On Challenging God
On Challenging God
by Lonnie Lane
I met a delightful man recently, a doctor, who was raised in a church denomination not known for its power or sense of the presence of the Lord, at least not since the 1500’s. He goes to church occasionally but boasted that “I don’t make a habit of it.” The only thing he makes a habit of, he said, was “being good.” He had enough church-going in him from his childhood that his idea of being a Christian was that of “being good.”
As our conversation continued I spoke about knowing God while he talked of church and how his family is active in church. “But what about you?” I asked. He then voiced some very real questions about God as to why suffering exists in the world. He is a doctor, after all, in order to help alleviate suffering. “When I meet God,” he stated emphatically, seemingly assured that he would and that he’d have opportunity to speak his mind to Him about why He allows suffering, “I’ve got some things I intend to say to Him,” he said meaning he’d like to tell God that he doesn’t like the way He is running the world.
Many years ago a friend of mine was involved in what she identified as a “philosophically based prison program.” The premise was based upon an eclectic blend of “isms,” of different Eastern philosophies and ideas of god (small ‘g’) which provided prisoners with a new sense of self-identity and of reality that would sensitize them to goodness. Again, the concept of “being good” was presumably the solution, in this case to the criminal mind. She was, with genuine altruistic intent, going into prisons to teach and impart this philosophy.
I had recently become a Believer in Jesus having had my own sense of reality greatly altered when I “met God.” He was nothing of what I thought He might be. As a Jew for one thing, I never expected Jesus to be God! But I also knew I met with a power for “goodness” that was emphatically beyond any ability of my own to “be good.” Upon sharing my new-found faith with this friend, she told me, “If I ever meet Jesus Christ there are some serious things I have to say to Him, eye to eye, on equal footing.” I knew she meant the suffering the Jews have endured in His name, but also of why evil exists at all. But I also knew there would be no “eye to eye” encounter where she would “mouth off” to Him, nor opportunity to let Him know how she felt about Him. She assumed He was no more than a person, albeit one of great influence, than she or anyone else. Where or how she would meet Him wasn’t addressed.
I took her to see the movie called “The Hiding Place” which is the story of Corrie Ten Boom’s life in which she and her sister Betsy are arrested by the Nazis for hiding Jews during WWII. They are sent to a concentration camp where Betsy becomes very ill and eventually dies. Before she dies she affirms her love for Jesus and with His love she forgives the Nazis who have tortured her and so many around her, and for all the evil they were perpetrating, and encourages Corrie to forgive them as well. She forgave them! My friend, who is also Jewish, could not get past that. Knowing that six million of our Jewish people and millions of others suffered unimaginably horrible tortures, and died equally cruel deaths at the hands of the Nazis, how could she possibly forgive them? This was where her “philosophically based program” fell apart for it provided no escape from the impotent rage against such injustice.
We returned to my home after the movie as she and her daughter would be spending the night
“It is a tragedy that the only picture of Yeshua that some people have is of how others have misrepresented Him.“
at our house. I took the babysitter home and afterwards found my friend sitting on the back fence of my house overlooking a pasture. It was quiet, peaceful and safe out there in the early summer evening, quite unlike what we had just witnessed in the movie. In the moonlight I could see she was pensive and deeply moved. All she could say to me was, “I know that in order for Betsy to forgive the Nazis there had to be a power beyond anything I have ever known.” I had shared with her before this evening of the forgiveness and pardon Yeshua offers to us through allowing Himself to be sentenced to death in order to satisfy the penalty for our sins. Those are prison terms she would understand. Until this night it was all meaningless to her because her idea of herself was that of “being good.” What was there to forgive? The next morning she told me she had turned her life over to the Lord. That was thirty-four years ago. She has remained a faithful follower of Yeshua since.
Several assumptions present themselves through these two scenarios of wanting to meet the Lord “face to face” to challenge Him. The first is that God “is,” that He exists, and then that He is approachable, and that we will be able to have an audience with Him. It also assumes that we would have the freedom to speak our minds and to demand of Him an explanation, a defense if you will, for why He allows evil to exist, or is even possibly the cause of it, considering how much suffering is done in His name, though let it be known that such suffering is far from anything He would do or ever sanction. It is a tragedy that the only picture of Yeshua that some people have is of how others have misrepresented Him.
What isn’t factored into wanting to confront God about this issue of evil is what they would like God to do in response to their challenge to Him. What would He say or do to assuage their anger or displeasure with Him, as if they were the only ones who ever had such questions? Is their expectation that He would be accountable to them and be obliged to respond to their satisfaction, which is to say, to make the necessary adjustments to remove evil from the earth? This would presume that we, the created, have license to challenge our Creator and that our very questions would demand that He be required to be accountable to us. The created holding the Creator accountable? This would make man god over God and would mean man’s will would prevail over God’s will. Who then would be God?
What also appears not to be factored in here is the awareness of God’s omnipotent power, that of the One who can speak the universes into existence with a Word and who continues to “uphold all things by the word of His power” ( Hebrews 1:3). Selah — which means stop and give some thought to that! And what about God’s
“…I have never been able to find anything that Yeshua hadn’t suffered also — not pain, not sickness, even that which leads to dying…“
omniscience, that He is all-knowing, and that He is fully aware of good and of evil and the consequences of both? He knows the perpetrators and the victims as well as those who bring goodness to others, in small measure and in large measure. When I myself have questioned why God allows suffering I have never been able to find anything that Yeshua hadn’t suffered also — not pain, not sickness, even that which leads to dying (as He experienced on the cross), not fear, not rejection, not being misunderstood, not abandonment, ridicule or shame, not hopelessness as life ebbed out of Him and He thought His Father had abandoned Him, not legions of demons and not even death. The list could go on and on. He never asks us to go through anything that He hasn’t experienced or suffered as we do. Imagine, all powerful God entered into the human condition in order to show us what love is. For this reason, He knows what we’re suffering and can be there for us even with us in it. If you’ve never experienced His presence, I can tell you from experience as can millions of others who have come to know Him in a born-again experience of truly asking Him into our lives so His spirit comes to dwell within us, He makes Himself known to us. It isn’t just a mental belief. It’s a relationship. What a price He paid in order to bring those of us who accept His offer of salvation and holiness into that relationship with God.
When I think of how big He is, how all powerful He is, I also recall that He is as good as He is powerful. His authority is unchallengeable, and his lovingkindness is unquenchable. When I came to the Lord He was often portrayed to me as the Gentle Shepherd who is meek and mild. While I knew He was that, I also knew as a Jewish person, that wasn’t all that He is. As we’ve said many times before, the New Covenant sits on the foundation of the Old Covenant and the previous revelations God had given of Himself. I soon became aware that it is not only the Jews who have a limited view of God, not knowing Yeshua. The church’s view of Him is greatly diminished as a result of not valuing the Old Covenant revelations of God equally with the New Covenant. I have known people who belong to Christian denominations or individual churches that regard the Old Testament as obsolete, as of no import or input in order to live the Christian life. All they need to know, they think, is in the New Testament. Some of these have no musical instruments in their services because they do not see them mentioned in the New Testament. Never having read of the worship of the Levites or of King David’s jubilant worship of God expressed so unashamedly and continually, they fear to include it lest they offend God. This to me is a picture of their misinterpretation of God’s will and of His heart for joyful singing and dancing before Him in worship as King David did.
I’m certainly not talking about everyone or every part of the church, thank God, but there are many who have missed the fact that to God both the “old” and the “new covenant” are one building upon the other,
“…to God both the “old” and the “new covenant” are one building upon the other, the second to fully express
the second to fully express the first. But in doing away with the Old Covenant revelation of God, their idea of God is far less than dynamic and powerful. He is somewhat wan rather than robust. Tolerant of sin rather than holy. Many entirely miss the mercy and grace in the Old Covenant and do not see the manifestations of His power as being for the good of the people to save them from the consequences of sin and from their enemies. There is little awareness of His requirement of true holiness. Lord knows we hear less of it being preached today than you would have a generation ago. For some, one is baptized and that’s all there is. In a group discussion one time years ago, having realized we were all saved at this table, I asked the leader where we go from here. “Where else is there to go?” he asked. To him, being saved is it. That’s as good as it gets. He had no awareness or hunger to know more of God than he did. The New Testament told him all he needed to know, and as for the Book of Revelation, well, that was too deep to really get into. So he had no vision of Yeshua being other than his Redeemer. It was, to him, about Jesus being there for him, not him serving the King. We worship to the level of our revelation of the Lord. If our knowledge, our personal intimate knowledge of Him is shallow, so will our worship be, if we worship at all. I doubt that one who feels they will have a right to correct God or challenge Him is one who has a heart that worships Him at all. I’m not talking about singing (only), I mean a heart that is on its knees before Him in reverence and awe of Him and His goodness. Heaven is populated with worshippers. If you’re not a worshipper, well then… you might not be headed for heaven right now. But that can change, thank the Lord.
Israel knew Him as Yahweh, the Self-existent One who exists outside of time and space, as El Shaddai, the Almighty — or should we say “all mighty” for all power exists in Him and comes from Him, as El Elyon, the most high God above whom in authority or position none can exist. He is not to be treated casually nor with any flippancy or with disregard. Israel knew Him as holy. They met Him when He came down onto the mountain at Sinai and the whole mountain and ground around it shook and quaked as fire and smoke raged on the mountain top. His voice and His holy presence terrified them so that up to three million people backed up in terror and fear. Yet Moses at God’s call was able to approach Him. There are numerous other “epiphanies” in the Old Testament, times and events when God presented Himself, generally to only one person, in our time-space world. When He did, He came in various manifestations of His innate power. But always it was for Israel’s good. The greater the manifestation of His power, the greater the significance of His presence and of His message. I include several episodes here in order that my doctor friend and anyone else with similar thoughts might re-evaluate who this Jesus is.
When Israel turned from God and worshipped foreign idols, God essentially said, “If it’s idols you want, it’s idols you’ll get” and they were deported to Babylon where idols abounded. While in Babylon, Daniel remained faithful to his God even while serving faithfully in the palace. He was rewarded with more than one spectacular vision. What follows is Daniel’s description of one experience in what was likely the presence of the pre-incarnate Yeshua. Even if He is an angelic being, angels certainly cannot be greater than the God they represent. Here’s what Daniel experienced. Lord, please send Your Holy Spirit to these dear readers to help them to picture what they’re reading:
“In the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves.
“So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them…. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
“While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my Lord, and I am helpless. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my Lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.” Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. “Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.”
If Daniel had ever wanted to demand of God as to why he was taken into captivity and made to serve his enemy, this experience would have scared it right out of him. But actually, from what we know of Daniel he remained reverent and committed to Yahweh from the time of his captivity as a boy onward. And even though he was faced with some dire consequences (like being fed to hungry lions) because of his reverence for the Lord, he refused to disregard Him and bow to another as god, and the Lord saw him through miraculously.
The prophet Ezekiel also had a visitation from God. In every place in the Old Covenant where it reports that “an angel of the Lord” came to someone, He said or promised what only God could accomplish and said it in the first person. It is assumed, therefore, that in each instance, a pre-incarnate Yeshua had paid a visit to the person for a God-ordained reason. Again, ask for God’s Holy Spirit to help you picture and have understanding of what is written here:
“Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they (angels) stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking” (Ezek 1:22-25).
John the disciple of Yeshua when He walked the earth as a man, knew Him so well, having lived with Him for three and a half years. But when in a vision he encountered the Risen King, here’s what he later wrote of his experience:
“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:12-18).
It is only by the blood of Yeshua (Jesus) that our sins are forgiven so that we will be able to stand at all in God’s presence. Otherwise we might be destroyed by His holiness, it is so great. I do not fault my doctor friend for not knowing Yeshua this way. He’s never been taught, nor has he evidently read this in his Bible, assuming he has one. Nor have many who seem to take a casual attitude toward the Lord Jesus. We are called to intimacy with the Lord. He offers us sweet fellowship with Him. For those who have not experienced His interaction with you by His Spirit, it is the most precious and tender relationship one can ever know. It is intimate because He knows everything about you and loves you in the hidden deepest parts of your person where no one else can. There is nothing you cannot share with Him, for He knows anyway and wants you to include Him, to share with Him those parts of your life that are important to you. But intimacy is not to be mistaken for casual familiarity.
He is never to be treated casually nor with any disrespect. His patience toward us does not mean we can be challenging, nor disrespectful. He is not “the man upstairs.” He is your Heavenly Father, Creator and Sustainer, Savior and Lord. He is also your Teacher, leading you through your life experiences. Some of us heed His wisdom and direction; others do not. Yes, we can ask Him questions. I do it all the time. But demanding? No. Challenging, as if I know better than He, or as if He owes me something, is a misperception of my place before our Most Holy God. His holiness rather is my security. I told Him recently that I think I love His holiness above all His other qualities. His holiness means I can trust Him to always be true, to always be loving even if He is gently correcting me for my own good, and I can rely wholly upon Him to be unerringly righteous. I rest secure in His ultimate authority in the universe. Nothing will challenge who He is so as to dislodge Him as absolute Sovereign who is likewise absolute in His goodness. I find that to be my greatest security. My God is God!
The Hebrew prophet Hosea speaking for God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). God likewise spoke through Isaiah saying, “My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13). It is a lack of knowledge of Who Yeshua is that will keep us from that same trust in Him and being in His loving presence even eternally. But knowing Him, loving Him, honoring and obeying Him, yielding to Him as Lord of our lives — ah, in that is fullness of joy and peace.
None of us can ever be “good” enough to warrant God’s favor. In the end, only God is truly good. The “good doctor” above is surely not the only person to be thusly unaware. I have shared all this in order that for any with similar thoughts perhaps we might “snatch them out of the fire” (Jude 1:23). For those of us who choose to give our lives to the Lord and to love and to honor Him, may this anthem be yours:
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (1:24, 25).
Should anyone feel moved to pray after reading this but you aren’t sure how to, perhaps you might like to pray something like this with me:
“Lord, I have dishonored You and misunderstood Who You are. I have done so out of ignorance without realizing You are holy and You above all are to be worshipped and honored. I now know that Yeshua (Jesus) has come in the flesh and died for me and that He is Lord. Please forgive me for treating You casually and for living independently from You. I now wish to come to know you, Lord. Please teach me how to love and honor and worship you, and to live my life for You and for Your honor. I thank you for forgiving me and for making me Yours, in Yeshua’s (Jesus’) name. Amen.”
If you have prayed that prayer, tell someone about it. Write me back and tell me if you care to. And begin to talk with God. He is the Best Friend you’ll ever have the privilege to know.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2009.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.