Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: comfort

WHY?

Sunday evening, shortly before sunset, a freight train came shuddering to a stop on the tracks that run about 200 metres west of our house. At first, we didn’t know the reason for the sudden stop. The trees on the west side of our yard hid the mangled pickup from our view.

Slowly, slowly we learned what had happened. A young man driving west facing the blazing sunset. On the open prairie the sun lingers just above the horizon making one lower the visor and try to shield one’s eyes from the glare. Three locomotives pulling about 80 hopper cars loaded with grain coming from the south. They met at the railroad crossing.

It took until the next day to find out that the young man who died, instantly, was the fiancé of a friend of ours. They were filled with love, hope and joy, planning for a happy ever after. Now the dream is ended.

WHY ?

The question is natural, we can’t help wondering why when things like this happen. But there really is no answer, except that we live in a world ruined by the fall.

We dare not look for someone to blame. Who would we blame? The locomotive engineer? He sounded the horn time and again, but he couldn’t steer away. The young man? God? Such thoughts would only lead to bitterness.

Yes, the young man should have seen, should have heard. But he didn’t and it does no good to blame him. Certainly God could have intervened. But He is not the cosmic puppetmaster. He wants our voluntary service, but only in rare instances does He overrule in the events of our lives. “Time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

God is the refuge, the source of comfort and strength for one who has suffered such a tragic loss.  Friends and family can help soften the pain. Their words may be inadequate, but their presence and availability speak loudly.

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Spiritual mourning

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

There is an obvious way of understanding these words. We encounter sorrow and loss during our lives that are cause for mourning, and we can find comfort in Jesus that is not available anywhere else.

  • But these seemingly simple words also contain a far deeper meaning:We need to mourn for our own sins, like David: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (Psalm 51)We need to mourn for conditions in the church: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth). “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (The message in the book of Revelations to the church at Ephesus). Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
  • We should grieve for Christians who are separated from a truly spiritual church fellowship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria. . . but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:1-6). We often hear the first part of verse one and think that is the message. But God gave Amos a burden for those in the apostate kingdom of Israel, led by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, sons of Joseph, because they were separated from the true worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem. God sent Hosea to Israel with the message that God sorrowed for wayward Israel just as Hosea sorrowed for his wayward wife.
  • We should grieve for conditions in the world we live in, not only for those in faraway lands, but also for the people who are our near neighbours. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). “ But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
  • The apostle Paul said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” This leaves us no ground to think of ourselves as better than others. We cannot serve the Lord with that kind of thought in our minds. First, we must grieve for our sinfulness, weakness and inadequacy. Then we see others as being the same as we are. We are in a world ruled by hostile spiritual forces and we have no strength in ourselves to overcome those forces. Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Isn’t that the meaning of the beatitude quoted above?

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

Miserable comforters are ye all

“I have been hurt more by Christians than by non-believers.”  This was said, not so much as a complaint but as a simple statement of fact, by a friend with whom my wife and I were visiting the other day.  This lady has many heartaches and struggles in her past and I don’t doubt her statement. But I began to ponder why such a thing should be.

This led me to the story of Job and the misfortunes that befell him. In one day he lost all his children and all his wealth. As if that wasn’t enough, he then lost his health. His three closest friends came to comfort him. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were God-fearing men and their hearts were moved with compassion for their friend. They wept and mourned with him for seven days and seven nights without opening their mouths.

The trouble came when they began to speak. They truly wanted to help their friend and the only cause they could think of for his misery was that he must be suffering punishment for some hidden sin. The more Job protested his innocence, the more they were sure they understood the problem. Finally Job said: “ I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.”

I am a Christian, I care about my fellow believers and all the people around me. I want to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Yet when I try to put that into practice, all too often I have come across much like Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. I want to understand what has happened, offer some helpful suggestions, when it would be better to keep my mouth shut.

Job never accused his friends of sin for the way they spoke to him. One time he called them “miserable comforters,” another time he responded with this little zinger: “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.” But he never sinned in accusing them falsely.

At the end, God asked Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to go to Job and ask him to pray for their forgiveness. I think the most significant part of the whole book is found in verse 10 of chapter 42: “And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

Isn’t forgiveness always the answer? Job was not restored until he could forgive his friends and pray for them, and we won’t be either. Our friends may do and say hurtful things. Forgive them. Or they may not know what to do or say and so avoid us for a time. Forgive them.

We will get hurt in this life. Well-meaning friends will say that we should just forgive and forget. That may come as a fresh wound, the forgetting part is not always easy, or even completely possible. Let’s forgive our well-meaning friends and do our best to put the original hurt behind us by applying the healing balm of forgiveness every time it gives us pain.

He hath torn and he will heal

I took our little Pookie to the vet a few days ago; Pookie being our three year old Flame Point Siamese. This was a follow up visit after his latest ear infection had cleared up; the vet is trying to figure out why he so often gets these infections.  Her theory now is that it may be a food allergy.

Pookie makes these trips a few times each year and nothing horrible has happened to him yet, still he does not like these trips to the vet. He complains all the way there, all the time he is there, and only a little less when he know that he is on his way home.

Once we are home he is my friend again. He is a very friendly cat and will often come to me to let me know he values our friendship and wants a tummy rub. My wife is the one who applies the medicine in his ear, something he would dearly love to avoid. Yet when she sits in the recliner and puts her feet up, he will come and curl up in her lap. In other words, this little guy holds nothing against us for the scary treatment we sometimes mete out.

That reminds me of the words of the prophet Hosea that I quoted in the title. Sorrow and pain are a part of every human life, some experience less than others, some much more. Sometimes it is obvious that we are suffering the consequences of something that we have done; at other times it seems like we are victims of random acts of fate. Whatever the case may be, it would have been in God’s power to prevent the pain and sorrow.

Job found that it was futile to demand that God give an account of these things, partly because the interplay of our actions with the actions of others around us, aided and abetted by unseen spiritual forces, is simply beyond the capacity of our understanding.

Besides, blaming God, or demanding an answer of God, will do nothing to make our circumstances any better. Yes, God allowed this to happen. But, He is also the only one who can help us in such circumstances. So may we come to Him without bitterness or recrimination, love Him and seek His help and comfort.

That is the message of Hosea 6:1-3. Here is the full text of that message.

Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.

Tidings of comfort and joy

These words, from the chorus of “God rest ye merry, Gentlemen,” nicely sum up the intended impact of the birth of Jesus Christ. The angel who first appeared to the shepherds said, “Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” After the shepherds had seen the Christ child with their own eyes, “they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”

How will we celebrate the Saviour’s birth this year? We cannot bring tidings of comfort and joy, unless our own hearts and lives have been filled to overflowing with comfort and joy. Perhaps that should be the beginning of our preparation for Christmas. May we, like David, ask God to “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me . . . Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (Psalm 51:10, 12). Then, says David, “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise” (verse 15).

With each year that passes the world seems to be in more desperate need of tidings of comfort and joy. This is the season when every one who truly knows Jesus Christ, each in their own way, may take part in making known abroad tidings of comfort and joy. Gifts and food all have their part in this season, but they are not the essence of the season. I’m thinking more of words: words of cheerful greeting, of comfort to the lonely and sorrowing, of encouragement to the downhearted; words sung in carols and words written to those far away. May our words be words of comfort and joy.

Never alone

I expect most people know where I am headed with this post, but there is some rough terrain to be covered first. Alone with God is a wonderful place to be, but there are a host of other spirits vying for our attention.

When destructive thoughts come – anger, envy, lust, suspicion, resentment and the like – do they come from our own minds, or do they have an outside source? We are surrounded by spiritual enemies who will test us with such thoughts. And there is something within us, our natural tendency to look out for number one, that sides with these thoughts. Most of us can see where these thoughts will lead us and reject them. Some people become obsessed with them. The more they dwell on them, the more real they appear, causing people to mistrust and withdraw from friends and family. This only aggravates the mental anguish and the belief that it is all true.

At the extreme, such thoughts open the door to thoughts of suicide. Five:15,  an online Christian magazine by and for First Nations people, recently carried an article entitled Suicide is a Spirit. The writer tells of her own experience and concludes that suicide is a powerful demonic attack, not mental illness. A cloud of despair, hopelessness and darkness descended on her, bringing pictures of a noose to her mind night and day, showing her just how to tie it and telling her it was the only way out. She prayed, read the Bible and tried everything she could think of to shake those feelings and thoughts. Nothing worked.

One day, she read Psalm 103 and saw a glimmer of hope. Her pastor came over and she shared her struggle with him and what she had found in the Psalm. Still, that night the struggle was worse than ever and she almost yielded. At 3:00 a.m. she remembered a toll free prayer line. She called and a counsellor read to her the same Psalm that she had read during the day. As he prayed, she realized that she was not alone, that God was with her and had directed the counsellor, 2,000 km away, to the same Scripture she had read during the day. The troubling spirit left her then. Others did not find that help and there were 13 suicides by hanging in her community not long after.

I do not want to say that all troubled minds are due to demonic attacks; there is genuine mental illness, often with a physical cause or due to some traumatic event. No one should be discouraged from seeking professional help by well-meaning Christians who believe all such emotional and mental troubles are a sign of a spiritual problem.

On the other hand, we need to be aware that there are troubled minds that are due to demonic activity. As Christians, we need to listen to the broken and hurting people in our midst, pray with them and pray for them. There is no pat, one size fits all, answer. We need the direction of the Holy Spirit to be able to offer help and support, rather than criticism.

Jesus promised that He would be with us always, that He would never leave us nor forsake us. If we are truly born again children of God, we are never alone. Other spirits try to make us forget that, to doubt if it is even possible. At times like that, we need to connect with fellow believers who can bring us back to reality. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Psalm 103
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

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