This story came up in a recent class: a grieving someone was told at a funeral that their deceased loved one passed away because God willed it so. The cringe factor on this story is high. As Solomon once said, there is a proper time and season for everything. There is a time to have knotty doctrinal discussions about hard subjects, and there is a time to just give someone a hug.
But it's good for us Christians to understand what we're talking about when we say "the will of God." The Scripture uses that phrase in different ways. It's wise not to mash them up.
The Scripture speaks of God's commandments and promises as the "will" of God. For example, 1st Thessalonians 4:3 says, "This is the will of God, your sanctification." It is God's will that unbelievers come to Christ. Romans 12 lists a whole series of God's commandments about many matters. Theologians often call this God's "moral" will. They tell us what we should or could do.
Wisdom is a part of God's moral will. The Bible tells us to be wise (Proverbs 8:33). Biblical wisdom gives us more decision-making leeway. It's never okay to commit adultery. But choosing which college to attend, or what house to buy, or the best strategy to approach a difficult conversation, may allow more options.
We can make a list of pros and cons. There might be more than one acceptable choice. God promises to give us all the wisdom we need for these situations, in James 1:5.
God's "will" can also mean His preferences. Read Ezekiel 18. God's moral will was for Israel to repent. Otherwise God was going to inflict severe judgment on the nation. God draws no pleasure from the death of the wicked. We know from other passages (like the Parable of the Prodigal Son) that He draws great pleasure from repentance. Nevertheless, in spite of His preferences, He will pass judgment. Some theologians in past centuries called this God's will of "disposition."
Lastly, God's "will" can refer to His eternal plan. In Ephesians 1, Paul said that God works all things according to the "counsel of His will" (verse 11). Peter said that Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, did whatever God's hand and plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27-28).
Christ's death was no accident. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, and the unbelieving Israelites all played their parts. They did what they did out of their own reasoning. But God and His plan were in control. This is often called God's sovereign will.
The paradox here is that God includes human decisions in His eternal plan that, on the moral level, He condemns. God is morally against kidnapping. But He planned to use Joseph's kidnapping to save Jacob's family from famine (Genesis 50:20).
Or, in reverse, sometimes a person does the right thing, but God proceeds with His own plan. The priest Eli did the right thing to warn his wicked sons. But God hardened their already-rebelling hearts, because God had already decided to kill them (1 Samuel 2:1-25).
This is what I mean by being clear. The fact that God plans includes humanity's sins, and then He uses those sins in mysterious, paradoxical ways to bring about His secret plan, never means He causes or approves of sin.
There are at least two more errors to avoid. One is to say that God has nothing to do with bad things that happen. That's not true, God isn't a helpless by-stander in His own universe. The other error is to mix up God's moral, preferential, and eternal wills into one big lump.
A perfect example of this is the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus got sick and died because God planned for it to happen. Christ could have healed Lazarus from a distance; He chose not to. Christ deliberately waited extra days, so that Lazarus would definitely be dead by the time He got back.
Christ did this, even though He knew the emotional suffering this would causes Mary and Martha. Christ then reminded Martha of His moral will (meaning, His promises of everlasting life to those who trust in Him). Then, in spite of His sovereignty and knowledge, Christ still wept. This showed the disposition of His heart.
Every dimension of God's "wills" -- God's all-powerful sovereignty following through on the plan, spiritual teachings that call for response, and Christ's heart-sentiment -- can be found in this story.
Thank the Lord we're only responsible to know and follow what God has told us in His word, and to live wisely! God will take care of the secret plan by Himself!
Pray for God to turn back the tide of corruption and perversion engulfing the West, and especially the United States. And don't be deceived in thinking it can't happen! Satan wants you to think:
1. That human free-will is so supreme and almighty that there's nothing God can do. This is a lie. God's arm is not short, and humans are not sovereign over anything. God cannot be hemmed-in by His own creations, and He doesn't paint Himself into corners.
2. That the end-times are upon us, so we just have to passively hunker down and wait out the apocalypse. This is false. 2 Thessalonians 2 says that the sign of the end-times is the Beast/man of sin seated in the re-built Holy Place, declaring himself to be God. Most specifically, the end-times begin after the Rapture, which obviously hasn't happened yet.
3. That America's hope rests in a Republican politician. You must be kidding me! Our hope is in the Lord, and in Him only. We shall trust not in kings.
4. That the sexual rebellion against God can't be stopped. God can stop anything. We aren't allowed to use any violence, but God can do whatever He likes. Read Habbakuk -- God smashed the corruption in Israel by physically killing His enemies. In other times in history, God eliminates His enemies through repentance and revival. God has unlimited methods at His command. Pray for God to turn enemies into friends, or to overthrow His enemies.
Christ wants us to know:
They didn't die. Only their body died. John 11:26. The soul of a Christian is infused with God's own life, when he or she trusts in Christ. The Christian soul is made immortal by the life and power of God, and as a result the Christian soul never experiences death.
The Lord takes them instantly to Heaven. They don't go to sleep, or purgatory, or limbo. We read this in 2 Corinthians 5:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on[a] we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
In other words, no one in Heaven is sad that they left us. Christ brought them safely home! They're joyful, and all they need to do is wait for us to catch up and join them.
God doesn't take the passing of any of His children lightly. Psalm 116:15: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Christ knows what it felt like to die. He doesn't treat us like a gruff drill-sergeant.
Christ's resurrection is our assurance of our Christian loved one's survival and glory: 1 Corinthians 15 -- 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
We grieve for any suffering they experienced in life, or suffering in the process of leaving us; but the Lord also assures us that all that suffering is swallowed up in the wink of an eye, as soon as they enter glory.
Romans 8:18 -- I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
No one in Heaven is sad, or brooding over the memory of sufferings of their earthly life. There, every tear is wiped from every eye. All memory of mortal suffering disappears, like one little drop of iodine disintegrates when dripped into the Pacific Ocean. Our short time of pain is engulfed by an eternity of future happiness.
So, we do not grieve in the same way that unbelievers grieve, that is, in despair and without hope. Christ's birth brought Him into this dying world, Good Friday took Him out, Easter brought Him back immortal, and that's how He gave us all hope.
I know many fellow Christians who have experienced the loss of loved ones -- loved ones who passed away without confessing faith in Jesus Christ. Christ clearly believed in heaven and hell, so this is a serious matter. The Bible consoles Christians when believing loved ones pass. But does it have anything to say when non-Christian loved ones pass on?
I would encourage Christians who lose a loved one with the fact that we usually don't know what happened between a person and God in the hours, or minutes, or even seconds, before life is done. I'm confident that Heaven has many people in it whom the Lord snatched like a stick out of the fire. The thief on the cross became a saved person in his last moments of life, and the same possibility exists for anyone. Luke 23:43. So, there is always hope of that having happened.
I think it's also important to believe in God's fairness. When Abraham was negotiating with God regarding Sodom's judgment, he said, "Far be it from You to kill the righteous along with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Abraham knew something about God that is very important. God will not treat any man or woman unfairly. Even though this truth is not like the rejoicing we experience over a soul saved, that confidence in God's integrity is important.
God also deals with people individually. He once said to Ezekiel, "Every soul is Mine" (Ezekiel 18:4). I think this is important because it's in my nature to think of someone as my mother, my father, my sister, or my friend. But to God, that person's most important relationship was to Him. God made them for Himself (Romans 11:36, Colossians 1:16). God, as God, has a special claim on that person which supersedes everyone else.
I think it also matters quite a bit that God finds no enjoyment in passing judgment on anyone. He said this clearly, forcefully, in Ezekiel 18:32. He showed it with tears in Luke 19:41. God is no monster. He judges because He's righteous. God is love, even in His role as Judge.
This truth strongly implies that God doesn't cause anyone to sin. For instance, God says forcefully about the Hebrews, "They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35). The Hebrews' sins were entirely their own doing.
God didn't sovereignly, irresistibly cause them to sin, and then play-act that He was appalled. God's relationship to sin is that He ordains it (in the sense that it's part of His over-all plan) but He doesn't cause it (James 1:13-14). In other words, God didn't cause my non-Christian loved one to be unbelieving; God didn't cause my loved one to die in unbelief.
We can't force anyone to repent and believe in Christ, and the passing of a non-Christian loved one reminds us of that. We share in the apostle Paul's unhappiness over the stubbornness of blood kin (see Romans 9:1-3). The Lord wants us to do what we can in this life, even if that's limited to prayer, and then we trust that God, being God, will always do the right thing.
Advent Meditation from 1st Corinthians 13:
Love is patient – God took centuries to prepare the way for the Savior.
Love is kind – God took pity on all of us in our sins and sorrows.
Love is not possessive – Christ did not cling to heaven’s privileges.
Love does not brag – Christ never boasted.
Love isn’t arrogant – Christ came to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Love doesn’t act unbecomingly – Christ was born and lived without sin.
Love doesn’t seek its own – Christ sacrificed His glory for us.
Love isn’t provoked – In spite of all the ways the human race provoked God through the centuries, God sent His Son for us anyway.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered – Christ forgave and accepted people from the groups who had killed Him.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth – God’s opposition to unrighteousness led Him to save us from it.
Dear Lord, You say You are love, and in Your Son’s birth we see Your love on full display. Your love, born as a man. Lord, we don’t deserve your love, and we can’t earn it, but we gladly receive it. Let this candle remind us of the love-light that You lit that amazing morning.
Here are five signs of a proud heart:
1. A proud Christian will seldom, if ever, admit to actual sin. He might talk about sin in the abstract, "sin" as a doctrine or a concept, but it's often deflected out onto the "world", as if evil is always external to himself. In extreme cases, he might hold to a doctrine of sinless perfection, or claim the sin-nature can be eradicated in this life. Some Christians talk too much about their sins, sometimes to a squirming degree of unwanted detail. But, to the proud person, admitting actual sin is humiliating. Proud people seldom, if ever, admit to needing daily forgiveness. Ecclesiastes 7:20.
2. A proud Christian seldom, if ever, admits to needing help. Self-reliance is taken to an extreme, sometimes a harmful extreme. Even though the Bible tells us to carry one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), which implies a degree of weakness in all of us, the proud man or woman won't accept help, or even admit needing it. This is because because admitting weakness is embarrassing. It reveals them to be less than what they want to believe about themselves, or want other people to believe about them.
3. A proud Christian wants to control, but at the same time habitually rejects authority. Like arrogant Diotrophes (e John 9-10), he is driven by a desire for the preeminence, but he also rebels whenever authority is applied to him. He wants accountability for others, but never wants it for himself. The proud Christian chafes against not being obeyed.
4. A proud Christian resents other Christians' gifts, positions, or accomplishments. Like Saul becoming jealous of David's victories (1 Samuel 18:8), the proud person sees other Christians' achievements as a personal slight. The other person's victories diminish them, in their own eyes. They feel threatened by people who are better than they are. The reverse of this was John the Baptist, who was content for Jesus Christ's fame to grow as his own fame diminished (John 3:30).
5. Using Saul is a pride-indicator, pride leads to a paranoid perspective. Saul's jealous resentment over David's victories immediately led Saul to convince himself that David was scheming after the throne. There was no evidence that David had that in mind. Saul was "projecting" what he would do were he in David's shoes. This can happen because the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9); the proud heart lies to itself first among all.
Witchcraft, and all related "arts", are absolutely forbidden by God in Scripture.
Divination (the attempt to foretell the future or discover hidden knowledge by occult means), omen-interpretation, fortune-telling, sorcery of any kind, mediums, necromancy -- all was forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18:10). Techniques often used in these practices are the Ouija board and Tarot cards. All these practices are detestable in God's eyes. It was for all these practices that God sent in the Hebrews to destroy and drive out the Canaanites from Palestine.
The New Testament condemns sorcery as a manifestation of evil (Galatians 5:20). Witchcraft is a sure way of bringing God's fiery wrath down on yourself (2 Chronicles 33:6). There is no such thing as white witchcraft; in God's holy eyes, all witchcraft is black.
Why is God so hostile to witchcraft? It is because witchcraft is all about knowledge and power, divorced from God. It is an attempt to gain supernatural power over the world for one's self or others, apart from God. The diviner seeks to know the future, apart from God. The reader of omens seeks hidden knowledge, apart from God. The witch seeks to exercise power, in defiance of God. The whole enterprise is fueled by lust for worldly things, and unbelief.
God wants us to rely on Him by faith alone in His Word, while witchcraft pretends to offer power apart from reliance on God. God says to deny wealth, power, fame, pleasure, influence, or worldly success in favor of serving Jesus Christ, while witchcraft pretends to show a path to all these things. God says to worship Him alone, while witchcraft always leads into idol-worship. God says we should bow to His supernatural sovereignty, but witchcraft pretends to offer us our own sovereignty by other means.
Another reason God hates witchcraft is because demons are the unseen power behind mediumistic practices (setting aside ordinary fraud for the moment). There are only two spiritual powers in the universe -- God and Satan. God is good always, Satan is evil always. Nature has no hidden paranormal powers waiting to be tapped by ritual -- nature is subject to God. There is no power battery in-between God and Satan, waiting to be tapped. If you aren't going to God, then you're appealing to Satan, even if that isn't your intent.
The spirits of the righteous dead go to heaven, while the spirits of the sinful dead go to hell. This means the spirits contacted through mediumistic practices are evil spirits -- demons. And demons only lie, steal, kill, and destroy. People who engage in divination practices open themselves up to demon possession (example, Acts 16:16). This is why God vowed a death-sentence against anyone in the Jewish nation who engaged in witchcraft (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 19:31). This was a way of protecting the rest of society from a social cancer.
Some popular depictions of magical things are just silly. "Ghosts" chase Pac-Man through a maze, Dr. Strange jumps through sparking portals -- these are just foolish, an, more importantly, they are impossible to replicate in the real world. More serious are depictions of real things, like seances, or water-witching / dowsing, which (unlike flying carpets or Sabrina making things disappear) are ceremonies that can actually be performed by real people. Casper the Friendly Ghost is one thing, actually showing people a ceremony on how to allegedly contact the dead is another.
(Some people point to the story of Samuel's spirit rising from the underworld, in 1st samuel 28:3-25, as an example of a "positive" appearance of the spirit of the righteous dead. The problem with this attempt to sanitize necromancy is that Samuel's spirit pronounces doom upon Saul (I take the view that it actually was Samuel, since he chastises Saul, his words honors the Lord, and his prophecy of Saul's destruction at the hands of the Philistines came true). This story should be taken as a freak occurrence, and it certainly doesn't endorse divination; rather, it condemns it by condemning Saul to death.)
Have nothing to do with real witchcraft.
A cult is a religious organization that says it's Christian but denies one or more of the fundamental truths of Christianity. These would include monotheism, the Trinity, the inspired reliability of the Bible, Christ's deity and humanity, or salvation by faith. They are usually dominated by one overbearing, dictator-type leader, use abusive forms of authority, and exploit the members financially and often sexually.
A sect is a Christian group that is basically sound in its preaching and teaching, but has elevated some secondary doctrine, peculiar tradition, or unique practice up to such a level of importance that the group breaks fellowship with other believers. Examples of this could include foot-washing, modes of baptism, or opinions about the time of the Rapture.
Cults are not Christian at all, even though they claim to be. For example, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) is not a Christian organization. Sects are Christian but they're divisive over secondary issues.
For example, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church forbids its members to take Communion with any church but another Missouri Synod Lutheran church. If a Missouri Synod Lutheran was to break bread with us at our church, he or she would be excommunicated by the Missouri Synod. The Lutheran policy seems to say that no other Christian churches are "real" Christian churches, but that we're all heretics. This is the sin of sectarianism. Paul talks about this in 1st Corinthians 1.
Both of these are bad, though cults are worse because they actually deny the faith, where sects unbalance the faith. However, a spirit of denominational superiority, church-splitting, and judging one another over matters of personal conviction, weakens the Body of Christ and makes us more vulnerable to Satan's attacks.
There is a very old Christian doctrinal term, which is hard to understand and needs some up-dating: impassibility. Have you ever heard it? I only began interacting with it a couple of years ago. It's important, because it's about God.
The default faith of the Scripture is that God takes care of His people in every sense. He forgives all their sins, heals all their diseases, rescues them from destruction, crowns them with lovingkindness, and renews their life with vigor (Psalm 103:1-4). However, when the complete context of the entire Bible is taken into account, we find out that there were times when God did not heal every every disease in this life. The five benefits of God's care listed in Psalm 103 should each individually be understood in light of the whole Scripture.
For example, Christ doesn't heal a Christian when it's time for them to go to heaven (Psalm 139:16). It's obvious from practical experience that Christ doesn't heal every Christian of everything, because all Christians age, get sick, their bodies die, and they go to be with the Lord. Sin's curse still rests on this material world, in spite of Christ's death. The earth still groans. Christians groan with it (Romans 8:22-23). There were a few extraordinary cases in Scripture where a believer got to go to heaven without dying (Enoch, Elijah), but the rest of us age, wear down, and most of us will die of natural causes.
The Lord doesn't heal when he is punishing sin. King Uzziah sinned grievously by intruding into the sacred role of the priests. Uzziah should have known better! In fact, he did know better, which is why God smote him so sternly. I do not doubt that God forgave Uzziah, but the text says God never took the leprosy away (2 Chron. 26:27). God could have healed Uzziah (He did for Miriam in Numbers 12:10-15), but He did not. Uzziah died a leper.
Any sin can be forgiven, but the punishment of the sin might remain. Sin , especially sin by a leader, always carries serious consequences, and some of those consequences involve physical ailments. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 11:30 that some of the Corinthian congregation were weak and sick, and some had died, because of their selfish mistreatment of others in the flock and the way they dishonored the Lord's Table.
Christ doesn't heal while He is testing faith (Job 1-2). Not every sickness is punishment for sin, and we commit the sin of Job's judgmental friends if we assume this. It's a sin to just automatically assume a sick Christian is in unbelief or did something wrong. God Himself, in Job 1, said Job was a man of excellence, guiltless, so teachings that Job somehow brought his illness upon himself are wrong. Rather, God was vindicating His own praise of Job's faith, and shaming the devil for claiming Job was a religious mercenary, although Job never knew that (and God didn't tell him).
James 5:11 promises God will reward us as we come through His tests in faith. Job's example shows us that illness is one of those tests, along with natural disasters (lightning killed some of Job's herds, a windstorm collapsed a house on his children) and crime (gangs of thieves murdered Job's workers and stole all his flocks). But the Lord eventually stops the test, and rewards the believer.
Christ doesn't heal the payback for foolishness. Not everything bad is from the devil. Some of our problems are self-inflicted. Proverbs 3:18 says wisdom is a tree of life and blessing, so what fruit do you imagine foolishness grows? Elsewhere in Proverbs, Solomon says that drunks get bruises, lazy people get poverty, adulterers get beaten up by jealous husbands, and schemers fall into the pits they themselves have dug. Christians could catch AIDS because of immorality, and they shouldn't count on Christ miraculously healing them of it.
Christ knew not to throw Himself off the temple mount on the notion that God would catch Him, because you don't try to force God's hand by deliberately doing stupid, reckless things (Luke 4:9-12). Christ will let us live with the physical consequences of our own foolishness.
Christ doesn't take away the physical scars of persecution. In Galatians 6:17, Paul reminded his readers he still carried in his body the scars of Christ -- referring to wounds left on him by persecution. Paul suffered physically in his service to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul said he had been pelted with stones and beaten with rods for the Gospel. He still had those scars. Christ allowed Paul to carry those badges of faithful honor in his body, like the medals of a military hero.
Psalm 103 doesn't contradict these other passages. Instead, we take them all side-by-side, believe all of them, and, with the help of other sound Christian teachers and thinkers, think through the best way to harmonize them. Unlike the saving forgiveness of sin, God makes certain exceptions to His normal, default work of ministering to His people's diseases. In the end, all of God's people will be forever immortal, vital, and whole through the redeeming work of His Son.