Why is there suffering?
There was a lion who lived in uptown Kinshasa. As a relative of the kings of the savanah, he had inherrited a fortune and was very well off.
Part 2 - Where's my money?
This lion happened to meet an artist- an antelope who created beautiful sculptures. Shortly thereafter, he found out that this antelope and his family had come on hard times.
Rather than put the fellow out of his misery like most lions would do, the lion went to the antelope's apartment and slipped an envelope containing half a million francs (the equivalent of a thousand dollars) under the door.
Naturally, the antelope was overjoyed. He was able to buy some bales of grass to feed his family and make some repairs to their flat.
The next night, the lion did the same thing. Then the next, and the next.
At the end of the month, the lion was satisfied that he had done enough. The antelopes would be all right from now on, as long as they spent their gift wisely. No longer needing to sneak over to his friend's house, the lion went to bed with the warm feeling of a good deed accomplished.
He wondered if his friend would ever catch on and figure out who his mysterious benefactor was. He was soon to find out. That morning, he was awoken by the sound of a hoof banging on his door and the antelope's voice shouting "WHERE'S MY 500,000 FRANCS ?!"
The lion fought the urge to eat the ungrateful ungulate on the spot. He had hoped that he could be friends with this creature, perhaps even that this gift might bring them close. But the antelope's attitude made that impossible.
But the story does have a happy ending. The antelope's son, years later, remembered what the kind lion had done. He went to thank the lion. The two animals became fast friends. Heartened by this, the lion founded a new charity and paid the young antelope handsomely to oversee it.
Looking at this story, it's easy to condemn the father antelope. He was the beneficiary of a wonderful monetary gift, yet instead of expressing gratitude for what he received, he expressed only anger when the gift stopped coming. I think we'll all agree that he was foolish, selfish and rude, and that the lion was under no obligation to give him anything more.
But think for a minute... have you ever done the same thing?
All of us receive generous free gifts every day. Life itself is a free gift. Not one of us have done anything to earn his own existance. Life is just one of the many gifts God gives us which most of us take for granted. We often don't think about the many gifts we get until they stop coming.
It's definitely true in my case. I never thanked God for the health that I enjoyed until I became sickly. I never thanked Him for the ability to work until I couldn't any more. Oddly, the one thing I became mad at God for when He didn't give it to me was something I never truly had- a loving girlfriend.
Good thing God isn't like that. How often do we withhold things from Him? Things that He is rightfully due? Think about it for a minute. When was the last time you decided to sleep in on Sunday instead of going to church? When was the last time you failed to pay your tithes. Worse yet, when was the last time you had an opportunity to share the gospel and chickened out?
God is the one who gives us life, along with many other good things, such as the ability to love. It was God in the person of Jesus who gave His body as a propitiation for our sins. It is the Holy Spirit who indwells us and helps us to grow into the likeness of the Father. If anyone, it is God who has the right to pound on our doors and demand His due. But He doesn't. Most often, He calmly waits for us to get around to giving Him what's His. Why? Because He'd rather leave us the chance to give in love, as opposed to giving because we have to.
Love is the one thing God wants that He can't take. Love that is taken is not love at all. God loves us and He wants each one of us to return that love.
Last week, we were talking about how painful it is to lose a loved one. It is excrutiating when we lose a loved one to death. It is far FAR worse when we lose a loved one because they simply stop caring. I think most everyone here knows what I'm talking about. God knows that pain. He has experienced it more times than you can possibly count. God loves everyone in the world. No exceptions. From Bill Gaither to Marylin Manson. But those in the latter vein have rejected Him despite His love and goodness. How do you think He feels about that? And at the end of their lives, when their choices result in death because they have spurned God's gift of eternal life, they are consigning a person whom God loves- themselves- to death forever. God knows what it's like to lose a loved one to death because it happens to Him every day.
This brings us to the obvious question: If God knows the pain of losing someone to death, why does He take our loved ones away?
There are two answers to that.
The unsaved to not have the favor of God. Why? Because they have denied Him permission to work in their lives. It is not that He doesn't WANT to show them mercy, but He respects their decision to leave them out of their lives. It's crazy how some people cry foul at this. They want it both ways. They want to reject God and still partake of all the good things life in Christ has to offer. It can't work that way. If you reject the Lord, you take your life in your own hands because you've denied Him permission to save or to help you.
Those who love the Lord, on the other hand, have no reason to fear death. I think Isaiah 57:1-2 is especially appropriate here.
57:1 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.
I don't know about you, but I would not want to live forever. This Earth is full of evil of both kinds. It's rife with sin and full of otehi. While I have no intention of committing suicide, (as I still have much to do here,) I am greatly looking forward to going home to be with the Lord. As Paul says:
2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
Philipians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
To live is necessary for the work of Christ. To die is far better for me, personally, because I eagerly await my reward.
How can I begrudge a brother entrance to Heaven? That's not just a philosophical question, either. It's one I myself am having to face right now. As I write this sermon, a friend of mine is dying. He is a dear friend, and he is like a grandfather to me. He may get better this particular time, but it's fairly certain that he does not have much longer on this Earth. We, his loved ones, are about to lose someone very precious to us. But while we will miss Him, at the same time, we can be glad for Him, because he is going home. He is soon to embark on a wondrous journey to Heaven where he will see his God face to face and be reunited with those which HE has lost. I cannot ask him to give that up for my sake. and I have to consolation of knowing that he is not lost forever, but we will have infinite time to find one another in Heaven.
Life is a precious gift. Not just one's own life, but the lives of others. It should be accepted with gratitude for as long as it is given.
Here is this week's challenge. It is for christian and nonchristian alike. Take a look at your life and ask yourself if you have been grateful for what God has given you or if you have had a bad attitude like the antelope. Once you've done that, ask yourself if you have withheld anything from God and if so, what needs to change?
Pastor Oren Otter
February 4, 2006