April 30, 2012

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

“Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.” He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.” His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent. His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover he lies in wait. He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.” Psalm 10:1-11

The first and last sentences here basically states that God will inevitably hide His face from His enemies, from the wicked. From those that boast of their desires, they are greedy and prideful. Wicked men do not seek the Lord , His statues and the true meaning of His statutes, commandments and Word are rejected by the enemies of God. They assume nothing will ever come of their actions no matter what they do...so they pursue their evils.

Why did Isaiah say this in Isaiah 45:15? : “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.” It was because, by the time of Isaiah, God had turned away from Israel. His glory had long since departed from the land.

The question I pose is this. Has God made Himself conspicuously absent from your life? If He has, have you stopped to ask yourself why He may have done so?

After David’s great sin with Bathsheba, what does he say in Psalm 51:11?

“Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 51:11

So God has been noticeably absent for a sustained period now in your life? If He has, I again pose the same question, have you stopped to ask yourself why He may have done so?

Yet if we trust in Him and find refuge in Him and His Word what does the Bible say?

“Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings” Psalm 17:8

“You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; you surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

Why is the Lord, David’s hiding place? What does Psalm 32 say before we reach verse 7?

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.

“Let everyone who is godly pray to You”. This is a call to seek God. To seek God why?...To repent of our sin and find a correct standing before God by acknowledging our sin to God…in short, to repent and believe.

So you say God has left you high n’ dry recently? Have you truly soul-searched and asked Him why? Have you really talked to Him at all?

I think you may already know the answer having read this…

Sometimes, depending on the nature of our relationship with God, God Himself is the worst bad news we could receive or the best good news depending on whether He is present or not (or why He is absent/present). If God is immutable and unchanging, the thing in a relationship with Him that has changed…is you. If He is now absent, it is quite possible you are not on solid ground, therefore the way He reveals Himself to you (or doesn’t, if He is absent) may be indicative of your relationship with Him…as we have already read, God hides His face from His enemies.

So, I ask again, when we are tormented in our suffering and God is clearly absent, is there a reason for this? Is He really absent…or is He overtly present in our suffering? Is He so close that we do not recognize His presence or is He manifest in a form we were not expecting Him to be in…like the trial itself?
The truth is we cannot know the true reasons God often does things both in our lives and other’s lives.  Our feeble attempts to charge the gates of Heaven and demand an answer in petulance is foolhardy if not outright stupid and arrogant. It is imprudent even if we might be suffering and dying in horrible pain. This is why we have been given the Gospel. He already gave us our answer long ago. Our answer was a promise fulfilled in a wooden cruciform, an empty tomb and a dead body that was resurrected. This is all the answer we will ever need. In this answer we have the ultimate end in mind which is death (an excruciatingly painful one I might add), and it is conquered. There is no greater enemy to be conquered.

The truth is he may very well have hidden His face from you and that is part of the punishment or chastisement. The reality is that He might be right there in the suffering…you just haven’t recognized Him. God didn’t save Daniel from the lion’s den, He saved Daniel in the lion’s den. The questions you should then be asking are these:

Has God made Himself conspicuously absent from your life? If He has, have you stopped to ask yourself why He may have done so? Is it because you have made yourself His enemy or is He so close you cannot see the forest for the trees? Have you been abandoned and given over to your sins or is He chastising those He loves?

It is better to always play it safe with your relationship with God. Your opinions and emotions when not firmly anchored to God’s Word is a guide to go astray especially in times of trial and suffering. To assume God is near you because you think you “feel” Him is dangerous. What does the Bible say? It's about what the Bible says, not what you feel. Your feelings are subject to the Fall. Seek God and know that He is God. If your relationship with Him is correct and secure, you destination will not be like the trial you are going through. If your relationship is wrong, you destination will be worse than the trial you are now suffering through. It is better to start from the end with the end in mind, which is Jesus Christ and eternal salvation, them work backwards from Him to where we are standing in the fire. This way we can find our way out since the path has already been found and back-traced from the point of salvation. We also do not need to blindly grope down a bunch of dead ends only to find there is no other way out without Him. Its like trying to find your way out of the woods without a compass or map.


On the flip side of this, it might be that things are just not occurring in the timing and the manner that you prefer. We saw evidence of this with Jesus and the raising of Lazarus. What was said during this? John 11:4 tells us right off the bat that Jesus informed them, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Did in anyone really hear Jesus say this or if they did, did they understand? Probably not. Here we see God incarnate telling people exactly what was going to occur and what is the response? My guess by their action was incredulity. They may have thought Jesus was being callous or heartless for not rushing to save Lazarus. Jesus does not rush to Lazarus' side, he actually "stayed where He was for two more days." He did it on purpose and they didn't understand why. Frankly, when He does it to us....neither do we. If people can't figure out God's timing and reasoning for things when he is not visible to us, this episode doesn't bode well for people understanding His motives or timing when He is there present incarnate either. Long story short...whether visible or not, humans are not really good at determining God's reasons and timing for things...even when He explicitly told them why He was doing something as in John 11:4.

In this episode with Lazarus what we learn is that it required that Lazarus actually die for something greater to occur. The story of Lazarus wasn't really a story about Lazarus at all...it was a story about the glory of God and the omnipotence and sovereignty of God. From a human perspective it looked like letting Lazarus die was a mean hateful thing to do...but then how would God have been magnified by his resurrection from the dead had Lazarus not been dead first? God was not being mean and heartless here...if anything...just the opposite.

Do we do this? Because God doesn't react or act in the manner we expect or when we expect do we automatically assume He doesn't care. He is mean? If the story of Lazarus' resurrection tells us anything it tells us God does things to maximize love, maximize effect, purpose and His glory and He does it in His perfect timing.

Trust me folks God is indeed loving. People's perceptions of God and myopic view of Him and His capability is at fault here. The usual argument when things get tough or people begin to suffer or believe there is an absence of God is that they don't deserve  to suffer. We are all sinners and we are lucky God doesn't vaporize us on the spot. If He actually gave us what we deserved we would all be human shaped cinders. 

That being said another argument is that God is either all-loving and incapable of changing bad things (which limits His omnipotence and sovereignty) or he is perfectly capable of changing it and is unwilling, therefore unloving (which limits His omnibenevolence). Again, we can point human fingers squarely at human shortsightedness and ignorance of the far-reaching plans of God. In mankind's blind spirituality and fumbling for an answer, we assume its either one thing or the other with God. 

Sadly, God has even answered this  accusation thousands of years ago, we are just too dull of hearing and perception.

Isaiah 59:1-2 “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear."

It isn't God, it is us...again. He can do all but it is our sin that separates us from what is possible.

What we learn all the time with God both in the Bible and in our lives is that you better not hedge Him in as there is always the third option (or fourth or fifth)...and He often utilizes them. He does so not to prove man wrong but to eventually bring his plans to fruition and to....well what did Jesus say?

"...it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it."

If we understand this we will then see the forest and the trees. Not only that, we'll be able to see all the way to the horizon and see the far-reaching implications because those that seek God and His will, will find what they are searching for. Bono and U2 may not have been able to find what they were looking for--but we can. How do we know this? Because one of the first places we are to look for Him is in Scripture and what does Scripture say?

Proverbs 8:17 “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  

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