“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT).
The biggest unanswered questions in life revolve around suffering: why do bad things happen to good people? Why is life so full of misery? Why doesn’t God do something? Where is he when we need him? If he’s so powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t he prevent the tragedies that daily plague us? Some try to make sense of it all by going so far as to say God is either teaching us lessons or punishing us, but these statements aren’t real answers and offer no comfort.
I don’t have answers either, but what I do know is Jesus understands. He came as a human to enter into our suffering. He experienced all the bad things we have to endure, but no doubt on a deeper level. Because he was both human and God at the same time he suffered with us and for us for all time, from the beginning of human history all the way to whenever it ends. Our suffering is his—he owned it and owns it still.
God didn’t promise us a fairy land where bad things never happen and nothing hurts, but he did promise and deliver the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who helps us through the pain and reminds us this life isn’t all there is. One day our suffering will end and he will give us the answers, but for now he has left us with his peace, which we can have even through our pain and struggles.
“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20, NLT).
Self reliance and independence are hallmarks of western culture. We’ve been told it’s good to “go with your gut” and make decisions based on instincts. But there are times our gut feelings get us into trouble. Our feelings can also lead us astray where God is concerned, particularly when we misunderstand grace.
Jesus accomplished all the work his Father gave him and that work was to give complete and total forgiveness at the cross. Before he died, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Christians don’t have to carry guilt like a sack of rocks, adding another rock with each new sin to the heavy load and worrying the sack might break. We really are forgiven and we can trust God rather than our feelings. He has taken the load of sin and guilt off our backs and reassures us in many ways and throughout the Bible of his love, grace and mercy. Ditch the sack of rocks, go with God’s grace and stop feeling guilty!
“We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1, NLT).
As soon as we’re born, we begin learning about the world through the senses: first by taste then by touch. Everything we get our fingers on goes in our mouths, whether clean, dirty, harmful or tasty. As we grow, we stop putting most things in our mouths, but we still can’t resist touching. We want to pick up and hold items before we buy them, often to test them and make sure they are genuine or of good quality.
From the beginning of time, humans have wanted to see, hear and touch God. It’s just hard to believe in what we can’t explore with our senses. As a result some reject him, some mistrust him and many walk a line between faith and unbelief. When Jesus came to earth as a human being, he gave those around him the opportunity to experience God up close and personal. They heard his words, saw his miracles, watched him die and were amazed to see his resurrected body as he talked, walked and ate with them. We weren’t there and can’t touch him today, but we can believe the eye-witness accounts—he is genuine, the real thing, the Truth, the Word of life.
“I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, NLT).
The Old Testament used to be taught in schools as a regular part of the curriculum. Children grew up knowing the names and order of the books, the characters and their stories. Now it’s rare to learn the Bible in school and almost as rare for people to know much about it. Watch Jeopardy! and you’ll see—when a category is about the Bible, most of the contestants don’t even ring in. Consequently, what people have heard or believe about the Old Testament is that it’s filled with accounts of a mean, angry God who kills thousands at the drop of a hat.
While it’s true a lot of people died for reasons we don’t quite understand, God is not the ogre some infer from the more violent parts of the Bible. Tucked away in the little book of Hosea we see what is really going on in God’s heart and what has been there all along. From the beginning, he has been more interested in love and mercy. He wants us to acknowledge him as God and know him. It has always been more important to him that we share in his life, enjoy his company and walk and talk with him. In his son Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, he has made sure we see the big picture and know the truth of who he is.
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, NLT).
We have a tendency to remember the wrongs done to us, sometimes for our whole lives. The old adage that it takes many positive comments to make up for a single negative one must be true as I still remember the insults I received as a child. We tell ourselves those hurtful words don’t affect us but they do.
God understands insults and put downs—Jesus received many in his short life. But unlike us, he had the big picture and realized even those who crucified him didn’t know what they were doing. When we sling mud, we have little to no comprehension of how we affect others. Thankfully, God’s deep love covers, forgives and forgets our sins and he wants us to do the same for each other, for we are all made in his image. In this life of relationships and interactions with imperfect people, the most important thing we can do is shower them with affirmations of God’s love and grace, erase the insults and cover the sins.
“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23, NLT).
Until I had a baby, I didn’t understand how a person could be so interested in every little detail of someone else’s life. I watched each facial expression, noticed every hiccup and didn’t want to miss a moment. I also became thoroughly involved in guiding both my kids as they grew and developed their own personalities.
In the same way, but no doubt to a greater degree, God is interested in us. He hasn’t gone off to a far corner of the universe, leaving us to fend for ourselves. Neither does he orchestrate every minute of every day, like a puppet master holding our strings. God is the ultimate loving parent, enjoying our happy moments, crying with us in sorrow and pain and delighting in our accomplishments. He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us through the tough parts of life and he loves when we listen to his expert advice. Knowing he delights in us is delightful!
“And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved” (Romans 11:6, NLT).
Every now and then the family of a murder victim makes news by forgiving the perpetrator. We marvel at their magnanimity and wonder how it’s possible they can give up the desire for revenge. It just doesn’t seem normal. And it isn’t—it’s godly.
From our point of view, it seems natural that God would have every right to punish us severely for breaking his laws and turning against him. Many believe he is anxious to do just that. He did set in motion the law of consequences or as Newton’s third law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We experience pain, emotional distress and broken relationships among other things when we sin. But he is not interested in or desirous of seeing us suffer even more and for all eternity. In his love, mercy and kindness he gives us free and undeserved grace through Jesus the Son. This is good news you won’t see on TV: his grace is available to all, no matter the crime, no strings attached.
“Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness” (Ephesians 6:23, NLT).
Prayer is how Christians participate in the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. It is as easy as simply talking to him, but sometimes, especially when praying for people in difficult situations, we find ourselves at a loss for words. In this short prayer, tacked on to the end of Ephesians, Paul gives us not only a sample prayer but insight into the heart of God.
God is love (1 John 4) and he is faithful. Because we know this about him and we know he hears us when we pray, asking him for love with faith is a prayer he will always answer. We all need both, so we can pray this for others and ourselves in any and every situation with complete confidence. God doesn’t withhold himself from us but is eager to share and help us through life with these and every fruit of the Spirit—and all we have to do is ask. I’m sure Paul wouldn’t mind if we echo and even copy his prayers. They are timeless, insightful and reflective of God’s heart for us.
“Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven'” (Matthew 9:2, NLT).
An old movie called Love Story made this line somewhat famous: “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” After many years of marriage and two children, I believe that’s not true. Husbands and wives need to say they’re sorry when they hurt each other. It’s good for kids to apologize to their parents and siblings. Saying you’re sorry makes relationships work a lot better.
God likes hearing us say it too, but it’s not necessary to continually beg and plead for forgiveness. The paralytic in this verse didn’t even ask for it and Jesus forgave him, simply because of the faith of his friends. Before we ever asked for it, Jesus forgave us from the cross. It’s just not true that Jesus withholds his forgiveness—the first time we come to him or the thousandth time—unless or until we abhor ourselves in dust and ashes or perform bloody acts of contrition. As his beloved children, saying we’re sorry is more for our benefit than his. His love means we’re forgiven; our love back to him means saying we’re sorry (again) and thank you (again).
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners” (Romans 5:6, NLT).
In our self-sufficient, I-can-do-it-myself culture, helplessness is seen as a negative condition and a sign of weakness. If you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, something must be wrong with you, so people will either write you off or take advantage.
God doesn’t see helplessness the same way. Our weakness is his artist’s medium. Rather than write off the whole human race, God sent his Son to pull us—while still in our completely weak and powerless state—out of sin, misery and death. He didn’t wait for us to get stronger, do good works or clean up our act. And he still doesn’t. No one can clean themselves up enough to deserve grace, but in his love and compassion, God was happy to lay down his life for us, once and for all. He lets us trade our helplessness for his all-sufficient grace, which makes us his work of art.