Resurrection is life after life after death

I expect to be resurrected one day because Jesus promised that, “…everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

But when I say I expect to be resurrected, I am not only saying I expect to live after the death of my physical body. I do expect this, but resurrection is more than life after death.

Resurrection is bodily life after life after death. It is postmortem existence stage two. In other words, I expect to return to identifiable bodily existence just as Jesus did.

Everyone should expect to be resurrected because Jesus also promised, “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

The last experience of life is death. It is the most certain thing in every person’s life. “There is a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). But death is not final. Some definitions for death use the word irreversible. One defines it as the irreversible cessation of organismic functioning. Another includes the irreversible loss of personhood.

Do these definitions oppose all forms of postmortem existence? Or, do they only deny the possibility of physical life after death? 

Six events of history remind us of how important the body is to God.

  1. Creation: God fashions the body from the dust of the earth
  2. Incarnation: God enters the body prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5)
  3. Resurrection (Christ’s and ours)
  4. Ascension: Jesus has bodily existence at the Father’s right hand
  5. Salvation: The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
  6. Glorification: Final redemption of the body (Romans 8 )

Most people expect some kind of life after death and also fear the possibility of postmortem accountability.

Yet how many really expect dead people to rise from the dead in actual bodies? Clearly the early disciples of Jesus did not expect his bodily resurrection. Despite his repeated predictions of his death and resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus crushed their hopes of a kingdom with Jesus as their king. The notion of a crucified Messiah (much less a resurrected one) was not part of their worldview. And, to be fair to them, the resurrection of Jesus is unparalleled in ancient near eastern religion.

But after the unavoidable evidence that Jesus had broken the power of death and was alive again, the disciples became bold witnesses and the Christian Church was born. Apart from the actual resurrection of Jesus, it would have been exceptionally strange for his dejected disciples to go everywhere spreading the message that Jesus had risen from the dead. They boldly announced to everyone that, “God raised him up putting an end to the agony of death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).

If this was only a self-fabricated story, there is no reasonable explanation for the birth and flourishing Christianity. And they didn’t go to some distant town to preach the resurrected Christ. They began announcing it in the very city where Jesus had been buried. Their message would not have lasted for one day if Jesus’ body were still in the tomb. The religious leaders who were eager to silence the message could have easily done so by revealing Jesus’ body.

Even more incredulous are theories about a stolen or resuscitated body. It is nonsense to suppose that the disciples got past a Roman guard, rolled a massive stone aside, unwrapped the grave cloths and restored Jesus’ body to health after crucifixion.

The first recorded witnesses to the resurrection were women. This is significant because a woman’s testimony was not credible in first century legal systems. Yet the documents telling the story don’t pander to the expectations of the times to make the story more plausible. The facts are presented as they happened.

The four gospels were written by and on behalf of eyewitnesses. They were circulated during the lifetimes of those who were alive at Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus’ body had still been in the tomb, these people could have easily discredited the accounts.

It is simply beyond imagination that Christianity and two thousand years of the legacy of Jesus would have flourished based on a resurrection hoax. I realize that other religions have flourished based on lies but most of those who embraced them did so under coercion. True Christianity is not spread by forced allegiance.

Certainty of death, judgment and resurrection

Scripture says. “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The Apostle John wrote, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:12-13).

Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17-18).

“Our 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 3:20-21).

“when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (I Corinthians 15:54). “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).

Steve Cornell

 

 

Evil and death are conquered!

As we approach the time of year when Christians focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we stand in awe of the way God chose for victory over evil and death. 

Take time to reflect on this great quote and the Scriptures and song of worship below:

“Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented” (Henri Blocher).

  • “For 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, NLT).
  • Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25, NLT).

Hope for the cynical

Dick Keyes, director of L’Abri Fellowship in Southborough, Massachusetts, unmasked the dark side of cynicism in his book, “Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion.  I highly recommend it.

“Cynicism,” Keyes wrote, “does not get the scrutiny it deserves…it has some privileged position that makes it immune to serious challenge.”

“In some groups, particularly those associated with media and higher education, cynicism seems to have the status of common sense or self-evident truth. It becomes the default setting of many conversations. We don’t think to question it when it is all around us.”

“Some embrace cynicism with pride and defiance. Others suffer from a cynicism that they do not want but feel forced to adopt by honesty. Still others fight against it with whatever they find handy, and far more drift into it by accident with little awareness of what has happened.”

But, as Keyes observed, “Attempts to escape our own internal cynical voices are not easy.” But escape we must escape—if—we are people who believe in Almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth. Yes, we must be honesty and discerning. We must strive to see through triviality, hypocrisy, flattery, evil agendas and false motives. We must not be gullible and susceptible to con-artistry and sentimental optimism. Yet, we dare not allow ourselves to become ridden with suspicions and hardened by cynicism.”

Faith and cynicism

“I should say a word about my own history with cynicism.” Keyes wrote. “It goes back as far as I can remember.  On a scale with cynicism at one end and sentimental optimism at the other, I have always been much closer to the cynicism pole. My instincts and internal voices have always gravitated toward suspicion when there is any doubt.”

“I became a Christian in my early twenties both because of my cynicism and in spite of it. “Unlike other worldviews that I had considered, I never felt the God of the Bible was asking me to put on rose-colored glasses. Even the heroes of the Bible were described unsparingly in appalling moral failures—lies, sexual aberrations and murders.”

“I did not have to give up the honesty and realism that I had valued. Cynicism claimed that the world— both inside and outside of our heads—was profoundly broken and bent. I realized that the Christian faith had been saying this for two-thousand years, and Judaism for longer than that” (Dick Keyes).

Get perspective

If we must choose between pessimism, realism and optimism, let’s choose “optimistic realism” based on the One who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). 

Steve Cornell

Top 5 Arguments against eternal punishment

Along with great emphasis on God’s love and mercy, Scripture presents God as the Judge who sends some people into hell.

Jesus warned his followers not to “… fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus referred to hell as a place where God sends people (Matthew 25:41,46).

The Bible doesn’t describe a pleasant end for those who reject God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. But what type of judgment falls on them?

Is it eternal suffering or eternal annihilation? Eternal in consequence or in duration? Part of the debate centers on whether ‘eternal’ is meant as a consequence (i.e. eternal punishment– not eternal punishing; the result being eternal destruction,) or as a duration (i.e. never ending, on going punishing).

Five arguments against eternal punishing

1. The fire is metaphoric

The late John R. W. Stott (a teacher I hold in highest regard on most subjects) suggested that, “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises forever and ever’ (Rev. 14:11; cf. 19:3)” (Evangelical Essentials, David Edwards, p. 316).

But how does this same approach apply to the burning bush of Exodus 3:2-3 which “burned with fire yet was not consumed”? Consistency of metaphor would lead one to think that smoke rising forever and ever indicates something is burning in the fire.

2. The matter of justice:

Sins committed in a finite realm should not suffer an eternal consequence. Justice demands punishment in proportion to the crime. This argument may sound appealing on the surface but it fails at the Cross of Christ. Why did the infinite, eternal God have to come and die for the sins of finite creatures? Sin against an infinite God is infinite in consequence. Are we implying that people can sufficiently pay the consequence of sin against God? I am sure we are incompetent judges of the penalty sin deserves.

“The Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace. Hell stands as a horrible witness to human defiance in the face of great grace” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 92).

“Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine (of hell), we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself” (Tim Keller).

3. Conditional immortality of the soul:

This is argued by the late Philip Hughes in The Image Restored, pp. 398-407. He taught that immortality belongs to God in the purest sense and to believers only through Christ (I Tim. 6:15-17; II Tim. 1:9f). This seems to be based on a limited understanding of death as total extinction of existence. But, if spiritual and physical death do not result in cessation of existence, why would the second death? (Eph. 2:1-3; Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:6; 14:21:8). Scripture does not equate death with non-existence. The evidence points in the opposite direction.

4. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable (and should not be considered a literal source of information)

This text is not identified as a parable, but even if it is parabolic in nature, treating it as an unreliable source ignores the one who is telling the story. Should we believe that Jesus Christ would use speculative imagery on such a serious matter? If this refers only to a temporary intermediate state ending in a judgment of annihilation, the judgment seems like it would be a welcomed end. This is clearly not the point Jesus is making.

5. The problem of eternal dualism:

Philip Hughes wrote: “With the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God’s reconciliation to himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death” (p. 406, The Image Restored).

The lake of fire is certainly not a Kingdom. Ongoing punishment itself would be a continuous testimony to the defeat of evil. The reality of victory over death secured by Christ is not threatened by hell (Heb. 2:14-16; I Cor. 15:54-55; Rev. 20:14; 21:4).

What does Scripture teach?

All humans will be resurrected (Jn. 5:28-29; Dan. 12:2; Acts 24:15); all will be judged by God (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 2:4-10; 14:10-12; Rev. 20:11-15), and all will be separated between two distinct eternal destinies (Mt. 25:32,41,36; Jn. 3:36; 14:1-3; Rev. 21:3-8).

Where people go after death

Theologian Millard Erickson offers a six-point answer to the question of where people go after death. His points are worthy of careful reflection.

  1. All humans are sinners, by nature and by choice; they are therefore guilty and under divine condemnation.
  2. Salvation is only through Christ and his atoning work.
  3. In order to obtain the salvation achieved by Christ, one must believe in Him; therefore Christians and the church have a responsibility to tell unbelievers the good news about Him.
  4. The adherents of other faiths, no matter how sincere their belief or how intense their religious activity, are spiritually lost apart from Christ.
  5. Physical death brings an end to the opportunity to exercise saving faith and accept Jesus Christ. The decisions made in this life are irrevocably fixed at death.
  6. At the great final judgment all humans will be separated on the basis of their relationship to Christ during this life. Those who have believed in Him will spend eternity in heaven, where they will experience everlasting joy and reward in God’s presence. Those who have not accepted Christ will experience hell, a place of unending suffering and separation from God (The Evangelical Mind and Heart).

Steve Cornell

See: Hell bound?

I will not remember your sins

You are living by the promise of I John 1:9 when you refuse to hold against yourself the sin God does not hold against you.

What is the promise? 

  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Reinforce this truth

  • “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness” (Psalm 131:3-4).
  • Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” (Psalm 32:2-3, NLT).
  • God said, “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).
  • Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:18-19).

Action point – Refuse to hold against yourself the sin God does not hold against you. 

Steve Cornell

Longing for a better world

As we honor those who served and currently serve the armed forces of our nation, I find myself longing for a world without the need for military.

Obviously this world will never be without such a need. But have you ever given serious thought to why our world is so filled with evil and violence? Why can’t people get along and relate peacefully with one another?

No, I am not getting ready to sing what the world needs now is love, sweet love. But the endless wars that make up so much of world history are a sad reminder of our fallen condition. And most people intuitively feel that things are not the way they were meant to be.

The human story is certainly more one of war than peace. Someone cynically suggested, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”

Telling our story requires contrasting terms between goodness and evil; love and hate; beauty and cruelty; life and death; even war and peace. Themes of dignity and depravity are relentlessly recurrent in all cultures – at all times throughout history.

There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to why things are this way. Most efforts to explain good and evil are either based on scientific reductionism or naïve utopianism. I have only found one source to be wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to speak to innate longings of the human heart for a better world.

The source I have found most helpful is popular but not well understood — even among those who feel surprisingly justified in rejecting it. Mere mention of this source in academic settings typically invokes condescending reactions. Those who take the source seriously are wrongly treated as unenlightened and narrow-minded. Yet those who react this way rarely offer thoughtful alternatives for the dilemma of good and evil.

The source I look to offers truths that range from simple and accessible, to complex and mysterious. It speaks to a child and challenges a scholar. It covers the physical and the metaphysical. It reaches both time and eternity. It tells us where we came from; why we’re here and what went wrong. It addresses universal longings for peace and goodness by revealing where to find hope for a better future. It speaks deeply to universal human needs for forgiveness, freedom, and peace.

It is the most widely circulated and best-selling book of history. It’s main character came from eternity to humble earthly circumstances and died a brutal death. His death, we are repeatedly told, was a redemptive sacrifice for all people.

He transformed countless individual lives and human history itself more than any other person who has lived. He introduced himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18). The source is the Bible and the main character is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ remains the most amazing person who ever lived on this planet. Although born in obscurity over 2,000 years ago, the world can’t escape his legacy and global influence. No individual comes close to the impact Jesus made on humanity.

Jesus Christ is so amazing that he can only be fully explained by use of terms that defy normal categories.  We need terms that reach beyond our reality and shatter many of our common assumptions. Jesus,

  • fulfilled ancient prophecies in his birth, life and death?
  • predicted his own death and resurrection?
  • claimed to exist before Abraham was born?
  • claimed the right to forgive sins?
  • claimed that he would be the judge of all people?
  • claimed eternal duration for his words?
  • claimed equality with God?
  • claimed the ability to give eternal life to those who believe on him?

He is too much for us to fully wrap our minds around. His existence demands a God who breaks in on the natural order. Jesus Christ is so extraordinarily unprecedented that he shatters our categories and demands our worship.

Some people find the central message about Jesus a bit difficult to accept because it involves exclusive claims about the only way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6). “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (I Timothy 2:6)

The sacrificial death of Jesus is repeatedly emphasized as something offered for the sins of the world, for all men; for the whole world (see: John 3:16,17; I John 2:1-2), but this inclusive demonstration of God’s love is the only way to be forgiven and accepted by God.

There is a better world coming where there will be no more war; no more need for military.

So while I give thanks for the faithful men and women who serve our nation, I long for “a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.’”

Heaven is our point of reference! Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But we must not stand gazing into heaven because there is work to be done for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will.

Steve Cornell

Get perspective!

It’s easy to lose perspective in a fallen world. Have you ever had a time when processing life became difficult? A time when you found it hard to keep a good and godly perspective?

There are many examples in Scripture of godly people who lost perspective about God and life.

Servants of God like Job (Job 3:10-13,16); Moses (Numbers 11:13-15); Elijah (I Kings 19:1-4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:1-10), all lost perspective so badly that they wanted to die.

Perspective (or how we choose to see things) can make a big difference in the quality of life.  We can’t always choose our circumstances but we can usually choose our perspective toward them.

Some life-controlling perspectives

1. Discouragement

Maybe you’re discouraged. Life has been hard and you’re having trouble seeing through your difficulties. Discouragement, at a deeper level, is a loss of perspective.

2. Negativity

Do you expect the worse to happen? Do tend to see the dark side of things first? Perhaps through setbacks or disappointments, you’ve even become very negative, cynical and sarcastic. You’re looking at life through the lens of pessimism but you feel like your just being realistic.

3. Anger

Are resentment and anger your primary lens for life? Perhaps you always have a slow burn under an outwardly pleasant veneer. Anger can erupt at any time and rule your life. Is anger an occasional disruption or the way you process most of life?

4. Complacency

Have you become complacent? Perhaps you’ve just stop caring because you feel that caring doesn’t help and often leads to hurt. Maybe you’ve drifted from God and you no longer take spiritual matters very seriously. 

5. Self-absorbed

Are you all about yourself? Is life about how you feel and what you want and you, you, you? Does it always have to be your way and about you?

All of these involve perspectives — ways of seeing things or construing life. What is your general outlook on life? Does you feel like your attitude is caught in a bad flight pattern? If you’re stuck in one of the perspectives above, you might need some counseling to help you move forward (some perspective sessions).

And please remember that your perspective not only affects you. All of those who must relate with you or who are under your influence are affected by your perspective.

How to keep a good and godly perspective

My recommendation for maintaining a good and godly perspective is as simple as it is profound. And it might change the way you approach the Bible and thus change your whole outlook on life in a way that conforms to God’s will.

We simply must recognize that all Scripture was given for perspective formation.

Consider what the Apostle Paul taught about the origin and role of Scripture: 

II Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true and
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong and
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

God’s Method

God’s method for changing you is that you “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Ephesians 4:23 describes it as being “made new in the attitude of your minds.” God is committed to changing your outlook, attitude or perspective! (cf. Philippians 2:3-5).

Romans 14:13 specifically challenges us regarding this:

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about (προνοιαν) how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” 

The italicized words in english come from a greek term which means “a pro-visionary way of thinking.” Another translation says, “make no provision for the flesh” (NASB). Another says, “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT)

To overcome sinful attitudes, perspectives and emotions, one must see things differently. One must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does an appropriation of Christ to one’s life (clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ) offer a different pro-visionary thinking? How does it provide a gospel-based outlook that counter-veils the wrong way of thinking?

Two Provisions from God

Perspective is often closely associated with personality or temperment. Transformation in this area doesn’t mean that we all become the same personality type or temperament, but that we all yield our personalities and temperaments to the transforming influences of two divine provisions:

  1. The Spirit inspired Word - all Scripture.
  2. The Spirit indwell community - the reinforcement of godly perspective through connection with our local Church.

Notice that the Holy Spirit is the agent of spiritual transformation (see, II Corinthians 3:18) and His two primary instruments are the Word (Scripture) and the Church — the community of believers (see, Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25).

We believe that Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself and His ways of dealing with His creatures. Apart from it, we’re reduced to subjective human opinion and speculation about God, life, suffering, death and eternity. We would have nothing that offers univocal and universal authority transcending human culture and opinion. We would have many human stories but no original story to shape perspective. The Bible provides this for us!

Of course, the Bible was not originally written to us – but it was all written for us. And it presents God’s dealings through different times of history — which means we do not apply all of it the same way. We must “rightly handle it” (II Timothy 2:15).

So when reading the Bible, some things relate specifically to the original recipients (and seem foreign and strange to us) —-but from the text emerges truths that transcend time and culture! (Examples: II Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-9; 4:16-18; 12:7-10; James 1:1-5).

When you enter the Bible, I am encouraging you to see it as a “perspective formation session with God.” Your personal devotions offer a time to get perspective or to maintain godly perspective. 

Again, all scripture is given for perspective formation.

Three unique perspectives 

What the Bible offers is different from positive thinking books or other material in that it confronts us with:

  1. Vertical truths for the horizontal issues of life
  2. Eternal truths for the temporal circumstances of life
  3. God-centered truths for the self-centered default mode of life.

The Bible also answers really important questions about origin, meaning, morality and destiny. 

Remember that behind actions, emotions, and attitudes are ways of thinking (perspectives) that fortify the actions, emotions, and attitudes.

Why do I do this? (you’re struggling with habits and actions). Why do I feel this way? (you’re struggling with emotions). What we need is counter-veiling ways of thinking (perspectives) to confront ways of thinking that hold us in destructive ways of life. This is the role the Bible fulfills.

Loss of perspective must be challenged by daily perspective forming sessions with God.                                        

Don’t try this alone

We cannot do this alone. God designed that we flourish in community not in isolation. We must allow others to speak into our lives to reinforce vertical, eternal, God-centered perspectives. The Church is God’s ordained place for this to happen. 

When we lose perspective, we’re tempted to travel in the company of those who share our outlook. “Misery likes company.” To maintain good and godly perspective, we need to travel with people who reinforce it (see: Hebrews 10:24). 

Steve Cornell

Meeting the God of all comfort

In a couple of weeks, I will speak at a conference on the theme “Meeting the God of all comfort in our trials.” My text will be the book of II Corinthians.

In the opening verses, we find an invitation to praise the God of all comfort.

“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).

I realize that trials take many forms, but when it comes to physical and emotional suffering, it’s easy to become accustom to faster solutions than previous generations experienced. Amazing advancements in science and medicine have strengthened our expectations for quick resolution to our pain.

But how do we respond when doctors are unable to accurately diagnose our condition? Do we become more impatient when we believe that technology and medicine should be able to get to the root of our needs?

What happens to us when we have unrealistic expectation for health and emotional happiness? Are we more easily disappointed and discouraged? And do our expectations of technology and science sometimes cloud our engagement with the God of all comfort? 

This kind of disposition toward suffering could also cause us lose touch with the considerable emphasis in Scripture on the role of sadness and suffering in life with God.

These are not theoretical issues for me. When my father (who recently passed away) came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis in his mid-thirties, I learned what it meant to carry a burden for a suffering loved one. I was only about 12 years old but it profoundly shaped my life. I learned so much about God’s sustaining grace and His redeeming power to bring good out of pain and suffering.

I continued to learn about the role of trials in a more personal way when I prepared for pastoral ministry. At the beginning of the journey, a pastor reminded me that those whom God uses greatly, He tests greatly. I had no idea at the time what this meant but now I understand. Further, as a pastor with almost 30 years in ministry, I have walked with many people through all kinds of trials and suffering. 

Some key Scriptures that have carried me: II Corinthians 1:3-114:16-18;12:1-10;James 1:2-9Psalm 62:8Proverbs 3:5-6

When faced with difficult and unexplainable trials, I look to the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles. I’ve learned to trust that suffering has a greater purpose even when I cannot see it. I pray with one eye on the back-story of human depravity and another (by faith) on our hope-filled expectation of the glorious end-story for forgiven sinners like me (see: Colossians 3:1-4). 

Normal Christian living involves groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

When God’s loved ones enter the place He has prepared for them, ‘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 21:1-6; John 14:1-3).

I find myself longing more and more for this day; for this place and for our God.

Steve Cornell

(See: The danger of hot tub religion)

Gospel centered prayer (with a great song)

All Your lovingkindness to me is in Your Son,
I bring Him to You by faith,
I honor His saving Name as the One who died for me.
I plead His blood to pay my debts of wrong.

I accept

    His worthiness for my unworthiness,
    His sinlessness for my transgressions,
    His purity for my uncleanness,
    His sincerity for my guile,
    His truth for my deceits,
    His meekness for my pride,
    His constancy for my backslidings,
    His love for my enmity,
    His fullness for my emptiness,
    His faithfulness for my treachery,
    His obedience for my lawlessness,
    His glory for my shame,
    His devotedness for my waywardness,
    His holy life for my unholy ways,
    His righteousness for my dead works,
    His death for my life.

O Lord God,

Teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies, and follows my salvation; that it sustains the redeemed soul, that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From the cross of Christ wave upon wave of grace reaches me,

  • deals with my sin,
  • washes me clean,
  • renews my heart,
  • strengthens my will,
  • draws out my affection,
  • kindles a flame in my soul,
  • rules throughout my inner man,
  • consecrates my every thought, word, work,
  • teaches me your immeasurable love. 
How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus!
-
  • Without him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast;
  • in him I draw near and feel his loving presence.
  • Without him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes;
  • in him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend.
  • Without him I hide my lips in fear and shame;
  •  in him I open my mouth in petition and praise.
  • Without him all is wrath and consuming fire;
  •  in him is all love, and rest for my soul.
  • Without him hell is open below me, and eternal anguish;
  • in him its gates are barred to me by his precious blood.
  • Without him darkness spreads its horrors in front;
  • in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.
  • Without him all within me is terror and dismay,
  • in him every accusation is turned into joy and peace.
  • Without him all things external call for my condemnation;
  • in him they minister to my comfort, and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving. 

I praise You for grace and for the unspeakable gift I have in Jesus Christ my Savior.

__________________________________________________________________

(adapted from ‘The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers,’ edited by Arthur Bennett)

Scriptures to strengthen you in the gospel

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (I John 4:10, 14).

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

Biologically based sadness

Church people are sometimes well-intentioned but hurtful when they approach all discouragement as a matter of simple obedience to the Lord.

Discouraged people often need words of encouragement and even admonishments. Yet we risk doing more harm than good if we always approach sadness and despair as merely matters of choice. Some kinds of sadness have physical causes that cannot be adequately managed by choosing to see things differently. Biologically based depression cannot be treated exactly the same way as intense normal sadness.

The following one-liners are sometimes thoughtlessly spoken to discouraged people:

  • “Just cheer up!”
  • “Don’t be so negative!”
  • “You have a lot to be thankful for!”
  • “Complaining is a sin!”
  • “Do you think God owes you a better life?”

The key to helping someone who is battling despair is to patiently ask caring questions about their struggles. Seek to understand the full picture before handing out advice. Don’t be too hasty to launch advice at people in ways that are not helpful and perhaps serve our egos more than their needs.

Please remember that the brain is perhaps the most complex human organ. A good friend of mine is a neurophysiologist and, more than once, I’ve consulted with him about the neurological challenges people experience. He fully affirms that (like all other organs), the brain doesn’t always function in health producing ways. Relatively recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience have provided hope for those who suffer with neurological issues like depression.

I am grateful for the medicines available to assist those who struggle with depression. And those who benefit from such medications must never be made to feel embarrassed about it. They are no different from those who take medications for deficiencies in other bodily organs. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, but woefully and tragically fallen.

Those who battle prolonged and debilitating depression that negatively affects their daily lives and relationships should be directed to seek medical counsel. They should also be encouraged to be open to the possibility of medicinal aid.

Yet medicinal aid must never be understood as the total solution to depression. We are more than bodies with physical needs. The other dimensions of our being (spiritual, emotional, psychological and social) must receive thoughtful attention in our battle for health. A holistic approach respects all the dimensions of personhood created by God.

Steve Cornell

See also: