Guy M. Richard

Why is Forgiveness so Hard? Part 2

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, March 19, 2023
All of us struggle with pride to one degree or another, and we bring it into every relationship that we have. Sometimes our pride manifests itself in an over-sensitivity to criticism, and we get our feelings hurt far too easily. More frequently it manifests itself in a resistance to forgiveness. Pride makes it unlikely that we will humble ourselves and seek the forgiveness of others whom we have hurt and even more unlikely that we will let go of the perceived wrongs that are committed against us.

In my last article, I explored two potential factors that make forgiving someone who has hurt us so incredibly difficult. I argued, first, that forgiveness is a relational category in the Bible, which means that it is always unto the restoration of a relationship; and I said, second, that forgiveness is costly, insofar as it always involves the incurring of a debt that must be absolved. No doubt these two factors have raised several questions in your minds. Two stand out in my mind: “Do Christians have to forgive one another?” and, along with that, “Do Christians have to forgive non-Christians?” In what follows, I will add a third potential factor that can so often make forgiving other people difficult, and, after that, I will try to provide some answers to questions like the two I just raised.
Forgiveness is Humbling
A third reason why forgiveness can be so challenging for us is because it is inherently humbling (and maybe even humiliating) work. It involves laying aside our pride, which is extremely hard for us to do, first, because we are all prideful people and, second, because pride is, as CS Lewis has so helpfully articulated, the “great sin” and the “essential vice.” It is the root sin that undergirds and leads to every other sin in our lives. Ever since the beginning it has expressed itself in the desire to “be like God” in determining for ourselves what is right and wrong (Gen. 3:5).
Pride affects each of us in different ways, to be sure, but the common denominator in all of our experiences is the “essentially competitive” nature of pride. It “gets no pleasure out of having something,” Lewis writes, “only out of having more of it than the next man.”* If everyone in the world is equally rich, beautiful, intelligent, or talented, then there is nothing for any of us to feel prideful about. We are not proud of being rich, beautiful, intelligent, or talented; we are proud of being richer, more beautiful, more intelligent, or more talented than someone else.
All of us struggle with pride to one degree or another, and we bring it into every relationship that we have. Sometimes our pride manifests itself in an over-sensitivity to criticism, and we get our feelings hurt far too easily. More frequently it manifests itself in a resistance to forgiveness. Pride makes it unlikely that we will humble ourselves and seek the forgiveness of others whom we have hurt and even more unlikely that we will let go of the perceived wrongs that are committed against us.
My mother used to always tell me that it takes two to fight. I remember not believing her as a child, because I was convinced that I was always in the right. No matter what the disagreement was—inevitably with my brother or my sister—it was always the other person’s fault. My actions, whatever they may have been, were justified because the other party was to blame. Looking back now, it is easy to see that I was motivated by pride, but it was not so easy to see in the moment. The point I am trying to make here is that, in most disagreements, the break in relationship is a two-way street. Both parties are usually to blame to some degree. Rarely do we get attacked for no reason whatsoever. Rarely does someone with whom we have a relationship hurt us without any provocation of any kind. It does happen. But the more common scenario is that we typically respond in kind. When we are hurt by someone, we usually strike back returning hurt for hurt and insult for insult. That kind of response is motivated by the competitiveness of our pride. We don’t want anyone to get the better of us; we don’t want to lose face. That is why pride makes the process of forgiveness and reconciliation so difficult. It makes it unlikely that we will walk away, allow someone else to have the last word, or let go of the anger we feel. It makes it unlikely that we will admit blame and humble ourselves, that we will let the other person win.
But pride also works against forgiveness and reconciliation in two other important ways. It makes it tough for us to confront someone Christianly when that person has hurt us, and it makes it tough to apologize and seek forgiveness from others when we have hurt them. The competitiveness of pride leads us to want to have the upper hand.
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Why is Forgiveness so Hard? Part 1

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Saturday, March 18, 2023
We don’t like actually having something to forgive, because having something to forgive means that we have been hurt or offended. It means that a debt has been incurred. Having something to forgive signals the fact that something is not right. Pain or loss has come into our lives, a friend has betrayed us, a relationship that is near and dear to us has been broken. Forgiveness is difficult precisely because we have something to forgive.

There is an old and familiar adage that we have been using in the English language for at least 500 years. Its Latin roots may go back even further than that. The adage seems to have been initially used in regard to the formulation of military strategy but quickly began to be applied to other areas of life as well. This well-known saying goes like this: “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.” And what we mean is that the more we know about a situation or an event ahead of time, the more we will be prepared to face it if and when it actually comes to pass.
This is true of most things in our lives, and it is true of forgiveness as well. The more we know about the circumstances and considerations that make forgiveness so challenging, the more we can be on the lookout for those things when we face actual disagreement and conflict. The more aware we are of these circumstances and considerations, the better armed we will actually be to forgive when the occasion arises. With this in mind, we will give our attention to examining three main characteristics of forgiveness that contribute to making it so difficult—it is relational, costly, and humbling—and then we will look more closely at some of the practical questions that these things raise. In this post, we will consider the first two characteristics of forgiveness, and, in the next post, we will wrap things up by looking at the third characteristic and then give attention to some practical scenarios that all three of these characteristics raise.
Forgiveness is Relational
One of the things that makes forgiveness so challenging is the fact that it involves relationships. What I mean is that, in the Bible, forgiveness and reconciliation always go together. Forgiveness is always unto reconciliation. It is never an end in itself but always a means to the end of restoring a relationship that has been broken or damaged. The grand example of this would obviously be God’s forgiveness of us in and through Jesus Christ. This forgiveness is not an end in itself. God doesn’t forgive just for the sake of wiping the slate clean. He forgives in order that you and I might be reconciled to Him and restored to fellowship with Him forevermore. Reconciliation is the ultimate end that God is after. But reconciliation is impossible until and unless forgiveness has taken place, because, without forgiveness, you and I are still at enmity with God as a result of our sin against Him.
This is precisely what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, for instance, when he explicitly links forgiveness and reconciliation: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Reconciliation, according to Paul, is impossible for anyone if God is still “counting their trespasses against them.” Those trespasses must first be forgiven. Then restoration or reconciliation can rightly take place. Forgiveness is, therefore, always unto the restoration of a relationship or, as we have said above, forgiveness is always relational.
We see the same idea implicitly in passages like Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17, both of which cite the beautiful reality expressed in Jeremiah 31:34, namely, that God will “remember [our] sins no more.” Now, we know these verses don’t mean to suggest that God will wipe our sins from His memory bank. That is not possible. God is omniscient; He knows everything—everything that has happened, everything that will happen, and everything that could happen. When God says He will remember our sins no more, He is not saying that He ceases to be omniscient when He forgives. He is speaking relationally. He is telling us that He will not hold our sins against us in terms of how He relates to us. He will not treat us in light of our sins but will treat us as if we had never committed any of them, because He has forgiven them already. This means that forgiveness must be a relational category. It is unto the restoration of the relationship that has been broken by our sin.
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Remaining Steadfast Under Trial

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Saturday, October 29, 2022
Rather than running to sin to help us cope with difficult circumstances, James challenges us to turn instead to God and to His Word. This again is incredibly practical. James understands that our tendency is not only to ignore what God says when we suffer but also to turn aside to sin.

The ESV begins a new section in James 1:19 and marks it off with a new heading entitled, “Hearing and Doing the Word.” The NIV and NKJV and other versions follow suit. By adding the heading, these translations give the impression that James is no longer talking about trials in the verses that follow but is instead shifting gears to focus on the topic of devotion to God’s Word.
But I don’t actually believe that James is shifting gears at this point in his epistle. I think he is still talking about trials and how it is that we are to remain standing in and through them. I say this for two main reasons. One, we need to remember that the headings, the verse numbers, the paragraphing, the punctuation, and even the spacing that exists between the words are all human additions to the original Greek, which contains none of these things.That is simply to say that there is no clear break in the original text after verse 18 (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Two, there is an evident link between James 1:16 and 1:19. The phrase “my beloved brothers” occurs only 3 times in the book of James—one of these occurrences is in James 2:5, which is many verses removed from the section we are studying beginning in 1:19. The other two instances occur in 1:16 and 19. And, interestingly, on both occasions, the phrase is preceded by an exhortation. In verse 16, James says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers” and, in verse 19, he says, “Know this, my beloved brothers.” The point is that the connection in verses, that are so closely situated in the text, would suggest that James is seeing them as parallel.
If verse 16 is still dealing with the topic of trials, then it would make sense to take verse 19 in the same way. Both verses seem to be addressing the topic of how we can endure or remain standing in the midst of trials, even debilitating ones. In vv. 16-18, James points to who God is and what God has done as one of the practical ways we can keep on going during a trial. In vv. 19-21, he points to the Word of God and the priority we assign it in difficult circumstances. And there are two main things that James is highlighting here: (1) the means of our endurance and (2) the mindset of our endurance.
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Count It All Joy

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, September 18, 2022
Trials, according to James, are not scheduled or planned. They come into our lives when we least expect them to. They so often catch us by surprise. We don’t know when we will face trials; all we know is that we will face them, and we must be ready. There is, therefore, both a certainty and an uncertainty associated with all our trials.

In exhorting us to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds,” James is laying before us one of the most difficult challenges in the Christian life (James 1:2). It is an other-worldly challenge. How can we “count it all joy” when we are going through the most heart-breaking or heart-wrenching of circumstances? How can we rejoice when the world as we know it is falling apart?
I once heard a story about a friend of mine who went to visit a member of his congregation in the hospital. The member had a young son, around 2 years old or so, and the son was dying. When this friend of mine walked into the hospital room, he saw the mother of the child sitting in a rocking chair holding her son in her arms. Almost as soon as he walked in the child took his last breath and died in his mother’s lap. As tears were streaming down her face, the mother looked up at my friend and, in the midst of incredible grief and pain, asked my friend to lead them in singing the Doxology.
It is relatively easy to “count it all joy” when things are going well around us. When God’s will matches our own will for our lives, it is easy to be a Christian and to “count it all joy.” But when those two things don’t add up—when God’s will for our lives and our will for our lives don’t match—that is when things get hard. We all marvel at those occasions, like the one described above, when we see brothers and sisters in Christ rejoicing in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances. But how do we actually begin to do it ourselves when things fall apart in our own lives?
I think James 1:2-4 helps us to answer this question. It doesn’t do so comprehensively to be sure, but it does give us a real answer as to how we can “count it all joy” in the midst of heart-breaking circumstances. This passage has at least three things to teach us about trials and how we can consider them worthy of rejoicing in. We will look at the certainty and uncertainty of our trials; the consistency and inconsistency of our trials; and the regard and disregard we should have for our trials.
The Certainty and Uncertainty of Our Trials
The first thing we can see is that James is highlighting both the certainty and the uncertainty of our trials. Notice that James is mentioning trials right from the beginning of his epistle. He could have started out talking about sin or temptation or wisdom or the tongue or a variety of other subjects. Why start with trials? I think the answer is because he is writing to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (v. 1) who are living as strangers in foreign lands and, therefore, are undergoing trials and tribulations accordingly.
But, if that is true, who exactly are the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion”? The phrase is similar to one that Peter uses at the beginning of his first letter: “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:1). We know that Peter is clearly speaking of Christians who have been scattered throughout the surrounding nations, because he then goes on to describe them by way of their “obedience to Jesus Christ” and by the fact that they have been washed “with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2). James would seem to be using Old Testament language—“the twelve tribes”—in order to connect the Old Testament people of God to the New Testament people of God. Christians are not a separate people but, as Paul says, we are “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), those who are also children of Abraham by way of our faith in Jesus Christ. By referring to Christians as “the twelve tribes,” James is focusing attention upon the certainty of the trials and tribulations that would have been experienced by Christians in the dispersion. They would be similar to those experienced by their Jewish forebears as well.
We can also see this emphasis upon the certainty of trials in James’s use of the word “when” in verse 2. He doesn’t say, “Count it all joy, my brothers, if you meet trials of various kinds” but “when you meet trials.” The trials are certain. They will happen. We can take that to the bank. It is not a question of “if” but of “when.”
James also highlights the uncertainty of our trials by speaking of them as something we “meet” (v. 2). This word occurs two other times in the New Testament: once in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and once in the account of Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27. In Luke 10, we read about a man who is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and, on the way, “meets” robbers who strip him and beat him and leave him for dead.
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Walking Through the Valley

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, August 28, 2022
Sorrow is restorative. It not only prompts us to meditate on the circumstances of our lives and our faith in Christ, but it is also the means whereby we experience restoration and healing. That seems to be the point of Ecclesiastes 7:3, which says: “for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” Sadness, in other words, is the means by which the heart is made glad or, we could put it this way, sadness is unto gladness. Sorrow is never an end in itself for God’s people but always a means to an end. In this case, we need to be reminded that it is a means to the end of restoration and healing.

Have you ever been to the beach on a day when the red flags were flying and tried to swim in the surf only to be knocked down by the first wave that came along and, before you could get up, adjust your swimsuit, and wipe the salt water from your eyes, you were knocked down again by the next wave? If so, then you will know what the Christian life can so often feel like for many of God’s people. Wave after wave of disappointment, failure, and hardship can so frequently overwhelm us and knock us to the ground. And before we have time to get up and reorient ourselves the next wave is bearing down upon us.
I can’t think about this idea without thinking about a couple in my congregation who lost both of their sons and one of their daughters-in-law within a span of a few short years. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for them to deal with losing one child, let alone three in such a short period of time. How does anyone continue to stand in the midst of this kind of devastation as wave after wave after wave knocks us to the ground? How does anyone even put one foot in front of the other much less “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances,” as Paul calls us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17?
These are questions we will all wrestle with at some point in our lives. We know this is true because the Bible explicitly states that hardship and difficulty are unavoidable for everyone who takes up their cross and follows after Christ. Not only is the Christian life one of incessant cross-bearing, but it is also one in which trials and tribulations are a necessary part of the world in which we live, as Jesus Himself promises in John 16:33: “In the world you will have tribulation.” We are not, therefore, to “take heart” in the absence of trials and tribulations but in the fact that Jesus has already “overcome the world.”
Peter, echoing the words of Jesus, warns us that we ought never to be surprised when the “fiery trial…comes upon” us “as though something strange were happening” to us (1 Pet. 4:12). Hardship and difficulty and grief and pain are exactly what we should expect to experience because we live in a world that has been infected and affected by sin and which is inhabited by people who have themselves been infected and affected by sin. The apostle John, moreover, associates weeping and mourning with death in Revelation 21:4, which clearly implies that until Jesus returns sorrow, grief, and pain will be as unavoidable as death. Not only will we all die; but we will also all experience the death of friends and family members as well. This fact ensures that we will all necessarily go through seasons of sorrow and mourning, sometimes to greater degrees and sometimes to lesser degrees. We will all face heartbreaking disappointments, debilitating setbacks, and demoralizing defeats. Thankfully, we won’t all have to deal with the loss of three children one right after the other; but we will most definitely experience some amount of disappointment, pain, and loss. We will know what it’s like to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4), and sometimes for extended seasons too. And that is something that applies to everyone across the board.
The Bible has a great deal to say about sorrow and pain, besides the fact that they are inevitable. In what remains of this article, therefore, I’d like to look at some of the things that the Bible teaches about sorrow. I will explore the first three ideas in this article and the last two in my next post. My hope is that whenever you may find yourself walking through the valley of the shadow of death you will be helped by these reminders. So, strap in; we are hitting the ground running.
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We Rest to Prepare Us for Heaven

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Friday, July 8, 2022
We ought to look at rest for what it is: a blessing from God to fit us for heaven. We need to remember this whenever we may be tempted to bristle at the idea of resting. God is preparing us for an eternity with Him in His presence, one in which we will be perfectly resting and perfectly working at the same time forevermore.

I find it fascinating that all of the blessings Jesus secured for the believer in and through His mediatorial work—including, most especially, heaven itself—are frequently depicted in the Bible in terms of rest. This is overwhelmingly the case in Hebrews 4, for instance, when the apostle speaks of heaven in terms of “entering [God’s] rest” (v. 1) and then exhorts Christians in his own day to “strive to enter that rest” (v. 11) by believing in the Lord rather than disobeying Him and, thus, “failing to reach it” (v. 1). The apostle’s ongoing reference to Psalm 95 (Heb. 3:7-11; 4:3, 5, 7) and his explicit mention of both Moses (3:16) and Joshua (4:8) indicate that this rest was foreshadowed and typified in the land of Canaan (see especially 4:8-9). But it was also foreshadowed and typified in the system of “sabbaths” that God instituted beginning with His own resting after He had finished the work of creation. Thus heaven is also referred to as a “Sabbath rest for the people of God,” one in which we rest from our works in the same way “as God did from his” (4:9-10).
In referring to heaven as rest that is typified in the land of Canaan, the apostle is teaching us that the promised land was designed to point God’s people to and prepare them for heaven. It was never intended as an end in itself. That much is obvious in the fact that we are told Moses and Joshua were unable to give God’s people permanent rest on earth (Heb. 4:8). They could only provide a temporary respite, because it was only in the heavenly “promised land”—of which Canaan was a type—that the people could receive lasting rest. So while the rest provided by the earthly promised land was not an end in itself for the people of Israel, it was, nevertheless, intended as a means to prepare them for their ultimate end, which was heaven. The rest they enjoyed in Canaan whet their appetites for more, for better, and for more extensive rest in heaven. It gave them a sample taste, an hors d’ouvre if you will, that set the stage for the main course.
In referring to heaven as a “Sabbath rest” that is typified in the system of sabbaths given to Israel, the apostle is teaching us that the purpose for the sabbath principle was to prepare God’s people for a rest that will be permanent and lasting. The system of sabbaths called them to live eschatologically, with their eyes on the last day. Each week they were reminded that they were heading toward an eternal and superior rest in the presence of the Lord.
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We Rest to Work

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, June 12, 2022
How we rest and how long we rest are very subjective matters on this side of the Fall. The most important thing is that we take time to rest in some capacity so that we can do our work—filled with pain and difficulty and opposition—and do so in such a way that God gets all the praise and the glory.

If, as I argued last time, we all need to rest, then this raises an immediate question: what do we do with passages in the Bible which seem to suggest that even a small amount of rest is enough to destroy us? Take Proverbs 6:10-11 and 24:33-34, for instance, both of which say the same exact thing:
A little sleep, a little slumber,a little folding of the hands to rest,and poverty will come upon you like a robber,and want like an armed man.
According to these verses, even a little sleep and a little rest is too much if we want to stay out of the poor house and be able to provide for ourselves and our families. If that is true, then why in the world would I argue in my last article that we all need to rest?
In answering this question, we need to begin by remembering that the three most important rules of real estate—location, location, location—apply to biblical interpretation as well. In order to understand what these two proverbs are intending to say, therefore, we need to first understand the context in which they are located. In both of these cases, we can readily see that the context is aimed at addressing laziness and foolishness. Rather than providing general wisdom for all people without distinction, these two proverbs are instead specifically speaking to the “sluggard” and to the “man lacking sense.”As human beings, we are all different. We have different personalities, different motivations, and different experiences that have shaped us and made us who we are today. Some of us struggle with working too much, and we may need to be reminded of the importance of rest. Those of us who tend in this direction would benefit from having the passages that we mentioned last time held before our eyes consistently. Others of us, however, struggle with resting too much, and we may need to be reminded of the importance of work. We require passages like these two proverbs to be held before us, which are obviously designed to challenge our affinity for rest and relaxation.
But we may also require passages like Genesis 2:15 to be consistently held before us, especially when it is taken alongside of Genesis 3:15-19. These two passages taken together imply that work is a creation ordinance which was given to humankind from the very beginning but was later corrupted when sin entered into the world. The implication that arises from them is that work and rest always went together perfectly before the Fall. Work was not wearisome before the Fall nor was it laborious. It was wholly restful all the time. We know this is true, because Genesis 3:17-19 highlights the radical change that sin brought upon our work. All our labors from this point forward involve “sweat” and “pain” and thoroughgoing opposition for the rest of our lives.
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How to Offer Correction

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Monday, April 25, 2022
How different would things be if we were motivated by love for others and if we approached the giving of criticism from the perspective of regarding ourselves as the foremost of sinners. If we were able to do this, the watching world might just see more of Christ in us and begin asking for the reason for the hope that is in us.

Years ago, I confronted my wife about something in her life that I thought she needed to change. I put time into formulating what I should say. I even prayed about it and asked the Lord to give me the right words. But it wasn’t until an hour or two after I had confronted her—during which time she patiently explained how insensitive and mean I had been in doing what I had done—that I actually understood how destructive my criticism had been. It had accomplished the exact opposite of what I had intended.
I think that the vast majority of the criticism that is offered today in Christian circles is like that. It is destructive rather than constructive. It tears the other person (or people) down rather than building them up. Why is that? Why are we as Christians so poor at giving healthy, constructive criticism to others?
While I am sure that there are many answers to this question, I am also sure that one of the main reasons we struggle so much in giving constructive criticism is because we think that “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) necessarily means that we should say everything that we think or point out everything that we see. Perhaps we don’t really believe that God will in fact bring to completion the good work that He has begun in someone else’s life (Phil. 1:6), or perhaps we don’t trust the Holy Spirit’s timing, and we see ourselves as being indispensable to this particular person’s sanctification. Or, it may even be that we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will actually lead His people “into all the truth” (John 16:13) until and unless we step in to help Him out.
In all of these situations, we are playing God. We are putting ourselves in His place, and we are seeking to do what He says He will do. We need to remind ourselves that the most important part of the phrase, “speaking the truth in love” is the last two words. Love does not do what is easiest or most convenient; it does not do what is best for ourselves. It always does what is best for the other person. If we say everything that we think or point out everything that we see, we may be loving ourselves quite well but we are probably not loving the other person at all.
That was certainly the case for me when I confronted my wife many years ago. I didn’t have her best interest in mind. I had my own interests in mind. I knew that I had problems of my own, to be sure, but I didn’t have the particular problem that I was seeing in her—or so I thought. Pointing out her problem made me feel better about myself and about my problems. It made me feel like I was better than she was. If I had been driven by my love for her, instead of my love for myself, I may still have approached her about the specific issue, but I would have done it quite differently.
For one thing, I would have been slower to speak and quicker to listen and to understand what she was going through (James 1:19).
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Rejoicing in Suffering

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, December 26, 2021
Just as our muscles grow and are strengthened by resistance and pain and they wither without these things, so the same can be said of saving grace. It grows stronger in difficulty and atrophies in the absence of it. Grace, as Rutherford also said, really does grow best in winter weather. It is not like most of the agricultural produce in our world that grows best when the sun is shining and the temperatures are mild. Saving grace grows best in the coldest and harshest of seasons. And that too is why Paul can rejoice in his sufferings.

Many years ago, as part of our church’s search to find a new assistant pastor, my wife and I took the leading candidate and his wife to dinner so that we could all get to know one another better. At some point during our conversation, we began discussing the hobbies that we each enjoyed. In describing my love for intense forms of exercise (I can’t do anything moderately!), I told them rather matter-of-factly, “I love pain.” And I didn’t think anything about it at the time. I was just sharing something that was rather unique about myself.
Several years after this dinner conversation, the candidate—who had since become our assistant pastor—told me how intimidated he had felt when I had mentioned my love for pain that night. After all, only a crazy person would say something like this. No one, in their right mind, actually loves pain, do they?While it certainly wasn’t my intention to intimidate anyone, it is nevertheless true that it can be quite overwhelming for most people to hear someone describing themselves as I did on that occasion. I may not have seen that in connection to my own comments, but I have seen it in the words that the apostle Paul writes about himself in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings.” Surely we all find this statement to be a little overwhelming. Some of us may even be intimidated by it. How can Paul say this? How can suffering be something that anyone rejoices in, ever?
In answering this question, I need to point out that Paul isn’t saying that his sufferings are worth rejoicing in all by themselves. I mention this for at least three main reasons. First, Paul’s use of the word “now” in Colossians 1:24 suggests that he is rejoicing in the present time (the time of his writing) for those sufferings that he had previously experienced in the past. He seems to be looking at his sufferings after the fact and seeing how God had used those afflictions for good in his life and rejoicing in that rather than in the sufferings themselves. Second, and this confirms the first reason, the context of Colossians 1:24 and of Romans 5:3-5—which are the only two times that Paul explicitly speaks of rejoicing in suffering—both explain why it is that Paul is rejoicing in his suffering and why we should be too. Third, when I say that I love pain, I don’t mean that I love the pain itself. I love what it accomplishes in me when I push myself and refuse to give in to it. I know that I become stronger, faster, better than I was before. The pain is a means to an end. I want the end, and so I embrace the means to get there. And the same thing would appear to be true of the apostle Paul.
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God Is Not Small

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Friday, October 1, 2021
When we come face-to-face with the God of the Bible, when we look out over the expanse of who He is and we really see it, we cannot help but be overwhelmed with His weightiness and significance. And when we do, inevitably we will see how incredibly small and insignificant we are in comparison. It is an excellent antidote to the priorities and perspectives of the world in which we live—which is, as Packer called it, a world of “God-shrinkers.” But, more than that, it is only when we come face-to-face with the “Godness” of God that we will feel the full weight of our sin and gain a full appreciation for the cross of Christ, which sets us free from the full weight of our sins forevermore.

Just over sixty years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a book in which he attempted to call out many of the common tendencies that he saw in the twentieth century to reduce God down to size. His book, aptly titled Your God Is Too Small, was an effort at presenting a clearer and more accurate picture of “the God who is there” (to borrow the name of one of Francis Schaeffer’s well-known works). More recently, J.I. Packer and David Wells have followed Phillips’ example and have called out contemporary misconceptions of God in similar ways. Wells, for instance, has argued that modern Western people now generally see God as carrying little or no weight in their lives. He is inconsequential, unimportant, and barely noticeable for most of us. Packer has even gone so far as to suggest that our time will be remembered, above all other times, as the age of the “God-shrinkers.” More than any other period in history, he says, our age has become convinced that God is irrelevant and insignificant. As Packer puts it, God is barely a “smudge” on the page of our secularized lives.

In one sense, these ideas are really nothing new. Ever since the garden of Eden, Satan has been seeking to convince each of us that we can “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). The clear assumption behind this lie is that you and I can actually be like Him. It is an explicit denial of the “Godness” of God, an obvious rejection of the Creator-creature distinction, and a glaring repudiation of the holiness of God (defined as otherness). To believe that we can “be like God” is to exalt ourselves and, at the same time, to reduce God down to size. Satan has been working that angle since the very beginning. So, we really should not be all that surprised when we see it at work in our own day and time.
Long before Phillips, Packer, or Wells walked the face of the earth, the Apostle Paul warned us about these things. He told us that sin would run its course in our lives and that, as a result, we would “[exchange] the truth about God for a lie” and would “[worship] and [serve] the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Rom. 1:25). Satan, according to Jesus, is a “liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He would like nothing more than for us to believe that we can “be like God.” He would like nothing more than for us to shrink God down to our size, to render Him inconsequential, unimportant, and barely noticeable in our lives. And it would seem that we have embraced the lie. In mass quantities, we have swallowed it whole.
But, as Phillips reminded us, the God of the Bible is not small. He is no mere lightweight. In the words of Mr. Beaver from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the God of the Bible is definitely not “a tame lion.” He is significant and weighty. He is exalted and regal. He is “high and lifted up; and the train of his robe fill[s] the temple” (Isa. 6:1).

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