One preacher put it this way. “Cheer up! Things could always get worse. So, sure enough, I cheered up and things got worse!”
Despair overtakes people to the point where they feel there is nothing they can do. In panic, they cry out to God, or worse yet, blame Him, and wish for the end to come quickly. Moments such as these are referred to by many (even some preachers!) as a “living hell.” So cried the house of Israel in Amos 5:18,
“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!”
Some in Israel felt that their current suffering was so bad that the judgment of the Lord (Day of the Lord) would bring relief. Amos was quick to point out the foolishness of their thinking:
“For what good is the day of the Lord to you?
It will be darkness, and not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion,
And a bear met him!
Or as though he went into the house,
Leaned his hand on the wall,
And a serpent bit him!
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light?
Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?”
Mankind has never experienced anything remotely resembling the eternal judgment of God and severity of hell. A “living hell” makes light of the realities that await the wicked and offers false comfort to those enduring difficulty.
Never have you or I been in a place where God’s grace and mercy cannot be reached. Never have we found yourself shut off from the presence of God. Never has there been a time when we were barred from beseeching the throne of majesty and bending the ear of the Great Mediator. No, never have we tasted an ounce of hell’s gall.
Rather than wallowing in self-pity, and blaming God for our problems as Israel did in the wilderness, may we through the eyes of faith see past the darkness of evil.
The darkness of evil is great, but the light of God’s love is stronger. Depression, doubt, and continuous sorrow are the result of focusing on the darkness rather than the light.
The reason evil lurks in the darkness, death is described as darkness, and hell itself is described as “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12), is because they are separated from the light that is God. Praise be to God that light has shined on darkness, and the darkness could not comprehend it.” (John 1:5)! God has brought hope through Christ his Son by taking captivity captive (Psalms 68:18) and defeating the darkness of death (Psalms 107:10-16).
It is troublesome that so many of God’s people suffer with severe depression (the absence of hope) while claiming to be partakers of His blessed assurances. Had Christ not risen, we would have a right to be depressed (1 Corinthians 15:19), yet now we have glorious hope because of the resurrection!
““Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Paul continued his message with the word “therefore”. As Brother Jimmy Cating states, “Therefore usually connects doctrine with duty.”
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
“A living hell” does not describe someone who is steadfast or immovable. “Abounding in work” does not describes someone who is clinically depressed. If we believe in the resurrection, the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16), and the power of the word (Hebrews 4:12), why do we struggle with joy, peace, and happiness?
I believe the answer lies (at least in part) with a failure to fully appreciate the awesomeness of God.
In Isaiah 40:9-31 the prophet of God wrote a song for the purpose of uplifting a nation amidst calamity and destruction. The song consists of an introduction (verse 9-11) followed by three strophes (stanzas). Verses 12-17 represent the first stanza and focuses on the Power of God. Verses 18-24 contain the second stanza and reflect on the Person of God. The final stanza, verses 25-31, proclaims the Care of God.
A reflection on the power, person, and care of God will banish your doubts and worries for nothing is beyond God, His power, or His comfort.
Isaiah began by commanding Israel to climb to the tops of the mountains and “Behold your God!” It’s time the church also heeded his call.
Our God is so great that all the oceans of the world can fit within the palm of His hand (40:12). The space between God’s finger and thumb can measure the span of the entire universe (40:12). All the soil of the ground measures but a third of a bushel in the basket of God (40:12), and He can balance all the hills and mountains on His scales (40:12). How great is our God!
The mind of God cannot be comprehended. He has never had an instructor, a counselor, or teacher. There is no wisdom nor knowledge that He does not already posses, and He wrote the book on justice (40:13-14). How great is our God!
The nations are but a drop in God’s bucket and are as mere dust on the scales on which he weighs the mountains (40:15). They are nothing to him, and utterly worthless in His sight (40:17) for they pose Him no threat. How Great is our God!
Were we to build an alter out of all the trees of Lebanon (imagine the redwoods of California!) and sacrifice on it all the cattle of that territory (imagine all the cattle in Texas!), this would not offer proper homage to our Mighty God (40:16). How great is our God!
The second verse of the song begins in verse 18 with a rhetorical question that has already been answered in the first stanza, yet bears repeating:
“To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare to Him?”
The work of man’s hands cannot rival Him who created man. Idols decay, fail in splendor, and totter in his presence (a reference to 1 Samuel 5) (40:18-20). God alone is the eternal creator and ruler of the world. No prince shall stand before Him, nor judge overturn His judgments. Rulers appear for but a moment and then vanish forever, while God continues to rule unfazed by their efforts (40:21-24). How great is our God!
The third stanza repeats the question that introduced the second, for there is yet more to be said.
“To whom then will you liken Me,
Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.”
Despite all of God’s grandeur, person, and power, He is not too busy to care for His own. He knows each child by name; not a one escapes His numbering (40:26). Nothing is hidden from His sight (40:27), nor does He grow weary of caring for His own (40:28). His understanding of our situations is past our own comprehension (40:28). How great is our God!
Strength does not reside in man, nor in youth; it rests in God alone. If we are to make it through the difficulties of life, we must put our full confidence and trust in God. When you feel as though you cannot go on, God will provide the strength. When there are mountains that seem too hard to climb, God will make you soar on the wings of His love. The race is ours, and the victory is the Lord’s (40:29-31)! How great is our God!
To all those who are burdened and heavy laden, turn to the Lord and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Climb to the top of the mountain, and “Behold your God!”
The interesting point of this song, and one that stands true today, is that the hope Isaiah offered to Israel would be realized on the other side of the grave. Let the word’s of God through Paul ring out in your ears and inscribe them on the pages of your heart:
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:19-23).