Content & Images © 2008-2014 - Rachel Miller, Ink Road Originals LLC, All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 23, 2009

Don't Conform to the Pattern of the World

The most-visited article on Savvy Sheep so far has been God's Kids Don't Groupthink. At the time I wrote it, I wouldn't have ever guessed how popular that topic would be with church leaders today. So, how can knowledge about Groupthink help the church, and can such knowledge hinder it?

What is Groupthink?

First I'll brush you up on what Groupthink is. It was a term coined by William H. Whyte in 1952 in a Fortune article, but popularized by Irvin Janis in later sociological research. Similar to childhood peer pressure, it's a type of group mentality that occurs among groups of people that share the same values and background. A group that is guilty of Groupthink puts strong emphasis on group cohesion and acceptance rather than creative problem-solving or "thinking outside the box." This may occur out of the desire to be thought of as "one of the group" or "easygoing," or out of intellectual laziness (i.e. "Their idea saves me the trouble of coming up with one myself"). Outside ideas are discarded, and dissenters are often singled out and criticized for failure to go along with the group. The silence of dissenters further supports the false idea that the group is unanimous in its decision. In short, Groupthink can lead a group of highly-educated, intelligent people into illogical decision-making and dangerous choices.

The Underlying Messages of Groupthink Research

I think Groupthink is a valid label for a real issue, but I have a problem with the underlying postmodern humanistic ideology involved in this theory.

To overcome Groupthink, researchers say we need a "devil's advocate" in the group, and all of his dissenting suggestions need to be considered when formulating a plan or decision. This isn't a bad idea, but we are assuming that with a large enough variety of opinions on an issue, we can arrive at the truth. That, to me, is too much of an assumption.

As a Christian, I believe that all human beings are fallible. I also have to agree with part of the Postmodern teaching (with many reservations) that opinions are often based on internal reference points (personal experience and perspective), but not external reference points (facts, authorities, ethics, and universal truth), and are therefore not true for everyone. So at what point does a multitude of opinions become truth for the masses? How can I depend on even a hundred different people in a group to arrive at the correct decision? Isn't it possible that all of them could be wrong?

So, the cure for Groupthink, if we are to follow the suggestions we have heard, is to make people into gods and "create a truth" for every situation. Well, I'm not buying that.

I will pause here to point out that the Bible is not specific on many issues, although some Christians have made them into central points of spiritual contention. The Bible doesn't always tell us what to do in a specific situation, but it does offer guiding principles for our lives. We can make group decisions that work to synthesize multiple opinions, but we should do this within the framework of morality that the Bible provides us. We are not "little gods" and our opinions should never supersede Biblical standards of behavior. An altered, Christ-centered application of Groupthink research in the church would seek out real universal truth, as embodied by the nature of Christ and the teaching in the Bible, and shape group decisions within this Biblical truth.

The Bible does say, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15: 22 NIV); however, it also says, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21 NIV), and "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain" (Psalm 127: 1 NIV). We must be careful that God is always a central part of the plans we make in a group.

I guess what I mean to say is that as long as we are aware of the underlying philosophies behind this theory, and are careful not to allow them to infiltrate our thinking, we can use these sociological group studies to benefit the church.

Critics of the Church

In the past, the visible church (as characterized by buildings and catechisms) has acted under the influence of Groupthink, and decided that such things as slavery, antisemitism, and even the crusades were justifiable for whatever reason. Opinions ruled and became doctrinal truth. This is Groupthink without the moral guidance of Scripture. As a reasonable and logical consequence, the visible church has drawn criticism from Groupthink researchers and media commentators, who have supposed that religion is Groupthink.

If we allow the consensus opinion in the church to supersede the guidance of Scripture, perhaps we deserve what we get.

If churches want to overcome Groupthink, I suggest that the first thing they should focus on is how to make sure everyone is knowledgeable about what the Scripture actually says--both about the topic and about the general moral issues connected to the topic. Next, a variety of opinions and perspectives, from multiple generations, should be heard, but anything that contradicts a principle of God's Word should be quickly thrown out. After that, the leaders, followed by the congregation, should examine themselves and submit their opinions to the rule of scripture.

That is how it should be, but the visible church is ruled by fallible man. It fails at times to obey God, and draws ridicule to Christianity when it does. It's the job of the real Church (those individuals who believe in Christ and allow Him to direct their steps) to overcome the shortcomings of the visible church with righteous behavior.

The Solution

You see, true Christianity carried out to its fullest measure is not Groupthink at all. It rejects conformity of the mind and thinking, which is dominated by majority rule or peer pressure. God made us as unique individuals with unique perspectives, and never intended for us to give up our individuality for the acceptance of a group.The Bible says,
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—-his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12: 2 NIV)
So let's break this down. (1) If we disobey God, we are conforming to the rebellious mindset of the unbelieving world. (2)Worse still, conformity with the world prevents us from knowing God's plan for our lives. (3)If God is not part of the plan, Scripture promises us that the plan will fail. (4) So to sum it up, without God's instruction (the "renewing of the mind"), we can only succumb to Groupthink.

Therefore, the Bible is the best solution I have for the problem of Groupthink, and the church is in the best position to carry out this solution.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Toe the Line

I was thinking last night that one of my biggest weaknesses is a very powerful desire to always be at peace with everyone I meet. I don't enjoy rocking the boat. It truly frightens me to step out on the front lines of an argument and be counted as someone who is "judgmental," or "unreasonable," or just plain "stupid," because I chose to openly disagree.

After all, it is very dangerous to disagree with others. You lose friends, you lose influence, you might even lose your job or your life. If you are going to disagree, it's always easier to stand with a crowd, rather than stand alone. If the opposing side gets violent, you'll have backup to protect you, right?

I don't believe that human beings have instincts; we are controlled by conscious decisions, not non-rational behaviors. If we did, however, I would call this the "herd instinct" in humans. Humans aren't herd animals. They can make independent decisions, and act alone. It takes a lot of courage. We aren't truly sheep, but we like to use the idea as an excuse for our own lack of courage and commitment.

I titled this blog Savvy Sheep to encourage readers to be savvy about what is going on in the world around them. We are smarter than sheep.

My dad once told me a story about a man herding sheep through a narrow gate. As the first sheep approached the gate, the shepherd put his leg across the opening. Feeling the pressure of all the other sheep behind it, this first sheep jumped over the shepherd's leg and continued up the road. The shepherd put his leg back down, but when the next sheep approached the gate, it leaped over an imaginary obstacle and continued on its way. Each sheep saw the last one jump, so it mindlessly did the same. None of them paused to look for the obstacle or think independently and just walk through the gate. Are we really just mindless followers like sheep?

Leaving the Herd and Following a New Shepherd

To be a true Christian, we have to follow Christ, even if it means doing it alone. Jesus never promised us a herd of like-minded Christians with which we could protect ourselves. We aren't even supposed to mindlessly follow human shepherds (i.e., teachers, parents, politicians, or even preachers). When it's our time at the "gate," we are expected to look around and act wisely, even if it means setting a new standard of behavior, or acting contrary to what the crowd is doing.

In Luke 12: 51-53 NIV, Jesus talks about how following Him could cause your familiar "herd" to break with you. He said,
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Jesus was not promising us that as Christians, we would be able to make peace with everyone. Au contraire! He was stating clearly that Christianity causes us to make a hard break from others, if necessary. Christianity is not a tolerant or compromising religion!

Later on, Jesus further explained this, saying,
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14: 26-27 NIV).

The word "hate" there sounds severe in translation. The meaning of the original word Jesus used suggests that we cannot value any of those things as something more worthwhile than Heaven. We have to view them all as worthless rubbish compared to the prize we are seeking. We are to follow God through the thick and thin, even unto death, as symbolized by the cross. Jesus' examples, in later verses, bear this interpretation out farther, if you want to read them--Luke 14: 28-35.

Christianity is a personal decision, not a communal one. Obeying God is in your own best interests, because it protects you from the wrath of God and ensures a future of hope and peace and eternal life in Heaven. We should obey, even if everyone around us is refusing to submit to God. That means that we should become a Christian, even if our parents disown us for being a Christian. That means we should become a Christian, even if our spouse leaves us for being a Christian. That means we should become a Christian, even if we are arrested and put to death for being a Christian.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Fear is one of the biggest motivators (and strongest opponents) common to all people. We don't like taking chances at the risk of being hurt. Our worst nightmare is the thought of being completely alone, miserable, and cut off from others. This is what death would be like if we didn't have the option of surrendering our hearts to God, so that He can rescue us.

Jesus warned us not to give up our eternal reward in Heaven so that we can be well-loved in this life. The world teaches that worldly success is evidence of God's favor, but God looks past outward circumstances and judges man by the attitude of the heart. If our hearts value people and things (i.e., the "herd"), and not God and His righteous ways (i.e., the Shepherd), we will be punished.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' (Luke 16: 19-31 NIV)

What a troubling picture! The prophets' message was dangerous, because it opposed other people and got many prophets killed. The danger didn't devalue it, however, because Lazarus heard and obeyed it, and spent eternity in peace in Heaven.

The rich man, on the other hand, seemed to have everything going for him. He must have had many friends (who ate at his table) and owned many possessions. However He lacked compassion for others, since he ignored Lazarus' situation at his own front gate. Could it be that his friends disapproved of Lazarus, and he didn't want to lose their friendships? Whatever the reason, the rich man's heart did not value God or righteousness. Therefore, he was judged and cut off from God and men. The "herd" wasn't there to make him feel secure any more in Hell.

Jesus' point was that the condition of our hearts is more important than our present circumstances. We should never allow the fear of the "herd" to rob us of our eternal reward.


I've talked about this already, in my previous entry, What is Truth? Heeding the Voice of Truth. We must choose in this life what we really value. Some people value the "herd" more than they even value being correct or knowing the truth.

The stakes are very high. Our future is more important than what people think of us or what they do to us. As Christians, we can't work toward making peace with people when it involves giving up on the truth that we know. If we do, we aren't being peacekeepers--we're being deserters.The battle lines are being drawn. Peace at all costs is too costly!

I'm encouraging you today to take heart, and don't turn your back on God just to be liked by the "herd." You will be rewarded! Keep obeying God, and He'll see you through to the end--which is more than people and possessions can do.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
"He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him."
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10: 35-39 NIV; textual reference to Habakkuk 2: 3,4).

God is the only one who can truly grant us a life of peace. Are you willing to stand your ground and wait for the reward He has promised?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Coming Storm...

In my part of the world, springtime is violent. Something about the terrain, the plant life, the humidity, and the shifting patterns of the Jet Stream combine to create spectacular storms that boil up seemingly out of nowhere and transform a beautiful day into an evening of sheer terror. I was born in the spring, and my parents spent at least one evening that first week huddled with their newborn daughter in the bathtub as the tornado sirens went off across town. Even though my birthday comes in the spring, it's always been my least favorite season of the year.

I've been trained, so to speak, all my life to recognize a bad storm when it comes. I smell something in the breeze or the wind whips my hair a certain way, and I know it's coming. I know how to be prepared. I have a tornado shelter, and I know what to take with me when I go into it. Still, I'm always concerned for those who aren't prepared, and don't heed the warnings. They get hurt, or worse, killed, this time of year.

I'm writing about this because I've sensed for awhile that a "storm" is boiling up on the horizon for the whole world. It's not just a minor blip in history. This is a major crisis, and I'm not talking about politics or world finance. This "Global Financial Meltdown" they've been talking about on the news is not the real issue. I believe that God punishes people who defy Him, not to be mean or controlling, but to defend the nature of justice, love, and mercy. If God doesn't object to injustice, hate, and cruelty in this world, who will? Who can?

Converging Air Masses

A storm is formed when a hot, moist air mass slams into a cold, drier air mass. Storm clouds boil up along the line where these two air masses meet, called a front.

In the spiritual realm of this world, "storms" occur when evil behavior builds and develops with such force that it attempts to overpower good and smash it completely. Despite how powerful evil may seem at these times, God is more powerful than the forces of evil. He doesn't run from the war horses of this world, because He created them. They are nothing more than ants throwing grains of sand at Him. Jesus even overcame death when He was crucified and rose from the grave, so that not even death is more powerful than God. If you want to survive this storm, you have to throw your lot in with God and stay with Him, no matter what mankind does to you. The front in the Kingdom of God is a battlefield, and the enemy side doesn't plan to take prisoners.

Why This Gloom and Doom?

I can imagine someone asking me, why would you talk gloom and doom now, when everyone is so scared? It's true that the public needs peace and not fear right now, but we can't settle for a false sense of security. The only security is found in God's protection, not in governments, which go into debt and collapse, or in physical things like guns or homes, which are destroyed by time and the elements.

I logged on to Savvy Sheep today and saw two articles in my blogroll that really spoke to me about the atmosphere in the world today. Pastor Eric Smith's blog entry for today, eric smith: Cost Of No Power Is High links to an article about new statistics on church growth and belief in God in America, and Diane at Crossroads posted an article on the latest Barna poll results. Both are terribly disturbing. America is moving away from traditional belief and obedience. We are embracing works religion (the idea that salvation can be earned), tolerance of sects that embrace sinful behavior and rejection of God, and generalized atheism. I've read elsewhere that the statistics for Europe and other areas are even worse.

This comes on the heels of a sermon I attended Sunday while visiting my sister this past weekend. I won't disclose the place or the pastor's name, but I can say that God was definitely there. The pastor preached on Ezekiel Chapters 8, 9, and 10, in which Ezekiel sees multiple visions of the abominable things the people were doing in the presence of God. The elders of Israel pray and offer incense to images of their gods in the temple of God. Women weep for Tammuz, a fertility god who supposedly died every fall and rose again in the springtime. A large group of men turn their backs on God, whose presence rests in the curtained part of the temple called the Holy of Holies, and bow down to the rising sun, which was an important god in the Egyptian pantheon. Israel's focus had completely turned away from God. They had forgotten who they were defying, and God was angry! In the following chapters, God sends out angels to kill everyone in Israel who had not obeyed Him, and then removes His presence from the temple, to show that He is displeased and no longer willing to help and protect Israel from her many enemies.

This is not just a passage about Israel, as the pastor pointed out. God removes His presence and protection from any nation that defies Him with such audacity. As it says in chapter 8,
He [God] said to me, "Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually provoke me to anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose![thumbing their noses] Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them." (Ezekiel 8: 17-18 NIV; items in [] are mine, inserted for understanding).

If we thumb our noses at God and then "shout in [His] ears," we should not expect Him to answer. He would be unjust, applying a double standard, if He overlooked our sins this one time and helped us without demanding that we stop sinning, because He has required obedience from everyone else.

Ezekiel sees the angels go out to kill the disobedient among the people in Israel, and cries out "Ah, Sovereign Lord!" In English it is translated "ah" but in Hebrew it is an expression of pain and grief. He was groaning in sympathetic pain at what was going to happen to Israel, and for what God felt when He looked out of His temple and saw what they were doing in His presence. Even with this intercession for Israel, God did not stop what He had decided to do.

Punishment and not mercy was the only thing God had left to do to bring evil back into check. If He did not, He would not be a just God, who upholds what is right. These people weren't just hurting themselves; they were leading an entire nation into false belief that was going to destroy their souls and condemn them to eternal death and suffering.

My parents spanked me when I was young, to keep me from doing things that could potentially kill me or put me in jail. It hurt. It was worth it, because it got my attention and trained my feet to avoid evil paths.

God is about to do that for the whole world. If you are obedient to God, you will be reasonably safe from what is coming, although the evil going on around you will be fierce, and you likely won't escape some effects of it. As I read in my devotional time last night
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.(Luke 12: 4-7 NIV).
Is it time to be afraid? Yes. However, just like I said at the beginning of this post, you can be prepared, and take shelter from the coming storm.

  • Know Jesus. If you have not submitted your life to God, you are not safe. Going to church and participating in helping the poor cannot save you. Doing good works for others to see does not bend your heart to submit to God's will. He will ask you to face trials with Him, and if you have not submitted to Him, you will not obey Him in such difficult times. If you have been good so far, but you have not submitted your heart to God, the time is now. All you have to do is ask Him to forgive your past sins and to guide you in the future, so you do not sin against Him again. Then, if you want to be safe from wrath, you have to do what He tells you to do. It's not hard. Do it now!

  • Pray and Study God's Word Daily. You are going to need to know what is good--what is God's way. Know not to join with evil people, or to do what God finds detestable. This cannot be learned by osmosis, so sleeping with a Bible under your pillow will not work. I always take my Bible with me into the storm shelter. It's really a symbolic act to remind myself that God's word is my lifeline in times of trouble. It's the most important thing I own.

  • Get Your House in Order. In this world climate, this means paying off your debts and not incurring more of them. It means repairing relationships with others. It means watching the news closely and planning what you are going to do if the unimaginable happens. We're headed that way, so it wouldn't hurt to be prepared.

I've spent many evenings, over the past 5 years or so especially, crying as I watched people insist that there is no God, and that He doesn't see (Ezekiel 8:12). I've wept in anguish as I watched the news, which over the past few years especially has been a parade of sins: Greed, materialism, homosexuality, fornication (sex outside of marriage), adultery and divorce, anarchy, school shootings and terrorist bombings, atheism, humanism, and the list goes on and on. These have become standard tv plots, and they are no longer odious to many churches and church goers in this generation. We have turned our backs on the presence of God, and bowed down to idols!

As I finish writing this, I just looked down and this passage out of Ezekiel chapter 7 just jumped out at me. We are living it as we speak.
"Prepare chains, because the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of violence. I will bring the most wicked of the nations to take possession of their houses; I will put an end to the pride of the mighty, and their sanctuaries will be desecrated. When terror comes, they will seek peace, but there will be none. Calamity upon calamity will come, and rumor upon rumor. They will try to get a vision from the prophet; the teaching of the law by the priest will be lost, as will the counsel of the elders. The king will mourn, the prince will be clothed with despair, and the hands of the people of the land will tremble. I will deal with them according to their conduct, and by their own standards I will judge them. Then they will know that I am the LORD."( Ezekiel 7: 23-27 NIV).
Ah, Sovereign Lord! Let those of us who obey You have one last chance to warn the ones who are willing to listen!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Waiting for God? Part 3: Staying with God

I've been talking about "Waiting for Godot" over the past two posts. I'll remind my readers again that some people have interpreted the play as an accusation that God abandoned everyone during World War II, or that God was a fairy tale that was forgotten during the war.

So far I've mainly addressed the people who wrote or interpreted the play--namely, the secular humanists. This leaves out a lot of people, however. Suppose you have acknowledged God as supreme and have submitted to Him (as I've already discussed in Waiting for God? parts 1 and 2), but you still feel like God has abandoned you. Don't give up. This post is for you.

If your salvation experience went a lot like mine, you woke up the next day excited to begin your new life with God. Then something bad happened. Something came along that basically seemed like punishment for your attempts to do right and obey God. Then, to make matters worse, you cried out to God for an explanation as to why this was happening to you, and God didn't seem to respond. Does this mean the interpreters of "Waiting for Godot" were right all along?
Where did the fun go? How do we choose to go on being a Christian when it seems like there is no point in doing it anymore? Where is our hope in times like these?

Where's My Party?

If someone told you that being a Christian is just a perpetual party, in which you get anything you ask from God and never have to suffer any pain, well, that person was lying to you. Even Jesus said:
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.(Matthew 10: 21-23 NIV)

Christians are promised pain, but we are also promised a reward for that pain--we "will be saved"--and that applies to both salvation from our present troubles, and salvation from Hell and eternal suffering.

Jesus told a parable about this, called "The Parable of the Sower." He tells the story of a farmer who sowed seed. Some fell along the path and was snatched up by birds. Some fell on shallow soil and grew up quickly, but withered. Some fell among thorns, which choked out the plants. Still more fell on good soil and produced an abundant crop. Jesus' disciples asked Him to explain the parable, and this is Jesus' reply:
Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13: 18-23 NIV)

So what I'm trying to say here is that there is a party, and if you've submitted your life to God, you are an honored guest. That doesn't mean your whole life will always be a party, but you are guaranteed one at the end, and nothing but your own choice can take that from you. Are you like "the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy," but gives up later when staying with God gets difficult? Are you going to be choked out with "the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth"? As a Christian, you can't let the trials you face now take away the hope and the "party" in your future.

Prayers Bouncing off the Ceiling?

Sometimes hope at the end of the road doesn't feel like enough to get you through today. You've heard all the trite sayings, like "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but they don't make you feel better when you've lost someone or are really struggling with something in your life. At those moments, when you desperately cry out for answers from God, sometimes He doesn't give them. Your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. When God seems silent, are we right to say that He no longer exists, that He has abandoned us, or that He doesn't love us?

When it seems like God isn't hearing our prayers, we should first make sure that we have repented of all of our sins. The Bible says:
Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.(Isaiah 59: 1, 2 NIV)

I don't say that to accuse everyone of unrepented sin, but it is a real problem that can cut us off from God. For those who have repented, and yet still haven't heard from God, know that it isn't because God can't answer. Sometimes He just chooses not to explain everything He does.

Before you start saying that God is fickle toward Christians, remember that God thinks of Christians as His children. That makes Him our Father. Now, when you were small, did your parents always explain to you why they took you to the doctor for vaccinations, examinations, or even surgeries? They weren't fun, but who were you to say to your parents that they weren't necessary? Your parents, if they loved you half as much as God did, made all those hard decisions for your benefit, and they did their best to stay with you through the pain. Meanwhile, God, who loves you more than any parent, makes even harder decisions about what trials you must face, but He doesn't abandon you to the pain while you are going through it. David wrote, even as he was being pursued by a man who wanted to kill him, "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you" (Psalm 9: 9-10 NIV). Furthermore, God doesn't put you through something He doesn't think you can handle. It is written, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 29-30 NIV).

The Bible tells the story of Job, a righteous man who did not turn his back on God, even when God allowed Satan to torment him and destroy everything he had, including his health. Job kept asking God "why would You let this happen?", but he didn't get an answer. When God finally answered him, it was to remind Job that God is sovereign, and that Job, by questioning God, was questioning God's authority to make decisions for his life (Job chapters 40-42).

Remember, sometimes God doesn't explain His reasons to us, but He is trustworthy. When God is silent, it doesn't make Him less trustworthy. He sent His son to die for us, so that we could have eternal life (John 3:16). In the meantime, He promised us that He would always be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9), and that He would fight our battles, if we would just trust Him (Exodus 14:14).

To Go on or Go Back

I leave you with the story of the Israelites in the desert after they had left Egypt. At that point, they had so offended God that He said to them:
Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way. (Exodus 33: 1-3)
Moses was not satified with that. Yes, they would be getting their ancestral homeland, but they wouldn't do it with God's blessing. Was God abandoning them in the desert?
Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."
The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name." (Exodus 33: 12-17)

So I'm posing the question now--who was going to abandon who in that desert? Weren't the people about to abandon God? Even though God felt they had rejected Him, He had still promised to go ahead of them and give them the Promised Land. When Moses pleaded with Him, He even promised to be with Moses (in other words, not with the people, but with their leader). When life is hard and following God is difficult, we should not accuse God of abandoning us. We should make sure we are not abandoning Him--and then we should trust Him. When has God ever failed us? Even when we reject Him, He is kind and generous with us. What proof do we have to accuse God of leaving us, or not loving us? Let us stay with God, so that after every struggle is over, the world can see that He is our help and our comfort.