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Weekly Word

Entries in Bitterness (1)

Friday
Nov242017

The Lord of Life

1 Kings 17:17-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on November 19, 2017.

In today’s passage tragedy is going to strike.  As is always the case, when calamity comes, we go from cruising through life to crying out in desperation.  Some use the existence of tragedy as a reason to reject the Creator.  However, the Bible teaches us that the All-Wise God knows what He is doing.  Even in the midst of tragedy He is merciful to mankind and has a plan to bring us to a place where tragedy will never again be able to strike us.  We serve the God who has the power of life and reigns supreme over death.  And, though it is clearly His will that all men should die and then face judgment, it is also His will that the righteous be raised up to eternal life.

God is still in control when tragedy strikes

Last week we saw God’s great mercy to this widow who wasn’t a part of the nation of Israel.  He did not just send her a prophet to feed her physical bread, but also to give her the truth.  Thus as the woman eats the miraculous physical bread, she is also the recipient of a miraculous side seat of the prophet Elijah.  Thus the God that Israel served cared even about a gentile widow who was on the verge of dying.  She had proven herself by sharing her last meal with Elijah and now enjoys the happiness of not having to worry about where the next meal for her son will come from.  While she was in this amazing time of joy, things headed in the right direction, and learning about God, things go sideways.  What is God doing?  She was no different than we are today.  What in the world is God doing today?  Well, we know that He is sending out Christians to speak the truth of God’s love to all people and His forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus.  So, why does it look like everything is falling into Chaos?  It looks that way because men’s hearts are evil and create chaos by their actions and choices.  So why doesn’t God stop it?  He doesn’t stop it because if He did there would be no more chance for salvation for them.  This woman was on the good path and could feel that surely she was now immune from difficulties.  The tragedy catches her by surprise, but not God.

It is here and many other places that we see the fact that tragedy strikes both the wicked and the righteous.  The woman’s son comes down with a sickness that quickly takes his life.  The tragedy of famine was already hitting the evil and good alike.  It doesn’t seem fair that God’s punishment of King Ahab and the people of Israel who were going along with him would also affect righteous people.  But, God always takes care of those who put their trust in Him.  Yes, He could supernaturally cause it to rain on just the crops of the righteous, but in His wisdom He often chooses to let it strike both alike.  The wicked in this situation have no hope.  But the righteous can pray and call out for the help that God has promised He will give.  Jesus warned his disciples not to think that tragedy is sent only to destroy sinners.  In Luke 13 he points out two situations in which people tragically died (some at the hands of a wicked king, and others at the accident of a tower collapsing).  He asks the question, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwell in Jerusalem?”  He then goes on to explain that, “I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  We should not look on trying to figure out why it happened, but rather let it be a warning to us that our time could come just as unexpectedly.  Am I ready to meet my Maker?  Many people get no advance warning of their deaths.  They have no time to get ready for it.  We need to always be ready to face the Lord.  Now, when tragedy strikes it feels like there is no hope.  But in Christ there is always hope.  With God all things are possible, even life from the dead.

But the widow is not aware of this yet.  She can only see the despairing unfairness of her situation.  She thinks that she is being punished for some past sin.  It is also clear that Elijah the prophet doesn’t know what God is doing either.  Obviously, God had not told him what would happen.  So Elijah, in verse 20, asks God if He had done this.  But, he seems to be asking more of a “Why” question than anything.  Now the truth is that God is ultimately responsible.  He has either primarily caused it to happen, or He has secondarily allowed it to happen.  Either way, because God is a being with complete jurisdiction and power, He bears responsibility for what happens.  Those who try to blame the evil in the world on God only have a partial case.  Yes, it seems that God is failing in His duty even to allow evil to exist.  However, that is a very different then thinking that God does evil or makes people do evil things.  God is never directly or primarily responsible for evil, people and other created beings are.  Yet, even in the argument that He shouldn’t allow evil to occur, the premise is illogical.  Would we call a world where we didn’t have a true choice, good?  If God forced us to do good things, as He defines it, all the time, would we think it was good?  In His wisdom God has determined the best course and made the best decrees for giving mankind freedom and yet holding them accountable for their choices and actions.  We may disagree, but we cannot say He is the source of evil in the sense that He bears primary responsibility.  So is God sleeping at the wheel and doing a bad job of managing the universe?

As hard as it is for us within this world to see beyond it, God sees all.  When a person is going through a problem, they often become stuck in it.  If God directly causes a tragedy, then it is a rebuke to the wicked in order to humble them.  This “shot across the bow” gives them the mercy of rethinking their path.  Repentance becomes an open door before them regardless of whether or not they walk through it.  Sometimes the tragedy is to simply remove the wicked from the scene.  Their time is finished, much like Belshazzar and the mysterious hand, writing on the wall.  It can also be a test to the righteous, to see if they will still follow Him.  Or, sometimes it is merely to remove them from wicked circumstances.  Isaiah 57:1,2 says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands.  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”  God also sometimes does so in order to display his glorious power through healing and deliverance.  Now all these things, and most likely more, can be the possible purpose when God directly causes tragedy.  In fact, it would seem that he often is doing many of them simultaneously in the lives the many different people affected.

Yet, many tragedies are not primarily caused by God, but rather simply allowed to take place by Him.  Whether it is a person simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or evil people preying on others, God has allowed mankind a certain space of freedom.  He is not instantaneous in His judgments and punishments.  He leaves room for people to repent and be saved from their sin.  Yet, if they do not repent, they will find that room to also be the rope by which they hang themselves.  They will be without excuse.  Though it is a grievous burden at times, we should not complain that God gives us such room.  The only other option would be a stifling dictatorship.  So God allows things to happen for much the same reasons as when He directly causes them to happen.  Ultimately He is giving mankind freedom to sin and yet freedom to choose righteousness.  If I only choose righteousness when God protects me in a safe cocoon, then I am not really choosing righteousness.  I am choosing safety, self-preservation.  But, if I choose righteousness even when suffering at the hands of evil, then I truly have chosen righteousness and such a choice truly is commendable.  God is not a dictator at heart.  He does not wish to control mankind, but to have a free relationship with mankind.  It is the devil, who accuses God at every turn, who is the dictator at heart.

The real question is how will I respond

Notice that God does not answer Elijah’s question about whether He did this or not, or why He might have allowed it to happen.  We should see this aspect also in the story of Job.  It is as if the Bible is telling us that even if we did have an answer it is not what is important in our life.  The problem isn’t that we don’t know what God is doing.  The problem is that we often fall to the temptation to doubt His love for us and go our own way.  This story is about how we respond to tragedy, and not why God allows it.  We don’t need to know, as much as we want it, but only what is next.  If the creator of the universe is good and working all things to our good, then we don’t need to understand His plan; only what we should do next. 

The reaction or next step for many people is bitterness, fear, and pushing God away.  This is the path that the widow starts to go down.  She regrets interacting with Elijah.  No matter how nice the miraculous bread was, it would be like gravel now that her son is dead.  You can almost hear her thinking in her mind, “I knew nothing good would come from letting a prophet stay in the house.”  She suspects that her son’s death is a punishment for a past sin.  If we imagine her life, we see a very difficult series of tragedies.  She lives in a pagan country with rampant immorality and abuse.  Her husband then died and left her poor and with a little child.  Then a famine comes and shuts off any hope she had of foraging and scraping out a living.  Yes, a prophet shows up, but now her child is dead.  Her heart begins to push away Elijah and the God that He represents.  They are to blame.  The isolation to which we retreat will wall us off from the goodness of God.  Of course, we should not blame this woman.  She is just a baby in the things of God.  Thus we should contrast her actions with those of Elijah’s.

Elijah is not a spiritual infant.  Yet, no amount of spiritual maturity can make life easy.  He does not respond in walking away from God and being fearful that God is rejecting him.  Rather, he responds in faith and begins fervently praying for God’s act of divine power to save the boy.  Is this how I respond?  Do we keep looking to God until we get an answer either way?  James uses Elijah as a model for believers in every generation.  He is a righteous man whose faith causes him to pray to God in the time of need.  Such prayers of faith accomplish much.  Let’s hear the verses.  James 5:13-18, “Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”  Though, James points to the prayers concerning the famine, he could have just as easily pointed to these prayers for God to bring the boy back to life.  We can also pray like Elijah did, with faith in God, and fervency.

Yet, this story is not about being able to get a miracle every time something bad happens.  Ultimately it is a reminder that our God has the power of life even in the face of death.  Even if He does not bring someone back from the dead, He still has the purpose of raising us all up from the dead at the Day of Resurrection.  This boy has not been dead for long and thus we could say he is technically resuscitated.  Now, later at the raising of Lazarus from the dead, it had been 4 days.  This is more than resuscitation.  This would involve a clear rejuvenation of tissue.  In either of these cases the boy and Lazarus would go on and live the rest of their lives and come to death’s door for the second time.  However, this time Elijah or Jesus would not show up.  They are only given mortal life.  Why?  God’s plan for all mankind is greater than keeping us from dying or suffering tragedy.  His plan is to overcome the suffering and tragedy that we may face in life, even death.  Phillips Brooks, an 18th century American, Episcopal clergyman once said, “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you will be a miracle.”  God can handle our many questions asking why.  But, recognize that more important than “why” is what will I do now.  Let’s choose to trust God and be a people who pray with the faith and knowledge of just how great our God is.

Lord of Life audio