Remembering His Cross in Our Pain

Pain is a part of living in a sinful, fallen world, and no one is completely immune. No doubt, some people suffer more than others, but some forms of pain are nearly universal. Who has not felt the wounds of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and heartache? At some point, anyone who loves will experience the emotional pain of grief. Or who has not felt the pangs of anxiety and fear?

During times of pain it can appear as though our mind and feelings conspire against us, to leave is for dead in despair, but first torturing is with doubts about God’s love, care, and empathy.

I wrote the following song sometime during a severe bout with depression. I have written about this previously, but I felt as though I was in a dark, inescapable pit. I felt like a failure in every sense of the word, and God seemed light years away from me. However, God—in the person of Jesus—experienced much of the pain we feel and questions we ask, while He was rejected, tortured, then killed. 

He Is Still Worthy of Praise

Even when storms rob us of sunshine, And our laughter turns to cries; Even when our nights are the darkest, And there are no stars in our skies…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
The Holy One who cares;
In brokenness,
We worship Him through tears…

Chorus 1:
(For) He is still worthy of praise;
He is still worthy of honor;
He is still worthy of worship;
He is still worthy of all!

(Repeat)

Even when our minds are afflicted, And questions scream with rage;
And our hearts are so deeply wounded, Feeling forsaken in some cage…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
And bend our knees in dust.
In spite of pain,
We sing to Him with trust…

(Chorus 1)

Through loneliness and friendlessness, Through deep darkness and through sickness;
Through failure and tears, through raging fears;
Through broken dreams, and angry screams …

Through temptations, and frustrations; Through broken-hearts, and worlds torn apart;
Through death of loved ones, when grief overcomes –
Through all the loss, we remember His Cross!

Even when we face disappointments, When dreams are smashed on rocks, And we watch them sink under waters, As our hearts are crushed on the docks.

Bridge:
We bow our souls,
And cannot even speak.
We want to run,
We want to die,
Yet to our God we cry … and we seek …

(Chorus 1)

Chorus 2:

God You are worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
You are still worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
… Through all the loss, we remember Your Cross …  [1]

Jesus, You’re worthy of praise.

(Words and music by G.P)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

__________

[1] Geno Pyse, To Worship Is to Obey: Songs of Worship & Devotion (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 27-29.

Are You Following Ahab’s Bad Example?

Truth is not always pleasant, it does not always seem kind. However, truth is good and beneficial—like medicine—if we will not resist or reject it. Sadly there are many people who would rather perish feeling good than feel the sting of truth and actually become good and healthy.

In the Old Testament, we are told of the account of Ahab, one of the wicked kings of Israel. Preparing to go into battle, he requested that Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to be his ally. Jehoshaphat agreed and came to help Ahab. Ahab called for false prophets to ask if he would have victory. They replied that the Lord would give him success. 

Jehoshaphat, a godly king, must have sensed something wrong, because he asked, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7). Ahab’s response is astounding:

And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” ~ 1 Kings 22:8

Micaiah, a true prophet of God, was summoned. When he arrived, Ahab  asked if he should go into battle. Micaiah must have had a mockingly tone as he answered, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (vs. 15). We are then told,

But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” ~ vs. 16

Did you catch that? “Nothing but the truth,” Ahab demanded. So, Micaiah prophesied that Ahab’s army would be scattered in defeat. Ahab then looks over at Jehoshaphat and asks, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” (vs. 18).

Micaiah proceeded to tell Ahab that he would die in battle. Zedakiah, a false prophet, struck Micaiah, asking scornfully, “How did the Spirit of the LORD go from me to speak to you?” (vs. 24).

What was Micaiah’s reward for speaking the truth? Imprisonment. Yet, what he spoke would prove to be true: the army was scattered and Ahab was killed.

How do you respond to truth? How do you react when you are confronted with your faults and sins? How do you respond when a person of God shares from the Bible of something being wrong, but society says it is okay? Do not follow Ahab’s example. Truth is not always pleasant, but it can rescue you from many perils if you will yield to it. 

How Have We Become So Mean and Nasty?

The political climate and polarization of our country have become extremely toxic, releasing the poisons of hypocrisy and hatred. Strangely, while different sides are spewing out derogatory and accusative terms (racists, Hitler/Nazis, fascists, snowflakes, cry babies, —phobics, etc.), and labeling others as evil, each reveal—from both the Left and the Right—the murder in their own hearts. Social media has only confounded the issue more, as people remove nearly all filters, including common decency and respect. No one is safe or immune from the abusive language. 

Are we on the brink of becoming a nation of savages? Aside from the obvious violence and riots in various cities, just consider the things people say on Facebook, Twitter, etc. We often see the quotes on Twitter coming from celebrities, journalists, and politicians exploding with nastiness and profanities directed at another. On Facebook average Joes belittle one another relentlessly and viciously because of differing views. There is rarely actual conversing, but accusations laced with profanities.

Of our own president some have portrayed him being beheaded, and some have posted they hope he dies from Covid. Similar things are said about other politicians. Many make fun of another political that appears to be facing early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. From where does such nastiness come, and what does it reveal? While hatred and derision are vomited out of our mouths or pounded on our buttons, Jesus reveals to us the ugly truth from where our words come—and worse, what they reveal.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. ~ Luke 6:45 (ESV)

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. ~ Matthew 12:34

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

Did you catch these? Our words come from our hearts, which are either like refreshing fountains or repulsive cesspools. Furthermore, our nasty, malicious words reveal the evil of murder in our hearts.

The apostle Paul, referencing Old Testament passages, writes,

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~ Romans 3:12-18

Just as lust-filled glances reveal the immorality in a man’s heart, Jesus says our mean-spirited words reveal the malice and murder in our own hearts. This stinging truth is just as true for the Right as it is for the left; for liberals and conservatives; for Republicans and Democrats; and irregardless of color or nationality.

While degrading others and trying to take the specks out of others’ eyes, Jesus blasts us by confronting us with our own hypocrisy:

How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. ~ Matthew 7:4-5

How have we become so mean and nasty? How can we expect others to be decent while we ourselves are not behaving decently? According to Jesus, we are to look to Him in faith, and for forgiveness, and He will help clean us up from the inside out. From there, we are to be kind, loving, and just regardless how others behave. How can our cities and nation be rid of the violence if we refuse to confess and repent of the violence raging in our own hearts? Our hypocrisies serve only as fuel on the fires.

Polarization and the Stripping Away of Our Humanity

On their album, Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd has a song entitled, “Us and Them”. The lyrics begin with, “Us and them / And after all, we’re only ordinary men.” This reminds me of a part in Homer’s, The Iliad, when Hector, the noble hero of the Trojans, was home with his family before his upcoming dual with Achilles, the champion of the Greeks.

While the book celebrates the Greek warriors, this scene takes us into Hector’s home, loving on his family, although knowing he might not return to them after the fight. What struck me about this, when I read it in college, was the reality of persons in war. On each side are dads, moms, sons, and daughters. The vast majority do not want to be there, but are there because of duty—for “love of God, King, and country.”

While their cultures might be different, their humanity is very much the same: intellect, emotions, passions, dreams, ambitions, love, affections, fear, etc.

One of the dangerous consequences being recognized, due to modern technology and social media, is polarization. While technology is not fully to blame, it has, indeed, confounded matters. No longer is it simply disagreeing or being divided. It has become demeaning, demonizing, and dehumanizing enmity. We have the Left/Right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, black/white, etc. Mind you, I am not at all promoting pluralism or ecumenicalism, nor am I endorsing complete individualism and autonomy. However, we are becoming a society that strips away the humanity of persons who are not like us and/or who do not think like us.

Some foundational doctrines in Christian theology concerning people are: 1) Created in God’s image, 2) original sin, and 3) Redemption.

First, all people are made in God’s image, and He has placed us in the time and place as He sees fit.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27

Second, the suffering we see in our world is rooted in original sin; that is, because the first couple sinned, sin is now passed on from generation to generation. We often view racism, violence, perversion, etc. as the problems; however, these are merely symptoms of the “spiritual disease” each of us is infected with.

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ~ Romans 3:10-12, 22-23

Third, God has a genuine love for fallen humanity and has made redemption possible for all people who are willing to repent of sin and believe on His Son.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. ~ Romans 5:8-10

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9

Although sin has distorted our desires and perception, it has not eradicated our humanity and worth to God. Yet, how easily—especially with social media—we can slander and demonize others. Regardless of ethnicity, color, or beliefs, we are all but ordinary people. We work, play, love our families, and want to survive. Mind you, none of this is meant to ignore crime or injustice; however, we can be so malicious, injurious, and even murderous with our tongues and posts. The distance from verbal harm to physical harm is not far at all. In fact, Jesus explains:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

We are also told,

No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? ~ James 3:8-11

Yet, consider the way people slander, accuse, and dehumanize others on social media. How brutally nasty people can be towards others whose views are different. Too often a distinction is not made between the person and the view. So, going straight for the jugular, so to speak, honest dialogue is not permitted and the person’s humanity is trampled on. As a result, there is no consideration that the other is a person with a past full of various experiences. Furthermore, this is someone’s son, daughter, parent, etc. Dangerously worse still, God’s image, love, and redemption are denied a person. In the end, such polarization makes us like beasts, monsters, and devils ourselves.

We can fight to the death for our opinions, perceptions, and convictions; yet, the Bible tells us:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

Strangely, whenever we seek to dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves, too. Sadly, the more our climate becomes polarized, the more our humanity is stripped away.

Unfocused, Unbridled Anger Will Fix Nothing

I have a few honest questions concerning our society. I’m not trying to be controversial or flippant. First, why all the unfocused, unbridled anger? The general answer seems to be “injustice!” Ok, this is a good starting place, but the answer goes awry when it shoots in all different directions. For example, a “black” man dies because of a “white” cop. THIS is the injustice. But what has followed are directions that are off focus and untrue:

  • All cops are bad
  • All “whites” are “racist
  • All “blacks” are oppressed
  • All cops are “systematically racist “
  • No body cares
  • This is Trump’s fault
  • Capitalism needs to be replaced by Marxism

Each of these are off focus and untrue. Everyone I know was upset with what happened to George Floyd. But somehow, things have spiraled somewhere unknown. We must remain focused if we are to fix anything.

Second question, will screaming obscenities and being destructive help fix injustice? So many pictures and videos I’ve seen shows persons with signs or shouting out things like: “F— cops!” “F— Trump!” F— you!” “Get the f— out of here!” Etc. I have yet seen such a word reconcilable. The same thing with destroying property. People are destroying things just to be destructive. But honestly, will this fix the problem? No, because none of this has anything to do with the original injustice. Furthermore, NO ONE responds well to being told, “f— you!” This kind of behavior is counterproductive. All this does is heighten the walls and thicken the barriers. This fixes nothing but is only further destructive.

Although I have more, my last question for the time being is this: do “black” lives matter or only the ones that fit a certain narrative? Something I have observed for several years is often if a “black” man is successful, he is labeled an “Uncle Tom.” The same for those who support Trump. Mind you, my posts are not meant to be political, but my point is this: on the one hand, “whites” are condemned unfairly as being “racist.” Yet, on the other hand, “blacks” are ostracized if they go against some unwritten script to think for themselves.

None of this is supportive of justice. It is not true that every “white” is racist anymore than saying the “black” community is free of racism. Furthermore, it is not supportive of justice to criticize “black” men as “Uncle Toms” when they are successful and/or think for themselves. All these accusations stem from the racism within the accusers’ hearts.

Truly, I believe things can get better, but first we have to keep focused on the actual offenses and avoid the untrue generalizations. If we refuse, we will all suffer the consequences of infernos of our own unbridled rage.