“The ends justify the means.”
Of all the philosophies in the world, I’ve come to believe that this one is among the most innocent, but also the most dangerous. It’s been used to justify anything from cutting corners on menial tasks like sweeping dirt under the rug to monstrous things like murder and genocide. Practically any “means” can be justified if the “ends” are important enough or desired enough. We have this uncanny ability to justify nearly any and every evil under the sun to achieve the desired outcome, i.e., “We’ll do whatever it takes to get whatever we want.”
This philosophy that the outcome is far more important than the means — regardless of how that outcome is achieved — is almost always a deceptive, slippery slope that can often leave us completely shocked at we are capable of saying, doing, or justifying when we finally come to our senses. In examining my own life, heart, and philosophy over the years, I’ll freely admit that I tend to be an “ends justify the means” type more often than not, especially when my back is up against the wall with tight deadlines at work or sudden crises at home. Guilty, guilty, guilty!
The topic of last week’s Rooted class was about suffering, something that most people would prefer to avoid — even most Christians who worship a suffering Savior. That’s always been rather ironic to me because Jesus was known as a “man of sorrows” and “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3), yet so many of His followers try to avoid it like the Plague (myself included!). And since it’s Passover week on the Jewish calendar this week, I thought it rather fitting to write a little about the subject of suffering given that Jesus, the Lamb of God, suffered tremendously for us — like no one else ever has on earth. It wasn’t just that He was beaten, tortured, bled, and died to forgive our sins, it was that He became sin for us and endured the terrible wrath of His Father to pay our sin-debt. We cannot even begin to imagine the horrible suffering that He went through for us.
Where I’m going with this short detour on suffering is that the God of the Bible is not an “ends-justify-the-means” type of God like those invented by men. God seems far more concerned about the means — namely obedience, attitude, and faithfulness — than He is about the ends or the results. After all, He already has those covered because He is sovereign, right? Throughout the Bible, God seems to use (or even orchestrate) rather absurd means to achieve His ends, and the most common one is suffering. The incredible suffering that Jesus endured to pay our sin-debt is the greatest demonstration of God’s character and love for us. The brutality of the cross didn’t take Him by surprise; He knew exactly what He would undergo and though He felt tremendous anguish and fear over it, He didn’t shrink back from it. Suffering was the means by which God achieved His ends: our redemption and salvation.
Sometimes I think our Ends and God’s Ends are incredibly different, if not polar opposites. The usual Ends from our perspective is eternity in Heaven with Him, but what are the Ends for us from God’s perspective? Holiness. Perfection. Unity. Somehow making our wandering, distracted, fretful (and of course, sinful) hearts to be like His. Putting Him first, others next, and ourselves last. And while He gives us a new heart to replace our fallen, sinful ones, we still have enough indwelling sin in our flesh and other worldly distractions to make us stumble all too often. When thinking of God, how many of us think “Yes! I’m going to Heaven!” as opposed to “Yes! He’s going to make me holy!”?
And what of the other side of the equation, the Means? For us, the Means we typically hope for are peace, tranquility, rest, comfort, and security. Though we know we can’t earn our salvation, we still seem to think that the more we get it together, the better we’ll feel and the closer we’ll inch to Heaven, particularly as we grow older (and hopefully more wiser). We tend to believe or maybe just hope that the more faith we have, the better this life down here will become. Those Means sound pretty nice, right?
However, I’m starting to understand that those notions couldn’t be more wrong — increasing our earthly comfort, peace, and security is NOT God’s Means of preparing us for His Kingdom and drawing us closer to Him. Does our faith and holiness increase the more comfortable our lives become or the more money that accumulates in our bank accounts? No, money and creature-comforts tend to increase our pride and false sense of security and self-reliance rather than faith, holiness, and dependence upon Him. Especially as I grow older and hopefully more observant, God’s preferred Means are the exact opposite of ours: suffering, instability, insecurity, brokenness, and often pain.
Now, God is not a masochist nor is He cruel, to be certain (read Job!), but He uses everything for His purposes, always for the ultimate good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). What are the ultimate “goods” in God’s eyes? Holiness. Sacrificial love. Unity. Suffering and pain in this world weren’t part of His original plan, those are a direct result of the Fall and our sin. Satan loves to use suffering too, but to hurt, confuse, and sow disbelief and more sin. But God uses suffering and pain to test us, to refine us, to make us as His growing children holy. And that really is a remarkable thing to consider: how can the unholy be made holy? The same question is asked in Job 14:4 — “Who can bring what is pure from the impure?”
The Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, but the Rooted study pointed out something I had never noticed before, that the examples enumerated in the Hall of Faith are made up of both miracles AND suffering. Until halfway through v35, all the examples are rather positive and miraculous, but then they turn south into persecution and suffering. And while both groups are commended for their incredible faith, we tend to only remember the miracles and yearn to have those happen to us. However, more often than not, they don’t — and they won’t. I don’t mean to say that to be discouraging as much as to be realistic. Far more people suffer in this world than are miraculously healed, yet God is working just as much in one as the other.
To put God’s “means and ends” together (suffering and holiness), in His Kingdom that He’s preparing us for, “Holiness is the ends, and suffering is the means.” In this world full of sin, pain, and suffering, it’s completely mind-blowing that God can use all these terrible things not only for our good, but to make us holy. Suffering and trials are the litmus tests of genuine faith in this fallen world (just ask His disciples!). Our true relationship with God is revealed when suffering enters our lives, whether we bow our heads or shake our fists. In John 16:33, Jesus promises that His followers will have tribulation in this world — not IF, but WILL. It’s practically a certainty for those who follow Him. Why? Because He uses suffering to make us holy, to make us just a little more like Him.
I’ve been chewing on this C.S. Lewis quote from “A Grief Observed” for the last month or so, probably because of all the soul-searching and God-seeking over the last few years. It seems to perfectly fit with where I’m at with my faith at this time: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be deceived — especially by myself!
As I’ve drawn closer to God over the last couple years, I’ve had to re-examine my thoughts, emotions, faith, philosophy, future, legacy, etc., and certainly my views about God. Practically every piece of my life has been torn apart, examined, and poured over. Where have I been, where am I now, where am I going, and what is my purpose? What would God have me do now? Over the course of this process, I’ve come to this uncomfortable realization that God is NOT who I want, imagine, or wish Him to be — He IS who He is! He’s the same God who allowed the Holocaust, who sent the Flood to destroy that world, and who even slew His only Son! Those just don’t jive with the popular, comfortable God of love that’s often preached today — that’s a holy, sovereign, sin-hating God! He doesn’t do things the way we do, He doesn’t think the way we think, and He doesn’t feel the way we feel about sin, love, and probably just about everything else! And whether or not I like that isn’t going to change anything, I just need to accept it. I need to accept Him and His ways if I’m going to continue walking down this narrow road with Him. And since He’s not going to change (Malachi 3:6), that means that I have to!
Do I like this notion that God uses suffering to produce holiness in His children? Nope, not much at all. The only way I can make much sense of that “spiritual hypothesis” is because more than anything else, suffering forces us to realize our utter dependence upon Him. Suffering yanks off the blinders, blows away the fog, and drives us to our knees and our Bibles. I have yet to experience tremendous physical pain — yes, there’s been terrible emotional pain over the last couple years — but not physical, inescapable pain, and certainly not suffering or persecution. I must assume those will come sooner or later, because that’s just the way it is in this world. And I’m certain I won’t like it one bit!
Perhaps this new understanding that all trials — even the seemingly pointless sufferings — have the underlying purpose of making us holy will help me keep the right attitude and perspective when they do come.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” — Romans 5:1-5