Randy Alcorn

Why Our Subjective Feelings Need God’s Objective Truth

As long as we trust our own subjective judgment that ebbs and flows with the current of our culture, we divorce ourselves from God’s eternal and unchanging truth. Once our eyes are opened to the transcendent beauty and freedom of God’s truth, we’ll never be content with anything less.

The peace or lack of peace one feels after praying about a decision can be highly subjective, unless it is specifically rooted in objective truths. Some people feel good about doing wrong things and others feel bad about doing right things. I have seen people make unwise and even catastrophic decisions who told me they prayed and felt good about it.
I know of a woman who walked away from her marriage—without biblical grounds—because in her words, “The Holy Spirit gave me peace about it.” When I tried to point to the truth in Scripture, she said she wasn’t going to be “legalistic.” She’s still going to church, claiming the spiritual high ground, while failing to live by the standards of the same Bible she professes to believe, often reads, and hears taught every Sunday.
She told me, “I’ve never been so close to God.” But is being close to God merely a feeling? Or does it mean trusting in and living by faith in the truth God has revealed to us not subjectively but objectively in His Word? Men guilty of murdering their wives have insisted “I loved her.” Their actions disprove their words.
Often the reason we “feel peace” may be because we are doing what is most comfortable, convenient, natural, or widely accepted. None of these is a good reason to believe we are doing right. We need to search the Scriptures to see what is true, and subject ourselves to the authority and guidance of the revealed will of God (Acts 17:11). Then when we call upon God’s indwelling Spirit to teach and direct us, He can guide us in light of what he has objectively said to us, not merely what we subjectively feel.
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Can Cancer Be God’s Servant? What I Saw in My Wife’s Last Years

In March, my beloved wife, Nanci, lost her four-year battle with colon cancer. All 54 years I’ve known her, Nanci loved Jesus. But from a front-row seat, I watched a wonderful — and supernatural — change in those last four years.

In 2019, Nanci wrote to a friend and fellow cancer sufferer,

The cancer battle has been tough. However, my time with the Ancient of Days (one of my favorite names for God) has been epic! He has met me in ways I never knew were possible. I have experienced His sovereignty, mercy, and steadfast love in tangible ways. I now trust Him at a level I never knew I could.

I saw Nanci meditate on Scripture daily, read great books about God, and journal — writing out verses, powerful quotations from Spurgeon and many others, and personal reflections. One unforgettable morning, after meditating on Psalm 119:91, “All things are your servants,” she shared with me what she’d just written:

My cancer is God’s servant in my life. He is using it in ways He has revealed to me and in many more I have yet to understand. I can rest knowing my cancer is under the control of a sovereign God who is good and does good.

Brokenhearted and Thankful

Nine months later, at Nanci’s request and on short notice, our daughters and their families gathered to hear her speak final words of overflowing love for us and unswerving trust in her sovereign King.

As one of our grandsons sat beside her, listening to her struggling to speak and to me reading powerful words from her journals, he said, “Grams, if you can trust God in this, I know I can trust Him in whatever I’ll go through.” Another grandson told her, “I will never forget what you said to us today.”

Exactly one week later, I held her hand and watched her take her last breath in this world under the curse.

Every day during those four years, I witnessed God’s sanctifying and happy-making work in my wife: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope . . . because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3–5).

Nanci and I — and thousands worldwide — prayed daily for her healing. God’s final answer was to rescue her from suffering and bring her into his presence where it’s “better by far” (Philippians 1:23). Through her afflictions, he achieved in her an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17). She praised Jesus for it, and I will forever do the same, though I miss her immensely.

Why God Permits What He Does

When our ministry posted Nanci’s words, “My cancer is God’s servant,” someone responded, “WHAT? God does NOT give people cancer. Jesus bore our sicknesses and carried our pains on the cross.”

“Everything God does flows from his wisdom and ultimately serves both his holiness and love.”

That reader is not alone in trying to distance God from suffering. But by saying sickness comes only from Satan and the fall, not from God, we disconnect him from our suffering and his deeper purposes. God is sovereign. He never permits or uses evil arbitrarily; everything he does flows from his wisdom and ultimately serves both his holiness and love.

Joni Eareckson Tada often shares the words of her friend Steve Estes: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” God’s “permitting” something is far stronger than it may sound. After all, whatever God permits actually happens; what he doesn’t permit doesn’t happen.

In the final chapter of Job, God reveals that Job’s family and friends “showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). The author told us from the beginning that Job’s troubles were Satan’s idea and actions. Yet the inspired wording indicates Satan’s efforts were, indirectly by sovereign permission, God’s own doing. Many find this truth disturbing, but properly understood, it should be comforting. What should be profoundly disturbing is the notion that God stands by passively while Satan, evildoers, diseases, and random accidents ruin the lives of his beloved children.

Charles Spurgeon suffered terribly from depression, gout, rheumatism, neuritis, and a burning kidney inflammation. Yet he said, “It would be a very sharp and trying experience for me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me . . . that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”

Mercy Outstrips Hardship

Nanci and I experienced many glimpses of God’s sovereign purposes for years before her cancer diagnosis. We saw that my becoming an insulin-dependent diabetic 35 years ago was God’s plan to increase my dependence on him. And we saw, 30 years ago, that a lawsuit by an abortion clinic for $8.2 million was his way of moving me from pastoring a church we loved into a ministry that reaches further than we ever imagined.

God’s hands were not tied by my genetic propensity for type-1 diabetes (the result of the curse), or by the vengeance of child-killers (the result of human sin and demonic strategy). He didn’t merely “make the best of bad situations.” He took bad situations and used them for his glory and our highest good. His sovereign grace far outstripped our hardships.

If this were not true, anyone facing a terminal illness would have to believe they experienced bad luck, and that God is either not as powerful or not as loving as he claims to be. Parents who have lost a child would have to believe the death was a meaningless accident, and that it wouldn’t have happened if only the child hadn’t been at that place at that time, or if that man hadn’t been driving drunk, or if a thousand other circumstances had been different.

If onlys and what ifs can rule our lives and drive us crazy. Instead, embracing God’s higher purposes — even when invisible to us in painful and tragic events — affirms God’s greatness. This is not fatalism. It is trust in the character and promises of our faithful, all-wise God.

My friend David O’Brien told me, with his slurred and laboring voice, that God used cerebral palsy to deepen his dependence on Christ. Was he better off? He lived convinced that his 81 years of suffering were no cosmic accident or satanic victory, but a severe mercy from the good hand of almighty God.

Reasons Outside Our Sight Lines

By God’s grace, Nanci fixed her attention on his attributes. Only eight months into her cancer journey, she wrote,

I honestly would not trade this cancer experience to go back to where I was. These last months have been used by God to propel me into a deeper understanding and experience of his sovereignty, wisdom, steadfast love, mercy, grace, faithfulness, immanency, trustworthiness, and omnipotence.

Psalm 119:71 says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” If affliction was good for the psalmist, then withholding that affliction would have meant withholding good. The universe is first and foremost about the purposes, plans, and glory of God. God sees eternal purposes and plans and knows ultimate good in ways we cannot.

Our sovereign God weaves millions of details into our lives. He may have one big reason, or a thousand little ones, for bringing a certain person or success or failure or disease or accident into our lives. His reasons often fall outside our present lines of sight. If God uses cancer or a car accident to conform us to himself, then regardless of the human, demonic, or natural forces involved, he will be glorified.

“God is at work behind the scenes, and one day we will understand our suffering’s hidden purposes.”

“O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed” (Jeremiah 32:18–19). God is at work behind the scenes, and one day we will understand our suffering’s hidden purposes.

Will You See What She Saw?

Without a doubt, as I saw so clearly even when my tears overflowed, cancer served God’s purposes in Nanci’s life. I said at her service, “The most conspicuous thing about Nanci in her cancer years was her wonderfully big view of God, which she fed from Scripture and great books. The more she contemplated God’s love and grace and sovereignty, the more her trust in him grew.”

So I said to our gathered family, friends, and church members — many of them facing their own painful trials — what I sensed God saying to me: “That huge, beautiful, and transforming view of God is yours for the taking. So why not spend the rest of your life pursuing it?”

Our Mission: Make More Disciples and Fewer Performers

We don’t need makeovers and airbrushing; we need transformation. We need a miracle that God alone can perform in our hearts. And we need to stand together, arm in arm, loving one another and showing the world the marvelous truth about Jesus. Some will misunderstand and even hate that. But others will be drawn to Jesus and His good news, and forever changed.

The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.—Kevin DeYoung
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer (Acts 2:42, NLT).

A 1977 movie, Capricorn One, depicted NASA’s long process of targeting a mission to Mars. Because the program had become increasingly unpopular due to several failures, this mission would make or break the U.S. space program.
Everything was in place. The astronauts were ready. Then suddenly, just before takeoff, they were secreted away to an undisclosed location. Meanwhile the capsule was launched into outer space. From the point of view of those on Earth, it appeared to be a complete success.
But why was the launch made without astronauts? Because the scientists discovered a flaw in the capsule’s life support system. The oxygen wouldn’t last. The astronauts would die.
Then why not reschedule the departure? Because it would be an admission of failure on the part of the space program, and they could not stand one more failure. People would no longer believe in NASA or support spending millions of tax dollars to explore outer space.
So to further public confidence in the space program, the astronauts were told they now must become actors. An isolated site was set up as a shooting location, made to look like the surface of Mars. They were told to drive around in their little Mars rover, send their reports, and greet their families, while those on Earth would be none the wiser.
How the movie ends actually doesn’t matter, but I see the plot as analogous to what happens in some churches. According to current thinking, churches must chase success. And success is defined by numbers: how many worshippers and how much wealth. The number of Facebook followers becomes more important than the number of Jesus-followers.
Many churches exist solely to seek God and share Him with their communities. They may use technology and programs as tools to reach as many people for Christ as they can. Good for them!
My concern is with churches that use God as a tool to launch programs and meet benchmarks of success. Instead of sharing the true gospel, which is what people really need, they compromise on the nature of the gospel and adopt the world’s message and methodology. What these churches produce ends up essentially mirroring what NASA did in Capricorn One. They focus on performance over process. On stagecraft over sanctification. Pastors-turned-performers act as if the Spirit of God were doing great and wonderful things, when in fact nothing supernatural has happened.
This breeds attendees who become like the astronauts-turned-actors. They are exposed to the world throughout the week and come to church for entertainment packaged as a religious and transcendent experience. They want the best of this world and the next without the sacrifice—and they want it now.
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Dying is but Going Home

Spurgeon’s confidence that Heaven is the place of great union with Christ and reunion with redeemed loved ones. As a caring pastor, Spurgeon desires his people to understand that embracing the gospel should change their view of death. He says, “Let no doubt intervene; let no gloom encompass us. Dying is but going home.” Only six years later, at age fifty-seven, Spurgeon himself would go home to Jesus, joining his friend Charles Stanford.

As of Monday morning, Nanci is with Jesus. So happy for her. Sad for us. But the happiness for her triumphs over the sadness. Grieving is ahead, and it will be hard, but these last years and especially this last month have given us a head start on the grieving process. I am so proud of my wife for her dependence on Jesus and her absolute trust in the sovereign plan and love of God.
Nanci is and always will be an inspiration to me. I have spent the last two days with family and friends, thanking God for His grace and the promises of Jesus that we will live with Him forever in a world without the Curse, and He will wipe away all the tears and all the reasons for the tears. All God’s children really will live happily ever after. This is not a fairytale; it is the blood-bought promise of Jesus.
What a great and kind God He is. As of Monday, Nanci now lives where she sees this firsthand, in the place where Joy truly is the air she breathes: “In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Thank you so much for all your prayers, some of you for four years of praying consistently for Nanci. My heart is full of gratitude to you. Don’t feel your prayers were not answered—many of them were, and many others were answered in a better way than we could ever ask.
Today’s blog is excerpted from my book We Shall See God. It’s the first of 50 entries drawn from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons on Heaven, and it’s entitled “Dying Is But Going Home.” It seems fitting to share right now. Spurgeon delivered this sermon on March 21, 1886, just three days after the death of his friend and fellow pastor Charles Stanford. In it, he encourages his congregation to view death as a home-going, as the gateway to full union with Christ:

Breathe the home air. Jesus tells us that the air of his home is love: “You loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Brothers and sisters, can you follow me in a great flight? Can you stretch broader wings than the condor ever knew and fly back into the unbeginning eternity? There was a day before all days when there was no day but the Ancient of Days. There was a time before all time when God only was, the uncreated, the only existent One. The Divine Three—Father, Son, and Spirit—lived in blessed camaraderie with each other, delighting in each other.
Oh, the intensity of the divine love of the Father to the Son! There was no world, no sun, no moon, no stars, no universe, but God alone. And the whole of God’s omnipotence flowed forth in a stream of love to the Son, while the Son’s whole being remained eternally one with the Father by a mysterious essential union.
How did all this which we now see and hear happen? Why this creation? this fall of Adam? this redemption? this church? this Heaven? How did it all come about? It didn’t need to have been. But the Father’s love made him resolve to show forth the glory of his Son. The mysterious story which has been gradually unfolded before us has only this one design—the Father would make known his love to the Son and make the Son’s glories to appear before the eyes of those whom the Father gave him.
This Fall and this redemption, and the story as a whole, so far as the divine purpose is concerned, are the fruit of the Father’s love to the Son and his delight in glorifying the Son.
That [the Son] might be glorified forever, [the Father] permitted that he should take on a human body and should suffer, bleed, and die. Why? So that there might come out of him, as a harvest comes from a dying and buried grain of wheat, all the countless hosts of elect souls, ordained forever to a joy exceeding bounds. These are the bride of the Lamb, the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Their destiny is so high that no language can fully describe it.

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A Pandemic of Disunity: How We Drive the World Away

If an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he or she is not a Christian.

I read Francis Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian shortly after it was published in 1970. Schaeffer quoted Christ’s words in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Then he cited Jesus’s prayer in John 17:21 that the disciples “may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Schaeffer tied the verses together:

[In John 13:35] if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he or she is not a Christian. Here [in John 17:21] Jesus is stating something else that is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’s claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians. (26–27)

A beautiful, biblical slap in the face.

Final Apologetic

I was sixteen — a new believer studying how to defend gospel truth to friends and family. Yet Schaeffer called Christian love and unity “the final apologetic,” the ultimate defense of our faith.

Schaeffer helped me see what should have been self-evident in Christ’s words: believers’ love toward each other is the greatest proof that we truly follow Jesus. If we fail to live in loving oneness, the world — or to bring it closer to home, our family, and friends — will have less reason to believe the gospel.

In 1977, some of us who’d struggled at our churches gathered to worship and study Scripture. Before we knew it, God planted a new church. At twenty-three, as a naive co-pastor, I thought we’d found the secret to unity. But eventually, though our numbers rapidly increased, too many left our gatherings feeling unloved, not experiencing what Schaeffer called the “reality of the oneness of true Christians” (27).

Our Deep Disunity

In the 52 years I’ve known Jesus, I’ve witnessed countless conflicts between believers. But never more than in the last year. Many have angrily left churches they once loved. Believers who formerly chose churches based on Christ-centered Bible teaching and worship now choose them based on non-essential issues, including political viewpoints and COVID protocols.

Churches are experiencing a pandemic of tribalism, blame, and unforgiveness — all fatal to the love and unity Jesus spoke of. Rampant either/or thinking leaves no room for subtlety and nuance. Acknowledging occasional truth in other viewpoints is seen as compromise rather than fairness and charitability.

Sadly, evangelicals sometimes appear as little more than another special-interest group, sharing only a narrow “unity” based on mutual outrage and disdain. This acidic, eager-to-fight negativity highlights Schaeffer’s point that we have no right to expect unbelievers to be drawn to the good news when we treat brothers and sisters as enemies.

Playing into Satan’s Strategy

The increase in Christians bickering over non-essentials doesn’t seem to be a passing phase. And it injures our witness, inviting eye rolls and mockery from unbelievers and prompting believers to wonder whether church hurts more than it helps.

Satan is called the accuser of God’s family (Revelation 12:10). Too often we do his work for him. His goal is to divide churches and keep people from believing the gospel. “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). When we fail to love each other, we are acting like the devil’s children.

“When we fail to love each other, we are acting like the devil’s children.”

“Give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). To resist the devil, we must love God with abandonment, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That central principle is the heart and soul of Scripture. “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:14–15).

Unity of Differing Opinions

When Paul wrote to believers in Rome, he addressed the issues of what meat was considered “unclean” and which day to worship on — each certainly as controversial in the culture of their day, if not more so, as most political issues or COVID responses are today. The paradigm-shifting revelation he shared in Romans 14 is this: while true love and unity are never achieved at the expense of primary biblical truths, they are achieved at the expense of our personal preferences about secondary issues.

We are “not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1). Or as the NLT puts it, “Don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” Love doesn’t require wholesale agreement.

Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:3)

Paul emphatically states that equally Christ-centered people can have different beliefs, which lead to them taking different — even opposite — actions in faith.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). We can take contradictory positions on nonessential issues but still honor God by valuing love over our opinions.

Pursue What Makes for Peace

As long as we hold our convictions with faith and a good conscience, God himself approves of people on both sides of nonessential matters. And if God can be pleased both by those who do and don’t eat certain foods that were prohibited under Old Testament law, and by those who worship on the Sabbath or on another day of the week, can’t he also be pleased with those who choose to take or not take a vaccine, or to wear or not wear a mask?

“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Romans 14:4). God warns us not to set up our own judgment seats as if we were omniscient. Why do we imagine we can know that a brother’s or sister’s decisions, heart, and motives are wrong?

“Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another” (Romans 14:12–13). We will not ultimately answer to each other, but we will answer to God concerning each other.

“Raise your expectations for love and unity in your church. Lower your expectations for them coming naturally.”

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. . . . The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:19, 22). Peace and edification don’t come naturally; they require Spirit-empowered work.

The call to “pursue” peace (or “make every effort,” NIV) means unless there’s a compelling reason to speak or post, and you’ve sought God’s direction and sense his leading, and you can speak graciously, then do what Scripture says and keep what you believe between yourself and God. Having a strong opinion never equals God telling us to express it. Scripture confronts us for how we have treated each other before the watching world:

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

Steps Toward Love and Unity

What other practical steps might we take toward love and unity in our fractured times?

1. Practice James 1:19. If we would only “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” this alone would foster love and unity to an astonishing degree.

2. When you disagree, if possible, meet face to face and talk. Don’t shred each other publicly.

3. Ask yourself where you are pointing. Will my words or social-media post be more or less likely to draw others to Jesus?

4. Raise your expectations for love and unity in your church. Lower your expectations for them coming naturally or easily.

5. Repent of being an agitator; commit to becoming a peacemaker.

6. Talk to your church leaders. Honestly articulate problems and ask how you can help foster love and unity.

7. Pray for those who’ve hurt you. Doing so transformed my relationship with a brother. One of my wife’s closest friends is someone she chose to intercede for decades ago, despite their conflicts.

8. Ask God to help you reject pride and develop true humility. A.W. Tozer said, “Only the humble are completely sane, for they are the only ones who see clearly their own size and limitations” (Tozer on Christian Leadership, 11). To think clearly is to think humbly. “Think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).

True unity is grounded on

mutually believed primary truths about Jesus,
refusal to elevate secondary beliefs over primary beliefs,
demonstrated heartfelt love for Jesus and others, and
the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

When I reread The Mark of the Christian fifty years later, when divisiveness is the air we breathe, it spoke to me more deeply than ever. Schaeffer’s message rings true: when we call upon God, and make concerted efforts to live in humble love and unity, people see Jesus, and some will believe in him.

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