‘WELCOME TO IHRBC’
At High Road we are building a church family of all ages from all
backgrounds. We love to welcome new people to our family.
This Month @ IHRBC
We are continuing to upload messages to our website each Sunday.
The Sunday evening Bible study continues.
You should now be in one of our CARE groups.
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Our life together focuses on:
- Worshipping Jesus.
- Caring for one another.
- Sharing the gospel with our community and the world
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Thought for the Week: Please click below.
In 1882 George Matheson described an experience he had been going through as ‘the most severe mental suffering’; but during that time he wrote, ‘O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee’.
We do not know what caused his suffering as it was not recorded for us but what we do know is that in the depth of pain, suffering, possibly loss, he penned those words ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’. Words that tell of the solace to be found in God in our times of suffering.
To say that God is love is one of the most wonderful things that the Bible teaches us about God. God is eternal, almighty, greater than our imagination, so great we run out of adjectives to describe him and yet at the same time, God is love.
Those words may be easier to accept when life is going along smoothly, and we have much to enjoy and be grateful for. Far harder when we are surrounded by sickness, pain and suffering, by death mourning and grief.
But allow me to point you for a moment to the cross – nothing demonstrates better God’s love for us. The Bible says that God did not even spare his own son but freely gave him up for us and nothing can change the fact that he did this for us. This is how God demonstrated his own love for us (the very words point to something unique and totally special). Jesus put it his way: ‘Greater love has no one than this – that he lay down his life for his friends’. God does love you, even when you do not feel his love; truly he does love you.
Whatever worries, concerns, pain, loss, tears, grief, you are experiencing and however deep the mental strain and emotional pain you are bearing, I hope that you will allow George Matheson’s song and the words of Scripture to convince you that God does truly love you and allow that love to bring you some comfort, peace and hope.
O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine oceans depths its flow.
May richer fuller be.
O joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee.
I chase the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain.
That morn shall tearless be.
Bible verses referenced to help you: Romans 8:32; 5:8; John 15:13
Next week: If God loves me, why on earth is he treating me like this?
Last week I invited you to pause and be still for a few minutes to let the words of the Bible and an old hymn wash over you and help you appreciate that truly God does love you.
But in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world, bringing disease and pain with people suffering alone and family unable to visit their loved ones, it may seem hard to believe that God loves us. For some of us there is the uncertainty of our jobs, and for others the loss of jobs and our financial security. Some of us are nervous about sending children back to school and worry about our elderly parents whom we wish would stay indoors. And, most sadly, there are thousands up and down this country and around the world who mourn the death of loved ones. If God loves me, why on earth is he treating me like this? We might even dare to think – he has a funny way of showing it?
If you can relate to those questions and those feelings at this time, let me acknowledge first that it is not easy to find a way forward from this point. However, I find the true life-stories in the Bible do begin to help me in my struggles. For example the story of Joseph. As a young man he was sold by his brothers and taken to Egypt; there he became a slave; despite serving well, his master’s wife falsely accused him of rape; so Joseph found himself in jail; and even though he helped one of Pharaoh’s top courtiers, that man forgot Joseph after he was given his position back and Joseph spent two more years in jail. As the song says: ‘Poor, poor Joseph, what’cha gonna do? Things look bad for you, hey, what’cha gonna do?’ (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, 1982).
Now Joseph had had two dreams in which God promised to give him a place of importance and power. Wonderful! But there was no sign of that in Joseph’s circumstances. He could well have thought, ‘Well, if God loves me, why on earth is he treating me like this?’ No doubt Joseph had many down moments, when all seemed dark, not only in the gloomy jail but also in his heart. However, Joseph came to understand: ‘You intended to harm me but God intended it for good’ (Genesis 50:20). I don’t know when he realised that, but he did. Certainly he did not know that at the start. But we do – because we have his life story. Let the events in Joseph’s life encourage you, even when you are wondering why things are happening to you like they are, that God does love you. He really does.
Next week: Crying out for God’s lovingkindness
Thomas Boston was a Scotsman who lived in C18th; he had it tough – his father spent time in prison when Thomas was a boy; his wife struggled with mental health problems over many years; and six out of ten children died in infancy.
When circumstances all around us seem to bring into question the truth that God loves us, what can we do? When there are no answers to the question ‘why?’ Why has God allowed this? Why doesn’t God stop it? If God is love then, why on earth is he treating us like this? What can we do?
Sometimes we are in danger of thinking that love means God will always make life comfortable and easy. We think God is there for our benefit and we get upset when he does not. We think we deserve good things and fail to recognise that God does indeed grant many things to us though we do not deserve them. But even when we lay aside some of those false ways of thinking, we are left with the fact that at times circumstances make us wonder, ‘if God loves us why on earth is he treating us this way?’. At such times, what can we do?
We can cry out to God for his kindnesses and as we do so:
- i) We can be honest about our feelings – as many psalms are: ‘My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me’ Psalm 55:2, 4, 5.
- ii) We can lament expressing our grief and bewilderment – as the psalms do:
iii) We can ask our questions – as both psalms and prophets: ‘Has his unfailing love vanished forever?’ Psalm 77:8; ‘Where are your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us’, Isaiah 63:15.
- iv) We can cry out to God for his mercies: ‘O Lord, have mercy on me in my anguish. My eyes are red from weeping; my health is broken from sorrow. I am pining away with grief’, Psalm 31:9.
Often we cannot find answers, often God does not explain some things to us (which, of course, assumes that we could understand if he did). Rather He assured his people of his compassion, as in Psalm 103. God uses our troubles to draw us to himself. Sometimes we need the advice that Thomas Boston gave to his church – he urged them to have faith and humility: faith that their suffering was not random and without purpose; humility to ‘humble ourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand’, and like the psalms practise lament – crying out to God with our feelings, with our questions, and with our cries for his mercies.
Next week: God’s unfailing love
Many psalms sing joyfully of God’s unfailing love:
Bless his name! For … his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 100:5); Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:1); Give thanks to the Lord for he is good his love endures forever, Psalm 136:1 (and every verse!).
The psalms are united on this – God is love and his love never fails. In times of great trouble and pain and grief they remember what the Lord has done before for them and their families. In those times they depend on that lovingkindness, and hence they give voice to their cries that the Lord would show them mercy again.
A similar thought is found in the book of Lamentations, which records the weeping of the prophet Jeremiah when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 586BC. It expresses the humiliation, suffering, and despair of the people; some people find in it a struggle to find God’s justice in the face of extreme suffering. Perhaps not that different from the question – ‘If God loves us why on earth is he treating us like this?’. In the end it accepts that God is sovereign and just. But most importantly it reaffirms the faith that his mercies, his lovingkindness does not fail. Listen to Chapter 3, verses 22-23: ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’.
But let me bring you back to the heart of our reflection on Day 1: let me point you again to the cross where the Lord Jesus died for us. There could never be a greater way for God to prove his amazing love for us and nothing can change the fact that he has done this. When situations, pain, tears cause you to wonder if God really does love you, look again at the cross where Jesus gave his life for you.
Finally let me share with you some wonderful words in Romans 8 that promise us that nothing can separate us from the love of God that he has shown us in Christ Jesus. Nothing at all – not troubles; not hardships; not famine; not danger; not even life or death itself. Nothing in all of creation, now or in the future can ever cause God to stop loving and caring (Romans 8:35-39).
Does God love? Yes he does. Don’t forget the many good things in your life, all of which you enjoy because God love and kindness. And in all the sickness and suffering, the death and mourning, the loss and grief, none of which makes much sense to us, God does still love us. Deeply. More than we will ever know.
My wife loves making bread at home. One of the ingredients is yeast. But the sachets are so small that you have to buy a pack of five. In Jesus’ day sparrows were worth so little that you could not just buy one, you would buy five for two pennies. But the words of Jesus are that the eternal almighty God sees when even one of those sparrows falls to the grounds.
This week we start a new four-part series around the wonderful truth that God sees all that we go through. Those words may be easier to accept when life is good and we have much to enjoy and be grateful for. Far harder when we are surrounded by sickness, pain and suffering, or surrounded by death, mourning and grief.
Allow me to share with you one of my favourite Bible moments. We read it in Genesis Chapter 16. It is the true-life story of a woman named Hagar. She is treated so badly that she feels she has no option but to run away from the home where she has been living. So off she runs… not knowing where to go, not having anyone to turn to. All alone in the world. After a while she finds a little spring in the desert – at least she as something to drink.
There she is – alone, hot, tired, nowhere to go, no one to help her. At that moment an angel speaks with her and Hagar starts to realise that the Lord sees her and her situation. How much that encourages her. It did not change her circumstances; she still had a difficult future; but knowing that the Lord saw her made such a difference for her.
When our Lord Jesus Christ was on earth he saw and took notice of a lame man at a pool when no one else was concerned for him; he saw the widow of Nain as she went to bury her son, and felt deep compassion for her; he saw the hungry crowds and wanted to do something to feed them; and even when he was dying, in pain on the cross he saw and, taking notice of his own mother, he made sure that one of the disciples would take care of her. Jesus saw people; he saw their needs; he saw their pain; he saw their hearts. And as our exalted Lord and Saviour he still sees our lives and our circumstances and if we let him this will make all the difference.
Next week we will try to think about some of the questions this raises for us when life is tough, but today I simply ask you to allow these words to sink into your mind and heart and to encourage you as they did Hagar. ‘You are the Lord who sees me’ (Genesis 16: 13).
Last week I invited you to pause and be still for a few minutes to let the experience of Hagar touch your hearts and help you appreciate, as Hagar did, that truly God does see all that we are going through. (Hagar’s story can be found in the Bible – Genesis Chapter 16)
But in these days with the covid-19 virus bringing disease and pain to so many, leading to the loss of jobs and leaving us not knowing how to feed our families, it may seem hard to believe that God does see us and our circumstances. Or that if he does see that he cares about us.
One question that we begin to wrestle with is, ‘If God sees what we are going through, why doesn’t he stop it?’ Why doesn’t he stop the virus? Why doesn’t he heal the people? Why doesn’t he prevent any more deaths?
Such questions are not easy to answer. But perhaps we could pause for a moment to consider what exactly we are asking God to stop. Is it the spread of the virus? If this is our request, are we wanting God to step in from heaven and stop people trading, or stop people moving around and meeting other people? In other words do we want God to override our daily choices and actions? Our daily choices have consequences and they result in some people living in poverty. It is our daily choices that cause climate change. It is our daily choices that sometimes bring pain into other people’s lives.
Just what do we want God to stop and where will we draw the line? If we ask God to intervene millions of times every day to manipulate the laws of nature or stop our bad choices, this would make science impossible and our lives meaningless. It sounds fine in theory but it actually raises more problems than it solves.
Let’s turn again to the Bible and see what help it offers us. This week I want to use the life story of Job. This man was a true God fearer, a righteous man in his actions towards others. Yet he suffered greatly – the loss of his possessions and the death of all his children. On top of that his own health deteriorated and he experienced immense pain. He went through a real rollercoaster of emotions, one day wishing he hadn’t been born and yet on another day affirming his faith in God.
So what does Job’s story teach us? The most obvious answer is that being good does not mean we escape suffering. It also teaches us that God not only sees our suffering but that he also hears and answers us when we tell him about our suffering. Have you considered telling him about the suffering you are seeing and experiencing?
The book of Job does not answer all our questions – it does not explain why God does not stop all pain and suffering. But it does begin to help us think about our response.
I am sure that your recent experience is similar to mine – trying to keep in touch with family and friends we have all become video conference wizards, or have we? What we want to see is a nice portrait but often what we see is the top of heads, the ceiling, the floor, and frequently family and friends are out of proportion. What we want to do is jump the other side of the camera and adjust the picture so that we see the whole picture not just a distorted fraction of the picture. If we are brave we might have suggested changes: can you move away from the window, up a bit, down a bit.
When circumstances all around us seem to question the statement of the Bible ‘that God sees’ (along with the implication that he cares), it may be that we want to step the other side of the lens and tell God what to do. But we can’t; so what can we do when we cannot find an answer to the question – if God sees all we are going through, why doesn’t he stop it now?
First we need to be aware of the danger of thinking that if God sees all, he will always step in immediately to make life comfortable and easy. Next we should recognise that we are only seeing part of the picture. And then we need to ask, does God really exist only for our benefit so that we live a life free of all pain? The Bible tells us that we exist to honour God, in the good times and in the tough times of life. Not that this is easy. Last week we said that Job struggled with his faith; his circumstances were not easy or comfortable and he was in considerable pain, physically and emotionally.
What do we mean then when we say that if God sees our pains and troubles, why isn’t he doing anything? Are we expecting God to stop the virus, fix our health and mend our lives? If that does not happen, does it mean that God is not doing anything? It maybe that we cannot see what God is doing but that does not mean that God is not active. We find our loss of control is infuriating, but might it be that our perspective needs re-orienting?
If God is in control and we are not, should we not humble ourselves before the almighty God and ask for his help. Often we need to get God’s perspective on situations.
- We need to be honest with our emotions, as the psalmist and ask ‘How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? … Look on me and answer me’ (The Bible – book of Psalms 13:2,3);
- We can ask our questions, ‘How much longer, Lord, will you just look on? Rescue me’ (Psalms 35:17);
- And we can cry out to the Lord, longing for him to do something, ‘O Lord, you have seen. So don’t be silent, Lord; don’t keep yourself far away! Rouse yourself, O Lord, and defend me’ (Psalms 35:22,23).
We may not always find answers; like Job we may have to accept that God may not give us any explanation. But the Bible does reassure us that the Lord sees it all and with our questions and our longings for God to do something we, like Hagar, can find hope, confidence and some peace in it all by remembering that the Lord does truly see and that he cares about all we are going through.
A young man who had fallen out with his brother, deceived his father and schemed with his mother was sent packing to a safe house far away with his Uncle Laban. On that first night as Jacob lay down to sleep, he had a vision and in it the Lord spoke to him: ‘I am with you and I will watch over you’.
It must have been a comforting thought to young Jacob, knowledge that sustained him on his way. Other Scriptures state the same fantastic truth: the book of Proverbs says that ‘The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good (15:13). The psalmist is glad to say ‘The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore’ (121:8).
Over the last two weeks we have confronted some of our struggles with the idea that God sees and cares, especially when life is filled with pain and loss. What we have begun to realise is that it is not quite as simple as asking God to just stop all the pain and suffering. We have learnt that it is ok to be honest with God about our feelings, to ask our questions, and in our prayers to show how deeply we long for God to do something.
Some of us find it very difficult to accept that God see us and watches over us when life is full of pain and suffering and when (apparently) the Lord doesn’t do anything about it. To look again at the story of Job, can help us reframe our perspective. The psalmist admits that sometimes our foot comes close to slipping, until we see things from God’s perspective. Job shows us that God is in control of the universe; even when we do not have all the facts – so we are in no position to argue with God.
n the end it is less important to have all the answers than to trust the One who does. That One (the Lord almighty) invites us to trust him, and he assures us that we are not alone. He is with us. In Isaiah Chapter 43 the Lord says, ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze’. Water and fire here represent the extremes of troubles and pain, and cover every possibility we might ever face. In every situation the Lord is with us.
Truly he sees. He sees all we are going through. What inner strength this can bring to us. Do you remember Hagar whom we thought about three weeks ago? Hagar was given the strength to go back to the troublesome situation that had caused her to run away, such was the help she received from knowing, ‘You are the Lord who sees me’. What about you?
Bethany’s Story: https://resources.cvglobal.co/record/_vMfpGuNfxfof9fjf0b
Christian Vision has many videos to encourage and help you – https://resources.cvglobal.co/
Sometimes it seems so easy. At first glance it looks that way for Hezekiah. He was king of Judah at a difficult time when his country was under extreme pressure from the might of the Assyrian empire. When he was very sick, he prayed and the Lord extended his life. When enemy soldiers surrounded the walls of his city he prayed and they turned round and went away. So simple. He prayed; God heard; God answered; life continued happily.
This week we start another four-part series and look together at another wonderful truth that the Bible sets before us – God hears us when we pray, whatever we bring before him. Those words may be easier to accept when we can see the answers and life is good. It is far harder when we are surrounded by sickness, pain and suffering, or surrounded by death, mourning and grief.
So, what does it mean when the Bible says God hears prayer? Clearly at times the psalms are sure it means that God hears answers and does something to help us. But that does not mean God always answers in the way that we want. Sometimes the psalmist, by putting his trust in God in the troubles finds peace in the storm and the strength to carry on
Allow me to share with you another of my favourite Bible moments. We read it in 1 Samuel Chapter 1. It is the true-life story of a woman named Hannah. She is married but has no children. Her husband loved her dearly but does not really understand her pain. Others looked down at her and her ‘failure’ to have a baby. The depth of her pain was as deep as if she had lost her baby. Only, she had never had a baby to hold and love and care for. She prays. She cries. And eventually … God hears her. Finally she becomes pregnant and later gets to hold her own baby boy.
Many psalms celebrate that God hears us: ‘In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears’ (Psalms 18:6); ‘I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears’ (Psalms 34:4); ‘I took my troubles to the LORD; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer’ (Psalms 120:1).
This then is the testimony of the Bible again and again; it is the experience of many women and men; it is the joyful celebration found frequently in the psalms. God hears us when we pray. Over the next couple of weeks we will try to grapple with questions such as, why God does not (seem to) hear us; why sometimes God waits. But today let us find encouragement in the life stories of Hezekiah and Hannah and the repeated testimony of the writers of the psalms. Together they tell us: God does hear your prayers.
So let me ask you: what would you like to talk to God about? What would you like to ask? What trouble or pain do you want to bring before him. Be assured – the Lord will hear you.
Last week I invited you to pause and be still for a few minutes to let the experience of Hannah touch your hearts and help you appreciate, as Hannah did, that truly God hears us when we pray. (Hannah’s story can be found in the Bible – Genesis Chapter 16)
But in these days with Covid-19 bringing disease and pain to many, leading to the loss of jobs and leaving us not knowing how to feed our families, it may seem hard to believe that God hears when we pray. After all, haven’t millions around the world prayed and asked God to take away the virus and heal the world? And what about all those tears and cries from the broken hearts of those who have been bereaved because of that virus?
One question that we begin to wrestle with is, ‘If God hears us when we pray, why doesn’t he hear us and stop our pain, suffering and grief? Why doesn’t he answer our cries and take away the virus, heal the people, and prevent any more deaths? (For a more theoretical look at those questions please see ‘Questions about God and covid-19’ on our website)
Today, let’s turn again to the Bible and see what help it offers us in those hard moments. Here I find the psalms most helpful, as much as they celebrate the times when God hears them, as we saw last week (Psalms 18:6; 34:4; 120:1) they also show us their puzzlement and pain when God doesn’t (seem to) hear. ‘My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer’ (Psalm 22:2); or ‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? …Consider and answer me, O Lord my God’ (Psalm 13:1, 3).
So like us, the writers sometimes find that God hears, but at other times they feel that God is deaf to their cries. Like us, they have moments when they wonder if God does hear and, if he hears, why he doesn’t answer. Yet often in these difficult times they find in God a person whom they can trust, where peace can be found, where their trust is renewed– e.g. Psalm 13 starts with the words ‘How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?’ (v1), but ends, ‘But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation’ (v5).
I want to encourage you today that, if you are in one of those times when you have prayed and prayed, and the Lord still does not seem to hear you, – don’t give up. Others have been where you are and clung on in hope. In Psalms 42 and 43 the writer encourages himself several times to ‘put your hope in the Lord’. The word really means to wait – to wait patiently, to wait with hope. For even when we don’t think God has heard us, the truth is that … he does hear us when we pray.
When we leave an answer phone message or send an email – in response to a job advert, or to a friend, we wait for an answer. Sometimes it can seem to take forever. We wonder if the message arrived or if they listened to it and forgot.
It can be like that with prayer. We speak with God and long for God to answer – now. But he doesn’t always. That raises questions.
Have we done something wrong? While the psalms admit freely their sins and it is good for us to do so, we should not assume that if God does not do what we ask that it is because we have sinned. The pain of Psalm 44 is that the writer is living faithfully before God and yet still doesn’t feel God hears their cry.
A second question is – are we good enough? Is there something we are not doing to warrant God’s answer? But that forgets the very nature of God’s mercy – God does not hear us because we deserve anything, but solely according to his kindness.
So … when circumstances seem to question whether God hears our prayers, what can we do?
First, we can be careful not to think that God hearing us means he will immediately give us what we have asked
Second, we can recognise that sometimes when we think God has not heard it is because we don’t get what we want
Third, we can learn that God’s delay is not because God is doing nothing but God is doing something that we do not know (and we do not have the whole picture).
Last week we listened to some psalms which struggled with faith in tough situations when it seemed God did not hear them. We can respond in the way they did:
- They were honest with their emotions, ‘Lord I am overwhelmed … [full of] grief’ (Psalm 88)
- They asked their questions, ‘Lord, why do you hide your face?’ (Psalm 88)
- They continued to cry out to God for help, (Psalm 88)
Psalm 88 is the saddest Psalm of all – it starts and finishes with grief, not least because God does not answer. Feelings of discouragement and the sadness of unanswered prayer are part of life, and one of the hardest things is when we feel God is silent.
How then can this psalm help? In spite of feeling let down by God it encourages us to keep on praying. Look at the psalm again – V1 ‘day and night I cry out to you’; V9 ‘I call to you Lord every day; v13 ‘I cry to you for help’. To understand why he still prays when he feels unheard, look at the opening words: You are the God who saves me. Inspite of feeling unheard, the psalmist continues to pray because he knows the Lord is still God – even when for reasons known only to God he remains silent. I hope you find it helpful.
When my heart is broken, tears roll down my face and I don’t know what to do with myself, words such as ‘God answers in his time’ are meaningless. It sounds like a Christian cop-out! What I want is to know why has God not answered. After all if God is all-powerful, he can; if God is all loving, he would. So this is a problem. In such moments there is no answer, however brilliant, that will satisfy.
So what can we say? Is there any truth in these words ‘God answers in his time’, however hard they are to stomach when God seems not to hear us?
Perhaps a little look at John Chapter 11 (The Bible) might help. Jesus has some friends called Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He has been in their home; he has eaten with them; he has enjoyed their welcome. So when Lazarus is sick the sisters send a message to Jesus to let him know. He hears the message. But he does… nothing. Nothing at all. He simply waits. And so do they – in vain. Jesus doesn’t turn up. And then the worst thing in the world happens – their brother, Lazarus, dies. It is another four days before Jesus does arrive, at which point both sisters say to him, ‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. It’s as if they are asking: why didn’t you come? Didn’t you get our message? Why didn’t you hear us?
If we read on in the story we see how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead – but we don’t hear many stories of resurrection today. So, has the event anything to teach us? I think it does: remember that Lazarus died again a few years later and that even in the Gospels we do not have many resurrection events.
So how can this event help us at times when it seems the Lord does not hear our prayers?
It teaches us that trouble, tragedy and death do not have the final word. If we believe in the Lord Jesus then he promises us a day of resurrection to eternal life. Now that may be all well and good for the future, but what about the pain today when we feel that God doesn’t hear us? How can this event help us today?
It tells us that the Lord does know and hear but answers in his time (even when that is hard to accept). He had a purpose that they did not know about. It tells us that we too can trust God, and that he has a purpose we cannot see when he does not answer prayer immediately?
It tells us that Jesus cared deeply for Martha and Mary (who respond to their loss in different ways). He spoke with Martha but simply wept with Mary. As we cry out for answers to our prayers, we can find some peace in knowing that he knows our pain, that he hears and cares for us just as he did Mary and Martha, and we can choose to trust that he has a plan and purpose in these times.
Will you go on praying, trusting that God has heard your prayer?
‘Even the hairs on your head are numbered,’ said the Lord Jesus to help us understand how well God knows us and cares for us. The psalms in the Bible echo this this: Psalm 8 marvels at God’s work in the sun, moon and stars, which he describes as the work of his fingers – God is so great these huge things are the work of simply his fingers. Yet… God is mindful of us (keeps us in his thoughts) and cares for us.
The Hebrew word in that psalm literally means to ‘remember’. That is not to suggest in any way that God might forget us, but is an appeal to God to show his care for us. For example in 1 Samuel 1 Hannah asks God to remember her and give her a son; she does not just want God to remember she is alive – she wants the Lord to do something for her: to show his care for her. Psalm 136 rejoices in this care of God: ‘He remembered us in our weakness – His faithful love endures forever – He saved us from our enemies’. When the Bible says ‘God remembers’, it means that God demonstrates his care.
This week we start another four-part series that looks at another wonderful truth that the Bible sets before us – God cares. Those two words may be easier to accept when we are in good health, have a good job and are enjoying life. It is more difficult when we face sickness and pain, redundancy and economic hardship, or death, mourning and grief. But I hope we shall see that, in all these times, truly, God cares.
Let me point you to the shepherd idea that the Bible uses often to speak of God’s care for us. Many people have heard Psalm 23, which begins, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack no good thing’. It continues with green pastures, still waters, the restoring of the soul, and the paths of righteousness. Yes, we can believe God cares for us when all is going well. But what about the times we have troubles and pain? Let’s see how the psalm continues: ‘Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’. ‘What then?’ we ask, as we read. The psalm answers: ’You are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me’. In the tough times, too, the Lord cares for us.
This same thought is developed by Ezekiel, a prophet during some very difficult times for God’s people. God judged them for their persistent sin, and they became exiles; yet the Lord’s care for them was constant. The people did not change their ways, their leaders acted like bad shepherds not caring for the needs of the people; in contrast the Lord will see to their welfare: he will feed, guide, protect, save them.
They did not deserve such gracious care; we do not deserve it either. But the wonderful thing is – the Lord is still the same: he cares. So what will you trust him with today?
Last week I invited you to meditate on the shepherd analogy that the Bible uses to speak of God’s loving care for us. We looked at Psalm 23 and saw that care in many lovely ways. We made sure to note that even in the painful times (symbolised by the valley of shadow) God is with us, God helps us, because God cares.
But in these days with Covid-19 still having a huge impact on our lives – rules are being tightened again; many fear a winter spike; many are still out of work following redundancy. If God cares why is there no vaccine yet? Why are things so difficult still? Why is there no new job? Doesn’t God know… or care?
One question that arises is, ‘If God cares, why doesn’t he stop all the pain and grief?’ Perhaps we should try to define what we mean by ‘care’. In April 2019 the Health and Social Care Alliance in Scotland asked people, ‘What does caring mean?’ Answers included, ’helping someone’, ‘showing compassion and patience’. One answer was: ‘giving everything that someone needs’.
Maybe we think that if God cares for us he should give us everything we need. But that begs a question: what is it that we really ‘need’? We tend to focus on this world, when God focuses on eternity; we focus on the physical, when God is concerned about our soul.
Maybe we think it is obvious how we should care for someone’s needs; but is it, always? The physical help and care may be clear. But what about the deeper, inner needs of the heart – a friend, someone who will listen?
When we focus on the physical, temporary needs we forget that God is always concerned with our ultimate good. God desires that we turn to him, receive his forgiveness and are fit for the new heaven and earth. Psalm 119 makes a fascinating statement: ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word … It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees’ (Verses 67-71). Wow! I wonder how many of us would say something like that? We don’t know exactly what the writer had experienced; maybe he had wondered if God cared. But he sees now that God was achieving something much more important. Yes – God cares.
In the book of Genesis, Joseph had a similar experience. When contestants in the jungle can’t take any more all they have to say is ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’. I wonder how many times Joseph wished he could have prayed something similar? When his brother threw him in a pit; when he was a slave in Egypt? When he was accused unjustly? When he was in prison for something he didn’t do? I’m Joseph – get me out of here!
But God didn’t get him out of there; or at least, not until God was ready. God was refining Joseph’s character; God brought him into contact with a king’s butler. When the time was right Joseph was released, interpreted the king’s dreams, was given a position of responsibility, and thousands of lives were saved in a time of severe famine.
Why didn’t God get him out of there? Because God cared too much to do so – for Joseph, his family, the Egyptians, and many others.
Life was the difficult Joseph and for the man who wrote Psalm 119, but God had a deeper plan. We may not know why we face difficult times, but we can know that God cares. Always.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22:10). Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt that God was so far away, and uninterested in your life? We can really struggle with our thoughts and emotions when we face such moments.
A barometer is a device that is used to measure air pressure and changes in this can be used to forecast short-term changes in weather. My father-in-law has one in his house – all you do is tap it gently and the marker moves either towards warm and drier or the other way towards cooler and wetter. Now while our emotions are real and they are strong in times of difficulty and pain, they are not a good barometer of God’s care. God’s promises to care are true. We need to trust God’s word rather than our feelings, however strong they be.
In a moment I will give you three (out of what could be many) promises that I hope will help you. But first let us consider what we can do when we feel that God is far away and uninterested and we begin to doubt if he cares. As we have said in previous weeks (see Weeks 2, 6 and 10) we can be honest before God about our feelings; we can bring our questions (if we are willing to listen for God’s response) and we can lament our suffering.
Let me now give you three promises of God to meditate on:
- Isaiah 41:10 – ‘do not be afraid, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’. The God of heaven and earth says that he will personally hold your hand, which is a figurative way to say that God promises to be close to us (even when we do not feel it) and to care for us (even when we wonder if he does care). He cares – enough to be with us; enough to make us strong; enough to uphold us.
- Psalm 34:17 – ‘The LORD is near to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit,’ and Psalm 145:14 – ‘The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down’. Both these psalms say the same thing: the Lord is near; the Lord feels for us; the Lord lifts us up. In a strange way, perhaps, sometimes we need to face difficult times in order to experience exactly how much God cares. Don’t shut him out.
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – ‘Blessed be God … who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God’. Whenever we face any trouble or pain, we can look up to God; there is no situation in which he will fail to comfort us. Notice the words: ‘in ALL our afflictions’. Because God cares.
Did you notice the one thing that links those verses? All speak about times of trouble or weakness. It is in such times we may know how deeply and truly God cares. I know we do not always feel that God is near or is even interested, because our feelings are real and intense. But I encourage you today to rely on God’s promises rather than your feelings. God promises that God cares.
It was one thing after another – first there was danger; then they were thirsty; then they were hungry; then they were under attack. You can read the history of God’s people in those first weeks in the wilderness. At each stage they complained and made a fuss. Yet in reality, those moments were opportunities to trust the Lord and to see his care for them.
They may not have known about the Red Sea (they had been slaves in Egypt), so when a few days after leaving Egypt they stand at the banks of the Red Sea they could have been surprised. When they could find no way across and heard the sound of chariots as the Egyptians were chasing after them, they became afraid. But God was there. God helped them. God made a way. Because God cared.
Three days later they arrived at a place called Marah. The water there was bitter and they could not drink it. So what did they do? They grumbled against Moses: ‘what are we going to do? The Lord healed the waters and they drank. But they could have saved themselves a lot of heartache if they had remembered the crossing of the Red Sea and trusted God’s care.
Soon afterwards they came to the Desert of Sin. They were hungry. They had nothing left to eat. So what did they do? They grumbled against Moses: at least back in Egypt ‘we ate all the food we wanted’, they said. There was more than enough. How poor their memories were! (In Egypt they had been slaves enduring forced labour) But the Lord rained down manna from heaven and they had food to eat. But they could have saved themselves a lot of heartache if they had remembered the crossing of the Red Sea, the waters at Marah, and trusted God’s care.
Can we learn from their experiences so that when situations get difficult or we experience pain, we remember to trust in God’s loving care? His faithful love endures forever.
The greatest demonstration of God’s care for us all is seen most clearly in his sending of his son, Jesus Christ, to die for us so that we can be forgiven and come near to God (John 3:16; 14:1-3). In Week 13 we saw how the Old Testament pictures God as our shepherd; the New Testament calls Jesus Christ the good shepherd – because he cares so much for us that he lays down his life for us.
One final thought. In Isaiah Chapter 49 and Verse 15, God addresses a people who were feeling that their way was ‘hidden from the LORD’. They thought – wrongly – that he didn’t see or know and that their cause was ‘disregarded by God’ (even worse – he didn’t care). God asked them a question: ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?’ The answer is of course, ‘No’. But maybe there is a slight chance it may happen. So what does the Lord say to his people? God says, ‘Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’
What a wonderful promise. Our way is not hidden from God – he sees it all. Our cause is not disregarded by God – he knows. And even if a mother might forget her baby, God promises never to forget us. The Lord remembers. In difficult times, at all times – He cares.
Many of you will know the TV programme Through The Keyhole where the panel has to guess the celebrity hosted by Keith Lemon. What you may not know is that Keith Lemon’s real name is Leigh Francis.
Leigh Francis is a man with many identities: he is known as an actor, a comedian, a film star, a celebrity, a husband, a parent, a game show host, a producer, a director and a voice artist.
Like Leigh we too can have multiple roles or identities – but who is the real me? How do we define ourselves? – Will the real me please stand up!!
Teenagers are heard to say – ‘I want to be my own person’. Later in life some people travel far to exotic locations to ‘find myself’. For others the crisis comes when the family grows up and leaves home, leaving us with the questions ‘who am I?’, ‘What now?’ and ‘How do I continue to live a life with meaning and purpose?’.
If we find our identity through job, status, academic achievements, our role in the family then our identity is fragile – for what happens if we slip up and get it wrong? What will people think of me then? What is my value if I do not get that promotion? What is going to happen when I get older? When someone suggests that a younger person takes my place because they will bring in new ideas, or when I retire and find my memory is not as sharp as it used to be, what then? Do I become worthless?
If we find our identity in what others think about us, at work, at home, in society, I would ask, do you really want to be defined by others?. Does it really matter that much what others think? If our self-worth is defined by what others think of us – does that not make us slaves to the opinions of others?
Rather than being dependent upon the opinion of others have you ever thought about how God sees you? The value God places on you?
You are Important enough to be made in His image:
‘God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female (Genesis 1 verse 27 – The Bible).
You have been created with a purpose:
‘God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do’ (Ephesians 2 verse 10 – The Bible).
You are valued enough that God would come to earth as man so that we might know him:
‘I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness’ (John 10 verse 10 – The Bible)
You are loved enough that He would lay down His life for you:
‘This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us’ (1 John 3 verse 16 – The Bible).
You are someone that God wants to adopt into His family:
‘”I will make my home with my people … I will be your Father, and you shall be my sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty’ (2 Corinthians 6 verses 16-18 – The Bible).
I hope as you think about these truths and the value God places on you that it will help you understand your real identity.
If you want to know more or explore this further please get in touch, you can use the contact details at the bottom of the home page.
On his 40th birthday, Tom Good gave up his job designing plastic toys for breakfast cereal packets. He and his, Barbara, adopt a simple lifestyle and become almost self-sufficient by growing fruit and vegetables in the gardens and rearing chickens and pigs. Their actions disturb the suburban life of their neighbours who fail to understand them (You may have enjoyed watching The Good Life during the 1970s).
Today as thousands of acres of Amazon rainforest are destroyed, land is flooded with saltwater in Bangladesh to grow prawns for Europeans to eat, and tons of plastic is dumped that destroys the coral reefs, many people think it is time to do something.
Should I be concerned?
“What has it got to do with me?”, we might ask. Some people think that Christians focus so much upon salvation, God’s forgiveness and the spiritual dimension of life, that they ignore the physical world in which we live. Somehow caring for this world is not a high priority.
I am not about to suggest that we all adopt the life of Tom and Barbara, or join the local tree hugging club. But as people who praise God as the creator of all things, we should think carefully about the world in which we live and our responsibility in it.
The Bible teaches us that God created all things good. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 – The Bible). The world is not only beautiful to live in but also supplies all our food needs. We should, therefore, appreciate this and care for the world that supplies our physical needs.
The created world fills us with a sense of wonder at times, and leads us to praise the Lord – the splendour of a mountain, the brilliance of a sunset, the beauty of flowers. As the psalm writer said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1 – The Bible). As people created in God’s image we should honour God not only in words but in the way we live in this world.
God gave the first humans a responsibility in his world – “to work it and care for it” (Genesis 2:15 – The Bible). Work was not intended to be a burden but a joy as we worked with God in caring for his world and seeing it respond in fruitfulness. It remains our responsibility to care for the planet.
We live in a beautiful world. And we live in a broken world. The reason for this is that we have turned away from God and not only is our relationship with God broken, so is our relationship with one another and the physical world. So if we know anything of the joy of being reconciled to God, we should want to care for the world too.
The impact of deforestation, the flooding of farmland with salt water and the dumping of plastic has the worst effect on the poorest of the world and restricts their access to good food and health. Since God has a special concern for the widow, the orphan and the stranger, it would seem to follow that we should be concerned about decisions and lifestyles that are unfair in their impact on others and make life worse for them.
Next week we will consider whether there is any hope for the future of this planet or whether we are doomed for extinction. But this week:
- Take a little time to look out of the window at a starry sky, the autumn leaves, or the smile of another person and say to God. “thank you”.
- Think also of millions who live in poverty without access to healthy food and who suffer poor health because their land is used to satisfy the desires of the rich in this world rather than meet their basic needs. And ask: “is there anything I can / should change in my lifestyle?”
Last week we saw both the beauty of our world and acknowledged that it is also a broken world. We reflected on how our broken relationship with God impacts on the relationships we have with each other and our environment, and usually makes life far harder for those who are already the poorest in the world.
This week we look at God’s promise to restore the world to its created glory, and what our response now should be.
When the deforestation of the Amazon in order to grow more cattle to meet the demand for beef burgers means that local poor cannot grow basic food items, is that right? When land is flooded in Bangladesh to farm prawns for the European palate, but means the farmers there cannot grow rice and fruits for themselves, is that just? When we dump plastic and any litter and it finds its way into rivers and into the sea and beautiful coral reefs, is that ok?
My reading of the Bible suggests that the answer to all three questions is no. No it is not right because God created us all equal and wants us all to enjoy healthy food. No it is not just when some suffer as a result of these practices while others benefit from them. No it is not ok to spoil the world in which we live and which God has entrusted to our care. We have a responsibility to care for the created world and to work for justice for all (Amos??? – The Bible).
The hope that Christians have includes the promise that one day God will restore the physical world: “creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21 – The Bible) and there will be a renewed heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:13 – The Bible). This is pictured beautifully also in Isaiah 11 (The Bible), which describes the lion lying down with the lamb and a child playing near the hole where the cobra lives. Impossible in the world in its present broken state. But one day God will restore and renew the world and all will be in perfect harmony. So we are not doomed to extinction; instead we have much to look forward to if we will trust God.
What does this great hope mean for the way we live today? It does not mean we can do what we like with the world now; rather it means we should work with God to see the beginnings of that renewal now. We have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and we know what the future holds. We have the privilege of serving the Lord now, by living in ways that promote justice for all and in which we care for the world God has made.
Practically, then, what can we do?
- Reduce food waste at home and when we eat out
- Use water carefully and avoid wasting by leaving taps running
- Walk more and drive less, and reduce our carbon footprint
- Use a 100 per cent renewable electricity provider
- Buy sustainable products when possible
- take our own bags to the shops
- avoid buying plastic when possible but properly dispose of lightweight plastics when we do use them
- write to local and national politicians.
- When we go on holiday we can refuse to buy souvenirs made from the results of illegal wildlife hunting.
And as we do these things, let us remember that we do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus (that is, for his honour) and therefore all these choices and decisions are part of our daily spiritual act of worship (Colossians 3:17; Romans 12:1 – The Bible).
The novel, Robinson Crusoe, tries to imagine what it would be like to be alone on an island – day after day, after day, after day. When Crusoe is shipwrecked with only the captain’s dog and two cats, he has to make do alone. He collects tools and weapons and food supplies; he makes a fence around the entrance to a cave; he collects fruits, grows barely and rice, he hunts and fishes. He also reads the Bible and begins to thank God for his fate in which nothing is missing …. Except for human company.
Over recent months some of us may have endured a little glimpse into what a solitary life might be like. We have been shielding at home and even in the summer months did not venture far beyond the garden gate. How grateful we have been to those who telephoned us, sent WhatsApp messages, said hello when they dropped off our shopping, and stood at bottom of our drive for a quick chat?
In the news many voices call for government and others to recognise the strain on mental health during these difficult times. On their website, the charity, Mind, offers some tips for mental wellbeing – the first is to ‘Find ways to connect with others…’. Our local council has put online links and contact numbers for several charities that offer support for people who are stressed at being home alone. Our government is allowing people who live alone to form a bubble with one other household.
The importance of relationships, the value of human contact, the joy of hearing another human voice, or feeling their hand squeeze ours, are well known. The Bible has taught us this for thousands of years.
‘The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”’(Genesis 2:18 – The Bible) and so he created Eve to be a suitable helper, that they might love and care for each other, work together, and be there for each other. Marriage is one of God’s gifts to us. But not all of us marry, and some of us face the pain of divorce or bereavement at a young age. The Bible recognises also the need for good friendships.
‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity’ (Proverbs 17:17 – The Bible); a true friend doesn’t give up on us but is there in times of trouble.
‘Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – The Bible). Friends help one another and both benefit.
‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy’ (Proverbs 27:6 – The Bible). A really good friend can tell us something we don’t want to hear, when it is for our long-term benefit.
The Bible shows us the importance and value of community and why we long for it. We have been made in the image of God and God’s plan is that we should enjoy relationship with Him and with each other.
Covid-19 has taught us what we already know, that we do not fare well in isolation. It is no surprise that mental health deteriorates when we spend long periods of time on our own. We are created to live in community – family and friends provide important relationships. Why? We need them for encouragement, help, and support in all ways: physical, emotional, and spiritual. We benefit from sharing each other’s pain and rejoicing in each other’s blessings.
Perhaps today you might thank God for the family or friends you have; for those who keep in touch with you; and pray for anyone you know who lives alone. If you are lonely please do get in touch with us firstname.lastname@example.org
Five members of the same family, three children and their parents, lost their lives just over four weeks ago when the little boat they had been crammed into sunk in the Channel. Somehow, they had found nearly £22,000 to pay people smugglers – but they never made it. I hope it breaks your heart.
All they wanted was perhaps a safe place to live, maybe just a better place. A new community where they could belong, make new friends, and live happily. They are not alone, of course. Some people face unrest and violence on the streets, including the sound of gunfire; some live where war continues with no sign of an end; others are persecuted for their faith and fear for their lives. And so they take these risks – hoping to find a new community that will welcome them.
Apart from maybe with tears, how ought we to think; how ought we to respond to refugees making their way to this country?
When we talk about God’s commands in the Bible the first reaction is sometimes to say they are negative, they spoil our fun, and are outdated morality that we don’t need anymore. Well, listen to these words in what we call the Old Testament section of the Holy Bible.
The refugee or stranger should be welcomed and loved: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself…” (The Bible – Leviticus 19:33-34).
The refugee or stranger should be treated equally and fairly: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether, he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land” (The Bible – Deuteronomy 24:14).
The refugee or stranger should receive enough to live on: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it …. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time … When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this (The Bible – Deuteronomy 24:19-22).
Negative? Outdated? I think not. These verses offer us a relevant and timely way to respond to and live with new refugees and those from other countries who have been in this country for several generations. We have to admit we have not always done so – and the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted this.
Our Lord Jesus teaches us to live the same way. One day he was asked which was the greatest command. He replied, saying, “Love the Lord your God”, and “love you neighbour as yourself”. When the questioner asked, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus told a story about a man who was beaten up on his journey and left at the roadside. No one would help him, until a Samaritan man came along – he stopped, went over and helped the man, took him to a place for rest and offered to pay any costs he incurred. The point of the story comes from the fact that Jews and Samaritans despised each other. They certainly would not help each other. They wouldn’t even share the same plate. But Jesus says they are our neighbours.
Refugees who make the long and hazardous journey to these shores are our neighbours. Not just because they have arrived in this country, but because they are our fellow human beings. We ought to help them.
For five years my wife and I lived in Sri Lanka. In the hill country everyone in the little town of Hatton knew us, and we felt accepted and safe. When we moved to Kandy, the second city, my wife returned each month to the Bible College in Hatton. If she was travelling by bus to Kandy, I would meet her. If she was travelling to the hill country I knew she would be safe when she arrived there. So we would go together to the large city bus station; we would find the bus; as she got on, the conductor (whom we knew well) would smile at me and say, “I look after madam”.
We know what it is like to be welcomed; should we not offer the same to others?
Why not look up the Bible verses quoted above and see how God promises a blessing on us when we do
Faith might be expressed simply in the words “we trust God”. We trust the promises of God; we trust God to be with us; we trust God to help us. And somehow we trust God in all the ups and downs of life. We learn to trust God in times of sickness, pain, death loss, tears; in times of anxiety, worry and fear.
To trust God when life is difficult is not easy. At a time when life was difficult the writer of Psalm 73 (the Bible) asks ‘what’s the point’ in trusting God as he saw those who had no care for God flourish.
Is faith only for the good times? Too often we use faith for what we can get out of it. So long as the returns are good (God makes life comfortable and happy), we are satisfied. But when life is hard, painful, full of troubles, we question whether or not it is worthwhile.
The Bible has been given to show us that it is possible for men and women to trust God in the hardest of times; it shows us how they learnt to trust God.
In the book of Hebrews we read about people who achieved amazing things though trusting the promises of the Lord. But this was not so for everyone. Look at these words:
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated …” Hebrews 11:35-37 (the Bible)
They did not achieve any of the great things that some others achieved. They suffered greatly. Yet they are equally men and women of faith. They learnt to trust God even in the toughest times.
As we begin to read again the account of the first Christmas, we meet men and women in difficult situations, who also learnt to trust God.
Think about Mary: a young woman, pledged to be married, who receives a visit from an angel to say she will soon be pregnant. She knows she has not been unfaithful or had sex before marriage. She trusts in God to work a miracle in her. But who will believe her story? What about her family? What will Joseph say … do? How will the rest of the village react when they hear the news? The shame; the disgrace; the rejection; the accusations; the name-calling; the reputation she will have for the rest of her life! In it she learns to trust the Lord.
So, what about you, in this season of Advent? Maybe you are thankful for many things and trusting God comes easy – at the moment. Or maybe, you can understand the question of the Psalmist, asking in effect, ‘What’s the point?’
It is not always easy to trust the Lord. Many times we do now know what the Lord is doing in our lives, and in moments of trouble we cannot see any good in it. Or at least – not at that moment. To trust God is something we need to learn. For many of us it does not happen all at once. There are doubts, questions, and a few slip-ups along the way.
How can the experience of Mary help you? (You can read more about her in Luke Chapter one and two [The Bible]). Can you relate to any of the difficulties she faced? Or are your struggles very different? Either way I pray that you will let her faith inspire you.
In a moment of quiet – offer to God what troubles you and makes you wonder whether it is worth bothering to trust God.
Now ask the Lord himself to help you to trust him, for truly he is to be trusted – always and in everything
2020 has been a tough year – some countries have suffered wars, while others have seen demonstrations and sometimes violence on their streets. There have been flood and famine; mass unemployment and homelessness; and of course Covid -19. If we have not been affected personally then we probably know someone who has. Where in all of this can we find even a glimmer of hope?
An MP recently said that we need to find a way to get through Christmas and then put our hope in a vaccine. C.R. Snyder said that hope implies the possibility of a better future; it shows up at the worst possible time when things are dire and difficult, but can keep us going during those hard months. But what if it can’t? The journal Psychology Today (Feb 2019) explained why it is that hope matters so much – ‘Hoping we can make things better is the secret for doing so’. The writer had not been living through a global pandemic! And what if we can’t make things better?
The Self Help for Life website says the ability to feel hopeful … increases the chance of things working out for you. But many would question that. At times it just doesn’t work out that way.
During 2020 we have actually witnessed many signs of hope: neighbours looking out for each other in a way they have not done before; the amazing kindness and sacrifices made by NHS staff and other key workers. Little glimmers of hope in a bleak year.
The season of Advent – the four weeks that lead up to Christmas – is a time for hope, as we read the well-known events recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (the Bible). The hope of a baby being born; the hope of salvation, the hope of God with us
Think with me for a few moments about the shepherds, who were the first to hear from the angels the good news of Jesus’ birth. There are some differences of opinion among historians but many think that shepherds were looked down on. As Israel became more agricultural, shepherds were forced to the edge of the wilderness areas to find pasture for their sheep. They were on the bottom rung of the social ladder; some described them as lazy; many thought they were dishonest and assumed that anything you bought from them had probably been stolen.
What hope did the first Christmas bring to these men? In Luke 2:10-14 (The Bible) the angels told them of God’s favour and of peace with God because the saviour had been born to them. Now that was hope. Great hope.
They had the hope of God’s favour – that God would be kind and gracious toward them, even if others despised and distrusted them.
They had the hope of peace with God – that God would forgive them and they would enjoy his friendship, even if others rejected them and insulted them.
They had the hope of God’s presence with them because the baby born was Christ the Lord, Immanuel, truly and fully God with them, even when others turned their back on them and wanted nothing to do with them.
For us, however tough 2020 has been, and however deeply we have been affected by it, physically, financially, mentally, spiritually, the same Lord Jesus holds out the same promise to us: the hope of God’s favour and kindness, the hope of forgiveness and peace with God; the hope of His presence with us in all that we endure.
Of course, we all would like the vaccine to be a big success in the fight against Covid-19. But whatever a vaccine does or doesn’t bring, it only takes our hopes so far. God offers a bigger hope, one which transcends and continues beyond this life if we will accept it. It is not a case of getting though Christmas and then putting our hope in a vaccine. Christmas is our hope, God with us – Immanuel.
In a moment of quiet – offer to God the disappointments and the pains of this year.
Now ask the Lord to fill your heart with the lasting hope that he alone can give
Your fiancée loves you – that’s good. Your fiancée is pregnant – that is not so good.
However, she wants to keep the baby – that is good, after all life is precious. But you know the baby is not yours – that is not good.
Your families will probably support you – that would be good.
But some people will look and stare; some will point their finger – that’s not good
Her reputation will be in ruins – that’s not good
In such circumstances, what is a young man to do? The law said he could divorce her – but then all their dreams of life together vanish in smoke.
At night he tosses and turns – unable to sleep. Over and over these thoughts go round in his head, as he tries to work out what to say and what to do. Longing somewhere, somehow to find some peace.
Your circumstances may be very different – indeed, probably they are. But you can identify with Joseph in longing to find some peace. Perhaps you are out of work and don’t know how you will pay the next rent or gas bill – you certainly can’t afford presents this year. Maybe a relative or friend is in hospital – you don’t know if they will pull through. You would love to go and visit family between 23d and 28th – but what if? What if you pick up the virus?
Let us look at Joseph’s experience as we read it in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 1 (The Bible). Joseph is engaged to be married to Mary; before that special day comes, she confesses that she is pregnant. The baby is not his; but she insists that she has not been unfaithful. What on earth is he to make of her story? And what is he going to do?
Matthew Chapter 1 tells us that as he turned these things over in his mind he thought about divorcing her, but doing it quietly so as to limit the damage to Mary’s reputation as much as possible. But it seems that he didn’t really want to even take that step.
Joseph began to find peace of mind when an angel of the Lord spoke with him in a dream. The angel explained that Mary had not been unfaithful to him; she was pregnant because God had worked a miracle in her. More than that, her baby would be the longed-for Saviour of the world through whom we may find forgiveness and peace with God.
We may find the thought of dreams and angel visits with messages from God unusual. Maybe they have always been rare – but clearly it did not cause a problem for Joseph. The word of the Lord brought him clarity in his thinking, peace in his mind and heart, and without a shadow of a doubt he knew what he should do. He took Mary home as his wife; they had no sexual relations until after Jesus had been born. He took on the responsibility of a father role as Jesus grew up.
I know that some people have received dreams or visions in which the risen living Lord Jesus has appeared to them and shown them the marks of his crucifixion, and this has brought them to their knees to confess him as Lord and Saviour. But the more frequent way in which God speaks with us is through His Word – the Bible.
So if you can sympathise with Joseph, and if you are wondering where, if anywhere, in these days you can find any peace of mind, then let me encourage you to pick up and read a Bible and allow God to touch your heart and bring peace to your mind.
In the Bible God promises:
- To uphold all who fall and to lift up all who are bowed down
- To be near to all who call upon him
- To never turn away any who come to him
- That if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us
- To comfort us in all our troubles
- To walk with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death
(Psalm 145:14, 18; John 6:37; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Psalm 23:4 – The Bible)
‘Will this nightmare ever end?’, was the front-page headline of The Mail on Sunday (December 20, 2020). It followed the Prime Minister’s announcement on the Saturday evening that 16 million people were immediately being placed in a new Tier 4.
As we start the second week of another lockdown, which we will need to endure until mid-February (at the earliest) you may have the same question in your mind – ‘Will the nightmare ever end?’.
How are we going to cope … with more weeks on furlough and reduced pay, or working at home alone? … with home schooling while we are also trying to work from home? … with yet more weeks shielding, isolating, and for some of us being home alone? Phone calls with family and friends, FaceTime or WhatsApp are good – but they are not the same. And it will all continue to take its toll on us mentally, emotionally, physically and socially.
How are we going to cope? Statistics inform us that more people have taken to drinking (too much) to cope with the pressures; there has been a rise in domestic violence; there is concern about the physical health of children with so little exercise; and we hear constantly about fears for the mental well-being of many people.
How are we going to cope? Today I want to say that the most important thing for us is to remember that the Lord is near. I know this can be difficult to accept in such times and some of us are likely to be asking, ‘if God is with us, why doesn’t God end it once and for all? (For some reflection on that and other questions please see the section on our website Questions about God and Covid-19.
It is an understandable question. Many years ago, an angel of God appeared to a man named Gideon and said, ‘The Lord is with you’, to which Gideon replied, ‘If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?’ (You can read his life story in Judges Chapters 6-8 – The Bible).
It is difficult to answer such a question. It is difficult to feel that God is near. Yet it is so important (and helpful) to remember near. This was the great promise of God and the great privilege of his people. To individuals who faced challenging situations, the Lord said, ‘I will be with you’ – it was God’s promise to Moses, to Joshua, to Solomon (Exodus 3:12; Joshua 1:5; 1 Kings 11:38 – The Bible). Indeed, to Joshua the Lord promised to be with him and never (any under circumstances) to leave him. The Lord also promised to his people that he would be with them – ‘I will set My dwelling among you … I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people’ (Leviticus 26:11, 12 – The Bible).
As we read the Bible we see that over and over again the Lord is with women and men, and especially in the tough times. The bigger the challenge, the more difficult their situation, the more painful their experience, the more the Lord is near to them. It helps us to do more than merely cope.
Our recent celebrations of Christmas offer us an even better hope – there is a wonderful verse (Hebrews 1;2 – The Bible) that says in the past God spoke in many ways at different times to his people but now God ‘has spoken to us by his Son…’. A huge contrast is made here – in the past God spoke and that was good; but now, God has done something millions of times better. When Lord Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem, God himself personally stepped into this world and lived physically among us, sharing our joys, our pains and sorrows.
And the Lord is still with us; he is still near. And he still shares with us in our struggles and sorrows. This is how we can cope in a pandemic – better still, we can triumph in it, when we remember the Lord is near.
Little children always want answers – how often they ask Mum, ‘Why?’ And whatever she says, they have another question, ‘Why?’. As we grow up, we don’t stop asking that same question – ‘why?’ – especially in times of trouble and difficulty. It is just that the issues that cause us to ask, ‘why?’ are much bigger. Why is there injustice in the world? Why is there so much suffering? Why is there a Covid-19 pandemic which brings so much pain and death and so many tears?
And yet there seem so few answers. We have attempted elsewhere on our church website to offer some thoughts on frequently-asked questions about Covid-19 and God – but they are only thoughts. They are not definitive answers that explain all the issues and resolve all the questions, rather they are an honest attempt to try to grapple with some of the big issues. I hope you find them helpful. But, in the end, we simply don’t have answers to all the questions.
In moments such as these, the Bible offers some very helpful advice – we can lament. The book of Psalms contains joyful praises offered to God; they also contain expressions of pain and tears, people crying out to God for help, even wondering why God seems so far away. They are called ‘Psalms of Lament’ and they total more than one third of the psalms. There are both personal and community laments, which can therefore be used by individuals or groups of people in circumstance of suffering and loss.
Lament is not the same as complaint. Complaint focuses only on the problem, we often become angry, and when we complain about God we think badly about God or even accuse God for not doing what we expect he should do for us. For example, when the people of God complained about the lack of food and water, they questioned God’s character, they went as far thinking God wanted to kill them. Their complaint or grumbling put God on trial. But lament is different – it expresses our hurt and distress, and at the same time cries out to God for his mercy in which we trust. Lament cries to God because we trust his character.
In lament we express honestly to God how we are feeling – ‘I flood my bed with weeping’, or ‘my thoughts trouble me … my heart is in anguish … fear and trembling have beset me’ (Psalm 6:6 and 55:2-4 – The Bible ).
In lament we ask questions – ‘How long O Lord?’ and, ‘Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 13:1; 22:1 – The Bible).
In lament we cry for help because we trust God – ‘Arise, O lord! Lift up your hand, O God … You, O God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief to take it in hand’ (Psalm 10:12-14 – The Bible).
In lament we (often) promise to praise God – ‘I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good’ (Psalm 54:6 – The Bible).
Psalm 88 is different, it ends with the words, ‘darkness is my closest friend’. It is an honest expression of deep darkness and despair, and yet still is addressed to the Lord. There may be times when it can help us express our pain.
Below is one psalm of lament, Psalm 13 (quoted in full because it is short). Notice how it speaks to God, it expresses the author’s emotions, it describes the problem, it cries for help, it trusts in the unfailing love of the Lord, and it promises to praise God for his goodness.
I hope you find the words helpful.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6 – The Bible)
‘Ouch!’, we cry out, when we prick a finger on a thorn, knock our knee on the corner of the bed as we walk round it in the dark, or nick our finger with a sharp knife as we cut vegetables. In recent months we have heard interviews with someone whose spouse, or parent, or child has died from the Covid-19 virus. And we have thought ‘Ouch!’. We have listened to nurses describing the pressures, the impossible choices they have to make, the despair that hangs heavy in the wards, especially the ITU wards. And we have thought ‘Ouch!’.
Last week we recognised that in times such as these there are not simple easy answers that resolve all the questions we might have, as we wonder, ‘Why?’ And when we believe in God, and we believe that God is good and merciful, the question comes with added force – ‘Why?’
The psalms of lament give us an expression for that ‘ouch’ feeling in life, a vehicle to express our pain and to cry out for God’s mercy and help. That is what makes lament very different from complaint – we are not thinking badly about God or accusing God of failing to do something he should have done for us. We are crying ‘ouch!’.
The thing about lament in the Bible is that it is more than a cry of pain. It is a cry of pain AND a plea for help – and one that is addressed to the LORD. Often we use the word ‘lord’ to describe a person who has a certain status and with authority and power. But here it translates the Hebrew name of God. It is personal. It speaks of the relationship that God’s people enjoy with God. So, when the psalms cry out, ‘O, Lord’, the very name reminds them of the relationship they have even if at the present time life is full of pain and trouble and loss and tears. Even in all of that, we cry out, ‘O, Lord’. Even if it seems that the Lord is not listening (or at least not answering in the way we would like), we still cry out, ‘O, Lord’.
Consider these psalms, and if they would help you express your lament, why not speak them out aloud:
- Look on me and answer, O lord my God; Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death (Psalm 13:3 – The Bible).
- I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer (Psalm 17:6 – The Bible).
- Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy (Psalm 13:3 – The Bible).
Things could not be worse than when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 586BC; the book of Lamentations describes the scene and records the lament of the people. And yet … and yet they can call to mind the stedfast love of the love. Because lament cries out its ‘ouch’ on the basis of relationship with the Lord:
my soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘Gone is my glory, and my expectation from the LORD’. Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness (Lamentations 3:17-23).
in his book, Adopted for Life, Dr. Russell Moore describes a visit to an orphanage in Russia. He says that the silence was eerie. The babies never cried. Because they had learned from experience that no one cared enough to answer. Lament cries out to God because he does care and he will answer. Sometimes we may have to wait. I remember with my children some moments when they were upset with me. Probably, I had said ‘No’ to something. They began to walk away and started to cry; and then they turned and ran back, with their tears, to be cuddled, and reassured that everything was ok. Lament is running back to God with our pain and our tears because we know he is there, and he cares.
If you are old enough you will remember the BT slogan ‘It’s good to talk’. As we continue to think about how we cope with life during this pandemic we are told it is good for our health and wellbeing to talk. Over recent months many of us have appreciated the phone calls that others have made to us, and we have tried to phone and remember those we cannot visit, those who have been isolating for much of that time and those who live alone. In moments when we have felt a bit low, frustrated, anxious, uncertain, confused – or simply bored – how often it has been helpful to talk with someone.
However good it is to talk with our families and friends would any of us turn down the opportunity to talk with someone who has the power to change our lives. As we continue to think about how we cope with life during this pandemic, I want to think for a few minutes about prayer – and I want to use this slogan: ‘it’s good to talk’.
Many of us already know ‘it is good to talk with God’ so let us think together how to talk with God.
We can talk with God any time of day or night; wherever we are, and whatever is on our mind. In the Bible we find that God answered prayers for Abraham, Moses, and Joshua; for Deborah, Hannah and Elizabeth; and for God’s people when they met together to pray (see Acts 4:23-31; Acts 12:5-19; Acts 13:1-3 – The Bible).
However, we should not take simply a pragmatic approach to prayer – ‘it works; so let’s try prayer because it might work for us too!’. Prayer is not like a slot machine where we insert our £1 coin; press numbers on a keypad to select our favourite chocolate bar; it drops into a tray at the bottom of the machine and we simply pick it up. If that is how we approach prayer, we will be disappointed. We will miss out on the privilege of true prayer.
Prayer can and should be a much richer experience than that.
Now Christians believe that God is everywhere, even in the strains and stresses of life and knowing that God is with us in our trials and tribulations should both encourage us, for we are not alone, and it should encourage us to pray. The Psalmist at a time when his city was under attack wrote ‘God is our shelter and strength, always near to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid…’ (Psalm 46 v 1-3 – The Bible)
So how should I pray?
It is good to stop, to be still. In another of the Psalms we read ‘how wonderful to be near God, to find protection with the sovereign Lord and to proclaim all that he has done’ (Psalm 73 v 28 – The Bible). When we pray we should give thanks to the Lord. We may not always feel grateful; we may feel grumpy and upset. But it is good to give thanks to the Lord. It is the right thing to do, and it has a positive impact on our soul. An old hymn encourages us to find the good even in bad days, reminding us to ‘count your blessings name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done, count your blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done’ (Johnson Oatman, Jr 1897). Psalm 92 says, ‘It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord’ (v1 – The Bible). Especially in times that are difficult, it is important to always give thanks to the Lord.
In prayer we remember again that God is the one who has the power to change our lives and our circumstances; so we humble ourselves and seek that his will may be done on earth. In this way prayer helps us to get our thoughts in order. We can become troubled and overwhelmed by the way things are in the world – 100,000+ deaths in UK due to Covid; thousands out of work; rising domestic violence. In these difficult times God says it’s good to talk and he wants us to talk with him about our worries, our fears our anxieties; he wants as also to know that we are not alone, that he is present and we can put our trust in him. The Psalmist found peace and strength to cope when he stopped to recognise God’s presence with him when he humbled himself before God.
When we pray, we may of course ask the Lord for his help and grace. Prayer is an opportunity to ask for the needs of others, and for our own needs. When we ask the Lord, we express our dependence on the Lord, and our confidence in him. Will you ask for help, for grace, for strength to face all of life’s challenges?
I hope you can see that prayer is so much more than just trying to get things from God. Prayer changes us. When prayer changes us, it helps us to cope with difficult circumstances – including a pandemic. It’s good to talk. It’s even better to talk with God.
250,000 people. Less than 2 hours. The response was more than anyone could have imagined.
In March last year as we entered the first lcokdown the NHS wanted to recruit 250,000 volunteer responders. They would help to care for others by collecting shopping, medication or other essential supplies if they were self-isolating. They might also offer transport for people to return home and see that they settle safely. Two days later a revised NHS target of 750,000 volunteer responders was surpassed. In times of crisis, many of us have a heart that cares. It’s part of the way that God has made us.
Over the last 10 months we have seen so many examples of people who care: we see it every time a nurse pulls on the full PPE before entering an ICU unit to do what they can for people there; every time a health visitor calls because a young mum and her baby need her; when a social worker sits down with a family who need their support; every time a doctor meets a patient; every day a teacher goes into school to help the children of key workers; when neighbours look out for each other, exchanging greetings over the fence or from the bottom of the front garden. In the midst of all the pain and suffering, we have seen many examples of care. What a difference it makes!
This is something we see through the pages of the Bible and we are called to copy it.
- God cares for us
When a young man was running away from home, scared and alone, the Lord spoke to him in a dream; God promised to be with Jacob, to ‘keep’ him and one day to bring him back to his home. The word ‘keep’ means to tend and look after a garden, and to guard and protect someone. It shows how deeply God truly cares for Jacob … and for you. Jacob still had difficulties in his marriage, with his family, and in his business partnership, but the Lord cared for him.
God’s care does not mean that life in this broken world will always be pain free; but God does still care. Despite all the physical and emotional pain that Job endured in face of great loss and despite his struggles of faith, he held on to the deep conviction that God’s concern for him never wavered – ‘your care has guarded my life’ (Job 10:12 – The Bible).
- The psalms sing about God’s care especially in the tough times
The psalms encourage us that the Lord cares and hears our prayers in times of trouble: ‘The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles’ (Psalm 34:17-18 – The Bible).
In case that sounds too simple and possibly unreal in this time of pandemic, remember that sometimes we have to endure a period of waiting: ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; and He … heard my cry; He also brought me up out of a horrible pit … and established my steps’ (Psalm 40:1-2 – The Bible).
Another psalm helpfully assures us that the Lord does not ignore what we are gogin through, ‘He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when he cried to Him, He heard’ (Psalm 22:24 – The Bible).
- Therefore the Bible calls us to care for others
If we know anything of God’s care in our struggles and tears, then more than anybody else we should show heartfelt care for those around us.
Some people are quick to write off the Bible as full of rules that take away the joy of life. How mistaken! Many laws express our devotion to God, and others guide us to care for our neighbour. When the harvest is gathered God says do not reap to the very edges of the field or gather up the little bits left behind – leave them so that the poor, the widow, the orphan may have something to eat. Such care is not limited to those close to us, it extends to the foreigner too.
How does all of this help us through a pandemic? It has warmed our hearts to see many acts of caring during this pandemic, and hopefully they will continue once we are through it. It reassures us to know that God our heavenly Father truly cares, even in the toughest times of our lives. And when we care for each other, what a help that is in times of trouble. Today, in what little way can you show someone that you care?
He couldn’t promise chocolate covered candy hearts; he had no spring flowers in bloom to give; no warm July evening to enjoy or gentle autumn breeze. But he had something he wanted to say, from the bottom of his heart: ‘I just called to say I love you’, sang Stevie Wonder, ‘I just called to say how much I care’.
When we care for others, what a difference it makes. How it transforms life – even during a pandemic. How many of us have been cheered by a phone call from our family, or a card sent in the post by a friend, or a WhatsApp message from a neighbour? Just to hear a familiar voice or to receive a greeting has been such a help – especially if we have been shielding and ‘home alone’.
Last week we saw one example of how God cared (for Joseph in all his troubles), we noted three psalms that celebrate God’s care (even if sometimes we have to wait) and we heard those Bible verses that exhorts us to care for others in the way God cares for us.
Today we think again about caring because truly it makes a huge difference especially when we are going through tough times. And today we tun our thoughts to Jesus, because he gives us the greatest ever example of a human person who cared for others.
Jesus’ example is seen on every page of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – The Bible) – when people were hungry, when they were sick, when they were put down by others, when they were ostracised by others, when they were grieving, when they were without hope. Jesus always had time – to listen, to offer some words of encouragement and to do something to help.
Jesus’ teaching frequently touched on the way we treat others – how we copy his example. Most famous of all is his story about a Samaritan man who was on a journey when he saw a Jewish man lying by the side of the road, beaten and left to die. He saw him; his heart was filled with pity; he went to him; he washed his wounds; he took him to a safe place. That is how to care!
In Jesus’ story, all of the man’s actions are simple ones – they are things that any one of us could do. But if the circumstances were exceptional, there are certainly many everyday moments when we can ‘say [show] how much we care’. We can call a friend to ask ‘how are you?’; we can send a text to say we are praying for them.; we can send an email with words of encouragement; we could bake a cake and leave it on the doorstep; we could buy a bar of chocolate and put it through the letterbox; we could pick up a prescription; we could …
The joy that simple thoughtful caring actions brings in difficult times is illustrated for us in one of the apostle Paul’s letters (his letter to the Philippians – the Bible). He was in prison at the time; he knew they prayed for him; he knew they missed him. Then one day a gift arrived from them. How that lifted his spirits and brought joy to his heart! It was not only the money itself; it was the demonstration of ‘how much [they] cared’.
How will you show someone today how much you care – it doesn’t have to be a huge thing, just a simple action from the heart. It will make a difference; it will lift someone’s spirits; it will help us all cope during the pandemic.
Thursday night; … 8.00pm; … for 10 weeks thousands of us stepped outside and clapped our hands banged pots and pans, and rang bells. As the seriousness of the Covid-19 threat began to dawn, we wanted to show our thanks to NHS staff, emergency services, delivery drivers, shop workers, teachers, waste collectors, postal workers and others who were making a difference to our lives in challenging times that most of us had never experienced before.
This week I want to consider for a few minutes the place of gratitude in coping with life during a pandemic. I realise that for many of us the last year has been difficult, to say the least – we have not been well; we have worried about family and friends; we have been furloughed, or worse, lost our job; worst of all we may be among the many thousands going through bereavement following the death of a loved one.
After the Prime Minister’s Roadmap out of lockdown was announced last week (22 February 2021) holiday bookings surged by more than 600% on the previous week – but there was no smile on your face. ‘How can we give thanks?’, you ask. ‘What do we have to be grateful for?’ ‘And how can we give thanks to God – after all God could have stopped it all, right?’ (If you are among the many heartbroken, and who feel angry with God, can I point you to a section on our website, ‘Questions about God and Covid19’ – we have not tried to offer final answers, but simply a few thoughts we hope may begin to help).
Let me try to show you why we should give thanks to God and how it helps us to cope with life during this pandemic.
The pandemic has remined us that we are not self-sufficient, we depend upon others day by day. It reminds us also that we are dependant upon God, for our life, breath, health, strength and for much more that we take for granted. God fully deserves our gratitude day by day. Ultimately, everything good comes from God (Deuteronomy 8:10-18; James 1:17 – The Bible), and so when we give thanks to God we remember how dependent we are on God and how blessed we are that God does in fact daily care for us.
Giving thanks will guard our hearts from pride, selfishness, and greed and, therefore, it is good for the state of our hearts and our attitudes and our outlook on life. We thank God that God has given us health, enabled us to work, and so to earn our living and blessed us with more than we need (Deuteronomy 8:16 – The Bible). This, in turn, helps us to think about others and to be kind in sharing with those in need.
Giving thanks also strengthens our faith relationship with God – we give thanks and remember what God has done, how gracious and kind God is, and our faith is made stronger. This prepares us for the difficult times when we have little, or when we struggle with our health, or when we go through bereavement.
Giving thanks to God is also a key to a life of inner peace. ‘Do not be troubled about anything, but in everything, by prayer, with thanksgiving … and the peace of God … will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (bold mine; Philippians 4:6, 7 – The Bible). So much is said these days about mental health, and here is one simple action we can take to maintain good mental health – be thankful.
We are even instructed to ‘Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus’, (1 Thessalonians 5:18 – The Bible). This may often seem difficult. Sometimes impossible – like during a pandemic, for example? We have been locked down for months; we miss family and friends; we worry about the future; we mourn the death of loved ones. Yet as one of the Psalms reminds us, even in the deepest, darkest valley, the Lord is with us (Psalm 23:4 – The Bible). If only for that, we have reason to be grateful.
Giving thanks to God is what God fully deserves; giving thanks also benefits us, bringing peace to our hearts; giving thanks is one simple way to cope with life during a pandemic. Why not give it a go, today?
Unsung heroines and heroes live in every street of our land. Men and women and sometimes children, who, one way or another, give care to someone else in their home. Many of us are not aware of the sacrifices they make. The organisation ‘Hope Grows’ offers support to caregivers to cope with the physical, psychological and spiritual stress that often comes with the role of providing care.
It is not only these caregivers who need hope. Hope is vital for all of us. The Hope Grows website says that ‘to have hope is to want an outcome that makes your life better in some way’ and ‘It not only can help make a tough present situation more bearable but also can eventually improve our lives because envisioning a better future motivates you to take the steps to make it happen’.
I do not doubt that often there are steps we can take to make a better future. But sometimes it is beyond us to make it happen. The answer is not simply to search for the answer inside yourself. The answer is to find hope in the promises of God.
Sometimes dictionary definitions of hope come close to the idea of ‘wishing’ for something or wanting something good to happen. Hope often includes a desire that things will, one day, change for the better.
During the long months of Covid-19 it has sometimes been difficult to hope. We have seen infection rates rise, hospitalisations increase (stretching the NHS to breaking point), and at one stage death rates over 1,000 per day. After a brief drop in all those figures in the summer, the autumn and winter have again been bad and many have lived with fear and despair rather than hope.
But now … the roll out of the vaccine brings new hope; the imminent arrival of Spring brings new hope; the government’s road map out of lockdown offers hope but we don’t know for sure when we will again be free at last. And we may still face future setbacks.
We all need hope to hold on to through these days – indeed at all stages of our lives. In December I wrote about hope as we approached Christmas and described the hope of the shepherds, of the wise men, of Mary – the hope of God’s favour, God’s peace and God’s presence.
Today I return to the theme of hope for I am convinced that when we have a ‘sure and certain hope’ to hold on to we will not only cope with life in a pandemic but we will live through all of life’s troubles with a deep inner assurance and peace.
In two weeks’ time we will begin what is often called Holy Week – the week that leads up to the remembrance of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (the Easter weekend). It is a weekend that offers us hope – not wishful thinking, not just a desire that things could be better, but a sure and certain hope, the hope that will last forever and be realised.
This is sure and certain hope because it rests on the sure foundation of historical events and the certain promises of God.
It is true that the weekend got off to a bad start with the crucifixion of an innocent man – Jesus of Nazareth. It is true that his followers were heartbroken and in despair- all their hopes had died with him (Luke 24:21 – The Bible), or so they thought. But it was no accident. It was part of God’s eternal plan and purpose to rescue men and women (Acts 2:23 – The Bible) and after six hours on the cross Jesus said with total confidence, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30 – The Bible). He had completed the job. He had given his life for us. Now we too can have that sure and certain hope of forgiveness, of freedom from guilt, of friendship with God. The hope of a new life, eternal life, when we accept he gave up his life for us.
After he died on the cross, Jesus was buried, but on the third day when disciples went to the tomb – it was empty. Jesus had risen from the dead. Their hopes came to life again with him; and our hopes too. Because he lives we too can live; because he lives, we too can have new life; because he lives we too can have the hope of an eternal life in new heavens and a new earth. This is the promise God makes to all who believe that Jesus has made this possible and put their trust in him.
That is hope!
That is hope that goes way beyond anything this world could dream of. And what is more, it is a sure and certain hope, because of the events of Jesus death and resurrection, and the promises of God. Will you take hold of this hope today?
It is less than two weeks to Easter when Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, which they say brings salvation, friendship with God, meaning and purpose in life, and hope for eternity.
And yet there are some who today would question whether or not we really can believe that Jesus existed. So can we?
For centuries no one ever questioned the fact. Then, in the 1700s a ‘Christ myth’ theory was invented that claimed Jesus of Nazareth was entirely a made-up story. He never existed as a historical person, or if he did, he has little to do with the start of Christian faith and the Gospel accounts. A century or so later Kahler would coin the phrases ‘the Jesus of history’ and ‘the Christ of faith’ arguing that faith is more important than historical knowledge. As recently as 2005, Ellen Johnson (on the Larry King Show) asserted, ‘There was not…there is no secular evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed’.
So, is there any basis for really believing that Jesus existed and does it matter? Let’s consider the evidence that historians use in researching other people of history.
- Archaeology – archaeologists have discovered many places and relics that agree with New Testament accounts of Jesus. So much so that Malcolm Muggeridge (who thought Jesus a myth) changed his mind when he saw the evidence during a BBC television assignment. He wrote, ‘A certainty seized me … I became aware that there really had been a man, Jesus….”
In 2006, Rene Salm claimed that the absence of evidence for the first-century town of Nazareth signalled the end of Christianity, ‘Celebrate, freethinkers.… Christianity as we know it may be finally coming to an end!’ But in December 2009 archaeologists announced they had found 1st Cent. clay shards in Nazareth, which confirmed its existence during the time of Christ.
- Early Non-Christian Accounts
There is little written evidence for ‘any’ historical person from the time of Jesus, not even for Julius Caesar. We ought to be amazed that Jesus, who was nether a political or military leader, is written about by so many authors. There is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus; the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius; the Roman officials Pliny the Younger (AD112), Emperors Trajan (AD 56-117) and Hadrian (AD 76-136); and several pagan writers who mention Jesus prior to the end of the second century, including Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar-Serapion and Lucian of Samosate. Within 150 years of Jesus’ life 42 authors mention him, including nine non-Christian authors. In that same time period, only five sources report the conquests of Julius Caesar.
- Early Christian Accounts
There are 1000s of letters, sermons and commentaries about Jesus written within a decade of his crucifixion. They confirm almost every detail of the Gospels in the Bible. They speak about Jesus as a real person. There is also the New Testament. Michael Grant, an atheist, argues that it should be considered as evidence, just like any other ancient history. The archaeologist Sir William Ramsey dismissed Luke’s writing about Jesus, until he examined the evidence. He changed his mind, ‘Luke is a historian of the first rank.… Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness’. In addition these histories of Jesus were written in the first century (A.T. Robinson says before AD65) when eye-witnesses were still alive. (In contrast the earliest account of Alexander the Great comes 300 years after his death!.)
- Historical Impact
Mythical characters do not make much impact on history, whereas Jesus’ impact is unsurpassed, and remains so today. His teaching gave new standards for morality; thousands of hospitals and schools were built in his name; and, although it took time, Jesus’ attitude to men and women eventually led to the abolition of slavery and the rights of women in Western cultures. If Jesus didn’t exist, how could he change history so much?
So, can we really believe that Jesus existed? The answer is surely yes. And we can list the following historical facts about him:
- Jesus came from Nazareth
- Jesus was a great teacher and lived a moral life
- Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover and his disciples believed he rose from the dead (we will examine these claims in the next two weeks)
- Faith in Jesus has transformed the lives of millions of people, and impacted on world history moral lives and worshiped Christ as God.
Earlier I mentioned the phrases ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and ‘Christ of faith’ and some scholars would separate them as if they are different. They say that while Jesus did exist we cannot know much about him, but we can trust in someone whom we call the Christ of faith. I think that is unacceptable. Those cannot be separated. If Jesus did not exist or if we cannot know anything much about him, then what we call faith is nothing more than wishful thinking in some story.
Without the actual real historical events of the birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus, then faith in him has no meaning. Christian faith trusts in the Jesus of Nazareth, a real figure of history, who died and rose again, and who is at the same time the Lord of our faith.
If you agree with me that Jesus existed …. What difference will that make in your life?
(Many more details can be found at the following website that I found useful: Y-Jesus.com – (y-jesus.com))
 Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered (Bungay, Suffolk, UK: Fontana, 1969), 8.
 Rene Salm, ‘The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus’, American Atheist.org, December 22, 2009, http://www.atheists.org/The_Myth_of_Nazareth,_Does_it_Really_Matter%3F.
 William Ramsey is quoted by Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 61.
Songs have been written; films have been made; in the 1st Cent. AD thousands were willing to die in Roman amphitheatres for it – they knew that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified by the Romans on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem.
But … can I really believe that Jesus was crucified?
Last week we considered the overwhelming evidence from archaeology, Jewish writers, Roman officials, Roman historians and philosophers that all combine to tell us without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth truly existed as a real human being in our world..
But there is still the question, was he crucified by the Romans? And if so, does it matter to us?
To answer the question was he crucified let us use the same process that modern historians use and consider the evidence.
Sometimes writers are too quick to deny something simply because they have not seen the proof. For example, before the 20th Cent. AD there was no tangible evidence for Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas, who were both key men in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. But then, in 1961 and 1990, inscriptions were found with their names. It doesn’t prove that Jesus was crucified, it does back up the details of the Gospel historical account.
Early Roman historians wrote about people and events that were important in the history of the Roman empire. Jesus was neither important either as a military or a political figure and yet remarkably they acknowledge him and write about his crucifixion.
The historian Tacitus (AD 55-120) records that Jesus lived during the reign of Tiberius and that he ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate…’.
Thallus was a Greek historian who c. AD55 wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world. In it he makes space to describe some of the details of Jesus’ crucifixion, including the period of darkness. Phlegon, another C1stAD Greek historian also describes the period of darkness, and says that the event took place at the time of Passover in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (important historical details).
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about ‘a wise man called Jesus’ and like other early historians he too agrees with the Bible accounts. He writes, ‘Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive’ (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, paragraoh 3).
Lucian of Samosata (AD115-c180) was a 2nd Cent. AD critic of Christians, mocking their faith. Yet he too writes about Jesus crucifixion.
In all of these examples, it is clear that none of the early writers doubted the historicity of Jesus’ existence, His crucifixion and the darkness that fell over the land. So the answer to our first question, can I really believe that Jesus was crucified, is a categoric ‘Yes’.
But … does it matter? The answer to this question is also a resounding yes. The Bible says that Jesus died for us, he died to take away our sins, he died that we might be forgiven and be free from guilt, he died so that we might have hope in this world and the world to come.
But let us listen to a few of Jesus’ own words:
Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11 – The Bible).
Jesus said, ‘I have come to give my life as a ransom for many’, (Mark 10:45 – The Bible).
Jesus said, ‘This is my body which is for you…. This is the new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins…’ (Matthew 26:26, 28 – The Bible).
Jesus is very clear about his crucifixion, and its purpose. It was not an untimely death but a deliberate act of sacrifice for you and me. Jesus describes himself as a good shepherd who is willing even to give his life for us; he explains that his death has the purpose of setting us free from sin, guilt, fear and death; and through his self-giving he signs and seals God’s new covenant, which promises forgiveness of all of our sins if we will only trust him.
Can I really believe that Jesus was crucified? ‘Yes!’, and with good reasons
Can I really believe that Jesus died for me and provided forgiveness and new start? ‘Yes!’, you can.
You really can. The question is – will you?
(If you would like to discuss this and how you can respond to and trust in the Lord Jesus, please contact me through this website or call me on 07747745776 – Pastor Andrew)
People’s first thoughts are sometimes cards with daffodils, bunnies or chocolate eggs, when they hear the word ‘Easter’. But it is so much more. We have just celebrated Easter, when Christians remember that Jesus was crucified on a cross, he was buried, and he rose again bodily.
But is it true? Or is it just a comforting story invented by close friends who could not bear to lose him?
Can I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Dr. Simon Greenleaf (1783–1853), Professor of Law, one of two men behind Harvard’s prominence among USA law schools, wrote the greatest book on legal procedure, applied those rules to Jesus’ resurrection and concluded that the evidence would stand up in a court of law – the Gospel accounts have integrity, and they are true.
Frank Morrison was a sceptic who set out to disprove the resurrection and was surprised when he examined the evidence and reached the conclusion that the resurrection is the best explanation of what happened.
So, what convinced these two brilliant minds that Jesus’ resurrection really happened?
After all, a few people claim that Jesus didn’t really die. And yet all the accounts of contemporary secular historians (Josephus, Lucian, Tacitus) state that he did died, Pilate verified that he died (a Roman soldier thrust a spear in his side and out flowed blood and water – he was definitely dead), and during the lifetime of eyewitnesses not one person stepped forward to deny it.
Some people suggest that the women went to the wrong tomb; but we know they followed carefully and noted exactly where the body was placed. They did not make a mistake. Others think the disciples stole the body and created a lie. This is not credible for several reasons: they had been devastated by his death and were in hiding, afraid for their lives; they would have had to overpower guards and later be willing to die for what they knew was a lie; Greenleaf noted the dramatic change in their behaviour and concluded it would have been impossible if they had not actually seen the risen Christ; he noted also that it wasn’t just one or two disciples who claimed that Jesus had risen; all of them said it.
So, some people suggest that the Roman authorities or Jewish leaders hid the body. This is obviously not a good argument. They wanted Jesus dead. If they had the body, then they would have put it on public show immediately to get rid of resurrection rumours once for all.
Some people turn to hallucination as an explanation, arguing that the disciples hallucinated and imagined Jesus’ resurrection. This is not even a remote possibility. Psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn says that it is inconceivable that 500 people in sound mind should experience so many visual, auditory, and tactual impressions and all be the result of hallucination.
So, could it be just a legend that began with a few people making up a story about Jesus’ resurrection? The answer is no, because legends do not develop while eyewitnesses are around to refute them and the news spread too quickly to have been a legend; legends develop by being passed on orally without the support of contemporary historical documents, and the Gospels were written within 30 years of Jesus’ resurrection.
Greenleaf and Morrison were willing to accept that if you eliminate the arguments used against Jesus’ resurrection, you need to be honest enough to ask if really happened. We will do that next week. We will examine the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection in the experiences and testimony of those who said they met him, heard him, ate with him, and touched him.
But I invite you today to consider, ‘What if?’ What if … the evidence does not disprove the resurrection but rather supports it? What if … Dr. Greenleaf’s conclusion is right – that any jury would render a verdict that Jesus’ resurrection really happened? What if … Jesus really did rise from the dead? What will you do?
The implications? / ramifications? are huge. Your response could be life-transforming bringing freedom from guilt, joy and peace, and lasting hope.
That sounds good – doesn’t it?
So, what if?
 Simon Greenleaf, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence; and An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice
If… if it is true … then it is the most amazing event in the history of the world. If … Jesus was crucified and then rose again on the third day, it makes all the difference. And it can make all the difference in your life, bringing freedom from guilt and fear, joy and peace within, and hope for the future.
But … can I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Last week we looked at several arguments that are often made to deny the resurrection and saw how two brilliant legal minds (Simon Greenleaf and Frank Morrison) questioned if those arguments were credible. Greenleaf went on to focus his attention on the transformed lives of the disciples; Morrison started to ask how strong the case was for its actual occurrence.
First, there are the women. In the first century, women had no status, and no rights. So Morrison asked why anyone would put them at the centre of their account. He argued that conspirators would have men, not women, as the first to see the risen Jesus. But the gospel writers tell us that women were first to find the empty tomb, that they saw him, and even touched him.
Second, the Gospels (The Bible) record that there are many eye-witnesses who saw Jesus on more than ten separate occasions. He spoke with them; he showed them his hands and side; he let Thomas touch him; he ate with them. On one occasion, Jesus appeared alive to more than 500 followers (1 Corinthians 15 – The Bible). Morrison rightly realized that so many people on so many occasions seeing the risen Jesus would have been virtually impossible to fake.
Third, Morison explored the motives of Jesus’ followers and concluded that something extraordinary must have happened, because they stopped mourning, they stopped hiding, they stopped being afraid, and they began to tell everyone that Jesus had risen, he was alive and they had seen him.
Finally, it was the changed behaviour of Jesus’ eleven disciples that convinced Morrison. Suddenly, they were willing to suffer arrest, humiliation, beatings and death for the sake of Jesus. All of them except for one became a martyr. Something must have happened to bring about such change.
It was this sudden change in the disciples’ behaviour that also convinced Dr. Simon Greenleaf, who wrote, ‘It would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ’. His conclusion: that any honest jury would render a verdict that Jesus’ resurrection really happened.
But then there is another question – does it really matter?
It does matter, and here is why – Jesus’ resurrection convinced his disciples that he was the Messiah, one who had died for our sins. His resurrection validated his claim to be the Messiah; they now understood that he was also what the Bible calls the suffering servant who first died for us and then rose again in glory. He is ‘the resurrection and the life’.
Over the last two weeks we have seen that arguments against the resurrection do not have much credibility. At the same time the Gospel accounts, which are first-class historical records are credible witnesses to the most remarkable events in the world – Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, he was buried, and he rose again.
What convinced sceptics like Greenleaf and Morrison was the transformed lives of his disciples. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can transform life for you too.
The Covid-19 pandemic has stirred many people to think about matters of life and death: do you grieve the death of a loved one in this past year? Do you lack any real hope beyond death? Do you lack a sense of joy and peace? Do you carry a weight of guilt about something that you hope no one will ever find out?
Jesus’ death and resurrection offers you forgiveness, friendship with God, the hope of resurrection and life eternal. In the darkest of days his death and resurrection can bring hope – now and for the future.
Next week we will ask, can I really believe that my sins can be forgiven? We will take an illustration from sacrifices that were offered at the temple (we read about this in the Bible) and see that Jesus’ death was the perfect sacrifice for all our sins; that his resurrection proves that his sacrifice was sufficient, and has been accepted by God.
Jesus’ resurrection really happened; and it means forgiveness, life and hope for you.
Can I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Yes, you can.
But … will you?
 Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice (1874; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1995), back cover.
It was the most special day of the year. Every family in the land looked forward to it – meeting as families; sharing great food; hearing the story again; maybe making the journey to the temple on what was called The Day of Atonement.
The temple was set in a large courtyard but it was a simple oblong building separated in two by a large heavy-duty curtain. The small area behind the curtain was known as the Most Holy Place and contained a simple wooden box covered in gold that was called the box of the covenant. God said that no one was to enter through the curtain. Except … one person … and on one day of the year only …. The Day of Atonement*. On that day the High Priest only was allowed to go through the curtain and sprinkle blood on the covenant box – and God’s wonderful promise was that ‘whatever their sins had been…’ they would ‘be clean from all their sins’.
But can we still today really believe in the forgiveness of sins?
The Bible gives us the most special news ever – YES!
But that raises two questions: ‘do I need to be forgiven?’ and ‘how is it possible?’
In response to the first question, ‘Do I need to be forgiven?’, many of us will know in our hearts that the answer is ‘yes’ – we do need forgiveness. When we look at ourselves honestly we know what we are like. At times we feel the guilt of certain things we have said or done. But some of us may want to say that we have lived a good life, we have done our best, we have treated others well. And even if we are not perfect, would a few careless words and lustful desires really keep us out of heaven?
Consider this: as you walk down the main high road shopping precinct where you live, there are probably some large electronic advertising boards (perhaps high up in the air) with adverts that change regularly. What if suddenly your name, with a picture beside it (so everyone can identify it is you) appeared on the screen with a list from the past month of every greedy action, every blasphemous and lying word, every bitter thought, and every lustful desire. Will you honestly say that you would happily stand there and point to it and say, ‘that is me; that is how I have lived’. If we are honest, almost every one of us would want that advertising screen to go blank with nothing on it.
So … do I need to be forgiven? If you will be honest, then I think you know the answer.
The second question, ‘How can I be forgiven?’, finds its answer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the last few weeks, we have seen that we truly can believe that he lived in this world, he died on the cross, and he rose again. He did all of that for you. The words of Jesus are, ‘I have come to give my life as a ransom for many’.
We need to be careful that we do not push that illustration too far, but it is a wonderful explanation of what Jesus has done for us and guarantees that, when we confess our sins, God will indeed truly forgive us – whatever our wrongs have been.
The idea of a ransom tells us that somebody needs to be rescued. Indeed, that is all of us – we all need to be forgiven and set free from our sins.
The idea of ransom also tells us that there is a price to be paid. Jesus willingly took your sins upon himself when he died on the cross, and by his blood the price was paid.
The idea of ransom tells us that there is freedom. Because Jesus died for us, in our place, then really, truly, we can be forgiven. Jesus makes that promise to us – his blood sealed God’s new covenant, which, at heart, promises forgiveness (Matthew 26:28 – The Bible).
What a wonderful thing forgiveness is! It removes our guilt; it restores relationships; it sets us free.
Can I be forgiven? Yes, you can – and it is all because of Jesus.
I understand that some people have a question about this: why, they ask, doesn’t God just get on and forgive us; why did Jesus need to die? We will look at that question next week. But for now, would you ponder this amazing truth: Jesus died for you and really, truly, for sure, you can be forgiven. Isn’t that good news?
That is why Christians love to sing. Songs with words like this:
To this I hold, my sin has been defeated
Jesus now and ever is my plea
Oh, the chains are released, I can sing “I am free”
Yet not I but through Christ in me
Worthy is the Lamb**, seated in heaven
… we are forgiven forever
Why not trust Him today and prove in your life that his promise is true.
Can I really be forgiven? Yes you can – but you need to trust in Lord Jesus
* Atonement the action of making amends for a wrong or injury.
** lamb is a word used to describe Jesus as the one who died and shed his blood for us.
How come we feel justified in thinking that others should be punished for their crimes (especially when committed against us!) and yet we hate the idea that God would punish men and women for their sins. ‘Le bon Dieu me pardonnera. C’est son metier,’ is a quote attributed to the German poet, Heinrich Heine. It means, ‘God will forgive me. It’s his job’. It sums up what many people feel – if there is anything to forgive, God will simply do it. That is what God is there for. So what has Jesus’ death got to do with it? (we will come back to that a little latter).
If a judge has a criminal standing before him, guilty of child abuse, or beating an 85-year-old woman in her home for her ring, or a drunk driver that killed a young baby in their pram, would we expect the judge to let them go, and just give them another chance? If the judge did that, there would be cries of protest.
These examples are actions that in today’s society the large majority of us would consider to be wrong. But you say most of us have not committed such actions. Therefore, we feel that we are not that bad, that our ‘sins’ (if we acknowledge that we have any) are nothing like so bad or deserving of punishment. So, some people feel there is nothing to forgive while others wonder why God doesn’t simply forgive us and move on … after all, God tells us to forgive each other.
To suggest that God should just get on and forgive, is to ignore both how serious and deadly every sin is and how total is God’s perfect holiness. We like to grade sins – some are not as bad as others. If we disobey our parents in the home that is one thing; if we disobey the law that is on a different level; if we disobey the Queen (at least in centuries past) that was more serious still – and could lead to our head being chopped off. To understand God’s holiness is to recognise that all our failings, however small, are serious enough to deserve our death.
Anything less than perfection is an offence to God because it is the opposite of all that God is in his perfect holiness and glory. When we lie, we rebel against God who is always truth; when we are greedy, we oppose God who is generous; lust is sin because God is always pure.
The question surely is not, ‘Why doesn’t God just get on and forgive without all the fuss of death and sacrifice?’ The question is: ‘How on earth does God ever forgive any of us at all. We should be so grateful for the death of Lord Jesus on the cross for us, for by this He takes away our sins, and brings forgiveness and reconciliation.
It is deeply regrettable therefore that the amazing thing that Jesus did on the cross has been disparaged in recent decades. Let us be clear, Jesus did not suffer and plead with an angry God, trying somehow to twist his arm to do something he did not want to do. God chose to send his only Son and gave him up to die for us. God wanted to provide the way for forgiveness.
Equally tragic is the distorted idea that Jesus was an innocent third party harshly punished by God (some kind of cosmic whipping boy for the sins of the world). Such statements grossly twist what God did at the cross for us. Jesus is both God and man in one person. The amazing thing about the cross is this – God stepped into human history, in the person of Jesus Christ, and in Him, God himself paid the penalty for us. How different that is to the twisted ideas I mentioned a moment ago. How wonderful the truth about the cross is!
Some people find the following story helpfu: you are in a courtroom, guilty of murder. You approach the judge and beg for him to let you go. But he doesn’t. He bangs the gavel on the desk in front of him and declares you guilty. But because he loves you, he steps down from the bench, takes off the robe, and pays the penalty for you.
God declares us guilty of disobeying him; since he is almighty God, this is deadly serious. And yet in amazing love, God enters this world as a human baby, and as grown man pays the price for us. Now he is offering forgiveness to all who will turn to him, confess their sins, and receive his kindness.
Will you do that?
‘You said we could go…’
I am sure you have heard a child say something like that. Mum or Dad, or an aunty or uncle, has said that on Saturday they would take them swimming, to the park, or to the cinema. When Saturday comes, the child expects you to keep your word.
So … if Jesus promised something, shouldn’t we expect him to keep his word? Yes, we should. One of the great promises of Jesus is that he will return to earth one day. But he said that nearly 2,000 years ago. Can we still believe it or should we give up on it?
Nearly 100 years ago in Battersea Town Hall a talk was given by a philosopher, Bertrand Russell, entitled, Why I am not a Christian. In it he accused Jesus of breaking his promise to return in the lifetime of those who were alive at the time. Of course, Jesus never said he would return in their lifetime.
But the question still remains: can we really believe that Jesus will return? The answer to the question depends on whether Jesus is trustworthy and reliable.
Jesus had a reputation for honesty; he was not influenced by people’s opinions. One day some Pharisees approached him and this is what they said: ‘Teacher, we know you that are a man of integrity. You are not swayed by others …. You teach the way of God in accordance with truth’. Now before we come to a conclusion about Jesus’ promise to come again (just because we think it has been a long time) we should consider first his reputation for honesty and truth – is Jesus trustworthy?
Jesus promised those who believe in him that they would receive forgiveness of sins, and new life. On the last night before his crucifixion, as he shared a meal with friends, he spoke to them about, ‘the new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matt 26:28; also Luke 24:47 – The Bible). Millions of people since then, and millions alive today can testify that the promise of forgiveness is genuine. Jesus is trustworthy
Jesus also promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit (there is no space to record all these promises here, but see: John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13; Acts 1:8 – The Bible). Jesus kept his promise when the Holy Spirit came on what we call the Day of Pentecost. Jesus is trustworthy.
Jesus also explained to his disciples that the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed (Mark 13:1-4 – The Bible). It was something that seemed impossible at the time and was a shock to those who heard Jesus say it. History tells us that Jesus was right, the Roman army did destroy the temple and large parts of the city in AD70. Jesus is trustworthy.
On several occasions Jesus told his disciples that he would suffer, he would die and be buried, and on the third day he would rise again (See Thought for the Week, 5 April, Can I really believe that Jesus rose again?). There is a mass of substantial evidence that Jesus did truly rise from the dead. Once again, Jesus is proved trustworthy. We see that when Jesus says something will happen, it happens.
Since Jesus was known for his honesty, and since the promises he has made have always been fulfilled, why would any reasonable person doubt his promise to return? Yes, it has been a long time and, yes, we are still waiting. But, on the basis of his track record on promises, it would seem foolhardy to rush in and claim that Jesus has broken his promise. It would be better to prepare ourselves for his return.
The apostle Peter wrote that some people, ‘will mock you and will ask, “He promised to come, didn’t he? Where is he? Our ancestors have already died, but everything is still the same as it was since the creation of the world!’ (2 Peter 3:3-4 – The Bible).
And what did he say in response? He wrote this: ‘The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins’ (2 peter 3:9 – The Bible).
Do you see what that means?
Some people may scoff at the idea of Jesus coming back, but we have seen that Jesus is absolutely trustworthy and we really can believe that he will be back.
And what is the reason for his delay? It is for your benefit – it gives you time to turn to God, confess your sins, receive his forgiveness and so be ready for Jesus’ coming.
Will you do that? Today? Now?
There was something about him that was just so different. He was never elected mayor of any city; he never captained an army; he never wrote a book. Throughout his life he stayed within 100 miles of his birth. And yet … he was different. Jesus stood out from all other men and women – in a good way. It was his teaching; it was his miracles; it was his personality.
But even more than that – Jesus stood out because he is God.
That is the startling claim of Christians from the time of Jesus himself, and it is the reason why we worship and serve him as Lord and Saviour.
But is it true? Did Jesus ever say he is God? Even if he did say it, can we believe it?
This week we will consider Jesus’ impact on world history and his resurrection as pointers to his deity (being God); next week we will look at what the Holy Bible – the written Word of God – says, and what Jesus himself says
Jesus’ uniqueness is obvious – most people whom history has described as great (for one reason or another) are confined to the pages of history books; by contrast the Lord Jesus still transforms the lives of men and women in this world through their relationship with him.
Of course there have been other religious and moral leaders who made an impact, but nothing like the carpenter from Nazareth. He was only in the public eye for three years, yet within a few years his followers had turned the Roman Empire upside down. And his impact is felt widely around the world today. How could this be?
The simple answer is the claim that Christians have made all along – that Jesus is God. As one popular new song describes it – ‘fullness of God in helpless babe’. The miracle of God coming into this world as a tiny baby. Eight hundred years before that remarkable event, the prophet Isaiah had described him: ‘a child is born, a son given, he will be called wonderful counsellor, mighty GOD’ (Isaiah 9:6 – The Bible; capitals mine) – no wonder angels, shepherds, wise men, knelt and worshipped him. It was the right response.
It is Jesus’ resurrection that convinces millions that Jesus is God. A few weeks ago (5th and 12th April) we assessed a wealth of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus – the empty tomb, the historical reliability of the New Testament, 500 witnesses (all at the same time) quotations from secular sources, and the changed lives of the disciples. As the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, said, ‘no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true’.
He also said that whether Jesus was or was not who he said he was (that he is God) must surely depend on his resurrection. The Bible makes this point clearly: Jesus said that he would rise from the dead; he said that he was the resurrection and the life and would therefore give life; and the letter of the apostle Paul to the Romans begins saying that Jesus ‘was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead’ (Mark 10:34; John 11:25,26; Romans 1:4 – The Bible).
So what ought to be our response? The Apostle Thomas shows us the way: he was not with the other apostles on the day Jesus rose from the dead and met them; Thomas vowed that he would not believe it unless Jesus met him; a week later Jesus met him too. And Thomas’ response? He fell on his knees and said, ‘My lord and My God’ (John 20:28 – The Bible).
What will you do, today?
Some people think that Jesus was simply a great moral teacher; others believe he was merely the leader of a great world religion. But is that all?
Many, like Gandhi, stop here; they want to separate Jesus’ ethical teaching from what he said about himself. But is that enough?
Let us see what the Gospels tell us…
In the Gospels, we read that Jesus does not limit himself to teaching high morals; frequently he calls men and women to come to him, to trust in him, and to obey him (John 7:37; Matthew 4:19; John 14:23 – The Bible). Jesus saw himself as more than just a moral teacher or a prophet.
In the Gospels, Jesus claims to do what the Bible says that only God can do – to have authority to forgive sins; to raise the dead on the last day; to be judge of all at the end of the world (Mark 2:12-17; John 5:25-29 – The Bible). These are the responsibilities of God.
In the Gospels, Jesus claims to be what the Bible (and, by the way, some other religious writings) says God is – He claims to be the light of the world, to be the truth, to be the good shepherd (John 8:12; 14:6; 10:11 – The Bible).
And we could go on …
No moral teacher ever made such claims about himself or tried to put himself in the place of God. Except for Jesus.
But someone will ask did Jesus ever claim to be God using those exact words? In the Bible, you won’t find those exact three words ‘I am God’, but then he never said the exact words ‘I am a prophet’ either. The reactions of his followers and other people in the Gospels to what Jesus did and said show that they knew he was claiming to be God – on one occasion they wanted to stone him because, ‘you, a mere man, are making yourself God’ (John 10:33 – The Bible). We too should learn this truth.
On one occasion, Jesus said very clearly, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ (John 8:58). Jesus was not just saying he existed long before Abraham’s life began, but was identifying himself as God by using the very name of God that was revered and held in the highest honour – ‘I AM’ (Exodus 3:13-15- The Bible).
Towards the end of his life, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he said to them, ‘I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet’ (John 13:14 – The Bible). Once again, the use of the word ‘Lord’ takes us back to the name of God.
There are just too many times in which Jesus does the things that only God does, claims to be what only God is, and makes statements such as these. Some years ago, Bono (well-known lead singer of pop group U2) was asked if he thought it was too far-fetched for Jesus to be the Son of God. His answer was: ‘No’. He said many people think that Jesus was just a great prophet, but Jesus himself does not allow us to say that. Bono said, ‘Christ says, No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me a teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet … I’m saying I’m God incarnate’.
Let me close with two final verses and invite you to respond. Jesus said, ‘I am the First and the Last’ (Revelation 22:13 – The Bible). This is obviously a quote from Isaiah 44:6 (The Bible), in which the LORD, the King of Israel says, ‘I am the first and the last’. So … would a mere man, a prophet, make such a claim? Of course not. And Jesus also says that the day is coming when everyone will honour him ‘just as you honour [God] the Father’. Could anything be clearer?
Jesus makes the claims that only someone who is God could make. So – can we believe that Jesus is God? Yes, you can and there are excellent reasons for doing so.
And remember Thomas, who, when he met the risen Lord Jesus, fell on his knees before him and said, ‘My Lord and my God’.
What about you? How will you respond to Jesus today?
 Bono, quoted in, Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Penguin Group Publishers, 2008), 229.
After the tragic death of a child in a motor accident, flowers are placed at the scene and tearful parents want to say their loved one is in heaven, now with the angels. When a spouse or parent dies suddenly, it is popular to speak of them watching down on us. In those moments it is hard to disagree because we do not want to add to their deep sense of loss and grief. It goes to show that, at least in times of pain and grief we long for something more, something to which we can look forward.
But can we really believe in heaven?
Let’s begin by asking what Jesus said. He spoke a lot about resurrection, eternal life and heaven. He spoke often to his disciples about ‘your Father in heaven’; he urged them to ‘store up treasure in heaven’, to pray to ‘Our Father in heaven’ and Jesus promised to go there and prepare a place for us (Matthew 5:16; 6:9; 6:19-21; John 14:1-3 – The Bible). As we saw a few weeks ago (3 May) Jesus is absolutely trustworthy.
Heaven is a real place. Biblical authors and Jesus himself use prepositions that relate to places or locations – Jesus said that our Father is in heaven; Jesus himself ascended into heaven; and he is there at the right hand of the Father (Matt 6:9; Hebrews 9:24; Luke 22:69 – The Bible). The Bible uses verbs of direction that relate to real places – Jesus entered heaven; Jesus said he was going there and Revelation describes some people who went to heaven (Hebrews 9:24; John 14:2; Revelation 11:12 – The Bible). Biblical authors and Jesus use nouns that describe real places – heaven is a home, with rooms, it is a city and a better country (John 14:2; Revelation 20:1,2; Hebrews 11:16 – The Bible). Jesus himself twice used the word “place” to describe heaven. It is clear that Jesus knew that heaven is a real place, even if we cannot at present locate it on a map of the universe.
But what we do know and what is supremely important is that God is in heaven (Ecclesiastes 5:2 – the Bible); yet God is everywhere. King Solomon (c.960BC) understood this – in his dedication of the temple prayer, he said, ‘The heavens, even the highest heaven cannot contain you’ (1 Kings 8:27 – The Bible). God is everywhere but this does not alter God’s decision to make heaven his home. Heaven, therefore, is not only a real place, but one we can look forward to, because God is there.
And life in heaven will be wonderful. Jesus says it is the best home; Revelation describes it as a city full of life and wellbeing. We will live in the new heavens and new earth in transformed resurrection bodies. When Jesus rose from the dead, he rose in the same body that had been crucified and been placed in the tomb. The tomb was empty, and the risen Jesus was identified by the nail marks in his hands feet and side. It was a real body that they could touch. At the same time there was something different; his body was now free from its former limitations. One day we will have a body like his glorious resurrection body, in which we will live free from sickness, from pain, from weakness, from corruption and free from sin, so that we honour God most fully. It will be brilliant.
So … can we really believe in heaven? I am certain that the answer is yes. I say ‘yes’ because I trust Jesus. An equally important question then is, ‘Will I go to heaven?’. Forget ideas of fluffy clouds, harps and an endless church service of non-stop singing. Heaven will be the most wonderful home; the most fantastic city; the best country.
As we looked forward to lockdown easing further last week, and overseas travel becoming possible again, many people had been looking for their favorite holiday destination – sensational views; 5-star hotels – and booked their tickets in anticipation.
But you can’t buy a ticket for heaven, though it is the most wonderful destination. Actually, you don’t need to buy one. Jesus has done that for you. He gave his life on the cross, took away your sins, so that you can be forgiven and look forward to the heavenly home.
He has prepared a place for you if you will trust him; if you will say sorry for your sins; thank him for dying and rising again for you, and trust him as Lord and Saviour. Will you do that today?
Then you can look forward to heaven.
It is a place. A real place. A wonderful real place. I am sure that I am going there, because I am trusting in Lord Jesus.
Questions about God and Covid-19? Please click below.
It is not surprising that the current pandemic, known as Covid-19 raises questions for many people about God – has God allowed it, and why? Why doesn’t God stop it – right now? Does God care when my loved one dies? Is it loving to allow such suffering? And other questions too.
We will try to look at a few of them. I do not say we will answer them, because I don’t think we have answers for all of them. But I am sure that the Bible is able to point us in the right direction to begin to understand a little about God in these days and how we can respond to this crisis.
For a pastoral response to our loss, pain, grief, please see the section on our website “Thought for the Week”.
In this section we will take a less emotional approach; we will try to think through the issues carefully, seeking understanding to some of our questions in the hope that it will prove helpful to you. Please do contact us through our website if we can be of any further assistance to you or if you would like some pastoral support and prayer.
If you would like to discuss these questions more fully and explore in more detail what Christians believe, you may be interested to know that we hope to have an online discussion group running very soon. Please email our church office and we will get back to you (email@example.com)
On this page we will attempt to look at the following questions:
- Has God brought or allowed the Covid-19 pandemic?
- How can God do such a thing? / How can God allow such a thing as Covid-19?
- Why has God allowed Covid-19?
- Why doesn’t God stop Covid-19 – right now?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- How can we believe that God is good when there is Covid-19?
- Does God care when my love one dies?
- Is Covid-19 a sign of the end of the world?
- What then is my response to God?
There are also a few recent sermons on our website / YouTube that may be helpful for you:
29 March Hope in troubled Times
19 May The Tragedy and the Triumph
7 June Seeking God in the darkness of grief
14 June Does God care when my loved one dies, I?
21 June Does God care when my loved one dies, II?
We may have different reasons for asking this (and other) questions about God in light of the ongoing pandemic, Covid-19:
- it may be inconvenient – we can’t live as we used to;
- it may be that we have lost our freedom, or our job and financial security;
- it may be out of curiosity, not because we have been deeply affected personally;
- it may be in grief because we have lost loved ones and wonder how God could let that happen?
- it may be because suffering on such a large scale raises questions about what God is like if he can allow so much of it
Our first question is: Has God brought or allowed the Covid-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world?
There are five (at least) ways of trying to find an answer to this question:
- No – it is just a random event:
The Covid-19 virus is a random event. It has just happened; it is one of those things that happens in this world from time to time and there is no definitive explanation for it. There is nothing to be gained by blaming a market in China, the World Health Organisation, or governments for not acting sooner, because Covid-19 does not have an explanation and there is no meaning to it.
- No – it is simply cause and effect:
The Covid-19 virus is the result of cause and effect. If we put our hand in a fire we know it will burn; if we drink to excess or smoke frequently we could end up with liver failure or cancer; our mothers taught us to wash our hands before eating so we didn’t pick up germs. The Covid-19 virus started and continues to spread as a matter of cause and effect.
- No – it is human responsibility
As human beings we make many decisions every day of our lives. We make good choices and bad choices; we make wise choices and we make foolish choices. We are responsible for the choices and the decision we make. Covid-19 is the result of millions of decisions made by millions of people around the world and this explains the start and continuation of the virus
- No – it is the work of the devil
The Covid-19 virus is the work of the devil. I understand that some of you reading this may think the devil is a make-belief creature and not real. But be careful before you write him off too quickly. The Bible speaks about the devil as a real being, and a being that is active in the world bringing pain and suffering in multiple ways.
e Yes – God has either brought it, or at the very least allowed it:
The final option is that for one reason or another, which at present at least is not known to us, God either brought the virus or allowed it to jump from animals to humans, with devastating effect all around the world. So has God allowed it or even brought it?
Let’s try to look at each of these responses in turn:
Did God bring or allow Covid-19?
- No – it is just a random event:
This is one way of looking at the world and the events that take place in it. Life is random events just and just happens. There is no ultimate cause and no meaning to be found in any event. If Bertrand Russell (Religion and Science, 1997) was right to describe man as ‘a curious accident in a backwater’, then it would seem reasonable to view every other event in this world as accidental, chance, random. Richard Dawkins (River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life 1994) suggests that we live in a universe that has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good.
This is one way to view the world and to view Covid-19 and other tragic events in this world. But it is bleak, comfortless and offers no hope. In contrast, Christians believe in the sovereignty of God, God’s right and power to do all that he decides to do (Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted). But we must add to this definition, other attributes of God that the Bible teaches us, such as wisdom, righteousness, grace, and God’s plans.
Many people like to speak about free will. In ways that we cannot fully grasp we may make choices on a daily basis and yet God is still at work to fulfil his plans and purposes, although we cannot always see or understand what God is doing or why.
When it is suggested that covid-19 exists as an accident, Christians want to say that the world is not just random, but sits in the sovereignty and wisdom of God.
- No – it is simply cause and effect:
A second way of looking at the Covid-19 epidemic is to speak of cause and effect. While we need to be careful about accusing or blaming people, it is possible that the Covid-19 originated in a wet market in China, where hygiene was not the best and the virus jumped from animals to humans, where for some it causes much discomfort, pain and sometimes, even death. So Covid-19 is, in part at least, the result of cause and effect in this world.
Put simply, we learn in school about various physical laws of nature (a scientific generalization based on observation over years). This is what gives stability in the world and makes it inhabitable; without them life would fall apart. Therefore if risks are taken, if dead and live animals are kept together in a wet market, and water is thrown over produce to keep it cool and fresh, can we be surprised if a virus ‘jumps’ from animal to animal and from animal to humans? Cause and effect might be part of an explanation for the covid-19.
- No – we need to think about human responsibility
As human beings who make hundreds of decisions every day we need to accept responsibility for our choices, our actions, our words, and the effect of them upon ourselves, others and our environment. We are not robots; God has given us the tools to make good decisions in obedience to his ways, but like good parents who bring up their children well, God does not live our lives for us. Our choices have consequences. Some choices are simple and minor: we decide what to wear each day, what to eat for breakfast, what method of transport to take to work, and so on. Other decisions are more important – decisions about how we treat other people and the world in which we live. These decisions affect other people and their lives. Sometimes the consequences can be quite severe in terms of disasters. For example, the effect of deforestation on climate change; building on the world’s known fault lines, and could we/ should we have learned anything from previous virus outbreaks that could have helped us with Covid-19? When we ask about the cause of the Covid0-19 pandemic we need to include ‘human responsibility’ within our thinking.
- The devil is at work
If we are looking for someone to blame and do not want to blame ourselves, can we blame a devil? Some people would like to! Others are not sure whether or not to believe in ‘a devil’ and some people don’t. But I ask you to think twice before you dismiss it as simply cultural or out-of-date knowledge.
Those who do not have a space in their worldview for a devil may speak of several options for the way we live our lives: some will argue that concepts of right and wrong are subjective, they can be whatever you want them to be. Others will speak of the importance of living in ways that are beneficial for society; others will talk of living for God.
The devil is an evil figure – a created being who disobeyed God and ever since has been trying to lead men and women away from God in wrong ways. He has some power in relation to sickness and disease (Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38) but the Bible is clear he is most definitely not responsible for all sickness, or even for much of it. He can influence our thinking and tempt us to wrong behaviour, some of which has disastrous results. He has been allowed by God some power in the earth, but to say that the devil is responsible for Covid-19 is to give way too much power and sway to the devil. The devil is on a leash. He is powerful but can only act within limitations and by permission of almighty God (see the story of Job – Job 1:12)
- Yes – God has either brought covid-19, or at the very least allowed it:
While not all Christians would agree, I think the answer to the question has God brought or allowed Covid-19 is ‘Yes’. Ultimately God is sovereign over all things. If we ask, ‘Could God have stopped it?’, then the answer is a definite ‘yes, God could have prevented it’, but he didn’t. So I conclude that the Lord has either allowed or brought this virus. I may not be able to explain why, and I may not understand what God is doing (in future questions I will try to explore how a good loving God could do such a thing and why on earth God might do it), but I can trust that God is good and just and is in control of planet earth. There may be a purpose which we cannot see at this time.
While Christians would agree that the Lord is sovereign and is Lord of history, they would have different thoughts about the extent to which God acts in this world. Some would hesitate to say God has allowed Covid-19 because they feel it might raise questions about his character. But others would say that yes God has allowed Covid-19 and still believe that God is good and just.
It is undoubtedly true that the Covid-19 virus, which has brought so much pain, suffering and grief, and it does raise questions, but Christians believe that:
- God is just in all that he does and all that he permits
- God’s ways are beyond our understanding
- One day God will put an end to injustice and remove evil suffering and death
If we believe that God is sovereign and is in control of the universe, then the answer to the question has God brought or allowed Covid-19, is ‘yes’. It is not an easy or comfortable answer, and it raises some difficult questions for us. But at least it does not leave us at the mercy of a random meaningless world, or in a world that is limited by cause and effect and beyond the actions of almighty God. It does not make human responsibility the final decider of events in this world and it does not attribute more power to the devil than he really has.
Finally, we can say that the sovereignty of God has allowed the virus (for reasons beyond us), and it is also his sovereignty that can, and does, sustain us through it. Luther says suffering is God’s strange work, but when we know that God is control of it we can begin to trust God in it. And we will have a firm rock and foundation for our lives.
If the answer to Question 1: ‘Has God brought or allowed Covid-19 to happen?’ is ‘Yes’, that immediately raises another question: How can God allow such a thing. In particular, how can God who is good, gracious, kind, just, and holy, allow such pain and suffering in our lives?
In other words, suffering and death and grief on the scale we are witnessing around the world today raises a question about the character of God. What is God like if God can allow such tragedy?
First, let us recognise that sometimes the tragedies that take place in the world are down to human behaviour. We are responsible for our actions and the pain and suffering they bring upon others:
- chocolate is one of the world’s favourite treats, but cocoa farmers often suffer, facing gruelling conditions and don’t earn enough to cover their own basic needs – like decent food, housing and education. On average, they earn just 6% of the final value of a bar of chocolate; 
- there are thousands of sweat shops in South America and Asia – while companies make massive profits, workers are subject to extreme exploitation in working conditions not fit for an animal and wages that do not cover food and shelter for them and their families;
- think of the suffering endured by many sex workers and children who are trafficked annually;
- think of the millions of people injured and maimed, displaced, and in refugee camps because the rich and powerful fight over ideology or land.
It can be argued that so much suffering in this world is due to human actions and we are responsible for the pain they sometimes cause (see below for consideration of the question, why doesn’t God stop it?).
Second, let us realise that some of the disasters in nature (I prefer those words rather than ‘natural disasters’) are also due to our behaviour and mistreatment of the planet on which we live:
- over-fishing depletes the ocean;
- throwing away face masks and tissues dirties local parks and when some items end up in the sea they harm sea creatures;
- deforestation for mining, cattle breeding and building roads releases greenhouse gases and contributes to rising temperatures, stronger storms, more severe droughts and rising sea levels.
- the recent lockdown and huge reduction in the use of both public transport and private cars has led to cleaner air – it is polluted air that causes many respiratory diseases;
- some would even say it has partly contributed to a reduction in the size of the hole in the ozone layer.
All these examples show how out of kilter we are with the physical world, with each other and with God. So next time there is a violent storm, or there is coastal flooding, remember that some of these tragedies come as a result of human behaviour. We decide to cut down large areas of forests, which contributes to climate change and causes these disasters, and the air pollution that causes some diseases. At least let us think twice before we ask, ‘how can God do such a thing as bring Covid-19 upon the world?’
But if we believe that God still remains sovereign, then it is a question we do well to consider – how could God allow it to happen and then spread and cause so many deaths? Even if the source of the virus was a so-called ‘wet market’ in China, which sold both dead and live animals, where hygiene standards are difficult to maintain when live animals are butchered on site, couldn’t God still have stopped it knowing how many around the world would be killed by it? Why didn’t God stop it? How could God allow all this pain and grief?
The question challenges the character of God – how can God allow that if God is good; how can God bring that if God is just? I think there are a number of things we can say in response:
- God brings so many good things into this world – there is so much beauty; there is rain and sun that ripens the harvest; there is much food to enjoy; most of us enjoy good health much of the time. God has created us to be capable of love, compassion, kindness and caring, so much of which we have seen in recent weeks as people respond to the suffering of those around them. Surely this testifies to God’s goodness. So before we jump and accuse God of not being good when suffering comes, let’s remember all the good things in this life.
- Second, God’s ‘alien work’ (as Luther describes pain and suffering) does not mean that God is not good. Just because for a short period God stops giving us what we want and like (health, ease, happiness), this does not mean God is not good.
- Third, before we question whether God is good, maybe we could look at ourselves? The Lord Jesus reminded us clearly that only God is good. In contrast we are what the Bible calls ‘sinners’. Even if we have not committed what we think of as big sins, do we honour and worship God daily as he deserves? Perhaps actually that is the greatest sin. So how can we question God’s goodness?
- Fourth, often we wonder why it is that bad things happen to good people. But is that the right question? Ought we not to ask, why does the Lord bless sinners with so many good things? He gives rain and sunshine to the good and the bad; he grants a harvest in this world; he gives health and strength. We all enjoy love and the gift of friendship.
- Fifth, sometimes our troubles, such as Covid-19 with all its fear and death, may cause us think about God for the first time in a while – even if it is only because we want to know how he could allow such a thing. Somehow, God gets our attention – sadly often only while the trouble lasts and soon we are prone to forget. But what if we committed our lives to God in the trouble – so much good would come out of it! The Welcome Centre, part of the Baptist Church here in Ilford, along with the Salvation Army has worked hard during the pandemic to take food to homeless men and women who have been housed temporarily in guest houses in town. And look at the amazing compassion and care shown by nurses caring for those struggling to breathe and others coming to the end of their lives.
- Sixth, the question, ‘how could God allow Covid-19?’ implies that maybe God is not quite righteous or just to allow it to happen or to allow the suffering it has brought. We could learn much from the story of Job here. We do not have all the information and even if we did, we might not understand God’s ways. So how can we suggest they are not just? Ultimately, if God decided it was time to bring to their end the lives of every one of us, God would be just in doing so. We owe God for our health, strength, happiness, the days we have in this world and for the very air we breathe. God does not owe us – and yet still he is gracious as is seen by him sharing our suffering.
I’m not sure I have done a very good job of really answering the question how could God allow something as destructive and bad as Covid-19. Maybe that is because we are not always able to understand what God is doing. And maybe my response simply attempts to give a bit of balance and help us to pause and to think before we pose the question in a way that might imply some defect in God’s character or God’s work in the world.
I would like to draw our thoughts on this question to a close with two final comments:
God allows the outworking of the freedom that he has given us to make choices. When we make a bad choice, God does not immediately overrule it. If we support businesses that treat people badly just for the sake of cheap goods then others will suffer; if we throw away face masks or wet wipes that spread disease then others may become sick. Do we really want to suggest that God overrules those actions so that we can act irresponsibly without any consequences? Maybe then God allows things like the Covid-19 to help us think about the way we live and change the way we use our human responsibility
Finally, I want to point us to the qualities of patience and mercy in God. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen because God is being patient, giving us time to realise our mistakes and time to change. God is so amazingly patient with us. He is our creator and we owe everything to him. We owe our life to him; we owe honour and worship to him; we owe obedience to his holy standards. Yet how many of us become caught up with work, family, sport, holidays, cars and possessions that we have little time to think about God, let alone devote our whole lives to him? Yet God does not obliterate us. How patient and merciful God is. God is full of mercy: while thousands have died due to Covid-19 many have recovered and many more not been infected; during the pandemic we have seen qualities of compassion and kindness shown by many to others and sacrifices made to help others. Long may that kindness continue! If the pandemic has caused us to begin to think about God, then in great mercy God invites us to turn our whole lives back to him and begin to live lives oriented towards Him and his purposes. God waits patiently. So patiently. With such mercy.
 Fairtrade Foundation, Cocoa Farmers, https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Farmers-and-Workers/Cocoa accessed 14/07/2020.
In one way this question is very simple to answer: why has God allowed Covid-19? Answer: I don’t know.
I think that none of us can know fully. The Bible says that God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s ways and reasons for doing and allowing things are beyond searching out (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33). That is not an excuse for failing to answer the question, which we will attempt to do. But Covid reminds us that we do not live in a world of our making. It is a world far more complex than we could ever imagine and in this crisis we have to admit that we cannot fathom out what the eternal, all-wise, merciful God is doing. But we can, like Job, humble ourselves before this great God and in doing so discover his help in our times of trouble.
So what can we can say in response to this question? After all, millions of us have been inconvenienced by Covid-19; many have suffered serious health consequences; many have lost their jobs; staff in hospitals have been scarred by the scale of death they have witnessed; and thousands have been bereaved and not even been able to have a ‘proper’ burial. Why? Why would God allow all of this to happen?
To begin with can we accept that this question makes several assumptions? Why might we be asking with this kind of question?
- It assumes that God should bother about us even if many of us give no thought to God most of the time and get on with our lives without God.
- It assumes we have a right to know why God is allowing so much suffering. (We must be careful before we put God in the dock and demand he explain it to us).
- It assumes that Covid-19, (and other suffering also), raises the question, ‘is God good and just?’.
- It assumes that we deserve better from God (based on what we think God is like and what we think about ourselves)
Let us look at each of those assumptions:
Do we deserve better from God? In our response to question 2 we said that God does not owe us, rather we owe God – worship, honour, our obedience, and our gratitude to the almighty God. Let us just for a moment stop and think of all that we have and enjoy in this world – should we not more often be grateful, and give thanks to God for this? Even when we do not think frequently about God as we are busy with other things, that we regard as more deserving of our attention and time, still the good God grants rain and sunshine that we may have the harvest; still the good God grants health to many of us most of the time; still the good God sees to it that many disasters that might happen do not.
Do we deserve better? I think not, rather we should be much more grateful for all the good that God graciously gives to us.
So … should God bother about us more? It is important to realise that even as we give little thought to God, God, being good, does not stop thinking about us, watching over us, providing for us. God does care about us, even when we do not deserve it.
Perhaps more important than asking why God is doing something, we might consider a different question. Do we, as created beings, created to honour God (not the other way round) have a right to know what God is doing – and why? God does not exist for our ease and happiness. Ought we not to be careful therefore before we put God in the dock and demand an explanation for his actions? Maybe we should be asking the question ‘why do we not honour him, respect him, live by his standards?’ before we ask for an explanation from him. And suppose God were to give us an explanation for his actions and his purposes – do we think we would be able to understand it?
If we feel the need to question the goodness or the justice of God in allowing Covid-19, or any other disaster in nature, or any suffering that comes our way, perhaps we should consider first why we are asking such questions. Is it because we have lost our freedom and cannot go about life the way we used to and so we feel annoyed by that? Is it because we have lost our job, and financial security? Is it that we are asking why would God allow that to happen to me? Is it because we have been bereaved and we want someone to be held responsible?
This question ‘why?’ – Why has God allowed Covid-19?, is such a difficult question to even begin to answer. We can hardly begin to grasp or understand God’s ways. But the question raises the issue of God’s goodness and justice.
Even if we accept that God does not owe us an explanation; even if we accept that we probably would not understand it if God did explain everything; we still want some help in knowing that God is good and just. We also want to know that we have a God we can trust.
One reason we ask the why question is because we sense deep within us that God is good, but suffering like the Covid-19 pandemic seems to challenge that assumption. So can we still be sure that God is good? When we say that God is good we are saying that God is by nature generous and kind towards us in so many ways. God does not depend on us, but rather in goodness God gives life and breath and all things good to us (Acts 17:25). God’s goodness to all of us is totally unmerited and undeserved. God’s goodness to us all goes way beyond anything we should expect that the holy God might give to men and women who turn their backs on him and ignore him most of the time. So when God at some point withholds what we call good (usually we mean that which is for our benefit, our ease and our happiness) this does not mean that God is not good. As the response to our previous question (question 2) shows, sometimes God gets our attention through these disasters and maybe for the first time we begin to think about God – even if it is only to question God’s character and motives. But God is good, and out of troubles, he often brings much good.
As we read the Bible we discover that when God’s people turn away and disobey him, he often sends them a warning through prophets who call them to return to God. He does this so that they might live. If they refuse to listen, the Lord eventually brings a disaster, but it is not in order to obliterate them but to make them realise their foolishness and turn to him. Is it possible that God might be wanting to achieve something similar in the world in these days through the current crisis? If so, then does it not again show us how God and gracious God is?
So if we cannot see any reason why God allows Covid-19 and other disasters, can we affirm that God is just when he allows such things and the associated pain and grief? Again I am sure the answer is ‘yes’. I am not suggesting that we say simply that God could do anything and because God is doing that thing, it makes it just and ok. It is a very different thing though to say that God always does what is just. We may not understand sometimes, but that does not mean that it is not true. The very fact that God does not demand this moment the life-breath of each and every one of us is our proof. As our creator God has every right to do so. As sinful creatures we deserve not blessing but death. Yet we live. Most of us receive many good things in life. Why? That is a good question – why does God allow us to live and why does God give so much good? The Bible says it is because God is patient with us. God does not want us to perish and be without him for ever. God longs for us to turn to him in repentance and faith and so receive his forgiveness and his gift of eternal life. God wants us to enjoy life in all its fullness now and in eternity. Now that is good. And it is more than just.
As we wrestle with this question why God allows Covid-19 and so much other suffering, there is much that we have to admit we do not know. But there is something we can know for sure. We can know that God loves us. God has given us the perfect demonstration and proof of his love. In the Lord Jesus, God came into this world and lived among us, as one of us; in so doing God suffered with us, sharing our tears, our pains, and our grief. Even more than that, at the cross He suffered for us in our place that we may be reconciled to God and one day be free from sickness, disease, death, pain and grief forever.
Why did God allow Covid-19 in the first place and why does God allow it to continue? ‘I don’t know’ is the short and simple answer. Maybe there are reasons that we will never know; perhaps if God did tell us it would be beyond our ability to grasp. But what we can know is that God is at work in this world, God is good and just and full of love, God longs patiently for us to turn to him, and even in the face of a worldwide pandemic like Covid-19 God wants to reconcile us to himself and one day he will end suffering and pain.
Like question 3, this question has a very short answer: ‘I don’t know’.
That is not an attempt to avoid the question, only to say that in the end we will not find a full complete explanation, because we cannot understand all of God’s ways. So what can we say in response to this question? After all, hundreds of thousands continue to suffer serious health consequences and many others continue to grieve and mourn the death of loved ones. Why wouldn’t God want to stop it?
Let’s begin by saying, as we have already acknowledged in a previous question, that in allowing Covid-19 God might have a purpose that we cannot see at present. This is difficult for us because we want an explanation, maybe even think we deserve one (see above, question 3)
When the question is posed. ‘why isn’t God doing anything?’ I think that we can say that God is doing something. He has given us gifts of knowledge and reason and these gifts are what enable scientists to work on a vaccine now. God is helping us to do what we need to survive. In the Bible in the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 8 and verses 17 and 18 God warns the people not to congratulate themselves when they have a great harvest, but remember that it is God who has given them the ability to do these things and so to be grateful and humble before God. In another section of the Bible (Exodus Chapter 32) we learn that God is the one who has given us all gifts and the ability to learn. During this time of pandemic many have shown amazing compassion and care for other people as they have suffered; God is at work. God is doing something.
As we wait for scientists to come up with a vaccine, there is another way in which God is at work. I need to say this carefully: God is always speaking to us in many ways as we enjoy his goodness, trying to get our attention and turn our hearts to himself. Often this is a quiet voice. But times of trouble and suffering often cause us to wonder what is happening and ask questions about God. C.S. Lewis said, ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world’. If we have suffered with the virus in some way and especially if we have been bereaved, this may be hard to accept. We have said previously that if God took back the life-breath of us all that would be just; it is only by his mercy that not more of us have died from the Covid-19. But this is hard to stomach when we are going through grief.
One of the reasons this is so difficult for us, especially in the West, is because we have so much, which we can easily take for granted and subconsciously assume that we are entitled to. In contrast, when my wife and I lived in Asia for five years we began to see how Eastern Christians cope with suffering much better (some would call it a ‘theology of suffering’). They are grateful for the good things they enjoy, in times of loss and grief they throw themselves on God’s mercy, and in it all they look forward to a better hope in eternity. They have a humility that enables them to begin to say along with Job, ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’ (The Bible: Job 1:21). This is a humility which would be helpful for all of us.
I believe that God could stop Covid-19 right now. Why God has chosen not to do so I cannot explain. But this does not mean that God is somehow unjust or not good. Please read the next statement very carefully; I do not say it lightly – although many have been affected by the virus and died or experienced bereavement, it is God’s mercy that has stopped it being more. Of course it is extremely painful for those who have been bereaved. Yet in all this God is good and God still provides so much of blessing for us in this world, even during the days of a pandemic. Please read on, because…
God’s goodness and care can be found in our tragedies when we allow him to share our pain and suffering. The life stories of men and women in the Bible show this to us over and over again. In Isaiah 43 God promises to ‘be with’ us when we pass through the water and the fire (metaphorically speaking about all difficult situations) and not leave us on our own. In Isaiah 63 we read that in all the afflictions of women and men in this world God himself is afflicted. In other words – God shares our pain. It is true that many psalms cry out for God to hear their cry, and to come and rescue them. Indeed, some of them ask how long it will be before God hears and does something. Their experience was similar to ours; their cries identify with our questions and our pain. Often the psalms manage to hold on to the hope that God will finally answer, even though it is tough when he seems to take so long.
And I believe that God is still just too, even though he does not step in and halt the Civd-19 right this minute. May I ask you to consider another question: rather than ask if God is just or why does he allow the virus to continue with the pain and grief associated with it, perhaps we should ask why God allows sin and the dishonouring of his name to continue so long. Are we not all guilty in some way of being part of that? The answer to that question is that God is patient, merciful, and just. The very fact that God allows us to continue to live is his goodness; as I have said before, if God were to demand our lives from all of us this very moment, he would be just in doing so. But God doesn’t. Why not? Because God is patient and God is giving us all time to think about our attitude and relationship to God: whether we will turn to worship him or not; whether we will honour him or not in our lives. God is giving us time to turn to him for his forgiveness, and for his gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
I cannot explain why God does not stop Covid-19 right now, but I can offer you genuine hope that one day God will stop not only Covid-19 but all suffering, death, pain and grief. Suffering is not the end of the story. One day God will end all injustice and suffering in the world. God will renew and restore the whole created order and all will be well. In order to do this God has done the most remarkable thing. In Jesus, God himself came to this planet and not only suffered along with us, but on the cross suffered for us to reconcile us to himself and one day to raise us up to live in a renewed heaven and earth free from pain death and tears. Today he calls us to turn to him and trust him for this.
In the Bible, in Romans Chapter eight we read that the whole earth is groaning at this present time (maybe we see this more clearly through the pain and suffering of Covid). The created order is not as it was – it experiences pain, death and decay. But one day God will bring an end to all of that. One day God will restore the heaven and the earth. One day, says Romans Chapter eight, all of creation will enter the glorious freedom of the children of God.
The children of God are all those women and men who have turned to God and trusted in Lord Jesus Christ; they have already received forgiveness of all their sins and their relationship with God has been restored. They wait for the day when the Lord Jesus will come again, raise us up, restore our bodies, and restore the whole earth. The Bible says that in the restored heaven and earth God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (The Bible: Revelation 21:4).
Even in the pain and grief of a pandemic that has caused so much sickness, bereavement and grief, there is something to hold on to. There is genuine hope. I cannot tell why God does not stop Covid-19 right now. But I trust God has a reason, probably way beyond what I could understand. And I do know that God offers us a real hope for the future. I will say more about this in question 7 (Does God care?) and show how much God has done to make that possible.
I close by asking if you are willing and ready to trust God now. Will you thank God that he is patient, giving you time to think, and turn to him? Will you thank him that Lord Jesus died on cross for you so that you may be forgiven? Will you ask for that forgiveness and begin to live in a new way honouring and living in obedience to God? For further help in taking that step please contact me through our website.
Some thoughts will appear here very soon – please look again soon
This is a very important question because it concerns the character of God. For many people events such as famine and poverty, earthquakes and tsunamis, and pandemics like Covid-19 raise questions about the goodness of God.
So … how can we believe that God is good when there is Covid-19?
First let me say that really the only person who ought to have an issue here and need to ask such a question is the person who does believe in God. Facing up to suffering honestly and believing God is good is not easy. But if we do not believe in a God, then suffering is distressing, but not a question that can be asked. Richard Dawkins writes that in the universe there no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. So this question can only properly be asked by someone who believes in a good God, and who is finding the Covid-19 pandemic or other disasters in the world difficult to square with that belief. It is a believer’s question.
What then can we say?
The amount of pain and suffering in the world is a problem to us. We are prone to think that God ought not to allow the suffering and that we deserve the good. But let us not forget or minimise the amount of beauty and good we see in God’s good creation – all that it supplies for us to eat and drink and the beauty that evokes pleasure and wonder within us (a sunset, a star-lit sky; a snow-capped mountain). Add to that the many acts of kindness that women and men show to each other every day. Too often we take it all for granted and do not think about it but we must not forget the goodness within the universe that God has created for us. In these days when we see the reality of pain and suffering we need to ask might there be a purpose in God allowing suffering that we may not yet fully grasp?
Of course it is one thing to see suffering in the world from a distance, as a spectator so to speak, when it does not touch us personally but it may still raise questions for us. But when we suffer or a loved one dies – then suffering takes on a different complexion. We cannot explain why a good God would allow suffering but the life stories of men and women show how God brings good out of what looks evil to us and what causes us pain. The story of Joseph in the Bible is a case in point. His brothers were jealous of him sold him as a slave and he was taken to another country. There, despite working honestly he was accused falsely and put in prison. Only after several years was he released because he had interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream and he was given a place of great national responsibility. Through that the lives of many were saved during a time of famine, including his own brothers. When they are heartbroken at their behaviour, Joseph is not angry with them. Instead he says ‘you intended to harm me but God intended it for good’.
Another story that illustrates the goodness of God is of a young girl who had a diving accident in July 1967 and has been paralysed since. She went through many struggles with many questions about God and faith but is absolutely sure how good God really is even in our most difficult situations. Her name is Joni Erickson Tada. You can listen to her story (and that of a family who lost their four-year old daughter in a car accident; two other children suffered spinal injuries and live in wheelchairs) here: https://subspla.sh/crwdp7t
Next let us consider what we mean by good – do we mean our ease and comfort and the absence of pain or sadness? Do we mean our immediate good (our comfort right now) or our long-term good or our ultimate good? The Bible says that ultimately all things work together for good to them who love God. Yes, even troubles, which can produce in us the qualities God loves to see.
And what do we mean by saying God is good? Is God good if he only does what we want? Is God good if we have health, plenty to eat and a few of the luxuries of life? Joseph being lied about and being put in prison was not what we would usually call a ‘good’ thing and Joni’s broken neck is not what we would call a ‘good’ thing. But both say that God is in control, God is at work, and God has brought much good out of their experiences.
When we say that God is good we are saying that God is by nature generous and kind towards us in so many ways. God does not depend on us, but rather in his goodness God gives life and breath and all good things to us (Acts 17:25). God’s goodness to all of us is totally unmerited and undeserved. God’s goodness to us all goes way beyond anything we should expect that the holy God might give to men and women who turn their backs on him and ignore him most of the time. So when at some point God allows something which does not bring us ease and happiness, this does not mean that God is not good. We quoted C S Lewis previously who said that God shouts to us in our sufferings; it is like his megaphone. We should be very careful before we suggest that suffering is God’s judgment on certain people, but if we listen, we might hear a message in it. The stories used above and many more that could be added here all show us that God is good, all the time, even in our troubles, out of which he brings much good.
God’s goodness and care can be found in our tragedies when we allow him to share our pain and suffering. In Isaiah 43 God promises to ‘be with’ us when we pass through the water and the fire (metaphorically speaking about all difficult situations) and not leave us on our own. In Isaiah 63 we read that in all our afflictions God himself is afflicted. In other words – God shares our pain. God is good.
A further illustration of God’s goodness is his patience towards us. Rather than ask if God is good or why does he allow the virus to continue with the pain and grief associated with it, perhaps we should ask why God allows sin and the dishonouring of his name to continue so long. Are we not all guilty in some way of being part of that? The answer to that question is that God is patient and merciful. The very fact that God allows us to continue to live is his goodness; as I have said before, if God were to demand our lives from all of us this very moment, he would be just in doing so. But God doesn’t. Why not? Because God is patient and God is giving us all time to think about our attitude and relationship to God: whether we will turn to worship him or not; whether we will honour him or not in our lives. God is giving us time to turn to him for his forgiveness, and for his gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. God wants us to enjoy life in all its fullness now and in eternity.
This is a more personal question perhaps than others in this series but nevertheless it is worth considering here as it a question that many people are asking in these days.
“One of my family or close circle of friends died because of Covid-19, does God care?”
“They died alone and we could not have a proper funeral service – does God care?”
One of the reasons we wonder if God cares is because we think that if God is all-powerful he would stop them dying and if God is all-loving he would want to do so. Our attempts to explore previous questions has led us to say that some troubles in the world are at least partly due to human behaviour, our choices and actions. God’s love and power do not remove those choices or change every bad choice. Every choice to hold wet markets and every choice to travel. When we say that God may have reasons we do not know for allowing Covid-19 that does not bring back our loved one. When we say that one day God will bring an end to evil and suffering and death, does not keep the life of my loved ones.
So does God care? Can I know that he cares? Can I know his care for me? I believe the answer to all three questions is ‘yes’. I write that not because of any convincing proof statements in the Bible but because of the experiences of men and women in the Bible in their times of trouble, suffering, loss and grief. Let me show you…
- God saw and cared for a woman called Hagar. She is a pregnant mum but she is treated so badly that she has little option but to run away. Out in the desert, all alone, with nowhere to go for safety, with no one to help in her need, she sits down by a spring of water. There the Lord speaks to her. She responds saying, ‘You are the God who sees me’. She is so encouraged and enabled to go on., knowing that God does care
- In the Bible God demonstrates a special concern for the widow, the orphan and the stranger – those most likely to be taken advantage of and to suffer poverty or abuse. They must not be treated badly, but with compassion and care. For example, at harvest a portion of grain and grapes are to be left for them to collect so that they might have something to eat. (see the Bible: Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:17-21
Do not both of these examples help us to see that God does care when our loved one dies. It doesn’t answer the ‘why?’ question: why did God allow it? Why didn’t God stop it? But what these verses do show us is that in it all God does care – deeply.
- Then we can add examples of women and men who found that God stood right there with them in their troubles and sufferings: God met with Moses in the burning bush; God walked with Daniel three friends in the fiery furnace in Babylon; God stood by Paul one night after he faced near riots.
Now I don’t want this to sound too simple, too easy, alright for someone who has not suffered this tragedy. I do not want to suggest that it wipes away every tear and leaves us with no sense of loss or pain. Rather, I am trying to say that in our pain and loss and grief, that we find comfort when we trust God.
- In addition to these real-life examples we can listen to the promises that God makes. Hear is one from Isaiah 43:2 – ‘I have redeemed you … you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God’. What could be more like water that threatens to sweep over us than the grief we feel at the death of a loved one? What could be more like flames that burn and cause pain, than the loss of a member of our family? Yet God’s promise if we will only accept it, is to be with us in that suffering and grief. A few chapters later in the same book of Isaiah God says something else through his prophet. He tells us, Chapter 63, Verse 9 that: ‘In all their afflictions he [God] too was afflicted’. In other words, when his people were suffering, God saw their suffering, he heard their cries of pain, he felt the darkness of their grief – and he cared. He shared their suffering.
When we experience pain, suffering, grief and tears it helps massively to have someone around who ‘really gets it’. So… when my loved one dies, does God ‘really get it’? The Bible says he does. For the Lord Jesus Christ was God in human flesh.
- Jesus Christ lived among us in this world and experienced some of its pain and suffering and grief. He shared fully our humanity. He got hungry, and thirsty and tired; he knew joy and tears; he knew discrimination for he was born a Jew. He was let down by close friends; he faced false charges, and a prejudiced jury. He experienced incredible physical pain and died in agony – alone. So he gets it. God really gets it. For he shared our humanity and now today the exalted Lord Jesus still shares our sufferings and grief. When he met the widow at Nain, he felt for her. When he sat down with a woman at the well in Samaria it was because he cared for her. When Mary was deeply upset after her brother, Lazarus, died, Jesus wept with her. God gets it.
- But we can say something more than that. Not only did the Lord Jesus suffer with us, but he also suffered for us, in order that we receive forgiveness, the sure hope of eternal life and so that one day he might end all suffering pain death and tears – and even restore the whole universe. The Bible teaches us that the sting of death is sin. But what did Jesus do at the cross? He took away our sins; he bore them in his own body. So where is the sting of death? It’s gone. Death can buzz around us but if we are trusting the Lord Jesus it cannot sting us. Jesus has defeated death because he has drawn out its sting. If we trust in him we will never die – spiritually that is; we will never be separated from God. But death still touches the body and all of us at some point will face physical death. But we can face it knowing Jesus has already beaten it: he beat it at the cross; he proved it in his resurrection and one day he will destroy it forever.
In conclusion then let us ask the question again – does God care? Does God care when my loved one dies? I have shared with you six things which the Bible says and I hope they begin to point us to some kind of answer:
- the life story of a woman named Hagar who learned that God sees her
- The concern of God for the widow, orphan and stranger
- The experience of women and men who found that God was with them in their troubles
- The promise of God to be with us and even to be afflicted in our afflictions
- In Jesus, God experienced life in this world and suffered with us and so he ‘really gets it’
- The Lord Jesus went even further – he suffered and died for us to bring us forgiveness, eternal life and the sure hope that one day he will end the suffering and grief of this world
Does God care? I think he does
The short answer is ‘no’ but it can be a pointer to the end of the world.
As soon as a disaster hits, whether it be a famine, a tsunami, the ebola outbreak or now Covid-19 some people connect it to the book of Revelation in the Bible and think that it is a sign of the imminent end of the world. While the world may not, at this stage, be coming to its imminent end, it is certainly heading that way.
Why do people ask this question at times of disasters? Is it to satisfy their curiosity? Are people afraid of what might happen on the Day of Judgement? What would be your response if Covid 19 is a sign of the end of the world?
Today some people think that Covid-19 is one of the plagues in the book of Revelation, and some think it is one of what they see as the final group of plagues in Chapters 16 and 17.
What do we know about the book of Revelation? It was written towards the end of the C1stAD by the apostle John for the church at a time when it was either about to or had started to face persecution under the Roman Empire. It was written to help them and to assure them that however strong evil becomes, ultimately God will win. He was not writing in order to give us a historical timeline on to which we can try to map C20th and C21st events and predict the end of the world.
So is coronavirus a sign of the end of the world, the last plagues that are to come? I don’t think so:
There have been many disasters before, both in the form of disease, and human killing of others. In the 14th century, people may have asked the same questions when the Black Plague killed 30-60% of the population of Europe. People asked it when millions died in the Spanish flu in 1918, during the Holocaust in World War II, when Mao Tse-Tung’s revolution killed millions, and when on 9/11 thousands died. People who lived through those days may have thought they were a sign of the end. But it was not. At present the death toll is, thankfully, much less than that of the Spanish Flu, though it may increase significantly. But still I don’t think it is the end of the world. The Bible tells us that the end of the world will be preceded by widespread pestilence and plague on earth but no one knows that day or the hour. It will come like a thief in the night – when we least expect it.
What can we learn from Jesus’ teaching? Jesus describes events of the end times in the Gospels of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In Matthew 24, Jesus warns us that there will be many signs that will appear to point to the end. But they are just looking forward to the end, not the end itself.
Watch out that no one deceives you.
For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.
Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:4-8’ bold is mine)
Jesus does not mention viruses specifically, but they can be as devastating as wars famines or earthquakes. But note what Jesus says:
- the end is still to come
- these are just the beginning
A few verses later, Matthew 24:14, Jesus gives us a bigger clue about the timing of the end:
- This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The word nation is the Greek word ‘ethnos’, which means a tribe, a nation, a people group. So, before the end of the world, the gospel must be heard not just in every country but by every people group in every country. That task has not yet been completed.
For all of these reasons I do not think that Covid-19 is a sign that the end of the world is almost here. When Lord Jesus’ disciples asked him questions about the sign of the things to come, he gave them certain signs, i.e. wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines and Lord Jesus warned them that the signs are not given to make a detailed chronological prediction about the end of the world but to help them to be alert and stay faithful to God.
Let’s return to the question of our response to God at this time. What is the most important question to ask? Is Covid 19 a sign of the end of the world or where do I stand with God if I was to be judged today? Will you consider putting your relationship right with God? The end of the world will indeed lead to the judgement day. Lord Jesus told his disciples that the end of the world will come like a thief, unexpected and without notice. The most important thing we can do is to put our relationship right with God now. God loves you and sent The Lord Jesus to die for your sins. When you repent from your sins and believe in Lord Jesus you are right with God. So no matter when the end of the world comes you are ready for it.
So don’t focus on the clock to see if you can work out when the end of the world will be, but look at your heart to see whether it is ready to meet God.
The following are all words taken from the Bible and I encourage you to listen to them or read them and allow God to speak directly into your heart:
I am so glad that you have decided to respond to Me. This is something I have been longing for (Acts 17:26). You see, My word is true (Psalm 119:151); I do not and cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). You can either believe My words or not – that’s the step of faith you will have to decide on taking if you are to go any further…
But I can assure you that if you believe in My words, your life will be changed and transformed, even in the midst of this pandemic.
I know everything about you, and am familiar with all your ways – your coming and your going (Psalm 139:1-3). I’ve even numbered the very hairs on your head (Matthew 10:29-31). I knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:4-5). You have been made in My image (Genesis 1:27). You are not a mistake but are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14). In Me you live and move and have your being for you are My offspring (Acts 17:28). I have been calling you (using a ‘megaphone’) to get your attention. You see, I love you, and I am your creator God; I chose you when I planned creation (Ephesians 1:11-12).
But I’ve been misrepresented by those who don’t know Me (John 8:41-44). Through this pandemic, I am not distant and angry, but I am the complete expression of Love (1 John 4:16), and it is My desire to lavish My love upon you as My child (1 John 3:1). I am your provider and am able to meet all your needs (Matthew 6:31-33). My plan for your future is always filled with hope, because I love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 29:11). My thoughts towards you are as countless as the sand on the seashore (Psalm 139:17-18), and I rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), and I will never stop doing good to you (Jeremiah 32:40).
If you seek Me with all your heart, you will find Me (Deuteronomy 4:29). I am able to do more for you than you could possibly ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). For I am your greatest encourager (1 Thessalonians 2:16-17), and the Father who comforts you in all your troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). When you are broken-hearted, I am close to you (Psalm 34:18). As a shepherd carries a lamb, I carry you close to My heart (Isaiah 40:11). One day, I will wipe away every tear from your eyes and take away all the pain and suffering you have experienced on this earth (Revelation 21:3-4).
I am your Father and I love You even as I love My Son, Jesus (John 17:23). For in Jesus My love for you is revealed (John 17:26). Jesus is the exact representation of who I am (Hebrews 1:3). He came to demonstrate that I am for you, and not against you (Romans 8:31), and to tell you that I am not counting your sins. Jesus died so that you can be reconciled to me (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). His death was the ultimate expression of My love for you (1 John 4:10). I gave up everything I love so that I might gain your love (Romans 8:32). But My Son, Jesus, did not remain in the grave. His ministry did not end in defeat (Acts 13:34). The resurrection of Jesus witnesses to My immense power and absolute sovereignty over life and death. I raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:32). Only I who created life can resurrect it after death, only I can reverse the horrors of death itself (Acts 2:24), and only I can remove the sting and gain the victory over the grave through the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-7, 54–57). Now, Jesus sits in a place of honour at My right hand in heaven (Hebrews 10:12), triumphant and never to die again. He meets with Me in order to speak on your behalf (Romans 8:34); isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus continuously speaks to me, His Father, on your behalf? (Hebrews 7:25). What a gift!
If you receive the gift of My Son, Jesus, then you receive Me (1 John 2:23), and nothing will ever separate you from My love again (Romans 8:38-39). I’ve always been Father and will always be Father (Ephesians 3:14-15).
Now I have a question for you: Will you be My child? (John 1:12-13).
From Your Creator God and Heavenly Father.
If the answer is ’Yes’ and you are choosing to believe that God’s word is truth, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
Here is a simple prayer to invite Jesus into your heart – This is not an official prayer, but is only meant as a guide of how you can talk to God and ask Jesus Christ to become your Lord and Saviour. There is no magic formula or prescribed pattern that has to be followed to receive salvation. God knows what is in your heart:
I believe You are the Son of God,
that You died on the cross to rescue me from sin and death
and to restore me to God the Father.
I choose now to turn from my sins and every part of my life that does not please You.
I choose You. I give myself to You.
I receive Your forgiveness and ask you to take Your rightful place in my life as my Saviour and Lord.
Fill me with Your love and Your life,
and help me to become more like You.
In Jesus’ name I pray.
If you have just prayed a sincere prayer of faith and you’re wondering what to do next as a new Christian, see these helpful suggestions:
- Salvation is by grace, through faith. There’s nothing you did, or ever can do, to deserve it. Salvation is a free gift from God. All you have to do is receive it!
- Tell someone about your decision. It’s important that you tell someone to make it public, secure, and firm. Find another Christian and tell him or her. Tell someone today if you can.
- Talk to God every day. You don’t have to use big fancy words. There are no right and wrong words. Just be yourself. Thank the Lord daily for your salvation. Pray for others in need. Seek His direction. Pray for the Lord to fill you daily with his Holy Spirit. There is no limit to prayer. You can pray with your eyes closed or open, while sitting or standing, kneeling or lying on your bed, anywhere, anytime.
- Find a Bible-believing church and get ‘plugged in’ somewhere.