Daily Light – March 29, 2019

Friends:  I just had to pass this on to you.  This is more from my friend and pastor David Niednagel from his study in Genesis.  David has been my pastor for 45 years.  His faithfulness and life-long dedication to the study of God’s word has been a light and a guide to me through these 45 years.   David uses the S.O.A.P method in his morning devotional time.  Study, Observe, Apply, Pray.  If you are looking for a help-method for your daily study time that will help you maximize your fellowship and growth in your relationship with God….try the S.O.A.P method.   😊    

3-28-19  Gen 4:25-5:32  The name of the LORD, Yahweh

Gen. 4:25  And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. 4 The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. 5 Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. …

8 Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died. …

11 Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died. …

:14 all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died. …

:17 all the days of Mahalalel were 895 years, and he died. …

:20 all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died. …

:23 all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. …

:27 all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.

28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son 29 and called his name Noah. … 31 Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.32 After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth.   ESV

In the days of Enosh (About 400 years after Creation) people began to call on the name of the LORD – not just the generic word “god”, a higher power, but by His personal name – Yahweh. His name comes from the verb “to be” – the God who really IS, the Real One. Our English translations normally use the word LORD, instead of Yahweh, and that is unfortunate, because we normally skip right over the fact that He has revealed Himself as our covenant keeping Creator.

Ch 5 lists the descendants from Adam to Noah, all of whom lived from about 770 to 970 years. Because that is so much longer than we live today, most people wonder how that could be, and even the NIV Study Bible doubts those ages are accurate. But just like in Ch 1, Moses goes out of his way to tell how old each one was when his first child was born and how many years he lived after that, and then carefully gives the correct answer to adding the numbers. He intended the readers to believe those ages! There was nothing figurative or symbolic about them. So to try to figure out how they lived so long then, but also account for the ages declining after the Flood, some have supposed it was environmental conditions that made the difference. I have taught that, and it may be true, but I no longer think that was the main factor.

With what we now know about genetics, it makes more sense to see that a “genetic bottleneck” came from all future humans coming from the three sons of Noah. Dr John Sanford, is his book “Genetic Entropy” presents the details that make the most sense to me.

LORD, Yahweh, Thank You that You have revealed Yourself, not just as a “higher power” but as our Creator who has given us a Bible we can trust, and who has made a covenant with human beings. You know us individually, and provided the LORD Jesus as a Savior and King. And You give us Life, not just physically, but the capacity to be in relationship with You, our Creator and Savior. Thank You for the good years You have given Judy and me! Help us live our remaining days for You and for Your glory and enjoying You! I don’t want to waste any of the days You have ordained for me. May I fulfill Your purpose for my life. Amen.

Daily Light – March 28, 2019

Just Have More Faith

How Bad Theology Hurts the Suffering

Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, Regular Contributor, desiringGod.org

Why does God answer yes to some prayers and no to others? Why does God miraculously heal some people and not others? Why does disaster strike one city and not another?

I’ve been pondering these questions since Hurricane Florence devastated much of eastern North Carolina last year. I live in the center of the state, and contrary to the foreboding predictions, we were relatively unaffected. In response, a friend said, “I know why we were spared catastrophe and the storm circled our area and went south. I was praying that God would keep us safe and he answered my prayers!”

I had no words.

I know that God answers prayer. And we need to pray. God tells us to ask, and it will be given to us (Matthew 7:7). But my friend’s words made me wonder if she thought that no one in eastern Carolina was praying. I know people whose livelihoods were destroyed in the storm. Everything they owned was gone. They escaped with their lives but nothing material left. Some of them begged God to spare their city.

One Died, Another Lived

What are we as believers to infer from these natural disasters? Can we simply draw straight lines between our requests and God’s answers? Years ago, I heard a pastor tell of his cancer that went into remission. When he told his congregation the good news, several commented, “We knew God would heal you. He had to. So many people were praying for you.”

While the pastor was thankful for others’ prayers, he also knew God did not owe him healing. Faithful believers throughout the ages have earnestly prayed and yet not been healed. The apostle Paul was not healed in order that God might show that his power could be made perfect in Paul’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

And then there was my own son, Paul, who died as an infant. We had prayed, fasted, and asked friends to pray for his healing. Several years after his death, we met a man who said when he learned of our loss, “Don’t take this wrong, but we prayed for all of our children before they were born. And they were all born healthy.” We had no words.

Why Did God Save Peter?

In considering the question of when and why God chooses to rescue, I was reminded of Acts 12 which begins, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. . . . So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:1–35). Peter was then rescued the very night that Herod was about to bring him out, to presumably kill him as he had killed James.

Why did God let James die and Peter live?

Peter, James, and John were three of Jesus’s closest disciples. These three were often selected to be alone with Jesus. Yet their earthly lives after Christ’s resurrection were markedly different. John was the last of the disciples to die, Peter was rescued from prison in Acts 12, but church history records that he was later martyred by being crucified upside down.

James was the first of the disciples to be martyred. The Bible records that Herod killed James with no elaborating details. We simply know that Peter was spared while James was not. What are we to make of this? Did God love Peter more than James? Was James’s life less important? Did James have less faith? Were people not praying for James?

Our Father Knows Best

Looking at the fuller counsel of the Bible, it is clear that God has plans that we do not understand. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). Because we believe that death is just a passage into eternal life (2 Timothy 1:10), one that all of us will go through, it ultimately doesn’t matter when we pass through it. God numbers our days before they begin, and he alone determines when we will die (Psalm 139:16).

Though we often cannot understand God’s purposes in this life, we can be sure that James’s life as a disciple and his death as a martyr was intentional. Everything God does has purpose (Isaiah 46:10). Because of that, we can be sure that at the time of James’s death, he had accomplished what God had called him to (Philippians 1:6), while Peter’s work on earth was unfinished (Philippians 1:24–25).

Living or dying, being spared or being tortured, being delivered in this life or the next is not an indicator of God’s love for us or the measure of our faith. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, and our future is determined by what he knows is best for us (Romans 8:2835–39).

Paul understood this principle well when he said in Philippians 1:21–23, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Departing this world and being with Christ is far better, because eternal life is far better than life on earth. No matter what this life holds, we will eventually be deliriously happy in heaven, where God has all of eternity to lavish us with his kindness (Ephesians 2:7).

Suffering Is Not Punishment

Even though I know these truths, I have often been discouraged that others have been rescued while I was still suffering. Prosperity gospel proponents have told me that if I had prayed in faith, my body would have been healed, my son would have been spared, and my marriage would have been restored. It was all up to me. If I just had the faith, I would have had a better outcome.

Their words have left me bruised and disillusioned, wondering what I was doing wrong.

But that theology is not the gospel. God’s response to our prayers is not dependent upon our worthiness but rather rests upon on his great mercy (Daniel 9:18). Because of Christ, who took our punishment, God is always for us (Romans 8:31). He wants to give us all things. Christ himself is ever interceding for us (Romans 8:31–34).

If you are in Christ, God is completely for you. Your suffering is not a punishment. Your struggles are not because you didn’t pray the right way, or because you didn’t pray enough, or because you have weak faith or insufficient intercessors. It is because God is using your suffering in ways that you may not understand now, but one day you will. One day you will see how God used your affliction to prepare you for an incomparable weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is the gospel. And it holds for all who love Christ.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God. She blogs at danceintherain.com, although she doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm. Vaneetha is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.

Daily Light – March 27, 2019

Only the Humble See Heaven

Article by Jon Bloom, staff writer, desiringGod.org

Why is humility so important to God? I mean, it’s really, really important to him. Listen to the kinds of things Jesus said:

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. (Matthew 20:26–27)

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3–4)

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Humble slaves rank first in God’s kingdom, only the humble childlike get into the kingdom, and the meek will be given dominion over the world. These are statements are so radical they sound nearly ridiculous.

Did He Just Say That?

I wonder if we’re too familiar with these sayings. I don’t know about you, but I have found it disturbingly easy to dissociate theological truths I intellectually assent to from what I functionally believe (the ways I actually behave). If statements about humility like these don’t throttle us, I doubt we’re really hearing Jesus — given how much we are not like this by nature, given how unappealing serving is when we must actually sacrifice our own pursuits in order to do it, given how little we want to be regarded as childlike when it comes to how others actually think of us, and given how not meek we feel when someone else actually offends us.

Did you catch what’s at stake? If this kind of humility doesn’t characterize us, we “will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). It’s the same sort of statement Jesus made about those who aren’t born again (John 3:3). It’s the same sort of statement Paul made about the sexually immoral, idolaters, the greedy, drunkards, and revilers (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Do you, by your behavior, put pride in the same category of seriousness as sexual sin? I think God considers pride to be worse. Nowhere in Scripture does God say the most sexually pure are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

What is it about humility that God esteems so much? What’s so great about humility?

An Alien Ethic

That’s a question many critics of Christianity ask. Some view statements like “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26–27) as so alien to human experience that they are completely unrealistic, however altruistic Jesus’s intentions may have been.

Others go much further and call Jesus’s humility ethic evil. Karl Marx considered it an opiate to pacify the proletariat masses so the bourgeoisie could keep their economic grip on the means of production. Friedrich Nietzsche abhorred it as doing nothing but enfeebling the human race, encouraging the whole lot of us to behave precisely in ways that keep us from pursuing the ruthless strength we need to survive in a brutal, uncaring universe.

Indeed, the humility Jesus commends here seems alien, otherworldly. It was alien to Jesus’s disciples when he made the statement to them. James and John were angling for the seats of eternal honor (Matthew 20:20–21), moving their ten comrades to get bent out of shape, since each figured he had a fair claim to those seats (Luke 22:24). This was the greatness they knew. They lived in a world where greatness was defined by social position, where scribes and Pharisees loved their seats of honor (Matthew 23:6) and rulers loved lording (Matthew 20:25). They lived in the world we live in. What world did Jesus live in?

Memories of a Lost World

When Jesus called the disciples to pursue greatness through the humility of serving others, he wasn’t merely calling them to be countercultural; he was calling them to be counter-natural — or better, to be supernatural. None of us is born with this character quality. If Jesus’s humility ethic seems alien, it’s because it is. It is the ethic of a foreign kingdom (Matthew 18:1), a better country (Hebrews 11:16).

Actually, that’s not exactly right. It’s more accurate to say that humility is the ethic of a former kingdom. For the kingdom of heaven was the original administration of earth, and humility was the ethic of Eden. The domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13) is the actual foreign kingdom that staged a coup at the forbidden tree by enticing Adam and Eve to stop trusting fully in God and start leaning on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). And the foreign kingdom’s pride ethic prevailed.

But the Bible tells us that humility will once again be the prevailing ethic of the future kingdom, when the evil foreign power is at last overthrown, and every knee bows to the supremely humble King of kings (Philippians 2:5–11). When we finally see him, we will know that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven indeed is the servant of all.

Only the Humble Can See

But I still haven’t answered the question: What’s so great about humility? Why does God rank it as such a high quality of human greatness? I believe it’s because humility is the only state of the soul that allows us to accurately perceive and value truth and glory for what they really are. Only the humble can truly see.

We’ve all heard some version of the adage “pride blinds.” That’s exactly what it does. Pride keeps sinful man from seeing God (Psalm 10:4). Pride keeps us from seeing our approaching fall (Proverbs 16:18). Pride is the light in the eyes of a wicked heart (Proverbs 21:4), and “if then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).

But humility puts us in the frame of mind to be able to see. Which is why God “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9). Only the humble can be “pure in heart,” and therefore only the humble can “see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Pride sees the self as the supreme value, and views everything else as means to enhance the self. It’s insatiable, and it can be deadly. But in humility, one does “not to think of [one’s self] more highly than [one] ought to think, but . . . think[s] with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).

The humble person accurately sees God’s place, his own place, and everyone else’s place in the world. The humble person sees himself as a sinner in desperate need of God’s mercy, and having received it through the supremely humble servanthood of God in Christ (Philippians 2:5–8), finds it more blessed to give to others than to receive so that they might maximally enjoy the mercy of God forever too (Acts 20:35). Having this mind, he sees existence, the world, beauty, redemption, and judgment as incomprehensibly bigger than himself and so full of glories that he is overwhelmed and can’t contain it all. His humility allows him to see, and what he sees humbles him.

Eyes Open to Glory

Why did Jesus say only the humble can enter the kingdom? Because only the humble can see the kingdom. Why are the greatest in the kingdom the servants? Because the more humble we are, the more reality we truly see, the more of God’s multifaceted glory we truly see, and therefore the more joy we experience, and therefore the more we want others to experience that joy. What makes humility so great is that it’s God-like.

In calling us to meekness, Jesus is inviting us to abandon the bankruptcy of pride and have the eyes of our hearts enlightened that we may know “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). He’s inviting us share in the very joy of the Triune God, the most humble Persons in existence.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – March 26, 2019

Friends:  We continue with my good friend and pastor, David Niednagel.   He uses the S.O.A.P method in his morning devotional time.  Study, Observe, Apply, Pray.  If you are looking for a help-method for your daily study time that will help you maximize your fellowship and growth in your relationship with God….try this S.O.A.P method.  😊    

Genesis 3:20-24  Garments of skins

3:20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. 22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.   ESV

Adam’s attempt to clothe himself with leaves was not acceptable to God. God provided animal skins – which meant the animals had to die – a blood sacrifice. God told Adam in 2:17 that if he disobeyed he would die. Here we see the first example of God providing a substitute to cover the sin of a human. The animals had done nothing wrong. Adam and Eve had. The animals were innocent substitutes that covered the guilt of the people – a picture of what the Lord Jesus would do 4000 years later.

So the guilt of Adam and Eve was covered, but they were not allowed to stay in the garden and eat of the tree of life and live forever. To live forever in a world of increasing wickedness would be terrible! Death after many years of that would be better than living with an aging body and burdened heart. So, they were forced to leave the garden and live in a hostile world, full of sin and pain. It was the consequence of their rebellion and it not only affected them, but every human who has ever lived since that time.

Lord, we don’t normally think of death as a good thing – and it isn’t. But I can see Your mercy in it, especially for believers who are welcomed into Your presence to experience YOU and other redeemed people who will no longer sin, and we will also have a new body. I want my life to count as long as possible and bear fruit that will last forever, but more and more I am willing to leave this world behind and I look forward to being with You. Until then, thank You for Your blood shed to cover my sin and guilt! Thank You I can look forward to a wonderful eternity!  Amen

Daily Light – March 25, 2019

Friends:  The next two days we continue with my good friend and pastor, David Niednagel.   He uses the S.O.A.P method in his morning devotional time.  Study, Observe, Apply, Pray.  If you are looking for a help-method for your daily study time that will help you maximize your fellowship and growth in your relationship with God….try the S.O.A.P method.  😊    Blessings, dh

Genesis 3:17-19  A world of pain and suffering

17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”   ESV

God first pronounced a curse on the serpent, then the woman. Here He cursed the earth and the man. Adam had listened to the voice of his wife. That is a good thing, but not when her words call him to disobey God. In Rom 8:20 Paul says the curse on the earth is still in effect until the return of the Lord, – there are now thorns and thistles, and it will take hard work and sweat to make a living. For thousands of years billions of people have struggled and suffered diseases, broken relationships, earthquakes, murder, injustice and sorrow – all because Adam and Eve ignored God’s clear commands. They rejected His authority over them and ate fruit from the only tree that God said they could not. They had thousands of other trees, but for the “freedom” to make their own choice, they took away the freedom of every human since then. Was it worth it? Even to them?

One of the main questions people raise against the idea of God, is if God is supposed to be good, how do we account for all the pain and suffering in the world. How could/would a good God allow all this suffering? This section gives a clear answer to that. God does not just allow it, he warned Adam that if he ate from the fruit of that one tree – if he rejected God – he would unleash evil on the earth. God warned Adam, but he did not take God seriously. The world is full of pain and evil because of their sin. He made them with the capacity to make real choices – choices that have real significance and consequences – choices that even lead to death. God did not make us “bullet proof”. We can (and do) experience physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual pain. Because of sin death entered the world. And because all sin, all will die and then face the judgment of the Creator.

Lord, our world is so broken, and so full of hurting people. We know that will continue till You return. But thank You for the “offspring of the woman” who died to provide our forgiveness, and lives to allow us to come back into relationship with You. Thank You that we can now be agents of reconciliation for individuals, and for our world. Help me always take You seriously and never think I am smarter than You. Help me trust You and obey You with a glad heart, and use me to help others come back to You too. Amen

Daily Light – March 22, 2019

Friends:  This is from my good friend and pastor, David N.   He uses the S.O.A.P method in his morning devotional time.  Study, Observe, Apply, Pray.  If you are looking for a help-method for your daily study time that will help you maximize your fellowship and growth in your relationship with God….try this S.O.A.P method.  😊   David is studying in Genesis these days and I thought today’s S.O.A.P. was a natural add-on piece to the Default System series we just finished a few days ago.  Blessings, dh

3-20-19  Gen 3:14-15  The offspring of the woman

14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”   ESV

God had warned Adam that disobedience would cause a lifetime of evil and separation from Him. 4000 years after that Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) There has been 6000 years of evil, pain and suffering for all humans, because of Adam’s sin. (Rom 5:12) But here in Gen 3, a few hours after that sin, God pronounced a curse on Satan for his rebellion and deception. And He promised that one day “the offspring of the woman” would crush his head.

Lord, Your Word contains the warnings and the promises to make sense of all the pain and suffering in this world. Help me/us remember Your warnings that there are terrible consequences of sin, and never take it lightly. Thank You for this promise immediately after Adam’s sin of the coming Savior. And Thank You Jesus that we can “take heart” that You have overcome Satan in spite of the great evil there is all around us – and in us! There is no other source of forgiveness for sin, or hope for the future than “the offspring of the woman” – our LORD and Savior! Amen!

Daily Light – March 21, 2019

Leave Behind the Weariness of Bitterness

(article by Jon Bloom, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org)

The gears of God’s justice sometimes grind slowly — so slowly that we may not even notice them turning during our brief sojourn on earth. We even begin to wonder if they’re really turning at all.

Asaph writes, “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But . . .” (Psalm 73:1–2). But what? But Asaph had really struggled to believe that. His biblical theology and history told him God is good and God is just, but as he looked on the way things evidently operated in the “real” world around him, Asaph read a different narrative.

He watched unashamedly wicked people prosper, seeming to avoid the hardships most of humanity is subject to (Psalm 73:3–5). He watched them violently oppress others without God seeming to lift a finger to stop them or protect the oppressed (Psalm 73:6–8). He watched them in their luxuriant ease blaspheme God with apparent impunity (Psalm 73:9–12). Like many suffering Christians today, he watched while the godless flourished.

Hard on Those He Loves?

Meanwhile, when Asaph looked at his own experience, he couldn’t help wondering why in the world he was fighting so hard to keep his heart clean and his hands innocent, only to find himself “stricken and rebuked [by God] every morning” (Psalm 73:13–14). What’s with that?

Hard on those who love him, and seemingly easy on those who hate him — that looks a lot like turning justice on its head. Asaph’s “feet . . . almost stumbled” over whether God truly is good to Israel (Psalm 73:2). He could have said, as Teresa of Ávila allegedly did, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder why You have so few of them!”

Thus, Asaph is endeared to us — an ancient friend who understands. He understands the hard experience of living in what can look and feel like a world of inverted justice.

Where Bitterness Takes Root

We know deep down God can’t approve of this inversion. The fact that humanity shares such a massive consensus regarding what’s just and unjust bears witness to what God considers just and unjust. Philosophers call this the “moral law.” Theologians call it God’s law written on the heart (Romans 2:15–16). Even the unjust bear witness to this reality by what they desperately try to conceal (or rationalize if their power is removed and they are held to account for their actions).

But when they aren’t held to account, when they do as they unjustly and wickedly please and God doesn’t intervene, we try to understand. And, like Asaph, we can find it “a wearisome task” (Psalm 73:16). We can become “pricked in heart” and embittered in soul (Psalm 73:21).

Here’s the real danger: the indignance we feel toward injustice — the way we’re supposed to feel toward injustice — can metastasize into bitterness in our soul toward God and his apparent lack of concern and willingness to take action against injustice. This can turn us “brutish and ignorant” (Psalm 73:22), leading us to fall away from God (Hebrews 3:12) or to distort his word into saying what it does not say, because in our lack of faith, we cannot bear it. Few things drive us to twist the Scriptures like the problem we have with evil and the pain it can cause us or those we love. This is a “root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deuteronomy 29:18) that defiles many, as Hebrews warns us (Hebrews 12:15).

Counsel for the Embittered Soul

So, what do we do when, like Asaph, our heart is pricked and we feel that bitterness in our soul that makes us question if God really sees, if he cares, if he’s really in control, if he really exists? The remedy God provides us against the brutish ignorance of unbelief is simple, but it is profound, and it is pervasive:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5–8)

This can sound so trite, so cliché, when what we want from God are answers— and, more immediately, action! This is not cliché. This is the Bible — all of it. The Bible is God’s book of justice. The whole thing is about God’s justice — about his ultimately making every wrong right and exhaustively settling every account of every moral agent, visible and invisible to us, that has ever perpetrated even the smallest injustice. Nothing will be missed, for God “will by no means clear the guilty” (Numbers 14:18) without fully satisfying his holy, righteous law — the one to which all our consciences bear witness.

God is working with a timetable toward this end that is long — and our lives are short. We may not see the justice needle move much during our time under the sun. That doesn’t at all mean God is not relentlessly and fearfully moving toward the terrible, unfathomable destruction of evil.

We must trust him with all our hearts and not lean on our own very limited perspective and understanding of the “real” world. If the catastrophe of Eden teaches us anything, it teaches us that we are ill-equipped to manage the knowledge of good and evil. The bitterness of soul that Asaph describes is a warning that it is time to hand God back the fruit before it bears something poisonous and bitter in us.

How God Treats His Friends

If the eucatastrophe of the cross of Jesus teaches us anything, it teaches us that God does not take injustice lightly — that he is, in fact, willing to go to extremes we would never imagine in order to fully settle accounts. At the cross, God’s righteous unwillingness to clear the unjust kisses his righteous desire to pardon the repentant unjust and be at peace with them (Psalm 85:10). It is the miraculous moment when the righteous Judge takes upon himself our unrighteousness, paying for it in full that we might become his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is the place where God becomes both just and the justifier of the unjust ones who put their faith fully in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

This is how God treats his friends: he gives his only Son for them in order to give them eternal life (John 3:16).

It is this God, and the remembrance of his mercy foreshadowed in the old covenant, that Asaph beheld when he “went into the sanctuary of God” (Psalm 73:17). Then his perspective on justice changed. He saw the long-term end of the short-lived unrepentant wicked. God was not inattentive or inactive as they brazenly oppressed and blasphemed.

Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. (Psalm 73:18–20)

He saw the mercy in his being “stricken and rebuked,” for it was this very discipline that kept him from going astray (Proverbs 3:11–12Psalm 119:67). And he saw an approaching judgment upon those who were not being led to repentance by the kindness of God (Romans 2:4). He remembered the long-term end of his short-lived afflictions: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24), the same hope the apostle Paul expressed (2 Corinthians 4:17).

How Bitterness Leaves

And when Asaph gave up his wearisome task of trying to understand how God can let injustice and evil persist, and instead trusted God with all his heart, the bitterness left him. And out of the healing and refreshment he experienced, he sang,

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26)

Thus, if we have ears to hear, God is endeared to us — our far more ancient and future Friend who understands how hard it can be for us to endure evil while he “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). For it was his compassion that moved him to inspire these words in our friend, Asaph, and make sure his song of the rescued cynic was preserved in the canon to help rescue us from our bitterness of soul.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.