And his repentance was a very gracious gift from God. So God was not being harsh with Job in causing his suffering. He was harsh with Job only as a result of Job’s response to his suffering. But even that was grace. How? God wanted even more of Job. He wanted him purer than he was (and he was already blameless and upright!). God graciously allowing circumstances to reveal Job’s heart was the only way that Job could repent of the sin Job didn’t even know was there and thus move closer to God.

How good suffering is when it is at the hand of a God who, like a master surgeon, cuts open our chests to save our hearts.

Share Your Thoughts
1. How is thinking in of terms of God’s purpose for a particular situation more helpful than thinking of terms of what caused a particular situation?
2. How is it that God is good to us in revealing our sin through suffering?

A Letter to the Father’s Servants

My dear servants,

One day you will see beyond this world and all its fleeting sorrow. One day you will peer out into eternity, like I am doing right now, and you will see the infinite truth behind these now unfolding events. One day, my small creations, you will grasp the infinite significance of the birth of this tiny baby. And on that day, you, too, will see that there was no other way. Right now you are weary with exhaustion and bound with anxieties. I see Mary lying on some hay that Joseph has piled up in a corner of the barn. And I can hear her screaming in agony as your first tiny baby enters the world. Now things seem bleak. But one day, all will be brought to light. Until then, I will strengthen your faith.

I know the fear that welled up inside you, Mary, when you first realized that you were, in fact, pregnant, just as the angel had foretold. I am well aware of the paranoia that began to eat at your heart and mind. Yes, the angel had said… but… it cannot be! I have been faithful! There has been no other man! Has my own memory deceived me? Have I somehow fooled even myself into thinking that I am something I’m not, that is, pure? It was there in your weakness that I gave you strength. I increased your faith. And how great was that faith that I had worked in you! How bravely you conquered your doubt with my message that this was an act of the Holy Spirit, that I myself had done this thing! What great faith you showed, Mary, by submitting yourself, your reputation, and your body to my plan.

And I’m not blind to the host of temptations that you faced since then, either—temptations to doubt, temptations to lose faith, temptations to turn your back on your destiny. Even here and now as you lie in the filth of an animal stall, surrounded by the stench of dirty cows and sheep—in the very moment of the unfolding of my grand plan for the salvation of my precious children—your visions of angels, those holy messengers from the Most High God himself, have begun to fade. Were they real? Was the vision that I saw really from God? Was that man in shining white telling the truth? How can I be sure? And even now I will strengthen you. Even now I will make whole your incomplete faith. I won’t let you lose your faith.

And you, Joseph: I know the pain that you have faced as well in playing your part in my design. You love your Mary so much. I remember how the news of her pregnancy shattered your heart and shook your confidence in your betrothed at its very core. And yet even then you were upright in heart, not willing to shame the one you loved. It was then that I sent my angel to give you the same assurance that I had given Mary. It was then that I strengthened your faith. But the battles didn’t end there, did they. No. I saw. “You’re actually going to marry that whore?” they scoffed. You lost your integrity. Your good name was trampled and your family was shamed. And yet you obeyed my command.

Even in your trip to Bethlehem, your faith, at times, shriveled up in the dryness of doubt. The warmth of the angel’s presence grew cold, and the memory of his message grew faint. And now, as you gaze into the teary eyes of your beloved Mary as she gasps in the cold night air and screams in the pain of childbirth, I know your thoughts. I’ve tried to be faithful! I’ve made the trek to Bethlehem with my pregnant wife, and due to our slow pace, we’ve just now arrived, only to find every inn in town already full. Now we’re here—in a barn not fit for the animals it houses. The night air is cold, God, and I fear for Mary and our son! I thought he was yours, great God. Are you here with us, even in this bleakness? Yes, I’m here, my servant. I will strengthen your faith.

And as painful as it will be for you to realize and to live out, my precious servants, things will not become clearer as time goes on. You will make it through this night, and then you will have to flee your country and hide in Egypt. A multitude of other baby boys will die on account of him. And as you raise this baby in Nazareth, you will not understand him. Even more doubts will come. Is he really the Son of God? I know how feeble your memories are. But don’t worry. I will strengthen your faith.

There will be no more resolution once your little boy becomes a man. In fact, your heart will break anew as he begins to fulfill his purpose for entering the world. It will hurt you very much. There is no other way. You will watch him gain enemies in high places while he makes friends with the lowliest of society. Rumors will fly about him, and you will endure yet more ridicule. In those moments all your efforts to fulfill my great plan will seem foolish, and my promises will seem so distant. And yet, I promise you this night that I will strengthen you faith. I will be sure to do so.

The final blow will hit you hardest, Mary, mother of the world’s Messiah. You will watch as your son’s enemies finally accomplish their greatest ambition and hang your boy’s naked body on a Roman cross. You won’t understand. Your mind will swirl. You’ll cry out to me in that day. And I’m telling you that I will strengthen your faith.

And while the stillness of this sacred night offers absolutely no insight into the joy that is erupting in heaven and in my heart, one day you will understand. In all of these moments—his birth, his life, his death—I could very easily draw back the curtains of heaven and give you a glimpse into the eternal glory awaiting your precious boy and all those who treasure him above all earthly goods. Then you would never again battle the doubts and fears of this world. But that’s not how I work. One day you will see. You will see because I will show you in unveiled splendor, but not until you stand before me and all the world sees with you. Until that day, I will strengthen your faith. I authored it, and I will bring it to completion. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

In unfathomable love,
Your Father in heaven

Imploring God to Hear My Plea

Imploring God to hear my plea,
I weep to see my life awry.
I beg him do some work in me.

When truth lies naked on my knee,
I whimper, “Wicked flesh must die,”
Imploring God with desperate plea.

From such a death sin bids me flee,
And flesh, persuaded, would soon fly,
Escaping God’s grim work in me.

With mind awhirl on storm-tossed sea,
I bow to God, suspicious, wry,
Doubting God would hear my plea.

It’s ’neath the cross I come to see
The beauty of the call to die
And yield to God’s sweet work in me.

So though the Spirit hews this tree
And would my arrogance belie,
God, I implore you, hear my plea.
I beg you do this work in me.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Lessons from Job, Part 3

If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2 of this series, you can read them here:
Lessons from Job, Part 1
Lessons from Job, Part 2
In Part 1 you’ll find an introduction to this series as well as a summary of the book of Job. Part 2 contains the first two lessons.

Lesson 3: God was Near, Loving, and Just to Job in His Suffering
Job’s suffering was for his good.  Job couldn’t see this.  He said that God was ignoring him and was distant (9:11, 16).  He called God whimsical and unjust (9:22-24).  He constantly justified himself rather than God, basically saying that God was unfair in bringing such suffering upon him (32:2).  At one point he wished God would just leave him alone (14:6).  He thought fleeing from God would end his suffering.  But God was not distant, whimsical, or unjust in his dealings with Job.  In fact, he was just the opposite.

For the Christian today, God is always for his children and never against them.  Even suffering on an unimaginable scale like that of Job is never, ever a sign that God is far away from his child, that God hates his child, or that God is unjust in what he’s doing.  He may not explain himself, but he is good and he is doing good to you—always.

How do I know this?  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God not only designs the suffering that his children experience and then ensures they go through it (see lesson 2), God does so with a specific purpose.  Romans 8:28 reveals that his purpose in our suffering (suffering being included in the words “all things”) is our good.

If God designed the suffering you’re experiencing and actively ensured that you were placed in it, then cling to the fact that he did all that for your good.  He loves you; therefore, he caused your suffering.  The fact that God is both good and good to you even at life’s bleakest moments, Christian, must be the backbone of your understanding of suffering.

Lesson 4: God Does Not Have to Answer to Anyone as to Why He Causes a Person to Suffer
In dangerously provocative words, Job demanded that God give an account for his actions (7:17-21, 9:22-24, 9:29-35, 23:7).  Job’s three friends, Elihu, and God himself pick up on this and call Job on it.  God is simply not obligated to explain himself to anyone about anything ever.  Such a demand is both arrogant and foolish.  It is arrogant because it elevates a man above God, as if the creation had the right to demand that his Creator give an account of his actions.  It is foolish because such a demand implies that the finite creature knows more than his infinite Creator.  God’s ways are higher than our ways.  Sometimes God doesn’t explain what he’s up to.  And he doesn’t have to.  Instead of demanding an explanation, trust his goodness.  Remember lesson 3.

Instead of demanding that God give an account for his actions, do what the psalmists did.  Time after time the psalmists pour out their souls before the Lord in unabashed honesty, yet they don’t call God to explain himself.  They express the fact that God feels distant and that they feel forgotten: ” O LORD? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1), yet there’s always a sense of humble hope despite such feelings: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5-6).

So be brutally honest with God.  Tell him exactly what you’re feeling and beg for his renewed presence and for your healing.  God longs for such deep fellowship with his children.  Just make sure your heart is not demanding that God explain himself.  And if it is, tell him so in brutal, humble honesty and beg him for repentance from such an attitude.  He’ll hear you.  “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Share Your Thoughts
1. How has God been good to you in your suffering?
2. Where else in the Bible do we see God as loving in the midst of someone’s suffering?
3. What verses encourage us that God is still good, even when we suffer?

I Know You’re Good

I know you’re not some sick
And twisted despot high atop
A throne of pride and whimsicalities.
I know you’re good; you’re love.
But how then, one may ask,
Could I give thanks when God
Has stripped me bare
Of all I once held dear
And has demolished
My steel-clad façade of arrogance
And left me naked in life’s festering pit
Of hopeless, helpless loneliness?
It’s easy. It was for my good!
Can it be said that God is love
If he refuses to remove my leg
Despite gangrene’s ascent
Which surely takes my life
If my ability to walk is not surrendered?
God would hate me not to take it!
What’s a leg compared to life?
I’d give up both my legs to live.
I know my God’s the greatest, wisest, kindest
Surgeon man’s dead heart could ever find.
Would you not yield a cold, dead corpse
To Jesus’ gentle knife if surgery’s end
Resulted in eternal, joy filled-life?
Would you so dare to take the plunge
Yourself and let his knife
Cut open wide your heart?
No surgery’s without pain. Likewise,
No life abiding comes before a funeral.
Yet death’s cruel sting
Is swallowed up in victory.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Lessons from Job, Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, you can read it here: Lessons from Job, Part 1.  In Part 1 you’ll find an introduction to this series as well as a summary of the book of Job.

Lesson 1: Truly Upright and Blameless Followers of God Suffer Greatly
Both the narrator of Job and God himself affirm that Job was both blameless and upright (1:1, 1:8, 2:3).  That Job was blameless means that no one could have rightly leveled a charge against Job.  That he was upright means that he was honorable.  No one could have rightly denied his moral integrity.  Yet he suffered.  Suffering is no respecter of morals.

More surprising than that, both the narrator of Job and God himself affirm that Job was a man who feared God and who turned away from evil (1:1, 1:8, 2:3).  That Job walked closely with God is obvious.  He knew God in a very deep way, and he lived his life accordingly.  His whole life centered around God.  He did everything he was supposed to.  Yet he suffered.  Knowing God deeply and living for him in no way guarantees an easy life.  In fact, the very opposite is the case (see Acts 14:22).

What do we learn from these hard truths?  Don’t follow God to escape pain.  Jesus said that whoever does not take up his cross and follow him is not worthy of him.  “Taking up your cross” is a euphemism for crucifixion.  It is no easy thing to follow God or his Son.  Don’t start down this road if you are not willing to finish (see Luke 14:28-33).  Why do it then, you ask?  Jesus is worth it.  What I’ll gain by gaining Jesus is worth the loss of everything else I have and am, including my very life.

Paul said it this way: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).  God followers suffer.  Follow God anyway.  God is worth it.

Lesson 2: God is the Active Agent in the Suffering of His People
Ultimately God caused Job to suffer.  To assert that Satan caused Job to suffer and God merely allowed it to happen is to ignore key parts of the biblical narrative.  First, God brought Job to Satan’s attention, not once but twice (1:8, 2:3).  Clearly God was not passive in bringing about Job’s suffering.  He designed it and ensured it was carried out accordingly.  Like a dog on a short leash, Satan is completely beneath God’s sovereign hand.  He does nothing without God’s approval.

Second, Satan is never mentioned after chapter two.  At every point thereafter, Job, Job’s three friends, Elihu, and the narrator of Job attribute Job’s suffering directly to God.  Job’s famous quote states, “The LORD gave, and the LORD [not Satan] has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21).  And Job was right.

This is even harder to swallow than lesson 1, yet it is inescapable.  God took Job’s children.  God took Job’s flocks.  God took Job’s health.  Regardless of whether that seems right to you or not, it is an undeniable conclusion from this book that God is sovereign, even over the most horrific circumstances.  That, I hope, is a comfort.  Behind the most bleak circumstances stands a God who, although mysterious and often times silent, is good and loves you enough to send Jesus to die for you.

Rest assured that whatever Satan may throw at you in order to destroy you, God in his sovereign will designed that very trial for your good and is being good to you in it.  That’s how a Christian is able to count it all joy when he meets trials of various kinds (James 1:2).  When Satan does something for evil, God does not merely co-opt it for good.  He designed it for good before Satan even thought of it.  In fact, God may have given Satan the idea, like he did with Job.  He certainly had to give Satan permission.

May God’s sovereignty be sweet to you today.

Share Your Thoughts
1. How is it that God’s sovereignty over all things comforts us?
2. Where else in the Bible do you see God’s complete sovereignty over horrific situations?

Lessons from Job, Part 1

I spent the month of November with Job. It was a gloriously difficult ride. After spending the last few days wrapping up some of my conclusions, I thought I’d like to do a series of posts over the next few weeks on 10 lessons I’ve learned from his story. This first post will be a summary of the book, and every Tuesday afterwards I’m planning to post two truths I gleaned from walking with Job.

The Book In Summary
The book of Job is a literary masterpiece. It begins and ends with narration but is poetry throughout except for the narrator’s introduction of a new character, Elihu, in chapter 32. In the opening scene, both the narrator and God establish that Job is an upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil. That is very important as it is repeated three times (1:1, 1:8, and 2:3). One day Satan presents himself before God, and God asks him if he has considered his servant Job. God allows Satan to take Job’s possessions and children. Job trusts God despite his suffering. Satan again presents himself before God, and God again brings up Job. This time Satan has permission to take his health as long as he doesn’t kill him. Again, Job trusts God despite his suffering.

Then three men come to Job—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—supposedly with the intention of comforting him. After seven days of silence, Job finally speaks beginning in chapter 3, lamenting his birth. Chapters 4 through 31 record the conversation between Job and his three friends. The author very craftily develops the story through various rounds of dialogue. Job’s friends become increasingly critical and judgmental. Job becomes increasingly defensive. His friends argue that Job must have done something wrong; otherwise, he wouldn’t be suffering this way. Job maintains he’s innocent, though his self-defense becomes progressively provocative to the point of calling God’s justice into question.

Round and round they go until a new character, Elihu, shows up in chapter 32. The narrator reveals that Elihu, after hearing Job and friends go at it to no avail, had bones to pick with both parties. He was mad at Job “because he justified himself rather than God” (32:2), and he was mad at Job’s friends because “they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong” (32:3). Elihu shows up and says that they’re all wrong. Job’s saying he’s more righteous than God, and his friends, despite all their rhetoric, simply can’t explain why this man is suffering.

Elihu reorients their focus completely. He turns their focus away from both man’s sinfulness and man’s righteousness and sets their sights on God (35:2-8). In addition, Elihu frames the discussion in a new way. While Job and his friends have been arguing as to whether Job was truly upright or not, Elihu says that even the righteous can be “bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction” (36:7-12). And when they are, God has not taken his eyes from them (v. 7). In fact, he’s graciously commanding the righteous to return from their iniquity (v. 10). So are they righteous or sinful? The answer, Elihu shows, is yes. Truly the author of Job was not naïve as to the condition of the human heart. Elihu presents the reader with some astonishing, yet very realistic, complexities.  Even Job’s self-defense and his accusations against God were mixed with declarations of hope and trust in God despite it all (see 13:15-16 and 19:25-27).

After Elihu gets his 15 minutes, he disappears, and the real hero of the story makes his entrance: God. While never explaining himself or his actions, God reveals his wisdom, knowledge, and ability by revealing Job’s lack of wisdom, knowledge, and ability. God doesn’t like when people challenge him. In light of God’s revelation of himself to Job, Job repents and concludes, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). So that’s what it took for Job to know God better.

God commands Job’s three friends to repent and to ask Job to pray for them. Interestingly enough he doesn’t say anything about Elihu. They do, God hears Job’s prayer, and Job is restored manifold times all that he had lost.

With this very broad overview in mind, stay tuned weekly for two new truths from Job that, Lord willing, I’ll be posting every Tuesday.

Share Your Thoughts
1. What strikes you most about the story of Job?
2. What do you do or where do you go when suffering comes upon you?
3. Share a verse that comforts you in suffering.