If God Should Take My Daughter . . .

Blessing God in good times and bad.

With the approach of Carly’s surgery on April 29, I had to ask myself if I could truly sing the song “Blessed Be Your Name” (Beth and Matt Redman), a song frequently sung in Christian worship services. Anytime someone is put under general anesthesia there is risk involved.  And even though Carly’s surgery was fairly simple, there is always the possibility of “something going wrong.” So as the time approached, I increasingly wondered what “after” might look like. And would I be able to say, “Blessed be your name” regardless of the outcome?

“Blessed Be Your Name” is inspired by the first two chapters of Job where it is recorded that Satan asserted the only reason Job blessed (honored) God is because God had given Job good things and if these blessings were taken, Job would curse God. God put all that Job had into Satan’s hand (1:12). What followed (1:13-2:10) was an attack on Job’s possessions, family, and person. This attack was by Satan, with God’s permission, through the means of events of nature, acts of men, and acts of Satan. Specifically,

1.Sabeans killed Job’s oxen and donkeys and some servants (1:14-15);
2.“Fire of God fell from heaven” and killed his sheep and some servants (1:16);
3.Chaldeans took his camels and killed some servants (1:17);
4.A great wind caused a house to collapse, killing all his children (1:18-19);
5.Satan caused Job to be covered with sores from head to foot (2:7).

Job said in response to his personal loss, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21) Note that he says, “the Lord has taken away.” The narrator adds that “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22). When Job’s health was afflicted by Satan, Job said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil [bad]?” Again, note that Satan struck Job with sores, but Job recognizes this as done under God’s sovereignty.  And again, the narrator adds, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10), that is, he did not say anything false about God.

And so we sing in the song,
“You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name.”

There was no doubt in my mind that God could deliver Carly safely through the surgery.  There was no lack of confidence on my part.  But what if God should choose otherwise? Would I still bless God or would he gain my disapproval (as if that would cause him to tremble)?

There is much bad that happens every day; God could stop it all in an instant.  Everyday people die for various reasons, many before they have reached a “ripe, old age;” God could stop it with just a word. But he doesn’t (at least not yet – see Rev 20:7-21:5).  What if God should allow her to die?  What if he should allow her to be crippled or otherwise impaired for life?  Would I still say to God, “Blessed be your name?”

So I found myself thinking about these things prior to her surgery and rehearsing what I would say to others should something bad happen.  As the days grew closer, I began wondering if this might be her last birthday party, last time at church, last bike ride, last bedtime snack.

The weekend before surgery, Carly was playing with a Playdough set.  She told me how much she liked it and that if she died, her sister, Sophie, could have it. She did not seem to be saying this in the context of her coming surgery, since we had said very little to her about it.  I thought it odd that she would be thinking that way.  Was God preparing her? Was he preparing me?

The night prior to surgery, I began to wonder if she might die in her sleep, thinking that if God was going to take her, he might be gracious and take her in her sleep rather than in the trauma of surgery. She woke the next morning. She came through surgery fine and she seems to be recovering splendidly. After surgery, rather than adjusting to the reality of losing her at a young age, I was adjusting myself to the reality that God had graciously permitted her to go on living.

Praise God!  But praise God if he should take her, too. Any good that we receive is undeserved and she has been an undeserved blessing in our lives. Maybe I should be seeing the rest of life through this lens.

Robert Munger’s talk on "Knowing God’s Will"

When a person has come to believe in God and that God calls people to follow him, the often asked question is, “How do I know what God wants me to do?” At Urbana 81, Robert Munger talked about “Knowing God’s Will.” Here are my notes:

How do we make right decisions (that is, the decisions that God wishes for us to make) and is there a process that assures us that we are doing God’s will for us?

Basic Principles of Guidance Found in Jesus’ Call

Jesus, while physically here on earth, called people to follow him. And he calls people to follow him while he is physically absent from the earth.

  1. “The call of Jesus is first and always to himself, to walk with him and be at this side.” Our response should be to make a “wholehearted, irrevocable decision to follow Jesus Christ, to live for him, to be his.”
  2. “. . . the greatest work in all the world is to make Jesus Christ known as Savior and Lord.”
  3. Jesus is our shepherd. “Sheep are stupid animals . . . [but] the shepherd’s call and encouragement, his rod and staff, make sure that every sheep in the flock will arrive safely.”
  4. The key to guidance: “we must be willing to do God’s will before we know what it is. To trust ourselves to him. To be taught, shaped and led as he shall choose.”

Some Practical Procedures

  1. “Offer yourself to daily to God.”
  2. “Pray for guidance and grace. Ask him to make his way plain to you and put his desires within you.”
  3. “Inform the mind . . . People are guided by what they know, not by what they don’t know.”
    “We are guided by the truth of God’s word.” We can learn much in the Bible about what is important to God as we study his actions in history and as we study his words spoken to people in the past.”
    “We are guided also by the facts of God’s world.”
  4. Spend time with other Christians who are wise and know God’s word who can provide support, encouragement, wise counsel, and accountability. [Greg’s addition: But be careful of those who seek to control your life and imply that to do God’s will you must do what they say.]
  5. Start where you are. Don’t think that this or that has to change before you can start. Jesus said that he would be with us and never leave us. Give yourself to God, pray for his direction, study his word, get wise counsel and take that next step.

Knowledge: Acquired versus Experienced

Knowledge can be gained in one of two ways: acquisition or experience. If I tell my daughter that the stove is hot and that she ought not to touch it as it will hurt her, she has acquired knowledge. (It remains to be seen what she does with that knowledge.) If she touches the stove and gets burned, she has acquired knowledge through experience.

People can take accumulated knowledge that is gained through either acquisition or experience and also come to know other things (provided that it is built upon accurate information). For example, if my daughter has experienced a hot stove and I tell her that the iron is also hot, she can correctly conclude that she ought not to touch the iron as well.

A question that frequently comes up when discussing the events in the Garden of Eden is why didn’t God want Adam and Eve to know about Good and Evil (See Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-19)? There is an assumption in that question; the assumption is that God didn’t want them to have that knowledge. But perhaps it was that God wanted them to acquire that knowledge rather than experience it first hand. That is, God would teach them and they would accept the knowledge from him rather than finding out by their own personal experience. (As a side note, in the process of their rejecting God as a reliable source of information, they dishonored God and by their actions said that they believed him to be unreliable.)

This topic will be built upon in a later post regarding how we come to know about God.

"Jesus Cares" or "Jesus Saves?"

I was in a youth choir at our church during my high school years and we liked a lot of Andraé Crouch’s music. One of his songs that we sang was “I’m Gonna Keep On Singin.'” Toward the end of the song the following was repeated with variations, “The whole world has got to know, Jesus saves!”

This was in the early seventies and, coming out of the sixties, there was a widespread rejection by the younger generation of the thinking and traditions of the older generation. “Our generation” was all about love. God’s wrath was out, God’s love was in. So we changed the words from “Jesus saves” (from God’s wrath) to “Jesus cares.” It seemed like the right way to reach out to our generation.

In retrospect, this is a first-hand example of how we have come to “market” the gospel. It often goes like this: “Do you want a better marriage, a better family, better health, a bigger bank account, more peace, less strife, more success, less failure, etc.? Then you want Jesus! Jesus is the answer to any question you might have.”

While it is important to communicate the gospel in way that is intelligible to the hearer, care must be taken not to change the content of the gospel. Paul had some pretty strong words for those who would distort the gospel. (See Galatians 1:6-9.) And we should not focus on secondary issues.

Does Jesus care? Yes. Jesus cared enough to feed a vast crowd of people who were following him (John 6:1-15). But after they were fed, they chased after him. Jesus accused them of following him for the wrong reason (to have their stomachs filled again, John 6:26-27; see John 6:22-71 for the full account). He told them, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. . . For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:27,38-40).

Because of what Jesus said, many of them stopped following him. If he had been market-driven, he would have had his disciples do a survey and find out what the felt needs of the people were and then modify his message so as to attract more followers. Instead, he turned to those who remained and said, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67). Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:68-69).

The central issue is that we are to love God more than anyone or anything else; we have all failed and are under God’s wrath and condemnation as a result; Jesus atones for our sin, taking upon himself the wrath of God, and makes reconciliation to God possible. The reason to become a Christian is that you have come to see God as your treasure, your delight, and that you want to be saved from God’s wrath and to be reconciled to God and to receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. (See “What Does It Mean To Believe In Jesus” for more on this.)

(All scripture quotations from the English Standard Version.)

Not The Wisdom Of Men, But The Power Of God

Some friends gave me a voucher for a free United Airlines ticket that they were going to be unable to use. This was a real blessing because I was going to purchase a plane ticket to attend an ACMI (Association of Christians Ministry with Internationals) conference in Minnesota at the end of May. My friends were leaving the country (the next day, in fact), so I went over to pick up the voucher at their house. He told me that this voucher could be used for any flight in the 48 states and that he could also give it to someone else and that I would have to go the airport to get it exchanged for a ticket.

As grateful as I was to have the voucher, as I envisioned myself going to the ticket counter with this voucher (made out to someone else), my thinking was along the lines of “they aren’t going to let me use this.” I said, “Why don’t you write out a note that you are giving the ticket to me and sign it,” which he did.

So finally, on a day when I was already going to the airport to pickup an incoming Chinese student, I went a little early to exchange the voucher for a ticket. As I drove to the airport, in my mind I began to go over the various scenarios that I could imagine unfolding as I try to exchange this voucher with someone else’s name on it. If they said this, I would say that.

Then I began thinking about how when Israel would go out to battle, God did not want them to take too many into battle “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me'” (Judges 7:2). Later, this verse also came to mind:

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 (ESV)

So then I stopped preparing for possible lines of defense, and began asking God to help me. As I stood in line, there were two agents taking people from my line, both fairly pleasant looking. Then a third one came on duty–Miss Grumpy. So naturally I began to worry that I would get her. I continued to pray, but I also thought, maybe God wants me to get her to make sure I know that this was his doing.

Sure enough, she called me up. I handed her the voucher and, as she began typing, asked where I wanted to go. I figured that I should tell her that I was not the person listed on the voucher. She said, “Oh, well, he should have come with you to sign this over.”

I pulled out the scrap of paper with my friend’s note and signature. She looked at it and said, “That’s good enough for me.” And then she issued me my ticket for Minnesota. She didn’t even keep the note.

Thank you, Lord!

Greg

Happiness Versus Joy

When you see someone who is happy, it is normal to wonder why they are happy. Likewise, it seems abnormal for someone to have a big smile on their face for no apparent reason.

In thinking about “Joy” and “Happiness,” some would make a distinction. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) defines happiness and joy in the following ways:

joy
1 a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight
b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion :gaiety
2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss
3 : a source or cause of delight

happiness
1 obs : good fortune : prosperity
2 a : a state of well-being and contentment : joy
b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience

In each case, the other word is used in the definition. I am not sure that it is helpful to try to see a substantial difference. I think it is more useful to realize that happiness or joy always has a context or a cause; it is a state brought about by an underlying (or perceived) reality. (Pity the person who is happy for false reasons.) A person is joyful or happy because they are in a certain situation or they understand something about that situation. The big question is, will this situation or state endure? Is it temporary or lasting?

I think that a typical child living with affluent parents experiences a high degree of joy on Christmas morning; but that joy is short-lived. A young man who has just become engaged to the love of his life experiences a joy that will surely last longer than the joy of Christmas morning, but even that joy will find itself fluctuating as time wears on and circumstances change.

Only someone who is good, eternal, and unchanging could provide a context for a happiness or joy that is superior and lasting. In Psalm 16:11, David says of God,

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

So, if you are seeking your joy (or happiness), why settle for anything less?

The Gift of Pain

During a recent Bible study, we were discussing the “Fall of Man” (Genesis 3). As part of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God says, “. . . cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17b-18). That seemed a little curious to many of them, that this would be a particular consequence of their disobedience.

I asked, “Is pain a good thing or a bad thing?

Immediately someone said, “A bad thing.” Only a few seconds passed and someone else said, “A good thing.”

Together, we imagined what it would be like if we could not experience pain. It soon became apparent that pain was necessary to let us know that something is wrong and that pain itself was not the bad thing; it is the condition that causes the pain.

So what is the worst condition in which a person could find themselves? It is to be eternally alienated from the only source of life and goodness: the Creator. And that is just where Adam and Eve were; alienated from God. But God had altered his creation in order to remind not only Adam and Eve, but also their descendants, that they need him.

In Haggai 2:17 it reads, “‘I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me,’ declares the Lord.”

When difficulty comes and disaster strikes, let it be a reminder of how much we need him, and then turn to him. “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 4:16 (ESV).

Don’t Forget to Row

I was reading in Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology,” Chapter 16 on “God’s Providence.” He referenced the story in Acts 27:13-44 where Paul is traveling to Rome and the ship is being threatened by a storm. An angel of the Lord appears to Paul and says, “”Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” Then Paul says to those on the ship, “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” There were 276 people on the ship.

Later, sensing the danger, some of the sailors attempted to abandon ship. Paul said, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” As I have read that passage in the past, I thought it odd that their preservation would be dependent upon all staying on the ship. God promised to save them; why did all need to stay on the ship? If some chose to risk their life by trying to escape on their own, why would that jeopardize those who remained?

Grudem says, “We may sometimes forget that God works through human actions in his providential management of the world.” As you read on in the story, you see that the sailors were needed. While God was choosing to save them, there were some remaining maneuvers that the sailors needed to perform in order to get them close enough to shore so that they could get safely to the beach.

We are told to ask that God would give us our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), but we are also told that those who do not work will not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). So, when God promises deliverance from danger, don’t forget to row.