The Problem of Justice
About the Guest
Could it be that the suffering you're experiencing today is really benefiting you in the long run? On the broadcast today, popular author and speaker Tommy Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas, opens the book of Ecclesiastes to find out more about God's sovereignty and justice.
Tom NelsonTom Nelson has been the pastor of Denton Bible Church, in Denton, Texas since 1977. Each year, Tom speaks to over 20,000 Song of Solomon Conference attendees and countless others via radio. In addition to the Song of Solomon materials, he is author of three books: The Book of Romance, The Big Picture: Understanding the Story of the Bible, and The Problem of Life with God. Tom has been married to Teresa Nelson for more than 30 years, and they have two grown sons, Ben and Joh...more
Could it be that the suffering you’re experiencing today is really benefiting you in the long run?
The Problem of Justice
Tommy: I was working out one time at the place I work out, and the guy says to me, he says, "You know, you're a Christian right?" "Right." He says, "You know, nice guys finish last." And I said, "Yeah, but bad guys go to hell."
And that's a fact. There's a time coming, God will judge the righteous man and the wicked.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 31st. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. The reason that we can trust God in the middle of the difficult times is because He makes all things beautiful in His time. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.
Dennis: You're kind of multitasking there, Bob. What are you doing?
Bob: I'm punching this into my Treo to make sure I got the right verse. Yeah, I thought this was right – Deuteronomy 29:29. You know what it says?
Dennis: I'm sorry, I don't have a mental Treo.
Bob: That's a pretty handy address – Deuteronomy 29:29, you can remember that, okay?
Dennis: I can look it up, and I just want to check your memory at this point.
Bob: Here is what it says – "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever that we may do all of the words of this law."
Dennis: The point is, he does speak, and the issue is what are we going to do with what he said not with those things we question. And there are a lot of questions. I don't have question marks in my Bible, but I have a lot of question marks in my life. There are a lot of things that happen in life that you push back from, and you go, "What on earth are you up to, God?" I mean, really.
The other day I ran into a person who came up to me and said, "I've tracked with you and your ministry for more than 10 years," and he said, "I've now heard a little bit of your story of some of the things you've been through in the last half-dozen years, and I just want you to know that I see a different person emerging in your life."
You know, you look back on that, Bob, and you go, "Really?" I don't think we're always aware when God works in our lives, and He takes us through hard times how the image of Christ can emerge in our lives, but He will emerge in our lives if we trust Him and walk with Him and are obedient to Him.
The question is – do we know this book and are we in it? And, as you know, Bob, this week we've had the privilege of talking with Tommy Nelson, and I have to tell you, just interacting with him about the depression and the anxiety attacks that he's had and the suffering he's been through has caused me to reflect upon my life and see what I've gained fro things I've been through.
I just have appreciated Tommy's transparency and, obviously, his wife, Teresa, as well, and how they've allowed us to peer into their lives and see how they've trusted God, how they've leaned into the sovereignty of God in the midst of some dark days.
Bob: One of the things that Tommy told us was that as he was going through this period of darkness over the last year, this depression, it was the bedrock of the Word of God in his own life that helped keep him anchored; helped keep him from blowing completely off the map.
Bob: And I thought about the fact that Tommy has taught through the book of Ecclesiastes, which is one of those books where you can come to despair. I think Solomon came to despair in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and yet he continued to stay anchored to God and, at the end, he reaches the conclusion that in life we're to fear God and keep His commandments and trust that God knows what He's doing.
We thought our listeners ought to hear Tommy teaching a portion of the Book of Ecclesiastes, and so we've heard part 1 of the message from Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, and we're going to pick it up here with part 2 of this message. This is from that portion of Scripture where we're reminded that there is a season for everything – a season to mourn and a season to dance, a season to be born and a season to die and that God makes all things beautiful in His time.
Tommy: Folks, I have had, as a pastor, to bury people in heartache and, you know, whenever heartache occurs, do you know what the knee-jerk reaction is? It's to exonerate God and to say, "Well, this that happened was an accident. God didn't like it, and God wasn't for it." And now that person has an immediate balm on them, but they walk away, and now they start thinking through the conclusions of that statement.
So who is in control out there? Nobody. The bad guys run the ship. If God is not sovereign, then I can't trust Him. If that doesn't have an ultimate meaning that occurs, then I can't trust Him. And so if I get a call tonight that my house has burned down, and my wife is dead, don't you give me the comfort that God had nothing to do with it. It's an accident. That doesn't comfort me. That strikes terror to my soul that the universe is at the mercy of igniting rags and drunks that cross the double line.
I don't have to know why. That's okay, I can live with that, but I must know that God is at the stick on anything that happens; that I can say if He offers me this cup, Jesus said, then I will drink it. Can you all trust Him like this? This is what Solomon says – what is has been already.
And, in verse 15, that which will be – that's what God is going to do next week – it has already been. God knows everything, He's never taken by surprise. Verse 15, an enigmatic statement – God seeks – that's talking about God's activity and what He does – God seeks what has passed by. He does what He decrees. He is sovereign.
Well, in verse 16, nevertheless, it's enigmatic. Furthermore, I have seen, under the sun, that in the place of justice there is wickedness, in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. Life sometimes doesn't make sense. Bad guys win, and sometimes we want to see justice right now occur, and I don't like to see the bad guys win.
I've got a guy, a buddy, he was flying one time, and he said, "I went to get in my seat" – it was a packed-out plane – "and I got to go to my seat because there was a seat in the middle there, and this guy is sitting in it. I said, 'You're in my seat.' He said, 'No, I'm keeping this seat.' And it was this young yuppie businessman with a $1,500 Brioni suit on, and he said he just kind of effervesced pride, and he said, "I looked at him," and he said, "I'm not giving up my seat." He looked to the flight attendant, and the flight attendant was trying to get that thing up, and she said, "Sir, could you – I could go get the captain, but could you just sit in that seat right in the middle there, and we can go?" He said, "All right." So he sat down, and now this bad guy has got the open seat.
Just before they fly, what always happens when you think you've got an open seat next to you? Just before you fly, all right, here comes standby, and here comes a woman with a little 18-month-old, sits next to him.
And they take off, and he's got his laptop out, and this kid is talking the whole Dallas-to-Atlanta flight right in his ear. And this guy is over there kind of looking at it, going, "That's nice."
This kid is chattering the whole way, they flew, and they got ready to set down and just before they got ready to set down, this kid goes dead silent, and it was so quiet that everybody noticed it at the same time – that kid ain't talking. And they looked over, and that girl is ashen white. She is airsick.
And he said, "This little girl looks at this guy and just throws up everything." And he said it hit him in the face, and then it went down his Brioni suit onto his laptop, and there is cursing and screaming and nastiness, and the stewardess comes back, and she cleans him up, and, oh, it's nasty.
Well, they landed, and he got ready to get off, and this guy gets up, and he runs off the plane in a huff. And he got ready to leave, and the stewardess sees him coming – the guy that had to take the place over here, and she just does to him – she says this – meaning, "Just wait." And so he pulls over into one of the seats and just waits. They all got off, and she steps out in the aisle with a bottle of champagne and two glasses.
And they toasted, he said, the justice of God.
Wouldn't you like that, you know? Now, sometimes life is like that, and it's wonderful. Wouldn't you like it if some guy, you know, flips you off on the road, then, all of a sudden, he gets hit by a meteor? Now, that's the kind of God we would like, you know, right there.
Verse 16 – "I've seen, under the sun, in the place of justice there is wickedness," that's a fact. Sometimes life is enigmatic, amen? Sometimes the decree of God doesn't make sense what He's doing, but he said in verse 17, there's a time coming, God will judge the righteous man and the wicked.
I was working out one time at the place I work out, and the guy says to me, he says, "You know, you're a Christian, right? "Right." He says, "You know, nice guys finish last." And I said, "Yeah, but bad guys go to hell."
And that's a fact. So he says, "God's going to have His day." And in verse 18, this is an enigmatic-looking verse, but apparently the thought is that God's plan is wise because death and evil have a good purpose. In verse 18, God has tested men, or them, in order for them to see that they are but beast – 19, here is what he means by that – "For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies, so dies the other. Indeed, they all have the same breath, and there is no advantage for man over the beast. All is fantasy. They die, all go to the same place, meaning death came from the dust, and they returned to the dust and in verse 21 he asks the question – who knows that the breath of man goes upward and the breath of beasts descends downward? The answer is nobody knows unless you have a word from God as to what man is. So God uses death and evil and hard things to humble us and to make us seek truth. There is a purpose.
How many of you – I really want you to raise your hand if this was the case – how many of you, the reason you became converted was because God, in His sovereignty, afflicted you with hardship and pain that drove you to Him? Anybody? That was me. That was me. I was not brought to Christ by the delight of His love. I was hurt, and I thank God for that pain. He showed me that I was an animal, and I didn't know the most basic thing of life without Him.
Well, are you with me so far? See, this is His crisis. Bad things are decreed. God makes us and strengthens us through this, and the comfort we have is everything is beautiful in its time, but you don't know what it is, but you can trust Him, and you can enjoy today. Rocky Road, eat that Rocky Road, enjoy today, okay?
Well, in chapter 4, I want you to write down chapter 4 and 5, put down "caution." He makes you take a caution. There is something you don't want to happen. Be careful of responding wrongly. In verse 1 of chapter 4, He's going to show you three areas of seeming consternation that seem to contradict chapter 3. The first is oppression. In verse 1, "I looked at all the acts of oppression being done under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed. They had no one to comfort them." And on the side of the oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them.
And in verse 4, put this down – "materialism." The fact is, in verse 4, I've seen every labor and every skilled, which is done as the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This is vanity and the striving after wind. Do you just watch, sometimes, television and all the competition and the covetousness of you've got to have this, and these guys trying to make more than these guys, and you just shake your head, and you go, "Boy, is that all life is – is this ratrace where rats win?"
Well, he says in verse 4, it's vanity. He says in verse 5, "This is not the way to deal with materialism. The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh." That ain't the way to deal with it is just to be bum. And then he says in verse 6, "If I am the middle ground, one handful of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind."
Work hard with this hand and sit easy with this hand. You know what the Hebrew is? Rocky Road, that's a fact – work hard, but when you go home, sit loose. Do your 40 hours, 50 hours, and then go home and be home, because the reason you work is to make the money to keep you alive so you can be home and do the things you enjoy. So don't lose perspective.
But in chapter 5, verse 1, there's a caution, and what this is is bitterness and coming to God making deals when bad things happen. There's a great Burt Reynolds movie, it happens to be clean, it was an old movie, and he's marooned at sea, and he's floating up to the shore – have you ever seen this? And while he's floating up to the shore, you hear him cry out, "God, if you'll just get me back, all that I have will be yours." And then he sees the land, "Oh, God, get me there. Half that I have is yours." He gets a little bit closer, "God, if you'll get me there, I'll attend church." And then, finally, I think he makes a deal about going to Sunday school every so often.
You know, that's the way we are. When we're in trouble, boy, we're tight with God, but once God delivers, we forget about Him. He says, "Don't you do this. You get shaped by pain. Don't be making little deals here." He says in 5:1, "Guard your steps as you go into the house of God. Draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools." It's talking here about a sacrifice that is a votive offering – "God, if you'll do this, then I'll do this."
Verse 2, "Don't be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. God is in heaven, He is holy, and you are on earth." Incidentally, what person that you know paraphrased this verse in the model prayer? It starts like this, "Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name." This is where Christ took that from. God is holy. Even though you don't understand what He's doing, God is holy. You trust Him.
Bob: Well, we've been listening to part 2 of Tommy Nelson's message from Ecclesiastes and as I was listening, Dennis, I was thinking of Tommy's statement earlier this week when he said, "You know, I wouldn't want to go through this past year again, but it's been the best year of my life." And there is something about the hard times, the valleys, the extended periods of challenge. God is at work in the midst of them, and he does know what He's up to.
Dennis: You know, I just want to conclude by making a couple of observations. First of all, everything Tommy's talked about, from Ecclesiastes here today, is based upon the fact that God is in charge; that He is the sovereign ruler, and it takes me back to a story that I've told more than once here on FamilyLife Today. But it's just too good not to tell it again.
Barbara and I were in Southern England, near the coast of Cornwall in a little town called St. Buryan. We came upon a little limestone gravestone that was in the churchyard of this small church in this small community, and on that tombstone was written the date of death of the mother who died giving birth to her son who died a year later, and then a few months after the son died, the father died. And so the entire family – mother, father, and son – were all buried in this one spot. None of the adults lived to be over 25 years old.
And etched on the tombstone was a statement I'll never forget – "We cannot, Lord, Thy purpose see, but all is well that's done by Thee." Somehow that little family embraced the sovereign rule of the King of kings and Lord of lords in the midst of their suffering, and their death declared God's purposes even though they didn't know what it was.
There is a second thing I want to point out that is a little less lofty but nonetheless real, and that's when we go through difficult times, we not only need to lean upon God as being in charge, but we also need to lean into the body of Christ into our friendships.
I have been through a handful of times in my life profound suffering. I cannot imagine going through it by myself without friends. The greatest tragedy in life would be to miss life while you've lived it, and if you miss Christ, you've missed it all, and if you've missed having friends, friends who will bear your burdens, you've missed a good slice of life as well.
And I think that's what Tommy reminds us here. All this week he's shared from his life, and I'm going to tell you something – he was surrounded by the presence of God and by good people.
Bob: I had to wonder how many times, as he was going through his depression journey, did the spirit of God bring God's Word into his heart and into his mind. You know, here's a guy who has taught the Scriptures faithfully for decades, and how many times did something that he had taught, a passage he'd lived in for a period of time, how many times did that come back into his own heart and mind and how did God use that to counsel his soul as he went through his own journey with depression?
One of the books Tommy has taught through is the one that we've heard him preach on today – the Book of Ecclesiastes, and it's a book where Solomon wonders about the purpose and the meaning of life and comes to points of despair in his own life, where he says, "Life is vanity apart from God, and life's confusing with God. It doesn't always make sense to us, but God knows what he's doing."
In our FamilyLife Resource Center we have the CD series that features the 12 messages Tommy preached on the book of Ecclesiastes. It's available both as a CD series and on DVD for those who would like to watch it or use it with a small group. You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com and get more information about the CD series or about the DVDs, and Tommy has also written a book on Ecclesiastes called "The Problem of Life With God," and that's in our FamilyLife Resource Center as well.
Again, go to FamilyLife.com, and in the center of the screen you'll see a red button that says "Go." If you click that button, it will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information on the resources that are available in our FamilyLife Resource Center including the ones I've talked about here.
You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY, and someone on our team can answer any questions you have about these resources or they can make arrangements to have them shipped out to you. Again, the phone number is 1-800-FLTODAY. If it's easier to go online, just to go FamilyLife.com and click that red "Go" button in the center of the screen.
Let me say a quick thank you, if I can, to the many folks we've heard from here during the month of August – folks who have responded to our August Challenge Fund. This month ends our ministry year here at FamilyLife, and so we've been hoping that many of our listeners would call or go online and make a donation to help support the ministry and help us end our ministry year in a good place financially, and we have heard from many of you.
With this being the last day of the month, I want to encourage those of you who have not gotten in touch with us to consider either a donation at FamilyLife.com or consider calling 1-800-FLTODAY and making a donation over the phone. We're listener-supported, so it's those donations that help keep us on the air here in this city and in other cities all across the country. If you can make a donation today, we would love to hear from you. And, again, you can do that online at FamilyLife.com, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone. Let me say thanks in advance for listening and for your financial support as you are able to make a donation. We appreciate your partnership with us.
And we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and we hope you can join us back on Monday. Gary Thomas is going to join us, and we're going to talk about God's purpose for your marriage. He asks a provocative question – what if marriage was more about your holiness than about your happiness? We'll talk about what he means by that on Monday's program. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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