Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled!
By Raymond D. Sopp
Psalm 11:1-4: "In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, ‘flee as a bird to your mountain; for, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?' The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven."
This Scripture is so fitting for today as we read headlines about shootings in churches and schools, where our teenagers are shot down for saying, "Yes, I believe in God." We are seeing first hand the wicked bending their bow at the upright in heart and our moral foundations are being destroyed. However, as we see this Scripture come alive in our headlines, we must also be equally aware that God remains on the throne and in control. What can the righteous do? We can take refuge in God! At first glance this may seem to be a paradox; how can God be on the throne, in control, and allow the wicked to bend their bow at the upright in heart?
This brings me to the following Email I received from Donat in Ufa, Russia, asking that very question. As you can see, these tragic events are not just a local phenomenon. The following is a portion of the Email I received on October 6, 1999: "God is in my heart, but sometimes I need something that can help me keep my faith stronger than it is now. We live in cruel, terrible times, especially here in Russia. As you know, in our country began a new wave of terrorism, children and old people are dying. And I'm asking myself, ‘How can God let it be?' That's why I need your tapes (sermons), perhaps listening to these tapes I can find the answer."
"How can God let it be?" Throughout my thirty plus years as a Christian this has been a question that I have encountered in believers and unbelievers alike. The believers struggle with the question concerning their faith, and unbelievers use it as an excuse to dismiss God all together. I can certainly understand their trouble coming to terms with this question, because as a whole, the Church has backed away from answering it. All we seem to hear any more are the pleasant things, but the more difficult parts of Scripture we happily ignore. Isaiah 30:10-11: "Who say to the seers, ‘you must not see visions;' and to the prophets, ‘you must not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us pleasant words, prophesy illusions. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.'"
In my walk as a Christian, I've found myself around many pastors and Christians in general, from whom I have heard some amazing statements. For example, the number one response I get from Christians as to why they did not like a pastor was, "The pastor did not talk enough about the power and blessings that belongs to us – he was way too gloomy." I would have thought the number one reason would have been, "He doesn't accurately teach the Word." I actually was told that a pastor of a rather large church said, "I cannot tell my church that truth – why I would lose half my congregation." I could go on, but I think you get my point: Isaiah 30:10-11 seems to be as pertinent today as it was centuries ago.
Now back to the question, "How can God let it be?" In the beginning, God gave a lease (an allotted amount of time) for mankind to reign on this earth, with the hope that mankind would follow His will and ways. However, with Satan's prompting, mankind decided to turn away from God and follow Satan's advice to become as gods. It was at this time that sin and death entered into the world and the Garden of Eden was no more. Therefore, how can we blame God for the evils in this world, when it was brought about by our own hand? Yes, we did it to ourselves. You may then ask, "If God is all-powerful, why doesn't He just stop it?" Because God will not go back on His own Word. He gave the world to mankind, therefore, it will remain in mankind's hand until the allotted time is up.
Nevertheless, God did not abandon us. Time and time again throughout recorded history we see God, driven by His love and mercy, stepping in, keeping mankind from destroying himself before his allotted time was up. God did so by intervening in the affairs of mankind, intervening in such events as wars and natural calamities, which are generated by mankind's unwise decision in the Garden of Eden to turn our back on God, deciding for ourselves between good and evil. Nevertheless, from the beginning, God had a plan to rescue mankind from the mess we found ourselves in by not listening to Him in the first place. So once again, driven by His love and mercy, He sent His only Son to die for us so we may be freed from sin and death.
However, this redemption was for our spirit and not for the earth, or our flesh. Therefore, this earth and our bodies are still under the curse of sin and death where bad things will happen. So when evil happens, instead of blaming God, put the blame where it belongs: on our willful sin and Satan. And remember those times in our lives when God chose to intervene, or help us to endure -- driven by His love and mercy -- not because we deserved it. How then can we even ask the question, "How can God let it be?" when all God has done for us is good, even when we brought this evil upon ourselves by turning away from God in the first place. If God was not for us, sin and Satan would have brought mankind to extinction long before our earthly allotted time was up -- destined for hell and death, remaining eternally separated from God. So when bad things begin to happen, before you curse God, remember He created us to live in the Garden of Eden; we choose the thorns and thistles. It is only because of God's grace and mercy toward us that we now have any hope at all.
Now with this in mind, let us look at something Jesus told His disciples in John 16:33, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." In the Scriptures preceding this verse Jesus was informing His disciples not only of God's love toward them, but also of the coming hardships they would have to endure. The reason Jesus gave for telling His disciples ahead of time was so they may have peace in the midst of their hardships. In other words, when things happen and you cannot understand why, remember, "I (Jesus) told you ahead of time so you will know I am still in control; and because I love you, I have told you both the good and the bad things which must come to pass so you may have peace." Are you beginning to see the absolute beauty of this Scripture?
Nevertheless, I still like the second part of the Scripture best, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." Many will concentrate on the word overcome, trying to infer that it means the triumph over tribulation itself. However, if that was what Jesus meant, would He not have said it? But instead Jesus said, ". . . in this world you WILL have tribulation." This world is still subject to Satan, sin, and death, therefore, you will have tribulation -- you simply cannot avoid it.
Until mankind's allotted time is up and God returns the earth to His absolute control, both sin and death will continue to reign. However, we are to take courage: Jesus has overcome the world. Since Jesus has overcome Satan, sin, and death, proven by the fact of His resurrection, we through belief in Him, have also overcome Satan, sin, and death by our rebirth. In other words, we may still have to live in this world filled with sin and death, but through our rebirth we no longer belong to this world. John 17:16: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." Through God's salvation (Jesus) we no longer belong to this world which remains in the grip of Satan, sin, and death. Instead, we now belong to God through Jesus' sacrifice. Therefore, the sin and death that now reign in this world may indeed plague us, but it has NO hold on us. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 15:55, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
God gets blamed for so much when it should be blamed on our sin of turning away from God and embracing Satan's advice in the Garden of Eden. Throughout mankind's history -- about 6,000 years -- God has consistently reached out to us. First, by giving us His Law to restrain the evil in this world so that mankind would not self-destruct, and later by making a way of escape by sending His only Son for our redemption. Yet today, in our "wisdom", we have outlawed God's law and as a result we are beginning to see our own destruction through the manifestation of lawlessness. So why do we accuse God for being unloving and uncaring when tribulation comes our way, when in fact, He has already done so much for us? John 17:15: "I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one." By remaining in this world we may have tribulations, but we will never again be in Satan's control, nor suffer his outcome of the eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire, where lawlessness reigns, made for Satan and those who chose his ways.
What I'm going to talk about now may label me as a "gloom and doom preacher" by some, but nothing could be further from the truth. I believe being forewarned is being forearmed. Jesus had some unpleasant things to tell His disciples in John 15:18-16:4, but also said in 16:1, "These things I have spoken to you that you may be kept from stumbling." Jesus would never hold anything back from His disciples for fear of losing their admiration; He loved them too much to be that selfish. His only concern was to forewarn in order to keep His disciples from stumbling. Therefore, what I'm about to say is not because I'm a "gloom and doom preacher" wanting to frighten people, but just the opposite -- I love you and I want to keep you from stumbling.
It all started when by request I started praying that hurricane Floyd would turn away from the United States. However, every time I would begin to pray, God seemed to stop me. This went on for a day or two until I finally gave up and just started praying for God's people: for their protection, endurance, and steadfastness in the faith. When I switched my focus from the hurricane to God's people, I received great peace again with my prayer. As I continued to seek God for clarification, I believe His answer to me was that disasters will continue to come in ever increasing numbers, closer together, with greater intensity, and that these things must be. I'm not talking about just the weather, but war, earthquakes, famine, terrorism, shootings, and so on, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Jeremiah 15:1-2: "Then the Lord said to me, ‘Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go!' And it shall be that when they say to you, ‘Where should we go?' then you are to tell them, Thus says the Lord: ‘Those destined for death, to death; And those destined for the sword, to the sword; And those destined for famine, to famine; And those destined for captivity, to captivity.'"
I do NOT believe this to be the start of the Great Tribulation, but instead, I do believe it to be the beginning of the birth pangs spoken of in Matthew 24:8. As with birth pains, these tribulations will increase in both frequency and intensity, to the point where believers and unbelievers worldwide will begin to take notice and become concerned. And just like birth pangs, once they begin, they cannot be stopped. As for us Christians, we must remember not to blame God if we find ourselves in the midst of a trial. Instead, let us praise God knowing that both hell and death have been conquered. Remember, the things coming upon the world is nothing more than the wages of sin, which is death. God is only allowing mankind to reap the consequences of his own sin and lawlessness.
Therefore, let us embrace Jesus' admonition to us found in Matthew 24:9-13, "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved." Be careful not to fall away, or stumble, although you may find yourself in the midst of a severe trial. Instead say, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?", knowing in your heart that Jesus has overcome the world; and therefore, we who are in Him have also overcome the world. And be careful not to let lawlessness cause you to grow cold in your love and become hardhearted, knowing that the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Remember what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1, "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Again Paul says in Romans 8:35-39, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
If trials do come your way, do not say in your heart, "How could You let this happen, God?" Instead, remember how God in His love and mercy, at just the right time, sent His Son to suffer and die that we also may overcome this world and live forever with Him, giving us His Holy Spirit as the guarantor and pledge of our redemption. Romans 5:3-6: "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."
At times we may feel like God has abandoned us, but allow me to comfort you with Jesus' own words to His disciples when He told them that He had to leave them; I'm sure His disciples were feeling abandoned themselves. John 14:1-4: "LET NOT YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going."
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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