A Question We've All Asked
The following question was emailed to our "Ask a Bible
Teacher" column this week. Since
it's such an important question, I'm responding in our feature article format
so as to provide greater detail. This
will also allow more people to see it, because it's a question we've all
Q. I have recently discovered your website and have
found it to be very informative. I have learned a great deal about many of the
However, there are still a number of things I do not
understand. About two years ago, I
discovered God, His Plan of Salvation, and the many wonderful promises that He
has made to us. I read in Romans of how He causes all things to come to the
good for them that believe in Him. I read in the Gospels about how two or more
believers praying for a common thing would have their prayers answered. I read
of how believers should ask of the Father and it shall be given unto them.
Imagine how I felt in the summer when my partner was
diagnosed with cancer, and after a short battle, was called home in
August. I know that many people,
including myself, prayed for her recovery, but in vain. I find it impossible to reconcile the
circumstances which have prevailed in my personal life to those promises that
God has made to us and which I have made mention of above.
Can you help me to bridge this gap in my understanding?
A. Who among us has not had prayers of this sort
seemingly go unanswered and wondered at the conflict that it creates between
the Bible's promises and our experiences?
Life After Death
In the death of a believer we have to understand two
things. The first is that we're all
infected with a terminal disease. It's
not a case of if we'll die but when. No
one dies a natural death because it's not natural for eternal beings to
die. Death came into the world as a
result of sin.
And the second is that for a believer, death is the ultimate
healing. Death brings the life we were
always intended to live, and would already be living if not for our sin
nature. For the "dead"
believer, all of this life's problems, pains, and sorrows are over and a
glorious eternal life of blessing and abundance awaits.
The more we know about the life after death the less we
cling to the life before. And since only
God knows the end from the beginning, only He can know the pain and suffering
He's prevented in calling someone home early. The righteous perish, and no one ponders it
in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the
righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. (Isaiah 57:1)
So what about the surviving friends and family? How can the death of a loved one bring good
to the survivors? First is the obvious
knowledge that the separation is only temporary for believers and a glorious
reunion will follow. We have the benefit
of an eternal perspective. And for
non-believers it presents an opportunity to be saved from the 2nd
death, the permanent one, and be reunited forever with departed loved ones.
But then our faith comes into play. If we believe God's promises, then there has
to be a more direct and beneficial cause and effect relationship between the
death of a loved one and the life of the survivor. Our job is to look for it.
We're told to walk by faith not by sight, but our enemy will try to keep us
focused on what we see, the absence of our loved one, causing our faith to
falter and hindering us from experiencing the good that can come. God's promises are more real than our
reality, So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Cor. 4:18)
By far the most heart wrenching experience of this sort I've
ever encountered was the case of a mom and dad I know. While walking along on
the city sidewalk with their 2 year old son, a delivery truck jumped the curb,
fatally striking the toddler. The driver
was drunk, and in fact had a history of drunkenness on the job. In the lawsuit that followed the court
awarded a substantial settlement to the devastated parents. They took the money and founded a Christian
pre-school in their son's name that soon expanded into a private Christian
school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade on a beautiful safe
Several thousand children have since benefited from a
quality, affordable Christian primary education and this couple has helped
dozens of grief stricken parents cope with similar losses along the way. It's an example of 2 Cor.
1:3-4 that all who know them feel privileged to have observed. Praise be
to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and
the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can
comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from
God. They took these verses seriously based on their belief that for all of
us, our life is a ministry and our sorrows are our credentials. In other words, each of us is uniquely
qualified to minister to someone experiencing similar tragedies to those we
They had every right to become angry, bitter victims, and to yell and scream
at God for allowing this to happen to them. But they chose a more excellent
way. They understand that God didn't kill their son. That was the work of the evil that pervades
this dark place. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole
world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of
those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans
God never promised us that nothing bad would happen to
us. In fact, He promised the
opposite. "In this world you
will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John
16:33) What He did promise is that He
could make even the bad things that happen work for
good. It's up to us to believe that
promise and look for its fulfillment.
For my friends, the school keeps the memory of their son alive in their
hearts while their faith tells them that soon they'll be reunited forever. The blessing they've provided for thousands
of others through this tragedy is obvious.
Where our prayers are concerned there are also a couple of
things to keep in mind. The first is
that God reserves for Himself the right to choose both the timing and the means
by which He answers prayers. We have to
understand that His ways are not our ways and His timing is always
perfect. We neither lose time by waiting
nor gain time by trying to force His hand. He answered Abraham's prayer for a son, but
waited 25 years before doing so. The world is paying a huge price today for
Abraham and Sarah's refusal to wait upon the Lord.
Just because we don't get something when we want it and in
the exact way we want it doesn't mean that God has stopped answering our
prayers or keeping His promises. There
may be some other things we have to take care of first, or God may choose
another way to answer the prayer that we don't see, a better way.
For everything that was written in the
past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement
of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
God has promised Israel a Kingdom and a King who
will bring them peace. They've been
praying for Him to keep that promise for thousands of years. The world, even
much of the Christian world, laughs at them and tells them that God has
forgotten them. It's never going to
happen, they say.
God is faithful, and He fully intends to answer their
prayers and keep His promise. But
there's something they have to do first, and until they do it He has to
wait. They have to recognize who their
King is and restore their relationship with Him. Then God will act.
Union And Fellowship
So it is with us, and this is the second thing to keep in
mind. This may not sound familiar to
those of you who've been taught "Christianity Lite"
but there are two components to a believer's relationship with God. One is called Union. It's concerns our eternity and is
irrevocable, guaranteeing our place in His Kingdom. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Union happens at the moment we hear the Gospel and believe it, and God seals
His Holy Spirit within us.
The other is called Fellowship and it comes with Union. But
Fellowship affects our life here on Earth and is subject to suspension. (1
John 1:8-9) When we fail to confess our sins, we temporarily suspend our
relationship with God, because He can't dwell in the presence of sin. We can't lose our salvation (Union), but
during those times when we're out of Fellowship we don't have the right to ask
God for anything except forgiveness. And
what's more, we've stepped out of His protection and are fair game for the
The Book of Job is an example of the difference between
Union and Fellowship. Job's
righteousness made him proud, a sin in God's eyes. When Satan asked to torment him, God had to
agree in spite of the fact that Job was one of the most righteous men on Earth,
because he hadn't confessed his sin. As
long as Job relied on his own righteousness he was vulnerable to attack, and
none of his complaints could change that, even though he remained a child of
God. When he confessed, God put a stop
to the torment and restored him. The lesson Job learned through his ordeal (and
that we're supposed to learn as well according to Romans 15:4) is that
when we justify ourselves, we condemn God.
Whenever we start thinking that we don't deserve something bad that's
happening to us, we in effect accuse God of being unjust. It's part of our human nature to look outside
of ourselves for the blame, but it delays our reconciliation with God.
For a New Testament example, read the Parable of the
Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32) The
prodigal never stopped being his father's son, but while he was living a sinful
life he was out of fellowship, deprived of his father's blessings. When he came to his senses and confessed, he
was restored. All Christians have Union
with God and are guaranteed a place in His Kingdom, but many live their whole
lives out of Fellowship because of their unconfessed
sins and miss out on untold blessings, stacking up mountains of unanswered
Because of the cross, maintaining our Fellowship is as easy as invoking 1
John 1:8-9. If we claim to be
without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and
just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
God is just and righteous and cannot lie.
He has a 6000 year track record of unblemished performance. Whenever it
seems like His promises aren't coming true, you can bet that it's due to our
lack of understanding, not His lack of integrity.
Thank you Peter, for submitting this question we've all asked. Selah