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All Spiritual Development

3 Disciplines That Will Strengthen Your Relationship with God

Author: Jon Slenker, M.A., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

God wants a relationship with you. A meaningful, honest, loving, and liberating relationship. The Scriptures reveal a story told through God’s relationship with mankind. God’s story is one of triumph even though many characters in the Bible lacked discipline in some way. And where discipline was lacking, so was their relationship with God. The disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and the Church revolve around communing with God and his people. A fresh look at these foundational disciplines is a great place to start when strengthening your relationship with God.

Everyone has experienced a relationship that needed to be strengthened or rekindled. Discipline is an incredible gift of grace to humanity that images God’s own character. Bible study, prayer, and engaging with the Church will not only strengthen your relationship with God, but it will also strengthen your relationship with your family and friends, even with yourself. From the beginning, Jesus displayed perfect discipline and remained steadfast to the grave. Paul modeled disciplining his mind and body and instructed Titus to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined (Titus 1:8).” We must remember discipline is not only a mastery of self by our own strength but through the help of God. David wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).” 

The Discipline of Bible Study

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

The Bible was written over 1,500 years, by 40 authors, including 3 languages, spanning 3 continents and it all tells the same, brilliantly cohesive story. God is revealing himself, his name, his character, his purposes and plans for how we might be reconciled to him and join him on his mission to reconcile a lost and broken people to himself (2 Cor 5:17-20). All of the Old Testament points to Jesus, while all of the New Testament presents Jesus. Through creation, fall, rescue and ultimately restoration, Jesus is the hero of his story!

One who is disciplined in the Word learns how to rightly divide or interpret it. Inductive and discovery Bible study begins with observation, moving to interpretation, and finishing with application. A student of God’s Word is faithful to context and to the author’s original intent.

7 Questions of Discovery Bible Study

Read the passage and recite out loud from memory.

  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about man and woman?
  3. Is there a sin to avoid?
  4. Is there a promise to claim?
  5. Is there an example to follow?
  6. Is there a command to obey?
  7. What is God saying to me and how does he want me to be obedient from this passage?

By asking these questions of a passage, it not only follows a healthy scientific or inductive approach, it increases comprehension and retention. Even more, it is incredibly simple and allows the Holy Spirit to lead the discussion and learning.

According to Wycliff Bible Translators1, out of the 7,378 languages spoken across the globe, 3,011 possess no Scripture. God’s Word is a gift and we should consistently discipline ourselves to it and by it. While presenting the Bible to every tribe, tongue and nation is the goal, the fact remains the majority of people in the world are oral learners, therefore we must remember the power of Bible storying. By studying and memorizing the Scriptures we are allowing God to talk to us, telling us of his character, purposes, desires, his tenderness and strength, miracles and promises. The goal of disciplined Bible study is to grow in obedience, not to simply store up knowledge. The Word has the power to transform. The discipline of digesting the scriptures provides the sojourning Follower a map and compass of all other disciplines.

The Discipline of Prayer

…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8

Prayer stills and strengthens our hearts. Prayer positions a person in a posture of humility and hope. It is a weapon against the enemy and an ointment to our souls. There are many types of prayer in the Bible. There is the prayer of worship (Revelation 4:11), thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4), faith (Hebrews 11:6), intercession (1 Timothy 2:1), corporate prayer (Revelation 19:1-8), consecration (Psalm 51:10), a prayer of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27) and more.

Jesus modeled the practice of prayer and taught his disciples to pray earnestly and confidently. Jesus taught, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7).”

Prayer is about communing with God and aligning our minds and hearts with his. It is no wonder why every great spiritual awakening throughout history was the result of intentional prayer. Practice praying through the prayers in the Bible after studying and meditating on them to strengthen your relationship with the Lord.

The Discipline of Church

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to myriads of angels in joyful assembly, to the congregation of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven. You have come to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Hebrews 12:22-24

The discipline of church includes covenanting with others in your community for corporate worship, fellowship, discipleship, accountability, ministry, and mission. It is through the discipline of gathering and co-laboring with other believers, true and deep relationships are built. From laughing, crying, praising, and praying with others as we walk alongside them in life, we experience God in fresh ways and strengthen our relationship with him.

We share our greatest hopes and victories through Christ with our believing brothers and sisters. One of the greatest impacts on my relationship with God has come from staying in countless Believer’s homes as I have had the privilege to travel the globe. The reality is that no matter where in the world you are, every believer and church is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, glorifying one God and Father of all… (Eph 4:4-6). Our relationships with God are strengthened because he has given us a family in his Kingdom. God made us for relationship.

Strengthening Your Relationship with God

The discipline of Bible study allows God to talk to us. The discipline of prayer allows us to talk to God. The discipline of the Church allows the marriage of communing with God and kingdom family in concert.  At times, these disciplines come easy, other times it requires the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears.” The author of Hebrews reminds the disciplined one of the reward, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).”

What fresh practices/activities would you like to experience as you discipline yourself to grow your relationship with God?

1https://www.wycliffe.net/resources/statistics/

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

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All Spiritual Development

How to Live For God: The Four Spiritual Secrets

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

God will demonstrate His faithfulness by showing you how you can be in Him, and He can be in you…” Pastor Dick Woodward

For over 40 years, Pastor Dick Woodward centered his ministry around four profound truths he called the “spiritual secrets”. These are not secrets in the sense that only a select few special individuals get to know about them. Quite the contrary. They are a distillation of Pastor Woodward’s study of scripture. In a way, they are a core message decoded by a serious student of the Bible walking closely with the Holy Spirit. These four truths, or secrets, can change your life and with them, you can learn how to live for God.

 

The First Spiritual Secret:

“I am not, but He is”

When you truly encounter the One, Holy Creator of everything, you realize what Pastor Woodward calls “the absolute difference between me and the God who calls Himself ‘I AM.’” Like Moses standing before the burning bush, we must understand that, in God’s presence, we are nobody. We bring nothing to the table, even if we are wealthy, powerful, or wise according to the world’s standards. God wants to show us what He will do with somebody who recognizes that he is nobody.

Moses certainly understood this when he stood in God’s presence. He had been somebody, the son of Pharaoh, in line to rule a powerful nation. Instead, God took Moses into the desert to become a nobody; a wandering shepherd. There, through 40 years of losing himself, Moses learned humility. Then, when Moses was, as Number 12:3 tells us, the most humble man on the face of the earth, God was able to use him. As a nobody, Moses did great things because God was powerful through him.

“It’s not about us and our identity, our self-esteem, our success or any feelings of adequacy, inadequacy or anything in between.” Pastor Woodward says. “It’s about God and His identity.”

 

The Second Spiritual Secret:

“I can’t, but He can.”

If you have ever had the experience of coming to the end of yourself, you will be familiar with the words “I can’t.” When you’ve exhausted your own resources, your own power, there comes a point when there’s nothing else you can do. Sometimes you might experience this in response to something God is calling you to do, but something for which you feel entirely inadequate. “I can’t” is not something anybody enjoys saying – it hurts our pride too much. But it can also be quite liberating, letting go of expectations and weights that we put on ourselves. 

Moses came to such a moment when God called him to stand before Pharaoh. God called him to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses’ first reaction was to say “I can’t” (Exodus 4:10). Moses wasn’t wrong. He had tried to stand up for his people his way and only ended up killing a man and running for his life. No, Moses couldn’t, but God could. Once Moses realized he was nobody, God used him to do amazing things. 

 

The Third Spiritual Secret:

“I don’t want to, but He wants to.”

God’s love is strange – mind-blowing might be the better word. He loves people who we don’t want to love. He loves you and me, and we all know how unloveable we are. When we stand before God and utter the famous words of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am, send me!” we are not always prepared for what comes next. Sometimes our neighbor is unlovely. Sometimes the journey is difficult or dangerous. The truth is, when it comes to God’s mission to love people, we don’t want to do it. But he does.

Jonah found himself in exactly such a position when God called him to preach repentance to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:2). These were awful people; the worst of the worst, and God loved them. As the story goes, Jonah refused and ran in the opposite direction, but God followed him and got his attention (to put it mildly). Jonah did not want to do it, but God did.

We find ourselves in a similar situation whenever God asks us to do something, whether it is loving our enemy or repenting of sin – or even something as simple as spending time in the Word. When we follow our own desires, we run from God. Instead, we need to make His desires our own, realizing that our hearts are corrupt. God won’t make us do anything, but he will send a storm to get our attention, and a great fish to bring us to repentance. Far better that we lay down our desire at the start.

 

The Fourth Spiritual Secret:

“I didn’t, but He did.”

At the end of the day, when we have finally understood and applied the first three spiritual secrets, we are tempted to sit back and say, ‘well now I’ve done a great thing.’ But here is a great danger and we risk losing everything. If ‘I am not’, and ‘I can’t’, and ‘I don’t want to’, then how is it that I so often come to the conclusion that ‘I did’? How is it that we take credit for something that is so clearly not our doing?

After Jonah preached to the Ninevites, an amazing thing happened: they actually repented! (Jonah 3:6)  Nobody, especially Jonah, would have expected it. Jonah could never have caused that to happen, and he certainly didn’t want it to happen. (Jonah 4:1) Though he was angry, he rightly credited God with accomplishing such a miracle. How silly would it have been for Jonah to sit back and take credit for Nineveh’s sudden change of heart?

 

How to Live for God

When we finally obey God, after we have become nobody, we become vessels of His love and mercy. It isn’t our love that we show to our neighbor; it’s His. It’s not our Word that changes lives; it’s His. We are like the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. (Matthew 21:7) We merely carry Jesus with us, but He does the work.

These four spiritual secrets are meant to show you how to live for God. I’m not, I can’t, I don’t want to, and I didn’t – this is the necessary starting point for obeying and following Him. When you become nothing, God shows up. When you are nobody, God becomes somebody in your life. Put these four spiritual secrets into practice and you will see God do amazing things through you.

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

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All Spiritual Development

What is Sin?

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

It makes sense that many people wonder “what is sin?” First, sin is uncomfortable to talk about. Hearing the word sin might bring about feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or even anger. Second, many people may feel that sin is an outdated concept. Some may think that to sin is merely to violate some arbitrary religious rule and so we don’t really need to worry about it too much. Insisting that sin is relevant and important may seem presumptuous or naive. Nevertheless, from the Christian perspective, sin is an idea that matters very much and it needs to be understood. It is a central idea in the Christian story, the fundamental problem that needs to be solved. After all, Jesus came to save us from our sin (Matthew 1:21).

To understand what sin is, we first need to see that there is a way the world should be and there is a way that we should be as human beings. God created the world with a certain purpose in mind and he created us with a certain purpose as well. That purpose has never changed. Jesus helps us understand what that purpose is when he gives us the greatest commandments. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29–31).

 

Defining Sin

Here is a simple way to understand what sin is. Any time we fail to live according to God’s purpose for us, then we sin. One Hebrew word translated as sin is khata and it literally means to “miss the mark.”  Hamartia is a word often translated as sin in the New Testament and it refers to an “act contrary to the will and law of God” (Louw Nida).

The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe sin. Sin is described as a weight that keeps us from God and from enjoying God’s blessings (Hebrews 12:1). Sin is a restraint that causes our strength to fail (Lamentations 1:14). Sin is like a sickness that needs to be healed (Hosea 7:1). Sin is a debt that we cannot pay back; our sin results in destruction, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin is also sometimes personified as if it had the power to entice and entangle us (Romans 7:17).

 

Consequences of Sin

As we can see, the consequences of sin are grave. The Bible tells us that a life of sin is ultimately a life of suffering, defeat, and death. Some might think that sin has this power because it is literally some kind of force. And the Bible does sometimes talk about sin as if it was a force (cf. Romans 7), but that is likely only a metaphor. Sin doesn’t have any power of its own. Rather, sin is just the name the Bible gives to those acts which don’t align with God’s will and intentions for us. To sin is to rebel against our Creator. 

But that raises a tough question. If sin doesn’t have any power on its own, then why does it produce all these bad effects? There are two reasons for this. First, when we sin, we do what we weren’t designed to do. When we act in ways that run contrary to our design, it makes us unhappy. It’s as if a bird decided to live like a worm. Birds aren’t made to live like worms; that’s not their purpose. Its wings won’t be much use for burrowing and its beak won’t do for eating a worm’s diet. So the bird will be unhappy because that is the natural consequence of going against its design.

God created us to love him and to love each other. When we don’t do that, we are like the bird who lives like a worm. We will be frustrated and suffer; we will be unhappy. Sin separates us from God. Apart from God, we cannot possibly be happy. That makes sense if loving God is our purpose. Loving him is the only way we can really thrive as human beings. Without God’s help, “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–everyone– to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Sometimes, sinning can lead to momentary pleasure, but it will inevitably result in an empty life in the end.

 

Judgment of Sin

Second, the Bible says that God punishes sin. Sin goes against our design as God’s image bearers, but it also violates the law of God. As a God of justice, God must punish violations of the law. God is the perfectly just God who enforces a perfect law. He is not like a fallible human judge who administers an often broken and bent human law. Since the law of God is “perfect” and since his statutes are “trustworthy,” trespasses are dreadfully serious (Psalm 145:7). A just judge cannot simply overlook infractions of a perfect law. So God justly punishes sin. Psalm 145:20 says that God will “destroy” the wicked. Jesus reaffirms this in the New Testament. Jesus says that sinners will “be thrown into hell… where the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47–48). This is another way that sin separates us from God.

That’s bad news. It’s especially bad news when we learn that the Bible teaches that all of us are sinners, “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9–11). All of us have sinned and none of us can escape the justice of the all-knowing God. And if we refuse to love God, then the inevitable outcome is that we become hollow and empty. God is the only source of life, and when we sin, we cut ourselves off from that.

 

The Good News

But there’s a reason why the coming of Jesus is said to be “good news.” Jesus, as both fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, and his death satisfied the justice of God. Because of Jesus, God can forgive our sins and still be a God of justice. And Jesus restores the broken connection between God and man so that we “may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Through the work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to love God as we ought. We can live the life we were meant to live. 

Categories
All Church Development Spiritual Development

What Does it Mean to Make Disciples?

Author: Jon Slenker, M.A., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Jesus was the original disciple-maker. It is safe to say, making disciples was a focal point of his ministry. Not only did Jesus command his disciples to make more disciples, he modeled and taught them for around three years how to do so. His ministry principles recorded in the New Testament reveal the difference between a leader that people have to follow, and a leader that people want to follow. Disciple-making in simple terms is leadership. It is one Believer shepherding another to be made more into the image of Christ, our supreme example (2 Cor 3:18). So when Jesus was discipling his “flock”, he was teaching them to be like him, and to do what he did.

 

Calling and Commissioning

First words and final words hold great importance. When Jesus called out his disciples he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19 ESV).” After he assembled his twelve disciples for the first time, he provided them with more detail about what “fishing for men” means. These first words of Jesus to the Twelve are recorded in Mark 3:14-15, “…he appointed twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (ESV).” Similarly, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were a commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20 ESV).’”

This passage is known as one of the Great Commission passages and almost perfectly resembles his first words to the disciples. The Gospel author, Matthew, intentionally emphasizes Jesus’ first and final words in the structure of his writing. Disciples are called and commissioned by Jesus to make other disciples of Jesus.

 

Who is a Disciple-Maker?

A disciple is a repentant worshiper and follower of Jesus. The term translated as disciple in the New Testament means learner and refers to a student or apprentice.  Jesus did not invent the term or practice of discipleship. In fact, the practice of being a disciple or apprentice was discovered in ancient Greek writings five centuries before Jesus began his incarnate ministry.1 When he called out his twelve young disciples, he said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’, he was inviting them into a discipleship relationship to learn how to be like him (Matt 4:19). After they were called out they, “went where he went, saw what he saw, heard what he heard, and attempted to do what he did.” A disciple is to be a close and obedient follower of Jesus. One church planter says, “It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person.”2 Thus, a disciple-maker is a disciple of Jesus, who teaches others how to follow and obey Jesus also. When disciple-makers gather and covenant together, they birth communities of discipleship the Bible calls a church. Because we, the Church,  are a nation of priests, Jesus’ command to make disciples has been passed down to every follower of Jesus. Discipleship is not reserved for pastors alone, but for the whole body of Christ. Pastors, then, are lead disciple-makers in a local community of discipleship.

A disciple maker:

  • Is a follower of Jesus who has been sent with his authority and responsibility.
  • A Shepherd who humbly cares for others.
  • Has others’ best interest in mind and fights for their highest possible good.
  • Equips and empowers others to do greater works than they have accomplished.

 

Making Disciples

One of the famous great commission passages, Matthew 28:18-20, offers a simple but profound call for all believers that may be applied through a series of questions.

Am I willing to be obedient to:

  • Commit a few hours a week to share my life with others?
  • “Go” and preach the gospel to a different people group than my own to whom the Lord sends me?
  • Baptize new believers?
  • Teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded in the Scriptures?
  • Trust that Jesus’ Spirit is with me everywhere and always?

If you answered yes to these, you need no other authority than Jesus’ to make disciples. However, a first step may be that you need someone to disciple you. Pray for this person, and be encouraged that Jesus is our primary discipler and his Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

The apostle Paul stressed Jesus’ principle of multiplication to one of his disciples, Timothy. In writing his final letter to Timothy, Paul’s final words mirrored Jesus’ final words, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2 ESV).” Effective disciple makers equip and empower others to equip and empower others. The intention of discipleship is that those whom we disciple will be obedient to go and disciple others. This is popularly referred to as making disciple-making disciples. One of the men who discipled me through a season of life reminded me that we all multiply. The question is what or who are we multiplying? Disciple makers’ aim is to multiply disciples of Jesus, not simply themselves.

 

What Discipleship is Not

In my experience, the men who discipled me that had the greatest impact on my life did not just fill my head with a lot of knowledge, they shared their own lives with me as well. They led by example and often invited me on short trips to the market, to help neighbors, and oftentimes to sit with them at their family dinner table. They made time for me even when it was not always convenient for them. They used the bible as the training material and taught me how to read it prayerfully and apply it carefully to my own life. While information transfer is an easier form of discipleship, information alone is incomplete. As disciple makers, we must share not only our knowledge but our very lives as well.

 

Model, Assist, Watch, Leave

A helpful paradigm for discipleship exists in the four phases of modeling, assisting, watching, and leaving (and launching). First, a disciple-maker models for others how to follow Jesus in obedience. Second, the discipler assists the new disciple in living out Jesus’ character and commands. Third, the discipler watches as the new disciple grows in confidence and competence. Fourth, the discipler leaves and launches the equipped and empowered disciple to go do the same for others. Jesus and Paul most clearly represent this fluid paradigm in the Scriptures. While leaving their disciples physically after a time, Jesus sent his Spirit and promised he would be with them even after he left them. Paul also continually visited and wrote back to those he had once discipled and left. The goal of discipleship is that we would empower others to “do greater works” than we have (John 14:12).

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

 

1Robinson, George G. “Grounding Disciple-making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Accessed November 10, 2021, 3. https://www.academia.edu/33940384/Grounding_Disciple_making_in_Gods_Creation_Order_Filling_the_Earth_with_the_Image_of_God.
2F. Chan, Multiply (Farmington Hills, MI: Walker Large Print 2013), 16.

 

Categories
All Christian History Spiritual Development

What is the History of Easter?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Writer for Foundations by ICM

 

What is the history of Easter? We can all agree about where it started – with the resurrection of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago. But where does Easter fit in, and what’s with all the bunnies and eggs? Many recent studies have concluded that Easter is based on ancient pagan celebrations, that the date and perhaps especially the name of Easter are pagan through and through. In this estimation, Christians merely adopted the pagan holiday and attached the story of Jesus to it. In this blog, I want to introduce you to a counterpoint to this pop history. 

How it All Began?

To summarize the popular premise, at least the most common among many, “Easter” got its name from a pagan goddess named Eostre. This Eostre is a semi-mythical figure dating back thousands of years before Christ. She was a ruler to whom were ascribed the traits of a god – specifically a god of fertility and life. It is said that a yearly festival was established in her honor and that eggs and rabbits were part of that celebration. 

Fast forward a few thousand years and pagan people across the world still celebrated this holiday. Christians, with the best intentions in mind, co-opted this holiday but replaced Eostre with Christ because…you know…resurrection and life. Seemed like a good fit. So Easter became a Christian holiday in much the same way as Christmas (we have a blog about that, too!). At least, that’s what we’re told. 

What’s In a Name?

But let’s talk about that name for a moment. This seems to be the central point of contention for those who argue for the pagan roots of Easter. Did early Christians use the name Easter? Certainly not. Originally, Easter was called Pascha. This name refers to the Jewish Passover, not an ancient fertility goddess.2 In fact, for the early Church, Pascha was simply Passover after the resurrection of Jesus. Pascha comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning ‘to pass over,’ and refers back to the Exodus story.

Ok, but everyone calls it Easter these days, right? Not nearly. Most Eastern Christians call it Pascha, and the word for Easter in many non-English languages translates to Pascha (e.g, Spanish Pascua, Italian Pasqua, Portuguese Páscoa, and Romanian Pasti). Calling it “Easter” is a Western, Anglo addition likely deriving from one of many German words. 

Think about it. If the original name is not Easter but rather this name was added later by Western, Anglo society, then the very idea that Easter is a pagan holiday because it has a pagan name is an entirely anglo-centric argument. Think about it, the argument is essentially saying ‘It’s pagan because English-speaking peoples call it by a pagan name’…that does not seem like a good argument. It ignores the long history of what the church has called the celebration of the resurrection and it ignores the reality that its origins are Middle-Eastern. 

So, even if the word Easter is pagan (and this is a big if, but one that we don’t have space to talk about here), that doesn’t make Easter, or rather Pascha, a co-opted pagan celebration. 

How Was the Date of Easter Determined?

But what about the date of Easter? Isn’t it based on the pagan Eostre celebration? Going hand-in-hand with the discussion of the name of this holiday, the timing of our celebration centers on Pascha, or the paschal moon, not on an ancient holiday. In the early church, the timing of Easter was a point of considerable debate. The prevailing sentiment of the Church, however, was that the Christian Pascha celebration was to be celebrated separately from, and in most cases after, Passover.

Why does this matter? Because it is abundantly clear that the date for Easter is based on the Jewish festival, not the pagan holiday. While originally the idea was that Easter should be celebrated after Pascha because Jesus ate the Passover meal before going to the cross, a change in calendars meant a change in dates. When the West switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the original connections faded, but the idea remained. The date of Easter is far from having a pagan origin.

Where Do the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs Come From?

The argument that Easter is a co-opted pagan holiday is perhaps strongest in regard to some of its peripheral elements – bunnies, eggs, lambs, etc. Some are easier to explain than others. The lamb, for instance, has clear connections to the Christian story.

But what about the brightly-colored eggs? How are they religious? Well, ancient Easter practices included the season of Lent where certain foods were forbidden, including eggs. As a result, when Easter came and the restrictions were lifted, it became customary to give an egg as a gift. As the custom grew in popularity, the eggs began to be painted or decorated. In Russia, the tradition was so widespread that the nobility would gift egg-shaped, jeweled ornaments – think of the Faberge Eggs. So, far from being pagan symbols of fertility, eggs merely celebrated the fact that people could start eating whatever they wanted again.

Ok, then what about the Easter Bunny? Surely that must be pagan, or at the very least entirely commercial? To that objection I could merely concede as there is much less evidence for the religious roots of the bunny… and yet, even he likely came in through the Church. 

You see, as the Lent tradition mentioned above was practiced by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, early protestants rejected the practice of giving up certain foods before Easter. Instead, some protestant groups began what could be seen as a very early Christian meme meant to poke fun at their Catholic neighbors. So, as the joke goes, why don’t Catholics eat eggs until Easter? Because the Easter Bunny hides them. In some accounts, the bunny itself even lays the eggs, but I won’t even try to speak to the religious significance of that.

What is the History of Easter?

Putting this all together, Easter, or rather Pascha, is thoroughly Christian and dates to the beginning of the second century A.D. at the very latest. The date of Easter has Jewish and Christian roots, and even the elements that seem least religious have cultural and historical significance for Christians. Only the name, Easter, appears to have pagan roots, but even that is likely a historical coincidence as the word Easter more likely derives from one of many Christian terms (such as the German word for Resurrection). 

The oft-cited pagan history of Easter is anglo-centric and anachronistic. It lacks a basis in real history, instead of creating a pop history. Don’t fall into the trap this Easter season when you see popular theories showing up on your social media feed. Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with confidence knowing that the church, from its inception, has considered this the most sacred of days of the Faith.

 

1Also known as Queen Semiramis, wife of Nimrod, who later became known as mother goddess Ishtar or Eostre.
2The main historical evidence that ties the word Eostre with Easter comes from an 8th-century monk named Bedewho briefly mentions the connection in one of his writings

Categories
All Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

Guest Blog: A Godly Love

Author: Joshua Barrera M.Div., Guest Blogger for Foundations by ICM

 

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you may be one of the thousands of people hurrying to find the perfect gift for your significant other. As the holiday approaches, few of us stop to think about what our culture teaches about love and romance this time of year. But only a moment’s glance at your local, mega-retail store speaks volumes – hundreds of various chocolates, flowers galore, and unique cards or love notes. Our culture tells us daily (but most strongly during Valentine’s Day) that love is demonstrated through gifting one another “stuff.” 

Jesus offers us a different perspective on love. In fact, He presents us with a different kind of love altogether. In John 13, as Jesus prepares for his mission to the Cross, He leaves the disciples one final, crucial lesson about love. 

Godly love is displayed through willful servanthood

 

A Demonstration of Love

“Jesus…rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5 ESV)

There are two important aspects of Godly love that we need to understand: intention and action. 

 

Willful Love

Love is willful servanthood because it involves intentional choice. I think back to when I first began dating the woman who would later become my wife. Those stomach butterflies, the heart skipping, and the persistent desire to make her happy were all guided by natural, organic feelings of love. I responded to those feelings of love by making the intentional, willful choice to love. I did not need to be told to bring her flowers or to spend time with her. I chose to do those things of my own accord because I wanted to.

In a similar way (in a more complete way), the Bible describes the Trinity as Three Persons in a constant, perfect, harmonious relationship with one another. There is no greater display of unity nor greater display of love as what is seen in the Godhead. The Father loves the Son who loves the Spirit who loves the Father, and on and on it goes. When Jesus stepped down to the earth and took the form of a man, He did so with the intent of welcoming humanity into that Trinitarian relationship. God loves us of his own volition with a passion far deeper than anything we have ever experienced. 

 

Servant Love

Love is willful servanthood because actions reveal, portray, and prove love. 

In today’s culture, we casually toss the word “love” around and use it as though it is similar to the word “like.” For example, we might say, “I love pizza” or “I love rock and roll.” Love in those cases means something completely different from when we say “I love you” to our spouses. Using the term “love” so broadly actually cheapens its meaning and causes us to use the word carelessly. Would your partner believe you when you say “I love you” if after saying so, you disrespect and hurt them? Of course not! Love must be backed with specific actions. Fortunately, Jesus reveals in this passage exactly what actions love takes. 

 

Humble Love

Oftentimes, the significance of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is lost on us. During that time, people traveled in sandals long distances across dirt or sand roads. Their feet were disgusting. The kind of love that Jesus shows them here is remarkable…far more meaningful than a box of chocolates might be. The Lord and Creator of all things, the Son of God, humbled himself and took the role of a servant. 

First, love means humbling ourselves. Jesus didn’t just pour a cup of wine for the disciples he loved so much. He did the dirtiest, lowliest task in service to them. He didn’t think for a moment that His being God should prevent Him from doing a servant’s work. No, He loved them. Enough to forgo his status and do the work of someone far below Him. 

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV). Can you relate to this? Do we intentionally seek out the most difficult and humbling tasks to show love to our spouses? Are we not only willing but joyfully seeking to deal with the nitty-gritty chores of looking after our children? Do you view humbling yourself as a way to love others? 

 

Sacrificial Love

Second, love requires sacrifice. It means taking the needs of others and putting them before your own. Jesus again sets the example, most prominently in His death on the Cross. God so loved the world, that Jesus willingly walked to His death to save us. 

While we struggle with selfish desires, Jesus had already made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

Christians are called to have this same kind of godly love for all people. 

 

Godly Love

If Jesus will wash the disciples’ feet out of love, then we are called to follow in His footsteps. “I have given you an example,” He said, “that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15 ESV). 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV).

For Christians, passionate love for Jesus ought to be constant and persistent. We should be “Delighting in the Trinity,” as Michael Reeves puts it. We are instructed to love others in the same way that Christ loves the Church, both humbly and self-sacrificially. What does that look like in your relationships – your family, your friends, your coworkers? As our culture prepares to celebrate their understanding of love, Christians should strive to show the love of a willful servant. In doing so, “all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).

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Guest Blog: Facing and Fighting Fear

Author: Marlo Swanson, Guest Blogger for Foundations by ICM

 

Fear. Such a small word can have a massive impact on our lives. God has a lot to say about fear, addressing it over 365 times in the Bible. (Is it a coincidence that there are also 365 days in a year?) Out of all those verses, let’s look at a few that give us a greater insight into fear, how we can face it and fight it. 

 

What is fear?

We all have a basic understanding of what fear is. It can be labeled anxiety, worry, dread, horror, panic, a phobia, or a plethora of other things besides fear, but what does the Bible say it is?

In 2 Timothy 1:7, it reads “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind” (NKJV). This verse declares that the spirit God gives us does not include fear. It also tells us that God did give us a spirit of love, power, and soundness of mind instead, which are in opposition to fear.  It further tells us in our next verse in 1 John 4:18 that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”(NKJV). So, fear is not in love and perfect love can get rid of fear. The verses right before this passage outline that God is love and those who abide in love, will live with and be accepted by Him. So, fear is not part of the spirit that God gives us, and His perfect love can cast it out. 

 

So, how do we face fear?

Many verses tell us not to fear and then tell us that God will help, like these found in Isaiah 41:10 & 41:14 “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”(NKJV) and similarly “For I the Lord your God will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear Not, I will help you” (NKJV). I love these verses because of the way they are written to us. In both, the God of the universe is instructing us as a good father does to the child he loves. A father may tell his son not to touch the hot burner so he doesn’t get burned, or tell his daughter not to run out in the street so she doesn’t get hit by a car. Good loving parents guide and instruct the children they love to try to teach and help them.  

A parent has the experience and an outside perspective on life that a small child doesn’t have. God has the same kind of, bigger than what we can comprehend, perspective as well. But God doesn’t stop there. He isn’t just commanding us not to fear. He’s also giving us a promise in these verses. He will hold our hand and walk with us. Close your eyes and picture that for a moment. See Jesus holding your right hand and helping you in times of fear and worry. What a promise! We are not facing our fear alone! He is right there helping us.

 

How do we fight fear once we face it?

We don’t. I know that sounds crazy, but let me explain what I mean. We learned that perfect love casts out fear and God is perfect love. We have to remain or abide in Him and therefore in His love. How do we abide in Him? We trust God and seek Him. So eliminating fear in our lives isn’t as much fighting fear as it is trusting in and abiding in God’s love and asking for His help. Psalm 44:4 says “I sought the Lord and he heard me. He delivered me from all of my fears”(NKJV). We see that in this verse, God fought for and delivered him from his fear.  

Now, we have a part to play here as well. If we are putting more of the world into us than God and His love, then that’s what is going to come out of us. Just like no one can survive on junk food and candy all the time, we can not subsist on TV shows, movies, TikToks, and our Facebook feed. The way we abide in God is to meditate on His words, which are His love story to us. When we do this, we allow His words to build up our faith and help us to trust in Him to guide and help us.

We can not read the Bible without seeing how much the Lord loves us. Jeremiah 29:11 is a perfect example of this: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me”(NLT).  So, He has a plan for each of us and His plan is to prosper us and give us a hopeful future. The original Hebrew here for prosper is defined as completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, safety, quiet, and tranquility to name a few. Those all sound like the opposite of fear. When we pray to Him and seek to abide in Him, He is listening to us. His plan is to replace the fear coming against us and to give us His perfect love and peace instead.

 

Conclusion

We have learned that fear is real, and it comes at us through many different names. Regardless of how it manifests in our lives, to deal with it, we have to face it. But, the great news is we aren’t facing it alone. God promises to never leave our side and to help us. As we seek Him and ask for His help, we learn to abide in Him and His love. He delivers us from our fears by filling us with the only thing that can fight our fear for us: God’s perfect love.

 

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Jesus and Food

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

Have you ever noticed how much time Jesus spends eating and drinking with his friends in the Gospels? Many of his most famous miracles revolve around food. Even when He’s not doing miracles, He’s often attending feasts, having meals, or feeding people. What can we learn from these encounters, be they mundane or miraculous? Here are three simple truths we learn from this investigation:

  1. Jesus cares about our physical needs and had needs of his own
  2. Jesus used food to teach spiritual truths
  3. Jesus is all about relationships – often through a shared meal

These may not be ground-breaking, mind-blowing revelations, but if you think about them you can see how important they are. 

 

Food and Physical Necessity

There is nothing more basic to life than the need to eat and drink. Even at the simplest level, we can understand why so much of Jesus’ time was spent around food. But what does this say about Jesus? No need to overthink it – this tells us quite simply that He was human. He had needed just like the rest of us. He needed and even enjoyed, food. 

While so much of Jesus’ ministry shows us that Jesus was, indeed, fully God, the fact that He got hungry confirms that His body functioned just the same as any other man. But what we see is not Jesus being served a kingly portion as He clearly deserved. Instead, we often see Jesus serving the food. On several occasions, He even feeds multitudes of people. 

So we also learn that Jesus cares about the physical needs of others. He is lowly and compassionate, not above the common concerns of normal people. You might expect the greatest spiritual leader of all time to spend his life meditating in a tower, detached from the dirt and filth of the world. Instead, we have the God who showed up, who became one of us, and not just in appearance. He cares for us because He loves us and because He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, as we read in Hebrews 4:15.

 

Spiritual Food

While Jesus cares about the physical needs of those He loves, He clearly prioritizes spiritual needs. So, while we see Him feeding multitudes, we also see Him going without food on many occasions. Consider the most obvious example of His fast in the wilderness where He ate nothing at all for 40 days. Or the time in John 4:33-34 where His disciples were concerned that Jesus was hungry and asked themselves “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus responded, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

Still, Jesus was a master teacher, and he regularly used food imagery in His sermons. In John 6:35, Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life. Whoever eats this bread, He said, will never hunger, and whoever believes in Him will never thirst. While saying this, Jesus referred back to the time when God miraculously provided bread from heaven to keep the wandering Israelites alive in the wilderness. He is the true bread that comes down from heaven to give life. 

When Jesus established the New Covenant, He gave us the sign of the Covenant, which is the bread and wine. These are His flesh and blood, as he tells us in Luke 22:19-20. Again and again, Jesus used the most basic elements of life, food, and drink, to teach the most profound truths.

 

Food and Relationships

Perhaps one of the best reasons that we see Jesus so involved with food is that He was so involved with people. Relationships were His priority. As He spent time with people He found that their needs frequently centered around food and drink. Consider the first recorded miracle of Jesus, the changing of water into wine. Jesus did not perform this miracle to amaze the crowds. He did it because of His love for His mother, and because of His relationship with the family at the wedding. 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus dines with people in order to establish a relationship with them. In Mark 2 we find Jesus having dinner with tax collectors and sinners. It’s not that Jesus likes a good party; He wanted to reach those who needed Him most. Similarly, in Luke 7 he eats with Pharisees. And of course in Luke 22, Jesus prepares the Last Supper and shares the meal with the Twelve right before His crucifixion. He does this to spend time with them, converse with them, get to know them, and let them know Him. It is the very heart of relationship, and Jesus finds many opportunities to engage with people He loves while sitting around a dinner table. 

 

Conclusion

Jesus was not simply a man, but he was fully human. We see this clearly in his relationship to food. He was hungry on many occasions, so He sympathizes with our physical needs. But Jesus also knew that such needs are temporary, while that which is spiritual is eternal. So, as a master teacher, He used the physical (the temporal) to teach eternal truths. And of course, He built relationships with His friends, disciples, and even enemies while sharing a meal. Jesus’ relationship with food was not complicated; in fact, it was quite typical. But what we can learn from His interactions with something so common is truly profound.

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Why Does Jesus Use Parables?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

If you ever find yourself confused by Jesus’ parables, don’t feel too bad. Jesus’ parables befuddled His own disciples. When they ask for clarification, Jesus reveals that an important part of understanding His parables is understanding why He’s using them in the first place. So, why does Jesus use parables?

Quick Answer: Jesus used parables to sift the crowds, to test their motives, and separate out the spiritually hungry from the self-absorbed.  

An important part of understanding this need is to let Mark take you on a journey of discovery as Jesus’ ministry shifts from direct preaching to parable preaching. 

Cut to the Chase: Jesus begins to use parables when the crowds become too large and unruly and threaten to overwhelm His attempts to preach.

An important part of letting Mark take you on this journey of discovery is to pay attention to his storytelling structure. 

Quick Summary: Mark builds his picture of Jesus’ ministry using story sermons. His first few story sermons explain the hows and whys of Jesus’ parable preaching. 

For a richer understanding, let’s go through these points in more depth.  

 

Story Sermons

Mark preaches by weaving together a series of events that together explore themes in the Life of Jesus. Each series makes up one of Mark’s story sermons. The message of a story sermon is bigger than what we tend to moralize out of any single episode. By paying careful attention to the details of each story sermon, Mark’s inspired message slowly reveals itself. Don’t glean the gospels for tidbits, just stick with Mark, and discover Jesus through his 21 story sermons as written. 

 

Story Sermons 2 & 4: The Buildup to Parables

Let’s pick up Mark’s story with the 2nd story sermon—A Day in the Life of Jesus. After Jesus has returned from his wilderness trials, Mark gives a simple version of Jesus’ preaching; it is much like John the Baptist’s. “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” It is direct and confrontational. The promises of the ages are coming upon the Jews and they either get ready or perish. 

After meeting Jesus’ first followers, the events of a single Sabbath Day stir the community and lead to a powerful encounter with Jesus. The next morning, Jesus went off alone to pray. The people are clamoring for him with palpable desperation. When His followers finally find Jesus, they are exasperated, “Everyone is looking for you,” they exclaim. Jesus’ reply reveals a conflict of motives that will eventually lead Him to parable preaching… but not yet. Rather than rushing to the aid of the crowds again, Jesus says, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He does just that, but there is one important change. Jesus heals a leper and though told to keep quiet, the healed man blabs about what Jesus has done “to such an extent,” says Mark, “that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.” Jesus’ miracles gather a level of unwanted attention from those more interested in healing than preaching. 

In Mark’s 4th story sermon, the clamoring crowds increase. Jesus has a boat set aside, as Mark notes, “for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him.” Mark builds a decisive contrast between these masses, and between those following Him. Leaving the crowds behind, Mark says that Jesus “summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And he appointed twelve.. so that they might be with Him.” Though Jesus has sympathy for the masses, it is through His followers that the Kingdom of God will grow. Jesus wishes to separate these out from the self-interested crowds, “For,” says Jesus, “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.

 

Story Sermon 5: Jesus’ Parable Preaching Pattern

It is in Mark’s 5th story sermon, that the parables finally arrive. 

The crowds become so unmanageable in their desperation that Jesus is forced to escape offshore in the boat in order to keep teaching. This time, He only teaches in parables. While He has used parables in the past to make difficult ideas plain, Jesus now begins to teach almost exclusively in parables, and His Disciples want to know why.  

The first parable Mark shares with us—The Parable of the Four Soils—gives us the reasoning behind His use of parables. When, “His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables,” Jesus gives a more direct apologetic, explaining that The Parable of Four Soils is key to His sudden shift to parable preaching exclusively. 

Back in Isaiah’s day, the prophet was confronting an apostate society and was called to extract a small remnant of the faithful out from the deaf, blind, and morally stupid masses, who were ultimately committed to the path of death. Jesus explains His use of parables by quoting Isaiah’s commission and explaining the Four Soils. Standing before Him, Jesus sees the Hard-hearted, the shallow-souled, the self-absorbed, and, scattered among them, that same small remnant useful for the Kingdom of God. Lest He cast the pearls of the kingdom before the apostate swine among whom the faithful sit, Jesus uses parables. Alone with His followers, Jesus explains all, simply, plainly, and directly.

Throughout the sermon, Mark will emphasize the role of the listener and call them to turn their ears on full focus to what Jesus is saying. Jesus calls upon the multitudes, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” As one lights a lamp for the very purpose of casting light, so He is preaching in order to give spiritual light. It is up to them, however, what they do with it. Jesus is looking for those who will listen and hear, those who will sense the value in his parables and press in for more. Thus, Jesus says, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” Basically, this means, if you handle what you hear well, and press in for more, you’ll get more.” Just so, He says to His followers who ask Him privately about the parables, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.” Jesus places parables before the masses in order to sift out the faithful remnant from the selfish seekers. 

 

Why Does Jesus Tell Parables?

So, why does Jesus tell parables? Many of Jesus’ parables are meant as filters for the crowds to separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, good fish from bad fish. The listener’s job is to hear, wrestle, question, seek, and ask. If they do, the secrets of the Kingdom of God will be opened to them.

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Why Does God Allow Evil?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

According to a recent Barna research study, the number of young people in the U.S. who identify as atheists has doubled in a single generation. One of the most significant reasons many reject the idea of God is the reality of suffering and evil in the world. Philosophers refer to this as the Problem of Evil and it is generally stated in this way: a loving God would prevent suffering and evil if He could; therefore, God is either not loving or not powerful enough to stop it. Yet, Christians believe that God is both all-loving and all-powerful. Is this a contradiction? Or does the Bible tell us what we need to know to answer such a significant objection to God’s existence? Let’s spend some time considering what Scripture has to say about the issue.

First, let’s consider what we need to study:

  1. Is God Loving?
  2. Is God Powerful?
  3. Why Does God Allow Suffering and Evil?

If we can answer these three questions, then we can combat the Problem of Evil and help people who are suffering to see the goodness and power of God.

Is God Loving?

If God is not loving; that is, if He is not good, then it would be pointless to continue this discussion. Now, it is one thing to assert that He is loving just by stating all the good things He does. But is God loving in the midst of suffering? Let’s look at what the Bible says. 

Psalm 23 details the life of David who is surrounded by suffering for so much of his life. David writes in verses 4-6:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies… surely your goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

David recounts the goodness of God in the midst of great pain and evil. He does not praise God for removing suffering, but for being present in suffering. While David stares his enemies in the face, he is at peace because of the presence of the Lord. He does not praise God because God will certainly save him from his enemies, but that even if he were to suffer the worst possible fate, he would still be with God forever. 

The Bible is absolutely filled with examples of God being good in the midst of suffering. In fact, to be in the world is to endure suffering, whether small or large. We have the promise that He will be with us and that He will rescue us out of this world whether it happens now or only when we get to heaven. 

Is God Powerful?

So, if God is good, but there is still suffering, perhaps the reason is that He is unable to stop it. Not surprisingly, the Bible tells us that God can do anything, including preventing bad things from happening. Furthermore, there are many verses in Scripture that talk about deliverance from evil. Consider 2 Timothy 4:18: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” Or 2 Thessalonians 3:3: “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” We see examples throughout Scripture of God preventing great evils or avoiding certain disasters. God prevents the destruction of the Hebrew people at the hands of pursuing Egyptians in Exodus 14. God again prevents genocide of the same people in the story of Esther. Many other examples from both the Old and New Testament could be cited to support this. 

But it is equally clear that God does not always prevent suffering and evil. So, if it is the case that God is good even in the midst of suffering, and that He is perfectly able to prevent it, we are left with one big question:

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

As we ask this question, we must first ask ourselves what sort of answer we want to hear. 

Do we want to know why there is any suffering at all? If so, Genesis 3 begins to answer this question, and the rest of the Old Testament fills in the blanks. Suffering exists because sin has broken the perfection that existed in the Garden.

Do we want to know why God doesn’t prevent the worst kinds of suffering? If so, ask yourself how you would know if He did. That is, if God prevented all of the worst evil, then you would never know what those evils would have been, and then the second-worst evil would now be the worst from your perspective. In the end, this question is no different from asking why there is any suffering whatsoever.

Do we want to know why God allows a particular instance of suffering? There are times in Scripture when we see God give an explanation for certain evils. Think of Joseph being captured by his brothers and sold into slavery. Joseph himself says in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” But many times, as in the case of Job, the reason for suffering is not given. Instead, we are asked simply to trust God.

So, Why Does God Allow Evil?

Two important and complementary answers are found in Scripture:

  1. God allows certain evils in order to accomplish certain good things. Think, for example, of the Babylonian Exile of the people of Judah. God tells His people that they are going into exile in order to be broken of their wickedness and idolatry. Or, think of the greatest example of all: the death of Jesus. God allows, and even clearly plans and purposes this evil in order to accomplish the greatest possible good. 
  2. God also allows evil to exist in general because He has created the world with a certain order which He has freely chosen not to violate. Among the most important aspects of this created order is the free will that He gives to His creatures. Scripture makes it clear that God desires for His creatures to freely choose to love, worship, and obey Him. Love that is not free is also not real.  So, God allows evil to exist because He created us with the ability to reject Him, and evil exists because we choose to reject God.

Now, as we close this discussion, we must remember that God is in control. His greatest desire is to eradicate all suffering and for us to live in perfect unity with Him forever. He promised to do exactly this, beginning all the way back in Genesis 3 and culminating in the final verses of Revelation. God’s immediate reaction to humanity’s betrayal was to promise to make everything right. He promised to personally enter into the suffering of this fallen world, thereby taking on all the sin and wickedness of humanity, putting it to death on the cross. God has always had a plan to deal with evil and suffering, and the Bible tells us the history of that plan. We, as Christians, are agents of that restoration; a restoration that will one day be complete. 

Let’s close this discussion with the great promise of Scripture from Revelation 21:4: “He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.