Today's "God" is a warm and fuzzy, friendly and sensitive, touchy and feely sort of fellow who bestows health, wealth, fame and fortune upon all who believe in him. This beguiling postmodern god is a force for good, promotes peace, and knows how to make friends and influence people. He is a leader of the highest caliber, a wonderful role model, and a charismatic man who had good ideas for living. Surely a nice god like this will not let anything bad happen to his people.
We know from Scripture that this is not so. While we flock to doctrines like these - that placate the emotions, calm the fears and please our desires - we miss the real attributes of God that are revealed to us from Scripture. It is important to know God in Scripture when we are under trials, tribulations, threats, revilings and persecutions.
In Chapter 2 of his great work Preparations for Sufferings** (circa 1600s), John Flavel explains:
"The mercies and compassions of God over His people are exceeding great and tender, Psalm 103:13: "Like as a father pitieth His children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him." He delights not in afflicting and grieving them, Lamentations 3:33: "For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." The Scripture intimates to us a seeming conflict betwixt the justice and mercy of God, when He is about to deliver up His people into their enemies' hands, Hosea 11:8...: "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." Which shews us with what reluctance and great unwillingness the Lord goes about such a work as this.
The work of Judgment is His strange work, it pleases Him better to execute the milder attribute of mercy towards His children. Hence we find, when He is preparing to execute His judgments, that He delays the execution as long as the honour of His name and safety of His people will permit, Jeremiah 44:23. He bears till He can bear no longer: He often turns away His wrath from them, Psalm 78:38-39. He tries them by lesser judgments and gentler corrections to prevent greater, Amos 4:6. When His people are humbled under the threatenings of His wrath, His heart is melted into compassion to them, Jeremiah 31:17,20. And whenever His mercy prevails against judgment, it is with joy and triumph, James 2:13: "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment."
Flavel then makes the most amazing observation, particularly discomfiting to our modern sensibilities, especially just at the point we are becoming acclimated to the feminine goddess imageries about God such as appear in The Shack:
Seneca, though a heathen, could say, that God loves His people with a masculine love, not with a womanish indulgence and tenderness: If need require, they shall be in heaviness through manifold temptations, 1 Peter 1:6. He had rather their hearts should be heavy under adversity, than vain and careless under prosperity; the choicest spirits have been exercised with the sharpest sufferings, and those that now shine as stars in heaven have been trod under foot as dung on the earth.
I Cor. 4:11-13: "We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:"
Flavel notes that the "eleventh chapter to the Hebrews is a compendium of the various and greivous sufferings of the primitive saints," and recounts various persecutions suffered by the martyrs. In the 1600s persecution was fresh on the minds of those who recalled ravages of the various winds of trials that raged during the early Reformation. He observes that the
land, indeed, hath enjoyed a long rest, and this generation is acquainted with little more of martyrdom, than what the histories of former times inform us of: But yet let no man befool himself with a groundless expectation of continuing tranquility.... Though millions of precious saints have shed their blood for Christ, whose souls are now crying under the altar, How long, Lord! how long! yet there are many more coming on behind in the same path of persecution, and much Christian blood must yet be shed, before the mystery of God be finished.
How Shall We Then Escape?
Here is the crux of the matter. Shall you suffer or sin? Flavel explains that "God may be said to call forth His people to suffer, when He so hedgeth them in by providence, that there is no way to escape suffering, but by sinning." He reiterates, "[W]hen our way is so shut up by providence, that we cannot avoid suffering, but by stepping over the hedge of the command, God will have us to look upon that exigence as His call to suffer." In other words, we may soon enter a very clear situation where to obey God means that we must suffer. God could put us in a situation where we must take a biblical stand, obey Him, and suffer the consequences.
There are any number of ways that we can escape suffering, but they aren't biblical. It certainly is easy in our day and age, perhaps easier than it has ever been before in human history, to willfully step over that hedge and sin, rather than to stand and suffer. Here is how it works: We are tempted every day to compromise with biblical Truth! Each small decision to go our own way, each reinterpretation of the Word to suit our desires, each disregard of God's call to obedience, each reinvention of who God is, takes us one step away from being able to endure trials. If we are doing this, we are walking in the wrong direction!
David Wilkerson recently observed how easy this happens in his poignant newsletter message titled "It's Time to Get Right With God!":
Jesus warned that many believers would turn away and grow cold: “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). His message is clear: Many who have been on fire for the things of God are going to fall away. They will drift into a spiritual coldness. And some will turn to their old fleshly ways. When will this happen? It will take place at a time Jesus called “the beginning of sorrows” (24:8).
All of the backsliding we see today — the turning away from faith to unbelief — comes at a time when you would least expect it. Rather, you would expect people to be drawing nearer to God. We are at the beginning of those days of “great sorrows” that Jesus referred to. Even prominent voices in the world agree: These are days of unspeakable wickedness, marked by uncontrollable greed, rampant sexual perversions, multitudes giving themselves over to addictions of all kinds, from drugs to alcohol to pornography.
Pastor Wilkerson continues on with a strong call to believers, a very sober warning:
I ask you: Is today the time to neglect the day of salvation? Absolutely not! If you ever truly loved and followed Jesus but now are cold and indifferent, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. He is inviting you to come back to the merciful arms of Christ. With compassion, I urge you to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Some who have backslidden tell themselves, “I can get right with the Lord any time I choose. I’m just not ready. I’m not mad at God; I just need time with my friends, time to enjoy myself. I know God is loving and merciful. When I’m ready, I’ll come to him. I’ll know when that time is.” I hear these thoughts especially among young people who are drifting away.
The Holy Spirit has compelled me to show you the danger of coldness.... Spiritual coldness leads to hardness of heart. The term “hardness” indicates a condition that is beyond the influence of any gracious pleadings, any persuading from the Holy Spirit. It begins with coldness — a self-imposed exclusion from God, with no intention of obeying the call of his gospel. For those who continue in coldness to God’s voice — who keep distant from the Holy Spirit — hardness is the result.
This is a sober message with serious ramifications. It isn't something to consider lightly. Flavel notes that
how well soever [God] loves [his people], He will not indulge or patronize their sins; if they will be so disengenuous to abuse His favours, He will be so just to make them suffer for their sins, and by those very sufferings will provide for His own glory, which was by them clouded in the eyes of the world. He hates not sin a jot the less, because it is found in His own people, Amos 3:2. And though, for the magnifying of His mercy, He will pardon their sins, yet for the clearing of His righteousness, He will take vengeance upon their inventions, Psalm 99:8.
This description obviously does not match up with the modern god of semantic gymnastics and clever disguises. It doesn't fit with the god who begs, "Can't 'we all get along?'" and uses man's machinations for spiritual causes. This description of God and his sovereignty is found in God's Word. How we respond to trials is directly affected by our understanding about God and His attributes. But more on that in the next post...
Before continuing on with this series, may we each pause to regard the condition of our hearts and take immediate steps to repent and walk in obedience to God's commands in His Word.
"For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)