Who Can Enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

I read this recently…

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:1-4

…and had this thought…

It isn’t the foolishness, naivety, or ignorance of children that suits them for the kingdom of heaven. It’s the absolute dependence and trust, the absence of all that smacks of working, earning, or bargaining our way into God’s favor.

It’s the ability to receive the kingdom as a gift, rather than a reward.

This Christmas, let us recall that we are receiving a Savior who opens His kingdom to us.

 

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Do You Want My Good Thoughts, Positive Energy, or Prayers?

Thanks to the social web I get to hear about the needs and concerns of the people I friend and follow:

Someone’s mother is in the hospital. A cousin was in a car accident. A friend is getting a divorce. You lost your job.

You know people in your social web will care about your need. You know they’ll want to help you share the load, even if all they can do is “like” or share a kind thought.

So, you post. You tweet, text, or email.

I’m glad you share your needs with me because I’m an average self-centered self, and hearing about your needs gives me an opportunity to learn compassion and empathy—something every Christian wants to develop.

But, what do you want from me?

Do you want my positive energy? My good thoughts? My prayers?

Any of the above?

I’m not sure what you mean…

Are positive energy, good thoughts, and prayers just cliché to you?—Like saying good luck—something you say whether or not you actually believe in luck?

Or, are you just trying to be polite? You want people to feel included whatever they believe?

Or, are you superstitious? Do you think prayers, positive energy, and good thoughts are all real things, and all equally effective ways for me to help you in your time of need? You actually believe I can make a difference?

Or, is your worldview based on relativism—the belief that there are many, equally valid forms of truth and spirituality? Do you actually believe one person’s positive energy is no more nor less true and real and effective than another person’s good thoughts or another’s prayers?

Whatever you may think, there’s only one of these I have confidence in.

Prayer.

In fact, I will pray for you. (How I pray for friends)

Right then and there, and I’ll tell you so. Or, if I know you to be a christian, I might also write my prayer in response.

Not that my prayers or faith have any power in themselves (as some superstitious christians believe). My prayers are simply the plea of an impotent, yet sympathetic friend offered to an omnipotent and sympathetic God on your behalf.

My good thoughts won’t help you. My positive energy (if I have such a thing) has no power.

But prayer—now, prayer is what you want from me—because I pray to the God revealed in the Bible. He is the great and good creator and ruler of all. He knows what you need before I ask. And He promises to hear us when we call.

When you’re in need, God (who offers himself to us in Jesus Christ) is the only truth, the only grace and power, who can come to your aid.

So, I want you to know, when you need help, I’ll ask God to help you. Let us learn to hope in Him alone.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.1 John 5:14–15 (ESV)

Evil, God, and an Atheist’s Challenge

I have been reading through the book of Job again and, as always, I find it both a fascinating story and humbling reminder of my place before my Creator.

Somewhere during the early chapters I felt inspired to tweet some of the key lessons I see in Job:

Tweet: "What I've learned from Job so far: 1) Only God is truly free 2) and merciful 3) and gives a Redeemer. Hope in Christ #Bible

I hoped a few people might read this and begin to sense the possibility of real hope. So, I was surprised to receive this response to my tweet from a self-identified atheist.

Tweet: "@averageus Would I be considered merciful if I let my enemy torture my child?"

I thought it was ironic that this atheist challenged the character of God, not his existence. So I decided to discover more about his question. Here is a bit of the tweet-conversation that ensued.

Me: No. And that’s not a rebuttal.

Him: I fail to see how what God did was any different!

Me: the msg of Job is either: God is evil and untrustworthy; or He is righteous and “though he slay me, yet I will trust him”

Him: He is clearly evil and untrustworthy. 9 million* dead children a year proves it. That’s just one example!

*I checked his facts and according to UNICEF almost 11,000,000 children under age 5 die each year. Further, almost 70% of these deaths are from medically preventable causes. Sad beyond imagination.

Our conversation continued in a respectful tone, but I’ll stop here because the atheist’s claim—that God is evil and untrustworthy—is what I want us to think about. I think we should be willing to admit that he raises a valid question.

A very important, valid question.

Since evil does exist in the world, we must ask, “Is God the cause of all the evil in the world?” In other words,

Is God evil?

Let’s use the story of Job to explore that question.

〉JOB’S SUFFERINGS

First, here’s a quick summary of the first two chapters of Job’s story.

Job was a prosperous, wealthy man and a devoted worshipper of God. God pointed this out to Satan. But Satan accused God of buying Job’s devotion with blessings, saying in effect, “Job only serves you for what you give him, he doesn’t really love you. Take it all away, and he’ll curse you to your face.”

And God accepted the challenge.

God gave Satan the opportunity to prove his point, and—think of this—Job suffered because of it. In all the categories of evil defined by both ancients and moderns, Job suffered:

Moral Evil: Raiding bands of Sabeans and Chaldeans murdered all of Job’s servants and stole all of his property, impoverishing him.

Natural Evil: A hurricane-like wind destroyed the home of Job’s oldest son, killing every one of Job’s children, leaving him without an heir. Boils and oozing sores erupted on Job’s body, leaving him in terrible pain, despairing of life, praying for death.

Spiritual Evil: Satan was the mastermind of this assault, even flinging, seemingly, “fire from God” which consumed the rest of Job’s property and servants.

And where was God in all this?

Ordaining it.

Observing it.

Letting it play out.

For our atheist friend this is pure evil, equivalent to letting a known enemy torture your child.

What about for you?

〉JOB IS EVERYMAN

In a way, the story of Job is an everyman story. No, we aren’t all fabulously wealthy. Nor do we all have Job’s integrity. But every person lives his or her own answer the great, central question posed by the book of Job.

Is God worthy of our love and trust?

Or, to put it more sharply,

Will you love and trust God if He doesn’t buy you off with prosperity?

If God is righteous, true and good, then He is worthy of our love and trust in spite of what we suffer in this life. Our sufferings must be due to a cause other than God (though he promises to make suffering serve the eternal good of his people).

On the other hand, if God is evil, and the direct cause of all evil, then our sufferings are the result of his cruelty. No one should worship such a God.

〉SUFFERING AND FAITH

It seems there could be no greater question of faith. It is the grand test given to everyman:

Will we love and trust a God who has ordained that we suffer and die?

Does such a God, a God who would allow—rather, to be intellectually honest —would ordain the horrible suffering of Job deserve my worship? (Note that ordain doesn’t mean cause, though it is a fine distinction.)

The way you answer this question all boils down to whether you believe the Bible’s account of how evil and suffering entered the world.

The Bible claims that a perfectly good, wise and powerful God created a good world and created mankind to rule over it. He created the first man and woman in such a way that they could freely choose whether God was worthy of their love and trust.

According to the Bible God is worthy of our love and trust; first, by virtue of His character and nature; second, by virtue of being our creator; third, by virtue of honoring us by making us in his image; and fourth, by virtue of giving us authority over the world. All these bespoke God’s trustworthiness, but the first man and woman made their choice, a rebel’s choice. And misery, evil, and suffering entered the world.

The atheist tells a different story, a story in which man is the hero. God (if he exists) is the demon who tortures us. And we must be rid of him.

Either way, it’s a question of what you will believe.

Like Job, we each decide what to believe about a God who is hidden by a veil of our suffering and death.

〉JOB’S HOPE

There’s one more thing the book of Job teaches us about God, evil and suffering. I mention it here only briefly, but you will see what a weighty thing it is. It has to do with Job’s confession of his ultimate hope:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God.—
Job 19:25-26

Job’s hope was that a Redeemer would one day stand on the earth in flesh and blood, a Redeemer who would intercede on his behalf before God. Centuries after Job, that Redeemer did come in flesh and blood to plead Job’s case. But little did Job understand that the Redeemer would be God himself, Immanuel, God with us. God became man and bore all the suffering and misery and death of the millennia himself to undo man’s deadly choice. He did this so that, in the Redeemer’s own words, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”—John 11:25.

We will never fully comprehend why millions of children die each year.

But, is it because God is evil?

Job didn’t believe so, though he suffered much. (Perhaps, only His Redeemer suffered more.)

Let us, like Job, place our lives in God’s good hands.

Let us say with him, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”—Job 13:15.


Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.—Hosea 6:1–2