What do you do with the dooms, threats, horrific sins, bracing punishments, and strange enigmas found in Scripture? How can you as a believer derive joy from the hard parts of God’s Word? Encountering hard things in Scripture is a bit like encountering them in life. In fact, when you are living through difficult times, it might be hard to turn to your Bible for a nice comforting quiet time and discover that your Bible reading has brought you to God’s judgment on the Amalekites, David’s sin with Bathsheba, or Jeremiah’s weeping over a ruined Jerusalem. You come to the Bible from a life of jabs and get jabbed again. What do you do? Whether you discover sin and the curse in Scripture or in life, the answer is the same.
The main thing, as I noted in the last letter, is to believe in Christ and therefore read the Bible as one of God’s children. Read it as someone for whom Christ died a substitutionary and effective atonement. If Christ paid for all your sin at the cross, you can therefore be assured you have been perfected forever (Heb 10:14). Read the Bible as someone who presently and everlastingly has peace with God (Rom 5:1). Read it as a joint heir with Jesus (Rom 8:17). Read it as someone who cannot be condemned (Rom 8:1), who has been promised all things (1 Cor 3:21), and who will enjoy an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet 1:11). In other words, let the hardships in Scripture solidify your grasp on the promises, just as you do when you encounter hardship in life.
That way, when you encounter the hard parts, they won’t shake your faith, make you shrink back, or lead you to question God. Read the Bible in the full light of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is crucial. There is nothing more important than holding on to Jesus Christ in faith, and holding on hard. Never let anything loosen your grip on him, especially not your sin. If your conscience bothers you, he is your answer. If the Word makes you feel condemned, he is your answer. If the wrath of God booms and crashes from Sinai, he is your answer. Be honest with him and believe with all your soul in his power to save you. Cast all your confidence on Christ.
Now let’s put this to practice in a concrete example.
Read in Light of Romans 8:28
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28)
Let’s take a look at one thing you can do when you read dooms and threats and curses in the Bible: read them as what God will never do to his children but only to the wicked. God cannot curse someone whom he has promised to always bless. This verse (Romans 8:28) gives you an objective basis to see the positive in things. It allows you to reframe the curses and threats as positives to you. When you find a curse or doom, ask, What is the opposite of this? Whatever is opposite to these curses and dooms and judgments you're reading about (or seeing in the world) is what God is giving you.
For example, let’s say your Bible reading has brought you to the little book of Obadiah (I highly recommend it!). God announces doom on Edom, and since you are not an Edomite you read on unconcerned—until you read the following statement.
The day of the LORD is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you;
your deeds shall return on your own head (Obad 1:15).
God’s judgment on localized sinners like the Edomites is a small sample of what he will do on a large scale to all who sin. Everyone who does not obey everything in the law is under a curse (Gal 3:10). The soul that sins, it shall die (Ezek 18:20). Thus God’s wrath draws near in the pages of Scripture to all who read with a discerning eye. But people don’t want wrath, and so it is easy to simply ignore much of the Bible. But to do so is dangerously close to “falling asleep in the devil’s arms” as one Puritan put it.
But those who do read as they should may get disturbed by these sorts of statements. They sense God’s wrath and they know they deserve it. But here is the glory of the gospel. In it, God promises that even our hardships and difficulties (what someone might say are curses) will be blessed. Nothing can ultimately harm us if we are in Christ. If Edom is being denounced in severe terms for hating Israel, then look at your life and see that, unlike hateful Edom, God has worked in you a love for God's church. And recognize that you are part of God's church, which God protects like the apple of his eye. If God's enemies are cursed, God's children are blessed. Yes, you’ve disobeyed, but Christ your head obeyed perfectly and gives his righteousness to those who flee to him in repentance and faith. Romans 8:28 therefore is true for you, if you repent and believe. Thus, reading grim things in Obadiah shouldn’t shake you but refresh you. It causes you to sense God’s wrath and to renew your commitment to Christ. You have refreshed your basis for joy and ought to be experiencing it wonderfully all over again.
This is just a sample of how to have joyful devotions always. More to come…!
PS: I’m hoping to have something to say to you soon about re-starting public worship and picking up where we left off. Please be in prayer for this. But in the meantime, continue on joyfully with the Lord! Governor Inslee’s announcement today seems to provide a light at the end of the tunnel, though it may be June before are able to meet again.