As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent (Rev. 3:19).
We humans have trouble associating the concepts of “rebuke and chasten” with love. Yet, that is what the Lord tells Laodicea after He explains their true condition. If we saw a human parent tolerating misbehavior in their child, we might conclude they don’t really love the child. When trials come to believers that test their faith, it is easy to wonder why God is allowing the terrible thing. Our lesson used the example of Job to show how wrong it is for us to put everything good in the “God box” and everything bad in the “Satan box.”
The definition of a crucible is important to understanding this quarter’s lessons. It includes a vessel used for melting a substance that requires a high degree of heat. It is easy to apply the concept to the Christian experience. One of the blessings of the 1888 message is how much our Savior understands our suffering because He has come so near to us. Without a true understanding of the nature Christ assumed at the incarnation, we will always doubt that God can sympathize with the struggles of living in sinful flesh. Since we know that He was tempted “in all points like as we are,” in the same sinful flesh (yet never sinned), He is intimately aware of our needs. Therefore we can believe He will provide the help we need to overcome.
The Christian experience is that of the crucible. It is the only thing Christian believers can expect from this earthly life. Satan will never leave believers alone because he, unlike God, cannot see the future. He doesn’t know if a particular believer “stony ground” or good soil. In the parable of the Sower, Luke tells us that Satan took away the seed that fell by the wayside, even though the Word was heard and in the heart. This alerts us that if we aren’t being challenged in our Christian walk, we need to ask God to show us where we have become complacent. We cannot fight the devil; only being “rooted and grounded” in God’s agape will keep us safe from that “roaring lion.”
We misunderstand God if we think that suffering is random and without meaning. God knows exactly when we need challenges that strengthen our confidence in a personal and sympathetic High Priest who can intercede between our weakness and a holy God. Like Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels, which represent the interplay of human events, God is guiding the events and experiences in even unbelievers’ lives to bring us to a better understanding of Himself. The cliché that there are no atheists in foxholes is misunderstood if we think falling into the foxhole was a random event for the atheist. Some may resent this concept, seeing God as a manipulator. But God’s goal is always to present the choice of accepting His incredible Gift of salvation as attractive, advantageous, and appealing.
Hearing the siren of an ambulance is an opportunity to pray for the people involved. A full code ambulance or Life Flight helicopter ride is almost always a life-changing event for the patient and his or her family. To ask God to heal the patient is too simplistic, for that may not be in their best interest. To ask God to use the experience to bring all involved closer to Him and that He may be glorified is always in God’s will. It is also acknowledgement and acceptance that God wants and knows what is best in the situation. Occasionally, people refer to a healing as God answering prayer. We must mature to the point that we can say that no matter the outcome, He has answered our prayer. That we can’t prove by human devices whether it was God or fate really depends on the choice to believe in a benevolent and interested God who is willing to Shepherd us in all circumstances. Believers know there is no such thing as fate or luck with God.
The crucible process also includes learning from our and others’ mistakes. E. J. Waggoner uses the story of Jericho and Ai to illustrate how easily trial and triumph can be misunderstood. “A man is never in greater danger than when he has just achieved some great success, or gained a great victory. If he is not very much on his guard, his joyous song of thanksgiving will have a chorus of vainglorious self-congratulation. Beginning with recognition of God’s power, and praise and thanksgiving for it, man insensibly puts himself in the place of God, and assumes that his own wisdom and strength brought him the success and the victory. Thus he exposes himself to attack when he is sure to be overcome, since he has separated from the source of power. Only in the Lord Jehovah is there everlasting strength” (The Everlasting Covenant, p. 261; Glad Tidings ed.).
God never leads us into temptation, including the temptation to depend on ourselves. “When the men said that but few of the people were needed for the capture of Ai, they assumed that it was their military skill that was to secure the land for them. But that was a grievous error. God had promised to give them the land, and it could not be obtained except as a gift” (ibid, p. 263).
The defeat at Ai was by human standards a minor defeat, only 36 men were lost. But with the inhabitants of Canaan watching them, they misrepresented Jehovah and His power. Our defeats produce the same results. Not only are we in danger of discouragement, we misrepresent God to others. The mature Christian must be more concerned for God’s reputation than his own.
Another important concept is how to understand trials and suffering in those around us. Like Job’s friends, we wonder what they did to deserve their “punishment.” It is more beneficial to ask, “What am I supposed to learn from my neighbor’s suffering?” There are many examples where friends or family members have suffered injury or difficulty, and those watching their faith grow stronger have been led to the Lord. What a blessing that suffering turned out to be.
Many believers think it is burdensome but inevitable that spiritual trials will come, and we should bear them by the grace of God. Few think they are beneficial and we should ask for them. If we understand that the 1888 message prepares a people to give the message that lightens the earth with glory, the process is just that. The week before the Day of Atonement was a time when the believing Israelite asked God to show him his deep and hidden sins. Many sins came to mind through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but it is just as likely that events happened to test the person’s willingness to accept the illumination, confess it, and ask for forgiveness and victory. God is eager to not only forgive, but cleanse, and write His law on our hearts.
What a wonderful perspective a true understanding of the Gospel gives us. May we all be grateful for the Lord’s rebuking and chastening.
(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 2now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast go to http://wolfsoathaudio.blogspot.com/. To listen as a stream go to http://www.pluggd.com/audio/channels/wolf_s_oath_audio.