Some issues never get settled.
Some truths never become fully known.
Some questions never yield their answers completely in this life.
That’s where faith comes in.
We go with the evidence that we have, make a faith decision as to what the missing evidence is saying, then go forward.
Hope that is seen is not faith. For why does one hope for what he sees? (Romans 8:24)
Here are five issues you will never know fully in this life, and may find yourself struggling with (occasionally) from here on in. The fact that we may never know them fully does not inhibit us from searching them out and trying to know all we can. After all, these are the big issues of life.
1. The Nature of God: What’s He Really Like?
A few minutes ago, I listened to a discussion on this subject on radio. The primary speaker said, “I think of God as love.” Knowing how big love is with the Lord Himself, it’s hard to argue with. We think of passages such as John 3:16, Romans 5:8, and almost all of I John. “…love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love“(I John 4:7-8).
I do not argue with that–particularly since we do not know precisely what she meant by it–but my own answer differs. To me, God is “A Loving Father.” The Lord Jesus (who should know!) said so much on this subject, including “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father (give good gifts; give the Holy Spirit) to you” (Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13).
Will my concept of God change? I expect it will enlarge. Surely God will always be the Loving Father to me, but perhaps much more. But my image of God must not be static, since God is a Living Person, and our relationship is fluid, not something set in stone.
Don’t be surprised if how you think about God changes through the years.
Also, don’t be surprised if everyone around you differs in how they see Him. J. B. Phillips wrote a book two generations ago which generated a great deal of discussion on the subject. “Your God Is Too Small” became a best-seller. Numerous variations on that theme have been penned over the decades since, most notably Mark Buchanan’s “Your God is Too Safe,” which I highly recommend.
2. God’s Will: What’s He Up to in My Life?
His will for you last year is not necessarily His plan for you today.
Recently, a friend told me of the vision God gave him to relocate his church on a particular site. His congregation bought into his vision and purchased the land. The last few years they’ve been paying off the property before beginning construction. In that interim, another church of the same denomination moved in and bought the vacant building next door and has started a major church there. In our conversation, my pastor friend seemed adamant that he should stay with the original vision God gave him.
He alone can decide that.
However, I suggested he think about a couple of things: a) It is not a good thing for two churches of the same denomination to be so close together (adjoining one another’s property yet!) for a hundred reasons. The urge to compare and compete would be irresistible. And one has to wonder how the Lord in Heaven feels about such a duplication of buildings and programs. b) If that was indeed God’s will for my friend to purchase that lot and relocate, then we could conclude the other church (and its pastor) acted out of the will of God. If so, buying the site next door was not in the Lord’s plan, but there they are. This means–to me at least–that my pastor friend should go back to the Lord and ask what to do now.
I’d prefer not to get into a theological discussion here on the foreknowledge of God. The main issue is “What is God’s will at this point?”
Sometimes, God’s will adapts to the situations. When He called me into the ministry a half-century ago, He did not issue me a blueprint for the rest of my life. The understanding was that I would stay close to Him and do whatever He commanded each day. I ended up serving 6 churches as pastor and one church as a ministerial staffer, then spent 5 years as the (ahem) bishop of the SBC churches of metro New Orleans. The last 3 years–my retirement ministry–I have preached in many states and one foreign country. What’s next? God knows. But as the song says, “We’ve come this far by faith.” We expect to go the rest of the way in a similar fashion.
3. Why Does God Do What He Does. And Why Does He Not Do More?
If you are not familiar with Psalm 115:3, you need to add it to your arsenal. “But our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
That simple but profound truth will sustain you when you find yourself puzzled by His action or inaction and need an explanation. Sometimes the only understanding for what God does or does not do is that “It pleased Him to do that.” He has purposes of His own.
Colossians 1:19 tells us that it pleased God for all the fullness of the Godhead to dwell bodily in Jesus.
Luke 10:21 says God reveals His choice insights to the humble and childlike rather than to the geniuses among us just because He wants to. That’s the only reason given, but apparently it satisfied Jesus.
If God is the Sovereign of the universe, and not some local tribal deity created in our image, it figures that He has knowledge we know nothing of, purposes we have not yet divined, and plans we could not begin to imagine. Why that should puzzle people I find amazing.
We in the ministry will always be called upon to answer young parents who ask, “Why God let my child die, after all the praying we did?” Others will expect us to have answers to: Why does God allow millions to die of starvation or genocide across the world every year? Where was God in the Holocaust when the Nazis slaughtered untold milllions of Jews and others? Why did my mother die? Does God not hear us?
The answers we offer to these questions will be partial. That is, they will be “faith answers”–conclusions based on our inadequate evidence and what we know of God.
Our answers will not satisfy everyone. In fact, there is a sense in which our answers will not satisfy anyone. God’s plan is for each believer to struggle with these issues, to seek His mind and heart, to study His revelation, and to arrive at His answers in His own time. The impatient among us will not linger long enough to hear from God.
And, let us admit, sometimes in our heart of hearts, even we who are counted among the faithful will find ourselves wondering where God was and why He did that or allowed this to happen. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Explain it all we will, that cry from the cross does not go away, but lingers on the pages of Holy Writ as a painful reminder that even the best and holiest will sometimes call for the God who seems far away.
No one unwilling to live by faith will last long in following Jesus.
4. Heaven and Hell: Can It Really Be This Way?
Recently, a number of helpful books have been written by Godly ministers to drive us to rethink our concepts of Heaven and hell. Anyone who helps us know more of what Scripture teaches and how to separate God’s truth from cultural accretions–the barnacles of belief–does us a favor.
Granted, most questions center around hell, and not Heaven. So, we search for answers.
We ministers often speak of “the devil in hell” and wrong concepts as having originated “in a devil’s hell.” But, the Bible does not teach that Satan is in hell. In fact, Revelation 12:12 says he’s on earth. True, he is destined for hell (Revelation 19:20 and 20:10), but not as the warden–contrary to a zillion cartoons and funny stories–but as an inmate along with all others who served his purposes in this life.
As to who goes to hell, what happens there, and how long it lasts, most of us will find ourselves struggling with the answers we find along the way. To those who say that hell’s eternal punishment is not everlasting agony in physical hellfire, I reply, “I sure hope you’re right.” I want hell to be over quick.
On the other hand, it seems to me that hell of one kind or other is needed if there is to be justice in this universe. Society can take a cruel dictator or child molester who killed or ruined untold numbers of lives and execute him, but where is the justice in that? By what reasoning do we calculate that his execution paid for the hundreds of lives he killed or ruined?
If there is no hell, there is no justice in life.
But does hell have to be “hell fire for all eternity”? That is the rub.
Abraham’s statement to God before His judgement fell on Sodom and Gomorrah stands as a marker for a lot of us: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25)
God is a God of justice and righteousness. However imperfectly we understand hell in this life, He will do right. We count on that.
5. Death: What Really Happens When I Take My Last Breath?
I take comfort in something Paul said to the Corinthians on this subject: “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord–we walk by faith, not by sight–we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:6-8).
To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Paul did not put it exactly like that, but he seems to be saying this. Then, as though anticipating questions and objections, he added this little qualifier: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Even the great apostle, who spoke so eloquently in I Corinthians 15 on the resurrection and the glorified body which believers inherit, had to insert that reminder because we “see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13:12).
My mother went to Heaven on June 2 of this year, just over a month ago. She joined our dad whose departure from earth and arrival in Heaven occurred in November of 2007.
At least, that’s what I believe.
But I can’t prove it to you.
If it turns out that there is some interlude between our physical deaths and the moment of our actual awakening and reunion with our loved ones and Christ Himself, who am I to argue?
But what if none of this is true? What if we are sadly mistaken on the whole issue?
That–let me hasten to state–is a question God’s faithful wrestle with from time to time. There is that possibility. But, going on the evidence we have, coupled with the evidence we are lacking, and standing on the faith in Christ and His Word which are such solid rocks for us, we believe God is true, that Jesus is dependable, that His resurrection happened, and that our dead-in-Christ are safe in His arms. We believe our future is assured and sure.
The exact nature of what happens after the moment of our final breath, we gladly leave in His hands.
When someone identifying himself as a skeptic on religious things called me to task for saying a certain person had “gone to Heaven last Friday,” I had to admit that this is a euphemism in my circles for saying the individual was a faithful believer, that he died, and that He is in the Father’s keeping. Whether that means He’s in Heaven at this exact moment or not, we leave to Him, and we will not argue with those on either side of the issue.
In fact, why people argue so vehemently over these details which I believe to be unknowable escapes me.
I’ve never heard anyone else use Psalm 17:15, but it looms large in my faith arsenal. “As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness. I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awaken.”
Based on this scripture and a hundred others, I believe that after death, I will awaken, that I will see the Lord Himself, and that whatever it’s like, I will be satisfied.
The details–on this and all the other faith issues we struggle with on a daily basis–we leave to Him.