Why?

Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root;
    they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
    and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me;
    you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
    and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
How long will the land mourn
    and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it
    the beasts and the birds are swept away,
    because they said, “He will not see our latter end.” Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV

Jeremiah was a confused and conflicted man. One minute he is weeping for his people, longing for God to spare them the coming destruction he knows they so fully deserve. But here, we find Jeremiah praying that God would give the wicked exactly what they deserve – dragging them off like sheep to the slaughter. Jeremiah, though a prophet, was still human. He had feelings just like anyone else and he felt confident and safe in expressing those feelings to God. He was angry at the people of Anathoth for plotting his death. He was frustrated with the stubborn and persistent refusal of the people of Judah to listen to his words of warning and call to repentance. And though he knew that God was righteous and just in all his actions, Jeremiah still had questions for Him.

“Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” – Jeremiah 12:1 NLT

Why? It’s a common question aimed at God by His people. We can’t help but ask why, because we don’t understand the ways of God. From our perspective, things seem illogical and even unjust at times. He doesn’t appear to be acting fairly or with integrity. We look at our life circumstances and see injustice, but then wonder how that can be if God is just. Jeremiah looked around him and saw wicked people who were happy and prosperous. With all that he knew about God, that seemed difficult to understand or explain. So, he asked God to provide him with answers. And Jeremiah would not be the first or the last human being to have questions for God. Job, in the midst of all his sufferings, expressed similar words to God.

“Why do the wicked prosper,
    growing old and powerful?
They live to see their children grow up and settle down,
    and they enjoy their grandchildren.
Their homes are safe from every fear,
    and God does not punish them.” – Job 21:7-9 NLT

He went on to say:

“They spend their days in prosperity,
    then go down to the grave in peace.
And yet they say to God, ‘Go away.
    We want no part of you and your ways.
Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him?
    What good will it do us to pray?’” – Job 21:13-15 NLT

It was Asaph who wrote in his psalm:

“For I envied the proud
    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
    their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
    they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.” – Psalm 73:3-5 NLT

The prophet Habakkuk expressed his confusion and complaint to God regarding His seeming indifference to the Babylonians and their treatment of the people of Israel.

“But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they?” – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

Things don’t always turn out like we think they should. Our expectations of God are sometime dashed on the rocks of reality. We expect deliverance and find ourselves suffering pain. We anticipate victory, but end up experiencing defeat. We attempt to follow God faithfully and then find ourselves inexplicably going through difficulties and trials. And like Jeremiah, we end up asking God, “Why?” We demand answers. From our human perspective, we see those who give God little but lip service seemingly prospering and skating through life unscathed. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem fair.

Jeremiah is incredulous. He can’t believe what he is seeing. He even tells God, “But as for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts” (Jeremiah 12:3 NLT). Jeremiah was no hypocrite and he was confident that God knew so. And yet, he was the one who was suffering, while his opponents were prospering. Nothing about that scenario seemed just, right or fair. How could God let that happen? Why would God let that happen?

Jeremiah suffered from a malady common among God’s people. It was a false assumption that community with God equaled immunity from suffering. As the children of God we too often assume that our lives will be trouble-free and painless. But the Bible paints such a different picture. We have the stories of Joseph, who was used by God to preserve a remnant of the people of Israel from starvation and provide them with food and shelter in the land of Egypt. But in order for that to happen, Joseph had to endure countless trials and repeated acts of injustice against him. It was all part of God”s plan for his life. Generations later, Moses was God’s chosen instrument to deliver the people from their captivity in Egypt. But first he had to run for his life, guilty of murder and a wanted criminal. Then he had to spend 40 years living as a common shepherd in the wilderness until God issued His call for Moses to be His deliverer. David was anointed by God to be the next king of Israel, but spent years running for his life in an attempt to escape the wrath of Saul, the current king who had placed a bounty on David’s head. Time after time and all throughout the Scriptures, we see the people of God suffering as part of God’s divine plan. Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders of Israel, accused of crimes He had not committed and executed like a common criminal. The apostles suffered constantly as they took the gospel to the nations. Paul described his life as a faithful messenger of the gospel in less-than-glamorous terms:

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). And it was Peter who wrote: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Jesus Himself told His disciples: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). The life of the believer is not for the feint of heart. Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:24-25 NLT). Following Christ requires daily death to self. It demands a giving up of our rights and expectations in order to submit to the will of the Father. Jesus never promised us a trouble-free life. But He did promise abundant life – a life filled with the peace that passes all understanding. A life marked by the promise of God’s persistent presence. A life characterized by joy in the midst of sorrow, hope even in times of sorrow, strength when we are weak, comfort when we are suffering, and the promise of an eternity free from sin, sorrow, pain and death. It was Paul who reminded the believers in Rome: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

We are more than free to ask God, “Why?” But we already know the answer. He knows what is best. He has a plan. He can be trusted. And while His ways are not our ways and His methods may seem nothing short of madness, we must trust that He knows what He is doing and has a perfectly good reason for our suffering.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Keep Your Eyes On The Prize.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 ESV

What Paul taught, he fully believed. His belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what fueled his ministry and personal life. It was also his firm, unwavering belief in the reality of our future redemption and glorification that motivated all his efforts. Quoting from Psalm 116:10, Paul says, “I believed, and so I spoke.” To understand why Paul chose this particular verse from this particular psalm, you must remember what Paul has just finished discussing with the Corinthians.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 ESV

In these three verses, Paul describes the nature of his earthly ministry. It was difficult and at times, dangerous. And, no doubt, Paul chose to quote from Psalm 116, because it had become near and dear to his heart during those many times of trials and troubles. The second part of the verse he quoted reveals that this psalm carried special meaning for Paul. “I believed, even when I spoke:I am greatly afflicted’.”  Even Paul’s cries to God during his times of difficulty were driven by his belief in God. The psalmist shared that same faith in the sovereignty and compassionate mercy of God.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live. – Psalm 116:1-12 ESV

For you have delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living. – Psalm 116:8-9 ESV

What shall I render to the Lord
    for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people. – Psalm 116:12-14 ESV

Paul had experienced the mercy of God, not only in his conversion experience, but in the everyday struggles of life. And he wanted to share the news of God’s mercy and compassion with anybody and everybody. Paul assures the Corinthians that all he has done by way of sharing the gospel was done for their sake. “All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2 Corinthians 4:15 NLT). The greater good of men and glory of God were what motivated his efforts. And it was these was two things that prevented him from losing heart or growing discouraged, no matter how much difficulty he may have had to face.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. – 2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT

Paul could relate to the psalmist when he wrote:

How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
    So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
    I was facing death, and he saved me.
Let my soul be at rest again,
    for the Lord has been good to me. – Psalm 116:5-7 NLT

Paul was motivated by the mercy and grace of God. He believed in God’s presence and trusted in His power. Yes, his body was dying and he knew what it was like to suffer physically as he went about his ministry. But he was able to rest in the knowledge that God was with him in this life and would one day reward him with eternal life. From Paul’s perspective, his troubles and trials were nothing more than “momentary light afflictions.” He was able to say, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! ” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT). He chose to view his struggles in this life from a positive, rather than a negative perspective. They would be short-lived but have a long-lasting influence on his life. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul reminded them,

…if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. – Romans 8:17-19 NLT

Suffering precedes glory. This life will have its difficulties. Jesus promised it (John 16:33). But this life is not all there is. There is more to come. And it was Paul’s belief in the reality of the resurrection and its guarantee of our future redemption that kept him going.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

It is our faith in the future that provides us with strength for the present. Having a future-focused faith keeps us from fixating on our troubles and trials, as if they are reality and heaven is nothing more than a fantasy. But Paul reminds us, “the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” Like a runner who keeps his eyes on the finish line, we are to run the race of life with endurance, willing to suffer the pains and difficulties associated with this world, because we know the completion of our race will bring with it a reward that far outweighs all the effort we have had to exert along the way.

The writer of Hebrews provides us with some powerful words of motivation:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. – Hebrews 12:1-4 NLT

 

The Lord Is Near.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. – Psalm 145:18-21 ESV

Psalm 145

The last part of this prayer of David might seem a bit far fetched or to be over-promising just a bit. At least, when it comes to our own lives, it may feel as if what David says has not been our experience. There have been plenty of times in my life when it has seemed as if God was not near when I called on Him. I have also had to very real experience of not having all of my desires fulfilled. So either I have not been calling on Him in truth or I must not fear Him, or perhaps both. Why is it that I don’t always feel as if God hears my cry and saves me? Am I the problem? I think it’s safe to say that the problem is not with God, So what’s going on here? What is David telling us about God?

There is a very real sense in which our experiences with God may leave us feeling as if He doesn’t hear or answer. We may believe that our cries for help fall on deaf ears and that our circumstances don’t always turn out for the best. But David would have us know that God is always near. He always hears. He always preserves those who love Him. But how God does so may not coincide with our own expectations. We rarely go to God without some well-thought-out idea of what we want Him to do for us. In fact, most of our prayers consist of clear-cut instructions for God, telling Him exactly what it is we want Him to do and when we want Him to do it. If we have a bone to pick with God, it is because He doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we desire. But His job is to do His will, not ours. He knows what is best for us. Paul gives us some timeless counsel: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6 NLT). It is perfectly okay to tell God what we need. It is even okay to tell Him what we want. But at that point, we have to let go of our wishes and come to grips with the fact that His will may not be the same as our wish. He may choose to do something different altogether. And if His answer comes back in a different form or on a different schedule, it DOES NOT mean He is not near or that He does not hear.

A big part of this Psalm has to do with praise for God. As believers we tend to put far more emphasis on petition. We are all about what we can get from God, but fail to give as much priority to giving to God what He so richly deserves: Our praise. David even wraps up his prayer with the promise, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord”. Regardless of how God answers, David will praise Him. No matter the difference in God’s timing compared to David’s, he will still praise God. Why? Because God is near. Because God cares. Because God will ultimately do exactly what should be done. Regardless of whether we agree with Him or not. We must always remember that God’s schedule is based on an eternal timeline, not a temporal one. We live in the hear-and-now. He exists in timeless eternity. We have a hard time looking past today. He knows the future and has our eternal destiny already worked out in advance. Again, Paul is the one to remind us, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT). If we had our way, we would pray ourselves out of all our troubles. We would ask God to remove all our pain and problems. We would ask for a trial-free existence. And the truth is, that day is coming, but it is reserved for our future. It will come when God has decided to put an end to sin and death once and for all. We have to develop an eternal perspective and keep our eyes focused on what is to come. God will one day remove all pain, sorrow, sin, hatred, and sickness. In the meantime, we must remember that He is near, that He cares, that He rescues, that He preserve and protects, and that He deserves our praise and thanksgiving. So let all flesh bless His name forever and ever.