We want to show you some scriptures that shine the light of understanding on why the world is like it is – why God allows suffering – and that God has a plan for you – a personally crafted, uniquely suited plan for you, as it relates to His plan. In our study, let’s start with fundamentals.
What does God want? What’s He trying to accomplish? What’s His end goal? Well, how did Jesus teach us to address God when we pray? “Our Father, who art in heaven….” Right? Father – wow! How else? What did He call Jesus after He was born? “This is My beloved Son,” He said – Father-Son, hmmm. What does the Bible say of Jesus in relationship to us? That He was “the Firstborn of many brothers.” It’s not hard to figure out. He laid it right out there before us. God wants a family! All this falderal about people sitting on pink clouds and playing harps forever, or lost in an in-between existence, or roasting in eternal fire…. By the way, how would that ever happen? If you’re mortal, you’d burn up, wouldn’t you? And, if you’re spirit, fire couldn’t touch you. Well, there’s a reason so much confusion exists. And it’s a simple one. Very few people read what He’s written for us.
Okay, point number one – God is creating a family. Everything you see around is all about that. Now, where am I getting this knowledge? You know, you don’t get this kind of information from smoking weed, or meditating, or reading theology books, or even prayer. It comes out of the Bible.
There’s a scene from the movie, Patton – quite an old movie now. Elaine and I saw it at the drive-in when it first came out in 1970 – kind of giving away our age there. There’s a scene where Patton’s army is about to face Rommel’s army for the first time in North Africa. Now General Rommel, the great German general, was a masterful tactician. And he’d been pounding our army and the British army in North Africa for some time. So the Allies sent in our tactician, George Patton, to face him. Patton deployed his tanks, artillery and troops, and when the Germans came, Patton’s army sounded defeated him. And, as it becomes clear, in the film, that we’re going to win, the scene changes to Patton off in a distance, watching the battle through field glasses. And he says, “Rommel, you magnificent blankety-blank, I read your book!”
It’s sort of silly to me that people complain about how mean God is or that they can’t understand what He’s doing. If we want to know what God is doing, we have to read His book! I promise you that, if you start with a blank slate – you know, clean your mind of all the things that you think you know about God – and only believe about God what you read in His book, it will change you. So, we can know what God is doing with us, but only if we read the book.
What else does God want, besides a family? Well, God wants a good family. Some families are not so good.
I remember a man who came to my counseling office once who was a single parent. He said that he knew he was ruining his kids and wanted help to change. And, as I got to know him and his children, I saw that he was correct in his assessment. His children were torn between the natural love that’s wired into them for their father and the hatred and fear that they felt for him because of his abusive ways. His children were extremely angry and discouraged, and, naturally, they resisted him at every turn. Their family was a chaotic, dangerous, living hell. It was so sad to see them suffering.
God doesn’t want that for you. So He has a plan to fix that to make sure that His family is a good one. Let’s read something out of the Bible that sheds some light on this.
There was a time when Jesus sent out the disciples to learn how to do their work. And when they came back, they were excited because they had discovered that they had power. Let’s read in Luke 10:17:
Luke 10:17 – The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
There are two points I’d like to make from this scripture. The first one is that their names were written in heaven. God was aware of them. He had taken note. They were in His book of those that He was working with. And, if you’ve committed yourself to God, your name is there, too. God is working with you. He has a plan for you. That’s the first point.
The second is Jesus statement that He saw “Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven.” What’s that all about? Well, to understand, we have to go back further. Let’s go to the book of Isaiah, chapter 14, verse 12.
Isaiah 14:12 – How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, sun of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will also sit on the mount of the congregation – on the farthest sides of the north.” The reference there to north is because God lives in the north heaven, we’re told in scripture – the third heaven, which is outside of the universe – outside of the physical realm. Verse 14:
V-14 – “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High.” Yet you shall be brought down to sheol, to the lowest depths of the pit.
What is that about? Who was Lucifer? Well, at one time, Lucifer was an archangel. There used to be three of them – Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer. Archangels are the highest order of angels – right in the throne room of God – highly trusted. But Lucifer turned. He rebelled. And ever since then, he’s been trying to ruin God’s plans – God’s plan for us and he’s tried to take control – to sit on God’s throne – “I will be like the Most High.”
So God is going to make sure the His family is good. He’s not going to let them happen to us. There’s not going to be somebody that, eons down the road, turns and causes a lot of problems in His family. Those who become eternal members of the God family will not fight God. We will love God and we will cooperate with God. And we will want to do it – not out of any constraint or control, but because of our own free will. We will be a good family.
Now how is God doing that? How is going to insure that none of us turns? How is going to get us all to cooperate willingly? Well, if you look around right now, it would look like He’s not doing very well at it, wouldn’t it? Things are really bad in this world. There’s a lot of suffering, and misery, and cruelty, and just outright evil. For a long time, how God was doing it was a mystery. There’s even a scripture that says even angels used to look down on us and wonder how God was going to take us from what we are to what He says we will become. But now God has revealed that.
There are three elements in this effort. One is free will. In a good family, the children and teenagers, for the most part, subject themselves to parental authority willingly. How does that happen? Well, before I answer that question, let me say that you have to have free will to do anything willingly, right? So God gives us all free will so that we will get to decide what we will do. It’s not good if God controls us and turns us into automatons or robots. And God isn’t a control freak. We can’t choose to follow God if we have no ability to choose, but that free will is also one of the two reasons why we see so many bad things in the world. God has to give it to us – to all of us. When you have a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Mao, or a Pol Pot, or a Karl Marx, then you have outbreaks of incredible evil in the world, because they have chosen an evil way. So that’s one influence – free will – a big influence on every one of us every moment of every day.
The second influence – the other big reason there is so much bad in the world – is because of our enemy, the devil. So that’s the second element of the free. The first was free will and the second is the devil – the enemy. He deceived Adam and Eve. He talked them into using the free will that God gave them to disobey God. You know, when we go to these places where there have been outbreaks of incredible evil in the world, like Auschwitz or Cambodia or Russia, we’re staggered at what humans have done to humans. We call it inhuman. And, in part, it is. What part does the devil play in God’s plan, however? Why did God let the devil into the Garden of Eden in the first place? Everything was good there. Adam and Eve loved God. They were cooperative. But they had not been tested. It was easy to love God while He was doing everything for them. Remember the story about the devil, God and Job? God said to the devil, “Have you seen my servant, Job – how good he is?” And the devil said, “Well, of course, he’s good. You’ve given him everything! You put a wall of protection around him. Why wouldn’t he be good? But You give him to me and I’ll cause him to curse You to Your face.” So God did. He said, “He’s yours, but don’t kill him.” So that was a test for Job. God wanted to know what Job would do when things got tough. So He wants to create character in us that we’re going to want to be with Him – that we’re going to be like Him – that our character will be like His, our values will be His. He wants a family that will work together and hold together under all circumstances – easy or difficult – no more attempts to take His place. And what is God prepared to do to make all that come true? Well, He’s given us free will to choose good or evil and the results are incredibly painful for us and for God also, because He loves us. And then He allows the devil to influence us. How hard is that for God to do – to let all of us suffer the consequences of our own foolish action and then to turn the devil loose on us? What kind of commitment does it take for God to do that? God is playing for some incredibly high stakes – our eternal life – His eternal family – so high that He’s allowed His own Son to be crucified to advance His plan. You know, if we can get into that space, we can understand that the greater the evil we see in the world, the more it shows how valuable will be the reward. So that’s the second element – the devil’s influence.
What’s the third and final element in God’s family-building plan? Well, that influence is Jesus Christ. You have the devil on one side and Christ on the other – two opposing influences. Let’s ask a question. It might seem unrelated, but I promise to tie it back to Christ in the end. What is the glue that holds a good family together? If everybody has free will and they can do what they want, why do they do what the father and the mother want? Why do the kids follow along? Well, I like to tell my parents in family therapy or coaching that rules without relationship equals rebellion, while rules with relationship equals respect. It’s all about love! Love is the glue. When parents respect their children, when they serve them sacrificially, when they set boundaries to keep them safe and to help them grow, when they spend time with them and express love toward them, children naturally love them back and want to please them. We’re designed that way. And we’re designed that way – to love God back, too, when He loves us. When this happens in a family, then children, for the most part, voluntarily submit to parental authority. As a good father, that is what God has done with us.
Okay, love is glue. Whose idea is that? Is it mine? Well, look with me in Colossians 2:1. Paul said:
Colossians 2:1 – For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face – he’s telling them that he loves them – that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding, and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.
So there it is. Love is glue that binds us together – in the church and just personally – in marriage and family. And what two big things has Christ done to influence us toward God? Well, let’s look in John 12:32. He said:
John 12:32 – And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself. Notice that He says that He is, by His loving sacrifice, going to draw us all to Him – the power of love at work. Much has been said about this. Most Christians understand this truth.
What’s the second big thing that Christ did? Well, let’s read about that in Acts 2:36.
Acts 2:36 – Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know – say’s Peter, who’s giving this sermon on the Day of Pentecost – the first one for the church – therefore know, for certain, that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus, whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Peter said all this right after God had just given the Holy Spirit to the church for the first time, on Pentecost, right after His ascension. They wanted to know what to do to draw close to God. And He told them to make a commitment to God, as we’ve talked about in our series of four presentations on baptism. If you didn’t catch those yet, you can find them on our Website at liferesource.org or on our YouTube channel, LifeResourceVideos. It’s all one word.
So that’s how we get the Holy Spirit. We make a commitment. But what is the Holy Spirit? And what does it do? Let’s read Romans 5:3.
Romans 5:3 – Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. There is it, isn’t it? Suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character – just as we said – not my idea. And this hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides us with the relational glue we need to be connected to God – His love in us.
Let’s look at one more aspect of the Holy Spirit. It’s in Colossians 1:27.
Colossians 1:27 – To them God chose to make known how great among, the Gentiles, are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you – the hope of glory. Christ in you – the hope of glory.
The Holy Spirit is the mind of Christ – the only person who has lived a perfect life. And we have His mind in us. We think God is so far off. Living to please Him is so hard – such a trial. It’s so hard to connect to God. You know, I saw a documentary about the movie, Ray. It was about Ray Charles. Jamie Fox played Ray. He’s a very good pianist and he played some of the piano parts. And Ray Charles coached him. And in this documentary, at one point, while he was trying to learn to play one of Ray’s songs, he just threw up his hands and said, in great frustration, “I just can’t get it.” And Ray jumped in there and said, “Yes you can! Yes you can! It’s right there. It’s right there under your fingers.” Well, I’m sure God feels like that with us sometimes. We have His mind in our hearts and yet we feel cut off. He’s right there! Right there in your heart!
Paul said the Holy Spirit in us is the down payment of eternal life. That’s how we know that God is interested in us individually. God puts a down payment up for us, so that we will know He’s serious about adding us, personally, to His family. If you’re selling a house, lots of people will come and tell you they want to buy it. But until somebody writes a check for the down payment, it’s all just talk. Same with the Holy Spirit. God stopped talking and He started acting – when He gives that to us. He shows His seriousness.
So looking back at all this, we see that God has created a world where we have free will and there are two influences working on us – God and the devil – opposing influences. And, as we struggle between these two, we build Godly character – if we go toward God. We look at the world and we think we don’t want that. It’s a bad place. We want God’s way in our lives. And God lays out for us, if we have that attitude, what we must do every day. It’s in James 4, verse 7.
James 4:7 – Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. You’re going to have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re going to have to serve somebody. We must use our free will to struggle against ourselves and the influences of the devil and the evil that he makes available and accept Christ’s loving sacrifice that He made for us.
But what else is there? Well, there’s one more thing I want to show you. Let’s go back to Acts 2 – to that sermon – verse 38:
Acts 2:38 – And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are afar off – everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself. Everybody’s been invited – or most have – but some of us aren’t accepting the invitation. Anytime we want, we can. Some us think that, because God is working with a lot of us at once, there’s nothing deeply personal from God. We think of it as a program. But that just is not true. If you’ve made a personal commitment to Christ, then he makes a personal commitment to you. Your name is written in heaven. He has you on his contacts list. He knows you. He says He has known you from the time you were formed in your mother’s womb. Notice this from Hebrews 2:10:
Hebrews 2:10 – For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, to bring many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Even Christ benefited from the suffering that He experienced here on earth.
Notice that word founder. That word, from the Greek, means not only founder, but it can mean leader or author – sort of like the architect – like He’s this architect of our salvation. When you realize that Jesus Christ is in our hearts, that He knows us from the womb – inside out – and He is the founder – leader and author – the architect of our salvation, we can get the picture that He is guiding each one of us, once we make that commitment to him – individually – toward His desired end goal – not controlling us, but guiding us. We have all these things happen to us that we call bad. Maybe they’re only unpleasant and not bad in the end. Maybe there is going to be something good come from those things. Maybe the things that we don’t like are more helpful than the things that seem pleasurable.
I think about my life since I was baptized when I was eighteen. There have been plenty of ups and downs, but I learned more during the downs. That’s when I really learned about God and about character and about struggle. You know, we were all created for struggle. We’re designed for it. And so we should expect it.
But does that kind of thinking stand up in the face of a holocaust? I think it does. I think that the reason we can’t realize that it does is because we don’t understand how valuable the reward it. You know, worse than being starved and gassed, eleven of the twelve apostles died terrible deaths of persecution and martyrdom. Jesus told them they would die doing the work that He assigned them. And He told some of them they would be crucified like He was. It was a part of their plan to enter into eternal life. If God let His own Son be crucified, and eleven of the twelve apostles, so that we could all be in His family, what might we have to endure ourselves? All those Jews, gypsies and political enemies that were starved and gassed, they will have a chance to be in God’s family. And when they get there, along the apostles and all those who have died in Christ’s name, they will tell us, “It was all worth it.” The reward will completely eclipse the pain of entry.
Let’s conclude with an overview from Ephesians 1, and verse 7.
Ephesians 1:7 – In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in Him – things in heaven and things on the earth.
There is a perfect plan, crafted of the wisdom of God, to unite us with Him. And it is at work as we speak. Ephesians 1:11:
Ephesians 1:11 – In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined, according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will – there has been a plan in effect from before the universe existed – so that we, who are the first who hope in Christ, might be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, when you heard the word of truth – the gospel of your salvation – that word gospel means good news – the good news of your salvation and believed in Him were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire the possession of it to the praise of His glory.
So God is working out a brilliant plan that includes all of us. It’s not His fault that some of us won’t read His book to understand it. We would know nothing about it if He didn’t reveal it to us. It’s all in this book. Read it and be informed.
Well, that’s it for today. Check back in two weeks for our next presentation. Until then, if you’re distressed, hang in there. Eventually, it will get better.