Whatever God demands of us is always a blessing:
I recall once having a boss who was giving me a hard time, and I said to him, ‘Why are you making things so hard on me?’ – or words to that effect. In this world we will have bosses and others who will make things quite miserable for us. But our heavenly Father is never intentionally mean or nasty.
God has a heart-full of love for his own, and whatever he does to us or asks of us comes from a never-ending supply of divine love. As my former American pastor used to say, ‘God is too loving to be unkind, and too wise to make a mistake.’ He may have been following Spurgeon here on this, who may have been following others.
But that statement is 100% accurate. And yet, it may SEEM that God is sometimes being unloving or harsh or cruel or mean. Sometimes it may seem that what he allows us to go through or what he asks of us is rather mean-spirited and hard-hearted. But it is not.
We of course have plenty of biblical examples where God directs his people to do things or go through things that seem to be all rather unkind and unloving. But nothing he asks of us is ever amiss, and it is always for our own good, and for the good of others.
Consider just a few of these. Since I am reading through the prophetic books once again, I find this quite often there. Consider a really tough case of this (at least to our eyes) as found in Ezekiel 24:15-27. There we read about how God tells Ezekiel NOT to mourn the death of his wife. Imagine that!
Or consider what we find in Hosea 1. In verses 2-3 we read these rather surprising words: “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’ So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”
At this point you might be thinking, ‘Yeah, but at least Jesus was not like this – he was always kind and gentle’. Um not quite. He actually made really strong – and even seemingly quite harsh and cruel – demands of people all the time. Consider just a few of these:
Matthew 10:37-39 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 18:7-9 Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
Luke 9:56-62 And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” To another he said, “Come, follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God”. Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who sets his hand to the plough and then looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Luke 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 18:22-25 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Wow, talk about hardcore. And these hard sayings are found throughout the gospels. What Jesus told people to do or to give up would have shocked many at the time – and many folks today as well. But he did it out of a heart of love for them. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/10/07/things-jesus-said-that-we-never-hear-about/
So God in his great wisdom and in his great love for us may well ask of us things that really seem to be cases of cruel and unusual punishment. And yet everything he demands of us is only for our very best good, and for the well-being of others. We must always keep that perspective in mind.
All of the above passages could be examined in more detail. While future articles will seek to do that, let me look more closely at just one of them – the passage from Ezekiel. Many commentators could be drawn upon here in explaining this text, but a piece from Ligonier Ministries does a good job, so I will run with that:
Those whom the Lord calls to ministry often must give up things that they would ordinarily hold dear. Jesus was called to lay down His life and suffer the divine curse on sin (Gal. 3:10–14). Ezekiel suffered the loss of his wife. God came to the prophet and told him his wife was going to die but that he should not engage in any of the customary mourning practices, which would have involved wearing sackcloth, lying on the ground, throwing ashes on one’s head, and so on. Instead, he was to don a turban, that is, wear the garments of celebration (Ezek. 24:15–18). This was a great loss indeed to the prophet, for the Lord refers to her as the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes. To not mourn for her would be a great sacrifice for him and cause great pain to his heart in addition to her death.
Such a death seems to be a drastic, almost “desperate” step for the Lord to take to get His point across. Of course, in reality, God never finds Himself in a desperate situation. But from a human perspective, the covenant community’s refusal to believe that the Lord would let Jerusalem fall was a desperate situation, and desperate times required desperate measures. The death of Ezekiel’s wife prefigured the loss of the temple, which was “the delight of [the Jews’] eyes.” God strove to make His intent clear so that the people would have no excuse. Despite the hardship in the loss of Ezekiel’s wife and temple, however, all would be for the good of Israel (vv. 19–27). Through the trouble, the people would come to know that He is the Lord. www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/death-ezekiels-wife
Those whom the Lord loves are called upon to be drawn closer to him. His goal for us is not mere happiness but holiness. Yes, those who truly love God and delight in holiness will be happy as well, but sometimes God leads us through rough roads and prickly paths to get there.
And all these great biblical truths are so often missed or avoided by lots of popular preachers today. They concentrate on telling us that we can have our ‘best life now’. They promise us success and health and riches and fame and a nice wife and a luxury home and a successful career.
But these are all things Jesus did NOT promise us. Instead he promised us hardships, trials, persecution and the hatred of the world. That is the lot of the disciple of Jesus. And that is how life is in a fallen world. A major problem with these false gospellers is those who soak it up will soon be disappointed when hard things happen to them.
‘Hey, I was promised a life of ease and happiness and good things – why is this happening to me?’ So many who are sold a bill of goods by these modern day false shepherds end up giving up their Christianity when the real world clashes with the baloney that they had preached to them.
In sum, an endless supply of great quotes could be shared at this point. Let me close with just a few of them, from those believers who have known all about hardship and suffering:
“God permits what he hates to accomplish that which he loves. Jesus brutal death on the cross is proof of that.” Joni Eareckson Tada
“God will never disappoint us… If deep in our hearts we suspect that God does not love us and cannot manage our affairs as well as we can, we certainly will not submit to His discipline. …To the unbeliever the fact of suffering only convinces him that God is not to be trusted, does not love us. To the believer, the opposite is true.” Elisabeth Elliot
“If God sends us on strong paths, we are provided strong shoes.” Corrie ten Boom
“We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power.” Brother Yun
“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” Mother Teresa
“I am hanging by a thread, but the thread is knit by God.” Douglas Groothuis
“God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart. When you are so weak that you cannot do much more than cry, you coin diamonds with both your eyes. The sweetest prayers God ever hears are the groans and sighs of those who have no hope in anything but his love.” Charles Spurgeon