13. Divine & Human Interaction

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  13. Divine and Human Interaction

Acts 2:23   This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

I was reviewing what I had written earlier in this series and at the end of the first meditation I note I had written the following: “If we have known the Lord any length of time … we can reflect on our testimony and see His hand that has been on us, and we can marvel and wonder and feel great pleasure and we can bow and worship as we delight in Him.”  Getting on in years a little these days, I do what older people do and reflect back on the years that have been and I do marvel at the wonder of God’s blessings that have come to us as a family (as I wrote in that first meditation).

Now the marvel is not just that God has poured out blessing upon blessing upon us over the years, but He has done that despite the people we are – failures, inadequate, with tendencies of getting it wrong. Yes this is the fuller truth. I know what I am and I look back at what I was and I cringe at the memories of what I said or did, at my immaturity, my lack of grace, my confusions, and I marvel that despite all of this – and it is very real, I am not just trying to sound humble, this is how it was and is – yes, despite all this God blessed me and used me.

And then I come to this gem of a verse in the middle of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. For a guy who had been an uneducated (probably) fisherman, he did OK in that sermon. He has understanding, he quotes the Old Testament and he is full of passion. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for you! But there in the midst of it, is this gem of understanding. When Jesus went to the Cross it was a combination of two things.

First it was the plan of God worked out before the foundation of the world. Moreover I dare to believe that my life also fits that category, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world,” (Eph 1:4) so that now I am, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). There was no mistake back there two thousand years ago when they arrested Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was not the world getting out of control; it was the plan of God reaching a climax.

Second, it was the work of sinful men. God didn’t make us band together against Christ and crucify him, but God knew we would given the circumstances. I use the pronoun ‘we’ because I dare not exclude myself from what went on. I would hope that I would not have been part of the crowd baying for Jesus’ death, and I certainly hope I would not have been part of the religious or civic establishment that brought about his death (but even there I may delude myself) and the best I could hope for was that I would have been one of those disciples who hid themselves away and left him to his fate on his own.

Am I being too hard on myself (or you)? I don’t think so. As I said earlier on, when you have a lot of years to play with, you have more examples of life to put under the microscope and although God’s grace has genuinely been there in some good measure, if I am honest if the Lord in heaven took me back through my life and we reviewed it together, I would have to agree that there were times where I would like to change how I spoke or acted in the years gone by.

We are all of us less than perfect this side of heaven and the wonder and marvel of God’s love and grace is that those imperfections didn’t put Him off from being with us there and prompting and using us, despite our inadequacies and, on rare occasions, because of them. Sometimes He can only use us when we have lost all sense of self-confidence and the ensuing words and actions come out of weakness or even failure but He still uses them to His purposes.

It is not good, this down side of humanity. It was not good that the religious and civic authorities schemed together to bring Jesus down, or in Pilate’s case just abandoned him to injustice.  It was not good that the crowd allowed themselves to be manipulated into crying out for Jesus’ death. It was not good that  most of the disciples ran away and hid. No, none of these things were good but nevertheless God used them to sacrifice the Lamb of God.

I come across people who preach a hard form of holiness and present a God who is hard and holy and demanding, but when I examine Scripture and I examine human experience I find that this preaching is false and untrue  and unkind and fails to see the wonder of who God is. Here is the paradox: yes, He is holy and He does call us to be holy and after the apparent debacle of the events in the Garden of Eden you might have expected God to abandon this planet and go and find another one in some other galaxy, but He didn’t. Before he released His power in Creation He knew that giving us free will would mean the very early arrival of Sin in mankind. He knew that justice (and Satan, the accuser)  would cry out for justice and demand that Sin be punished and so the Godhead planned how justice might be met and mankind (or at least those who would receive it) could be saved.

And so He took the sinfulness of mankind and used it to bring about the means for justice to be satisfied, by the death of His own eternal Son. No one less than God Himself could take punishment for so many sinful beings, and so we find the awful events of Calvary appearing like a blot on history. Yet out of that blot comes redemption, salvation available to you and me if we will bow and receive it. When we do, it is the direction of our life that is all important. Yes, I will stumble and on occasion fall, but He will be there to get me back on my feet and help me take further tottering steps in the direction of heaven. My desire is to do His will and that, it seems, is enough now. I may miss it or get it wrong but as I keep directed towards Him, His grace will be there again and again to turn my fumbling efforts into something glorious that will bless Him and others. How amazing!  This verse is indeed a gem and it genuinely releases a sense of wonder and awe and worship. Hallelujah!

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11. Judgement

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  11 :  Judgement

1 Thess 1:9,10   They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath

I said in the previous meditation that it is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word and ‘Idolatry’ was just such a word. “Wrath” is another of those words. It occurs here in verse 10 and it also appears later in respect of the unbelieving Jews: The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) and then later more generally, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:9)

Now before we look at what it actually means, may I deal with our psychological or ethical hang-ups about this word. We’ll accept from the outset that it means righteous anger, but I want to remind you of a particular teaching that comes out again and again in the Bible – that God is perfect. Now be under no illusion that perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be improved upon. Therefore whatever God thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved upon.

We need to let this truth sink in. Let’s see it as it crops up through the Bible: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4 – song of Moses). “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (2 Sam 22:31 – song of David). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2 – song of Asaph).  “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isa 25:1 – Isaiah). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48 – Jesus). “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2 – Paul). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8,9 – writer to the Hebrews)

There you have it: Jesus was begotten and was thus perfect because he was God.  God is perfect and everything He says or does is perfect – they cannot be improved upon!  Now start thinking about these difficult subjects from that angle or through that lens if you like. If God is angry about something then it is right, proper and appropriate to be angry and we can even go further and say it would be wrong not to be angry. We tolerate wrong and shrug our shoulders over it, but God sees it and sees it spoils the Creation that He made which was “very good” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something was “very good” you may take it that it was perfect. And now sin spoils it. The wonder and the beauty and the perfection has been spoiled and marred and desecrated. Imagine you were a master painter and you had spent months creating a most beautiful masterpiece and a teenager, say, comes in spits on it, writes on it in felt pen, throws paint on it and finally cuts it to pieces with a Stanley knife. Would you still be as calm and equitable about it as we so often are about wrongs in our world? No, we would be livid that this wonderful masterpiece with all its beauty has been utterly desecrated.

Why don’t we get angry? It’s all a matter of perspective. If we could see the whole picture with the completeness and perfection of God our emotions would be different. It is right to be angry, it is right to be upset and indeed, to go further, it is wrong not to be. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “right and just passionate displeasure”. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate assessment of what to do about it. God’s judgment is His dispassionate assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His anger. Anger is instinctive. Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assess what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future, for only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.

So when we look at His acts of judgement in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.

Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

So note again what Paul writes in this letter: Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath  (1:10) and God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (5:9). The Old Testament reveals a “day of the Lord” when He will come to judge all sin and unrighteousness. Rev 19 shows us Jesus coming again to bring in that ‘day’. But we, now as God’s people do not, as Paul says, have to suffer wrath for Jesus rescues us from it by his death on the Cross dealing with all our guilt and shame, so we no longer fear a punishment. The second reference to the Jews, The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) can be rendered, “upon them to the uttermost,” or “on them entirely” or “on them fully”. It is suggested that this simply refers to them being rejected while they stay in unbelief. Scripture seems to indicate a possibility that before the end they will turn and believe and those will be saved, but salvation follows belief; wrath and judgement follows rejection and unbelief.

45. Sins Sorted

Meditations in 1 Peter : 45: Sins Sorted

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are a limited number of verses in the New Testament that stand out as encapsulating the Gospel. Obviously John 3:16 is probably the best known one: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Next to that, our verse above should perhaps be a close contender. There are three parts to this verse and each part heralds an amazing truth which, put together, comprises what we call the Gospel.

It’s starting point is outstanding but tragically we perhaps take so much of what it says for granted because maybe these truths are too familiar to us. It speaks about Christ, the Messiah, the Sent One and Anointed One, the one sent with a task from God, the Son of God who left heaven and came and lived in a human body called Jesus. This Christ came and died. But everybody dies! Yes, but this person died on purpose for a purpose. His death, it is claimed, had an eternal significance; it wasn’t an accident but a carefully planned and orchestrated strategy of God. This death had to do with dealing with sins!

How we take sins for granted!  Sin has so permeated the world that we take it for granted, just like the air we breathe, and so we take sins for granted. It is sins that create the interest in TV ‘soaps’ or mystery dramas. Without sins we wouldn’t have these things. Without sins families would be happy and content and faithful, businesses would be honest and integrity the name of the game, and life would be free from threat and fear and untruth.

And what we don’t see so often is that sin always has its consequences. That, at least, is seen graphically in the TV soaps. We also fail to remember that every sin will be answerable to God and punishment awarded. If we punish criminals in courts, why should we think that the mass of sins that we accumulate throughout our lives – all the things we thought wrong, said wrong or did wrong, things we shouldn’t have done and things we should have done but didn’t – all these thing incur a penalty or punishment, but we try to forget that.

But then this verse tells us that Christ died for sins which is another way of saying, he was and is the eternal Son of God who could die in the place of each one of us, and take the punishment for any and every sin we will commit in our lives while on this planet. His death was the absolute punishment that would cover every sin. It happened once in time-space history some two thousand years ago. It doesn’t need to happen again and we can’t add anything to what he achieved.  THAT, heaven declares, is the truth, and all we are called to do is believe it.

But then there is the second phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Just in case you hadn’t taken in the wonder of what Christ did as I just explained, we are reminded that he was righteous and we are unrighteous. Note the two things. Jesus was the only man in history who did not sin: “just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He was exactly as the Old Testament offerings required – a sacrifice without blemish. He was righteous in a negative way in that he never sinned but he was also righteous in a positive way in that he did exactly what was required of God’s will. He was an obedient Son fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling the plan formulated before the foundation of the world.

But we are unrighteous. Sometimes, on a good day when the sun is shining and everything seems to be going well, we think we just might be righteous, but we kid ourselves. Lurking there, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself is this thing called Sin, that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. Wrong thoughts predominate, wrong words so easily come to our lips, and wrong actions so quickly follow. Every time we criticise, gossip or judge, we have fallen into the murky depths. We are unrighteous, but then The Righteous One comes and declares us righteous in God’s sight when we surrendered to him, sought his forgiveness and his sovereign leading. Suddenly, but only then, he declares us righteous – at least in God’s sight. (We have yet to work it out in our practical lives).

Which brings us to the last phrase: “to bring you to God.” Again, because it is so familiar we take it for granted, this sense that we are alone in the universe and if there is a God He is a million miles away.  Indeed deep down we are glad of that because deep down we know we are guilty and we fear the thought that we will be answerable to God. We were separated from God by our sins and our guilt and something had to happen – something beyond us, because we were incapable of changing – and it was Christ coming to die in our place as an expression of the Father’s love. There came a time when the Holy Spirit convicted us of the truth about our lives and like a drowning man or woman we grasped for the wonder of what was being presented to us – there IS a way for you to be forgiven, there is a way for you to be reconciled to God. Jesus has done it on the Cross and now all it requires is for you to believe it. THAT is the Gospel! Isn’t it wonderful!

Just should you be reading these things for the first time and it is the first time you’ve heard these things, it can’t remain just passive knowledge. It is true and it requires a response from you, a response that acknowledges your Sin and your sins and your need of God’s help, a response that declares belief in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, a submission to him and a request for forgiveness, acceptance and help from God Himself on the basis of these truths. May it be so!

38. God’s Rightness

Meditations in Romans : 38:  God’s Rightness

Rom 3:21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The point that Paul has been making again and again in a variety of ways, is that however much we try to keep the rules, we fail to be righteous. We’ve seen his arguments and we’ve thought through some of the issues, and the conclusions are clear: we are helpless and hopeless and cannot make ourselves righteous. Now if God wasn’t a God of love He would just leave us like that and condemn us to this futile way of living, leaving us to our frustrations and our guilt – but He is and He doesn’t!

This is one of those passages that starts with a ‘But’. ‘But’ here means that is not the end of it, for God has stepped in and done what we couldn’t do. We couldn’t make ourselves righteous but God can and it is a righteousness… apart from the Law.” God’s righteousness does not depend upon us having to keep that Law, for we’ve already seen that that is a lost cause! We can’t do it, so He has to do it on some other basis.

So what is it? Hold on, we need to see where we find out about this first: “to which the Law and the Prophets testify”. When a writer speaks about ‘the Law and the Prophets’, that is simply a shorthand way of meaning all of the Old Testament. Yes, says Paul, this righteousness from God is something that has been hinted at throughout the Old Testament – as we’ll see as we go on through Romans. It isn’t something that God has just dreamt up; it has been in His heart and mind from before the foundation of the world. There are at least half a dozen references in the New Testament that testify to that (look up 1 Pet 1:20,  Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Titus 1:2). It is only now’, says Paul that it has been fully revealed.

So how does this righteousness from God come to us? This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Instead of the Law, God places His Son, Jesus Christ, as the focus of our attention.  Are we to become Christians by copying Jesus? No, because again, on our own that would be absolutely impossible – even more impossible than keeping the Law! On our own could we heal the sick and raise the dead? Definitely not! No, the point of Jesus’ three years of ministry was not to give us something to imitate (although there is an element of that about it) but to reveal the Father’s love to us and to show us that he was God’s Son. And that is where the focus now comes, on us simply believing that which we have just said – that Jesus revealed God’s love for us and showed us that he was God’s Son.

But there is also a third thing that he did which is vital: he died on the Cross for our sins, so that we might be forgiven; that is the third element of belief. This is how this righteousness from God comes: it comes by us simply believing these three things: a) that Jesus revealed God’s love for us (He does love us!), b) that Jesus was and is God’s Son, and c) being God’s Son he was able to step in for us and take the punishment for our sins. When we come to a place of being able to say “I believe” and it is real, so real that it causes us to respond to it and surrender to God and ask for it to apply to our lives, then He declares us righteous. This is what the Gospel is all about.  An act of faith? Yes, of course, because the Bible tells us that faith is responding to what God has said. We hear it, we believe it, and we respond to it. That is faith.

Now is this purely for Jews or purely for Gentiles? Who is this for, Paul now considers. No, he says, it is for everyone. Everyone? Yes everyone, because, There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Oh yes, we’ve seen it already,  every single one of us, Jew and Gentile are hopeless and helpless. All of us are in the same boat. We all need God to come and do what we cannot do on our own. Every one of us does wrong and every one of us fails to reach the standard of God’s perfection. There’s not one of us who could stand before God as an equal in holiness. No, we’re all doomed unless we receive the salvation that God offers through His Son.

Look at Paul’s final description of this salvation: are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. We don’t have to work for it; it is something that comes freely from God. It is an act of His grace that He doesn’t demand we keep on struggling to be better and gives us a way out by simple belief. No, we have been redeemed, bought by the blood of Jesus, snatched from the jaws of death and hell and from Satan. Jesus has paid the price and we can do no more than believe it and live it! Jesus HAS done it. Receive it, live it!

62. None like God

Meditations in Job : 62. None like God

Job 34:29 But if he remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him? Yet he is over man and nation alike

Elihu has just declared that it is unthinkable that God would ever do wrong (34:12). Now he goes on to show God’s greatness and why we can make such an assertion that is true. When he says, Who appointed him over the earth? Who put him in charge of the whole world?” (v.13) he is saying, let’s face it, God is above all beings and there is no one like Him!  God is all powerful and He sustains life and could withdraw it whenever He wanted: “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust.” (v.14,15) The writer to the Hebrews similarly maintained in respect of Jesus, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3).  God is so mighty and life-giving that without Him nothing would exist.

Elihu calls again for Job to think about this: “If you have understanding, hear this; listen to what I say.” (v.16) and then goes on to challenge the ungodly of the world who would dare to challenge the Lord: “Can he who hates justice govern? Will you condemn the just and mighty One?” (v.17).  Can corrupt leaders rule and can they possibly have any right to challenge the Lord? Look, he says, “Is he not the One who says to kings, `You are worthless,’ and to nobles, `You are wicked,’ who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?” (v.18,19)  No, it’s the other way round, he says.  It is He who condemns them! Indeed, if He wants to, He can deal with them in an instant: “They die in an instant, in the middle of the night; the people are shaken and they pass away; the mighty are removed without human hand.” (v.20)  It is easy for Him to remove them as He wills.

More than that, He sees everything they do: “His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide.” (v.21,22)  Implied here is that His justice is perfect for He sees and knows everything and nothing is hidden from Him. Moreover,God has no need to examine men further, that they should come before him for judgment. Without inquiry he shatters the mighty and sets up others in their place.” (v.23,24) i.e. He doesn’t need to enquire of them like an earthly judge, to try and find out the truth, for He knows it – always!  Thus, because He knows, He can act accordingly and His action will always be just: “Because he takes note of their deeds, he overthrows them in the night and they are crushed. He punishes them for their wickedness where everyone can see them, because they turned from following him and had no regard for any of his ways.” (v.25-27). He sees and He hears everything: “They caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he heard the cry of the needy.” (v.28). He knows when they have been oppressing the poor and the weak. he knows when they are guilty, and what they deserve!

Yes, this is the God with whom we have dealings, and He is utterly just, but suppose He appears to remain silent for a while, who can possibly challenge this God who sees all, knows all, and acts utterly justly? “But if he remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him?” (v.29a).  If He does remain silent, if He does appear to hide Himself, who can do anything about that and, in the light of all we’ve just noted, who can possibly criticise Him, for He is always just! He is above all: “Yet he is over man and nation alike,” (v.29b) and He is working, as we’ve seen before, to bring and maintain good on the earth, and so part of that is, “to keep a godless man from ruling, from laying snares for the people.” (v.30)

Elihu then supposes words of repentance (which he has heard from Job): “Suppose a man says to God, `I am guilty but will offend no more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again.” (v.31,32)  That sounds all right but it must be accompanied by real and genuine repentance: “Should God then reward you on your terms, when you refuse to repent?” (v.33a) and by implication, he is saying, I’m not sure I’ve seen that in you Job!  I get the impression, is what I sense him saying, that you want God to come to you on your terms, rather that you go to Him on His – total honesty!  So he concludes: “You must decide, not I; so tell me what you know.” (v.33b)  At the end of the day, Job, you’ve got to decide what is the truth about what is going on inside you.

But he makes his own pronouncement on the basis of what he has heard: “Men of understanding declare, wise men who hear me say to me, `Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight.” (v.34,35) i.e. tell me you wise men who have been listening to me, don’t you think that Job has been speaking without knowledge?  Well actually, yes he has, but they don’t know that for they too lacked the knowledge of what had gone on in the courts of heaven. But there is truth here, that Job had spoken without knowledge and in some ways he would have done better to remain silent: “Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man! To his sin he adds rebellion; scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.” (v.36,37) Yes it does seem that Job has unwisely spoken out about God.

Very well! Who wants to cast the first stone? Who of us would probably not have done the same as Job? How many of us groan and grumble under the awful pressures of the anguish that comes with extreme suffering? Yes, we can sound spiritual and declare with Paul that ‘God’s grace is sufficient’ (2 Cor 12:9), but sometimes it takes a while for us to appropriate that grace, as it clearly did for Paul (for he had asked three times for his ‘thorn in the flesh’ to be removed!).

The reassurance here is that the Lord understands. He is going to educate Job and that includes rebuking him, but after that when Job responds, He fully restores him. It’s a process and it’s why Jesus died on the Cross for us: we suffer, we groan, we don’t always handle it well, we find the grace eventually, and we say sorry for our earlier grumblings, and we are forgiven.  So, put that stone down, you have no right to judge Job or anyone like him!  Let’s look to the Lord for His mercy, grace and forgiveness.  Us weak people have got to stick together!

61. No Wrong God

Meditations in Job : 61. God does no wrong

Job 34:10-12 Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.

In chapter 34 we pick up the second phase of Elihu’s talking, started by, “Then Elihu said…” Again he challenges his listeners to listen and check out what he has to say: Hear my words, you wise men; listen to me, you men of learning. For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.” (v.2-4).  In this there is a confidence that is willing to be checked out.  We also have a reasonable faith one that can be checked against the evidence and we should not be afraid to say to others, “Check it out!”

Elihu then picks up again on what he has heard Job say, “Job says, `I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.” (v.5,6) Job has asked for justice but justice is not what it is all about.  Elihu concludes that this puts Job in the same category as evildoers who also say wrong things about God (implied): “What man is like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men.” (v.7,8)  i.e. he takes in scorn as one drinks and takes in water and by his words he “keeps company with” and “associates with” wrong people. That doesn’t make him an evildoer or wicked but just means he is speaking in the same foolish way they do.

Why?  What has he said?  He has said, “It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.” (v.9)  i.e. what is the point of trying to please God?  Back in chapter 21 Job maintained that the wrong doer so often appears to get away with it and, indeed, both good and bad die young or live to old age.  Perhaps this is what Elihu is referring to.  He has a strong answer which we have in our verses today which may be summed up as, “God does no wrong!”   Often in these meditations I have found myself saying that we may not understand what is happening to us but when we get to heaven, if God allows us to look back on His dealings with us, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything He has said or done or not done!

In verse 11 we find a doctrine that comes up often in Scripture: “He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.” In the New Testament Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) which is about our future destiny, and then more generally in respect of life here on earth, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

Yes, this is a general truth.  One day we will have to appear before the Lord to account for what we have done and, yes, here and now our wrong behaviour can have serious repercussions. For example the promiscuous person can find themselves with a sexually transmitted disease, which may be life threatening. Their behaviour has genuinely serious repercussions. The person who steals something lives in fear of being caught and one day may be arrested and judged. The person who has an uncontrollable temper may say things which harm and destroy a relationship and life is changed.  A person who eats too much becomes obese and may have a whole range of health problems, as does a person who drinks too much or takes illegal drugs. In all of these ways wrong behaviour DOES bring ‘negative fruits’ to our lives, fruits that are liable to be harmful and destructive.  It is no wonder that Elihu had previously said that God speaks to us “to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 32:17,18)

But there is a bigger truth and it is that God does things sometimes that are not related to this general principle and so Job is not being punished for his wrong doing.  As we’ve seen, he’s been declared by the Lord to be righteous. This is all about testing of faith, testing for faithfulness, and that is nothing to do with discipline to deal with sin. No, the principle is right, Elihu, but it just doesn’t apply here to Job.  It’s a good and right principle but it is not what is happening here.

Yet again we are faced with this warning not to judge people without revelation from God. It is too easy to get it wrong!

16. Evil Men

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.16

Psa 10:13 Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”?

There is a mystery in many people’s minds, a mystery about evil and specifically about evil in people. Why are people like they are? Why do dictators do the terrible things they do? Why do men and women murder, why do men rape, why do fathers abuse children, why do people steal from other people? I once led a law class where the whole class were unanimous that we needed laws to protect the weak “because people are nasty”. What an indictment of the human race!

There are two possible aspects to this verse today – the reason why men act like this, and the reason God lets them act like this. First of all, what is the reason men act like this? Why do people do wrong and then deny the presence of God? Why does the wicked man think he will get away with it?

Well there are two parts to the answer to that. Looking at Scripture, we see that we have an adversary, Satan, who comes against us to tempt us to do wrong, and he does that by getting us to think wrongly. We did consider this the other day but we will look at it more deeply now. At the Fall we find the following sequence of events: He said to the woman, “Did God really say,’You must not eat from any tree in the garden? (Gen 3:1) This was Satan challenging the truth in Eve’s mind as part of his endeavours to get her to go against God. That was followed by,You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman (Gen 3:4), his denial of the consequences of her actions. So we see he whispers into people’s minds that it’s all right to do this thing because who’s to say it’s wrong, and anyway, it will be all right. It is wrong and it won’t be all right – A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) There are always consequences to our wrong doing.

Now there is a second reason men now do wrong. It isn’t only Satan; it is the fact that since the Fall, every man, woman and child has been tainted by this thing called Sin, this tendency towards self-centred godlessness which results in unrighteousness. Note that it is now a tendency within us. Once we become Christians we have a greater power within us, the Holy Spirit, who enables us to overcome the old tendency, the old nature. However until a person comes to Christ for salvation, that old nature prevails and Sin prevails in them. Godlessness is most natural; self-centredness is most natural, and unrighteousness is most natural. Now David didn’t have this understanding when he wrote this psalm, but we have all the revelation of the New Testament teaching so we should understand it and we shouldn’t be surprised when we see such things. Satan plus the old sinful nature means that evil is expressed in human beings.

But we said there is a second aspect to this verse – why God allows wicked men to act like this. This is so often the cry of lack of understanding, “Why doesn’t God do something about it?” the ‘it’ being the wrong doing of evil people. Well actually when you think about it there is an easy answer to this one. The Bible indicates quite clearly that God has given us free will. It would be a nonsense if God told us to do things if we did not have the capacity not to do them. The fact that Eve and then Adam ‘fell’, were disobedient, is a clear example of this free will. A variety of other people in the Bible also clearly didn’t do what God told them to do. No, free will is a capacity that God has obviously given us. So when we cry, “Why doesn’t God do something?” we are in fact saying, “Why doesn’t God override this person’s free will?” and that’s where it gets difficult. Put simply, where should He stop? Obviously He should stop murderers and rapists and criminals, you might say. OK, but why stop with them for there are lots and lots of acts of wrongdoing that are not criminal acts? OK, you say, do away with all wrongdoing! Ah! Including in you? Including your wrong thoughts, wrong words and sometimes wrong acts? You want God to take away your free will and make you into a robot who can only do good, whose action will be severely curtailed, and whose human experience will be radically cut back? You want God to do that, because that is your only alternative?

As soon as we come to this point we see the awfulness of Sin and the awfulness of free will, but then we start seeing the wonder of salvation that wins sinful human beings to God’s side to be good. That’s what salvation does, but we have to have the other awful freedom first. Yes, God does act into this world and sometimes He does obviously move against evil men, and yes, men do reap the consequences of their actions, but in the meantime the terrible downside of free will is that man can be evil!

Never blame God for your wrong doing and never demand He takes away free will of other people – or you! Free will is the staggering responsibility that God has bestowed upon mankind. It is, if you like, a sign of His respect for us. He gives us our lives to live as we will, with the potential to achieve wonderful things, but also to do terrible things. The choice is ours. He will be there to help us achieve the former, and His wrath will be there against the latter, but the choice is still ours. Choose wisely.