Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No 'Secret': We Suffer for God’s Purposes

This is in response to further comments about The Secret:

There is a false and insidious concept floating around today’s church: that God wants to express his love for us by making us happy and comfortable.

Earthly happiness is not God’s goal for us. Quite the contrary: God wants us to become like Jesus. And what do we know of Jesus? His life was about suffering.

Jesus left paradise to come to earth. He left a place where all is good and right. He went to an earth that is filled with pain, sickness, and suffering. When Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, the offer is to alleviate that suffering. Jesus is hungry, as he hasn’t eaten in 40 days; Satan suggests that Jesus end that hunger (suffering) by allowing himself to have the comfort of food. But Jesus says no—God is his priority, not the ending of his suffering. Satan offers to give Jesus riches and power. Again, Jesus says no—God is his priority. He goes on to live a life of poverty, indeed homelessness. (Remember, the Son of Man doesn’t have a home or a place to lay his head.)

Satan also tells Jesus that he’s powerful, so surely he can throw himself off the cliff and he’ll be OK. I believe this is the same temptation posed by The Secret today. The law of attraction asserts that we are powerful. We instead need to continually proclaim truth: God is powerful. We are weak creatures who long for comfort so much that we make it an idol that becomes more important to us than God.

Jesus is pursued by his enemies, constantly threatened with death, and insulted at every turn. He is betrayed by his closest friends. And we all know what happens at the end of his life.

Additionally, we don’t have to guess about what it looks like to be a follower of Christ: We see what happens to his followers in the early church. Paul is repeatedly beaten, thrown in prison, and his life is threatened everywhere he goes. He is beheaded by Nero in Rome. Matthew is killed by the sword in Ethiopia. Mark is dragged by horses through the streets of Alexandria. Luke is hanged in Greece. Peter is crucified upside down. Christians worldwide continue to suffer and die for their faith today.

Throughout the New Testament, we’re told that the Christian life requires suffering. We should not desire to escape from it, because God uses suffering for his higher purposes. Here are some (I’m quoting Dr. John Hutchison, chair of the Bible exposition department at Talbot School of Theology, as he summarizes this beautifully):

1) To show genuine faith and glorify God (1 Peter 1:6-7)
2) To discipline for personal sin, producing a life of righteousness and harmony with God and others (Heb. 12:7, 11)
3) To develop perseverance, character, and maturity (Rom. 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)
4) To prepare us to comfort others who go through suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
5) To provide opportunities for the advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12)
6) To follow Christ’s example and show his glory to others (1 Peter 4:12-14)

In 2 Cor. 12, Paul speaks of having a “thorn in the flesh.” Dr. Kevin Huggins, a therapist, pastor, and educator, explains what Paul means:

“A ‘thorn in the flesh’ is any kind of suffering or affliction that attacks or weakens our capacity to live independently of God (2 Cor. 12:8-9). According to Paul, thorns in the flesh come in at least five varieties (12:10): ‘weaknesses’ (physical infirmities), ‘insults’ (relational difficulties), ‘hardships’ (natural disasters and economic difficulties), ‘persecution’ (physical violence), and ‘difficulties’ (emotional distress).”

While we’re not called to pursue suffering (to intentionally have it inflicted on us or to physically abuse ourselves), we’re not supposed to be purposely avoiding it, either. If you aren’t experiencing any suffering in your life, you need to ask yourself, “Why not?” Why are you making great efforts to avoid the thing God specifically says he’s going to use to shape you and make you more like Jesus?


Anonymous said...

Dear Holly Vicente, Thank you for your excellence article.

The Islamic view of Jesus lies between two extremes. The Jews , who
rejected Jesus as a Prophet of God, called him an impostor. The
Christians, on the other hand, considered him to be the son of God and
worship him as such. Islam considers Jesus to be one of the great
prophets of God and respects him as much as Ibrahim (Abraham), Moses,
and Mohammed. (Peace Be Upon Them) This is conformity with the Islamic
view of the oneness of God, the oneness of Divine guidance, and the
complementary role of the subsequent mission of God's messengers.

The essence of Islam - willing submission to the will of God - was
revealed to Adam, who was passed it on to his children. All following
revelations to Noah, Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, and finally Mohammed
(Peace Be Upon Them) were conformity with that message, with some
elaboration to define the revelation between man and God, man and man,
man and instructions. Thus, any contradictions among revealed
religions is viewed by Islam as a man-made element introduced into
these religions. The position of Jesus in the three major religions -
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - should not be an exception.

Although the Quran does not present a detailed life-story of Jesus, it
highlights the important aspects of his birth, his mission, his
ascension to heaven, and passes judgements on the Christian beliefs
concerning him. The Quranic account of Jesus starts with the
conception of his mother, Mary, whose mother, the wife of Imran, vowed
to dedicate her child to the service of God in the temple. When Mary
became a woman, the Holy Spirit (the Archangel Gabriel) appeared to
her as a man bringing her news of a son. We read the following
dialogue in the Quran between Mary and the Angel:

"When the angel said, "Mary, god gives you a good tidings of a Word
from Him whose name is messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, -high honoured
shall he be in this world and the next, near stationed to God. He
shall speak to men in the cradle, and of age, and righteous he shall
be, "lord" said Mary "How shall I have a son, seeing no mortal has
touched me? "Even so, he said "God creates what He will".

When he decrees a thing He but say to it, "Be", and it is. (Al-Imran

In a chapter (Surah) entitled "Maryam" (Mary), the Quran tells us how
Mary gave birth to her son, and how the Jesus accused her when she
brought the child home:

"Then she brought the child to her folk, carrying him, and they said,
"Mary, you have surely committed a monstrous thing. Sister of Aaron,
your father was not a wicked man, nor your mother a woman unchaste.
Mary pointed to the child; but they said, 'Hoe shall we speak to one
who still in the cradle, a little child. And he said, 'Lo, I am God's
servant, God has given me the Book and made me a Prophet Blessed He
has made me ,wherever/may be; and hi has enjoined me to prayer, and to
give the alms so long as I live, and likewise to cherish my mother; He
has not made me arrogant and wicked. Peace be upon me, the day I was
born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised up a live. "Maryam

in the same chapter, following the above quotation, God assures
Mohammed (PBUH) and through him the whole world, that what is told
above is the TRUTH about Jesus (PBUH), although Christians might not
accept it. Jesus is NOT the son of God: He was obviously enough, the
son of Mary. The verses continue: "That is Jesus, son of Mary, in word
of truth, concerning which they are doubting. It is not for God to
take a son unto Him. Glory be to Him, He nut says to it, 'Be, and it
is. (Maryam 19:34-35)

After this strong statement about the nature of Jesus, God directed
Mohammed (PBUH) to call the Christians to worship the one God: "Surely
God is my God, and your God, so surely serve him. This is the straight
path". (Maryam 19:36)

The rejection of the very idea of God having a son is restated later
in the same chapter with even stronger words: "And they say, The All-
merciful has taken unto Himself a son. You have indeed advanced
something hideous. As if the skies are about to burst, the earth to
split asunder and its mountain to fall down in the utter ruin for that
they have attributed to the All-merciful a son; and behaves not the
All-merciful to take a son. None there in the heavens and earth but
comes to the All-merciful as a servant" (Maryam 19:88-93)

The Quran recognizes the fact that Jesus had no human father, but this
does not make him the son of God, or God himself. By this criterion,
Adam would have been more entitled more entitled to be the son of God,
because he had neither a father nor a mother, so the Quran draws
attention to the miraculous creation of both in the following verses;
" truly the likeness of Jesus, in God's sight is as Adam's likeness;
He created him of dust, then He said upon him, 'Be' and hi was. (Al-
Imran 3:59)

The Quran rejects the concept of Trinity God the Father, God the son,
God the Holy Spirit - as strongly as it rejects the concept of Jesus
as the son of God. This is because GOD IS ONE. Three cannot be one.
The Quran addresses Christians in the following verses from the Surrah
entitled "An-Nisaa" (The Women)

People of the Book, do not go beyond the bounds in your religion, and
say nought as to God but the Truth. The messiah, Jesus, son of Mary,
was only the messenger of God, and his word (Fulfilment of his word
(Fulfilment of His command, through the word "Be", for the creation of
Jesus) that he committed to Mary, and a spirit originating from Him
(was given life by God). So believe in God and His Messengers, and say
not 'Three'. Refrain, better is for you. God is only one God. Glory be
to him-that He should have a son! To Him belongs all that is in the
Heavens and in the Earth; God suffices for a guardian.

The Messiah will not disdain to be a servant of God, neither the
Angels who are close to Him. Whosoever disdains to serve Him and walks
proud, He will assuredly muster them to Him, all of them.

As for the believers, who do deeds of righteousness, we will pay them
their rewards in full, and He will give them more, of His bounty; as
for them who disdain and walks proud, then He will punish with a
severe punishment, and they shall not find for them, apart from God, a
friend or helper." (An-Nissa 4:171-173)

The denial of Jesus's divinity (and. For the matter, of Mary's
divinity) is presented in the Quran in the form of a dialogue, at the
Day of Judgement, between the Almighty Jesus. All the Messengers and
their nations will gather before God and He will ask the Messengers
how they were received by their people and what they said to them.
Among those who will be questioned is Jesus:

"And when God said, 'O Jesus, son of Mary, did you say unto men, "Take
me and my mother as gods, apart from God"? He said, 'To you be glory!
It is not mine to say what I have no right to. If I indeed said it,
you would have known it, knowing what is within my heart, though I do
not know your knowledge; you know the things unseen. I only said to
them what you did commands me: "Serve God, my God and your God." (Al-
Maida 5-116)

Given that the Quran denies the Trinity and the son ship of Jesus,
what, according to the Quran, was the real mission of Jesus? The
answer is that Jesus was a link in a long chain of Prophets and
Messengers sent by God to various nations and societies whenever they
needed guidance or deviated from his teachings of Moses and other
Messengers. As he was miraculously supported by numerous miracles to
prove that he was a Messengers from God. However, the majority of the
Jews rejected his ministry.

In another verse of the Quran, Jesus confirmed the validity of the
Torah which was revealed to Moses, and also conveyed he glad tidings
of a final Messenger who follow him: "And when Jesus son of Mary said,
'Children of Israel, I am indeed the Messenger to you, confirming the
Torah that is before me, and giving good tiding of a Messenger who
shall be the praised one."(As-Saff 61:6)

Note that "praised one" is a translation of "Ahmad" - The Prophet
Mohammed's name. Careful study of the New Testament shows that Jesus
refers to the same Prophet in John 14:16-17: "And I will give you
another Counsellor (ThProphet Mohammed). To be with you for ever, even
the Spirit of Truth."

The usual explanation of this Prophecy is that the counsellor referred
to is the Holy Spirit, but this explanation is excluded by a previous
verse in John: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your
advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counsellor will
not come to you."

The characteristics of this counsellor, as can be derived from the
prophecy, are that he will stay forever with the believers, he will
glorify Jesus; and he will speak that he hears form God. All four
characteristics apply to the Prophet Mohammed. He came six centuries
after Jesus. He came six centuries after Jesus. He came with a
universal and everlasting message, fulfilling the prophecy that the
counsellor will stay forever with the faithful. He glorified Jesus as
a great Prophet. The Quran attributes to Jesus miracles not mentioned
in the Bible's Old and New Testaments, as well as specific verses in
the Quran show how the Prophet Mohammad is rejected by Jews and
Christians out of prejudice and misunderstanding, rather that
carefully study the Bible.

It is a sad fact of history that not many are following the "straight
path" to which people were called by Jesus. He was only followed by a
few disciples inspired by God to support him. The non-believers
plotted - as they would against Mohammed, six centuries later - to
kill Jesus. But God had better plan for him and his followers, as the
Quran tells us:

"And when Jesus perceived their unbelief, he said 'Who will be my
helpers in the cause of God? The apostles said, 'we are Gods helpers.
We believe in God; so bear witness of our submission God, we believe
in that you have sent down, and we follow the Messenger. Inscribe us
therefore with those who bear witness. 'And they devised, and God
devised, and God devised, and God is the best of divisors. When God
said, 'Jesus, I will take you to Me and will raise you to Me, and I
will purify you (of the falsehoods) of those who do not believe. I
will make your followers above the unbelievers till the Resurrection
Day."(Al-Imran 3:52-55)

As the above verses indicate, Jesus was taken and raised to heaven. He
was not crucified. It was certainly the plan of the enemies of Jesus
to put him to death on the cross, but God saved him and someone else
was crucified:

"And for their unbelief, and their uttering against Mary a grave false
charge, and for their saying, 'We killed the messiah, Jesus son of
Mary, the Messiah of God"…yet they did not slay him, neither crucified
him, only a likeness of that was shown to them. Those who are at
variance concerning him are surely in doubt the following of
conjecture; and they did not kill him of certainty…no indeed; God
raised him up to Him; God is Almighty, Allwise. There is not one of
the people of the book but will assuredly believe him before his
death, and on the Resurrection Day he will be a witness against
them." (An-Nissa 4:156-159)

The Quran does not explain who was the person crucified instead of
Jesus, nor elaborate on the Second Coming of Jesus. However,
explanators of the Quran have always interpreted the last verse of the
above quotation to mean that Jesus will believe in him before he dies.
This understanding is supported by authentic sayings (Hadith) of the
Prophet Mohammed may the peace and blessings of Allah him and upon all
His Messengers.

Holly said...

Arah, I've responded to your comment here: Evidence for Jesus, Son of God.