Don’t Judge Me For My Troubles

A woman looking out window judge not
You’d rather listen to the Keep On podcast of this post? Great! Here’s the link.

Our family has faced our hardest times yet these last few weeks. We’ve “expanded our circle” of helpers and burden-sharers. It’s humbling. Yesterday my hot-mess sobs stopped the ladies’ prayer time cold. But today I want to share the good coming out of all this: I’m learning not to judge.

Judge Not

Oh, sure, I already knew that. To walk a mile in his shoes; and take the log out of my own eye first. But through this backdoor way, the troubles of the last months are peeling off judgmental layers I didn’t know I had.

I’m embarrassed to admit it. “Judge not” feels, now, too obvious to state. But what is plain as day to some is as clear as mud to others. In some dark nights this truth did not shine brightly. It was not front and center when my friends passed through the valley.

This post is for you who are in a world of hurt. And to you who aren’t in that painful world now, but love someone who hurts. I want you to know this when you are tried and I want you to remember it you see hard times come to others, so that you don’t assume you know why trouble came.

Don’t Assume

It is both massive caution and immense relief. So, what is this brilliant truth?

Troubles are not proportional. Life is not a formula. We must not assume that suffering and prosperity are distributed in proportion to the bad or good that a person does; that if we live by faith and obey Christ, health and ease will come, and if we don’t, it won’t.

The truth is, we do not always reap what we sow.

Job didn’t. But Job’s counselors gave him many iterations of “you reap what you sow,” to explain his trials. None of them helped. Every one hurt.

We hear it in the words of Job’s friend Eliphaz. First Eliphaz observes, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). That’s the assumption. Job suffering must be a punishment for some secret sin. For, as Eliphaz adds, “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days” (Job 15:20). Then he gets even more direct, “Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities” (Job 22:5).

You reap what you sow is biblical (e.g., Galatian 6:7, Hosea 10:13, Proverbs 1:31). As a general principal, you reap what you sow is true. But sometimes what looks like a harvest is not a harvest.

Job knew this. He is right when he says, “The evil man is spared in the day of calamity” (Job 21:30). And the suffering of Job was the suffering of “a man blameless and upright; who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).

No, life doesn’t work like this. Trouble is not a proportional thing.

Don’t Judge That Way

None of us like to admit to being judges like this, judges with evil—or at least self-protective— thoughts. But I know I have been. I fall back into thinking that if I live by faith, I will be spared of trouble on earth. But God is teaching me to stop judging myself and others that way.

Because the earthly outcome of genuine faith is not the same. That’s just not how God does it. God does not spare his children from suffering. The good die young. And the good die old. The length of man’s days, and the trouble he sees in those days, does not reveal his faith.

In other words, don’t judge a man’s faith by the suffering in his life. Don’t judge your sister’s faith by the hardship she endures. Please don’t assume the cancer came because she ate junk food or the prodigal was formed by parental indulgence. Don’t assume the conflict means she was controlling and the lost job means he was a poor worker.

No, trouble is not so simple, not so black and white.

The Rule, Not The Exception

We see this truth throughout Scripture. Righteous (and afflicted) Job is Exhibit A, blameless (and long childless) Zechariah and Elizabeth are Exhibit B, Apostle (and thorn-poked) Paul is Exhibit C, the man born blind (and it was not for his sin or his parents’) is Exhibit D, and John the Baptist (among those born of women no one was greater and still Herod took his head) is Exhibit E. The list could go on and on.

In other words, we can’t judge a man’s faith by the trials in his life. God’s ways are higher. For who has understood the mind of the Lord? Ours is a non-coddling God. Aslan is not a tame lion. Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever pleases him. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. His righteousness endures forever.

In the end—hallelujah and amen— there is a crown for the righteous. Heaven awaits. Then we will see Jesus face to face.

But we make a grave mistake if we think we can judge the genuineness, purity and depth of one’s faith by looking at the trials they experience in this life.

My friends, this should not be. The end of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us why. It does not permit us to believe that a life of faith guarantees pain-free.

Both By Faith

Hebrews 11:32b-39 makes the case.

32 For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy— wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all of these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

Both were commended. All of these are in the “Hall of Faith.”

Both Were Commended

By faith some conquer kingdoms and some are tortured to death. By faith some become mighty and some are stoned. And by faith some raise godly sons and daughters and some endure prodigal wandering.

Our faith is not the ultimate factor in whether we suffer or prosper. It’s not even the determining factor in if our own kids follow Christ. God is. His sovereign will and wisdom and love determine what I face.

Our friends may not understand. They may still judge. Our trials might be too traumatic for others to share. I get that too.

But in the end, isn’t this truth comforting? Our faith is not the final determiner of our trials. Some shut the mouths of lions, some were sawn in two. And both were commended for their faith.

Swords And More Swords

God can and does deliver his people by faith. He even performs miracles for them. God changed the normal way things work so that his people were helped or rescued from danger or death. We see this in verses 32-35a. But God doesn’t always rescue the faithful from suffering.

Some escaped the edge of the sword (verse 34) and others were put to death with the sword (verse 37). And both are commended for their faith.

In other words, having genuine faith in God is no guarantee of comfort and security in this life. John Piper says, it is crucial that we see the agonies God’s people sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. He draws this out of the text in two ways.

First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with “. . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . .” and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38. It is by faith that “others were tortured . . . and others experienced mockings and floggings…” All this misery is received and endured by faith.

The other way to see this is in verse 39 which looks back on all the sufferings of verses 35-38 and says, “And all these suffering people], were commended through their faith.” In other words, the suffering and destitution and torture of God’s people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God’s disapproval. Rather God’s approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith.

John Piper,Faith to be Strong and Faith to be Weak

Don’t miss this faithful, suffering friends: God’s approval is resting on you because of your faith.

Keep on.

Why We Judge This Way

I told my parenting woes to a friend this week. Then I confessed that I assumed. I assumed that behind all troublesome teens were problematic parents—over-controlling, hypocritical, neglectful, or some vile combination.

Then she said something surprising. Insightful, really. She said, she thought we did this formula thing not so much because we’re smug, judgmental beasts but because we want to protect ourselves. Because we want to believe that if we do X, Y, and Z this thing that happened to her won’t happen to me.

I think she’s absolutely right. I think we look for the flaws and the sins in those suffering as a way to sort of insulate ourselves. If I don’t parent like that, my kids won’t turn out like that. Or if I don’t eat like that, I won’t look like that. If I don’t do that, I won’t get cancer. We desperately want to know the cause.

Because if we know the cause, we avoid the cause. If we can reduce life to a formula to protect ourselves and those we love. Or so we think. While there may be some truth to each of the examples above—healthy lifestyles do promote health—they always break down. And the formula approach shatters in the context of faith and troubles.

In shards and smithereens, it shatters.

Joyful Suffering Shatters Assumptions

A new friend joined our Thursday ladies’ life group a couple months ago. Jan was there for the hot-mess, sob-fest. She heard me get so choked up I had to pause the prayer.

But you’ll never guess what Jan said.

She said thanks.

When I first met you, you seemed so strong and joyful. I assumed your life was all good. But now I hear this side and see your tears and you still have joy. Thanks.

Many things in this life are utterly opposite from the way they seem. For we wouldn’t think God would send his beloved to the wilderness to be tested or let his closest friends suffer persecution and martyr’s deaths. We wouldn’t think.

My trials are tiny compared to the persecution described at the end of Hebrews chapter 11. But I’ve read about the life and death trials of God’s children and I’ve seen a few friends suffer to death and I know they have heard, “Well done, good and faithful.”

Your Gift to the World

Which takes me to John Piper’s last point on that message from the end of Hebrews 11.

“When the precious children of God are permitted to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and go destitute, God is giving a gift to the world. He is gracing the world. He is shedding his love abroad in the world. Because in those who suffer and die in the unshakable assurance of hope in God, the world is given a message and a picture: ‘The Lord himself is better than life. Turn, O turn and believe.’

Who would have thought it—that the suffering are a gift to the world?”

“There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8)? Who described Job in such glowing terms? Again, who commends “all of these” for their faith?

So judge not.

When a man is right with God, God puts his honor in that man’s keeping.

Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God.

“And blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me,’ said our Lord.

—Oswald Chambers, Baffled To Fight Better

For Pity’s Sake: 4 Pitfalls Of Pity

sad emoji and question mark

You have the rare ability to see both sides at once. The glass is half empty and half full to you, lauded Mr. Baughn. You see shades of gray.

Mark Twain quipped that he could live off a good compliment for two months. That’s a gross underestimate in my case. Because those words from Mr. Baughn- senior year, English Lit- go back 25 years.

The reason I mention them now isn’t (mainly) to hail the power of praise or to encourage shades of gray. I bring them up, because they help explain why this pity thing keeps surfacing.

The Good Side Of Pity

Sympathy is good and it’s bad. In fact, if you don’t have pity at the right times, not to overstate, but you might be a cold-blooded psychopath. And the Bible commands us to have sympathy (1 Peter 3:8).

Rightly placed pity is godlike and divine. Jesus Christ had pity (Matt. 9:36, 20:34, Luke 7:12-15). We are to be like Christ. We are to have pity.

The Pitfalls Of Pity

But the glass is also half-empty. While we are to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b)- we are to express our pity with discretion.

Being overly empathic, leading with our hearts not our heads- as when we don’t consider the long term and get lost in emotion- can hurt us and those close to us. Too much pity- or what this post is about, pity misapplied- might actually be harmful. Like when we know that our disappointment is clearly God’s appointment. Or if you always cave when your five-year old cries at bedtime, and decide he can stay up.

Pity is good. Like many good gifts it can be misapplied. And lately I’ve seen a lot of misdirected pity.

Here are four ways I think our pity may get misdirected.

1. Pity is misdirected when it is self-focused.

Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for his purpose in the world. –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Self-pity– the kind defined as a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes- would land squarely in the first category.

I’ve written about this again and again. I suppose it’s because I’m too sensitive- that sensitive – and self-pity is one of my besetting sins. Time and time again this line from C.S. Lewis rings in my head: Indeed what is commonly called “sensitiveness” is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearance in ourselves.

Merciless. Like we were to the carpenter ants that bored their way through the ceiling and dropped onto our living room floor. They were destructive. We showed them no mercy.

Be intolerant of your own self-pity. Strike it at its roots. Distract yourself if you must-write a letter or wash the floor like I did Sunday afternoon.

But show no mercy to pity directed toward yourself.

2. Pity is misdirected when it is used to hold joy captive.

I’ve been re-reading The Great Divorce. It’s C.S. Lewis’ imaginative, instructive tale of a bus ride through heaven and hell. Near the end, we meet Sarah Smith in heaven where she’s reunited with her (shrinking) husband Frank, fresh off the tourbus from Hell.

In this scene, Frank is bemoaning the fact that her joy- both on earth and now in heaven-is not contingent on his.

You who can be happy without me, forgetting me! You don’t want even to hear of my sufferings. Don’t, you say. Don’t make you unhappy. And this is the reward–

Stop it at once, she said.

Stop what?

Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see I know now. Even as a child, you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic. Because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, “I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.” You used their pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end.


Those who choose to focus on their own misery will not be allowed “to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy.”

Pity must never be directed so as to hold joy- ours or others’- captive.

3. Pity is misdirected if it never spurs us on to action.

Let us not love in word or tongue but in action and with truth. –John the Apostle

So there’s pity and there’s pity. And we must distinguish between the two. Because only the pure, active one will endure.

Continuing from The Great Divorce,

The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of Pity, the Pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth… that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.

‘And what is the other kind- the action?’

It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good.

 

Pity in this “passion” sense is not necessarily noble. It might just be a knee-jerk response or a veiled way of rejoicing that I am exempt from that particular suffering. That I am healthy, my husband has a job, my boys get decent grades. My pity may simply be an expression of my joy in not suffering that way.

Clearly the, “add-a-sad-emoji-and-be-glad-it’s-not-me” expression of pity is not a crowning virtue. This “pity” demands nothing from us and may just be an expression of underlying selfishness. It is certainly not heroic.

To add a sad emoji can be a kindness. But if out pity always stops there and doesn’t leap to bring healing and joy, it’s merely sentimental.

But if it’s never action and truth, it’s not enough.

4. Pity is misdirected if it doesn’t reflect God’s just mercy.

Virtuous pity, or what Thomas Aquinas calls ‘misercordia’, is married to justice, regulated by reason, and structured by doctrine. –Joshua Hren, “The Problem of Pity”

Joshua Hren’s Touchstone magazine article is super insightful. In it, he draws from Dante’s Inferno to explain why we must discriminate among pities, and “learn to measure our mercy against the just mercy of God.”

Hren cites a scene in Canto V, where in the circle of the carnal, Dante meets Pauolo and Francesca. As a result of their illicit affair, “these lovers glide through Hell’s whirl like grotesque mating doves.”

When Francesca sees Dante, she recognizes his pity- and, Hren writes, “pounces on it, telling her own ‘piteous tale.'” As she explains her sob story of “how love had led them there,” Paolo stands beside her as both of them weep. Seeing them, Dante felt, “my sense reel / and faint away with anguish.”

With that, he begins his descent into the Inferno, prepared “to face the double war / of the journey and pity.” In other words, Dante realized, misplaced pity is, in a certain sense, the enemy.

Hren, and Dante long before him, recognize that many (wrongly) think that pity should be indiscriminately expressed toward the other, whether that person has cancer or a married friend confides that keeping a secret life is so trying.

Hren concludes, “we ought not to pity the sinner to the point that we try to rearrange the architecture of Hell.”

Jesus Hurt Peter

The germ for this post came on Easter Sunday as I sat reading just past our pastor’s sermon text.

My eyes stopped at John 21:15. It’s in the context of the conversation that Jesus had with Peter after the bread and fish breakfast on the beach.

Here’s the part that arrested me:

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Knowing all things, Jesus could have said, “I’m sorry Bud, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” But our Lord, who was moved with compassion at times, didn’t pull his punches. He said, for the third time, “Feed my sheep.”

But there’s more: Jesus’ next words to Peter explained how he would die a martyr’s death. No mention of pity here.

But we know Peter loved Jesus. And Jesus loved Peter.

Therefore, pity must not equal love.

Break My Heart For What Breaks Yours

For the record, midway through the writing of this post, my husband loved me without showing an ounce of pity. Jim knows the tell-tale signs of my self-pity and they were starting to ooze Sunday afternoon. So, in love, he showed no mercy. Don’t go there, he simply said.

Sometimes pity’s a beautiful thing. Other times it’s ugly. And I only know one way to determine which it is: Break my heart for what breaks yours, is how the song goes.

But maybe the flip side is, don’t let my heart break for what does not break yours. Or at least, don’t hold back from speaking truth in love even if it hurts. Like Jesus did to Peter.

By the way, only an abounding, discerning love can do this. With so many shades of gray, that kind of love is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of pity.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

Fearful People Do Stupid Things

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.  

Proverbs 29:25


I don’t know what the bumper sticker meant. Maybe it was a reference to timid drivers. The ones who go 5 miles under on the freeway.  Those who hesitate then inch out at busy 4-way stops.  

I doubt it was directed at those who keep their life savings under the mattress, only to see it burn. Maybe, as my husband thought, it was a veiled political message. Don’t fall for the lying, fear mongering welfare reform will “throw-granny-over-a-cliff,” ads.

But the minute I pulled out behind the pick-up, my mind flew to two.

Two Bible-time kings prove the point. They happen to be Israel’s first and last. 

1. King Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:14-39:7)

Judah’s last king sees the writing on the wall. So he sends for Jeremiah the prophet, fresh out of the cistern. Tell me what’s coming, he begs. Assured the king won’t kill the messenger, Jeremiah delivers:

Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared, and the city will not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 

But if you do not surrender then the city will be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire and you shall not escape from their hands.  

King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest I be handed over to them and they deal cruelly with me.” (Jeremiah 38:17-19)

At least he was honest.  Zedekiah admitted fear of his countrymen. No paralyzing fear of the barbarous Babylonians. Fear of the mocking cruelty of his fellow Jews; that they’d laugh at him. Give him the old, Told you so. He’d opposed their surrender before. They’d mock him to scorn if he surrendered now.

Matthew Henry asks, If he should be taunted a little by the Jews, could he not make light of it? What harm would it do him? Those have very weak and fretful spirits indeed that cannot bear to be laughed at for that which is both their duty and interest. 

What would you have done?  What do you do when you realize you’re wrong?  

Do you swallow your pride, and eat your words? Fear the God who hates haughty hearts and lying tongues? Or do you double down, afraid you’ll be mocked? Surrender to the marauding Babylonians? Or hightail it outta Dodge?

Wrong fear reigned and he did a stupid thing. Zedekiah fled. Fear of his fellow man trumped the fear that Jeremiah’s sure word of the Lord should have invoked. Matthew Henry again: He thought it would be looked upon as a piece of cowardice to surrender; whereas it would be really an instance of true courage cheerfully to bear a less evil, the mocking of the Jews, for the avoiding of a greater, the ruin of his family and kingdom. 

Alas, when when Zedekiah and his soldiers saw the officials of the kings of Bablyon, with very scary sounding names like Nergal-sar-ezer, Samgar-nebu, and Sar-sekim the Rab-sans, they fled, going out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden…

And, as Jeremiah foretold, it didn’t go well for this fearful man, doing this stupid thing.

But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon…and he passed sentence on him.  The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and he slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. (Jeremiah 39:6-7)

The parallel account of Judah’s fall in Chronicles is sadder still. The Chronicler paints a tragic, sweeping picture of Israel’s demise. It’s so sad because the stupidity of trusting man and ignoring God is so stark. Note the contrast: Who has compassion? Who has no compassion? 

The LORD, the God of their fathers sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. (Jeremiah 36:15-16)

God, a loving father warning consequences, threatening punishment. Over and over he warned Israel, Zedekiah. Finally, time was up and there was no remedy for his people. Their misplaced fear was their demise.

Therefore he brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed the young men with the sword…and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. (Jeremiah 36:17)

Don’t be stupid! he warns. Don’t fear man; fear your loving Lord.  Did you see the stupidity of ignoring a God who has compassion on his people and trusting- cowtowing- to a king with no compassion?  

The contrast between Zedekiah and David is glaring. Late in his reign, David counted his kingdom. It was a grave mistake and he knew it. Confronted by the prophet Gad with a choice of three punishments his choice was clear:

David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress.  Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (1 Chronicles 21:13)


2. King Saul (1 Samuel 15)

Israel’s first king also had a bad case of misplaced fear. Rather than fear and obey the One who had raised and anointed him to be head of Israel, he feared the people. 

Samuel gave Saul explicit directions.  When you strike Amalek, Samuel had instructed, do not spare them. Devote all they have to destruction.  But Saul and the people spared Agag, their king, and the best of the sheep and cattle-all that was good.  But all that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. (1 Samuel 15:9)

This selective sparing prompted Samuel’s, to obey is better than to sacrifice, rebuke. Sober and grim it ends.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you from being king.

Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:23b-24)

John Piper deals with Saul’s misplaced fear in his sermon, The Pleasure of God in Obedience.

Why did Saul obey the people instead of God? Because he feared the people instead of God. He feared the human consequences of obedience more than he feared the divine consequences of sin. He feared the displeasure of the people more than the displeasure of God. And that is a great insult to God. Samuel had said twice to Saul and the people in 12:14 and 24, “Fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart.” But now the leader himself has feared man and turned away from following God (1 Samuel 15:11).

Oh, for this holy, God-exalting fear!

Not the slavish fear of God that mistrusts him, recoils at his majesty. Perfect love casts that fear out. Not apprehensive fear that the shoe is about to drop; that sickness or sorrow will inevitably overwhelm. Fear not for I am with you. Definitely not fear that His love will fail and run out.

And yes, fearless people do stupid things, too. Just google “stupid stunts.”

But it’s all about WHO you fear. As Jesus sent his sheep out among the world’s wolves, he warned them to be wise. Not to misplace their fear.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. 
Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 
Matthew 10:28

Fear him, because he loves his own. They will never perish, His sheep, and no one can snatch them out of His hand.