Robert Jeffress - Forgiving God? - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The problem of suffering is something that Christians have grappled with for thousands of years. If God is good and loving, then why does he allow his children to experience so much pain? Certainly, God has the power to prevent those things from happening, but so often he chooses not to intervene. And to go even further, when tragedy does strike, is God responsible in any way? Well, my message is titled "Forgiving God?", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Now, let me be clear, God does not cause sin. God is not the author of sin. It's impossible for a holy God to be the author of sin so God is not directly responsible for evil in the world, but he's indirectly responsible. I mean, after all, if God sees evil and he has the power to stop it but he doesn't stop it, he's assuming responsibility, isn't it? I mean, if you walk out of this church today and you see an elderly woman being mugged by an attacker and you simply walk by, you're not directly responsible for that crime, but you're indirectly responsible if you had the power to stop it and you didn't. It's the same way with God, if God sees evil going on and has the power to stop it and doesn't, that he has to be held responsible for what has happened.
Now, the good news is God does assume responsibility for things you might not think he had any role in at all. For example, consider Exodus 4:11, God was talking to Moses and he said, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not i, saith the Lord"? Now, that's an incredible statement when you think about it. God assumes responsibility for everything that happens. Now, some of you are choking on that right now so let me give you something bigger to choke on. Acts 2:23, Peter was preaching at Pentecost, just a few weeks after Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead. Listen to what Peter said about the death of Jesus. He said in Acts 2:23, this man, Jesus was delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of Godless men and you put him death.
Who was responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? It was angry men who nailed him to the cross. But he said it was all according to the pre-determined plan and foreknowledge of God. It's not that just God knew about it ahead of time, he planned it. He planned the horrendous torture and death of his own son. Now, let that sink in for a moment. God planned the torture and death of his own son. Now, here's my point. If God says, "I'm responsible for blind, deaf and dumb and handicapped children, I am responsible for the torture and death of my own son". If God says, "I'm responsible for that," do you think he has any trouble taking responsibility for the heartache you've experienced? For the hurt you've experienced? You will never make peace with the wrongs of your past until you first of all acknowledge that God assumes responsibility for everything that happens, but that truth is not enough in and of itself to understand the big picture.
Truth number two is God's plan for you is conceived in love. God's plan for you is conceived in love. Yes, God has a detailed plan for your life. Psalm 139:16 says, thine eyes have seen my unformed substance and in thy book, they were all written, the days that were ordained for me when there was not one of them. I want you to think about the worst day of your life, the hardest day you've experienced to date. That day was written in God's book before you ever experienced it. He had a plan. It didn't take God by surprise, this was all part of that plan, but hear me, that plan was conceived by a God who loves you. God is not some capricious deity who moves us around on a cosmic chessboard like pawns. No, he has a perfect plan that was conceived in love.
Exodus 15:13 says, in thy loving kindness, thou has led the people whom thou has redeemed. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans for welfare not for calamity, a plan to give you a future and a hope". God assumes responsibility for everything in your life, but God's plan for your life is conceived in love. Now, if you have trouble reconciling those two statements, if you wonder how a good and loving God could have a plan for you that includes tremendous hurt and suffering, there's a third truth you need to remember and that is God's plan is often beyond our understanding. God's plan is often beyond our understanding.
C. S. Lewis brilliantly explains the real problem in reconciling God's sovereignty with his love. Listen to what Lewis said, he said, "What we want, in fact, is not so much a father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven whose plan for the universe was simply that it could be said at the end of each day, a good time was had by all. I should very much like to live in a universe that was governed on such lines. But since it's abundantly clear that I don't and since I have reason nevertheless to believe that God is love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction".
Now, get this, the problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word love. Do you remember the words of Romans 8:28? And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose? Unfortunately, some people misapply that verse. To use Lewis's words, they attach a trivial meaning to the word good. They think, "Oh, everything in God's plan is working together for good". That means a full bank account. That means a life free from problems. That means a happy marriage. Everything is working together for my happiness. That's not the good. That's a trivial understanding of the word good because in the next verse, Romans 8:29, Paul explains what the good is that God is working all things together in your life for.
Verse 29 says, for whom God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son that his son might be the firstborn among many brethren. You know what the good is that God is working out in your life? All things, all circumstances, the good, the bad and the ugly, they're all being used by God to mold you into the image of Christ.
And I was thinking about this the other week when we were in Florence and saw that magnificent statue of Michelangelo's David. Unbelievable to think about that big slab of marble and how Michelangelo was able to take a hammer and chisel and make that magnificent sculpture. You know how he did? It was very simple really. All he did was he took that big marble slab and he chipped away everything that didn't look like David. That's all he had to do. Blow after blow after blow everything that didn't look like David until he had that magnificent sculpture. That's what God is doing in your life. He wants to take your life and mold it to be like Jesus so that you love what Jesus loved, you think like Jesus thought, you behave like Jesus behaves in every situation.
Now, how does he do that? How does he make you like Jesus? He takes that hammer and that chisel and he knocks away everything in your life that doesn't look like Jesus. That's what he's doing in your life and my life right now. And sometimes that is very, very painful. Hebrews 5:8 is one of the most interesting verses in the Bible to me, it says, talking about Jesus, though he was a son, he learned obedience by the things that he suffered. I've said to you before, I don't understand that verse, Jesus was the perfect Son of God, sinless. What could he learn? And yet while he was on earth, he had something to learn. He learned obedience and how did he learn obedience to God? Not by the easy things in life, it's by the things that he suffered.
Now, listen to me, if God's plan for his own son including hard, difficult, unfair things, suffering, why are you and I surprised when suffering comes into our life? And say, "Something has gone askew here, there's something wrong, God must be asleep at the switch. I mean, surely God wouldn't have me suffer". If God's plan for his own son included suffering, why are we surprised when God's plan for us includes suffering? Now, sometimes God allows us to see the reason for our suffering. Sometimes we can look back at a particular experience and we say, "Oh, now I see the reason for that". And really, that makes the forgiveness process easier when we can look at what somebody did to us and say, "Now I see the reason for it". It all had a happy ending.
That's what happened with Joseph. Remember Joseph after he'd been sold into slavery, then he'd been elevated to Pharaoh's right-hand man and because of that he was able to provide food for Joseph's brothers and his dad and not only what will his brothers say, but the whole Israelite nation will say, that was a great ending. That's what Joseph said to his brothers, turn over to Genesis 45 for just a moment. When he gave this speech to his brothers, I want you to notice how many times he referenced God in his speech.
Genesis 45:5, he said to his brothers, "Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here for God sent me before you to preserve life". Verse seven, "And God", underline that, "Sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth and to keep you alive by a great deliverance". Verse eight, "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here but God". Verse nine, "Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'thus says your son, Joseph, God has made me Lord of all Egypt'". Genesis 50:20, "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive".
Forgiveness is much easier, folks when we can look past our offenders, evil intentions and see the hand of God. You meant it for evil, God used it for good. But my experience has been what Joseph's experienced is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, we go to our graves without ever seeing the purpose for the suffering we've experienced. Instead of Joseph's experience, many people experience what Job did. Remember the character Job? Job was a righteous man, fearing God, turning away from evil and yet in a single day, he lost his assets, he lost his health, he lost his 10 children in a freak storm and yet we heard Job in the first two chapters say the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. I mean, he exhibited great faith in chapters one and two, that's where most people stop. But then came chapter three. And great faith was replaced by great doubt and the rest of Job, Job's been questioning about why God allowed this to happen.
And finally after Job has some serious questions for God, listen to what God had to say to Job beginning in Job 39:2. After Job speech to God, God had a speech for Job. He said, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now, gird up your loins like a man and I will ask you and you will instruct me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have any understanding? And who said its measurement since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? Have you ever in your life commanded the morning and caused the Dawn to know its place that it might take hold of the ends of the earth and the wicked be shaken out of it"?
Can you imagine being Job listening to that? You know what's interesting in all of these speeches God gave? God never explained to Job the reason for his suffering. He never explained it. Frederick Buechner summarizes God's monologue this way, he said, "God doesn't explain, God explodes". He asked Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kind of things Job wanted explained would be like trying to explain Einstein through a little neck clam. God doesn't reveal his grand design, he reveals himself. God's answers to Job's questions about unjust suffering can be answered in two words, trust me. And that's what God says to every one of us today.
If like Joseph, you're able to look back and see how unjust suffering has been used for good, praise God that you're able to look back and see that. But if like most people, you're like Job and you can't see any good in the hurt you've experienced, God says to you what he said to Job. Trust me. Even though you don't see the good now, trust that I have a plan that I'm working out, I have not forgotten you, I have not forsaken you.
Several years ago, I listened to a tape of a testimony by a man named Joe Bailey, a very well-known Christian author. Joe Bailey and his wife watched three of their children die horrendous deaths. And in his testimony, he talked about sitting beside the bed of his four-year-old son who was dying from leukemia. His little boy had always trusted in Jesus, had a deep love for Jesus and so it was natural for Joe as his father to want to comfort him about the wonders of heaven that awaited him. The little boy said, "Daddy, will you and mommy go to heaven with me"? "No, son, we can't go with you right now but we'll come later. But Jesus will be there to meet you and hold you in his arms". That I don't want to go, the boy cried, if you can't go with me. And then Joe said, "I wish I could say that my son died a peaceful death, full of assurance, but I watched him die a violent death without the peace I wanted him to have".
Joe Bailey and his wife watched three other children die in the very same way. Many people would give up on a God who would allow such a thing to happen. But a few years ago, Joe Bailey himself died with his faith firmly intact. When asked how he reconciled his son's suffering, his children's suffering with a God who loves, Joe put it this way. He said, "We can go one of two directions when we can't reconcile our loss with our faith in God. Either we give up that faith in God or we realize that he is in control and working out a plan even though in the darkness we can't see what the plan is. Faith means something when it's exercised in the darkness".
I realize there're some of you here today who are struggling, still struggling with that issue of forgiveness. You've heard for the last nine weeks how to forgive, you want to let go of that person, that circumstance, you want to get on with your life, but you're afraid if you let go of that person, you let go of that circumstance, you won't be able to maintain your balance. You need someone to grab hold of. God is saying, "Grab hold of me, trust me, believe in me, know that even though you can't see it, I have a plan that is working for your good and my glory". That's what faith is and faith means something when it's exercised in the darkness.