Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovaré, a great ministry/organization focused on Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he draws an analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. His writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon who specialised in treating leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain. Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s be attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success (just to name a few methods of denial).

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12. ‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

Maybe the question isn’t ‘What do you believe?’ but rather the one we often ask our children, “Where does it hurt?”

God in our Sufferings

Martin Luther once suggested that the deepest revelation of the character of God is in the weakness, suffering and death on the cross.

This is the exact opposite of where humanity expected to find God. Even today some Christians expect to find God in the success of economics or the victory over such enemies as the leaders of North Korea.  Such was the expectation of the people of God in the first century. But it was not to be, at least not with Messiah Jesus.

Two verses stand out to me. One is where Paul tells the early church that most importantly he wants them to know “Christ crucified” 1Corinthians 2:2. And I am thinking of the other place where Paul, in the midst of his own suffering, hears from God, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness” 2Corinthians 12:9.

So it got me to thinking. We are looking in all the wrong places for answers to our own suffering, for making sense of our sufferings and even our weaknesses. Christ on the cross is in the sufferings of the world. Look how the prophet writes it, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah 53:4. Stop there. Christ on the cross is literally carrying within himself the sorrows of the world and not only that but also our sins (in the next verse). That whole chapter is filled with the sufferings of the Christ and it’s in those places of weakness that Christ is in most intimate contact with us and we with him.

The prophet even writes at one point that what was seen was a Messiah being despised and rejected, not a victorious King. Even in the book of Revelation when Christ is referred to as the Lion of Judah, John turns and sees not the King of Beasts but rather “a lamb that appeared as though slain” (Revelation 5). This is the Christ who identifies with this suffering world.

And I believe that the Christ who suffered is the Father, Son, and Spirit all uniting with the world in its suffering, even now during these devastating hurricanes and their aftermath. It’s in the pain of the world that our Lord bears with us. We cannot speak of the ‘glory of the Lord’ without the ‘Christ crucified’. Love, the feeling as well as the knowledge, is most manifest in weakness. It’s what unites Christ with us and we with him. Certainly there is love in joy and happiness, and lots of money (just kidding). But look what happened to Christ on the cross as he died. He surrendered his soul, his spirit to his Father. “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” Luke 23:46. And the Revolution and Restoration of the world began. God working in the rubble of the tragedy of that day in the most loving way our God chooses to work.

The other day I was in what might be called ‘existential despair’. In other words, I was feeling crappy about life, things that were happening or not happening. My wife could tell, probably by the way I walked past her with my head hung down and muttering to myself. Well, the next morning upon awakening I prayed fervently just to surrender to God with the sense that my life was in God’s hands. I got up with a sense of connectedness to God and later got a big hug from my wife and life seemed different, better. C.S. Lewis writes that while God whispers to us in our pleasures, God shouts to us in our pain. I guess that means that we are more open to God’s voice in our sufferings although I think it was Elijah who most clearly heard God through a ‘whisper’. (Elijah was in a dark place in those days.)

It was the quietness on Golgotha that captured the attention of the world, when a ‘slain’ lamb changed our relationship with God. God was in ‘that Christ’ reconciling the world to God’s own being. I am pretty sure that God is reconciling the WHOLE WORLD but blessed are those who know it.

I am not a fan of weakness and sorrow nor is God. Perhaps that’s why Christ takes it into himself, not just once but until there is a new heaven and hearth. He is telling us of his love for us. He could not escape the tragic death of the cross because we cannot escape the sorrows of our own lives.

Pascal once wrote that Jesus would be in agony until the end of the world. That is so that every one of us can know that Jesus won’t rest as long as he is bearing in his own soul, the soul of God, our particular sorrows, sin and sufferings. We are ‘in Christ’ in the most organic and intimate sense.



So here’s what I think about atheists. There are folks who say God just doesn’t exist, no way, shape or whatever. They are sometimes adamant that there is no power or authority, influence or being and certainly no entity called God.

So I got to wondering one day. What would or could give someone the idea that there is no god, no being of authority in the universe? Could be that people have been hurt by religion? No, that’s enough to maybe stay away from the church but not to believe in nothing. I suppose believing in nothing is some kind of religion but to my mind IT requires more faith than believing in God. But that’s for another time.

So after some pensiveness I came to at least one conclusion. Authority is one of the main issues contributing to atheism. If you believe there is a God, or even gods, you might draw the conclusion that someone or something has authority over your life. And who enjoys anyone being in control or having some authoritative say in our lives. Notice I switched from you to us because this ‘authority thing’ is a problem for believers as well as unbelievers. In atheists it may be more apparent by their words of rejection concerning God, Jesus or any religious figure.

See, we love to be the only authority in our lives and believe me, that is a poor foundation for living. I mean just take a look at AA to see that one of the first steps is surrendering to a higher power. And that is no easy feat.

But believers can experience profound truth concerning authority from atheism. We too love to be in control of our own lives. Oh, we talk a good game about surrendering to Christ, trusting God and so forth but when the rubber hits the road we discover that the words of Jesus ring empty to our ears when it comes to living the life of faith. So that’s why I call this piece GRACE IN ATHEISM. It’s because we have something to learn about ourselves through others.

You know, if an atheist person wanted to, he or she could search and search to really discover if there is a God. God knows there is enough evidence in nature, in philosophy, in science and in writings like the Bible to be able to uncover this God. But if he or she did, then what? Uh oh. Authority.

Recall something Jesus said. And by the way I cannot fathom why anybody could have a problem with Jesus, the smartest, most loving being to walk this earth. But I digress. No I don’t. I want to say something about Jesus.

At one point Jesus told the people around him, especially the religious leaders (now there’s some folks we could have problems with). He said to them that if anyone chooses to do the will of God that person will find out whether Jesus’ teaching really comes from God or if Jesus simply made it up on his own. (Found in the Gospel of John chapter 7:17)

So right there you have it. From the lips of God’s own son. That son, who by the way, in the Garden of Gethsemane tried to work things out on his own but finally said to his Father, ‘Your will be done’

So my invitation to all, including to myself, is to simply say to God –your will be done. And discover that Jesus is real. There is a huge sigh of relief in surrendering one’s life, imperfect as that life might be. See the authority of God, if we really search, is such that we cannot miss the great love of the God of the universe who from the beginning has had only one desire, to share that love with all of us in the midst of all the crap and our own misdeeds. “God is love” is not some trite slogan but the essence of the ONE who governs this creation.

So, see if we look diligently we can find in atheism some of the same stuff we believers are struggling with. Let’s be honest enough to admit that struggle.


God knows how we feel. Ever hear that and wonder just how God who is so ‘up there’ and seemingly far from us can somehow know or even sense what we are going through? I am not sure how other religions grasp any concept of divine empathy but let me share what I know about Jesus being the one who put it on the divine heart to know you and me so well. Besides God knowing how many hairs on our head or how much more we are worth than all the sparrows. There’s something going on through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We know that Jesus was tempted, that he suffered, that he was obedient and that he ministered to hurting people. He wept at a friend’s funeral and sorrowed over Jerusalem for not accepting him. And how does all that translate to God?

Been reading a theologian. H.R. Mackintosh, a Scottish Theologian around 1900.

He suggests that since God and humanity are one in Jesus Christ (the incarnation) through the Word becoming flesh something wonderfully unique happens. Jesus through his experiences on this earth ‘are received into the eternal memory of the Godhead.’ Through the experience, the death and resurrection of Christ the human experiences are part of the Eternal memory. See, what Jesus went through, although ‘foreknown’ by God is made real in time and kept as part of the experiential memory of God, the Trinity. There is a person within the Trinity who has actually experienced pain, sorrow, death and resurrection. So within the Trinity there is an incredible awareness of what you and I go through because Jesus went through it all including being tempted sorely.

Mackintosh concludes this by writing, “The heart of man and the heart of God beat in the risen Lord.” (p. 371 of his book on the doctrine of the person of Christ)

So as we continue this Lenten time let us remember that God remembers, through Jesus, just what we are going through right now, in this moment that will be etched in the eternal memory forever. And so as the song suggests:

Have we trials and temptations?
  Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
  Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
  Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
  Take it to the Lord in prayer (WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS)


I can’t remember the setting but I heard Dallas Willard once say that we live in a Safe Universe. Luther termed it a ‘world with devils filled’ and we each know personally or know of all matters of sin, disease, persecution, hunger, slavery, injustice and the list goes on with the kinds of maladies and misfortunes that most of us could hardly call safe.

So what does a Safe Universe mean or even look like? I looked up one definition which was ‘protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or loss’. Willard suggested that safe means this universe is in God’s hands. He holds it, sustains it, guides and ultimately will make it brand new in such a way that all danger, tragedy and sorrow will be absent. Paul writes in that chapter that all his sufferings, persecutions and maladies are considered nothing when compared with the glory that will be revealed when we are with God. Paul earned the right to make that comment after all he had been through and would subsequently endure. But why can we consider the universe a safe place right now?

Willard directs our attention to the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, where first of all Paul writes that there is no condemnation for any person who is ‘in’ Christ, who places their confidence in Jesus. That person is safe from the ultimate harm of being separated from God. And then later in that chapter we read that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. And one other comment Paul makes is that God is working everything out in this universe for some good purpose. I like the way C.S. Lewis once remarked on this passage of Romans 8:28. God works all things together for good but he has not told us just how painful this good might be.

Then if I may turn to Jesus who said that in this world we would have TRIBULATION but he then said FEAR NOT FOR I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD. There are things that this world in its fallen state will throw at us including the wiles of Satan himself but Jesus tells us that in him we are victorious. The world’s evil cannot thwart the victory of faith so graphically portrayed through Christ’s death and resurrection. You and I are so valuable and thus the church, the bride of Christ is so valuable, that he will guard us in such a way that no evil will overcome us meaning ultimately turn us from God or keep us away from his love. Are we not worth more than the birds of the air that God cares for? So what happens when all this teaching is just too hard to hear when we are suffering? I say trust a community of faithful Christians and the grace of God to do in you what you cannot do for yourself.

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Romans 8:21  ‘that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ ESV

Here’s my take on what Paul is writing in these verses. Yes, creation is groaning. The world is groaning but one day it will experience the same freedom and new life that the children of God are experiencing today.
This is the reality of the Kingdom of God. The creation will take its cue from those who enter the Kingdom of God right now. Jesus said that the truth will set us free if we stay connected to him and to his word.(John 8)  It is the only way to be free of the shackles with which this world wants to imprison us. In John 16 Jesus tells his disciples that while in the world there will be tribulation we don’t have to be afraid because Jesus has overcome the world. Overcome in the sense that darkness and death do not have the final world. Fear is not the final word. The word of God in Jesus is the final word. The Kingdom of God is the final word. Resurrection is the final word. LIFE is the final word.

Jesus said to a hurting world that he had come to give life abundant (John 10) which means that we are fully embraced into the love of God by the words and works of Jesus.
We are free. Really. No matter what scene the cosmic powers of darkness may put before you eyes, God places the life and light of Jesus before us so that as we look into him we may experience the glory, the radiance of our God. And as Paul will later write, ‘if God is for us who can be against us.’ So, children of God, let’s set a good example to help free this creation from its bondage to decay.
That’s like a New Year’s resolution- if you are into that sort of thing. My life will not be darkened by the world but will rather be that light set on a hill, light that comes from the glory of God.

Comfort from the King

Imagine for a moment that Jesus is speaking to a group of people on a hillside.  He is offering them the Kingdom of God. He is the presence of the Kingdom of God and he is making his life, God’s life, available to anyone who wants to place his or her confidence in him. He is not challenging them to be a certain kind of character. He is addressing their character as they are and saying that in God’s Kingdom they are welcomed and they are blessed, favored as it were, by God.  He has already addressed those who are poor and now as he looks around he issues an invitation to another group of people who well may include those who are impoverished in spirit or material goods. Here’s what he says:

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. These are the people who hurt. Some of them may think they deserved their lot. They hurt for themselves and perhaps for others. Their pain is deep and they see no relief. It may be thought that blessings come in the form of wellness and being pain-free but Jesus says that those who place their confidence in him, again the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, will experience the comfort of the Kingdom of God. Like the Psalmist they will say, ‘your love is better than life’(Psalm 63). And the comfort that these mourners will experience may come as a surprise to them in some form that brings happiness to their souls.

Jesus knows full well that the Kingdom has been mainly shut to such people as he addresses but he welcomes them, blesses them and will eventually call some of them to follow him. This is indeed the good news that was issued to shepherds, to Mary and to many who were waiting for the Messiah of God’s Kingdom. Let us, particularly we who hurt right now see our place in the embrace of God’s comfort.


Someone once said that suffering is getting what you don’t want and not getting what you do want. Suffering is loss. It comes in many forms and even as you read this I am sure you can think right now of something in your life or in the life of someone you love that qualifies under the heading of suffering. The origin in Latin has the sense of ‘bearing under the weight of something.’ Such burdens seem often unbearable. Grief is the body’s mechanism for distancing us from being absolutely crushed by the burden we experience.

According to Scripture suffering is sometimes permitted by God as we read in the Book of Job. Suffering is sometimes seen to be caused directly by God, as was the case with Pharaoh or with the disobedient people of Israel. But come the New Testament and we seein this new age a vision of God who is in the process of alleviating suffering through the coming of his Kingdom in the presence of Jesus, his Son.

Jesus doesn’t answer the question of suffering except to show its demise through miracles of healing that are signs of the coming of God’s Kingdom. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the end of death and evil ultimately.

Paul writes in Romans 8 that suffering comes into all the creation and that creation will one day be liberated and this liberation can be seen in the faith and hope of believers even now. And of course we all have the opportunity to alleviate some suffering. We are commanded through love to minister to one another and to the world. See Matthew 25.

And we come to understand that Jesus is the face of a good and gracious God. The Scriptures say, “God commanded light to shine in the dark.” Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ. 2Cor. 4:6

This good work of God is displayed in Christ, his life, his teaching, death and resurrection and promised coming. We are invited to know and understand this work. We cannot thrive on emotions, which are fickle. We live on faith that is based upon knowledge. In 2Peter 3 we are encouraged to grow in grace and in knowledge.

Suffering is a reality. It hurts like hell. But the Kingdom of God life bathes this world in an overwhelming reality that Christ is even now conquering the evil that suffering might think to do in our lives.

We don’t need to go to the school of suffering. Most of us are in that school right now or have been or will be. But we do need to go to the school of Christ and learn Christ, learn his dealings with pain and suffering, learn his love and the goodness of his Father.