Does God Feel Pain?

God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Behold I have put My words in your mouth.”

From my 2009 Journal. The book of Jeremiah is his story, his testimony of how God spoke to him and called him to action. It includes strong imagery about the relationship between God the Lover and Israel who spurned His love.

  • I broke your bond and yoke to free you, but you shattered and snapped the bonds with Me.
  • I planted you, a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. But you turned into degenerate shoots of wild vine.
  • You wash yourself with much soap, yet your guilt and iniquity are still on you. You’re spotted, dirty and stained.
  • You’re like a female camel or donkey in heat! (Lots of lovers).
  • The images go on and on.

Donkey

God will not interact with everyone the same way. He’s too creative for that. But we can glean principles from Jeremiah’s life, truths that apply to us in this generation. It struck me today that God the Father experienced pain, rejection, and abandonment long before God the Son experienced it on earth. I want to live my life in such a way that I don’t ever cause Him pain, but I’m forever grateful that Jesus took all my pain onto His own body on the cross. 

What’s Your Excuse?

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV).

From my 2009 Journal. Jeremiah was a PK (Preacher’s Kid), for his father was a priest. One day God spoke directly to him—I assume in an audible voice. It’s pretty heady stuff to be chosen by God!

But Jeremiah’s objection to this calling reflected his fears: “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” (1:6).

What excuses do I make for not following God’s command: she’s too hard to love; he won’t listen; I can’t because . . . ; I don’t know how; I don’t have time; I don’t have the money. . .

God’s answer to Jeremiah (and to me):  Don’t be afraid because I AM with you.

The antidote to fear is experiencing God’s presence.

I feel a connecting point with Jeremiah. When God called me to the ministry of inner healing prayer, the only reason I said no to my fears and yes to God was because I had a strong sense of His presence. You can read all about that story in our book Diamond Fractal.

Thou shalt not

From my 2009 Journal. It was game night at our missionary boarding school. The staff had planned a relay where both the boys and the girls had to run to a suitcase, open it, put on all the clothes, run back to the starting line, strip off those clothes and hand them to the next child. The second in line would then put on the clothes, run to the suitcase, pack them all back inside, and return to the starting line to tag the next child.

In the midst of our fun, one Auntie abruptly stopped the game and quoted Scripture: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing.” End of game.

At first, I was mad, but then I thought, “Oh no! What if we were doing something wrong?”

So when I got back to the dorm, I looked up the quoted Scripture where the same passage admonished the Israelites to wear fringes on their garments and not to wear clothes of wool and linen woven together. How could this staff member apply one rule and neglect another? I felt vindicated, self-righteous, disgusted. We’d been cheated out of our fun and made to think we might be sinning in our play time.

God’s answer to me? “Give up your self-righteousness, Karen. I will honor the Auntie for following her conscience, though misguided.”

We had a pastor once who frequently misquoted Scripture. It was due to a little lack of training, a lack of study and preparation, and a whole lot of fear-based, emotion-driven beliefs. Or perhaps he wasn’t really called to be a pastor! He thought he was doing right, but he ended up splitting the church.

I feel passionate about proper exegesis of Scripture. So much ignorance, false teaching, and silly conclusions result from improper understanding of context. When someone misquotes Scripture, however, what should be my response? First, recognize the error. Second, correct the error if given the opportunity. Third, be gracious. Love trumps proving I’m right.

Need an example?

The prophet Amos sets forth the argument that God always gives His children a warning before He punishes them.

There’s a cause and effect in the following scenarios:

  • God has spoken: a prophet must prophecy.
  • A lion roars: people are in fear.
  • A trumpet sounds in the city: there’s an alarm and people fear.

The opposite is also true. If there’s no cause, then there’s no effect:

  • You wouldn’t find two people meeting together to go for a walk unless they agreed ahead of time to do so.
  • A lion won’t roar if he doesn’t have prey.
  • A bird can’t be ensnared if there’s no trap.

Conclusion: If you see misfortune or evil occur, you can know that the Lord caused it.

And the misquote? People use Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together unless they agree?” to persuade a believer not to marry an unbeliever.

In context, it’s an argument for Israel to believe and understand that Amos’s prophecies are right. And in context, it’s about the absurdity of something occurring that wasn’t planned. To update the analogy: No one is going to show up in the conference room if a meeting hasn’t been scheduled.

Now there is wisdom in cautioning a couple regarding their disparity in faith; just don’t abuse Scripture to make your point.

What other Scripture misquotes have you noticed?

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3-Legged Race at Kent Academy

Habakkuk’s Struggle

From my 2009 Journal. While reading through the book of Habakkuk, I notice the prophet’s anguished struggle with God’s inaction.

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? (1:2 NIV).

 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? (1:3).

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (1:13).

Humans have wrestled with God’s choices from the beginning of time. We try to reconcile our theology of a good and caring God with our perception of His actions or inaction. Why is it so hard to just accept God and His will and His way? I think it’s because we have a built-in need for fairness and justice, and we want control of our world.

What makes you struggle with God?

2020 Update.  Our world is a mess right now, but is it really any different from Habakkuk’s day: violence, injustice, wrongdoing, wickedness. My struggle is not really about what’s going on in the world, but rather what’s going on in my heart. When I ask why questions, I don’t really want an intellectual answer. I want God to fix the pain in my heart so I can be at peace. But it’s a struggle to let go of my own agenda.

man covering face with hands near car trunk

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

What If God Asked?

Cow

From my 2009 Journal. Ezekiel 4 is a fascinating exchange between God and Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel instructions that impose hardships on him, including eating rationed food and water, lying on one side for over a year and on the other for 40 days. But worst of all, God says he must prepare his food using human dung for fuel—like they will be doing in captivity. Ezekiel protests—he’s never defiled himself before with abominable meat. God relents and allows him to use cow dung instead.

In Ezekiel’s agrarian society, using cow dung is normal. It’s not offensive to them. Some tribes in Africa even use it to create shiny floors in their huts. But there’s something inherently offensive, disgusting, repulsive, unclean, about using human waste. At least it feels that way to me.

Ezekiel was used to using cow dung. Was there something in the Law that said human dung was defiling? Or was it inherently known that this was ceremonially or socially or emotionally unacceptable?

The part that really fascinates me, however, is that God relents from His command. He’s already asked Ezekiel to do some pretty humiliating and bizarre things. But He accepts Ezekiel’s protests based on his argument: I’ve never defiled myself—this would make me impure.

Now fast-forward to Peter in Acts 10:14. God instructs Peter to eat unclean animals. Same response: I’ve never defiled myself before. The passage doesn’t say that God made Peter eat them, but He does say, “What God calls clean is clean.”

God could have used the same argument with Ezekiel, but He doesn’t—which makes me think that God understood and took pity on Ezekiel. That He would not require of him more than he could bear.

Both men said they had never been defiled. Pete said, “No, Lord!” Ezekiel didn’t say no, but “Ah, Lord God . . .” Did Ezekiel protest or simply express his dismay?

What hard thing has God asked me to do? Did I protest? Yes, that’s quite normal, I think. But I eventually relented and obeyed. But He’s never asked me to go against my conscience—or has He?

End Times – Are You Ready for the Curtain?

Curtain

Now we see through a glass [curtain], darkly (I Corinthians 13:12).

From my 2009 Journal. I’m in the audience. The preliminaries on stage are over. The curtain is still closed. The lights in the audience are starting to dim. It’s getting darker all around. It’s almost time for the play to begin, time for the curtain to open so we can see what’s hidden behind it. The preparations that have been made in heaven are about to be revealed.

We know the plot; we read it in the program. We’re familiar with the characters. We know it’s going to be an interactive drama. Are we ready? We in the audience have all been given weapons so we can join the battle scene. Are we, the Church, ready?

What to Do When You Can’t Do

Jesus judged me and counted me faithful and trustworthy and appointed me to this ministry. (The Apostle Paul, I Timothy 1:12 AM)

From my 2009 Journal. My child-rearing days taxed my time and energy, but these days I wonder sometimes why I have so much free time. You’d think I’d be happy to sit around and read novels and watch TV or do jigsaw puzzles. But I want to fill more of my time with ministry and less with fluff. That’s when I think of the Apostle Paul sitting for months in prison. Did he long to get back into the ministry of preaching? Did he ever feel like he was spinning his wheels? Missionary life was exciting and challenging and suited his drive for evangelism. I know he used some of this down time talking to the other prisoners and guards and writing epistles, but I suspect time weighed heavily on him.

How much of my time is God-directed and passion-driven vs. drifting along day by day, with no goals or excitement to fill my time? Where is my focus—on TIME or on my character development? I fear I think too much like an American—filling time is the driving force and factor of our days. In a warm-culture setting with no calendars or appointments or clocks or watches, relationships become central. Maybe I need to go back to my African roots and sit for awhile under a tree. God appointed me to a ministry of inner healing prayer, so I may as well let Him be in charge of my time as well.

2020. Though I wrote this over ten years ago, it seems to fit today’s challenges with social distancing and forced isolation. I’m grateful that I’m still able to carry on with ministry through electronic means.

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Visible or Invisible Deeds

The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever (I Tim. 5:24-25).

From my 2009 Journal. While meditating on this verse, I came up with the following examples:

  1. The sins of some are obvious: Someone who yells obscenities and openly threatens a person in a parking lot.
  2. The sins of others trail behind them: An abuser’s sins are hidden to the world’s eyes; but eventually they become revealed (in the lives of the victims and, of course, at the Judgment Day).
  3. Good deeds are obvious: Someone gives a large donation to a charity that names a building after him.
  4. Even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever: when I leave cookies on a neighbor’s porch with no note.

Can you give me more examples?

I’d like to be a better good-deed doer. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Though I have occasionally done something in a generous and spontaneous way, I usually have to plan, set aside time, and then do. But I’m thinking good deeds are more than giving things away or doing an act of service. Could a good deed also be offering a kind word to a frazzled checkout clerk or giving a smile of affirmation to a child or hugging a grieving friend?

I recall the time when our family stopped at an out-of-town gas station to take a much-needed rest stop. I was surprised and delighted to find fresh-cut flowers on the ladies’ bathroom counter. An uncharacteristically clean stall and a fresh odor also caught my attention.

When I emerged from the restroom, I approached the clerk behind the counter and asked if I could see the manager. Her face visibly fell. “Why?” she demanded sullenly. She looked like she’d been caught doing something wrong and went on the defensive. “She’s not here.”

“Okay,” I responded. “I just wanted to tell her how much I appreciated a clean bathroom and especially enjoyed the fresh flowers.”

The change on her face was immediate. With the fear gone, she relaxed and grinned. “I’ll be sure to tell her,” she said. “And thank you so much.” I wondered then how often this tired clerk had to put up with complaining customers. It appeared that this one kind word had made her day.

And now that I’ve told you, my deed is no longer hidden, but maybe it will encourage you to do a good deed today.

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Stereotypes and Pharisees

From my 2009 Journal. I think I’ve uncovered a misconception I’ve held for too long. In my mind, I have a stereotype of the Pharisees that says they were all hypocrites, bad leaders, and out to get Jesus. And many of them were. But, unfairly, I’ve lumped every religious ruler in Jesus’ day into the same lump of clay. Sure there was Nicodemus, but in my mind he was the great exception.

When I read Luke 13:31, it broke up that myth. Some Pharisees came up and said to him, “Go away from here, for Herod is determined to kill you.” Apparently, there were some religious leaders who were genuinely concerned for Jesus’ welfare.

One day Jesus ate a meal at the house of one of the prominent ruling Pharisees. The other Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15:1). It was a big party, and Jesus had lots to say to the guests. He exposed their sin and faulty thinking, no words minced or held back. But maybe this host was a genuine seeker of truth—inviting Jesus to a social event in spite of the criticism of his peers.

Today? I fight the tendency to lump all our political leaders in the same mold: they’re all corrupt;  they’re all self-serving. Not so. There are godly ones as well as scoundrels.

I wonder what other group prejudices I have been harboring.

Presidents

Rule-Keeping 101

Rules

From my 2009 Journal. I’ve been reading Romans 14 and thinking about biblical rules. Old Testament rules included “Don’t murder.” but Jesus said it’s what’s in your heart that is most important. Is “Don’t hate” a New Testament rule? I suppose you could say that, but rules generally govern actions, not attitudes. For example, I may be imprisoned for murder but not for hating someone in my heart. But if you take care of the attitude (hatred) in your heart, you’ll have no temptation to do the action (murder).

In context, Romans 14 seems to be referring to religious activity: observances of meat offered to idols and special observances of days. I have freedom, the Apostle Paul says, to eat meat or not eat meat, to observe a day “unto the Lord” or not. It’s not just the action that pleases God, but the attitude of the heart. Am I doing it out of obedience to my conscience or out of disobedience? Am I doing it with a grateful heart? If I do the religious activity but am not thankful, what good is it? Verse 14 says food offered to idols in and of itself is not unclean. But if in your heart you believe it’s unclean, then to you it is. Don’t do it!

When I see someone’s action, I may or may not know their heart or their motive, but I confess I have been found guilty of unfairly judging them. It’s long past time for me to quit the Old Testament rule-keeping and be grateful for God’s grace and freedom to live according to the only two rules I find in the New Testament: love God and love each other.

Bottom line: examine your own heart, and don’t judge another believer’s religious activities. Can I hear an “amen”?