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Finding God in Suffering III: Finding Hope

Resurrection -1465- by Piero della Francesca

            In my previous entry I discussed how we can find Jesus in our suffering and how He is with the sufferer. He is in the very midst of their pain and anguish. Isn’t that what a lover does? A lover wants to be with their beloved wherever they may be, even if it is in the mud or out in freezing cold fighting to live. A lover wants to be with their beloved even in the midst of their trials. That is what St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote on love:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love…5does not behave rudely, does not seek its own…6does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

So if God is love then these things that Paul mentions about love are really definitions of who God is and consequently examples of His interactions with His beloved. But today’s blog is not about how God is with His beloved in the midst of suffering but about finding hope in suffering, so where to begin? Well let’s begin where we left off with our last blog, with C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is in the place of pain that God is shouting to us that something is wrong. Something is incredibly wrong with the world and the way things are happening that needs a drastic change. For example you don’t have to tell the child with a stomach ache that something is wrong, they already know. They know that something is wrong and that their sickness is probably not going away until they run to mommy. Now can mommy make the sickness go away? No, but she can diagnose it and find out that the child stayed up each candy to all hours of the night and now they are sick.

Now just as the child knew that they are sick when we experience suffering the pain we are experiencing is telling us that something is wrong, and just like the child we can respond in one of two ways hide in our pain and try to numb it and ignore it or we can tell mommy, or in our case God. Our suffering is as Lewis put it God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is God’s way to tell us that the pain the woman feels each night as her husband beats her is not right. The pain people experience in life is His indicator to us that something is wrong, thus meaning if God is God then that means He has a better plan. What is this better plan? Well in a single word it is resurrection.

Resurrection or rather rebirth is ultimately a new beginning. It is the end of the old and the beginning of the new. It is the beginning of a new chapter, a fresh start for humanity and yet still so much more. It is the end of suffering and triumph over all of humanity’s enemies. It is the end of sorrow and beginning of unending joy and peace, and it is this reality of the Christian Hope that is the conclusion of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, so let us dig deeper.

So where did this rebirth begin? Where will this end or rather when will it culminate? Well it began two thousand years ago when Christ conquered death and became the first fruits of new life. Christ the first fruits having thrown down the principality of death becoming the first born of the dead, the first to enter into the new birth has paved the way for humanity to follow; however, the story does not end there. But what does that entail? Is it merely a spiritual new life or is it physical as well? Is this “new life” better than the original? Well let’s begin with the spiritual side.

New Birth: Spirit

At the point of spiritual new birth, that which comes through salvation, the spirit begins the sanctification process that ultimately is the freeing from the internal bondage. What does that look like? At the point of salvation man’s spirit begins to change through the leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit who now lives within to guide in the paths of righteousness. On top of this the Spirit begins to bring freedom to our spirits from the bondage and sufferings that have befallen us for so long because of sin. So what does this mean in less spiritual jargon? Well as the Holy Spirit begins to sanctify us in righteousness we begin to stop saying yes to sin; which in the Christian mindset is the root of suffering. At the point of salvation the sinner is now both freed from the bondage of sin and becoming free as well. As we sin less we are ultimately creating less suffering for us and for others, though this does not mean the Christian is now free from suffering, but quite the contrary as the Christian is ultimately now creating less suffering.

Along with the decreasing of desire for sin in the sinner’s new birth into Christianity, the new Christian begins to walk the path of freedom from those things that had so long entangled them during their estrangement from God. These things being and not limited to: addictions to drugs, smoking, alcohol, sexual immorality, freedom from self hatred, narcissism, ect. However contrary to the more Post-Modern American Evangelical mindset it is not some instantaneous change from a sinner to a great holy Christian, nor is it some state of immediate freedom from ones struggles. Though some may experience some supernatural freedom from past struggles or massive leap in the sanctification process it is still a process that will continue throughout the entirety of ones life.

Now the last aspect to the new birth of the spirit is the end of alienation. No longer does the sinner remain alienated from God, but through salvation and the new birth of the spirit the Christian can now enter into blessed fellowship with God through the indwelling Spirit.

Though there are more aspects to the spirit’s new birth these are three of the main ones, though one might argue for eternal life the Bible makes it clear that even the unrepentant will have eternal life but they will be living it out in the lake of fire. At the point of death of the body or of the resurrection of the dead then our spirits will be transformed into Christ’s likeness both in the body and in the spirit.

New Birth: Body

The new birth of the body is just as glorious as the spirits, though for many it is simply the end of death but it is so much more than that, so let’s delve deeper. Unlike the new birth of the spirit the body’s new birth does not begin at salvation but at the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.

So let us begin with the obvious death is no more, no longer will man be able to die. No longer will man be able to suffer pain, sickness or any infirmity. This invulnerability to death and suffering is for those who are in Christ alone; as for those outside of Christ they will receive some form of an eternal body, but unlike those in Christ theirs can and will experience suffering.

There is much that shrouds the capabilities of the resurrected body but what we can safely assume is that whatever Jesus did with His and even what Adam and Even could do pre-fall we can do. That means when we work, yes we will still work, we won’t sweat. Work won’t be hard unlike it is now. Our minds quite possibly could be enhanced to where we are able to tap into 100% of our brains instead of only part. This idea can be seen in Adam’s ability to name every animal and manage the garden. We won’t experience shame or even self hatred concerning our bodies; this does tie in with the new birth of our spirits. Just as Jesus ate, we will eat. Unlike the Greek Gnostic mindset that says the body, work and all of physical reality is bad, the Biblical mindset says that the physical reality is Holy which is why we get a New Body.

For many they tend to liken the abilities of the resurrected body to that of modern day superheroes and though they may appear similar they are still completely different. Now concerning walking through walls, though it is possible scripture does not support this idea. Jesus never walked through walls, but rather it says Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst.”John 20:26. So how did He get in there? Well it was most likely more like He was translated just like Philip in Acts 8:39. Jesus on another occasion is translated from one place to another on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:31. Lastly how else could He see 500 people in 40 days, unless He could translate? Finally can the resurrected body fly? Though Jesus does ascend to heaven and is supposed to come riding on the clouds, that does not completely constitute flight. It merely shows that God was and will be demonstrating is superiority over the world. Does that mean we won’t fly no? No, it simply means we cannot assume anything other than it will be both glorious and perfect.

So in summary, what will the new birth of the body look like? Perfect.

New Earth

Presently we live in a fallen world where chaos, anger, death and corruption run rampant, but the New Earth will be completely the opposite. Just like the resurrected body the New Earth will in many ways return to the way things once were. Well what does that look like? Well there is peace; humanity lived in perfect harmony with all of creation. The soil was soft and not hard, the animals were not trying to kill them and there were no destructive storms in the land. Yes even the weather itself was in perfect harmony with the rest of creation. So if that was what creation looked like on the earth pre-fall we can only assume it will be at the least be the same if not better, which it will be.

Since the fall creation has groaned; for ever since humanity was thrust into exile from paradise they have waited, longing for alienation to end. Ever since the resurrection humanity has been freed from their estrangement from God and a New Exodus has begun, one that will culminate with all of creation finally reunited with God. For when Christ returns He will put to right all the wrongs as humanity’s exile comes to an end and the Father walks among His creation once more.

So what does the Bible say about the earth or rather New Earth as it says in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21? Well first there is a King named Jesus, but that goes without saying if you have ever read the scriptures, but for the sake of the one who has not read much I divulge more. In Psalm 89:3-4 David recalls the covenant that the Lord gave to him:  “I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations.”  So from the covenant the Lord has established the throne of David forever, thus if Jesus is the promised seed then there must be a throne. This is not some celestial, ethereal throne floating off in the cosmos but one on the earth. It is tangible.

However more than a King, there is also a Kingdom for a king is not a king without a kingdom; it is as simple as that. So what is this Kingdom? In a word it is perfect. So what is a Perfect Kingdom? For starters there is only peace. No longer will fear, anxiety and depression fill the streets. No longer will violence rage from nation to nation, for peace will overflow from the throne to the ends of the earth. This is what it means for Isaiah when he said: 7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:7 In short there will be peace all over the earth and it is will never end for there is not end to the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. Now does that mean that because there is no end to the increase of His Kingdom that we will take over the stars, planets and galaxies? It is unlikely that we will expand the Kingdom to the galaxies as the language is focusing on the fact that no other government could stop Christ’s Kingdom. To add on to this thought on the Kingdom there will no longer be wickedness or injustice for the One who sits upon the throne will uphold the perpetual peace through righteousness and justice for it is these two realities that are to be found as the foundation of His throne. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You.” Psalm 89:14 No longer will there be an unjust or wicked king, no longer a flawed righteous king but a Perfect King who will always uphold righteousness and justice all throughout the Kingdom. Thus the poor will be fed, the homeless will be given a home, the orphan and widow a family, the leaders will no longer take bribes or be corrupt. Every sphere of society will be upheld by righteousness and justice. No longer will teachers pick their favorites and ignore the ones who are hard to educate. For when the Prince of Peace sits upon the throne the perfection of all things will go forth as justice and righteousness upholds all things.

Well if there is a Perfect King and Kingdom what about the rest of creation? Well for starters it is new or rather perfect. Contrary to popular belief in much of the church we will not be living in heaven on clouds as fat little cherub babies after this life, nor will we dwell before the Lord worshiping in heaven for all eternity. To go along with these false suggestions of the afterlife the current earth will not be completely destroyed, thrown away and thus replaced but it will be restored to perfection. Why? Well why not? Why would God who has done so much to save all of creation when it is all said and done just abandon His creation? What’s more what about the apocalyptic scriptures that don’t reference people but the land? So let’s look to see what Isaiah has to say concerning the earth: Isaiah 35:7 “The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water.” Isaiah 44:3 “I will pour out water on the thirsty land…” Isaiah 62:4 “…your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married.” God clearly has a heart for the earth as it is His desire to not only to revive that which has become barren and dead but He also desires to marry the earth. Even if you want to spiritualize the reviving of the earth as a spiritual revival then why would God say He will marry or rather become one with the earth? Why would He give the Israelites in Deuteronomy laws concerning the treatment and mistreatment of the land if He did not have both a heart and destiny for the Earth itself? So what is the earth’s destiny? Perfection.

To even go one step deeper there will be peace on the earth even among nonhuman creation. Once again let us peer into the eyes of Isaiah: “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6 Finally humanity will not live in fear of creation as there is peace among all creation. To quote Woody Allen “The lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”

How does the earth become perfect or new? Well it starts back with the King. When the King comes He will establish peace, righteousness and justice in the earth that will ultimately transform all creation. At the very end of His thousand year reign, He will have thrown down Death, Hades and the accuser of the brethren Lucifer. No longer will death take place in the earth, no longer will injustice continue and no longer will the oppression continue. In Zechariah chapter 14, Zechariah prophesies that the Lord will be king over all the earth and even goes on to talk about the rain and the cattle as if these two things are still needed, thus food and the harvest will continue. But if these things be true and if even the people of the earth are beating their swords into plowshares in order to farm then there must be a destiny for the earth. So what is the fire that will consume the earth? Well if you have ever read the Psalms or the Prophets then you will have noticed that on many different occasions the writers use the word fire as a means not for destruction but for purification. So if this be true then surely when the Bible says fire will consume the earth, then perhaps this is what it means. The fire of God will purify the earth unto perfection transforming it into a new look or rather a new earth. As N.T. Wright so eloquently once said “Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.”

God All in All

So with a view of our hope being found in New Spirit, New Body and New Earth there is one last wondrous reality to consider; God will finally be all in all. Paul in his typical emblematic fashion paints the picture of the culmination of all things into perfection with this one small phrase: God will be all in all. O’ the bliss God and humanity will finally be one; the creator and His creation finally dwelling together in perfect unison. No longer will heaven be God’s realm and earth creation’s, but God and creation both humanity and nature will all be one. God will be glorified in complete perfection through all created order, and it is this reality of the Christian Hope that is the conclusion of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

20But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

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“As Thousands of Burning Ones Sing a New Song”

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Amble through the city and say what you saw,
But to dwell here forever is where you belong,
As thousands of Burning Ones sing a new song.
 
Awesome and great is the beautiful city,
But at her citizen’s who could pity,
Amble through the city and say what you saw.
 
At her beauty, the nations would desire,
Beholding her walls made of fire,
As thousands of Burning Ones sing a new song.
 
Among the Perfection of Beauty all stand in awe,
Before the throne all will fall,
Amble through the city and say what you saw.
 
Ancient of Days is all I saw,
Beholding Him I could find no flaw.
As thousands of Burning Ones sing a new song.
 
An appearance as a jasper and sardius stone,
Bearing eyes like fire, was He who sat on the throne,
Amble through the city and say what you saw.
 
Among the great throng, I will join in the song,
Beholding Glory on the sea of glass is where I belong,
Amble through the city and say what you saw,
As thousands of Burning Ones sing a new song.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, through the book of Revelation and the song “Thousands of Burning Ones” by N. Christopherson.