Gary Swisher

Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Earthquakes! How Long Do We Have?

In Chrisitan Right, Christianity, Dispensationalism, Eschatology, evangelical, Prophecy, Theology on August 25, 2011 at 3:44 pm

How long, that is, until the prophetic date-setters and doomsayers begin heralding the end of time? The U.S. has seen two notable quakes in one day. What’s worse, one of them rocked the U.S. capitol, and now Hurricane Irene may up the ante. Some will say this is an alarming sign. Forget the fact that devastating quakes hit third world countries and kill thousands almost every year. If it happens in the U.S., then it’s a sign. People in California are having a good laugh at all the fuss on the news–not unlike Northerners who scoff when a southern state becomes crippled by an inch of snow!

Some in the dispensational vein say that the frequency of earthquakes means the end is near. If you search the internet you can find seismic evidence supporting the idea that earthquakes are increasing in our time. This seems to ignore the fact that in modern times, seismic measurements have also increased, dramatically. The data from centuries past would obviously pale in comparison. Alarmists on the right say earthquakes signal the end. Alarmists on the left say it’s the global warming. Was Katrina caused by carbon emissions, immorality, or both?

It really doesn’t matter whether earthquakes or hurricanes are increasing—as eschatology goes (the study of end-time prophecy)–since those who point to these trends are misapplying Matthew 24 and its companion passages.

Jesus said in Matthew 24:16…
Then let those in Judea flee into the mountains.

If this were an end-of-the-world prophecy, why did Christ refer to those in Judea and the need of its inhabitants to flee to the mountains? He spoke of destruction that only involved those in Judea—not the U.S. or the rest of the world. But what of the time frame?

But pray that your flight is not in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day. (v.20)

How is it that he refers to the Sabbath day which (for the most part) is not observed in the Christianized world? These statements indicate his application is to ancient Judea. However, the following verse can hardly be ignored.

Truly I say to you, In no way will this generation pass away until all these things have occurred. (v. 34) 

Christians at the time of Christ witnessed the end of the age—the Mosaic age. If your translation says this was the end of the world, it makes a poor translation of the Greek aeon. The Romans came and destroyed the temple and put an end to its sacrifices and rituals.That was an ending unlike any they had seen before.  The Christians saw the warning signs and fled to the mountains of Pella. They saw the moon turn to blood, in symbolic form, as Peter affirmed in Acts 2.

Earthquakes, wars and famines have been common occurrences throughout history and in numerous parts of the world. This should help us realize that Christ was speaking about a very narrow time frame and a very localized situation. There are clues all over Matthew 24 that indicate the context Jesus spoke of, and its nearness.

Many Christians are inclined to a hope in a religion of escapism. Not unlike the Jews of Jesus’ time, they are looking for God to overthrow worldly powers and establish a government system on earth. But the means of escape have been provided. As Christ said, his kingdom does not come by observation.

Image source:,r:2,s:0&tx=24&ty=47


Old Man at the Cross

In Christ, Christianity, evangelical, Theology on April 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Last weekend I saw a few channels airing The Passion which Mel Gibson produced several years ago. Most Christians have seen it, but if you have not, The Passion is a very graphic portrayal of the trial and crucifixion of Christ. It can be very hard to watch if you are sensitive to blood and trauma on the screen. When the movie first came out our next-door neighbor commented that Christians should see the movie in response to what Christ did for us. I tend to agree that we need to have an appreciation of the horrible punishment Jesus endured, but for many, including my neighbor, I sense more of an obligation to view this movie–similar to required reading for a class.

I think this element of obligation might actually show a lack of appreciation for the cross and what it means. How can I say this? As with many things we hold and believe, there are different ways to understand the cross. There is a natural view and a spiritual view. I once heard a pastor rightly comment that if we had been able to witness the actual crucifixion of Christ, it would have had an enormous impact on us, yet it would ultimately not cause any effective change in us. As wrenching as it was, the impact of the crucifixion must go beyond our natural ability to respond.

I get the sense that many want to look at the cross for their motivation; retelling it, reliving it as a way to renew commitment, ignite devotion and respond as God would have us. This thinking holds that the more we see the brutal torture borne by our innocent Savior, the more we, who were truly guilty, will be inspired to go out there and live like never before.

How we perceive the cross will greatly determine the power it has in our lives. Our tendency to find motivation from what Jesus did may actually work against the intent of the cross because our natural man wants to “live up” to the sacrifice. Our human reaction is to feel compelled to respond with remorse, passion and fervor. But fervor, like all things, fades. This may be why we need a more graphic portrayal of the crucifixion. Perhaps we have lost sensitivity to the event, having become so familiar with it. Yet, I don’t know that my middle-aged heart will ever relive the impact the cross had on me when I first digested the great injustice that brought mercy to me. What will happen, then, after the graphic effects of The Passion also begin to lose their impact? Having watched the movie, one key thought occurred to me. The scriptures do not go into very explicit detail about the crucifixion. This is not to minimize the immense suffering Jesus endured, but it may minimize the relative effectiveness of focusing on just the natural impact of the crucifixion.

What effect does the cross produce in us? Is there a great sense of inadequacy? Good. Is there a desire to learn from the heart of Christ? I think that is good too. But is there also a desire to “rise to the challenge”? Is there a sense that we can use the crucifixion to produce more sorrow for sin, and a greater resolve to do better? Could there even be, heaven forbid, an attempt to defray the cost to Jesus by virtue of living better? This is not good, I believe, because it fuels the fire of self reliance and ultimately is rooted in self justification. Our old man may feel obliged to respond with all his muster. It is the tendency of our flesh to try to live up to and do justice to Christ’s sacrifice.

Part of us thinks we need to justify Christ’s offering. We need to change and become worthy of such a sacrifice. We should not be surprised that such a lofty aspiration comes from the most corrupt nature. This very nature undermines grace and the utterly helpless state we occupy without Christ. What’s more, it neglects the true power of the cross. Since Christ died for us when we were powerless we cannot attempt to reform the “undeserving nature” after the fact. We need to let that nature be crucified with Christ and stake no claim to it. There is no use for a reformed old man. Christ is victorious when our life ends on the cross with him.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; so that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:3 -4)

Paul also said he was (past tense) crucified with Christ so that the true life and nature of Christ might live in him. This was not his aspiration, it was a done deal. He reckoned himself dead, having been baptized, not just into some pool of H2O, but baptized into the very death of Christ. Christ did not just do away with our sins, he did away with ourselves, the old man, with all his reforms, improvements, remorse and fortitude, was wiped out. Only by complete removal of the corrupted nature can the way be cleared for Christ to rise up in us.

The cross should not produce a sense of guilt–since by it, all guilt is crucified–in order that we can walk in newness which is the nature of Christ. As much as Christ suffered for sins, it was Adam (the old man) who died there. That was me and my old ways up there–both the good and the bad–all together crucified. My agenda is not to work and improve myself, but to give up my agenda, to let it be crucified for the sake of taking on the life of Christ. Here we take on a life which is not our own. No longer directing our own steps. Nothing needs to be salvaged or rescued from the old man. In the crucifixion we need to realize our own death.

Or are you ignorant that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also we may walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4)

Hell Bent, Part 2

In Christianity, Hell, Theology on April 7, 2011 at 11:23 pm

In his most famous sermon, Jonathan Edwards, a Puritan preacher who shares credit for the Great Awakening, had this to say of God’s nature:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.

And this he said not to heathen but to his own congregation!

So often we hear the call to let the Bible interpret the Bible. And this should well be applied to an inquiry of hell. Jesus’ description of hell is comparatively subdued in light of such traumatizing fabrications. Christ said there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The phrase, “gnashing of teeth” is used several times in the Old Testament and simply communicates the idea of contempt or disdain. Let the Bible explain:

All your enemies have opened their mouth against you; they hiss and gnash the teeth; they say, We have swallowed her up. (Lam 2:16)

His anger has torn and hated me; He gnashes on me with His teeth; my enemy sharpens his eyes at me. (Job 16:9)

How is it that we have always been led to believe that such gnashing of teeth is the result of unspeakable torture, when scriptural precedent shows it is a sign of mere contempt? And what about weeping, or wailing as some translations say? Does this fit a tortured existence? Would your response to excruciating pain be to begin weeping? If I slam a hammer on my finger, weeping is not my response. I am more apt to scream at the shock of such consuming pain, yet this is nothing compared to the horrors of the popular view of hell, where we should expect nothing short of mind-piercing screams and blood-curdling shrieks! Weeping is a response to grief and great loss, not unfathomable torture.

I grew up thinking hell was an infernal region below ground. I was afraid if one dug a hole too deep he might be captured by Satan himself. Of course, I  failed to realize that hell was not Satan’s headquarters where he amused himself by torturing people. It was the pagans who created such false ideas that we associate with hell. The word hell, itself, is a mistranslation and a misnomer. While the original word “hell” means to conceal, cover over, the Greek word at its source has no such meaning. So many popular translations also confuse hell with hades—or the grave. Jesus descended into lower regions but never once did he set foot in hell. If your translation disagrees, it needs reformed.

The word in the Bible that is most often translated “hell” is Gehenna. But contrary to the meaning of the word hell, Gehenna was not a concealed, covered-over place. It was a wide-open, burning, garbage dump, spread out for all to see. This was a picture reserved for the Jews. The word Gehenna is never used with non-Jewish audiences. Paul never mentions it once, nor does the “gospel for gentiles” (John).

And what of the fire? Fire creates unbearable pain, of course. But is the fire of judgment literal, or could it be figurative? Surely Jesus was painting a picture of sheer, unspeakable agony. If you grew up believing in the age-old view of hell, it has to be literal. And surely the branches in Christ which bear no fruit will be burned with literal fire (even though they are not literal branches). By the same token, when Jesus says his Father prunes the fruitful branches, do we take this literally, as if pruning shears are used to cut off the limbs of Christians? Consider other occurrences of “fire” in the New Testament. Jesus said everyone would be salted with fire (not just the lost) and that the Holy Spirit would baptize with fire. Is the Holy Spirit to engulf us with burning flames? Is this literal or figurative?

I hope it is clear to all that the fire spoken of in Isaiah 42 is a figure of judgment and not literal fire, as it speaks of God’s chosen people being subject to flaming wrath, surrounded by fire and even burned. Not a word of it is literal.

Who gave up Jacob to those who took away his goods, and Israel to his attackers? Did not the Lord? he against whom they did wrong, and in whose ways they would not go, turning away from his teaching. For this reason he let loose on him the heat of his wrath, and his strength was like a flame; and it put fire round about him, but he did not see it; he was burned, but did not take it to heart. (Isa 42:24-25)

If someone mistreats us, are we to heap burning coals of fire upon him? Yes we are, but this is figurative speech as it relates to overcoming evil with good. This fire produces a good result. Yet I am sure many Christians throughout history saw this verse as a license to make hell hotter for their adversaries. Even so, the discomfort in the conscience caused by receiving good for evil can hardly compare to the pain of burning your enemy’s flesh. Perhaps this is the fire into which God’s enemies will be cast. God, himself is a consuming fire. He makes his ministers a flame of fire. Are they literal fires? Are his ministers in flaming agony? How should we go about deciding when fire is to be taken literally and when it is a figure of speech? Can death be a thing thrown into a burning lake?

Does scripture alone form our concept of God’s judgment, or do our ancestral preconceptions skew our interpretation of scripture? I would suggest the scriptures are not nearly as articulate, detailed or cruel as the pervading picture of hell we have, even today. I am also suggesting that hell has been embellished when it was most effective in scaring and controlling the masses. Scripture clearly shows God’s wrath. But God is not defined as wrath. God is (is equated to) love. Since love defines God, love must be the basis for all he does. Love includes judgment and wrath, but wrath does not define God.

Over the centuries the people whose foremost image of God was that of  a wrathful and vengeful tyrant, were the quickest to turn up the heat on those outside their fold. Their hardened hearts devised the most graphic embellishments of  the coming judgment, amplifying the pain and torment exponentially. If our judgments toward others will be used as a standard for us, we should be very careful. If we continue to see God’s highest passion as being a torturer of souls (especially those we dislike), our hearts will be likewise affected and our actions will follow suit. Fixating on wrath will condemn the believer and those in his world to an unmerciful, legalistic and vengeful kind of existence. Just check the past.

© 2011 Gary Swisher. All Rights Reserved

Hell Bent

In Christianity, church, Hell, Theology on April 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm

As with many things in Christendom, the understanding of hell is layered with corruptions stemming from church politics, vain imaginations and even paganism. The view of eternal punishment has been embellished over the ages, and oftentimes has seemed much more hellish than the picture scripture seems to paint.

When I grew up, hell-fire and brimstone sermons were more common. If I had been born a few years earlier, I’m sure they would have been a steady diet. The church movement of my formative years was once extremely legalistic. As time progressed, so did the emphasis on God’s grace. In many veins of Christianity, legalism has seemed to wane (not that it’s gone by any means) since the 1960s, and so has the prevalence of fear and judgment as a motivation for moral conduct. Is it possible that one’s particular bent on hell, or the amount of emphasis hell receives, is connected to the degree of legalism and judgmentalism one demonstrates?

The fire insurance view of the gospel has been a sad reflection on Christian theology, showing an impoverished understanding of the true riches found in Christ. Perhaps the reason a book like Love Wins, by Rob Bell, is getting so much attention is because it has become less palatable to focus on eternal torment. Fiery-judgment sermons are surely less prevalent now than in the past. I would argue that the times when church history was most characterized by condemnation and persecution of both believers and non-believers, it was due to significantly greater emphasis on what heretics and sinners deserved in the eyes of an angry God. In medieval times the church raised funds through fear by convincing Christians that they would go to hell for not tithing. So-called “heretics” were burned alive at the stake and unbelievers were tortured in a variety of inventive and sadistic ways, especially during the inquisition.

One such heretic, named Michael Servetus, was helped to his execution by the famous theologian, John Calvin. The quote below shows the degree to which Christian leaders of the time acted as divine judge and jury.

It is true that Calvin and his fellow pastors in Geneva were involved in the death of Servetus [to put it lightly]. However, it would be difficult to find any church leader in the 16th century who advocated a more gentle approach. Luther called for attacks on German peasants and wrote an angry tract against the Jews, called ‘On the Jews and their Lies’. Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich, supported the execution by drowning of the Anabaptist leader, Felix Manz. Sir Thomas More, England ‘s Catholic Lord Chancellor, presided over the execution of those he viewed as “heretics” in England during the reign of Henry the VIII.

As I expressed in my previous series of posts, the parts of the Bible that lack detailed explanations are often the points where humans endeavor to explain the most. Hell is no different. Where Jesus tells of the weeping and gnashing of teeth, humans chime in with the most grotesque depictions of sadistic torture they can fathom. Thomas Aquinas is credited with saying, “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly, and give more abundant thanks to God for it, a perfect sight of [the] punishment of the damned is granted them.”  The Assemblies of God hold in their doctrinal statement that, “It is impossible to describe the … terror and torment of hell.” Why so? Did Jesus lack the words to do it justice?

A Catholic priest named John Furniss (sounds like furnace?) wrote a children’s book in the 19th century called The Sight of Hell. Below are some quotes.

Night came upon them from the lowest and deepest hell. She saw that in the upper hell, the torments were very grevious. In the middle hell they were still more terrible. In the lowest hell the torments were above all understanding.

There is in hell a sound like that of many waters…It is the sound of oceans of tears running from the countless millions of eyes. They cry night and day.

…if one single body was taken out of hell and laid on the earth, in that same moment every living creature on the earth would sicken and die.

The [devil’s] first stroke will make your body as bad as the body of Job, covered from head to foot with sores and ulcers. The second stroke will make your body twice as bad as the body of Job…How then will your body be after the devil has been striking it every moment for a hundred million of years without stopping?

The sinner lies chained down on a bed of red-hot blazing fire!

How will you feel in hell, when millions of [biting worms] make their dwelling-place in your mouth, and ears, and eyes, and creep all over you, and sting you with their deadly stings through all eternity.

With so many things being reformed in the history of Christendom there has never been a reformation of this distorted perception of God’s punishment of the lost. The same darkened mindset that developed such extreme and detailed descriptions of their torments has guided and influenced our Bible translations, scripture interpretations and sermons down to this very day. What mind is it that we bring to scriptures to inquire of God’s final judgment? We come with the foregone conclusion that no imagination of man can grasp what a hideous torture awaits the lost.

© 2011 Gary Swisher. All Rights Reserved

Reformation: A Road Without End

In Christianity, church, evangelical, Theology on February 12, 2011 at 12:20 am

In an earlier post, Glossing Over Paganism, I wrote that the United States is a worldly nation, founded on a mixture of Christian precepts and pagan influence. This thought runs counter to the beliefs of most mainstream Christians, who often equate Christianity with American Patriotism. Their view, that our nation and the church are closely intertwined, has validity. But the common thread between them is very surprising and unsettling.

When Christianity first dawned on western civilization it was initially persecuted at the hands of an empire that enforced the worship of its emperor and the pagan gods. But key figures like Constantine eventually brought Christianity into the mainstream of society. The Christians who were formerly criminals in the eyes of Rome became its favored citizens. Pagan temples were converted into Christian cathedrals. Pagan holidays were “Christianized” to make it an easy transition for the people who had long enjoyed the rituals and revelry of pagan celebrations.

The church became a protected institution, but at great cost. it also became a state-controlled religion, syncretized with pagan beliefs and practices. By the time the Roman Catholic Church was firmly entrenched, corruptions to the true, pure church were profuse. The Catholic Church was formed out of syncretism; a mixing of pagan customs with Christian content. The idols of old became patron saints. The Festival of the Dead became All Souls Day. The Winter Solstice became Christmas (both involve a nativity of a divine figure). Many more things crept into institutional Christianity, none of which belonged to the true faith.

Because these things have been all around us since we were born, we take little notice of them. Our months and days are named for pagan gods, as are the planets of our solar system. Most everyone realizes this, but rarely gives much thought to how deep the roots of paganism run in our society. An enormous statue of Neptune (analogous with Poseidon) stands prominently on a walk at Virginia Beach. Does anyone raise an eyebrow in this “Christian Nation” when they encounter this pagan idol? Fewer still ever ponder or even realize that paganism is also infused into Christianity.

When celebrating Easter, we observe the Roman calendar, not the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew calendar is the key to the true timing of the Passover season. How many Christians, who each year remember Christ’s sacrifice, realize they are commemorating a day on the Roman calendar which honored a pagan fertility goddess? If t is imperative to have an observance of Christ’s atonement, why do Christians hold to a date other than when Christ was actually crucified? How is it that sunrise services are actually old pagan traditions? And for that matter, why celebrate Christ’s birth each December 25th? Do Christians really know the roots of that date?

The corruption which manifested in the Catholic church grew until the time of the reformation. To most Protestants the reformation is past-tense. But in reality, we are on a centuries-old path which still stretches ages before us, on the journey out of darkness. In other words, every church in existence today still shares many corruptions derived from the mother church that sits in Rome.

Before we point all our fingers and toes at the oldest denominations it’s important to realize that there are un-sanctified elements in all churches which are far more subtle, even in movements that developed much later. The reformed churches are not at all free from pagan influence. Babylon has her daughters, and as long as denominations give rise to new movements they carry with them the forms of their mother. Even more recent church movements that aimed to remove doctrinal error have retained age-old practices which are not sourced in scripture. Yet all such corruptions do not take the form of overt pagan symbols, names and celebrations.  Even the seemingly benign and secular forms we use today are not derived from scripture. In his book, “Pagan Christianity”, Frank Viola identifies many basic conventions of the church which can be traced back to Greek and Roman practices.

The most simplistic and fundamental movements in Christendom today still maintain corrupted views of Biblical concepts in their practices. It’s fairly clear that nearly every denomination, old or new, utilizes the same elements and format in their “services”. The very concept of pastors, pulpit ministers or preachers, whichever terminology you choose (I will use the term pastor since it is the most popular), has more in common with Greco-Roman conventions than Biblical truth.

Viola sees the modern pastor role as having evolved from the Master of Ceremonies of ancient practice. This would, of course, apply as well to the priest role as seen in Catholic churches. No, we’re not talking Pat Sajak here, the Master of Ceremonies was no game show host! Just as the term implies, this man was the chief of rituals, the director of the service. The term obviously implies a performance-oriented, liturgical program set before an audience.

Nothing could be further from the Biblical concept of pastors than this Master of Ceremonies. So why does this role seem so similar to that of the Sunday morning pastor? No matter how informal a church might be, all things that take place on a Sunday morning have to be approved by the pastor. He sets the tone and oversees all the pieces and players of the Sunday service, from the sermon to the final announcements.

No, he may not control all these things directly, but in most cases he has the ultimate say on what goes. All those who are in charge of various aspects of the service answer to him. In some churches the pastor is very laid back and hands-off, yet if there is something he dislikes it would never last long because he holds ultimate sway. In other churches the pastors are much more obsessive about managing and dictating every detail of the service. In any case the pastor holds a place of great prominence, both visibly and behind the scenery while those in the pews are passive spectators.

Our churches are largely human institutions steeped in traditions that do not come from God, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They rely on human conventions. They revolve around buildings and budgets, committees and business meetings, salaries, programs, bulletins, systems, methods, checklists, media, operating expenses, hierarchies and oligarchies. They closely mirror the corporate structure, having an organization of members, a board of directors (elders) and a senior pastor (CEO). Some of the heavy-handed power plays I have seen in the most fundamental churches rival the drama you might expect to find on Wall Street.

Much like our governmental systems the church as we see it today has made only slight improvements over many long centuries. We may realize the reformation is not over, but every generation sees only so far down this very long road. The radical truth is that we should give up the remodeling project because the fundamental form of the church is un-biblical. Perhaps we should learn our lesson and realize that continuing down the road of reformation may lead us no closer to New Testament Christianity in the next hundred years. So rather than continue on this road and look for the next movement or big development to come along, we should take the nearest exit.

© 2011 Gary Swisher. All Rights Reserved

COMMENTS ARE WELCOME. Please click ARCHIVES to view any discussions.

God Intentions

In Christianity, Theology, Uncategorized on February 2, 2011 at 12:22 am

Why does God allow human suffering? Theologians love to tackle this question. It’s a favorite atheist objection to the existence of God. In all honesty it is a fair question and one that every Christian faces as well. But I thought I might pose another question in contrast to this familiar one. If Satan exists, why does he allow human pleasure?

Scripture seems to say that Satan is the god of our world. If so, why do we experience times of peace? Why do so many children come home from school unharmed? Why are there so many charities aiming to assist people who need it? Why have there been so many medical advances in recent decades? Maybe Satan takes some pride in his world. His followers are good people too. He doesn’t want a complete mess of his dominion does he? How embarrassing would that be?

Here are some more questions about good things. Why is there physical pleasure? Why are so many people leading comfortable lives? Why do restaurants have such sensational deserts? Why are there so many Xboxes in households today? Oh wait, are these all good things from God’s perspective? Many good and pleasurable things are used to lull people into spiritual sleep, distract them from what has true, lasting value, and cause them to question God when he takes something away. Then again, we may seek this type of comfort in response to our pain, emptiness and loss; never really learning that they are not what we need. The god of this world knows how we each use such “good” things. All good things come from God, but how one defines good things depends on his mindset. So an illness could be truly good, while pleasure is ultimately bad. To my understanding this issue hinges on our perspective. It is about the spiritual man versus the natural (soulish) man.

This is not one of those “glass half full” or “glass half empty” propositions. I just think we have really missed the significance of both good and evil in this world. The thing is, good can be used for evil and evil can be used for good. When Joseph was sold into slavery and finally caught up with the brothers who put him there, he revealed that God meant it for good. Being sold into slavery was good. That was God’s estimation.

It was God who asked Satan to consider his servant Job. Not the other way around. Satan takes orders from God. He is not a rogue element, out of Gods’ control. It was the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Look it up. Paul was ministered by Satan to rid him of pride (see 2 Cor. 12:7). And Paul said that all things (good and evil) work for the good of those that love God. Notice it doesn’t say all things are good, but that all things work for our good. That is the understanding of those who love God. We cannot have that perspective if we doubt God in this. That is being double-minded. God puts all kinds of things to work for his good purpose, and for our good. No discipline seems pleasant at the moment—makes me wonder how much discipline I’ve had.

So why do we have suffering? No one likes suffering, nor should we seek it. But God exercises his providence, over the schemes and roadblocks that come before us, for his ultimate purpose. God does authorize suffering as we see in the case of Job, Paul and many others. Our natural mind wants to grasp this, understand it and ultimately control it. But, as God said to Job, you learn to be a creature, subject to all that happens, and I will take care of the divine role all by myself. When these things happen we want to lean on our own reasonings, seek advice and ask lots of questions, just as Job did. Why me? Why this? Why her? Why now? Why, why, why? All those things have their root in the natural man, which is why such questions are so often posed by atheists. They become obstacles that will either block us and cause discouragement or they will be overcome by something of a higher order. I believe we are meant to experience these things in order to learn what cannot be learned through our intellect.

Consider this. Jesus learned obedience. You can tell a three-year old that he should not do certain things, and attempt to reason with him. But only through pain will he ever learn certain lessons, whether the pain comes from a bad result or a fore-ordained punishment. My child’s comfort is not my number one priority. He primarily needs to learn to listen to his father and mother. The lesson is obedience, and pain is often the teacher. We do not just teach our children to avoid touching hot things, we teach them obedience. They must learn submission. A child who learns submission has learned a lot.

Discipline means to teach. It can also mean to spank. If you are a parent you know that some things are learned without any pain at all but many things are not. We are the same way. We cannot truly mature in our spiritual lives if we are so glued to this natural man who seeks whatever pleases him at the moment. Jesus learned obedience… through suffering.

Pain and discomfort can cause us to move, change, open our eyes or test our foundations for trustworthiness. The low-risk method by which we prefer to learn is to receive information. In churches we spend a lot of time in the classroom setting; reading, learning, sitting, watching, discussing, etc. These things have had their place. But whether we are talking about children or Christians, information often remains at the intellectual level. It does not often result in change. It, alone, does not transform.  The Jews were lawyers. The Greeks were philosophers. Many theologians are primarily intellectuals and little more. But Christ does not seek students. He makes disciples.

Jesus learned obedience through suffering. He also said “Come learn from ME.” Your Bible version may say “Come learn OF me”, but that is not the best translation of the word. We have spent plenty of time learning about Jesus. But if we are to learn from him, we may need to turn our attention from our familiar doctrines and teachers. How else can we learn from him but to get alone with just Him? Jesus does not just teach book knowledge. Bible school is important, but we are not in relationship with the Bible. Doctrines and knowledge do not transform us. We only tend to become puffed up with what we know. At some point we must move from what we know to Who we know. I hope God sees fit to take us out of the conventional classroom for his purposes. We can really learn something when God takes us to school.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, for those who have been trained by it, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace. (Heb 12:11, ISV) 

© 2011 Gary Swisher. All Rights Reserved

COMMENTS ARE WELCOME. Please click ARCHIVES to view any discussions.