The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 3

#4 - The Heart and the Cross of Christ WithinGood day, marathoners for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Timothy 4:7)! Welcome to a feast for the disciple’s heart (core beliefs), spirit (emotions), and faith-lived-out.

Please recall, we’re gathered ‘round the table for Part 3 of 10-part series. Parts 1-4 provide an overview of “God’s Story” SO THAT by way of Parts 5-10 we can apply “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering”, a) in it’s’ best and proper context and, b) as I experienced on Christmas night 2002 while with my father after he took his life; and as it is explained in great detail in my book.

Last we met, we were reminded of the “second panel of God’s Story”, The Fall—the tragic intrusion of sin and death, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made.

As it pertains to understanding so much about the world we live in, the fact that God made all things good; that man had a choice to love and obey God; that man chose poorly and interjected spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual entropy and brokenness into the universe… These two parts of God’s Story alone explains so much about our life that if we’re ignorant or in denial of this reality we will live a life of massive bewilderment, resentment, anger, and waste… Just wondering, “What in the hell is the matter?!” It matters greatly that we human beings know what reality consists of, Beloved of God.

Pull up a seat to enjoy and employ the next part of God’s most glorious story, Part 3—The Redemption, God’s astonishing promise to redeem His fallen creation and image-bearers through the grace-based work of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the person of the Holy Spirit:

The Trinity began all things, has begun the redemption of all things, and will consummate all things in glory as well! Get to know The Trinity better beginning today (Psalm 95:7-8).

By way of remembrance about why we are here: The Church supernatural and institutional was established by God to glorify Himself and redeem the world by various means imparted to it by God. Part and parcel of God’s redemptive plan is His church preaching and teaching His Truth and Love from the Bible:

“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Mt. 22:29, 31; Eph. 2:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)

When much of the church devolves into nothing more than a reflection of the world, it looses its reason for its existence, its vision, mission, explanation… saltiness and light… of how things exist in reality—because “reality” as explained by this passing world and the base, egotistic minds of men takes precedence over all else.

[As paraphrased from my book:]

What’s Worse Than Any “9/11”?
The first Sunday following 9/11, the church I attended at that time had a guest preacher help shepherd the flock though this most difficult time.

As the sermon began, “I know that each and every one of you is shattered, shocked, and horrified by this event,” the guest pastor sermonized. “But I want to console you: God is as shattered, shocked, and horrified by this event as you are… As we are…”

He went on to assure us that God was as taken by surprise—was as empathetic as He could be—by the abject brokenness of the world as we were. What was meant as a consolation for the unavoidable suffering and hell of this life was actually a cruel cure of deeper confusion and darker existential angst to the listener: The God we worship on high is as inscrutable, manipulated, out of control, caught off guard, and out of sorts as we are! What a relief…

As I picked my jaw up off the floor, I anticipated some sort of gasp from the congregation. None came.

I offer this treatment of our topic as but one example of how important it is for The Church, and the church, to know well the key issues of birth, life, death—as explained in the Bible in every detail we need to thrive in every way.

What’s Far Worse Than a Hundredfold “9/11’s”? Bad doctrine, that’s what: It makes our life in time a living hell and an eternity of difference.

There is NO MYSTERY unexplained by God in the bible in any realm… that is sufficient for us to say to God on Judgment Day, “You weren’t clear on that one!” Nothing sufficient for grasping God’s person and plan of redemption is too mysterious for us to grasp. The only reason we tend to dwell too long on things “beyond our capability to know”—E.g., “mystery”—is to avoid knowing God and our responsibilities to Him, to ourselves, and to our neighbor (Romans 1:18-32).

Why a loving God allows suffering to occur can be known, embraced, and celebrated to His glory and our own and other’s good (Romans 5: 3-5; 8:28; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:10… more).

To convey in any way that the general answer to the crucial question of theodicy is beyond our grasp is to besmirch the name of God, His abounding love and truth, and His perfect plan of redemption!

Surely the details of exactly why and how God mercifully orchestrates our trials for His glory and our refinement [conformation to Jesus] often remain a mystery—BUT, and this is a very big “BUT”—ask any person who has remained remotely true to Jesus in good times and in bad times and he or she will tell you, “God is awesome all the time. And the trials have done nothing but assured me of this promise and truth!

Thus far we have been reminded that, a) in the beginning God made things very good (Genesis 1,2); b) that by definition God’s love must include the free will choice to love Him in return, or not love Him in return; c) Adam—the first human being, progenitor and precursor to all mankind—chose poorly and infected all of humankind since with, i) the nature of Sin and ii) the habit of sinning (Genesis 3; Romans 1:18-32; 7) but, d) God made a plan to use the wholesale brokenness man began to redeem the world in, by, and through His Son Christ Jesus. And God was not by any means obliged to do so!

How could a loving God allow such suffering in the world? Because He is Love and He loves us; and “the details of God’s redeeming love” can be experienced by those whom have repented of their sin and placed their faith in Jesus Christ—first as SAVIOR [our sin covered by His blood, righteousness], and then as LORD [our life devoted to discipleship and being on mission with Him].

[As quoted from my book:]

Part 3—The Redemption: Hardened, Hiding Hearts Set Free
Scripture clearly describes Jesus Christ’s deep and compassionate care for our hearts. His entire life was filled with the agony of anticipation of the price he would pay on the cross to redeem God’s children from the Fall.

Only the One and Only True God of the Bible could put a plan in place to set humankind free—FREE to choose rightly the one and only salvation available to humankind. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

In much of his teaching, our Lord confronted the chaos created by divided hearts. Jesus confronted the confusion that was created by religion—defined as man’s designs for reaching out to God, not God’s design to reach down redeem mankind. Take care of this distinction. Consider, for example, his angry description of the divided heart: You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

In contrast, Jesus continually called attention to the purposes of the Godhead for human hearts. Consider these examples:

“One of the scribes came up and . . . asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-33)

But Jesus’ ministry went well beyond mere warnings and instruction. The Son of God willingly stepped out of the timeless, perfect relationship of the Trinity, came to earth as a vulnerable infant, lived as a man of sorrows, despised, rejected, and daily agonizing over his unavoidable crucifixion. Jesus sacrificed himself upon the cross, suffering the undeserved condemnation and silence of his own Father as he cried out to him from the cross—all to make it possible to fulfill God’s promise to all who would by faith believe:

“I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, Iam making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Revelations 21:5)

In further defining and explaining his ministry, our Lord identified himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 4:16). Our hearts need him, and him alone, more than anything else in the universe. Only when we allow him to possess our hearts can those hearts be most joyous, free, and full of abundant life:

[Jesus said,] “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

“That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)

God’s truth sets our hearts free for the authentic life that he intended in the beginning, and for the complete joy that flows from that kind of life. On the other hand, Jesus warned his followers many times of the danger in harboring untruths, of the bondage to falsehoods of various sorts, and of the “dead-end discipleship” that would vanish when challenged by the slightest threat or temptation.

This is why the Psalmist so persistently and passionately implores God to help him recapture and retain the state of the heart as it was “in the beginning:”

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

As we will see in the upcoming section, this is the prayer of a person who understands the deep need to have our hearts radically restored. This prayer embraces “the weeping, window and the way” as God’s healing work in the human heart. (Exodus 20; Matthew 22:34-40; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

As The Heidelberg Catechism so concisely puts it:
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Please consider right now your own heart condition. Have you:

  1. Considered the utter holiness of God?
  2. Faced the impossibility of standing face-to-face with a holy God who cannot bear imperfections of any kind?
  3. Understood the need that you have for covering the indelible stain of sin you can do nothing about?
  4. Embraced the response of humbling yourself by repenting, from the depth of your heart, for Jesus Christ to save you from God’s just condemnation and be the lord of your life?
  5. Tasted the sweet gratitude that comes, in faith, from trusting God’s character and promise to love you as he does his one and only son?
  6. Set a course for discipleship and being on Christ’s mission of serving and giving your life as a ransom for many?

“The wrath of God abides upon those who believe not this gospel. But such as receive it and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith are by Him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them.” (The Canons of Dort, FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 4.)

Deconstructing, Reconstructing
Most renovations begin with a process of tearing down the old so that the new can emerge. One can’t happen without the other. God intends to use the deconstruction of our hearts caused by suffering as the first phase in his renovation of our hearts.

The degree of deconstruction is usually proportional to the intensity of our suffering and the level of denial we might live in at the time. The daily woes of life may make only a slight impact on our hardened hearts, but events as sudden and shocking as the death of a family member can shatter a person’s heart. Suffering like this can mark the first phase or the continuation of God’s renovation process.

As CS Lewis put it so well:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Mere Christianity)

We cannot insist on maintaining the compartmentalization of our hearts if we want to mature in our faith relationship with God. It is impossible to keep the compartments of our hearts intact while, on the other hand, having a desire to become more like Jesus Christ. In times of deep fear and pain, like the one I experienced with the death of my dad, the sensation of a freefall marks our sudden heartbreak. If God’s redeeming plan for suffering is ignored, we remain sinfully focused on two things: pride and maintaining control.

Why do I say pride? If we were to release our hearts completely to the saving lordship of Jesus Christ, we could no longer look down on other people in their differences and vulnerabilities. Pride keeps us from seeing our sin and depending on the one who saved us from it.

Why do I say maintaining control? If we were to release our hearts completely to Jesus’ saving lordship, it would also mean giving up the right to direct our own lives. Instead, we would relinquish it to Christ and thrive in the freedom of obedience to him. To hearts that are suspicious of God’s motives and methods, this feels downright suicidal! But this is exactly what the Bible commands. We must die to self in order to fully live for Christ (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).

[End quotes from my book.]

In Christ, Redemption has Begun, But is Not Yet Complete
“Through Jesus’ resurrection from death, new-creation life is emerging in the lives of those who know him and in every sphere where he brings his kingdom reign to bear. Those whom Jesus sets free are free indeed. [As we will see when next we sup together at the Training Table] none of his followers are as free as they will be one Day when Jesus returns to make all things new.

Resurrection life in Jesus is a life of “the already and not yet.” The clouds filling the fallen sky are now lifting, but they are not completely gone. Believers already enjoy a measureless trove of treasure in Christ, but not yet do they savor the fullness. As God’s image-bearers, echoes of the glory of Eden reverberate in our hearts. We know there was a time when everything was right and nothing was broken.

And as those who enjoy the first-fruits of Redemption, our yearning for what is ahead intensifies. A growing tension between sadness and hope is a mark of our journey home. We “groan inwardly and wait expectantly” because we are pregnant with glory, and birth pains abound.” (Pastor Scotty Smith—parenthesis added)

Beloved of God, having been where we’ve been thus far, will you now drop back for a moment and be reminded afresh of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ consists of, and why God mercifully allows your personal yet universally-shared trials to reconstruct your heart, spirit, and faith life? Consider the Gospel anew:

“I am far more sinful than I ever dared to imagine, and yet… and yet… and yet… purely by God’s manifold mercies… I am loved far more deeply than I could have dared hope for!”

In Christ, Father God allows the unavoidable trials of this broken world that man caused to conform us into the likeliness of His Son, by the person and power of the Holy Spirit within us.

Q. Why does a loving God allow suffering?
A. [What have you embraced thus far?]

Please join us at the table next week as we digest the most delectable part of God Plan of Redemption: Part 4, The Consummation—the magnificent fulfillment of God’s plan to gather and cherish His people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth.”

Once we can be reminded of the panoply of God’s Plan of Redemption from a 30,000’ level—the proper and healthy CONTEXT for life we need to maintain each and every day—we will drop down to ground zero and discover the details of “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” in the weeping, the window and the way.

In love and truth,

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