Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Unanswered Prayers: Are They God's Gift & An Excuse To Forsake God?


            They waited several years for a child. Then God blessed them with a lovely child. Seven years later, the child fell ill.

            The parents prayed desperately as if their life hinged on this one particular event – the survival of their most loved one.

            The child died.

            The parents were inconsolable. Their sorrow knew no bounds.

            Their prayers were unanswered.

            Then when we listen to the song Unanswered Prayers by Garth Brooks, we hear that unanswered prayers are a gift from God. The chorus reads:

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
And just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

            If you do not marry the girl you desperately prayed for, and if the girl you married is better than the girl you once prayed for, then the unanswered prayer is indeed God’s gift.

            But this is not a universal principle.

            Not all unanswered prayers are God’s gifts.

            The child you adored died. What if God did not bless you with another child? What if you remained childless?

            Could you then consider the unanswered prayer as a gift?

            Or you may have been blessed with a beautiful girl and you pray for her marriage. When she’s at a marriageable age, she is brutally raped and unimaginably injured. Despite prayers, after days of hospitalization, she dies.

            How is this unanswered prayer a gift from God?

            Don’t get me wrong. There are various occasions wherein unanswered prayers are indeed a gift from God.

            But I zealously oppose the notion that all unanswered prayers are a gift from God.

            In a couple of instances mentioned above and in the many other horrendous acts of evil perpetrated upon humanity, one cannot fathom unanswered prayers to be a gift from God. So there are many instances wherein unanswered prayers cannot be considered as God’s gifts.

            In an erstwhile blog, I wrote:1

Unanswered Prayers Are A Biblical Reality
Job pleaded, “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm.” (Job 30: 20-22, NIV).
Some faithful and well meaning Christians would contend the reality of unanswered prayers. They would argue that although Job suffered immensely, he was blessed mightily. The same holds true for King David as well (cf. Psalm 22: 1-2).
The same Bible that narrates the blessing of Job and King David also narrates the incomparable suffering of God’s people. In other words, the Bible implies God’s silence when HIS people were suffering, “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11: 35b-38, NIV).
These verses reveal God’s silence to those who were faithful to HIM. Even when the faithful cried out to God, HE remained silent.
Thank God for poets who so wonderfully articulate these moments of despair,1
"It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder, if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God."

(Andrew Peterson in “The Silence of God.”)
           
          Why are unanswered prayers not an excuse to forsake God?

            In that very blog, I wrote:2

Is Renouncing God A Better Option?
Many have renounced Christianity because God did not answer their prayers. To renounce Christianity is one option when God does not answer prayers…
Consider the option of renouncing God. What would happen to those renouncing God? Do they get a better God? No way! There is only one God, and that’s it.

            Forsaking God could depict us as spiritually immature believers, for we may have forgotten the basics of our belief in the God of the Bible:

            1. We believe in the God of the Bible because HE alone saves us from eternal death to life.

            2. As Christians, we profess a consummate commitment to God over man - even family or our own life (cf. Matthew 10: 34-38).  

            3. As Christians, we primarily seek the spiritual and not the material aspects of this world (cf. Matthew 6: 33, 22: 36 - 38).

            If we have properly understood the basics of our belief in Christ, then we would not forsake God even when we suffer a loss of our loved ones or our possessions or even when our own life is threatened.

            Our response to any of these situations would resonate with that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”” (Daniel 3: 16-18, MSG; Emphasis Mine).

            But there could be complicated scenarios. Consider the fervent prayers for our loved ones to believe in Christ and be saved.

            What if our loved ones die without believing in Christ? Would this situation of unanswered prayer justify forsaking the God of the Bible?

            Our prayer, in this very instance, does not focus on the material, but the spiritual – the eternal life for our loved ones.

            How do we respond to a situation where our loved ones remain as unbelievers until their very last breath?

            It’s God who is sovereign, good, gracious and just. HE would never turn away anyone who seeks HIM (John 6: 37). God’s sovereignty, goodness, and justice entails that HE would do everything that needs to be done to bring anyone to HIM – that includes our loved ones as well.

            But God, despite our fervent prayers, will not force anyone to believe in HIM, ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! Look, your house is left to you desolate! For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”” (Matthew 23: 37 – 39, NET).

            This is the hard truth or the bitter pill that we need to swallow. 

            Whatever be the case, unanswered prayers are not a legitimate reason to forsake God. 

Endnotes:

1https://rajkumarrichard.blogspot.com/2016/08/silence-of-god-despair-of-man.html

2Ibid.

Websites last accessed on 16th October 2019.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Ordination Of Women Pastors; How Do We Respond?


            Could a woman be ordained as a [senior] pastor of a church? Is it biblically right or wrong?

            The Christian community is divided over this sensitive matter. Some say yes, others say no.

            Why?

Yes

            “Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing is a senior vice president with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Joint Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.”1 She also pastors in a church, “Based in Oxford, England, where she pastors at Latimer Minster with her husband Francis…”2

            Regarding the view that there are ‘silence passages’ in the Bible wherein women are instructed to not be authoritative over men, Amy, while speaking with Eternity News, said:3

Even Paul, who is often seen as a key obstacle to women’s progress in the church, accepted that women could teach and prophesy, she points out.
“What’s interesting in 1 Corinthians where Paul mentions about women being silent in the church, two chapters earlier he’s talked about how women should behave when they prophesy, which means get up and speak in front of everyone.
“So obviously, when he says be silent, he doesn’t mean all women for all time should never say anything. He turns to a specific group of women who are disrupting services and he’s asking them to be silent, but in general he’s saying when women do teach or prophesy in the church they should cover their hair. And the reason he says that is your hair was incredibly seductive; it would be like saying don’t wear an incredibly short skirt when you get up in front of people in church today. He’s not saying ‘don’t get up in front and prophesy.’”
She said this is a classic example of people taking a verse out of context and applying it to everyone for all time.
“It’s absolutely clear if you read the letter in its entirety that it doesn’t mean that,” she says.

No

            Norman Geisler advocates for male church leadership (Emphasis Mine):4

…when understood in context, the “silence” passages are not negating the ministry of women, but are limiting the authority of women. Paul asserts that women were not permitted “to have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). Likewise, he follows his exhortation to “keep silent” by reminding them to be “submissive” (1 Cor. 14:34). Of course, men too were under authority and needed to submit to the headship of Christ over them (1 Cor. 11:3). Indeed, the ultimate proof that there is nothing degrading about being submissive is that Christ, who was God in human flesh, is always submissive to the Father, both on earth (Phil. 2:5–8) and even in heaven (1 Cor. 15:28). That male headship and leadership is not simply a cultural matter is evident by the fact that it is based on the very order of creation (1 Cor. 11:9; 1 Tim. 2:13). Thus, elders are to be men, “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2). This, however, in no way demeans or diminishes the role of women, either in the family or in the church. The fact that men cannot have babies is not demeaning to their humanity or their role in the family. It is simply that God has not granted them this function, but a different one.

            Wayne Grudem is also of the opinion that women should not be pastors, “My own conclusion on this issue is that the Bible does not permit women to function in the role of pastor or elder within the church.”5

            However, Wayne Grudem endorses the role of women in the various ministries of the church as long as that role precludes ruling and teaching functions. A woman can be a deacon (provided there is a pastor in that church), a treasurer, a counselor etc.6

Why Not?

            There should be no doubt whatsoever that Jesus Christ elevated the status of women in the society:7

1. Although Jews would have no dealings with the Samaritans, particularly the blatant sinners among them, Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation because HE cared about her spiritual condition (John 4).
2. Jesus commended the woman with hemorrhage who touched the edge of HIS cloak for her faith (Matthew 9: 20-22).
3. Mary and Martha were among Jesus’ closest friends.
4. A woman anointed Jesus at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13) would be remembered for her act of devotion whenever and wherever the gospel was preached (vv. 10-13).
5. Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom Jesus appeared following HIS resurrection, and HE instructed her to tell HIS disciples that HE has risen (John 20: 14-18).

            This list is partial.

            Women stand on the same footing as men in the sight of God, as far as salvation is concerned (Galatians 3:28). The context of this verse is the issue of justification by faith, the individual’s status before God in terms of personal righteousness (v. 27).8

            Women have played a significant role in the kingdom of God:9

1. Miriam assisted Moses and led the Israelite women in singing and dancing after their escape from Egypt (Exodus 15: 20-21).
2. Deborah was the judge of Israel. Esther saved the Jewish people from destruction.
3. Women were seen at the cross (Luke 23: 49), they sought to anoint Jesus’ body (Luke 23: 55-56), they discovered the empty tomb, heard the message of the two angels, and conveyed the news to the apostles (Luke 24: 1-11).
4. Women were given the gift of prophecy (Isaiah 8:3; Acts 21:9; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
5. Paul commends Phoebe’s leadership (Romans 16:2). He speaks of Priscilla and Aquila as his ‘fellow workers’ in Christ Jesus (Romans 16:3-4). He speaks of Mary, Persis, Tryphena and Tryphosa as having worked very hard in the Lord (Romans 16: 6, 12). 

            The fact that both men and women are created in the image of God should not be forgotten (Genesis 1: 26-27, 5: 1-2).

            The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is adorned because she promotes the welfare of her family, does not constantly remain within the confines of her home, and she is engaged in trading and business affairs (vv. 18, 24).10

            The Bible says that the woman was created to be a ‘helper’ to man. This does not relegate the woman to a position of insignificance or subservience. Rather the helper is thought to be as a co-worker or enabler.11

            Having said this, let’s contemplate this matter from another angle.

            Would God be unhappy or angry if the church ordains women pastors?

            Would God not bless the church that has a woman as a senior pastor (cf. Psalm 145: 9; Nahum 1: 3; Matthew 5: 45; Luke 6: 35)?

            It is God who calls a person to be a pastor (Ephesians 4:11). So if a person, even if it is a woman, has that calling, who are we to say no?

            When we argue that a woman cannot be ordained as a pastor, are we claiming that God will not give that gift to women? Can we second-guess the sovereign God?

            Are we going to claim that since God’s word explicitly mentions that the overseer/pastor/elder ought to be a man, God will not contradict HIS words and hence not offer the spiritual gift of the pastoral office to a woman?

            The description of an overseer/elder/pastor is not a command from God; rather it is a guideline/teaching for the church governance.

            So to contest God’s sovereignty even in light of HIS written word may not be a good choice (cf. Romans 9: 15-26 & ‘Cessationism’). (Contesting the ordination of women pastors and thereby peacefully agreeing to disagree is one thing. But to contest the ordination of women pastors and dividing the church of Jesus Christ is entirely another thing altogether.)

            When a church ordains women pastors, it is not sinning against God. A woman who pastors in a church will not lose her salvation.

            If the woman in contention is a sincere disciple of the Lord, Spirit-filled and has the calling into the pastoral office, why should she not be ordained?

            Significantly, the doctrine of a woman pastoring a church is not an essential doctrine of Historic Christianity. If some churches ordain women as pastors, and if these women live up to their calling, then so be it.

            Why quarrel and divide the church over a theme that is non-essential? We have much bigger matters to be concerned about e.g. Science vs. Religion, Effects of Postmodernism and New Atheism, etc.

            So then, should I be a legalist and not espouse the ordination of women into the pastoral office?

            I would rather err on the side of grace than on the side of the law.

Endnotes:

1https://www.rzim.org/speakers/amy-orr-ewing

2https://www.rzim.org/read/rzim-global/is-christianity-bad-news-for-women

3Ibid.

4https://defendinginerrancy.com/bible-solutions/1_Timothy_2.12-14.php

5Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine), p. 937.

6Ibid, p. 945.

7Millard J. Erickson, “Christian Theology,” Second Edition, p. 564-565.

8Ibid, p. 565.

9Ibid, p. 565-566.

10Ibid, p. 564.

11Ibid.

Websites last accessed on 9th October 2019.