Merriam Webster defines apologetics as the systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine); or a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity. Simply put, "apologetics" is a logical and reasoned defense of a religious position. So what is it about this term that makes it so offensive? And no, I’m not talking about the hostile atheist angered by the Christian who dares to use science and reasoning to defend faith. And I’m not talking about the social activist offended by someone using the Bible to form their position on a particular issue. I’m talking about the Church. Why is the church offended by the idea of apologetics? If, like we discussed last week, our one true duty is to know God and to know the One whom God sent, then why are churches afraid of studying and understanding that God? Don’t get me wrong. There are many churches out there that understand the new battles that the believer faces. And those churches work to equip the believer in the best way possible to deepen their understanding of God, strengthen their faith, and embolden them to witness. But there are many more churches out there that don’t.
Why is that? Well, there are many excuses.
2.“The church doesn’t need to teach science – that’s for the schools to do.” The secular world says science and the Bible are at odds with one another. It implies that intellectual people know science outweighs religion. Our children are exposed to that faulty logic every single day. At best the church has two hours a week to try to remedy that. But it can never be done if the church doesn’t address science alongside the Bible. The church must explain how science and religion are not at odds with each other. The world uses science to draw our children away from the church – because they are engaging their minds. They are teaching science from a non-Biblical perspective and it is undermining everything that you are trying to teach them in church from the Biblical perspective. The Bible says God created and Adam sinned. The world says evolution and Neanderthal man. When is the church going to wake up and see we cannot leave science to the secular world to address?!? The church must be able to provide a logical and scientific discussion on those issues so that the believer will have confidence in the validity of the Bible, and therefore understand the God behind that Bible.
I’m not saying each Sunday school (or small group, since we seem to think saying Sunday school is off-putting now) teacher begin lecturing on calculus-based physics. But I am saying that the church should stop being afraid to look for God in chemistry, biology, geology, and cosmology. God made those things. So wherever we look for Him, in whatever field of science, we will find God’s creative hand and almighty power. But we have to show our children that God is there, otherwise, they will so easily be swayed by those secular scientists who tell them He’s not. When we leave an entire field of study up to the secularists, then we can’t be surprised when our children are persuaded by secularism. But if we show and teach our children that God is found within science, in fact, that you can’t even do science without God, then we will find a new generation of ambassadors for Christianity.
3. “No one wants to learn apologetics all the time.” This is a direct failure of churches to understand what apologetics is. Apologetics is a broad term for any subject that will give a reasoned defense behind Christianity. So it doesn’t mean that a year-long study of apologetics means you will be deep into Socratic philosophy every week. I find it much like saying you’re doing a “Bible” study. Consider how many different topics and books and aspects to the Bible we can study! The same is true for apologetics. In reality, apologetics should be so interwoven into our Bible studies that people don’t notice when it’s apologetics and when it’s not. It should be a regular topic that is covered by our churches. When Peter said to “always be prepared” to give a defense, he didn’t mean to just practice it for 4 weeks over the summer because church attendance is already low. The idea of always being prepared means…always preparing! We wouldn’t teach them from the Scriptures just a few weeks out of the year and think that sufficed as being prepared. The same is true of apologetics. Doing a short study once every three years is not going to equip believers to defend their faith. That is not being “always prepared.”
4. “If we show them love, they don’t need apologetics.” As Christians, we are most certainly called to love others. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” But let’s face it. We are not very good at that. Sometimes we’re downright terrible at it. Even worse, sometimes the world does better at it than the church. Yes, we are called to love. But there must be a stronger bind, a deeper call, into the fellowship with Christ than just the brotherly love of the church. Something must hold us in that relationship with God even when the relationship of the fellow believer may fail. So in reaching people, we must do more than just showing love to one another. Besides, Jesus said our love will show people that we are His disciples, but we must do more than that to make them His disciples. Showing love is how people will know we follow God, but that’s not how we get others to follow God. We have to speak about God. The great commission was not “go and love people.” The great commission was “go and make disciples,” which means telling and teaching others. Paul says in Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hears without a preacher?” We must be telling others about Christ. And we must be able to articulate to others who that Christ is and what He has done – in a way that they might understand. Which leads us to the next point…
5.“That’s not a good outreach tool. That’s not what gets people saved.” Right now, apologetics could possibly be the best, if not only, tool available for outreach. How many people are questioning what Romans 3 says compared to how many are wondering why God allowed a particular tragedy in their life? How many people are wanting to know what the book of 1 Timothy says compared to how many wonder if a god exists at all? How many people are wondering whether it matters what they believe anyway? It makes no sense to tell someone, “Jesus loves them; all they need to do is repent and ask forgiveness; they too can have eternal life instead of eternal condemnation” if they don’t think they’ve done anything that needs forgiving, have no concept of who they would be repenting to or asking forgiveness from, and don’t think there’s anything after this life anyway.
Hear my heart here. I am NOT minimizing the importance of reading the Bible and understanding Scripture. Nor am I minimizing showing the love of Christ as evangelism. However, making those kinds of statements as an excuse to not teach apologetics is a terrible misunderstanding of what apologetics is. Apologetics does not mean debating with someone over a metaphysical philosophy. Apologetics is being able to explain to someone why a God must truly exist – without just saying, “the Bible says so” because most people don’t believe the Bible to be true. Apologetics is being able to explain to someone why they have offended that God – whether they understand or agree with the concept of sin or not. Apologetics is being able to explain how only Jesus can reconcile them back to that God – whether they know anything about Jesus or not. And isn’t that the point of outreach? Through our love of others, we must explain to them who God is, who we are in relation to God’s Holiness, and what Jesus did for us.
6. “We just don’t do that here.” This is the worst excuse. It implies that simply because it hasn’t been done before in the past, it is not needed in the present. Same old, same old. Wake up, church! We are truly living in different times – not so different from the early church, but different from our parent’s generation.
The church must recognize that though our enemy is the same, his tactics have changed with this generation. I heard it best illustrated by Ken Ham so I’ll try to summarize that here. In the book of Acts, we see Paul’s missionary journeys and the model he set for establishing and growing a new church. He taught first in the synagogues using the Scriptures. With that Jewish audience, Paul was able to start with that common ground and then explain the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The Jews already understood who God was and what sin was. They had been offering sacrifices as an atonement for sin for thousands of years. They just needed the understanding, that veil to be lifted from their eyes, that the final sacrificial atonement was made in the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, when Paul preached to the Gentiles he delivered quite a different message. We can see that in his speech at the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17. That audience had no idea who God was. They worshiped all kinds of gods and were more than happy to just add another one to their list. They were so lost on that concept they even had an altar to the “unknown god.” They had no idea what sin was or that they needed to be reconciled for it. So Paul had to start his outreach to the Gentiles at a different place. Paul couldn’t pull out the Old Testament scrolls and point out prophecy. Paul had to identify who God was, the One True God. In his speech, Paul said:
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God…we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Paul made an apologetic explanation of who God was and why they should be concerned with Him. Paul knew his audience. Just a few generations ago, we were like that audience in the synagogue. Everyone tended to have a concept that there was a God and a general respect for what was in the Bible. They might not believe the God of the Bible, but if you showed them the scriptures, they trusted that as reliable and something to consider. Now, we are like that audience in Athens. We are philosophers that want to spend our time in nothing other than telling or hearing some new philosophical idea. We have many gods that we serve and don’t really care which one it may be. We have no concept of sin or why we should worry with it. We have no understanding of a righteous judgment that is to come or that we would ever be at risk for it. We are no longer living as Jews; we are living as Gentiles. And for that reason, we can no longer present the Gospel to the world as though they are Jews, needing only the final explanation of the Messiahship of Jesus. We must present the Gospel with an explanation that a God does in fact exist, that it is the Christian God, and that Jesus is the Son of God.
The Church must understand the world we are living in. Churches seem to recognize the world is different by how desperately they want to make the appearance and music of the church fit what is in the world. But we must recognize the seriousness of the doctrine that is in the world. We now need to prepare the believer to be able to present the Gospel message of Jesus to the world in the manner in which it is needed. We must add to the believer’s armor the belt of truth.
“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
This phrase is often used to describe the difference between Christianity and other religions. It’s been used so much I think you can even get it on a t-shirt. Deep down, there’s some truth to that ( although there are much better ways to explain why Christianity is different from everything else). The sentiment of the phrase is that other religions are simply rules and regulations to modify our behavior into behaving decently, whereas Christianity is about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And that is a valid distinction. However, the superficial use of that phrase, indicated by how commonly it is uttered, is deadly wrong.
The way the modern Church illustrates that phrase will have eternal consequences for people, and not the good kind. It appears the focus of the church is purely on relationship to the error of leaving all Christian religion behind. Now, I’m not advocating we become legalistic, but if we deplete ourselves of any religious doctrine, what exactly are we in relationship with? If, in order to become more palatable to the masses, we discard the Bible’s teachings because it constitutes “religion,” then we have simply created a fanciful relationship with a God of our own making. And that isn’t a religion or a relationship – and it certainly isn’t Christianity.
Why has the Church decided it only needs to focus on love and happy thoughts and helping others, as if that defines Christianity? Those attributes define any and every humanitarian organization. That is NOT what Christianity is. We are told in scripture to know God, to seek after Jesus. John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Matthew 6:33 says to seek the kingdom of God first. So yes, knowing God and seeking Jesus involves a relationship – but a relationship requires time and conversation. A relationship requires an investment into learning more about the one whom you are in a relationship with. To have a relationship, you must accurately and intimately understand who the other person is. Can you imagine marrying your spouse after only speaking to them 5 minutes one time a week? That is not a relationship where you actually know anything about another person. Likewise, if we think only about God’s love for us on Sunday mornings yet never take the time to read His Word or communicate with Him, then we don’t have a relationship because we don’t know the person with whom we are relating.
Church growth consultants say that people leave the church because they don’t have a relationship with Jesus. Of course they don’t; otherwise they wouldn’t leave the church. But why do they not have a relationship with Jesus? Is it because we failed to teach them that God loves them? Maybe it’s because they’ve failed to learn anything about who God is. The vastness of God’s love for us cannot be appreciated until we understand how much God should not love us and what lengths He went to out of His love for us. The Church wants everyone to think they are “friends” of God. But we are not God’s friends. The only person in the Bible referred to as God’s friend was Abraham. The ONLY ONE. We actually are enemies of God. We are the criminals and He is the judge. He has offered us a pardon for our crimes and is willing to welcome us in as His adopted children. But that means NOTHING to the criminal who doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. That means NOTHING to the criminal who doesn’t understand the authority and power of the Judge. To have a relationship with God, we must know God. And we must understand the vastness of who He is and His Holiness as well as the depths of our sin and depravity before we can fully appreciate what He did for us on the cross. Only then can we understand David’s words in Psalm 8, “O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! …When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?” When we truly learn about the Creator, the amazing, almighty God that created everything that we see and touch and feel, then we can say, “How excellent is Your name!” And when we remind ourselves of the depths of our sin, that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags, then we can say, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Not so that we respond to God out of guilt, but so that we can appreciate God’s love for us because we are in fact guilty. It is knowing God and knowing who we are in relation to God that compels our hearts towards gratitude and love. For God so loved us, therefore we should also love Him.
Therefore, the most important time you spend in your day is learning about God. That may sound like “religion” instead of relationship, but the religion part is necessary for the relationship to be true. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of the child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” Therefore the greatest endeavor of the Christian and of the Church is to learn and teach about God – all aspects of God. From the theological (or Biblical) to the philosophical to the scientific to the anthropological – EVERY aspect of God should be taught so that we can truly know Him.
Romans 1:20-23 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man.”
Are we guilty of that now? The attributes of God are all around us, but we are not glorifying Him as God. We are not even teaching about God. When we don’t take time to study who God is, then we are not glorifying God as God. We have simply reduced Him down to our own ideas about what He should be. We have neglected teaching His attributes so that people can know Him. So we have now changed Him from an incorruptible God into the image we make like corruptible man.
If you are just dabbling in enough Jesus to feel good about yourself one day a week, then you aren’t really knowing God. There is no relationship there. If you want to say that Christianity is more relationship than religion, then be in that relationship and get to know God. I truly believe you’ll find that you can’t have that relationship without that religious doctrine, because otherwise, you are in relationship with something other than the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the universe, King of all Kings, and Lord of all Lords. You must explore the depths and wonders of who God really is in order to have a right relationship with Him.
The religion part is necessary for the relationship to be true.
We all have a worldview. And your worldview may even be different from the box you check for your religion. A worldview is exactly what the name implies–it is the way in which we all view the world. It is how we assess and process information. It is the base we start from in explaining things. It is what directs our decision-making and it is what establishes our value system. Ultimately it is how we answer just four simple but major questions: where do we come from, what happens when we die, how do we decide right from wrong, and what is the purpose of life. Each religion and each individual worldview is going to answer those questions in different ways, so in order to parse through all the many different options, we have to find which worldview most adequately answers those questions.
First, a worldview must be consistent with how we know the world works. For example, let's say your worldview asserted that your dog should be worshiped because it created the world. We would know that is a flawed worldview because it is inconsistent with the facts around us. For one thing your dog is only 3 years old and the world has been around much longer than that. But your dog doesn't possess the creative power to do something like create the universe. So our worldview must be consistent with what we know and observe in the world around us.
Second, a worldview must be consistent within itself for how it answers each of those four questions. For example, if your worldview described our origins as a random springing forth of matter from nothingness, then there cannot also be a purpose to life. Life would be simply a lucky accident based on a coincidental rearrangement of matter – that does not give life any meaning or intent. To say that we are here randomly but then assign life meaning is to live in an inconsistent worldview. Our worldview must be consistent across how we answer those questions about life or else we know our worldview is false.
Since we base all that we do, reason, and decide on our worldview, then we ought to make sure it is logically coherent and inherently consistent. It really should be consistent with the world we observe and consistent within itself before we use it to drive our everyday actions. Therefore, one must think critically about how they form their worldview. Is it consistent with the world we observe and is it consistent within itself for how it answers life’s major questions: its meaning, its origin, its destiny, and its values?
However, in addition to answering those major questions about life’s existence and our destiny, every worldview must also answer the question about suffering. Why does suffering exist? Why do we respond to suffering in the way that we do? Whether you’re an atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or somewhere in between, your worldview must provide some explanation for why there is suffering. It is the ultimate question to which we all demand an answer when we see things take place around the world and when we experience tragedy firsthand in our own lives. We know that suffering is real because we feel it and see it every day somewhere around us. Therefore our worldviews must treat suffering a real entity, not just a figment of our imaginations, for it to be coherent and consistent. So does your worldview adequately address the existence of suffering? Even if you think it does, a worldview must do more than just explain the existence of suffering. It must somehow give us an adequate reason for our suffering. Just knowing that suffering abounds does not comfort our hearts or give us hope in the midst of it. A scientific explanation of tragedy does not give our souls peace. It answers how but not really why. So a worldview must be able to explain the existence of suffering that is consistent with the world that we see, but also provide a way for us to cope with it and to judge against it. It must satisfy our intellect and our soul.
The atheistic worldview says that our origins are purely natural; there is no greater Being that created the world we see. Life came about as a product of chance over an immense amount of time of struggling through evolutionary change and natural selection. Therefore death and suffering is simply a standard part of this world in the struggle for survival. In the atheistic worldview, death is the mechanism for life. It is by the death of the unfit that the fittest is pushed towards survival and that life progresses down a cone of increasing diversity. That would be a very straightforward explanation for the existence of suffering. Suffering and death exists because there is no option for it not to exist. But does that really explain our response to suffering? If suffering is simply a part of improving the genetic code toward a higher existence in biology, why do we feel a need to end suffering? Why do we condemn things as evil if it’s just part of nature? It would be like being angry at the wind for blowing when that is simply what the wind does. We are angered by suffering and dismayed by loss. We fund campaigns to fight against diseases and wage protests to end war. We decry genocide and promote civil rights. But why? We know there are things that just “ought not be so,” but why do we think that in the first place? If atheism really explains everything, then we should have a happy embrace and acceptance of death and suffering because it simply means the progression of life to evolve into something better. The atheistic worldview attempts to give a scientific explanation for the existence of suffering, but it fails to adequately explain our response to suffering. Atheism doesn’t tell us why we respond like we do when we see suffering.
The worldview of Hinduism holds to the concept of karma and reincarnation. For the Hindu, bad deeds equate to bad karma, and bad karma will result in suffering. But what about those cases of innocent suffering? What about the child born with a disability? Or the entire town devastated by a natural disaster? This worldview can explain some instances of suffering, but it can’t explain most of them because oftentimes tragedy seems to strike those that are most innocent. This worldview is not consistent with the world around us. The Buddhist believes that at the root of suffering is desire. The focus of the Buddhist worldview is to eliminate desire and therefore eliminate suffering. Does that really explain where suffering originates? Is all suffering simply a result of desire? What are we to do about “good” desires? We have the desire to help others. We have the desire to improve the world around us. We have the desire to end suffering. And Buddhists apparently have the desire to eliminate desire. Not all desires are the cause of suffering. This worldview also fails to adequately explain the world around us.
Granted there are many more worldviews than those addressed here. But the problem seems to remain the same through all of them. They fail to adequately account for the existence of suffering and why we respond to it with such lamentation. Bur what about the Christian worldview? Let’s be honest, when things get hard and suffering is excessive and evil seems to be in control, it is not Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam that is rejected. It is Christianity. It is the Christian God that seems to be held responsible for all calamities. And that should tell us something about the Christian God. He is not like the gods of those other religions. It tells us that people, whether they believe in Him as truth or not, recognize that something sets Him apart and above everything else. Why is that? And why does Shiva and Allah and Vishnu not get blamed for tragedy? It’s because the Christian God is supposed to be love. And people wonder, if the Christian God is love, then bad things should not happen. So let’s look at the Christian God in light of the existence of suffering. How does Christianity explain suffering?
The Christian worldview says that our origins come from an Almighty God who created this world and everything in it, that we have a soul that will live for eternity, and that our purpose in life comes from that God. And it is in light of those three facts that we can frame our understanding of suffering. From the first fact, God created this world for mankind, but mankind chose to reject God and now lives in a sin-wrecked world. Therefore suffering exists throughout this world – for the just and the unjust. Sin abounds, therefore we all face the damaging consequences of an imperfect world populated by imperfect, sinning people – which describes every one of us. Good people suffer; bad people suffer. And that adequately explains the world we see. Suffering and tragedy falls on all of us, regardless of our "karma."
So now we must look at the second fact. We have a soul that will live for eternity. Now we can have the proper perspective on suffering here. Life here is fleeting and largely out of our control. But we aren’t living for this life alone. We are living for where our souls will be for eternity. And that brings us to the third point: that our purpose comes from God. Our purpose here is to bring glory to His name in all situations. It means that suffering here isn’t just some meaningless stroke of bad luck. It always has a purpose if we look with an eternal perspective for the glory of God. As Jesus explains in John 9, a man had been blind since birth (innocent suffering in a fallen world) so that the works of God could be revealed (a Heavenly perspective that gives purpose for suffering to save souls for eternity). It’s the same when we read in Acts 3 about a man who had been paralyzed his whole life, sitting in front of the temple as a beggar. He had lived his entire life suffering, unable to walk, so that in that moment Peter could heal him in the name of Jesus so that 3,000 souls could find salvation in that same name of Jesus. It is only through the Christian worldview that we can explain the existence of suffering and our response to it. We are saddened by suffering because we know those things “ought not be.” But we only realize that fact because we know how God desires it to be for us. It is why we long for suffering to end. It is the Christian worldview that shows us hope within the midst of suffering.
But the Christian God actually takes it a step further. He doesn’t just tell us to think with a Heavenly perspective when things go wrong and leave us to that. He actually left His throne room of perfection to come down and suffer alongside us. Allah, Shiva, and Vishnu don’t do that. They stand aloft and give directives and rules about how to avoid suffering. The Christian God brings comfort into our suffering and shows us a purpose and a hope in it because He didn't just suffer with us but for us. He was the prime example of innocent suffering, which would be tragic enough, but He suffered innocently on the behalf of those who were guilty. And in the midst of His suffering, we found the prime example of hope. He suffered so that we could have hope for something beyond this life. It is His suffering that allows us to have a purpose and eternal perspective in our suffering. Without the existence of God and without the love of Jesus shown on the cross, our suffering would be meaningless and purposeless. And there can’t be a sadder existence here than to think we suffer loss, pain, and tragedy with no purpose.
Romans 5:3-5 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
I am a mother to two preschool boys. And I’ve found in parenting, there always comes a point where we have to choose between our child’s happiness and our child’s ability to become a contributing member of society in the future. In other words, sometimes it is more important for them to be unhappy and learn obedience and respect of authority than to be happy and turn out to be a brat. Granted, in a perfect world, our children would be happy being obedient and respectful but that’s probably a little much to ask for two preschoolers. Understanding which battle to fight that strikes the balance between those two things is a constant struggle for the parent. However, one of the hardest things I’ve learned in parenting is how similar my dealings with my children are to God’s dealings with me! Oh why can’t I be happy being obedient and respectful of what God desires for me!!
I’m not out on a limb making that comparison though. Jesus does the same thing in Matthew 7:9-11 “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” And clearly that passage tells us that God will give us good things. So doesn’t that mean God just wants us to be happy? I mean, we always love to reference other verses like Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope), and Psalm 37:4 where God will give us the desires of our heart. And so we take those verses and say, “Follow your heart! And God will give you all that you desire!” “Ask and it will be given to you!” “God wants you to be happy!” But what kind of theology is that? Where does that lead us in life and in our walk with God? Is that what God really intends from those verses? Does He want us to be happy?
Well, even though we as earthly parents desire good things for our children, we still must be more concerned with their obedience and their hearts than we are their happiness. After all, God’s word also tells us in Hebrews that He disciplines those whom He loves. It makes the same comparison to earthly parenting. We are disciplined by our human parents and paid them respect. So we should all the more be in subjection to our Heavenly Father who disciplines us for our profit “that we may be partakers of His holiness.” So what is God truly concerned about? Our happiness? Our holiness. So just like we are more concerned with raising considerate and responsible adults, God is more concerned with raising us up in His holiness than He is in us just being happy.
Consider His servant Job. If God were concerned with Job’s happiness, He never would have pointed Job out to Satan. Satan had come before God, and God said, “Have you considered my servant Job?” Satan claimed that Job only worshiped God because he had many blessings, after all Job had 10 children, over 11,000 livestock and a huge household. I’m sure Job was very happy with all of that. If that was all God wanted, for Job to be happy, then He would not have allowed Satan to take all that away. During the course of Job’s testing, Satan killed all of his children, destroyed all of his livestock, ruined his household, and attacked his health. Was Job still happy now? Did God deprive Job of the desires of his heart? Didn’t God know how to give good gifts to His children? Well it was in the depths of that suffering that we saw the true desires of Job’s heart – to remain in God. In the depths of his suffering, Job still cried out to God. So the good gift that God gave to Job was His presence in the midst of suffering. God took those fleeting, earthly pleasures that we think made Job “happy” and taught Job to be content with just the presence of God. God wanted Job’s heart to stay with Him more than He wanted Job to be “happy.”
In 2 Corinthians 12 we see the great apostle Paul, who had already suffered so much for the cause of Christ, speak of a “thorn in the flesh.” If God were merely concerned with Paul’s happiness, He would have removed this thorn from him. After all, Paul had even repeatedly asked God to take it away. Shouldn’t God have given Paul the desire of his heart and remove this thorn? Didn’t God know how to give good gifts to his children instead of giving Paul a thorn? Well, it was from this thorn in his flesh that Paul was taught that God’s grace is sufficient and that He is strong when we are weak. Paul’s true desire of his heart was to gain Christ. He counted all things loss but to gain Christ. And that was what he gained through this thorn. He gained the sufficient grace of Christ and the strength of God in his weakness. He says the thorn was put there by Satan, but left there by God so that Paul would not be tempted into pride. Ironic, considering that pride was what instigated the fall of Satan himself. God left the thorn to teach Paul to rely on Him.
The clearest picture of God being more interested in our obedience than our happiness is found in Jesus Christ. After the Last Supper, Jesus goes to the garden to pray to God just hours before His betrayal, arrest, and trial. As God, Jesus knew what lay before Him, but as man Jesus did not want to go through it. We see the intense struggle because He told His disciples that His spirit was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” And as He prays, He cries out, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Jesus wanted there to be another way other than Him being tortured and crucified on the cross. It would have made Him happy to NOT have to walk through that. So what good gift was God the Father going to give to God the Son? Would God the Father give God the Son the desires of His heart? Well the true desire of the heart of Jesus was to come and give salvation to mankind. And there was no other way to do that except through the perfect sacrifice as an atonement for the sins of all mankind. God gave Jesus the desires of His heart, even though it involved pain, suffering, and death. God was more interested in His obedience than in His momentary happiness. It was as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “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.” Paul’s “light momentary affliction” involved being stoned nearly to death, beaten with rods, shipwrecked, imprisoned, in hunger, thirst, and constant danger (1 Corinthians 15). But the “light momentary affliction” of Jesus was flogging, a crown of thorns shoved into His brow, a spear piercing His side, and death by crucifixion on a cross.
In each of those situations, as it is in each of our situations, God wants us to love Him more than we love our circumstances. He wants us to rely on Him, cast all our cares upon Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Because the most important thing is not how happy we are in this life, but where we are for eternity. God wants our hearts; He wants us to love Him. How do we show our love for God? John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” God is more interested in our obedience than He is in our happiness.
Probably the most easily identifiable and popular verse from the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” While most people could quote that, many people probably can’t identify under what circumstances those words were spoken. The words were spoken by Jesus to a Pharisee, Nicodemus, who came to talk with Jesus at night under the cover of darkness. And while that one statement is a wonderful summary of the Good News found in Jesus Christ, by quoting only that verse from this passage, we overlook the seriousness of the necessity of that Good News. The rest of the passage is:
But this is a larger analogy that is consistent throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. The very first thing that God created was light – not the sun, but light. He separated the light from the darkness. He didn’t have to create darkness because darkness is simply the absence of light. So He created the light to dispel the darkness. After Moses spent time with God on the mountain, his face shone so brightly it had to be veiled. David describes the Lord as his light and his salvation. Jesus quotes Isaiah at the beginning of His ministry saying, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, Light has dawned.” Jesus calls His followers to be a light unto the world. He says that we are the salt and light of the world.
God is continually referred to as light, and man as being in darkness. In John 3:19, Jesus even says that men prefer to be in darkness because that’s where they can do their evil deeds. We prefer to be in darkness because we think we can hide in our sins. But it is in the light that our true sinning nature is exposed. It is in the presence of a Holy God that we realize our total depravity. Satan’s work is to keep us veiled in the darkness so that we prefer to be there. He wants to hide the truth and the light away from us so that we will not understand who God is. But the sun doesn’t shine any less brightly when we are kept in the darkness. Likewise, God is no less pure and holy when we shut our eyes to Him.
In the beginning God commanded the light in order to break through the darkness. He shines His light to reveal man’s true condition, our true condemnation. And once we confess our sins and come out of the darkness to stand in His light, He places that light inside of us. He then wants us to shine that light to others so that we can expose the condemnation of the dark, so that we can unveil the truth that has been hidden by Satan. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 Paul says, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
The “god of this age” is referring to Satan. His sole mission is to keep us blinded from God’s light. He wants us to remain in the dark – both in our knowledge of who God is and in the things that we do. John 3:17 says that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world. That’s because the world has already been condemned – through Satan. Satan’s work is to keep the truth veiled and to keep men in darkness. And that is our condemnation--that we prefer to hang out in the dark. Jesus came to shed light on that darkness and draw men out of the dark, into the light, and into salvation. Jesus came that through Him the world might be saved. God’s ability to bring light is greater than Satan’s ability to veil it in darkness.
Darkness is the absence of light. So if God is the light, then darkness is the absence of God – the absence of love, mercy, justice, and holiness as well. And that indeed would be a very dark place. The absence of God is exactly where we are in our sins. One day God’s light will shine over all things to reveal what was once hidden. What will your deeds look like once they are brought into the light? How can we then escape the darkness? That’s what Jesus tells us in John 3:16. Whoever believes on God’s Son will not perish. He will be the one whose deeds done in truth will be in the light to be clearly seen because they have been done in God.