Thursday, November 06, 2008

God's Love And Our Circumstances

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
John 11:1-6
A couple of months ago while reading a book by Jerry Bridges called Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, I came across the following quote:
We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances (p.160).
This is one of those one liners that five years after you have read a book you remember even though you've forgotten everything else. It's the kind of line that can change your life if burned into your heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.

What does it look like to see God's love through our circumstances? And what does it look like to instead see our circumstances through God's love as we should? What is the difference between the two? And why does it matter?

From these verses in John, the translation of one word determines, I believe, whether we see Jesus's love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus through their circumstances or whether we see their circumstances through Jesus's love for them.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are facing agonizing circumstances. Lazarus is sick and on the verge of death. So they send messengers to tell Jesus about these circumstances so that Jesus can change them, right? In verse 5, John tells us of Jesus' love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And then verse 6 shows us the connection between God the Son's love for them and their circumstances.

If you are reading in the NIV, verses 5 and 6 are as follows (emphasis added):
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
If you are reading in the ESV, verses 5 and 6 are as follows (emphasis added):
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
In the NIV's rendering, I can't help but see Jesus's love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus through the lens of their circumstances. And if I put myself in the shoes of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, my heart is saying: Even though God loves me, these are my circumstances. Which takes higher precedence in my heart: God's love or my circumstances?

In the ESV's rendering, I can't help but see the circumstances of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus through the lens of Jesus's love for them. And now when I put myself in the shoes of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, my heart says: Because God loves me, these are my circumstances. Which takes higher precedence in my heart in this case: God's love or my circumstances?

What's the difference between the two? Does it even matter? Is there anything at stake here?

What do you think?

9 comments:

Mel said...

I loved this post! I haven't been blogging at all lately, except to put some of my own thoughts in writing before I forgot them. But I've been looking forward so much to checking your blog the first chance I got, and I wasn't disappointed. I'm looking forward to reading the other posts I see here, too. I'm going to think about your questions, and hopefully God will open the eyes of my heart to truly understand and appreciate the answers. :)

Mel said...

I've been pondering this a lot.

I think one of the major differences between the two is how we view answers to prayer. It used to be that when I would pray for something, and it didn't happen, I would feel ignored, hurt, or like had somehow fallen out of God's good graces. Or, if it did happen I felt loved, special, prideful, and like I must be doing something right.

Now when I ask for somethign in prayer, no matter what the outcome is, I believe in the depths of my heart that the answer is God's best plan for me, and I rest in that assurance. Even if the path is difficult or dark or fraught with challenges and failures, I know that God is leading me by His love and everything will happen according to His plan.

pilgriminconflict said...

Amen. Thanks for sharing what God has taught you in relation to this, Mel.

It sounds easy to in theory to do the one we should be doing but it is much harder in practice isn't it? Bridges is right when he says that we are so prone to view God's love through our circumstances.

I really like the way you mention how what God taught you changed not just the way you responded to hard things but also to the good things.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been meditating over this thought that, though it isn't revolutionary, struck me in prayer one recent Friday morning: Every problem in the life of the believer is due to a failure to understand and apply the truth of the gospel to everyday life.

It doesn't seem that profound. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how profound it is and how this is the only thing, by the Holy Spirit working through us, that will enable us to see our circumstances through God's love and not vice-versa.

He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32


How's that verse for gospel application? =)

Lee said...

Good insight, Chris! I agree - I like the ESV's take (and your take on their take) better. (So did you take a look at the Greek at all?)

About your comment from this morning above - I take it that you mean "every self-inflicted problem in the life of the believer ..."? (I'm going to stretch "self-inflicted" to include God's disciplinary actions.)

Lee said...

(Since God's disciplinary actions arise from our wrong attitudes, lack of right attitudes, action, and inaction...)

Lee said...

Test... (Sorry Chris - I've been having trouble posting to Blogger blogs for the past day or so... I'm not sure this will go through... if it does, do delete it so it doesn't clutter up your comment section!)

Mel said...

Hi Chris,

So, what you're saying is, there are no real problems in the life of a believer, only errors in perception... Is that right?

I believe that with my whole heart. :)

Yours in Christ,
Mel

pilgriminconflict said...

Lee and Mel,

Thanks for your comments. Yes, I actually thought to myself that I forgot a very important word after I posted. It should read... Every perceived problem. Who's to say that whatever I'm dealing with is a problem but me? If I truly believe Romans 8:32, as just one gospel text for example, then in God's inscrutable wisdom whatever my "problem" is is part of the "all things" that are mine along with Christ, indeed because of Christ, right?

I'm realizing more and more that I don't know the gospel well enough.

Is that better for clarity? Do you agree?

Yes, Lee, I've looked at the Greek. The word used is "oun" which can be somewhat of an ambiguous word but from lexicons seems to have a consequential sense more than a contradictory sense.

Lee said...

Well... I'm really trying not to get too picky here, but I think we are defining "problem" differently. By problem, I mean a challenging event in the life of the believer which may expressly be the result of God's hand of discipline in the believer's life, or it may simply be something that God allowed to happen as a test. Either way, it is a real problem ("in this world you shall have tribulations") - and Romans 8:28 tells us that the end goal of that problem is the good of the believer. I don't know that 8:32 is speaking of problems (by whatever definition) at all - isn't it talking about the spectrum of God's good gifts? Such as, in this context, the ability to have joy in the face of trials (i.e., "problems").

That's why I asked if you meant "self-inflicted" problem - or problems arising from God's disciplinary action, which would naturally be required by a failure to apply the truth of the gospel (i.e., some sort of sin) to everyday life.

But, as I said, I think we might be operating with 2 different definitions for "problem" :-)

And thanks for the info on the Greek word - I think that does help point toward the ESV's translation choice and your interpretation.