Death and Suffering
The Purpose of Grief by Dave Brown
Does God Have a Certain Time for Everyone to Die? by Bryan Gibson
A Life Nearly Lost by Bryan Gibson
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The Purpose of Grief
by Dave Brown
Preface: It is the author’s opinion that some of the facts presented in this article may not be comforting to those who have recently had the loss of a loved one, or a severe injury to themselves or a loved one. We hope they are of tremendous value to Christians who recognize that these things will, at some time in the future, happen to them, and who wish to prepare themselves for those eventualities. We urge those who are comforting loved ones who are in grief or pain to be as kind as possible, and to recognize that sometimes “just being there” is as comforting as anything that can be said to those in exceedingly sorrowful situations.
The bible is quite rich in providing us with the purposes that are served by personal suffering. By understanding these teachings we can be as prepared as possible for that inevitable day in which grief visits our door.
The very ancient book of Job comes to grips with this question, and while much of it is challenging, there are some very clear teachings as well. For example, the losses that we incur are not necessarily caused by our own sin. Human nature inevitably attempts to assign some such cause when we see others suffer -- perhaps to declare ourselves immune. It is clear from the first two chapters, however, that while God will keep His promises to us over the long term, he might allow considerable hardship along the way.
The "why" of Job's sufferings may never be fully answered, but without the documentation of this man's unfortunate experiences, we would be at a severe loss. Could he have suffered these things so that we can better understand this aspect of human nature? We see the abandonment of the support of his wife and friends as well as his own moments of doubt. However, ultimately Job overcame the greatest of losses, and God blessed him for his faithful.
As for our recognizing the loss of others, perhaps the best passage on this is Ecclesiastes 7:2-4: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” There is much to be gained by our attempts to comfort others, and our recognition that, given for time and circumstances, that will be ourselves in the not too distant future.
The New Testament elaborates much more fully as to the purpose of suffering. Read about Paul's thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:1-10). He considered his suffering a gift for which he was thankful since it: (1) kept him from pride, (2) made others recognize the truth was of God's power, not his, and (3) reoriented him toward a total dependence on God.
Similarly, Hebrews 12:1-13 tells us that the chastening that we endure is analogous to the discipline which a loving father gives a child. "All chastening seems for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yields peaceful fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby."
Finally, let us now meditate upon these passages to gain an appreciation for God's larger purpose for us despite the uncertainties and sorrows of this present world. These things can only be understood if we, as Christians, recognize ourselves to be mere "sojourners and pilgrims" in this world (1 Pet. 2:11). The answer to the "why" question lies in God's desire to have us with him forever, which will be the blessing of those who trust in His way.
Does God Have A Certain Time For Everyone To Die?
By Bryan Gibson
When a family has lost a loved one, people naturally want to say things to comfort the family. They may say something like, “it was his time”; or, “God knows best, and He decided it was time to take him.” People certainly mean well when they say things like this, but do these statements really agree with what the Scriptures teach? Does God really set a specific time for each person to die? And are they really comforting?
Certainly there were times in the Bible when God intervened and took the life of someone. However, this was usually for the purpose of punishment (for example, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5). But can we say that God does this in every case, with every person? Consider the following principles.
According to 2 Corinthians 4:16, while “the inward man is being renewed day by day,” the “outward man (the body or flesh) is perishing” (or decaying). In other words, the aging process takes its toll on the body; the body just wears out. This happens quicker for some than others, but is there any evidence that God fixes the timetable for each person?
Just as we can live in such a way as to prolong life (Ephesians 6:2-3), we can also live in such a way as to shorten our days (Proverbs 10:27). For example, if one’s years are cut short by drug abuse, can we truthfully say that God took him? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that his life was cut short because he abused his body?
Consider the example of Judas, whose remorse over the betrayal of Jesus led him to hang himself (Matthew 27:3-5). Did God take him, or did he take his own life? Had God appointed this time for him to die, or did Judas have control over what happened?
What about those who die because of the maliciousness of others? For example, if someone is murdered, can we truthfully say that he died “because it was his time?” A recent bulletin article contained a letter from David Duren, who was recently executed for the murder of a 16 year old girl. God didn’t “take her”; David Duren did.
Think about the Christians in the New Testament who died as a result of persecution (Acts 7, 12; Revelation 2:13). Yes, God could have intervened and spared their lives, but can we say that God took them because it was “their time”?
We also have to take into account carelessness; there is such a thing as an accident (Ecclesiastes 9:11). If I fall asleep at the wheel and die in a car accident, was it because it was “my time,” or was it because I didn’t get enough sleep?
So does God have a certain time for everyone to die? The evidence from Scripture says no. While there are exceptions, clearly they should not be used to establish the general rule. We need to comfort those who are grieving over lost loved ones, but let’s don’t comfort them with words that aren’t true.
A Life Nearly Lost
by Bryan Gibson
I had been asleep for nearly two hours when I received the phone call. My sixteen year-old niece, Valerie Baker, had been in a terrible car accident, leaving her in critical condition. As soon as I got off the phone, I started praying, something I’m sure other family members were doing at the same time. The next day I received word that she was going to pull through, although there was the possibility that she would lose her left leg. Three days after the accident, her left leg was amputated from the middle of the knee joint. The following day successful reconstructive surgery was performed on her right knee, which had also been badly damaged in the accident. At the time of this writing, Valerie is experiencing the normal “lows” associated with an ordeal like this, but she is very thankful to be alive. I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last week about some lessons we can learn from this whole situation.
Life, although a precious blessing, is very fragile and uncertain.
As I mentioned earlier, Valerie has had some low moments, but she is thankful to be alive. The state trooper who investigated the accident was amazed that anyone could survive this accident. Actually, two people did. The girl who was a passenger in the car Valerie was driving escaped with hardly a scratch, even though the car hit a tree, was split in two, and flipped a couple times. Most accidents of this magnitude do not have a “happy ending.” Every day people die suddenly from traffic accidents as well as other causes. In other words, life is fragile; it can be taken from us in the “blink of an eye.” We must consider each day a blessing from God and make the very best of it (Psalms 118:24). What we must do with each day is get ready for THE DAY. Because life is so uncertain, THE DAY may come sooner than any of us expect.
Life is full of sorrow (Psalms 90:10).
I have seen more tears shed in this past week than I have seen in a long time—from Valerie, from her parents, from other family members, from many of her friends who had come to check on her. It triggers a lot of emotion when you see a sixteen year-old girl lying in intensive care, with tubes running everywhere from her body. This life can be very good at times, but it can also be quite cruel. It should make us long for that place where God will wipe away all tears, where there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying (Revelation 21:4).
Suffering can bring out the best in people.
It is too early to say with certainty how Valerie will react to all that has happened to her. But what I do know about her gives me confidence that this whole ordeal will strengthen her character. This physical “weakness” may prove to make her stronger spiritually (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). What happened to her was a bad thing, but God has the power to make it work for good (Romans 8:28).
This accident has already brought out the best in other people. There is simply no way to measure the amount of compassion that has been shown to my niece and to our family. Prayers have been said, words of encouragement have been spoken, food has been cooked, money has been raised to help with expenses, and the list could go on and on. A long time ago, God showed us the true meaning of love (1 John 3:16). How comforting it is, how encouraging, when others demonstrate that same kind of love. I spoke with Valerie on the phone before writing this article. She told me she loved me, and then she said, “tell Aunt Lynn and all your family that I love them too.” I suspect Valerie understands the meaning and value of love now more than she ever has in her entire life.
We should be thankful that we have a powerful, loving heavenly Father who hears and answers our prayers (1 John 5:14-15).
We sometimes make the statement in certain situations, “well, all we can do is pray.” We should instead say, “the best thing we can do is pray.” Word was spread about my niece’s accident to faithful Christians in many other places, and they all petitioned the throne of God on her behalf. Yes, I know she lost part of her leg, but she is alive, and I sincerely believe that we have God to thank for that. We can also give thanks to Him that she did not sustain any head injuries. In time, with the help of a prosthesis, she will be able to walk again, even run and jump again. Overcoming a brain injury would have been much tougher. Wouldn’t it be terrible in a situation like this to not be able to pray with confidence, because we knew our lives were not pleasing to God—to know that we so desperately needed God’s help, but not have the confidence that we would receive it? (1 John 3:22). Valerie is now out of intensive care—but only in one sense. She remains under the intensive care of God.
Editor’s update: Valerie went on to finish high school, and then college, and is now in the midst of her first year of teaching. She is a faithful Christian and plans to marry another faithful Christian this summer (2008).
Why Does God Allow So Much Suffering?
by Bryan Gibson
This question has perplexed and troubled many people, causing some to even doubt the existence of God. There are many sides to this question, but let’s start with this simple point. God allows suffering, at least in part, because of its many benefits. That’s right. Suffering is not all bad, as we can see from the following points.
Suffering keeps this world from becoming too attractive. When we consider the many forms of suffering we face in this world, it becomes clear that God has so ordered things that this world soon loses its attraction. A young person may dream of living forever on this earth, but give him a few years and his tune will change—after he has seen his share of suffering and heartache, and after his body has begun to break down. This world is not our home; we are but strangers and pilgrims on this earth (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13), and sometimes it takes some suffering to make us realize that. Thankfully, God has prepared a much better place for us (Hebrews 11:14-16; 13:14). Yes, we have our share of sorrow in this life, but it’s this sorrow that makes us say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalms 55:6).
Suffering can bring out the best in us. People can sometimes be at their best spiritually when they have been weakened by suffering (see Paul’s comments about his thorn in the flesh—2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Suffering tends to wake up the spiritual side in us; it turns our focus to those things that really matter, the things that endure. We can actually learn to “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Suffering can also bring out the best in those who rally around those who are suffering. Perhaps some of our readers have been through some tough times. Were you overwhelmed by all the gestures of kindness and sympathy? What you went through may have been bad, but it sure gave others an opportunity to do good.
Suffering offers an occasion to silence the enemies of God. That’s exactly what happened in the story of Job. Satan wanted to prove God wrong about Job, that he served God only because God had blessed him (Job 1:6-12). But Job’s endurance silenced Satan! Satan may think the same thing about us, but we know how to shut him up—“by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). Doing good in the face of suffering is the very subject discussed in the verses that follow (vv. 18-23). We cannot allow suffering to make us bitter, or in any way affect our faithfulness to God—that would be playing right into the hands of the devil!
Suffering makes us more appreciative, more thankful. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits” (Psalms 68:19). God has blessed us abundantly, but we often take these gifts for granted, especially when things are going real well. Suffering can make us realize just how good we had it. Experiencing bad health for a time makes us much more appreciative of good health. Getting mistreated by some people makes us more appreciative of good friends and a loving family. Quite often in the New Testament Paul mentions by name people who ministered to him, comforted him, refreshed his spirit, etc. There can be no doubt that the tough times he endured made him appreciate these folks even more.
Suffering makes us more dependent on God. Here’s what Paul learned from the trouble he and his companions had in Asia: “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). His thorn in the flesh had the same effect—it humbled him and made him depend more on God’s strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). We all want prosperity, but too much of it can have the same effect on us that it had on King Uzziah: “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction...” (2 Chronicles 26:16).
Suffering helps to purify us. Our faith is often “tested by fire” (2 Peter 1:7), by the various sufferings we have to endure. These sufferings may be the very thing we need to purify our faith, to burn away any impurities that may be revealed. We tend to do very little self-examination when things are going well, but when times get hard, that’s when we begin to look a little deeper, to search our souls for any wrongdoing. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Suffering makes us more sympathetic toward others. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble...” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). We can sympathize with someone’s suffering, even when we haven’t it experienced it ourselves, but we can sure do a better job when we’ve been through the very same thing ourselves, or at least something very similar. It makes it much easier to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Suffering teaches us how to pray. It may take some suffering before we truly learn how to pray “earnestly” and “fervently” (Colossians 4:2, 12). It may only be then that we see the need to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Our experience could be very similar to that of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane: “Being in agony, he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44).
Can we at least begin to see why a loving God would allow suffering, even to the innocent? It may be the very thing we need to prepare us for eternity. Let us resolve to serve him faithfully, no matter how much suffering we have to endure. He will reward us with a home in heaven, a place where suffering will be no more.
Early Lessons from the Book of Job
by Stan Hammonds and Dave Brown
(edited by Bryan Gibson)
The book of Job is one of the more complex books in the Bible. There are, however, some fairly easy to understand lessons that can be gleaned from the early chapters without delving into all of its complexities. It is important that we understand these concepts on our first pass of the book, realizing that the more advanced lessons will always be there when we return to it later.
We’ll try to summarize them as follows:
1. Suffering is sometimes necessary. Job’s suffering was not just an experiment of God; it served several vital purposes. It was necessary to prove that Job was not just God’s trained puppy; it was necessary for Job to prove his faith in God and thus defy Satan; it was necessary for us to better understand that blessings can come from suffering if we maintain the right attitude toward it (2 Cor. 12:7-10). And, if it was necessary for Job it may well be necessary for us!
2. Satan does not stop after one failed attempt to weaken our faith. When Job successfully withstood the initial onslaught (the loss of his children and his wealth), Satan looked for another way to go after him. It is no different for us today; we have a persistent adversary.
3. Friends can sometimes be more helpful just by “being there” than by trying to help with words. Job’s friends meant well, but they began to cause problems when they spoke. Job told his friends that what he really needed in his time of suffering was their kindness. We would do well to remember this point whenever we interact with one another, but especially when suffering is involved.
4. We need to go to great pains to make sure we’re expressing God’s view, and not our own. It seems that Job’s friends were honest, they felt like they had the truth, and they felt that they could really help Job if he would only listen to them. But as well meaning as they were, they were wrong (at least on some points), and we can be wrong too! If we’re not sure we’re right, it’s better to remain quiet until we are sure.
5. There is a time and place for everything. Even a true statement wrongfully placed can cause harm. A great deal of what Job’s friends said was true, but if it’s said in the wrong way or at the wrong time, even the truth can be harmful to those we’re trying to help.
6. The troubles of this world—from minor everyday struggles to major life-changing events—can cause us to “get down.” How we deal with these struggles will reveal a lot about our attitude toward God and our relationship with Him.
7. Humans tend to rationalize away suffering. When something bad happens to someone else, we often attempt to provide a reason, and that reason will sometimes reflect negatively upon the person who is suffering. Let’s not fall into that trap. It is a logical fallacy (hasty generalization) to think that all suffering is caused by the one who is suffering. Obviously it is at times, but not always. This rationalization is motivated by an attempt to think that we can avoid suffering ourselves; however, we might as well put that thought out of our minds—everyone suffers...
8. No one gets out of this life without suffering of some sort. It will seem to be as bad as we can imagine, and we may sometimes feel burdened with what feels like the weight of the world. But, we should take heart in knowing God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, the only question for each of us to ponder is this: Will I be prepared for the suffering when it comes? God has provided His wisdom in the Bible, and especially in the book of Job, to help us answer this question with a resounding “Yes I will!”
Job Was a Righteous Man
by Bryan Gibson
Job 31 is a wonderful chapter, filled with practical application. It contains Job’s defense of himself—of his attitudes and conduct toward God. He offers this defense, primarily for his friends, because they were convinced that Job was suffering because of sin. Let’s take a closer look then at his attitudes and conduct in the following areas. We’ll just let Job speak for himself, because we’re sure you’ll be impressed. Consider the following:
Toward impure thoughts (1-4). “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman? For what is the allotment of God from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from on high? Is it not destruction for the wicked, and disaster for the workers of iniquity? Does He not see my ways, and count all my steps?”
Toward falsehood and deceit (5-8). “If I have walked with falsehood, or if my foot has hastened to deceit, let me be weighed on honest scales, that God may know my integrity. If my step has turned from the way, or my heart walked after my eyes, or if any spot adheres to my hands, then let me sow, and another eat; yes, let my harvest be rooted out.”
Toward adultery (9-12). “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor's door...that would be wickedness; yes, it would be iniquity deserving of judgment...a fire that consumes to destruction, and would root out all my increase.”
Toward his servants (13-15). “If I have despised the cause of my male or female servant when they complained against me, what then shall I do when God rises up? When He punishes, how shall I answer Him? Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?”
Toward the poor and needy (16-23). “If I have kept the poor from their desire, or caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or eaten my morsel by myself, so that the fatherless could not eat of it...if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or any poor man without covering; if his heart has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; if I have raised my hand against the fatherless...then let my arm fall from my shoulder, let my arm be torn from the socket. For destruction from God is a terror to me, and because of His magnificence I cannot endure.”
Toward covetousness or idolatry (24-28). “If I have made gold my hope, or said to fine gold, ‘You are my confidence'; if I have rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because my hand had gained much...this also would be an iniquity deserving of judgment, for I would have denied God who is above.”
Toward his enemies (29-30). “Have I rejoiced at the extinction of my enemy, or exulted when evil befell him? No, I have not allowed my mouth to sin by asking for his life in a curse.”
Toward hospitality (31-32). “Have the men of my tent not said, ‘Who can find one who has not been satisfied with his meat’? The stranger has not lodged outside, for I have opened my doors to the traveler.”
Toward covering or concealing sin (33-34). “Have I covered my transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom, because I feared the great multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me...?”
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
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