It’s amazing where your mind goes in the midst of suffering. When bad things happen, most of us will look for someone to blame. It’s my fault. It’s your fault. It’s God’s fault. We shake our fists at the sky and cry out, like Job, “I’m innocent! This shouldn’t be happening to me!” Or when everyone turns against us, we complain like Jeremiah, “I know that you’re righteous, God, but your justice leaves a lot to be desired!” Why is this happening to me? I’m one of the good guys! I’m on your side! Like David, we lament our own condition and look with envy upon the “wicked,” for whom nothing ever seems to go wrong.

My wife and I have certainly run the gamut when it comes to this kind of thinking. For a while, I thought that Zeke’s disease was God’s punishment for my sin. In my more self-righteous moments I would scream at him, “Why are you doing this to me?! What have I done to deserve this?!” We also went through a period where we thought that his disease was a result of spiritual attack. At this point, we’ve accepted that his disease is simply the result of living in a world that is broken.

I’ve discovered just how important it is to maintain a healthy perspective of my suffering and trials while in the midst of them. If my mind is not right, my emotions quickly follow. Believing “holy lies” like God is in control, God causes all things, or God will never give you more than you can handle is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually destructive. When suffering strikes, it’s easy to believe these lies because we are desperate to believe that someone (God, for instance) is controlling or sending all the chaos, evil, and pain. It may be comforting, but it’s not true because God is not the author of evil. I can’t stress this point enough. God is not the author of evil.

In order to find a healthy perspective in the midst of overwhelming hardship, I’ve had to understand that there are four primary reasons for suffering: discipleship, discipline, disengagement, and disaster. The four disses. (See what I did there?) While I typically hate alliteration, this scheme seemed to work pretty well, so against my better judgment I’m sticking with it!

Discipleship


The New Testament promises suffering. The verses are too numerous to recount here, but the authors of the New Testament seemed to assume that suffering and discipleship go hand-in-hand. The question for us is how to discern which suffering is intended for discipleship.

I believe that all suffering, appropriately understood and faithfully persevered through, will make us more like Jesus. In that sense, all suffering creates the opportunity for discipleship. But there is a certain kind of suffering that is specifically intended as an act of discipleship. This is the suffering that comes from persecution on account of our faith in Jesus.

This is the paradigm of suffering found in the early church. Sure, people suffered then like we do today (in disease, loss of loved ones, etc.), but the defining trial of their faith was the persecution they would have experienced on account of following Jesus. This type of suffering would force them to choose between Jesus and the world, and stories abound of the faithfulness of the early Christians who chose Jesus despite all kinds of torture. The Church is built upon the blood of the early martyrs. Persecution is pretty straightforward, and the appropriate response is obvious, so I won’t spend any more time on this.

Discipline


There is another kind of suffering that can enter a believer’s life, but this is not to prove the genuineness of his faith. Rather, it refines him by way of discipline. Hebrews 12:6 reminds us that God disciplines those he loves, and the verse that follows exhorts us to “endure hardship as discipline.”

But there is a more punitive form of suffering that can happen in a believer’s life, and that is when we suffer for committing sin. Discipline of this kind could look like the loss of a position of leadership in the church, or even expulsion from the congregation itself. This sort of suffering is the direct result of our sin, and it’s redemptive purpose is to lead us to repentance, which can then result in restoration.

Unless we are blinded by our own self-righteousness or sense of victimization, we will know when we are being disciplined by God because we will have lost our place in the faith community. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the church to “expel the immoral brother.” In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the disciples to treat an unrepentant member of the church as though they did not belong to the church. The point of this is restoration, but that must be preceded by repentance. If you are under God’s discipline, pray that you would have the humility to see past your self-righteousness or sense of victimization so that you can repent of your sin.

While all suffering can function to make us more like Jesus (discipleship), not all suffering is the result of punitive discipline. This is important to grasp, because as I said above, in the midst of a difficult trial we often search for someone to blame, and that often means blaming ourselves. Like Job’s so-called friends, we convince ourselves that our sin has brought about this suffering. But this is not true. If you have not lost your place in the faith community, then your suffering is not a result of God’s punitive discipline.

Zeke’s disease is not God’s punishment for my or Breena’s sin. The punishment for our sin has already been paid. 9/11 was not God’s punishment on America for the sin of the people. The punishment for their sin has already been paid. God does not discipline us by killing others or inflicting our loved ones with diseases. Zeke is not dying for my sins; Jesus already did that. To call this form of suffering “discipline” or “punishment for sin” is to say that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was insufficient to pay for the sins of humanity.

Disengagement


Suffering may also befall us when we stubbornly pursue our own path and God has finally had enough, sighing sadly, “Fine then. Have it your way.” It is divine disengagement. Romans 1 tells of how God gives people over to the desires of their hearts, thereby removing any divine protection they might otherwise enjoy. This is what happens when we demand life on our terms, refusing to accept any of God’s attempts at discipline or calls for repentance.

Think of all the suffering in this world caused by our collective stubborn refusal to, for example, rein in our sexual desires. The physical damage caused by STDs can be devastating. The emotional (and sometimes physical) trauma of abortion is criminally underreported in our media. Divorce caused by adultery has devastated millions of adults and their children.

Sadly, this type of suffering is largely avoidable. Adultery is not inevitable; it is a choice. The same is true of drug abuse and other types of addiction. You could even look at the recent economic troubles in the US as suffering because of divine disengagement. We stubbornly pursued what our greedy hearts desired, and the bubble burst with catastrophic results for many.

Disaster


This last kind of suffering is probably the most common, and doesn’t really have an explanation. Horrible things just happen in this world. Tsunamis. Wars. Cancer. Batten disease. This is just the crap of life, and any attempt to make God responsible (whether through a faithful appeal to God’s sovereignty or a skeptical appeal to God’s weakness/wickedness) rings hollow. We may not like it, but more often than not, there’s no one that we can hold accountable for the suffering of our lives. Disaster happens.

When disaster strikes, our first instinct is to ask, “Who is at fault?” But we need to train ourselves to ask two different questions first: “How is God redeeming (or going to redeem) this?”, and “How am I going to respond to this?”

God loves to work in the midst of disaster, redeeming it in ways that we could have never imagined. This redemption, however, is often contingent on the softness of our own hearts and our willingness to come alongside his redemptive work in the midst of our suffering. Knowing that God is present in your suffering, working to redeem it, will help you to keep a soft heart and a humble attitude toward him. Rather than sinking into playing the blame game, train your eyes to see God at work and throw yourself into that.

Our little Zekey is probably going to die at a very young age, but I’m not going to blame God for this. He didn’t create Batten disease. But he is redeeming it, and in ways that I could have never imagined. I have resolved to be a vehicle for God’s redemption of Zeke’s disease. Not only is that what’s best for me and God’s kingdom, it’s what’s best for Zeke. Imagine what his life would be like if his father was relentlessly bitter of this lot in life. Bitterness undermines God’s incredible work of redeeming disaster. I will never see the work of God in my life or in Zeke’s if I live angrily and embittered; but the stories of God’s faithfulness belong to those who persevere through suffering and come alongside God’s redemptive activity.


My hope is that having these categories for suffering will help you to keep a healthy perspective in the midst of your own trials and hardships. I’d like to add one final thought: Suffering is not something to be avoided, but rather an overwhelming opportunity to get close to God. 

The subject of God’s will has come up quite a bit around here lately. Given Zeke’s condition, Breena and I both have many questions about the subject. What is God’s will regarding Zeke? Is it to heal him? Is it to let him suffer and die?

Perhaps you have similar questions about the difficult situations facing you. Was it God’s will that your parents got divorced? Was it God’s will that you lost your job? Is it God’s will to make an absolute laughingstock of the Cleveland Browns organization and the city of Cleveland in general? (I believe that all true Browns’ fans would answer that last question with a resounding Yes!)

So what are we talking about when we talk about God’s will? Most of us, I believe, think of God’s will in terms of his plan or purpose for our life, our church, the world, etc. God’s will is what God wants to happen in a given situation. For example, when faced with a major life decision like choosing a career path, most of us tend to believe that there is one path that corresponds to God’s will, and all the other paths lie outside of his will. So we pray in hopes of hearing which path it is he wants us to take.

The issue gets a little more complex, of course, when we move from talking about the choices we make to the circumstances that are thrust upon us. So I want to pose the question as bluntly as possible: Is it God’s will that my son Ezekiel have Batten Disease, and that he suffer every minute of every day over several years before he ultimately dies? Is that what God wants? Is that his plan for Zeke’s life and for ours?

Perhaps I could pose the question a bit differently. Does everything happen according to God’s will? In other words, is every event that occurs on earth God’s will? Or are there things that happen on earth that are outside of the will of God?

There are many Scriptures that would help illuminate this question, but I want to turn to one that is so familiar it often gets forgotten. It is Matthew 6:10, from the Lord’s Prayer. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s will would be done here on earth just as it is always done in heaven. If everything that happens is God’s will, why would Jesus teach us to pray this prayer? You only pray for what you do not have. Clearly, in Jesus’ mind at least, God’s will is not always done on earth. In fact, let me be so bold as to say that God’s will rarely happens in this world.

So, what then, is God’s will? I believe that God’s will is a vector. A vector is a quantity that has both direction and magnitude. The magnitude of God’s will is salvation, and the direction of God’s will is the new heavens and new earth. When Jesus and the authors of the New Testament talk about God’s will, they almost always talk about it in the context of salvation. And the aim of God’s will, or what he is up to here on the earth, is directed toward the end, when he will make all things new, and fully and finally dwell with humanity.

If that is true, then what is God’s will for Zeke? First of all, I believe it is God’s will for Zeke to be saved and to live with him forever. Secondly, I believe that it is God’s will for Zeke to be healed here on the earth. However, and here’s where it can get difficult, just because it is God’s will for something to happen does not mean that it is going to happen. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God wants everyone to come to repentance, but clearly that has not happened and will not happen. So it is with many other things. I don’t think that God wants any child to die, and yet thousands of kids die all over the world each day. Part of the horror and mystery of living in a fallen world is that God’s will is not always done here as it is in heaven. Which is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

You might say that this makes God weak. Perhaps. But, in the light of the cross, who are we to say that weakness is such a bad thing, particularly when compared with what the world considers strength? The world wants a God who is in control, and skeptics refuse to believe in God because the evil and suffering of the world testify that God is not in control. But I believe that God does not want to be in control. The direction of God’s will is not to create sinless puppets who are easily manipulated, but to purify a bride fit for his Son and raise up a kingdom of priests who are fully qualified, by the nature of their character and the testimony of what they have overcome in the power of the Spirit, to reign over creation. God is out to make us more human, not less.

Which is to say, it’s all a mystery. Or at least the middle part is. Which is why we live by, and are saved through, faith. In the end, all will be revealed and we will live by sight, seeing God face-to-face in a new world where his will is always done by everyone and everything. But until then, we plod through the muddled middle, now suffering, now weeping, now praying: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

This morning, my old friend Nate left an insightful comment on the Facebook post of my review of David Platt’s book, Follow Me. I think he raises many valid points, and I would like to take the time to address them. I’ve chosen to do that here, on the blog, rather than on the Facebook thread so that I can better interact with his comments. To see what he is commenting on, please click here, and scroll down to the section titled, My Criticism. Nate’s comments will appear in the gray boxes, with my responses to each immediately following.

My first contention is with your statement that basically God initiated our salvation at the Cross and now he’s waiting for us to “make that salvation available.” What does the Holy Spirit do? Isn’t he the one who convicts and convinces of sin (John 16:7-8) and also the one who initiates our spiritual birth (John 3:5-8), or are these verses “metaphorical” as well? What is his mission? To wait around until we build up the gumption to surrender to Christ and then he moves in? That’s not Biblical in the slightest.

In my attempt to be brief, I left out a lot of important information, as you have pointed out. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is actively wooing nonChristians to Jesus through a variety of means, particularly convicting of sin. God is not sitting back in his heavenly arm chair waiting for us to accomplish his mission. But here’s the point I wanted to make–neither are we sitting back in our sinful arm chairs waiting for God to save us and everyone else. We are active agents in the Great Commission. We were told by Jesus, “Go. Make Disciples. Teach. Baptize.” (And surely he is with us, always.) God did what only he could do–pay the price for the sin of humanity on the cross, then destroy death through his resurrection. Then, as Matthew 28 makes explicit, he told his first disciples to tell the rest of the world about what has happened, and in that telling they would bring the message through which all could be saved. (Acts 11:14) God has partnered with his people to bring about salvation for all who will believe. Paul makes the point most clearly, I think:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:9-15)

To sum it up:

  • We are saved by calling on the name of the Lord;
  • We call on the name of the Lord because we believe in him;
  • We believe in him because we have heard of him [and the Gospel];
  • We have heard because someone has preached to us.

I’m not saying that you or I can save anybody. Nor am I saying that God has nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation, now that the crucifixion and resurrection have happened. What I am saying is what I think both Jesus and Paul are saying, which is that God has sovereignly chosen to make his disciples active agents in his plan of salvation. Isn’t that what missions is all about? I think Platt would agree with me on that, at least.

Regarding your statement about the parable of the treasure; I think you’re missing an important component. Namely, how does this man know the treasure has value? I know that seems simplistic, but seriously, what tells this man “this is worth my life savings”? If you say it’s obvious that it’s valuable, then why don’t some people see this value? Why do many people who are saturated with the Gospel never see its worth? Are they not as smart as us? Not as spiritually sensitive? Are they simply more in love with their sin than we are? If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy (I’m not accusing you of intentional heresy, simply that you are treading on thin ice).

I thought this was a great point, and I thought about it for a long time. Then it struck me that Jesus may have had something to say about this.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

[Jesus then goes on to explain the parable.] “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13)

It seems to me that Jesus is describing four types of people that characterize four different responses to the Gospel. Jesus says that there are three reasons for why people reject the Gospel: 1) They don’t understand it, and so Satan has snatched away the message that was sown in their heart; 2) Trouble and/or persecution comes upon a new believer who has no root, and so they give up; and 3) The worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke out the Gospel, so that it fails to bring forth fruit. The fourth soil–the only one in which the Gospel bears fruit–produces a thriving crop because, as Jesus says, someone heard the word and understood it. Jesus did not say that this was because of the grace of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. He says that the Gospel took root in them and was fertile because they heard and understood it. So I will say what Jesus said: The difference between those who receive the Gospel and those who reject it is that the ones who receive it understand it.

At this point, it may be tempting to ask, “Why did they understand it?”, and then to answer, “Because of the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.” But that’s not what Jesus said. He left it at “someone who hears the word and understands it.” To explain the mechanism of understanding is to eisegete the text. You said, “If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy.” But this is precisely what Jesus has said. I would argue that if your theological system puts you in the position of accusing Jesus of “potential heresy,” then it is time to abandon your theological system.

Your treatment of Ephesians 2 is confusing. If Paul didn’t mean that we are spiritually dead, then what exactly did he mean? Paul used the word nekros there, and while I don’t know Greek perfectly, that means dead. A corpse. Without life. You mentioned that it may be metaphorical. Honestly, if he were referring to our physical bodies, you would be correct because obviously the reader was alive and able to read. But our physical life isn’t what he had in mind, he was referring to our spiritual self. This isn’t Gnosticism, this is Biblical. Gnosticism is that the spiritual and the physical are unrelated so what happens to one is independent of the other. That’s not what he was teaching.

Also, I don’t think I need to go into detail that the Bible considers unsaved people to be dead. That is clear. To think that when I was unsaved I was ALMOST totally dead, but I had a spark of divinity that could choose God is semi-Pelagian at best. I don’t want to get aggressive here, but it concerns me that every time a passage is presented that contradicts your theological view, instead of trying to reason it out within Scripture, your default response is that it must be metaphorical. You’ve done it with both creation and prophecy in the past. I don’t argue those because they are not critical to the faith. But to say that the clear Biblical teaching that we are helpless corpses in our sin is simply metaphorical is untenable. If we start throwing this word around then we run into problems such as was the virgin birth simply metaphor? What about the miracles? What about the nature of the atonement? Was the resurrection metaphorical or literal? The Second Coming? I’m not trying to be belligerent, and I’m not questioning your fidelity on these issues, I’m simply saying you enter a slippery slope whenever you throw the word “metaphor” around loosely when the Bible doesn’t intend to be taken metaphorically.

You’re correct in identifying the basic teaching of Gnosticism. John saw this Gnostic storm brewing in his church at Ephesus, and so we got the incredible book of 1 John, which just so happens to be my favorite book in the Bible. But if Paul is saying that the spiritual can be dead while the physical is alive, isn’t he saying the same thing (though with the opposite side being dead or useless) as the Gnostics? Isn’t this kind of division of the spiritual and physical Gnostic, in and of itself?

As for Ephesians 2, perhaps I ought to go back to Ephesians 1 to help explain why I think Paul is using a metaphor. Ephesians 1:12-13 says this: “…we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” (I’ve italicized the portions I think are relevant to this discussion.) Can dead people put their hope in Christ? Can dead people believe? Platt argues that dead people can’t invite Jesus into their hearts. In fact, dead people can’t do anything! But Paul says that these people, whom he calls “dead in your transgressions and sins” in chapter 2, believed in Christ. Paul does not say, in chapter 1, that they were infused with belief by God. Rather, he plainly states: When you believed. They were dead in their sins, and then they heard the Gospel and believed. (This sounds quite similar to the parable of Jesus I quoted above.) This, as well as the contrasting vocabulary Paul chooses in chapter 2 (You were dead in your…sins in which you used to live), leads me to believe that Paul is using the term dead metaphorically.

As for your concerns about interpreting Scripture, I try to remain as faithful as possible to the text, which, for me, means understanding the text within its original context, however much a thing is possible. I’ve used this quote from Fee & Stuart again and again, and I live by it: The Bible cannot mean what it never meant. What it meant when it was written is what it means today, though obviously we apply the text in a vastly different context. I’m not afraid of becoming liberal anymore. Many people believe that I’ve already arrived there. No, my greater fear is being unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures. The reason that I rail, at times, against certain Calvinistic doctrines is because I believe that they are, in fact, unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Finally, (and this is turning out to be longer than I expected) while I agree with you that Genesis 1&2 are eternal and will return someday, the fact is that Genesis 3 distorted that image, like it did everything else. Certainly, Christ began the reversal of the curse on the Cross, and someday he will reverse it completely when he returns, but until then, sin rules this world and blinds the eyes of the lost. Before I was saved, I was dead, blind, and useless. When God gave me life and raised me from the dead spiritually, I was able to enter a relationship with him again. Not because I’m better than anyone else, but because God is gracious.

I agree with so much of what you write here, but I would say this: sin does not rule this world, Jesus does. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus, not sin, is Lord. Jesus is presently reigning from the right hand of the Father, that glorious place of cosmic authority from which he is presently putting all his enemies under his feet.

The core of our disagreement, I think, is that, in my opinion, you give sin too much credit. The creative act of God is more powerful and more enduring the destructive acts of Satan or humans. If Jesus is Lord, then sin, death, hell, Satan, or anyone or anything else is not. The Genesis 3 world is passing away, and the Revelation 21-22 world (which is really just the mirror image of the Genesis 1-2 world) is coming. Jesus has already defeated sin, evil, and death. He is defeating them. And he will defeat them.

I hope that I have sufficiently answered your concerns, and I look forward to continuing this discussion.

Creation

The manner in which God created all that exists was a rather humble undertaking, especially when compared to the creation myths of ancient Israel’s cultural relatives. Many other ancient creation myths tell the story of cosmic war, of a battle being waged between the gods where the loser’s carcass becomes the earth and its drops of blood becomes humans. (Or other such things.) In this scenario, all humanity is meant to serve the victorious god as his slaves, providing for his various wants and needs. But in Genesis, we see creation accomplished by the mere act of God’s speech. There is no violence; there is no victory. There is only, “And God said…and it was so”.

Humanity, in Genesis, is not placed on earth to be God’s slaves, providing for his miscellaneous divine needs. Instead, they are placed on earth to rule and subdue it, to be fruitful and multiply. They are, most profoundly of all, created in God’s image. God is neither so immanent that he requires human slaves to meet his divine needs, nor is he so transcendent that he would not deign to have a creature represent himself on earth. God, in his deep humility, created human beings just a little less than himself, and set them apart from creation to bear his image and rule the world for its and their own good.

We bear God’s image in that we are free moral agents. God intentionally created us with the freedom to choose to obey him or disobey him. This is remarkable! God had every right to create intelligent beings without freedom; beings who would always choose to obey him no matter the circumstances. Instead, he created us: intelligent beings who could freely use their powers for evil—people who would set themselves up as rivals to God. God knew this would happen, and yet he showed such unconcern for his own unique majesty that he created free moral beings, a little lower than himself, and gave them the charge of ruling creation. In this he has revealed not simply his all-surpassing power, but the infinite well of humility out of which all else that is true of him flows.

Abram

When human beings used their God-given freedom to rebel against him, sin entered the world and poisoned everything good that God had made. At that time, when confronting Adam, Eve, and the serpent, God promised that, one day, one of Eve’s offspring would contend with the serpent and overcome him. This is the first promise of a Savior, or a Messiah. Thousands of years passed, however, before God began to set that plan into action. The man he chose was a pagan named Abram, whom God called to leave his homeland and go to Canaan.

When reading the account of God and Abram, the humility of God is not necessarily self-evident. It crops up here and there, but really the story is about God creating a nation through Abram’s offspring—of which he has none, though he is quite old. But there is one strange passage that holds the whole story together, and in it we see God’s humility on display unlike anywhere else in the Old Testament.

Genesis 15 | The Lord Makes a Covenant with Abram

1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites,20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

In the ancient near east, covenants like this were made (literally cut—because of the cutting of the animals) between two parties, one greater (the suzerain) and one lesser (the vassal). The suzerain determined the terms of the covenant, and the vassal was required to obey them. The vassal symbolized his agreement to the terms by passing between the pieces of the animals, saying, in essence, “If I break the terms of this covenant, may it be to me as it has been done to these animals”. But in this covenant, the vassal (Abram) does not pass through the pieces. Instead, the suzerain (YHWH) does. In this act, God is saying to Abram, “If you [or your descendants] break the terms of this covenant, may it be done to ME as it has been done to these animals”. God kept his promise, but Abram’s descendants failed to keep faith with this or any other covenant they made with God. He knew this would happen, and yet God made this covenant with Abram anyhow. Nothing shows his humility more than God’s willingness to die for the faithlessness of his creatures.

“God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; each person is fully God; there is one God.” That is how Wayne Grudem summarizes that fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, the Trinity. How it can be true that God is both three and one is a mystery, something that we take on faith. It defies human reasoning and presses the boundaries of human language. It should humble us and drive us toward belief, because, after all, who would believe in a God they could fully understand?

Some Muslims accuse Christians of being polytheists (tritheists, to be exact) because of the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not. Ancient polytheists could have never understood the Trinity because the gods and goddesses of their various pantheons were wicked, juvenile, selfish, arrogant and proud. There could be no perfect relationship between any of those gods, much less a good one! But we see, in the Godhead, a perfect relationship of three distinct, but united, persons. This relationship can only exist if the relating of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is rooted in humility.


In the Trinity there is submission, restraint, and an economy of words.
The Son submits to the Father, doing only what he sees his Father doing. The Father sends the Spirit, reminding the disciples of the words of the Son, speaking only what he hears. The Father elevates the Son, putting everything under his dominion. There is, here, no self-aggrandizement. There is no selfish ambition or grab for power. There is submission, restraint, and an economy of words. All three speak with one voice. At the heart of the Trinity, where the Father, Son and Spirit relate to one another, there is a dynamic humility being exercised without which divinity would be an impossibility. God is because he is humble. If he were proud, he would be the devil. If one of the members of the Trinity were to become proud, all creation would fly apart at the molecular level and all matter would be destroyed. (I’m speculating, of course!) But that will never happen because God is fundamentally humble, and he does not change.

In his book King’s Cross, Tim Keller talks about the love that exists within the Trinity – a love that is self-giving and other-glorifying. The Father, Son and Spirit willingly give love and glory to one another. “The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are pouring love and joy and adoration into the other, each one serving the other. They are infinitely seeking one another’s glory.” This love, which we call agape, is the evidence that there exists within the very being of God an infinitely deep well of humility. Without humility, agape love is impossible.


We are most like God when we are humble, engaging in acts of self-giving and other-glorifying love, most of which will be beneath the “dignity” of our position.
 If we want to partake in God’s life, both in this life and in the age to come, we must be humble. We are most like God when we are humble, engaging in acts of self-giving and other-glorifying love, most of which will be beneath the “dignity” of our position. I believe that the eternal plan of God is to spread this self-giving, other-glorifying love (which flows from this infinite well of humility) to humanity. God created humans to extend the “divine dance” from three to infinity. He is currently preparing the Church as the Bride of Christ, made suitable for marriage to Jesus.

So then, our responsibility is to discipline our hearts to learn humility. Some of the enemies of humility are:

A Sense of Entitlement
Prejudice of any Kind
An Us/Them Mentality
Inability to Truly Listen to Others
The Need to be Right
Narcissism/Arrogance/Pride

What are some of the enemies of humility that are alive and well in your heart? What do you think you can do to discipline yourself to be humble?

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