Sometimes we read the book of Job in the Bible and think that the message is that we can’t know or understand why there’s suffering; we just need to trust God and not try to figure it out. But, I think there’s a broader message that encourages us to strive forward in seeking rather than sit back in silence.

Near the end of the story, God humbled Job and his “comforters” — putting them in their place by letting them know that they know relatively nothing. God didn’t provide answers as they probably hoped He would. But, He did provide perspective, His sovereignty, and Himself. He offered Himself up to be trusted.

Perhaps Job and the others didn’t get all of the answers they were looking for, but they got all of what God offered up, and that’s no small thing. That’s not God being condescending; that’s God being God. There’s only so much our limited minds can grasp, and God is gracious in light of that.

But, wait — there’s more. God does provide one important answer in Job 42:7. And, it’s not just an answer; it’s an invitation for them to keep wrestling with the issue. “The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.’” God didn’t participate in a Q&A session as they might have liked, but He did affirm what Job claimed to be true about God. That says a lot. Perhaps God’s response can be summed up this way: You have such an incredibly long way to go in knowledge and understanding, but Job has taken a step in the right direction. Keep going in that direction.

For all of the answers we think we have, we still know relatively nothing. Granted. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t ask, seek, and knock. It’s important, though, whom we ask, what we seek, and which door we knock on.

Let’s remember what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-11. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened. What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

When we ask God, when we seek Truth (who is God), and when we knock on His door, He will give us as much as we can take in at once. We’d be foolish to ask, seek, and knock only once.

God didn’t tell Job and the others to shut up because they know nothing and can’t possibly know anything. He told them that what Job knew was a drop in the bucket, and He graciously affirmed that little drop of knowledge.

We’re maturing children with a loving Father. We learn as we grow. If we’re growing in God, we know and understand more than we did a year ago. Five years from now — if we continue to ask, seek, and knock — we’ll know and understand more than we do now. We never “arrive” because God alone has unlimited knowledge and comprehension. But, throughout eternity, we’ll know and understand more and more. That will be one of the gifts of everlasting life.

I met a “new” neighbor on my walk this morning. Charlotte’s a lovely lady in her 90s. She gave me a tour of her property, and we chatted about family (she and her husband have 13 children between them), music (she plays the baritone ukulele), art (she paints beautifully), politics (we’re appalled and inspired by the same things), and snowshoeing (we both can’t get enough of it).

I told her that “Charlotte” is my favorite name and that it’s the name of the lead character in the book I’m writing. She asked me what it’s about. I didn’t want to go into the whole “death and hell” thing for a couple of reasons. First of all, while it’s a significant portion of the book, that’s not really what the book is about. Second, I thought that the main point of the book was far more likely to be common ground between us.

I told Charlotte that the title is The Beginning and the End of Suffering. So many people wonder why there’s suffering in the world, especially when there’s supposedly an all-powerful and loving God. My book seeks to explain why there’s suffering and to share the hope that, one day, suffering will end; the universe will be restored to the suffering-free zone that it was to begin with.

Here’s where I got a surprise: Charlotte’s on a different page. She told me that she believes in evolution and that suffering is a necessary part of existence. She doesn’t appear to believe what I do about God creating a perfect world that became cursed by sin when Adam rebelled.

The experience taught me a couple of things. First, I shouldn’t presume to know what someone believes; they might surprise me. Second, here’s the safest common ground to appeal to: Suffering needs to end. Even if I’m wrong that there will be an end to suffering one day, I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone who doesn’t agree with me that suffering has to go. Suffering is our common enemy. It needs to stop.

I’m sure I’ll see Charlotte again, and I want to know more. When we have more time, I want to listen to her story. I want to hear what she believes and why she believes it. I’d like to know about her fears and her hopes.

I didn’t get much exercise on my walk today, but I got so much more.

For several weeks, many people thought the investigation into the University of Idaho murders was nowhere. Some thought that the investigators were inept or not working hard enough. It appeared that they didn’t even have any suspects.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we hear they’ve arrested someone for the murders. Now, we’re starting to see what was going on behind the scenes, and it appears that the investigators have been doing a fine job all along.

Michael Caine once said, “Be a duck. Remain calm on the surface, and paddle like hell underneath.” That’s great advice, and it reminds us that we rarely see the whole picture. Not only should we be ducks, but we should remember that we’re looking at ducks. There’s more than meets the eye.

Hold Out for the Whole Picture

If you think that God isn’t there, please think again. If you think that God is indifferent, think again. If you think that God is weak, think again. If you don’t see God doing anything in this world or in your life, please don’t assume that you see and know and understand everything there is to see and know and understand.

Behind the scenes, God is doing wondrous things. The Bible lets us in on some of them; others we’ll learn as time unfolds. God will reveal all of His activities. He will unveil all of His interventions. He will share all of His reasons. Some of them will make us gasp in wonder. Others will make us breathe a sigh of relief. All of them will make us bow down.

The knowledge of good and evil is maturing, day by day. One of these days, our knowledge will come to full maturity. All of the evidence about good and evil will be in, and the case can be closed. In the meantime, we can trust that God is not absent. He is not silent. He’s even more interested, invested, and involved than we hope He is.

Hold out for the whole picture. Everything will be revealed. God will be vindicated. All will be well.

I ridiculously talk to animals when I’m trying to take their picture. “A little to the right.” “Don’t move.” “You’re so cute!” “Stay.”

I don’t have the best camera, so I like to get as close as possible to get a good shot. Of course, the closer I get, the more the animal moves away. Too often, it skedaddles completely.

Sadly, wildlife photography is difficult because animals are afraid of us. They’re constantly on alert for predators. They can never fully relax. I hate this. Not only would I love to get close enough for great photos (and cuddles), I would love for these precious creatures to live without fear.

In the Bible, Isaiah 11:6-9 describes the future, after God creates a new earth:

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
The cub and the calf will lie down together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
Nothing will hurt or destroy.

This description is so far out from our reality, it’s hard to imagine. But, this is exactly what God intended in the first place. This is how everything began.

Sin affected all of creation, not just people. But, there’s good news. When God destroys sin and evil for good, all creatures great and small will enjoy peace, joy, and freedom from fear. Forever and ever. And ever. Without end.

It’s easier to endure a pandemic when we believe that it will come to an end. When we’re in the middle of something, it’s difficult to know how everything will play out. Things could get worse before they get better. But generally we believe that COVID-19 will pass, just as the Black Death, the Spanish flu, and SARS did.

This is true for anything. Imagine that you break your ankle. How would you feel, experiencing that pain and inconvenience? Now imagine how you would feel if you knew you’d never heal. Think of how it would feel to lose your job. It probably would be scary, but you would have the expectation that you would find another job. Now imagine if you didn’t have that prospect — if you believed that you would never work again.

What we believe about tomorrow impacts how we feel and act today.

Things will get better, or they won’t. We can hope, or we can despair. When we believe that things will get better, hardship is much easier to endure, isn’t it? The light at the end of the tunnel pulls us forward. Here’s the best example of this:

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself,
lest you become weary and your hearts give up.
— Hebrews 12:1-3 —

Jesus endured the cross — the greatest suffering ever experienced — because of the joy that was set before Him. The Father gave Jesus a vision of the future — a new earth, where God and people are utterly together, where there is no sorrow or pain or death. This shining light got Jesus through the darkest night.

Each one of us lives in the midst of a dark night of one sort or another, to one degree or another. The night might get even darker. But that doesn’t have to be how it ends. We can choose hope. We can choose to pursue the light at the end of the tunnel. We can trust that there will be an end to suffering one of these very days.

There are far, far better things ahead
than any we leave behind.

C. S. Lewis

I just browsed through the stories in my Facebook News feed. I found something in common with these headlines:

Pastor Who Told Congregation They Didn’t Have to Wear Masks Hospitalized in ICU with COVID-19

Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton Are Feeling “Stretched to Their Limit”

The worst coronavirus outbreaks are happening in these 15 cities

911 call from Falwell house reveals ex-Liberty president was drinking, fell down, lost ‘a lot of blood’ after resigning

Christina and Ant Anstead Split After Less Than 2 Years of Marriage

U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Near 200,000

Can you think of what they have in common? Since this is a blog, and we don’t have an efficient way to play a guessing game, I’ll just tell you. In reaction to each of these stories, people laughed.

Precisely, what they did was click on the laugh reaction emoji under the headline. I can understand shock, sadness, and even anger for some of these stories. But, laughter? A marriage is over, relationships are strained, a man is struggling with addiction and gets hurt, people are sick, and people are dying.

Perhaps even worse than these tragedies in the news is the cruelty in the hearts of people who make light — and even fun — of other people’s suffering. We need healed relationships and healed bodies. Most of all, though, we need healed hearts. We need the Spirit of love. The good news? It’s possible:

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26

Not long ago, #InsteadOfThoughtsAndPrayers was trending on Twitter. I’d like to offer an alternative: #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers. Sure, it would max out my tweet character limit, but it would send a message.

With all the suffering and tragedy in the world, thoughts and prayers are indeed not enough, so I get why many people are frustrated by the sentiment. Thoughts and prayers are not enough, but they’re still good.

#1 • We can think and pray immediately.

We don’t even have to get out of bed to think and pray. The very second we learn of a tragedy, we can turn our mind toward those who are suffering and we can call on God to do His thing. Caveat: If the tragedy is a fire breaking out in your neighbor’s house, think and pray after you call 911 and while you hightail it over there to help as you can. I’m not suggesting that you should be a psycho.

#2 • Thinking and praying are the best way to start.

As a thinking advocate, I argue that we always must start there. The better the quality of our thoughts, the better the quality of our words and actions that follow. If we merely react out of emotion or guilt or good intentions, we probably won’t maximize our helpfulness.

As someone who constantly benefits from prayer, I highly recommend it in all situations. Tragedies are bigger than we are, and I find it incredibly comforting to have God as a companion to get through them. If God and prayer aren’t your thing, that’s okay; but please be respectful of those who find strength and hope in them.

A new trend

What do you think of #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers? Shall we get this thing trending?

When I read the first pages of the Bible, I notice that the word “good” comes up frequently. The first use of the word “good” in the Bible is in Genesis 1:4, when “God saw that the light was good.” The word is used seven times in Genesis 1, culminating in this: “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”

The first use of the word “evil” in the Bible is in Genesis 2:9: “The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” It is used a second time in Genesis 2:15-17: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’”

Here we see the introduction of the twin dichotomies of good and evil and life and death, which is a theme repeated throughout the Bible. Notice that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven and hell is not present here, nor is it present anywhere in the Bible as a dichotomy related to eternal destiny.

Eve and Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil once they believed that God could not be trusted. The human knowledge of evil began when the first humans chose not to trust God. (Similarly, the universe’s knowledge of evil began when Lucifer chose not to trust God. See Isaiah 14:12-14.)

The knowledge of good and evil has been growing since its inception. Someday, when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, the question of whether God can be trusted will be settled for all time. Can God be trusted? Just how good is good? Just how evil is evil? These are the questions that will be answered when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature.

At that time, eternal destinies can be realized. The life-and-death dichotomy that was established in the garden of Eden will come to fruition. Those who choose to trust God will receive eternal life, and those who choose not to trust God will receive eternal death.

  • God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
  • He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

I mentioned that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven-and-hell as eternal destiny is not found in the Bible. Notice, too, that the classical philosophical idea of eternal suffering cannot be concluded upon consideration of all of the Bible passages regarding the final destruction of those who do not trust God. Ashes do not suffer (see Ezekiel 28:18, Malachi 4:1-3, 2 Peter 2:6, and Revelation 20:9,15). Good news!

Suffering is a result of evil. Once the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, it stands to reason that no one will choose evil again. That will be the end of evil, which will mean the end of suffering. More good news!

There was a time when there was only good. Then evil entered the picture. But evil is a companion of good for a limited time only. One of these days, if we choose to trust God, our knowledge of evil will be only a memory. We will spend eternity steeped in a fully-mature knowledge of good. That is the best news.

The three young men were stolen from their country when it was invaded. They were brought as prisoners to the land of the conquerers to serve the king. Back in their own home, they had freely worshipped God, whom they believed gave them life. In this new land, people worshipped objects that they made with their own hands. And they obeyed the king. (Don’t forget that bit; you’ve got to obey the king. He gets awfully cross if you don’t.)

One day, the king ordered an engineering crew to craft a huge idol made of gold — about 90 feet high and nine feet wide — that represented his power and authority (his favorite things!). They held a grand dedication service with an orchestra, ice sculptures, and an open bar. The orchestra prepared a special dedication song, the title of which roughly translates to “The King Is the Best, and You Must Do Whatever He Says, because He Is the Best.” When the orchestra played, everyone was to bow down and worship the idol — because the king said so (and he’s the best).

Oh, and I don’t want to forget this bit: If you don’t worship the idol, you’ll be thrown into the middle of a burning fiery furnace. Not just the edge of the furnace. The middle. Smack dab.

The big moment came. The orchestra played. Everyone bowed down and worshiped the idol. Well, sort of. It seems that a few people didn’t get the memo. Someone went to the king and told him that they saw three men standing when everyone else was bowing.

Yep, those three men. The ones who had been taken as prisoners when their country was invaded by the king’s army. The king had the men brought to him to explain themselves. Maybe they just missed their cue? The king decided to give them another chance. The orchestra had one more song in them!

While the concertmaster got the ensemble tuned again, the king reminded the three men about the furnace’s middle region and challenged them:

“Who is that god who can deliver you out of my hands?”

You’ve gotta hear their answer:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.”

I love that answer for two reasons. First, it presents good theology. “He will … But if He does not …” They know that God can, any time. They don’t know that He will, this time. I’ll say that again, because it’s critical to understanding how God works:

They know that God can, any time. They don’t know that He will, this time.

God is always able, but He is not always willing. He’s always able because He’s God. He is willing at some times and not others because, as God, He is working a master plan. This plan involves the universe coming to understand just how good good is and just how evil evil is. This is the maturity of the knowledge of good and evil, which began when Adam and Eve decided not to trust God and ate from that forbidden tree.

It’s absolutely necessary for all creation to come to a mature knowledge of good and evil. If God sweeps in and saves the day every time something evil is about to happen, we never will know just how evil evil is. We won’t distance ourselves from it. We won’t realize how good good is. We won’t understand that God can be trusted. So, just as these three men, we can know that God can, any time, but we don’t know that He will, this time.

I said that there are two reasons why I love their answer. “If He does not” illustrates good theology. “Even if He does not” illustrates good faithfulness. They were willing to die a horrible death in order to remain faithful to their God. They would not bow down to another. Even with the nucleus of a fiery furnace staring them down, they would not worship anyone else. I can only hope that my allegiance to God is that strong.

Interestingly, their good faithfulness was based on their good theology. (As I always say, what we believe matters, because we live according to our beliefs.) These men understood that this wasn’t about them in a micro sense; God wouldn’t intervene on behalf of the salvation of their bodies if it wasn’t in complete harmony with the salvation of their souls and everyone else’s (see Matthew 10:28). They understood that this was about the master plan, that their story was only a small part of everyone’s story — the Big Story.

More stuff happened after the men answered the king, but I’ve made the points I wanted to make from the story, so I’ll leave you hanging. If you want to find out how it ends, the story is found in the Bible, the book of Daniel, chapter 3. I’ll tell you this much: The orchestra immediately went home, some people lost their lives in the fire, and the king learned something big — even bigger than his 90-foot idol. Most of all, it became clear who — alone — was worthy of worship.

That’s how this story ends, and that’s where the Big Story is heading. Every day, we’re one day closer to the universal conclusion that good is completely good, evil is completely evil, God is completely trustworthy, and God alone is King of kings and Lord of lords. That’s the day when every knee will bow.

There will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain,
because all the old ways are gone.

This is how I get through the day. Every day. It’s a picture of the future that I am grateful to have been given when I was a kid. If you’ve never heard it, or you need to hear it again, here it is:

There will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain,
because all the old ways are gone.

I hope it gets you through this day and this life. If you’re like me, you’re sick and tired of death, sadness, crying, and pain.

Jesus’s best friend wrote it. It’s something he heard when he was given a picture of our future. It’s forever recorded in the scripture designated as Revelation 21:4. If you want to know a little more about what it means and how it can be true, read the other sentences around it. If you want to know a lot more about what it means and how it can be true, read the whole book. I also encourage you to stay tuned to this site, as I tend to harp on this relief-giving promise.

The best thing about the future isn’t advanced technology or medical breakthroughs or getting further down the path of social evolution. It’s this:

There will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain,
because all the old ways are gone.

Tomorrow we’ll be even closer. Hang in there.