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.

When God Is Silent

There, perhaps, is no other indescribable anguish of the heart and spirit than the silence of God—especially for those who have experienced His love, witnessed His power, and can recount times of closeness and answered prayer.

Extended periods of God’s silence and inactivity can truly test one’s faith. Emotions can seem like a turbulent sea, with questions tormenting the mind like seemingly endless waves pounding on the shore. Dark storm clouds block out the light of the sun—and nights are ever darker still.

Such experiences are not uncommon for the people of God. The psalmist writes, 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1 (ESV)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ~ 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk cries out,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? ~ Habakkuk 1:2

The prophet Jeremiah pleads to the Lord,

Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. ~ Jeremiah 17:17

In the New Testament, although it was clearly confirmed to John the Baptist that Jesus is the Messiah, after being imprisoned he sent disciples to ask Jesus,

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? ~ Matthew 11:3

Times of divine silence, especially extended periods, causes common questions to arise:

  • What has happened?
  • What did I do?
  • Is God angry with me?
  • Will God speak again?
  • Has God abandoned me?
  • Is God trustworthy?
  • Why?

The reasons for God’s silence varies. Sometimes it is to humble us, and to remind us of our dependence on Him. If we are not careful, we can become conceited and think we are quite “spiritual”. Such pride usually lacks love.

Sometimes God’s silence is due to willful and persistent sin.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ~ Isaiah 59:2

Still, sometimes God is silent to stretch and grow our faith. We live in an age in which feelings are exalted. Too often we lean, depend, and even put trust in our ever-changing feelings. However, our faith is to be anchored on God, His character, and His promises.

When experiencing God’s silence, what are we to do? First, we should examine ourselves. Are we refusing to confess and repent of sin (e.g., immorality, unkind words, unforgiveness, idolatry, prayerlessness, etc.)? Second, we need to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. God is unchanging. He remains faithful. Third, and this is the most difficult, we are to continue to trust in spite of our feelings and doubts.

The prophet Micah shared in such experiences, too. He writes,

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

Do Not Throw Away Your Confidence

Faith. What is this ambiguous phenomenon? There are three popular flows of thought in our contemporary world concerning faith, and all three are wrong.

First, the view of faith as being this mystical, ultra-spiritual experience; borderline Christianized paganism (perhaps even crossing the boundary in some cases). This view is very sensory and emotionally based. The problem with this view has to do with the fact that our feelings can be very misleading, misinterpreting, and quite deceptive.

Second, the view of faith as always being victorious and prosperous. This often condescending view perceives those who are sick, poor, defeated, etc. as schmucks who “lack faith.” The problem with this view is it essentially makes faith into a god, as if the true God is obligated to bow to it. Furthermore, it discredits genuine faith in others, and disregards passages in the Scriptures that tell of believers who were commended for their great faith but who were permitted to suffer or go without.

The third, and most arrogant of the three, is the secular view that sees faith as utter foolishness, and often treats persons of faith with contempt and hostility. This view accuses faith as being blind, and as a leaping into the dark haphazardly.  The problem with this view is it is often quite hypocritical, for its adherents often blindly follow ideologies and theories that have proven calamitous or which have no evidence.

Indeed, there are mysterious aspects of faith, but is it mystical? Truly, faith is triumphant (“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” [1 John 5:4, ESV]), but does this mean there are no bumps, bruises, or battle-wounds? No mistake, faith travels without seeing the whole picture, but does this mean it is blind and mindless?

Here is what the Scriptures tell us about faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear…. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. ~ Hebrews 11:1-3, 6 (KJV)

Notice, there is substance to faith, as well as evidence. Furthermore, through faith there is an understanding—not a shot in the dark. The substance, evidence, and understanding are each founded upon the framing of the world by the word of God. Although there is a confidence which accompanies faith, does this mean it is void of questions—even of doubt? While faith is overcoming, does this mean it is never weak?

David asks:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? ~ Psalm 10:1

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ~ Psalm 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk asks:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? ~ Habakkuk 3:2-3

Jeremiah asks:

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? ~ Jeremiah 12:1

The writer of Hebrews writes of various persons of great faith, of their victories, exploits, and answers to prayer. Then he shifts gears and writes of others of great faith:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith. ~ 11:35-39

Faith is not about “feeling,” but is about trusting God—even when it feels like He has turned His back, is apathetic concerning our cries, or powerless against our adversaries. Faith is not about apparent victory or prosperity. These passages reveal that there are times faith can be accompanied by heartfelt questions, soul-shivering feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and apparent defeat of persecution. Faith is trusting God’s character, faithfulness, wisdom, justice, and power—despite our feelings, questions, and faulty perception.

So, is faith a mindless, blind leap into the dark? John the Baptist (whom Jesus referred to as the greatest born of women [see Matthew 11:11]) was unjustly imprisoned and soon to be executed. Even though he knew Jesus was the Messiah, his dire situation perplexed him. John sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” ~ Matthew 11:4-6

John (whom Jesus declared to be the greatest of men) was not rich. Now he was alone, and seemingly abandoned. What was Jesus’ instructions for John? To observe; to pay attention. Jesus was restoring lives. To the one who is willing to observe today, Jesus Christ is still restoring and transforming lives, even while He might allow us to remain in unpleasant, perplexing situations. We come then, to a fork in the road, where we must make a choice: to choose to be “offended” and travel in unbelief or to trust in Him and His faithfulness.

Perhaps this day your faith is being tested. The fires are raging or the waters are rising. You are afraid, perplexed, and God feels far away. But God tells His people:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. ~ Isaiah 43:1-2

The writer of Hebrews was writing to a people who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Christ. Many of them were discouraged to the point of abandoning their faith. The writer sought to encourage them (and us):

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. ~ Hebrews 10:35-36

Dear reader, may you remember what God has done in your life and the things He has shown you. May you remember that He never said the journey of faith would be easy (but He has promised it will be worth it). May you hold firmly to your confidence in Him and His atoning work on our behalf.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. ~ Psalm 37:23-24

Our High Priest and Unnecessary, Distracting, and (the) Wrong Questions

I enjoy studying and discussing theology, provided the discussion is edifying. Theology can raise a lot of questions—some very difficult ones. Note, many of our questions must remain unanswered. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9, ESV). God is perfect in holiness, love, justice, and all His ways. Will we choose to trust Him?

Sometimes our questions of curiosity are simply irrelevant (i.e., the classic “Can God make a rock so big He can’t move?”). However, some of our questions are distracting to more important ones. For example, Hebrews 4:15 says, “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.” Sometimes the question—even debate—arises, “Could Jesus have sinned?” The differing answers go back and forth. The question is not insignificant, but neither is it the most important. Furthermore, it distracts from the wonderful truths being revealed. Two more important questions are: Did Jesus sin? And can He truly sympathize with us when we struggle with our sinfulness? Could He have sinned? Some say yes, others say no. However, what we do know is He was genuinely tempted—therefore, He can sympathize—but He did not sin. Good thing! Otherwise we would not have a Savior.

Could Jesus have sinned? Does He know what it is like to be tempted with the same sins as I am? Maybe, maybe not. What I know with utmost certainty is I can—and do—sin, and I have High Priest and Savior who can sympathize with me—and you. 

You and I will continue to have questions, but may we learn to ask the right questions, instead of being distracted by the unnecessary and wrong ones.