Suffering By The Hand Of The Sovereign God: An Argument For God Ordained Hardship

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Suffering whether trivial or severe is as inherent to the human experience as breathing is. The reason from a Christian worldview is clear; we live in a fallen and sinful world because of man’s disobedience and rebellion (Gen. 3). Suffering therefore is a natural byproduct of the futility to which God has subjected the creation. This testimony no matter how true, and indeed it is true, does not suffice to answer the question of why the righteous suffer if indeed their sins have been forgiven in Christ and they are no longer under the curse of Adam. Suffering in the macro sense seems distasteful to be sure, but is warranted and even justifiable when seen in the light or better yet darkness of human corruption. Still, the more pressing question is that of suffering in the micro sense; suffering which is nuanced and often engulfed in bewilderment which reaches the lives of God’s own people. God’s people being those whom he himself has called, elected and redeemed for His own glory (Rom. 8.29,30). Does God providentially ordain suffering in the lives of these, his children?

It is my conviction both from extensive research in God’s word as supreme and objective, as well as scholarly extra-biblical resources as supplemental. Lastly from my own personal experiences as subjective but which I cannot deny, that the answer to this question is a resounding, yes! In God’s Sovereignty, his providence towards His people includes hardship and suffering. I will set out in this article to establish this thesis statement in a manner that is affirmative and conclusive. The premise for this argument is based on the understanding that God has absolute control and authority over all that he has created. Someone might say that this is an exaggerated view of God’s sovereignty because it violates human freedom. However, that is a flawed argument based on pure a posteriori reasoning. It is a hyper anthropologic view which deduces from human experience that God is limited and mankind free. It fails to acknowledge the infallible testimony of Scripture which teaches that God is in fact the truly free agent able to act as He pleases, and man is a creature placed within boundaries which God ordained and decreed before the ages began.

The subject of God ordaining hardship and suffering in the lives of his creatures is a highly controversial one for several reasons; not the least of which is the assumption that a good God would not, indeed could not cause harm, as we consider harm, in the lives of those he loves. The fallacy in this train of thought is to assume that we know what is ultimately good for us over against what God deems to be truly and ultimately good for us. However if we look at Scripture objectively and allow it to inform our biased ideas of what we believe God to be like, we will see clearly according to Psalm 115.3 and Philippians 1.29 and many more passages like these that God is in the heavens and He does all that He pleases, even granting or gifting us to suffer for the sake of Christ. At this point it is necessary to affirm that every act of God toward His people is done in love and goodness. This is vital to keep in mind because there is real pain and heartache and perhaps even real evil in the midst of our hardship, so much so that if we are not mindful of God’s sovereignty in the midst of it, we almost certainly assume God is uninvolved and perhaps even indifferent to our hardship.

At this point we are faced with a troublesome dichotomy, we are forced to take one of two positions as it relates to God’s sovereignty and suffering in the life of the Christian. Either God is well meaning and intends for things to go better in the lives of His children, but is impotent to act in bringing His will to bare on personal suffering. Or God is as The Holy Bible teaches, Holy, Just and Loving and fully Sovereign over all that does come to pass, so that our suffering is directed and ordained by God for our good and His glory. Biblically we must deny the former position, since God is not revealed as impotent or as merely well intended; but rather as the latter position describes, He is revealed as absolutely and objectively powerful, working all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1.11). In his article on John Calvin’s position on Sovereignty, Providence and Predestination, Joel Beeke says the Following:

Calvin says texts such as Isaiah 45:7 make it plain that God is sovereign over all evil: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Let’s reverse this question for a moment: What comfort would you have if God were not sovereign over your trials? Would Job have been comforted by believing that the suffering he underwent was beyond God’s control? Denying God’s sovereignty over our sufferings makes God impotent and robs us of the comfort that our heavenly Father knows how to discipline us far better than our earthly fathers, for His own glory and our profit, as Hebrews 12:5 –11 affirms.

This point is well founded given the suffering we all endure in this life; what real comfort would be available in suffering having a God who did not want suffering to occur, but was unable to stop it? Sure someone might argue that God does not will that hardship should happen and then resort to blaming Satan, but even in that approach there is only a pseudo comfort which attempts to get God off the hook, all the while failing to realize that very statement assumes Satan has thwarted God’s will. This argument though far too common amongst professing Christians is profoundly foreign to the testimony of Scripture. Sure we must wrestle with the apparent tension of God’s goodness and love toward His people, and His ordaining and working suffering in their lives for their good. The two seem contradictory and at a first glance seems cruel and unjust, but what we must not fail to recognize is that we exist for God’s glory not He for ours. That is to say, that if we are reasoning with sober judgment and are being objective about our sin, we would understand that the only thing we deserve from the hand of God is eternal damnation.

Instead what the believer in Jesus receives is mercy and grace, God extends forgiveness and His disposition to those in Christ is one of favor and unconditional love. What’s more is that in that favorable and loving disposition toward His children is included the gift of suffering. There is exponential benefit for daily living in understanding the implications of God’s goodness toward His children including hardship and suffering. What true goodness can God display to believers in their suffering? Well, it is the gospel itself, for in our suffering we see a glimpse of what Christ the Spotless Lamb of God experienced by suffering and dying vicariously for His own elect. The goodness of God toward us in our suffering is that we gain Christ, we are privileged to identify with Him and to show the world that our greatest joy and treasure is not our own comfort, but rather it is a person, the man Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul writing from a Philippian jail cell exemplifies and testifies to this reality when he says: But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3.7,8).

This all may seem abstract enough, but the reality is that God’s providence toward his people seen in examples of severe suffering, are brought about by means which seem as though God is neglectful; but when observed more closely is shown to be God’s power at work to use gross evil to bring about tremendous good for His people and ultimate glory to His name. We see examples of this all throughout Scripture where man is acting from purely evil motives and all the while God is also working by means of those same evil actions and intentions of others to work His own good and redemptive purposes for the sake of His Name and good of His people. Prime examples are stories such as Joseph’s in Genesis 37 and on. Here Jacob his father shows unambiguous favoritism to Joseph inciting the jealousy of his brothers. Before long the brothers have all they can take of this Joseph character, and in their wickedness sell him into slavery to Egypt and then lie to their father by insisting that a ravenous animal devoured Joseph. Joseph undergoes a series of horrible events in Egypt which ultimately land him in prison, and after several years in prison he is brought out to Pharaoh to interpret a dream for him. Upon a favorable and accurate interpretation of this dream, Joseph is exalted to second in command over all of Egypt. After a severe famine in the land of Canaan and beyond, Joseph’s brothers flee to Egypt for food so that they might not perish. Many years later they unknowingly are reunited with Joseph their brother, and upon discovering that this is indeed Joseph and he now possess tremendous power and authority, they tremble in fear because of their evil deed against him many years earlier. In all of this it may be easy enough to assume that God was disconnected from Joseph’s experience, and that it was mere coincidence that Joseph arrived at such depths of power in Egypt, however Joseph understood more clearly that what his brothers did and what subsequently happened to him as a result of their evil was according to the plans and purposes of God. Joseph says: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Gen 50.20).

So we see that in God’s sovereignty He orchestrates while never being the author of the evil intentions of men, and He does so by using the very actions of these evil people to bring about the highest degree of good for His people. Time would fail me to expound upon the countless examples in Scripture where just like in Joseph’s story evil men are acting and simultaneously God is acting through their action to bring about good. We see this chiefly in the cross of Christ, where the only perfect and undeserving of punishment person to ever live is subjected to humiliating suffer and public execution at the hands of evil men, all the while fulfilling the preordained purpose of God to bring about and secure the redemption of God’s elect. This is chronicled for us in Acts in this way:  for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4.27,28). This is single handedly the most egregious and unwarranted event in human history, nothing even comes close to how horrible the events of Calvary were, and we are told unequivocally that God was the one ultimately acting to bring about the purposes of His will.

Daniel Timmer writing about the book of Job and the Gospel says this: When we trace the themes of sin, human suffering, and God’s justice and victory over the forces of evil forward into the New Testament, we begin to see how a biblical-theological approach to this chapter opens the way for a Christian understanding and use of it. The book of Job makes clear that evil, including human suffering as the direct or indirect result of sin, falls under God’s sovereignty, but that this does not make Him solely or morally responsible for it. This tension drives the plot of the book: if God is just, and if Job is not being punished for a particular sin, why is Job suffering, and how can good come out of it? Although Job’s suffering was not sent in direct response to his sin, it is all the same inexplicable apart from human (and satanic) opposition to God. We might presume, then, that once God does away with sin, suffering too will come to an end, and indeed this is His promise: “I will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17; 21:4). But what of believers who are in the depths of suffering here and now, perhaps through no particular fault of their own? What does Job, seen in the context of the whole Bible, say to them? While God’s commitment to affirm His righteousness is prominent in the book of Job, there it brings about only an incomplete resolution of Job’s suffering. Looking beyond the book of Job, the culminating demonstration of divine justice in the cross fully resolves the problem of sin, and radically recasts the suffering that sin causes (directly or indirectly), for those who are in Christ. While Paul and other New Testament authors make clear that our union with Christ entails suffering with Him (Phil. 3:10), they present this as a privilege (Rom. 8:17; Acts 5:41). This is not simple self-deception: “this doesn’t really hurt, it’s all in my mind.” Paul does not ignore his sufferings; on occasion, he even lists them (2 Cor. 11:23–29). He knew them to be quite real, but he teaches that it is through such sufferings that we follow the example of, and indeed come to know better, our suffering Savior. (18,19)

This is a significant point in understanding the providence of God toward His people including suffering. There is no minimizing or romanticizing the reality of pain and suffering, but there is a real comfort in knowing that God is not punishing his people for their sin, and He is not impotent, but rather we are privileged to share in the sufferings of Christ looking forward to the future hope of glory forever with Christ. I think Timmer hits it right on the head, and we would do well to consider the implications of this truth for our daily life. God’s goodness is not hidden from us in suffering, but rather because we know the love of God in Christ and see him as the suffering servant, we can say with full assurance that our suffering is founded upon the love and goodness of God and has reached our lives by God’s providence. I certainly think a failure to communicate effectively the love of God in how His goodness reaches us through suffering would be detrimental. If God’s sovereignty in our minds was not undergirded by the belief and understanding that all that God does for the sake of His glory and His people is rooted in His love for His glory and for His people, then we would likely fail to truly see how God could really be good at all, even if we did pay exceptional lip service to the thought. If God’s love were disconnected from His sovereignty than certainly we would have cause to feel discomfort, for then we would be proven as it were to be nothing more than disposable pawns on a chessboard. However that is not the picture that Scripture paints, rather what we see is wicked sinners deserving of Hell, are redeemed and brought near to God and then sustained whether in ease or in hardship. This is supremely witnessed in the sufferings of Christ who is our example and sympathizer with us in our trials. D.A. Carson in writing about the love of God and Sovereignty of God says it this way: In passages such as 1 John 4:7-11 believers are urged to love one another, since love is of God. The high point in the demonstration of God’s love is His sending His Son as the “atoning sacrifice” for our sins. “Dear friends,” John concludes, “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). Whatever the distinctive elements in the love of God, the same word is used for God’s love and the Christian’s love, and God’s love is both the model and the incentive of our love. Doubtless God’s love is immeasurably richer than ours, in ways still to be explored, but His love and our love belong to the same genus, or the parallelisms could not be drawn.

So since in God’s sovereignty His providence towards His people includes hardship and suffering, let us be reminded that this is cause for great joy. We rejoice because we have a God who far from being cold, indifferent or impotent, is actually deeply loving, intimately involved and omnipotent to act for our good and His glory in all thing that reach us. Search the Scriptures and see for yourself that what God does he does with full control and authority and He acts with loving-kindness and compassion. For the Christian, far from suffering being punishment for sin, it is an invitation to join Christ in overcoming the world. We are privileged to suffer as Christians, because in our suffering we remember that this is light and momentary compared to the glory that will be revealed to us in eternity, namely being with and enjoying Christ forever!

Works Cited:

  1. BEEKE, JOEL R. “Calvin on Sovereignty, Providence, and Predestination.” Puritan Reformed Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, July 2010, pp. 77-105.*
  2. Carson, Donald A. “God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty.” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 156, no. 623, July 1999, pp. 259-271.
  3. Guthrie, Shirley C. (Shirley Caperton). “Human Suffering, Human Liberation, and the Sovereignty of God.” Theology Today, vol. 53, no. 1, Apr. 1996, pp. 22-34.
  4. Morden, Peter J. “C.H. Spurgeon and Suffering.” Evangelical Review of Theology, vol. 35, no. 4, Oct. 2011, pp. 306-325.
  5. Stephens, W. P. “Election in Zwingli and Bullinger: A Comparison of Zwingli’s Sermonis De Providentia Dei Anamnema (1530) and Bullinger’s Oratio De Moderatione Servanda in Negotio Providentiae, Praedestinationis, Gratiae Et Liberi Arbitrii (1536).” Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, Apr. 2005, pp. 42-56.
  6. TIMMER, DANIEL C. “Job, Suffering, and the Gospel.” Puritan Reformed Journal, vol. 9, no. 2, July 2017, pp. 5-20.*

Song For Reflection

But God Made Me This Way: Thinking Biblically About Homosexuality

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“As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God. And if our society celebrates it, we can’t both be caring and not say anything. Too much is at stake. This means it is an oversimplification to say that Christians — or conservative evangelicals — are simply against homosexuality. We are against any sin that restrains people from everlasting joy in God.” -Jonathan Parnell

Calling Sin, Sin!

I love the aforementioned quote by Jonathan Parnell, because I believe it truly gets to the heart of the argument I will aim to make in this blog post: homosexuality being sin, robs people of everlasting joy in God! I don’t intend to isolate homosexuality as the “unpardonable sin” that many in the conservative Evangelical camp have treated it as throughout the years. To be sure, homosexuality is a sin and should be seen and called out as such. However my goal is not to be condescending or condemning to homosexuals or those wrestling with sexual identity and orientation. My goal rather, is to bring biblical clarity to the widespread confusion in the Church around the topic of homosexuality. This confusion is owing in large part to an adopted abandonment of objective Scriptural authority among many professing Christians, even prominent Christian leaders. Without the objective unwavering truth of the Holy Scriptures to stand on, we naturally defer to science and culture’s moving-target philosophy to define anatomy and sexuality in their own subjective terms. This variability of philosophy becomes ultimately self-destructive since it is open to one’s own interpretation and subjective experiences. The Scriptures are clear as to what God says and how God feels about homosexuality, therefore being divinely authoritative they bring to bear upon our conscience the absolute standard of God’s moral law. Now at risk of sounding antiquated, I have to admit that I see an egregious arrogance in our modern culture that undermines the knowledge of those who have come before us. We do so by assuming our modern epistemology is absolute and far superior to any past generation’s, whereby emancipating ourselves from any submission to what has long been understood as orthodoxy. Consequently we are in a dilemma in the Church and our culture where our failure to stand for objective truth; namely the Word of God as binding on all people, has led to a repudiation of the notion that sin is a complete corruption of human nature. Instead it has led to sin being equated with nothing more than honest mistakes deserving of a slap on the wrist at most. I believe this is a fundamental flaw in the modern school of thought surrounding the widespread embracement of homosexuality. And it is also where I believe we must start if we are to engage in any meaningful understanding of how to help our friends and loved ones understand their own wrestling with this sin, as well as all sin for that matter.

A low view of God will always translate into a low view of sin, therefore rather than first driving home the point of the utter grotesqueness of sin (which we must do). We must first properly establish a sound understanding of the Grandeur and Holiness of God! God is the primary, singular and ultimate cause of the universe. As well as the transcendent being who exists from all eternity as three distinct persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) yet one Holy God (Gen 1:26,27;Isa 46:7-10;Matt 28:18,19). God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and all things whether in heaven or on earth were created by him and for him (Col 1:16). God does whatever he pleases with what he has created for his own good pleasure and glory (Psalm 115:3). God has perfect freedom and autonomy and owes no one an explanation for anything that he does since he himself is the standard of truth and goodness and is the ultimate and Just Judge of the universe. God is omnipotent and complete lacking nothing whatsoever, he is omniscient and can learn nothing since he himself established all knowledge. God is preeminent and worthy of all glory and praise since he alone established all that there is and governs and gives life to all things. There is only one true and living God and he is the inexhaustible and eternal God of the Bible. God is perfect and holy in every way, and is himself the perfection of beauty. In God’s good pleasure he created all that is seen and unseen and established every law that makes up this universe, (i.e. Law of Gravity, Physics, Thermodynamics, Moral Law, etc.). God created all that we observe with our eyes and experience with our senses in such a way that his eternal invisible attributes are clearly perceived in nature, so that they are without excuse who claim there is no God (Rom 1:20). Yet even with this irrefutable evidence before us, many do only to their demise, assert that there is no God. This is the forlorn and logical end of the sinful heart. God is good and his plans and purposes are good. However, sin having entered the world through Adam (Gen 3) has so emphatically corrupted the human nature, that we naturally hate God and perpetually seek to establish ourselves as our own standard of truth and captain of our souls. It isn’t that there does not exist an objective universal truth that we are all subject to. It is that we hate that this objective truth exists and so we aim to suppress it at all costs. Sin is utterly atrocious to God because it is an affront to his holiness and goodness. Sin offends God because it undermines his authority and seeks to distort the truth about God. God being  holy and eternal must punish sin eternally, therefore sinning is an eternal insult to God. When we underplay the seriousness and wickedness of sin, we prove that we do not truly understand the holiness and justice of God. To make light of sin is to make God out to be a small and tolerant god, rather than the perfect and demanding God that he is, rightfully so. God can not accept anything less than perfection, which is why he had to send his perfect and holy son to make atonement for sin once and for all, for those who repent of their sin and believe in Christ. The picture that the Apostle Paul paints of fallen humanity in Romans 1 is one of sheer depravity and we should really consider the implications.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:18–21).

God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against man’s ungodliness, because by man’s unrighteousness he suppresses the truth. Man seeks to abolish any notion of absolute truth as he propagate ideals of relative subjective truths. Human beings are not merely neutral beings who can be persuaded in either direction toward good or bad, not to the extent which God demands. No, that would be paying far too high a compliment. Mankind is dead in sin and is bent toward perpetual unrighteousness, only ever desiring sin and ungodliness. The inevitable end of this corruption of nature is delusion and destruction. This indictment is for all people everywhere and is not aimed at any one sin over against another. For we all have sinned and fallen short, eternally short in fact of the glory of God. God’s attributes, power, and divine nature are clearly perceived in all of creation so all are without excuse for their unbelief and impenitence. It is by God’s general revelation in nature that we know that there is in fact a God who exists. More than that we have God’s special revelation of himself in Holy Writ. This is the specific means whereby we can know God actually and accurately, yes even intimately. Still even with these means of knowing God, mankind does not honor him as God or give thanks to him for all his goodness to them. This waywardness leads naturally to futility of thought and darkened foolish hearts lacking any light of hope. This may seem harsh, but it is the objective truth regarding the human condition and the natural consequence of sin. Without a proper understanding of God’s holiness and mankind’s depravity, we will never arrive at an absolute congruent conclusion. Instead we will remain inconsistent and circular in our argumentation, further cementing mankind’s suppression of the truth.

Experience Is Not Absolute Truth

We must resist the natural temptation to make our experiences absolute. Doing so makes those experiences the lens through which we interpret reality and truth. This comes far too easily to the natural mind, which apart from divinely given spiritual life and awareness, can only think in terms of naturalistic ideologies. I mean by this that as we look at homosexual desire and gender neutrality, there is a God given order that is truly natural and meant to be embraced with thankfulness, which homosexuality just can not conform to. However due to the unwillingness to accept the truth of original sin which we all inherit from Adam, we lean into personal experience and scientific theory to explain why some feel a strong bent toward same sex attraction. Never willing to accept it as a corruption of human nature through sin they justify it as a biological reality wired into that person’s DNA. The necessary progression of this train of thought is to subject truth to our personal experience, and impose upon the Scriptures a naturalistic interpretation that validates our experience as not just endorsed by God, but actually a work of God. If we follow this type of reasoning to its logical conclusion the results will be truly horrifying, as to what people will be willing to excuse as God’s doing in their life, therefore celebrating it and repudiating any notion of repenting of and renouncing that lifestyle. We are seeing this very thing happening currently with the LGBTQ community, and as Christians we can not both be silent or worst yet celebratory about the destructive nature of their actions, and think that we are being loving to members of that community. It is actually a hatred of the worst sorts to endorse their sin, and we have to see that as a reality if we are to be helpful in any way. This is not to imply that our experiences are meaningless or irrelevant, but rather to say that our experiences are real and deeply meaningful in helping us see the reality of God’s testimony in Scripture. I will venture out on a limb to share a deeply personal and horrifying experience that I myself endured as just a small child. I do this not as a means of entreating your pity, but as an example of how experiences no matter how real, are still subject to God’s absolute truth.

I was only 5 years old when my mother met her would be husband. At first he seemed rather pleasant and the thought of having a father figure in my life gave me a sense of fulfillment and purpose. They dated seriously for about a year and before long he had moved in with us, their commitment to one another only ever appearing to strengthen. During this time of living with us he proposed to my mother and she gladly said yes. It seemed like a fairy tale of sorts right before my eyes, little did I know it would soon become more of a horror story than anything else. After several months of living together, my mother and I started to realize that my soon to be step-father was quite the enforcer and disciplinarian, yet she didn’t make much of it. It didn’t take much to get him excited, he often seemed like a drill sergeant than a caring father figure. His methods of discipline were certainly unique and nothing short of cruel. I recall one Saturday morning as a six year old cartoon fanatic waking up without making my bed. running to the kitchen to fetch bowl of cereal, and subsequently leaving the dirty cereal bowl on the table since I didn’t want to miss the start of the Power Rangers marathon. I was able to watch about 10 minutes of the first episode before I heard my name yelled so loudly that one would have thought I committed a murder and fled the scene. I ran to see what happened and upon walking into my room, I was met with a flogging from the metal part of my stepdad’s belt. He was furious that I hadn’t made my bed and that I left the dirty bowl on the table. He proceeded to finish beating me and then made me clean my room and the rest of the house, after which I was given the pleasure of kneeling on rice while holding up flower pots and thinking upon my actions. I’ll spare you the details of the other types of punishments he employed to discipline me. Suffice is to say, I often wished he’d just beat me and make me kneel on rice to avoid the other forms of punishment. I learned very quickly that I had to tread carefully around my stepdad, but I noticed that there were days where he was very kind and intrusively touchy with me. He would often send my mother off on errands and make me stay home with him so that she would “not be distracted.” During these isolated times, he would lay in their bed and make me lay with him as he would proceed to fondle me and rub himself against me in a very forceful and sexual manner. I was terribly confused as to what was occurring, but for fear of being severely beaten I would comply with his requests. This happened on and off for about 2 years from the ages of 6 to 8 years old. I never dared tell my mother because she seemed to think so highly of him that I thought she’d never believe me if I said something so horrible to her. Needless to say, before long I realized that I was experiencing something very unnatural and unhealthy. I became very confused in my sexuality, and wrestled with same sex attraction even into my adolescence. I never succumbed to my feelings of desiring a homosexual relationship, especially since the older I got I understood that my earlier childhood experience with my stepdad was the initial cause of my sexual confusion. Add to that the fact that it wasn’t the dominant pull of my emotional and relational desire, my interest and desires for the opposite sex were far stronger. Many years later I was introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I realized that what happened to me in my childhood wasn’t a matter of bad luck, but rather the result of being sinned against by a sinner who had a seared conscious and a depraved heart. Maybe you are gay or wrestle with same sex attraction and have never experienced childhood molestation or rape, well for that I praise God! However, I’m sure if you think back far enough, and for some it may be much further back than others, somewhere along the way you will likely be able to recall the moment where you were either sinned against or you engaged in blatant sin which fed your appetite for self gratifying pleasure.

Transformation Is Possible

In my interactions with family members and friends throughout the years who have homosexual desires and tendencies; I have found that their religious upbringing has often served in making them feel judged and condemned beyond any hope of freedom. This naturally has led many people who want very eagerly, at least outwardly, to be accepted by God and his people to give way to subtle compromises of biblical truth. They surround themselves with “loving” and “tolerant” people who affirm them in their sin and then they impose upon the word of God what Science and the Culture says is true of them. This leads to perpetual confusion and reluctance to see their sin and desires as the enemy of their true Joy. Many who still hold to a theistic world view, not necessarily christian, have gone as far as making bold assertions that God made them to be gay, and that they can not help their same sex attraction, therefore concluding that homosexuality can not be inherently wrong. The major problem with that logic is that it is fundamentally contradictory to Scripture. In fact Paul in Romans 1 proceeds in explaining the progression of those who suppress truth by their unrighteousness. He says:

22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Ro 1:22–28)

We see here that a simple exegetical exposition of this passage makes it clear that it is the result of self exaltation and exchanging the truth about God for a lie that brings upon the offender God’s judgement. Exchanging the truth of God for a lie is what leads to a false belief that God approves of and even creates people with homosexual desires. Once that lie is fully embraced, there is no need for the individual who has wedded the lie to feel the burden to change. What we must understand as Christians even if you are a professing christian who is living a homosexual lifestyle or wrestling with homosexual desires, or are simply approving of those who are; is that God sees those desires as dishonorable and the same sex relationship as contrary to nature. What same sex attracted people feel for the same sex is not love, it is actually self gratifying lustful passion. This lustful passion will produce destructive penalties either in this life, or ultimately in the life to come by being judged to Hell eternally. This goes for all sin that remains un-repented of, be it as trivial in our eyes as a “white lie” or as destructive as Homosexual intercourse that leads to HIV Aids and other potentially fatal STD’s. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that no one who practices homosexuality will enter the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9,10), this is not analogical discourse, but rather matter of fact objective Truth. This ought to grieve us and cause us to be bold in speaking the truth in love and desiring to see the LGBTQ community realize that their lifestyle is not one to be celebrated but rather one that is evidence of a debased mind because they do not see it fit to acknowledge God.

This is not say then that there is no hope, we believe the Gospel offers real and lasting transformation, to die to our sin and live a life pleasing to God. God is not a cruel or unjust God, but he is kind and merciful and has made a way of escape for those who acknowledge their depravity and need for a Savior. We live in a fallen world, and we are subject to the curse that God has placed on this world. We aren’t exempt from the curse of sin, rather we endure the same hardships, trials, and temptations. This is to showcase to the world that there is indeed power from on high, to be transformed and to endure the woes of this life with patience and joy. I do not and can not blame God for the sins committed against me in my youth, just like I can not blame God for the sins I myself have committed or commit against others. I forgave my stepdad for his sin against me, and I pray that God had mercy on his soul now that he is deceased and has to stand before God in judgement. It is my eager hope that he was met by grace and reached repentance just as it is my hope for all sinners. We can not make the mistake of being self righteous in assuming that our sin no matter how inconspicuous, is any less egregious than the sins of those with blatantly conspicuous sins such as homosexuality. We must truly love those from the LGBTQ community, and love will translate into calling them to repentance because of God’s love and absolute objective truth revealed in Holy Scripture. We must proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto Salvation (Rom. 1:16) and we must trust the Holy Spirit to remove the stony hearts of sinners who are dead in sin and place in them the heart of flesh as a free gift from God. If you feel trapped in your sin or know others drenched in LGBTQ lifestyles, don’t waver from the truth of God’s word. Instead often remind yourself and them that we were all at one time enemies of God and were under the wrath of God, but in due time through the proclamation of the Gospel, God made us alive with Christ. By Grace we have been saved and this not of ourselves (Eph 2). There is real objective transformation in God’s word and we must hold fast to that confidence. There were many homosexuals in Paul’s day and many were saved and transformed. Paul speaks of them in this way:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Co 6:9–11). 

Such were some of you he says, but he affirms the effectual work of God’s Spirit to wash, sanctify, and justify those who repent and draw near to Christ. So yes, there is real wrestling that occurs regarding homosexual attraction, and for many varying and unique reasons. However, we affirm that this is ultimately the product of sin, and not the working of God. God does not create people to be gay, nor does he endorse same sex attraction or homosexual action. We see clearly from God’s authoritative Word that God finds same sex attraction absolutely repulsive. This is not because he is a homophobic cruel God, but because it is contrary to his design and is an affront to the holiness of God. Homosexuality is a self destructive lifestyle that robs people of knowing the goodness of God, and ultimately being satisfied by the pleasure of God’s Joy. We can not both genuinely love our friends and family in the LGBTQ community while simultaneously embracing and celebrating their sin. Let’s call them in love to repentance and to the hope of the Gospel, that they may be washed, sanctified, and justified subsequently proclaiming with Paul: such was I, but I have been washed by Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit and am thus no longer! Blessings to you from the LORD Jesus Christ in your pursuit of personal holiness!

Song For Reflection

Equal In Value Different In Roles: Is Egalitarianism An Assault On The Gospel?

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God’s Good Design

27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

In our postmodern era the most radical statements tend to be the most assertive and absolute ones. It is ok in our day to speak “your truth” so long as it remains just yours. Yet as soon as your truth becomes absolute and binding on all people, we then have a serious problem! Worst still is when you take it up a notch and assert that what you have is in fact, God’s Truth. This is precisely why I am aware that what I am about to argue may well ruffle some feathers, and perhaps make me the target of such titles as “fundamentalist,” “chauvinist,” and perhaps “Misogynist.” Ouch! I certainly intend to speak in love and to convey the highest good for men and women’s roles based upon God’s word. Whether that is well received or resented is purely up to the reader and whether they are open to be challenged or not. We all have presuppositions that we come to the table with some of which are good and true, and others of which we would do well to renounce and seek to change. Needless to say those presuppositions become the lens through which we assess and process all things. My presupposition for expressing the conviction contained herein is that God has spoken to humanity, and his words have been recorded in the canons of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. God’s word being inspired and inerrant, is useful for teaching, and rebuking, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Since God doesn’t change neither does his word change. It is from this conviction that I speak assertively knowing that I am not speaking from my own subjective biases, but rather am communicating God’s design and intent as revealed to us in Holy Scripture.

Right from the onset of the biblical testimony in Genesis 1 we see God at work in establishing the created order. It is at the climax of this creation account, that we see in unprecedented fashion the words quoted above: “So God created man in his own image…” Almost undoubtedly we glance over that sentence with a sense of normalcy, never stopping to consider the awesomeness of what God has just done. Of all created order both in heaven and earth, this is the first and last class of creatures that will ever bear the Imago Dei, being made to reflect the image of God upon the earth. What an astonishing reality and a great privilege this is to humanity. Being made in the image of God endues mankind with intrinsic purpose and value, God’s image in us is what upholds the sanctity of human life. We read slightly further in the same sentence the words: “male and female he created them.” What is this that we are witnessing? None other than God’s good design for gender roles among God’s image bearers. God establishes from the inception of humanity complementary relationships for males and females, this is good and finds its proper place within pre-fall humanity. This is to say that gender roles and distinction is not a result of sin; it is in fact God’s good design. Furthermore, we see in this account that God’s greatest intent for gender distinction and complementary roles was the establishment of heterosexual monogamous marriage through the covenantal commitment one to another. This is certainly indicative of the nature of the covenantal God who’s image we were made to reflect. So since this is so clear and presented to us right from the onset of the created order, why is it that today we question the notion that gender even exists and certainly reject the idea that men and women are complementary but rather egalitarian in their relationship to one another? Is egalitarianism God’s design for men and women? More importantly should it be present in his Church? Is it in fact an assault on the Gospel? I will attempt to address these questions below.

Unhappy In Your Own Skin

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 (ESV)

I received a call one evening from a good friend inviting us to an outing with a group of couples. “Sure, let me talk to the boss and get back to you.” I said jokingly as I got off of the phone. My wife being in the connecting room, almost immediately baulked at the notion that she is my boss. “Please don’t call me the boss.” she said with a defensive demeanor about her. “I’m only joking.” I said, but she was intent that she did not like that title. Sure one could argue that my wife is perhaps “old fashioned,” or “narrow minded,” but a deeper look will reveal that there is far more baggage attached to the title of boss than meets the eye. My wife, whom I highly esteem and hold to be my hero in many ways is a soft spoken, yet strong woman. She’s smart, bold, decisive, competent, and certainly a good leader. However my wife as amazing as she is, gladly defers the leadership of our family to me. She does this not because I’m any more competent than she is, and certainly not because I’m any more valuable than she is, rather she does it because it liberates and empowers her to do so. Every woman, no matter how brilliant, strong willed, or capable she may be will never feel more empowered in her womanhood as when she is under the leadership and protection of a godly, loving, and strong man whether her father, brother, husband or employer. So if this is true than why all this talk in our day of the oppression of women? Why is it that women in 2018 are still expressing that they feel marginalized and undervalued? Well, I could venture off into sesquipedalian theories, but the answer is rather simple, perhaps too simple for most people to even accept. The age old problem of the complementary roles of men and women can be traced back to The Fall of the human race into sin. It is at this point in the account of human history recorded for us in Genesis 3 that we see a reversal take place.

Fast forward to verse 16 of chapter 3. Adam and Eve at this point have already been deceived by the serpent plunging into sin with a single bite of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which God commanded them not to eat. It was Adam’s passivity toward his wife that would become the perpetual default demeanor of men coupled with a forceful unreasonable ruling of women, more specifically their wives. This, not a choice from Adam but rather a curse from God. What’s more revealing perhaps is the curse God places on the woman as regards her husband: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” The words translated desire and Contrary in English denote a bent toward complete domination of the relationship in Hebrew. This is to say that women have a perpetual natural desire to dominate men, and more specifically their husbands. So you see this is not a new problem only present in the 20th and 21st centuries where there is the battle of the sexes, it has been happening since the garden of Eden. So are women undervalued and marginalized in society? Sure, so long as there are ungodly men under the curse of sin there will be men forcefully and unreasonably attempting to rule women. So are women merely victims? Certainly not! So long as women remain under the curse of sin, they will have an insatiable appetite for domination and usurping any authority that would make them feel inferior to men. So prevalent has this problem become that even the Church has come under pressure and under fire as being the ring leader in the suppression of women. Really? How is this?

Certainly the Church is not exempt from the effects of sin, since it is comprised of sinners, redeemed sinners to be sure, but sinners none the less. I’m not arguing that there may not be some local churches where you will find all manner of ungodliness and perversion of power, their judgement is not idle. However, by and large the problem lies not in the Church since our aim as a people is to honor the Word of God as supreme. The problem lies in the culture who has an ever increasing desire to liberate itself from any notion of ultimate and singular authority. What’s worse is that this kind of thinking has seeped in and become normative among many professing Christians, who take their cue not from the Authority of Scripture, but rather from the influence of popular culture. We see this problem of casting off all restraint heightened here in the United States in the mid 20th century where the effects of the American Enlightenment gave way to the feminist movement and women’s rights movement. It is as this point in America where we see women speaking out and petitioning for equal rights in society. Now, there is a lot right with this, I think women should be given the same opportunities in society as any man, not without exception but certainly without partiality. I mean by this that a woman should not be offered a job based solely on the fact that she is a woman. If there is a man more qualified for a position then he should get that position, but if she is more qualified then she should be offered the position and have the same opportunity as any man within the workforce. I have as I mentioned above, an incredible wife, who is also a Registered Nurse and I’m extremely grateful that she can do what she loves and get well compensated for it in our day. I have daughters who I want to empower and encourage to dream big and do what they love all within the confines of God’s will as revealed in Holy Scripture. In this way, I think it to be right that women be welcomed as an integral part of society to contribute their gifts in a complimentary relationship to the men they work with and for and vice-versa. Where the enlightenment has damaged our thinking and the feminist movement harmed women rather than empower them is in trumpeting this call to egalitarianism. How so you might ask? I’ll attempt to elucidate this thought for you.

“Sir, yes Ma’am!”

Egalitarianism is a view that says men and women are equal in every way and deserve the same opportunities without exception. This sounds nice, but is actually an affront to God’s design for men and women in reflecting his character. Men and women are certainly equal in worth and dignity, no doubt about it. Still they have roles that differ fundamentally from one another. Though these roles can be perhaps imitated by the other gender, they certainly can not be emulated to precise efficacy by the other gender. So damaging has this egalitarian school of thought been to society that every line has been blurred in the realm of gender distinction. Even to the point that we are being told that gender doesn’t exist and that people should be free to identify as whatever pronoun best suits their liking. This is a sad reality that we are seeing unraveled right before our eyes, yet it is the result of refusing to acknowledge that we have a higher and final authority. God through Intelligent Design, determines our anatomy and subsequently our gender roles. Egalitarianism has also done tremendous harm to women by affirming them in their unruly desire to dominate. As a result this has put women in positions to be further abused and ruled by harsh men. These men care nothing for the frailty and elegance of a woman’s frame or emotional construct, but rather view them as more competition to be eliminated rather than a helper and confidant to be respected and embraced. I certainly don’t mean to paint with a broad brush. Obviously not all men are harsh or want to rule the women in their lives, and not all women are rash and want to dominate the men in their lives. However those who aren’t that way are the same ones who tend to uphold and embrace a complementary view of their roles with one another. With all the damage that egalitarianism causes, I find it to be a self-refuting philosophy and frankly unhealthy for society. Many find this to be unchristian and even hateful to say but in its proper context it is actually the most loving thing to say since it is how God designed it. So what about egalitarianism in the Church, is this appropriate? The immediate answer is no. The question then begged is, why?

11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. 13 For Adam was created first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. (1 Timothy 2:11–14) HCSB

I recall many years ago while being a member of a church with a strong egalitarian bent in their ministry philosophy, talking to my pastor about the passage of Scripture above. I asked him; “if this is a command from God, why are we ordaining women as pastors, and why is the senior pastor of our fellowship of churches a woman?” He didn’t address or even attempt to exegete the scripture, rather he went directly into saying that the women they ordain are always ordained with their husbands (which was true) and that although his pastor was a woman, that she really wasn’t “in charge” being that her brother-in-law was the president of the fellowship (also true). Still those answers were unsatisfactory to my questions in light of the Scripture. The fact remained that these women still spoke, taught, and exercised authority over the men in their congregations, which is a clear violation of the apostolic command in Scripture. I pressed him again at a later date being that I couldn’t reconcile what I saw clearly in Scripture and the disregard for those commands I saw at church. This time he at least addressed the Scripture and said that Paul was merely addressing the cultural norm and that it didn’t apply to today. I was grieved with his answer again, but left it alone being that he clearly didn’t intend to change his model of ministry. I thought often of his responses, and sadly he was wrong about the answers he gave me since the answer to Paul’s reason for not allowing women to teach is in verses 13 and 14. Beloved this command has nothing to do with a cultural norm of that day, no, this was a statement even then and was as radical in Paul’s day as it is today. What is the reason Paul gives? “For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.” Paul goes right back to the fall of mankind and says this was God’s order all along, that women should be complementary to men, and this is most importantly upheld in the church. Well perhaps one could argue; surely this was only Paul’s misogyny on full display. However a careful and thoughtful reading of the entirety of Pauline literature we possess and undoubtedly we’ll see that Paul had an extremely high view of women. In fact in the following verse Paul bestows tremendous honor on women by establishing them as the agents through whom the world is filled and influenced. How so you ask? Well what does he say in verse 15: “But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.” Paul gets at the heart of the Gospel here, that though a woman was the perpetrator in The Fall of humanity, a woman would also be the vessel through whom salvation would come to humanity by the birth of Christ. Moreover, Paul asserts that a woman’s honor is upheld by her faithful care to her own home in child rearing and training her children to fear and love the LORD. Women, by way of motherhood are privileged to be the primary influence in the men and women who will inevitably be the future and leaders of society. This is not to say that women can not or should not have positions outside of the home within society, yet those positions can never bestow the same honor on a woman as being the keeper of her own home. As regards her role within the church it is not God’s purpose or design that women should be in positions of authoritative leadership. Paul reasserts this same command to the church in Corinth and makes the command more firm in this way:

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Corinthians 14:33–38)

Here Paul puts to rest any doubt that this is how God intends all the churches to be governed. He says “as in all the churches” meaning without exception since this is God’s will and design. Again, its important to understand that this was not something that was a mere upholding of cultural traditions and norms, rather it was a radical declaration that the Church as the bride of Christ functions in diametrically opposed fashion from the world. There was all manner of egalitarianism present in Paul’s day and in fact there were religious sects that upheld women as the chief ministers in the temples of their feminine gods. This is not to say that women can have no expression in church, it is fitting and honorable that they teach and train other women and children in the ways of Christ. However, women should be subject to their own husbands as God has ordered, and single women to their own fathers or the elders in the church. These statements appear to the natural mind to be suppressive and unloving, but to those who are truly spiritual and recognize the purpose of the authority God has established these are liberating and God glorifying truths. This is how Paul assures his readers that this isn’t stemming from Paul’s biases rather he says: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” This is from God not from man.

Gender Roles In Church: A Shadow Of A Greater Reality

I understand how it could be easy to disregard some of the commands put forward in Scripture as archaic and irrelevant to our day and age. However nothing could be further from the truth or more damaging to the Body of Christ. God’s word is timeless and relevant for each generation and this issue of gender roles in The Church is one of SOLA SCRIPTURA: Scripture Alone. It comes down to either standing over God’s word as judge, or coming under subjection to it in humility as subordinate. There is grave danger in disregarding any command in Scripture, especially in the New Testament which was written exclusively for the Church. Once a church is willing to lay aside a clear command for the sake of appeasing societal pressure or maintaining cultural relevance, they are only few steps away if they haven’t already, from abandoning the Gospel altogether. Once this occurs they open themselves up to a gymnastic biblical hermeneutic. What is that you ask? It is when a church and their members have to become very flexible and acrobatic in their reading of Scripture to make it fit their ministry philosophy. This occurs when they have already excused themselves from being bound to certain clear commands. As a result they need to be circular in their argumentation and Biblical gymnasts in their hermeneutic, bending and flipping the clear meaning of Scripture. Others just disregard it altogether as one such person I spoke to said as being “not the heart of God.” Yet, Paul is clear that if someone disregards or doesn’t recognize the Scriptural command as a command from the LORD then they themselves are not recognized by the LORD. Is this to say that God can not use women in positions of leadership? Of course not, God is free to do as He wills. We see in Scripture that God used Deborah as a Judge over Israel (Judges 4). Yet it must be noted, that this was not a sign of God’s favor or blessing on Israel, rather it was an indictment against the men of Israel. Since the men were so corrupt and full of fear, God raised up a woman to judge them as a nation. Again, this was not a sign of approval rather an act of Judgement. Even so if a church today is run by a woman, or if a woman is acting in a pastoral function, this is not something which the LORD favors or approves of, but he will use as an act of Judgement against that church since their men are behaving with the cowardice of Adam. Moreover it is also a judgement on those women who rather than pleading with their men and calling them to repentance and to biblical leadership are assuming the role of headship which is out of order. Why is this such a serious matter in the Church? Because complementary roles first within marriage and also within the Church are a shadow of the Gospel picture of Christ redeeming His Bride and she coming under full submission to her head which is Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word -(Eph 5:22–26) ESV

Egalitarianism in the church is an assault on the Gospel because it aims to usurp the complementary roles God has established as a means to display the glory of the relationship Christ has with His bride the Church. The reason complementarianism is God’s good design for gender roles is because it shows the world that we don’t rule or govern ourselves, but we have a federal head who is Christ. If women can offer oversight to the men in the Church including their own husbands, then the Church also can usurp authority over Christ and give him oversight. This is a heinous indictment and should cause us to tremble at the thought that we would want to be equal to Christ and even offer him oversight. This may sound like an exaggeration, but the implications are certainly there and are sobering. You need not look far to see the disorder present in any family or church where women, outside of God’s revealed design are exercising authority due to the passivity of men and husbands who refuse to lead as God has called them to. The Church is to stand out from the world, we should be the major influence on culture. However, through a distortion of God’s word, the Church caves in to the pressure of relevance and has become guilty of regarding God’s word as subjective recommendations, rather than objective truth and commands. Egalitarianism is an assault on the gospel, because it distorts the relationship that the Church is called to share with Christ, which is one of humble submission to Him as LORD. I say this all in love, and I pray that if you are in a church where you see egalitarianism praised and upheld, perhaps not in word but certainly in action, that you would not bend under the pressure and assume you can’t speak up. Speak up and be discerning, but ask God for grace and always speak the truth in love seeking the repentance of those whom God has placed in your life. So yes, men and women are absolutely equal in value and dignity, but by God’s good design and grace we have distinct and complementary roles to benefit one another. Embracing this is glorifying to God and upholds the picture of the Gospel between Christ and His bride.

Song For Reflection