Breaking glass at the wedding

jewish-wedding-breaking-glassIf you’re unfamiliar with Jewish weddings, it might catch you by surprise at the end of the ceremony when the groom steps on a thin glass wrapped in a napkin — smashing it under his foot.

I wish this breaking of the glass tradition was included in every wedding. It offers a very important reminder that where there is rejoicing, there should be trembling. This idea is based on Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

According to the history of the tradition, breaking the glass served to encourage sobriety and balanced behavior. One Rabbi said, “A wedding should not be sheer undisciplined merriment, and the breaking of expensive glass stunned the guests into tempering their cheerfulness. The ceremony serves, then, to attain tempered emotions.”

The custom could be used as a vivid object lesson to teach us that even in times of great joy and celebration we must also realize life and marriage will not always be easy. There will be times of difficulty,  sadness and sorrow. It serves to remind the couple and all who are present at the wedding of how fragile life and relationships can be.

The breaking of a glass is also reflects the Talmud’s assertion that, “joining two people in marriage is as difficult as splitting the sea.” On a more humorous note, another Rabbi suggested that it might be the last time the groom gets to put his foot down.

Our Church services

I thought of the breaking of the glass in light of Christian Church services where so much emphasis is placed on everything being “wonderful” and “great” and “amazing.” Do we strain to present ourselves in such positive terms that we give a one-sided view of reality? More importantly, how does our emphasis fit with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the following verses?

  • Matthew 6:34 – “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
  • John 15:20 – “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also”.
  • John 16:33 – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • Acts 14:21-22 – “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Evidently instruction about hardships, trials and suffering was part of the core curriculum of disciple making. It was presented as something normal to life and especially to the Christian life.

Cultural shift

Do we now live in cultures that encourage unrealistic expectations of uninterrupted happiness? I find it troubling when the Church strains to paint everything in such positive terms that believers are shocked and perhaps disillusioned by trials and suffering.

I appreciate the way one writer approached this truth:

“We need to develop the wisdom for living a life that is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accept the fact that it sometimes doesn’t feel good to be a Christian….” “many people believe God’s main job is to make us feel good about ourselves and remain happy on our journey…”

“In this approach to following Jesus, there is no place for ambiguity, tension, struggle or any sense of anxiety. It’s a lot easier to believe that abundant life comes without pain and struggle. This mentality, however, directly opposes the type of self-denying life Jesus lived (Luke 22:42), and the inward dying and external pain Paul wrote about (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Romans 5:3-5)” (By Zac Northen).

Hardships and Hope

Believers face sorrow like all people — but we do not sorrow like those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13). We have access to the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles (II Corinthians 1:3-4). And we are encouraged to count is all joy when facing trails of many kinds (James 1:2-5). We also eagerly await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

One day “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He 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” (Revelation 21:3-4). But until that day comes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

Do our gatherings reflect the tension of these truths? Are we equipping young people and new believers to understand the place of hardships and suffering in a context of hope? I get the desire to be positive but let’s not allow ourselves to be artificial or even dishonest in leaving out important truths that God has graciously revealed.

Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

Steve Cornell

God is an active presence during our suffering

“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” Do you agree with these words? They express a dark outlook spoken in a season of grief.

These are the words of the ancient patriarch, Job. But many echo his sentiment. Many feel that life is short and full of problems.

It’s important to realize that being a Christian does not erase the challenges and troubles of this life. It’s tempting for us as Christians to think that being a Christian should minimize our troubles. After all, we have God with us! Shouldn’t He protect us from hardships? Shouldn’t life be easier?

Jesus said, “In this world you shall have trouble” (John 16:33). Paul reminded new believers in Antioch that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

But trouble and hardship cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35). “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (Nahum 1:7

No stranger to hardship

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to trouble and hardship. In fact, from the beginning he was marked out for these experiences by the Lord Jesus himself. At Paul’s conversion, the Lord said in Acts 9:15-16, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

The most comprehensive list of Paul’s hardship and suffering is found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.

Comfort for those who suffer

One of the main themes of 2 Corinthians is God’s comfort in the midst of affliction and suffering. This particular theme reaches all people because we all go through hardships and difficulties. We all suffer. Some members of the church (like Paul) are called on to suffer more than others. But we can all expect to make strong connections with 2 Corinthians as the truths of this letter reach into our experiences and teach us about the way God relates to our sufferings.

The primary occasion for an emphasis on God’s comfort and purposes in suffering was the accusation by Paul’s opponents in Corinth—claiming that Paul’s suffering calls into question his ministry and apostleship.

Of course, it is an ancient accusation suggesting that a person’s hardship is a clear sign of God’s displeasure. But in this case, it was being used to accomplish a very evil and subversive purpose of discrediting God’s apostle with the intention of taking his place of leadership in the church at Corinth.

So Paul opens his letter praising God for the very thing his opponents are using to discredit his ministry. For Paul, as it should be for all of us:

God is an active presence in the midst of trouble, hardship and suffering.

II Corinthians 1:3-4 bring us a very God-centered focus for our troubles.

  • Verse 3 focuses on who God is.
    • “He is the God of all comfort”
  • Verse 4a focuses on what God does.
    • “Who comforts us in all our troubles”
  • Verse 4b focuses on God’s purpose in what he does.
    • “So that we can comfort those in any trouble”

God calls us into His school of comfort where we study His ministry of comfort to us so that we can be equipped to be His agents of comfort to others.

Our God is so personal that He meets us in our troubles and comforts us through them. The people who know God can say with great confidence, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It’s a very personal relationship. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, I can say, (Psalm 23:4) “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The apostle is directing us to be students of divine comfort as God is preparing us for ministries of comfort.

Steve Cornell

Good advice for adult children of divorce

In his helpful book, “Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How your marriage can succeed even if your parents’ didn’t,” Dr. John Trent suggested that adult children of divorce (ACOD) face daunting challenges in both life and marriage.

“Statistically, studies have shown that children of divorce suffer from more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of rejection, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, poor inter-personal relationships, and criminality than children from intact homes. Sixty-five percent of children from divorced families will never build a good post-divorce relationship with their fathers. Thirty percent will be unable to build a good post divorce relationship with their mothers”

Most ACOD are resolved to have strong and lasting marriages. But, as Dr. Trent says, they live with a “nagging fear that your marriage will fail — just as your parents’ marriage did.”

As an ACOD himself, Dr. Trent offers 10 helpful points for people who never had the benefit of seeing a loving, committed marriage modeled for them.  If you suffered wounds when your parents’ marriage ended that make it difficult for you to trust other people, and even God, despite these struggles, Dr. Trent  encourages you not to think that you’re doomed to divorce. You can break the cycle and build a healthy marriage.” Share his advice with others.

  1. Embrace the love that will never abandon you. Understand that, while people might let you down, God will come through for you. Accept the love that He offers you —unconditional love that you can count on, no matter what. If you haven’t already, begin a relationship with God through Christ. Make it a top priority to build a closer relationship with God each day. [If you need further direction on this issue go to our web site. There you’ll find a number of web links to ministries and organizations, like NEED-HIM, where you can find answers.]
  2. Know that you have a choice. Recognize that you aren’t a powerless victim. Know that what happened to your parents doesn’t have to happen to you, and that you aren’t a slave to your past. Decide to choose to respond to your circumstances in ways that will lead to a positive future.
  3. Face your fears. Take your fears out of the dark (lurking in your imagination) and bring them into the light by talking about them openly with your spouse. Pray about them specifically rather than just worrying about them. Seek and accept help from a close friend or a professional counselor to confront stubborn fears.
  4. Focus on positives instead of negatives. Ask God to renew your mind and help you reprogram your thinking about your marriage and life in general so you’re more positive than negative. Write several lists: one that lists ways you and your spouse are not like your parents, one that lists ways your marriage is not like your parents’ marriage, and one that lists your spouse’s strengths and positive attributes. Then post your lists in prominent places in your home or car where you can see them every day to remind you.
  5. Take small steps toward a big difference. Don’t worry about trying to make huge strides of progress in a short time; recognize that that is unrealistic. But be encouraged that making small, steady steps toward breaking bad habits and establishing good ones will eventually lead to a significantly more positive life for you. Focus on one issue at a time and keep stepping out as God leads you to do so.
  6. Find an accountability partner. Ask God to lead you to someone who will hold you accountable as you make changes for the better in your life. Consider a friend, family member, clergy person, or counselor. Meet with your accountability partner regularly to honestly share your thoughts, feelings, and recent behaviors. Know that support from a relationship like this can be a great source of encouragement and help to you.
  7. Seek professional help when you need it. If you aren’t making progress on your own in dealing with tough issues, don’t hesitate to get help from a professional counselor. Schedule some strategic sessions so the counselor can coach you through the issues. Realize that just a few short meetings can benefit you.
  8. Rely on God’s power rather than your own. Don’t try to wrestle with your struggles on your own. Instead, invite God to work in and through you, empowering you to handle everything that comes your way. Trust that whenever you ask for His help, He will respond —day by day, and moment by moment.
  9. Find a healthy marriage model. Look around for couples who have healthy marriages, and choose one to ask if you can build a friendship with them and study how they interact with each other. Know that observing a good example of marriage can give you: hope that marital commitment can endure for a lifetime, the expectation that commitment will endure for a lifetime, specific ways to relate to your spouse in healthy ways and build up your marriage, and ways to resolve conflicts without destroying your relationship with your spouse.
  10. Pass on blessings to the children around you. Decide that, even though you learned some unhealthy lessons growing up yourself, you will do all you can to be a good example to your own children and others (such as nieces, nephews, and friends of your children). Remember that children you encounter on a regular basis are constantly watching you, listening to you, and learning from your life.

“In candid and age-appropriate ways, show children how to communicate openly and honestly, be proactive and take initiative, make good choices, put the needs of others before their own, make and keep commitments, ask for and offer forgiveness, relate to and draw strength from a loving God. Ask yourself every day what kind of lessons the children around you are learning from your example, and what kind of legacy you’ll leave to future generations.” (Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How Your Marriage Can Succeed Even If Your Parents’ Didn’t, by John Trent).

Steve Cornell

Did I commit the unforgivable sin?

I’ve been asked many times what Jesus meant when he spoke of an unforgivable sin.

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31).

It’s interesting that the people who approach me with concern about committing the unpardonable sin focus so much on the second part of the verse and miss the amazing promise Jesus gave in the first part. Think about it. “And so I tell you (or “therefore I say to you”) every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.”

Amazing! EVERY sin and blasphemy…

This is a great promise! There are many different sins and blasphemies. The only exception Jesus admits to this extensive promise is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

Many teachers believe that this particular act could only occur under the public ministry of Jesus. It’s viewed as a direct rejection of the ministry of Jesus by ascribing His work to Satan.

Whatever else this involved, it included an ultimate hardening of one’s heart against the person and ministry of Jesus. I assure people that a clear sign you have not committed this sin is a deep concern that you may have committed it. This means that those who have come to me deeply troubled by even a possibility of having blasphemed against the Holy Spirit are not the kind of people who blaspheme against the Spirit. 

Now we return to the opening promise: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven…” Do you understand why the apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9)?

Remind yourself often of our forgiving God

    • “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.” (Psalm 131:3-4)
    • “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9).
    • “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
    • “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
    • “He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
    • Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
    • “… through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).
    • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7)

Steve Cornell

A Sure and Contagious Hope

This world has a way of turning on us when we try to make it our home. It disappoints and frustrates us. It cannot offer what is necessary to quench the deepest longings of our hearts. It leaves us with a sense that we were made for something better, something more. We cannot escape a nagging feeling that things are not the way they were meant to be or ought to be. 

Not everyone experiences this dissatisfaction with the same intensity. Endless distractions and unfinished bucket lists easily suppress the feeling that everything might be “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). But as we fight against the feeling that dust we are and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19), we soon realize that all our pursuits and projects in this life must come to an end.

Something almost always comes along to shatter our dreams and raise the age old question of meaning. Even the person with shallow assumptions will feel the uncertainty and insecurity of life in a finite world.

“Happiness based on worldly security alone is endlessly vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which may come in the form of illness or inflation or the loss of a loved one. There are all manner of threats to the meaning of our lives both internal and external which can conspire to destroy it if it is inadequately grounded” (Clark Pinnock).

Even our hope in Christ is not adequate if it is “only for this life we have hope in Christ.” Such a narrow and limited hope would mark us as “people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19).

Christian faith offers a structure of deeper meaning based upon the unalterable love of God the Father. With the apostle Paul, we say, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Faith in Christ secures for us a “citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:19-21).

Christians locate their hope not in a religion but in a personal Savior, in Jesus Christ (I Timothy 1:1). This hope inspires us to press on in the face of distressing and discouraging circumstances. The wonderfully deep mystery we experience now is Christ in us, “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

We share in the “hope of eternal life” and are designated by God, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2;3:7); those who have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

But this great hope requires patience. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

What a treasure it is that, “….through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Finally, our hope is meant to be contagious — especially when it appears to lack circumstantial reason. This was the case for the persecuted Christians who were encouraged to “set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts” and to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). Are people attracted to your hope? 

Reaching for hope that is larger than this world is intuitive to humans and reminds us that we were made for more than this life? “Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story” (Robert Roberts).

Steve Cornell

Discouragement – a “dis” on courage

Discouragement is a “dis” on courage! Have you ever thought about it that way? It’s a loss of courage, confidence or hope. Discouragement includes some degree of fear. 

The word “courage” is part of the word “discourage.” It’s like the word disheartened (a “dis” on heart or a loss of heart). Don’t let life “dis” on your courage or heart! 

Why do our words need prefixes and suffixes?

When we rebelled against God’s good plan for us, our existence required prefixes and suffixes to negate otherwise good words. Dis -courage, dis-obedience, dis -able, dis -agree, dis -advantage… Faith-less, hope-less, etc…

We must come to see sin as something that not only disobeys God’s will but also spoils the good and corrupts worthy virtues. Discouragement assaults and spoils courage.

This is why we need exhortations like the one to “….. stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58).

Like Joshua, we need to hear God saying, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Sometimes, (with sensitivity), discouraged people need gentle but firm admonishment about a loss of perspective that leads to a loss of courage.

Discouragement is more than a feeling. It involves a loss of wider life perspective. It narrows life down by discounting things that count. Courage is necessary for life in a fallen world. It helps us see things more honestly and positively. It fortifies us to tackle the work of everyday living.

“Despondency has a way of selectively focusing on certain aspects of life and conveniently overlooking others. Despair is always colorblind; it can only see the dark tints” (David A. Hubbard).

Discouragement wants to blind me to all the encouraging little things in life. I need to be admonished to, ““Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

And sometimes I allow discouragement to derail my prayers so that I focus prayer so much on obstacles and challenges that I fail to give thanks for many great little ways God is working.

The way out of the dark tunnel of despair is not always a change of circumstance but a change of perspective. The humble worship of repentance (over my ingratitude) leads me to the worship of gratitude and frees me from the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety that so often accompany discouragement.

It’s easy to be misunderstood when you need to discourage the discouraged. People will sometimes accuse you of causing them more discouragement. But we cannot adequately encourage those who have lost perspective without discouraging them from a frame of mind that binds them to their discouragement. (Read it again).

Sometimes we can’t shake our discouragement because we don’t feel God is caring for us as we believe He should. When we feel down we often lock ourselves more deeply into our feelings with wrong ways of thinking. We bury ourselves more deeply into discouragement by listening to ourselves instead of speaking truth to ourselves. Part of the cure is to begin to think differently based on God’s truth and hope-filled promises (see: Spiritual Depression).

The primary New Testament Greek word translated “encourage” is “parakaleo” and means to call alongside. The word was used in a military context to call for reinforcements. Encouragement (like an encourager) functions as a reinforcement for life — a boost to our courage!

Offering encouragement is a means of giving courage, hope and confidence to others. It’s usually in the form of verbal affirmation, comfort, and exhortation. We need encouragement as part of the cure for discouragement. But sometimes our need is not merely to hear words of positive reinforcement. 

Getting out of the fog of despondency often requires a little loving admonishment. Caring friends will cross this line with love and sensitivity when they sense we need a better perspective. But we must allow people with mature perspective to have this kind of access to us. (For building larger perspective: Counseling the whole person).

Steve Cornell

Suffering in silence

They try to force themselves to appear cheerful as they struggle to survive. But, under the surface, life feels anything but happy as they suffer in silence, shame and confusion.

This was the story for a bright university student who attended our Church. She appeared to be happy and was eager to participate in Church activities. But inwardly she was fighting a losing battle with turmoil, fear, confusion and depression.

As she slowly weakened in her efforts to maintain control, she hesitantly agreed to the recommendation of a friend that she should meet with me to talk about her struggles. In this meeting, she finally gained the necessary courage to tell me a story that she had kept to herself until that point. She had been sexually molested by a family member when she was a little girl and, to my surprise, I was the first person to hear her painful story.

This began a challenging yet essential path to healing and rebuilding. Today she is doing well and able to help others facing similar circumstances.

A time to learn

Several years before this encounter, I was taking a graduate course in pastoral psychology and I impatiently asked myself, “Why do we have to spend a whole section on sexual abuse?” We even had to read a book about it and listen to a guest lecturer. Although I knew little about the subject, I didn’t expect to encounter very often. I was very wrong — and very humbled by God’s grace in equipping an impatient pastor.

Over the next couple of decades, I counseled more people dealing with a history of sexual abuse than I ever imagined. I’ve also repeatedly recommended the book I was assigned in the class. I remain humbled by the kindness of God to equip me to help those struggling to overcome the life-debilitating effects of sexual abuse.

During my graduate class, my eyes were opened to a world of darkness that holds many victims in silent pain. The more we learned about the issue, the more my heart grew heavy for the victims of such evil. 

Most of my counseling has focused on those who were sexually abused as children by family members. They come to me as adults who are struggling to live normal lives. They battle feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Since their abuse included manipulation and force, they long to feel a sense of security and control. They often substitute excessive and controllable behaviors to feel a sense of normalcy. Extreme exercise and dieting are two examples. Yet they easily spiral out of a sense of control. Inability to function and overall lack of motivation can inexplicably grip them.

It’s not unusual for survivors to experience significant loneliness, loss of appetite and need for unusual amounts of sleep. Mood swings plague those battling the grip of sexual abuse. Unusual gregariousness can give way to unexplainable depression and crying. Other waves of emotion include self-hatred, panic attacks, irrational phobias, guilt, shame, overall sense of humiliation, unexplainable anger and rage, lack of normality and a feeling of being trapped.

Survivors of sexual abuse sometimes turn to other forms of abuse to escape their pain. Obsessive behaviors rang from alcohol and drug abuse to sexual addictions and promiscuity. Sometimes victims engage in self-mutilation and battle suicidal thoughts.

Without help from a caring friend, most victims don’t recognize how badly they’ve been affected. They tend to suppress the past to survive in the present. Victims often conceal their pain and keep others at a distance. Relationships don’t come easily to these adults. Trust, one of main chords of healthy relating, feels out of reach because of their experience of betrayal. Yet they long for close relationships as much as they fear them. They fear that allowing someone to become a caring friend will cause suppressed feelings to emerge. Vulnerability is risky but necessary for gaining freedom.

Marriage and sexual abuse

Those who enter marriage relationships without first addressing their history of sexual abuse rarely do well. To flourish in marriage requires vulnerability, transparency and trust — painfully difficult qualities for victims of sexual abuse. Marriage can also provide a helpful context for recovery and renewal through the love and devotion of a spouse. But it typically requires assistance from a wise counselor.

The person who marries a victim of sexual abuse is often surprised by the effects of the abuse. It’s not uncommon for the mate of a victim to feel frustrated, confused and helpless. Making matters worse, they typically interpret the behavior of the victim as a personal affront when they don’t know the source. When victims put up walls or shut down their emotions, their mates often interpret it as rejection or personal failure.

The intimacy and closeness of marriage requires a level of vulnerability survivors feel unable to give. Adults who are victims of child sexual abuse must seek wise counsel if they want to enjoy healthy relationships.

Overcoming the past

The only thing we can change about the past is how we allow it to effect us in the future. One victim of abuse expressed her pursuit of freedom as a refusal to tie her soul to her abuser. As hard as it will be, victims must courageously acknowledge their pain and confront their past.

The path to freedom requires dealing with the past but the most formidable obstacle is often fear. Those who have been abused should remember that they have been victimized by the evil actions of others. They must reject self-blame and all blame that others try to project on to them. Although difficult, they must reject the powerful emotions of shame, guilt and fear that hold them in bondage.

The book I was assigned to read, “A Door of Hope: Recognizing and Resolving the pains of Your Past” by Jan Frank, emphasizes the importance of confronting your past. As Jan Frank explains, this must also involve some form of confrontation of the abuser. After counseling others through this painfully necessary process, I know with certainty that the freedom awaiting the victim is worth the challenge of confronting the past.

Relating to God

Relating to God is another difficultly for victims of sexual abuse. “How can I trust God if He didn’t protect me when I was vulnerable?” they ask. It is hard to fully understand how God’s control relates to the evil actions of people. And these kinds of questions mixed with feelings of worthlessness and anger combine to obstruct faith in God. Such hesitations and struggles must not be treated lightly. Scripture reminds us to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22).

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse need merciful and wise guidance to help them in their struggle to trust God. They especially need help to understand the difference between forgiveness of their offender and reconciliation. See here. 

Many others (like the student who entered my office) have walked this path. It is possible to know the joy of freedom from bondage to a painful past.

Steve Cornell

Nothing wasted

 

God doesn’t ignore or waste our suffering. After each of the following Scriptures, make a list of the purposes accomplished through suffering. Then talk to God about what you learned.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (II Corinthians 1:8-9).

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (II Corinthians 12:7-9).

leaning into grace,

Steve Cornell

* Other Scriptures: James 1:2-5; Psalm 23:4; 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-6.

Confused about God in a world of suffering

What kind of God do we serve? Does he care about how bad things are on the earth?

The way God revealed himself 

God entered our mess through the life of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3,14; Colossians 1:29). When Jesus walked on earth, he suffered in many ways as we do. On one occasion, Jesus wept over the grave of His dear friend (John 11:34-36), even though he knew he would raise him from the dead (John 11:38-44).

Our merciful Lord can empathize with the feelings of our trials and suffering (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16). But does the Lord continue to weep over graves? Should we think of God in these terms?

Early in human history, the compassionate heart of God was revealed when, “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).

If we only think of God in terms of His sovereignty, we might miss His heart. Of course, God would not be worthy of the title if He did not posses ultimate and final authority over all things. This means (among other things) that God is free to act as He chooses in alleviating suffering or restraining evil or lifting the restraints on evil and evil beings. But God’s sovereign authority over every molecule of life should never be thought of in a way that impugns Him for the evil actions of other beings (James 1:13-17). 

Saddened but not Surprised

While God is deeply saddened by evil, suffering and death, He is never surprised, shocked or “caught off guard.” Sometimes God chooses to restrain evil but, on other occasions, He allows evil to violate His moral will and break His heart. The most dramatic example of this occurred “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).

Jesus was “heard by God because of his reverent submission” yet “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21). God the Father let His Son go to a brutal death at the hands of wicked creatures — even as Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46

The point we must understand is that it’s not enough to think of God in terms of sovereignty and absolute authority. While we should look to God for guidance and protection in this evil world, we must do so recognizing that God never promised that we will not be affected by evil in this life. Nor does God force His moral will on those who reject it. One day everything will conform to God’s moral will under His judgment. When this day comes, Scripture clearly emphasizes that, “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” (Revelation 21:4).

In our efforts to understand how God relates to the evil actions of humans (or even to His own acts of judgment), we must make some important distinctions concerning God’s will. We must learn to think in terms of God’s sovereign, moral and dispositional will. If we look only at God’s sovereign will, our understanding will be inadequately based on selective parts of His revelation of himself in Scripture.

God has also offered us a window into His heart or His inner most intentions — His dispositional will. 

Looking at God’s heart

II Peter 3:9 reminds us of how “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Obviously this refers to something other than the sovereign will or predetermined plan of God because some people will perish. This tells us that God does not desire that people perish – even though, in His judgment, He must cause some to perish (cf. John 3:16-18,36).

A classic statement making this distinction is found in Ezekiel 33:11 – “‘As I live,’ declares the Lord, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ ” (c.f. Lam. 3:33a).

God made deeply moving pleas for human repentance that offer a window into His heart:

“‘Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,’ declares the Lord God. `Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God, `Therefore, repent and live'” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

We see this emphasis also in the writings of the apostle Paul: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” ( I Timothy 2:3-4).

What others have taught

“All things being equal, God does desire that no one perishes, but all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness be vindicated. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the personal application of it” (R.C. Sproul, Following Christ, pp. 217-18).

“Despite everything it (Scripture) says about the limitless reaches of God’s sovereignty, the Bible insists again and again on God’s unblemished goodness. `The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all His deeds’ (Ps. 145:17). `His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He’ (Deut. 32:4).” (D.A. Carson).
Wait just a minute!

One might be inclined to ask, “If God is sovereign and He desires that all be saved and none perish, why doesn’t God simply decree what He desires?” An absolutely sovereign God could have decreed a world without the possibility of sin. So why is the world the way it is?

Remember these four truths

First, when God created the earth and gave it to humanity, He declared all He provided to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 

Secondly, the apostle Paul wrote, “For by one man sin entered the world and death by sin…” (Rom. 5:12).

Thirdly, God has decreed a world without the possibility of sin and suffering – the new heavens and new earth. “Nothing impure will ever enter it” (Rev. 21:27;Rev. 21:3-5; II Pet. 3:13). Only those who have confessed with their mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead will enter this perfect world.

Finally, Scripture emphasizes that those who reject God’s provision; those who choose not to believe in Christ come under God’s wrath (John 3:16-18, 36). This reveals the extent of God’s respect for human responsibility (cf. Josh. 24:14-15), but also provides hope for those who are too young or unable to make this kind of decision.

For those of us who are able to respond, Scripture warns against taking the kindness of God lightly.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:4-6).

Scripture also reminds us that God is willing to judge evil but restrains His wrath so that more people might come to salvation.

“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22-23).

Wrap up

We ought to recognize with humble gratitude that if God operated this world on a principle of immediate justice, we all would be doomed (Romans 3:10, 23).

We can avoid unnecessary confusion about God and gain strength to hold on to the hope given to us by understanding the various dimensions of God’s will revealed in Scripture.

We certainly don’t want to be like Job’s three friends to whom God said, “I am angry with you … for you have not spoken accurately about me,…” (Job 42:7-8).

Steve Cornell

Mind, emotions and the gospel

“Human life is fundamentally a life of the mind. The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life.” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, p. 26).

Mind and emotions

Emotions are based on concerns. They arise because one cares about something that gives occasion to certain feelings.

Emotions are deeply connected to how one chooses to construe her circumstances in a matter related to a real concern. A construal – is an interpretation of the meaning of something; a way of viewing or a perspective on a situation, experience, or person.

Emotions and construals

  • To feel indignant is to choose to see myself or someone close to me as intentionally injured by someone in a matter of some concern to myself.
  • Becoming angry with someone necessarily involves construing him as obnoxious, offensive, or some such thing.
  • To feel despair is to see my life, which I deeply desire to be meaningful, as holding nothing, or nothing of importance to me.
  • To feel envious is to see myself as losing against some competitor in a competition on which I am basing my self-esteem.
  • To feel guilty is to see myself as having offended against a moral or quasi-moral standard to which I subscribe.

How to dispel emotion

“Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some ‘terms,’ to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms.”

Control over emotions

“It is important to Christians that emotions are partially within people’s control, that they can be commanded. Scripture commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When Scripture reminds us that love is not jealous, or irritable, or resentful it seems to assume that these feelings are broadly within the control of the reader. Being resentful is not like being five foot six or having congenitally bad teeth.” (R. Roberts, p. 21).

Emotions and the Gospel

The ‘terms’ of the Christian emotions are provided by the Christian story, there is a necessary connection between the Christian emotions and the Christian story” (Ibid. p. 21)

“The gospel message provides people with a distinctive way of construing the world: the Maker of the universe is your personal loving Father and has redeemed you from sin and death in the life and death and resurrection of His son Jesus. You are a child of God, destined along with many brothers and sisters to remain under his protection forever and to be transformed into something unspeakably lovely” (Ibid., p. 16).

  • To experience peace with God is to view God as a reconciled enemy.
  • To experience hope is to see one’s own future in the eternity of God’s kingdom,
  • To be Christianly grateful is to see various precious gifts, such as existence, sustenance, and redemption, as bestowed by God.

Not our whole story

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else—that it is all directed toward a higher end” (Roberts).

Steve Cornell