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Suffering 3: How Long, Lord?

by on September 2, 2016

hqdefaultAre your prayers noisy enough? This is the third talk in our series on suffering. It challenges us to give up our peaceful ways!

HOW LONG, O LORD?

Daniel 2

Luke 11: 1-10

If you complain about your sufferings, you’re probably lacking in faith. Ever heard anyone say that? Some religious people think that way. They say if you understood what God is doing, you’d be able to trust him in this. You’d have a peaceful spirit.

It’s interesting however that the Psalms are full of tears and cries. In fact they break all those rules religious people give us. King David and co. very rarely ask ‘Why’ or try to understand their troubles – almost never. But there’s a question those guys are always asking: HOW LONG?

We’ve been looking at the questions people ask when they suffer. Why is this happening? How could God do this to me? And the Scriptures’ answer was ‘God did not do this. We did. He has given our world over to evil, because we chose it.’

That left us with the question ‘Is there any hope for us then’?  Are things going to be like this forever? And that’s more the sort of territory the Bible is interested in. We’re starting to ask the right questions now. So let’s focus on this question today. How long, O Lord? Is there any chance of healing for this sick old world? Sin has destroyed and infected so much! Is there a future for us?

The people of Israel thought there was. Come with me back to the world of Daniel in the OT. Daniel’s people the Israelites have been smashed by the superpower Babylon, and carried off into exile. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar has this dream, and it sends him feral. He’s going to kill all his wise men unless they guess what his dream was. God reveals the dream to Daniel, and its meaning. So he goes and tells the king. “You dreamed of a huge statue, its head is gold, its chest silver and so on. And a stone, cut out of the hill, rolls down and smashes the statue. It is shattered into a million pieces.

“Now this is what your dream means” – and this is the part to notice:

Your Majesty, you are king of kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and glory.  Wherever people live—or wild animals, or birds of the air—He has handed them over to into your hands and made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold. Daniel 2:37-38

Let’s pause for a moment at this remarkable explanation. Nebuchadnezzar has this vast empire. How did that come to be? Was he just lucky? Clever? No, the ultimate explanation is that God has given it to him. God handed over all the nations into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands.

What sort of hands are they? We already know, they are a crazy murderer’s hands. This is the guy who smashed Jerusalem and destroyed God’s people. This is the guy who wanted to murder every wise man in the kingdom. Later, King Nebuchadnezzar goes totally insane, and spends seven years living like a wild animal.

It’s shocking to think that God would allow half the known world to fall into the hands of a homicidal maniac like Nebuchadnezzar. But he does. This is what we saw last week: In Romans chapter 1 the apostle Paul uses the same word, handed over, to describe us. God handed mankind over to the madness of our own evil choices. If God was governing the world himself, things would be good and happy. But instead God has given us over to this other sort of rule: dark, corrupt, violent.

Well, is there any way to get back to God’s good rule? There’s more to the King’s dream. There are the lower parts of the statue: another kingdom will arise, “it will be as strong as iron; for iron crushes and shatters everything, and like iron that smashes, it will crush and smash all the others.”

More violence and insanity, all the way down to the feet. The powers that replace Babylon are no solution to the problem: they’re just as bad if not worse. It’s the story of our old world isn’t it? Powerful empires that crush the weak until they are themselves crushed.

Is there any hope for us then, in the long term? Or is our world a basket case? Well, there’s one last part to the king’s dream. It’s that stone:

“v45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but God’s kingdom will endure forever.

That stone, the one that smashes the statue, it’s something totally new, a new kingdom which God himself is going to set up. And when he does, all these insane, idolatrous powers who’ve been in charge will be blown away. God will personally take up the reigns of power, down here on earth. The kingdom will no longer belong to Nebuchadnezzar, or to Alexander or Caesar, or to Hitler or America. It will belong to Yahweh, Israel’s God. In the past, whatever Nebuchadnezzar said, went. His will was done. Not so in the future. When the stone strikes, then God will say, and his will will be done instead. And all the people who were given over to suffering will be rescued at last.

That’s the vision, and that was Israel’s hope, what she was waiting and longing for. They called it the kingdom of God.

God’s response to evil, then, is a bit like the story of Alexander the Great and the Gordian knot. The story goes that there was this knot tied in the palace of the Phrygians, in what is now Turkey. A previous king had tied the knot, and no one could figure out how to untie it. When Alexander came to town, he took a look at it, but he couldn’t find the ends of the rope. So he took out his sword and simply sliced the knot in two – thus unravelling the Gordian Knot.

Daniel’s prophecy to King Nebuchadnezzar says that Israel’s God is going to do the same sort of thing. He’s not going to treat evil as a puzzle to unravel, a problem to be solved. He’s going to treat it as an enemy. He’s not going to negotiate with it. He’s going to pull out his big sword, and ‘thwack’. Like Alexander. That’s the stone that rolls down the mountain and smashes the whole statue into dust. It’s God turning up to deal with the evil powers that dominate our world.

 

Nebuchnezzar’s dream is absolutely foundational for the Christian view of suffering. Because when Jesus comes, he teaches his disciples to pray for that dream to arrive:

Father, may your kingdom come:

may your will be done on earth,

the way it is in heaven…

do not lead us into trials and troubles

but deliver us from evil.

It’s that dream, you see? Jesus is teaching us to pray the Daniel 2 story: the story where abusive human rule is replaced by God’s good rule, and we get set free from the dark powers.

Of course Jesus’ prayer only makes sense if you realise that God’s will is not currently being done here the way it is in heaven. No, it’s man’s will that’s currently in charge down here. That’s why the children suffer, and the poor have no voice.

But Jesus says, remember the promise from Daniel, remember that stone that falls. It’s a promise of change. Pray for it. Long for it. In your darkest time of despair, remember the stone, and pray, May your kingdom come! May your will be done on earth, the way it is in heaven. Father, smash the whole wicked statue. Take charge down here! Set us free! Come!

So Jesus teaches us to do what the psalmists did: to cry out to God. How long Lord? ‘How long till your blessed will replaces the corrupt will of man. When will you turn up and heal and deliver us from evil? Let it come!”

When you learn CPR, they tell you, you can’t fix a person who’s stopped breathing. All you’re doing is keeping them alive till the real help gets there. You pump, yes. But it’s no use unless you’ve rung 000. There’s no point doing CPR unless help is coming. And once you’ve rung, you keep pumping till the ambos arrive. If you’re doing CPR on someone, there’s only one question on your mind. How long till the medics get here? They’d better bloody well hurry up!

This is what Christian prayer is supposed to be like: not polite, but desperate, noisy: How long, Lord?

Trouble is many Christians don’t know how to cry out to God. Our prayers are so polite! Dear lord, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, if you could possibly give us a tiny bit of help, but your will be done, not mine. That’s not how Jesus prayed on the cross:

My God my God why have you forsaken me? 

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

and I cry by night, but find no rest.

That’s the psalm Jesus prayed on the cross. Psalm 22. With a loud voice! It was raw.  It was real.

Many christians say “It’s all God’s will. So you need to just accept your suffering.” People who think that way won’t cry out, you see. It wouldn’t be appropriate.

But Jesus says, the day of freedom is arriving now, in me. Pray it in! pray for relief. Pray for victory. Cry out!

Have you ever had a tooth ache? Did you go and ask the dentist, please help me to accept my toothache? No, if my tooth is aching, I want it fixed!

So Jesus teaches us to pray, I want it fixed! Let your kingdom come! Paul writes in Romans 8:

the whole creation, and we ourselves, groan inwardly while we wait for the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. We have not yet seen the rescue: but we hang on, waiting for it.            Romans 8:23-25

Christians, then, are not supposed to just have serene, peaceful spirits. Christians have toothache. We are supposed to groan. To feel deeply the misery and injustice of our world. We are the ones who long for the day of healing. We pray and wait for Daniel’s story to take place, for the promise to be fulfilled here and now.

So I want to finish with words of hope. After I left Bible college, a couple of years later, friends of ours from college lost their little daughter. They went into their little girl’s room in the morning, and she was dead. No reason, no explanation. She was 2 years old. It was hard for us all to believe.

Here is part of what her father said in his eulogy:

She was immensely precious to us and we feel like our hearts have been ripped out of our chest. I feel like Humpty Dumpty.  We used to sing this song to her.  And all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t put me back together again. We feel broken.  

A great darkness descended on us – it’s pitch black and we can’t find a way out. What life is there for us without our precious little girl?   (he goes on)  A couple of weeks ago, I preached on the Christian answer to suffering. And I said, the Christian answer to suffering is hope. The certain hope that Christ rose again from the dead and that we too will one day rise from the dead. 

This certain hope is our only guiding light.   Amen.

From → Bible talks

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