God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering

God is not cold or uncaring or unaware of our pain and suffering. Yet, He has a plan, and He intends to carry it out.


“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18 NIV)

John is talking about Jesus, of course. The progression in the beginning of John’s Gospel goes like this: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God; all things were made through the Word; in Him was life; and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-4, 9, 14) Then, John makes the statement I have recited above. No one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is God.

The Greek word that is translated “one and only Son” in the New International Version of the Bible is monogenés, derived from the world monos, meaning one of a class (one of a kind) and genos, meaning only of its kind. A more literal translation of the word would be “only begotten”.

The beginning of the Nicene Creed[1] captures the idea as follows:

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven….

These thoughts arise today in the context of a discussion between the great Anglican scholar, Tom (N.T.) Wright[2], and Justin Brierley[3], the Unbelievable? Podcast and Ask NT Wright Anything host out of the UK. They were talking about the corona virus threat that is plaguing the world.

Among other things, Tom Wright (who is an historian) observed that a pandemic like the corona virus is not unique in the history of the world. The Justinian plague is believed to have killed as many as 25 million people (6th century), the Black Death killed probably double that in the 14th century. The Italian Plague (1629-31), Great Plague of London (1665-66) and Great Plague of Marseilles (1720-22) took millions of lives in Europe, and the Third Plague Pandemic killed about 15 million people, hitting China and India the hardest.[4]

After a discussion of how Christians should respond to the threat (in the same manner as they always have – with compassion and self-sacrifice, helping those in need), Justin prompted Tom by asking him for a five minute response to the hard question: why does God let things like plagues happen?

Tom Wright’s response recalls articles I wrote on March 22, 2020 (Change of Perspective: From the God of Moses to Jesus) and on March 28, 2020 (Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality). In the first article, I addressed the seeming incongruity between the picture of God we see in the Old Testament compared to the person of Jesus we meet in the New Testament. In the second article, I sought some perspective on the bad things that are happening in light of God’s revealed purpose in creating us and the world in which we live.

Tom Wright’s brief response (focusing on the raising of Lazarus from the dead) sits right in the middle. Right where we live. Let me explain.

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A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee

Inside of ancient synagogue in Capernaum – Israel

If the phrase, “mic drop”, had been coined in the First Century, Jesus would have cornered the market. One of those mic drop moments occurred the day his ministry began.

Picture this. Jesus walks into the church (synagogue) where he grew up. Everyone knows him well. They all knew him because he grew up in the community. Nazareth was a small-town place, so they knew him very well.

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the church. It was the church where he grew up and went to Sunday school. He was still very much part of the church community as an adult. When he attended church on that Sunday morning and stood up to read, he was doing what he had done many, many times before. Only this time would be different.

Jesus had been making quite the stir lately. His cousin, John the Baptist, was well-known for his unrelenting, uncompromising message about the coming of the one, the Messiah. (Luke 3:4-6)

Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.

Cousin John was literally quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 as if it were coming true out there in the countryside, outside of town where he spent most of his time. Crowds of people made their way out to hear him, but he wasn’t very popular among the church leaders. In fact, they rather despised him, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. He even called them a “brood of vipers”!

Until recently, Jesus seemed more respectable than that. Though they were cousins, it wasn’t like they hung out together. They were each keenly devoted to their Hebrew lessens, Bible reading and participation in church from a young age, but John seemed to “go off the rails” as he got older.

John the Baptist was out there in the countryside baptizing people. Lots of people. He was attracting quite the crowd talking about one who was coming who was more powerful than he. Not that he had any power, really. That was the crazy part: he lived like a homeless person, eating bugs and shunning even the modest comforts that most people had become used to.

And John was attracting a less than reputable crowd too, including tax collectors. Tax collectors were sell-outs to the Roman occupiers, collecting Roman taxes from the people, often collecting more than they should, lining their own pockets. They were a unsavory and despised lot. Tax collectors were worse than the Romans. The fact that John was attracting tax collectors didn’t speak well for his efforts.

But, the common people loved John. They practically worshiped him. This was particularly galling to the faithful leaders in the churches who had given their lives in service to the Lord. Who did he think he was?!

Of course, many were the so-called modern prophets who came, claiming to be the Messiah spoken of old, stirring up the crowds, creating a tenuous hope that was always dashed when the Romans got tired of the charade. John was more or less harmless out there where he had retreated.

John was just like the ones who came before him, though his message was different. He was bold like the others, but in a different way. He wasn’t stirring people up against the Romans, like the others did. In fact, John seemed more interested in criticizing the religious community than the Romans, which hardly endeared him to them.

When Jesus attended church that day, the word was all over Galilee that Jesus had gone out to meet John, and it was apparently quite a meeting by the reports that were circulating. Jesus even let John baptize him. In fact, he insisted on it, and this is where things got a little sideways, if you could believe the reports.

People said they heard a loud voice. Some said it was the voice of God. Others said that a dove swooped down and landed right on his head. People were saying Jesus was a prophet. Some seemed to think he was the Messiah that John had been talking about. It seems that Jesus had gotten caught up in John’s delusion, and he was starting to believe it.

When Jesus stood up to read that day, these things were going through their minds. They knew something was up, but they weren’t at all prepared for what he was going to do.

Continue reading “A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee”

For She Loved Much


The story starts with a prominent community leader inviting Jesus to a party at his house.  (Luke 7:36) Jesus went, of course, because that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t refuse anyone who gave him an invitation.

Jesus was most often found on the streets, in parks or local cafes engaging in small groups with impromptu crowds, but he was equally comfortable in churches, colleges and public meeting halls with politicians, priests, academicians and larger, more formal crowds. Jesus wouldn’t refuse any request to meet and be with people wherever he went. So Jesus went to the party.

Jesus had risen quickly to popularity. No one really knew that much about him, where he came from or what his credentials were, but anyone who was anyone knew about him by now. Many were the people who wanted to meet him. He would be a draw to Simon’s party.

Of course, people alternately loved him or hated him. Few, if anyone, were neutral about Jesus. Some people hung on every word that he spoke, while others questioned everything, wondering what his intentions were, skeptical of everything he said or did.

We don’t know much about the particular party to which Jesus was invited or the host of the party, other than this name, Simon. In fact, one of the only things we really know about the party is the scandal that took place there.

Simon was a well-known leader in his community and a gracious host. His home was open to friends and neighbors. He was generous with his prominence, wealth and lifestyle. He loved to entertain. Inviting Jesus would be a hip thing to do, given the grass roots popularity Jesus enjoyed.

Inviting Jesus might would be viewed as scandalous by some of Simon’s peers, but he wasn’t like them. He fancied himself more open-minded than that. He wasn’t afraid of a little controversy. It would ensure his good stature among both the elites and more common folks, the people of his own upbringing.

But Simon wasn’t at all ready for what would happen next. While his home was an open invitation to friends, colleagues and neighbors, no one who was not of a particular type would dare, surely, to enter those halls dedicated to showing off the influence, prominence and wealth to which Simon had attained. People who had not attained, or at least aspired to, a certain stature certainly wouldn’t think of it…. or would they?

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To Us a Child Was Born

We have good reason to be expectant that God will do, and is doing, what He said He would do.


“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone…. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6 ESV)

These words that are repeated often at Christmas time were spoken originally by Isaiah, the prophet, hundreds of years before Jesus. “For unto us a child is born….” These words are so ubiquitous in our western culture today that we may miss the significance of them.

At one time, people doubted the dating of Isaiah because it so accurately describes Jesus who was born around 4 BC. Isaiah lived purportedly in the 8th Century BC. Because Isaiah predates Jesus and the span of time from Isaiah to Jesus, an increasingly skeptical world that seriously doubted the predictive nature of those words begin to think that the Isaiah text was written after Jesus, perhaps in the 1st Century after his death.

People no longer doubt when Isaiah wrote those words, however, not since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the most significant discoveries among the Dead Scrolls was the Isaiah Scroll. It has been dated hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, and it is nearly word for word the same as the more recent manuscripts of Isaiah that we had until that time.[1]

Isaiah contains, perhaps, the clearest and most amazing prophecies in the whole OT of the coming of Jesus.[2] For this reason, Isaiah is quoted every Christmas. Particularly the statements stating that the Messiah would come as a child.

At least one aspect of what Isaiah wrote gets lost in wonder of the predictions he spoke. We look back on them now with wonder and amazement that God inspired Isaiah to speak those words so long ago, but when Isaiah spoke them, no one listened. No one believed him.

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The Face of Love


“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[1]

This is an iconic, timeless description of what love is from the Bible. This passage has been quoted at countless weddings. Most people are familiar with the “love passage”, even if they have no familiarity with the Bible itself.

We know there are different kinds of love. There is the intimate love between couples, erotic love, the love between parent and child and brotherly love among friends. These kinds of love sometimes overlap. For instance, the love between married couples, at its best, incorporates something of all of these types of love.

Perhaps, the most popular notion of love today is the love between two people – the Disney type of love at first sight and love ever after. A mix of erotic thrill and passionate commitment.

Google “love”, and images of young, good-looking men and women goggling each other is what you will find. This love is almost mythical in its ubiquitous celebration in popular culture, and it’s, perhaps, just as mythical in reality. Few, if any of us, really experience the love that we collectively aspire to (as demonstrated by the money we spend on love-themed entertainment ).  And, those of us who have “felt” this kind of love all know how fleeting it is.

This kind of love involves commonality of interest and affection. It’s a two-way street. When the commonality ceases and the affection is lost, the one-way street can only operate so long – especially in a society that emphasizes the emotional value of love. We build in a qualifier to the age-old phase, “til death do us part”: when the affections die, I am outta here!

Other kinds of love include the love of parent and child and brotherly love – the love between friends who have common bonds of experience, interests and friendship. Though the entertainment value is much less than the former, we all instinctively know that this kid of love is good. It is very good.

Friendships, still, can be fragile. Rare is the friendship that survives indefinitely. Even familial love, including the love between parents and children, can die on the rocky shores of turmoil and circumstances that tear it apart and undo it. I see this constantly in my practice of law, representing people in the administration of their estates.

The biblical definition of love is something different altogether.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[2]

None of these descriptors of love depend on affections. They are timeless in that respect. They describe a love that is not qualified. The very next statement in this passage is that “love never fails” (or never ends).[3] In other words, this kind of love never dies.

Do you know this kind of love?

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Who Was Jesus

The fundamental question isn’t: why did God kill Jesus? The fundamental question is: who was Jesus?


People discussed and debated who was Jesus during his life, and people continue to ask the question today: who was Jesus? It’s really pretty remarkable that people are still asking that question today if you think about it. Jesus didn’t write anything. He didn’t create a lasting work of art. He didn’t conquer anyone.

Yet, people are still talking about Jesus today. Jesus is worshiped by some as God. He is revered my every major religion as a prophet or wise, spiritual man. He is even respected by the irreligious as a moral and good man. Though he didn’t pen a single word as far as we know, more books have been written about him than any man who lived.

So, it makes sense to ask: who was Jesus? It’s not an irrelevant question, even today, so many years after is life and very public and widely attested death.

The Internet skeptics who question whether the man, Jesus, ever lived are simply living in denial. Not even most atheists doubt that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was crucified on a cross, was an actual man who lived in the first century. A more serious and compelling question is: who was Jesus?

So, let me get right to the point. The following statement from Paul, the once hater and persecutor of Christians who became a follower, highlights why this question is still relevant today:

“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. …. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.” Romans 3:25-26

How we respond to this statement is a litmus test of sorts. It raises the ultimate question – who was Jesus – in a way that gets right to the heart of the matter. We can’t read that statement, if we truly understand it, without worshiping and loving such a God or recoiling in horror, indignation and revulsion.

One of the most biting critiques of the Bible and the story of Jesus is that God killed him. God demanded a sacrifice, and Jesus was it. If God is God, He orchestrated the death of Jesus to sate His own demands for justice, homage and retribution.

People like Richard Dawkins make this accusation of “the Christian God”. They say that even if God exists, they would never follow such a vindictive, spiteful God like that.

Lay aside the propriety of created beings standing in moral judgment of the Creator of the universe. If the Creator of the universe was a spiteful, vindictive mean-spirited Being, what could we do about it? And what would our moral indignation have to do with anything?

But of course, the Richard Dawkins types don’t believe in God. What they do believe is at the heart of this blog piece. They believe that Jesus was a just a man. He wasn’t divine. He was no different than you and me.

If Jesus was just a man, the Christian view that Jesus was sacrificed and killed to satisfy God’s sense of justice – or vindictiveness, or spite or evil desire to inflict pain – is something that seems despicably bad. As moral beings, we can see that such a thing would be wrong. It’s twisted. We know better. It doesn’t feel right.

But the fundamental question isn’t: why did God kill Jesus (or have him killed)? The fundamental question is: who was Jesus? We have to answer this question before we can make any sense of the latter question.

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A Life Transformed


I stumbled on the video a few years ago that was posted in March of 2015 by Maz, a woman who was raised in a radical, abusive home. She had just become a Christian, against her families’ wishes, and she feared for her life. Though she filmed the video alone, she spoke in hushed tones. The weight of her plight was evident in her demeanor, yet she was willing to face the consequences for her commitment to Christ. You can watch it for yourself below.

The video was hauntingly beautiful in its testament to the life changing reality of an encounter with God in Christ. Her own father sought to have her beheaded. The emotion of the moment was raw and real. She was leaving a testament to her love for God, knowing that her life might not end well.

I wondered about her and prayed for her years after she posted the video. She posted another video about a year later, and she was still doing well. She had matured some in her faith, but the darkness of her past and the threat that hung in the air seemed still present.

I searched a few times for a follow up video after that, wondering what became of her. Did she survive? Was she ok? Was her faith as vibrant after time had passed as the day she posted that first video?

Today, I don’t have to wonder anymore. I had subscribed to her channel. Today as I was going through my YouTube subscriptions her video that she did in March of 2019 was there on my computer. I watched it, and what a gloriously different demeanor she has now! She radiates the love of Christ.

See and listen for yourself her story in the first video. Her original story is amazing and compelling. She had trouble putting her encounter in words, but the love of Christ she experienced was overwhelming. She knew little about Christianity, but she knew the risen Lord.



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