What Is the Gospel?

Wendy Anne Clark (C) 2020

Mark 16:15
And Jesus said to His followers, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.”

Proclaim the gospel, literally, “the good news.”  What is the gospel? What is this good news?

I used to think that when Christians, pastors, teachers in the Church, those who identify themselves as Christ followers used the word “gospel” that we were using the word the way the Bible uses it.

The Apostle Paul warned us about people who would come and preach a false gospel, but somehow I wasn’t picturing those people rising up in accepted churches or within my circle of friends. Without actively thinking about it, I suppose I pictured them being more “fringe” and even more obvious.

But lately I hear and read a form of “gospel” being preached that looks on the surface to be the gospel of the Bible, but is not.

Last week I listened to a preacher who said, “This is the true gospel,” and then he quoted this verse:

Luke 4:18-19
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  

This is Scripture, and this is true. Jesus read this passage out of Isaiah while preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, and then He sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Although the people of His hometown didn’t understand the fullness of what Jesus was saying about Himself, they understood that He was speaking with authority about the Scriptures and establishing Himself as sent by God, and they were offended by His message. 

The pastor that I heard referred to this passage as “the gospel” then went on to talk about social justice and the need to care for the poor, free the prisoners, and lift up the oppressed.  All of his examples were limited to this physical world and this temporary life, but is that what Jesus was talking about, and is that what Jesus focused on in his three years of ministry?

When Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish for the crowd, they then followed Him.  Jesus recognized that they were looking for Him to keep on providing their physical food, but He refocused their attention off of the physical and onto the spiritual:

John 6:26-27
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.” 

Why did Jesus talk about “signs”?  Signs of what? What were they missing in what Jesus was saying?

Why didn’t Jesus fight against the Roman government, declare all of the slaves to be set free, establish funds for the poor and the orphans and the widows?  

It wasn’t because He didn’t care about doing these things or because God the Father does not care about these things; the Bible clearly promotes doing all of these things.  It was because this is not the focus of the gospel and not what we are to go and preach.

How do I state that with confidence?  Because I use the Bible to understand what the Bible means. Many people are saying that for us to come to understanding about what the Bible really means, we must read a particular book or watch a particular movie, but the Bible tells us what the Bible means, and the Bible clearly states what the gospel is.

Romans 1:16
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

Paul says that the gospel brings salvation.  What kind of salvation? He explains more in his letter to the Church in Corinth.

I Corinthians 15;1-4
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . . “

Paul is not talking about being saved in the physical world, but being saved from our sins–spiritual salvation. 

But if you aren’t willing to take Paul’s word for it, Jesus said it too:

Luke 24:45-49
Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus tells us what the gospel is that is to be preached to all nations, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

After Jesus rises from the dead, lives among the disciples teaching them for another 40 days, He ascends into heaven, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and they go out in obedience and begin to preach the gospel.  What do they preach?  

Here’s the first recorded sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel:

Acts 2:14-24
“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, 
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls   
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.”

And verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 

Jesus had referred to the “signs” that the people of God were supposed to recognize, the “signs” pointing to the promised Messiah.

Here’s what happens after the people hear Peter’s sermon:

Acts 2:37-39
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”

So in the very first sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel, he does not talk about how to treat the poor or widows or orphans.  He does not talk about standing up for the oppressed.  When the people ask him what they should do in response to what Peter has told them, Peter talks about repentance and sins and Jesus.

The Bible tells us over and over why Jesus came:

I John 4:9-10
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

John 3:16-17
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

Romans 10:9-13
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

But does it matter that this is what the word “gospel” means?  The pastor I listened to was trying to stir people to do good things, so does it matter that he identified and described the gospel message incorrectly?

What about what James writes, isn’t he saying that the gospel is to do good things?

James 1:26-27
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Go back and read everything that James writes. He is not writing to define the gospel message or to explain how one is saved.  He is clearly writing about how what we do demonstrates what is in our hearts and is evidence of who we really are and what we truly believe.  When he writes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14), he is not arguing that it is our works that save us, only that it is our works that flow out of a true salvation.

We are not saved by our works. I know this because the Apostle Paul in explaining salvation writes this:

Ephesians 2:4-10
“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Notice the order that Paul explains to the Christians in Ephesus:  salvation by faith through Jesus, which results in works.

Paul uses this same order in writing to the Christians in Rome:

Romans 1:1-6
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

The gospel we are to preach is salvation from our sin, not because loving others, serving others, and caring for others is unimportant, but because those things flow out of our salvation and do not produce salvation.

Salvation according to the Bible is not some collective thing that occurs as people in a society promote justice and do loving and kind acts. Salvation is for individuals who will confess their sins, repent, and trust Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross in their place for the forgiveness of their sins. 

When one person believes and confesses and turns to Jesus to be Savior and Lord, in a single moment that person is transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light.  In a single moment, that person is declared righteous before God.  In a single moment, that person becomes a child of God, belongs to the family of God, and is part of the Body of Christ.  All of these things happen before that person ever shows a change of behavior or does anything “good.”

In that same moment the process of sanctification begins, but it continues for a lifetime. Sanctification is a refining, purifying, aligning to the truth and to the heart of God. But Sanctification cannot happen without personal confession (agreeing with what God says is sin) and personal repentance (turning away from sin and back toward God).  

Sanctification cannot happen collectively, and man’s attempt to sanctify self, can never result in salvation. And we can’t come up with our own ideas and rules about salvation and then live by them and hope to be saved.

Romans 10:1-4
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

The Apostle Paul takes the use of the word “gospel” very seriously:

Galatians 1:6-8
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”

Galatians 3:1-3
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

I have been troubled by what looks like Christians who came to Christ by grace and through faith, but are now preaching a false gospel of works to purify and make holy.  Only the blood of Jesus purifies and makes holy. 

2 Corinthians 5:14-21
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The gospel, the good news, is this:  Though we were all born as enemies of God, God Himself loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins in our place so that we could be reconciled to God, make peace with God, and live in relationship with Him.  

We are all invited.  But each one of us must individually respond in faith and accept the gift that we have been offered. There is nothing that we can do to earn or deserve this gift, and God is not waiting for us to do anything but to believe and respond in faith. 

Everything good that God has for us and everything that we are called to do in obedience to His commands, will flow out of our willingness to “be reconciled to God” and to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. 

Do Not Be Afraid

Wendy Clark © 2020

Fear and Hope.  Though sometimes it seems like they sneak up and overtake us, we have a lot more control over fear and hope than we often realize.

I can drive out fear by looking forward in hope, and I can squeeze out hope by feeding present fear. In any moment of my life I can shift my focus and perspective and change my whole attitude about my current situation from one of fear or discouragement or despair, to one of hope. 

So simple, but not so easy. The shift takes focus, intention, effort, and often practice and repetition.

Examining my fear or my discouragement can be a big help in shifting to hope because both fear and hope are intricately interwoven with trust and faith.

For example, if I am fearful about my finances, I can take a look at what I am trusting to keep my finances in order and consider how trustworthy that source is.  Am I trusting my own ability to work and earn and save and make good decisions?  Am I trusting a bank or financial institution to manage my money well and give me a reliable check each month?  Am I trusting the government to be generous and reliable and faithful in providing for my needs?  How reliable are each of these sources? 

I can avoid a certain amount of fear by shifting the source of my trust to something or someone more stable and trustworthy.  I might divide my assets and look for my fiances to come from a variety of sources.  I might come up with strategies and make plans that help me to manage the money that I have better.  These are not bad ideas.

But in the end, I will stop being fearful about my finances when I come to understand that God is the source of all provision for me. God is the one who gives me the ability to make wealth and blesses the work of my hands. God, in His Word, gives me principles of truth that I can apply to my finances. God promises that if I walk with Him and trust Him for provision, He is faithful to lead me and guide me and trustworthy to provide generously for all that I need.

Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart ,and do not  lean on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to Him, and He will lead you on the straight path.”

Psalm 40:1-3
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.”

The Bible says that the fear of the LORD is a wise kind of fear because we recognize who is really in charge and who is really the One powerful enough to handle all of our concerns with faithfulness, love, compassion . . . holiness.

And God is trustworthy not just with my fiances.   The same is true for all areas of fear in my life.  I can examine the fear and what it tells me about where my trust is and where I am putting my hope.

Am I afraid for my safety or the safety of those I love? Who or what am I trusting to keep us all safe? Am I afraid of failure?  Who or what am I relying on to determine whether I fail or succeed? Am I fearful about my future?  Who or what am I trusting to make a way for me? 

Isaiah 41:10
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Psalm 23:4
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

We all have the power to drive out fear and live in hope and peace.  That power lies in the choices we make about where we will put our trust.

There are 365 verses in the Bible that say “Fear Not,” one for each day of the year. 

One good step toward overcoming fear, anxiety, worry is to take one verse each day and read the context of the passage.  If there is a story, read the whole story.  Sometimes, you might find yourself reading the same story a few days in a row because God tells the same person to not be afraid several different times.  What does that repetition tell us about God?  About the person or people God is speaking to? What are the promises associated with not being afraid?

Genesis 15:1; 21:17; 26:24; 35:17; 43:23; 46:3; 50:19. 21

Exodus 14:13; 20:20 

Leviticus 26:6 

Numbers 6:24-26; 14:9; 21:34 

Deuteronomy 1:17, 21, 29;  3:2, 22;  7:18; 20:1, 3; 20:3; 31:6, 8

Joshua 1:9; 8:1; 10:8, 25; 11:6 

Judges 4:18; 6:23

I Samuel 4:20; 12:20; 22:23;  23:17;  28:13 

II Samuel 9:7 

I Kings 17:13

II Kings 1:15; 6:16; 19:6; 25:24 

I Chronicles 22:13; 28:20 

II Chronicles 20:15; 20:17; 32:7

Nehemiah 4:14 

Job 5:21; 11:15; 21:9 .

Psalm 3:6; 4:8; 16:7-9; 23:4; 27:1, 3; 29:11; 46:2; 49:16; 56: 3-4, 11; 78:53; 91:5; 94:19; 118:6; 119:165

Proverbs 3:24-25

Ecclesiastes 11:10

Isaiah 7:4; 8:12; 10:24; 12:2; 17:2; 26:3; 35:4; 37:6; 40:9; 41:10, 13-14; 43:1, 5; 44:2, 8; 51:7; 54:4, 14

Jeremiah 1:8; 10:5; 17:8; 30:10; 40:9; 42:11; 46:27-28; 51:46

Lamentations 3:57

Ezekiel 3:9 

Daniel 10:12, 19 

Joel 2:21-22

 Zephaniah 3:16 

Haggai 2:5 

Zechariah 8:13, 15 

Malachi 3:5 

Matthew 1:20: 6:25-34; 10:19, 26, 28, 31; 14:27; 17:7;  28:5, 10, 36

Mark 5:36; 6:50; 13:11

Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50; 12:4, 7, 11, 32

John 6:20; 12:15; 14:27; 16:33

Acts 18:9; 20:10; 27:24

Romans 5:1,

Hebrews 13:6

Philippians 4:6 

I Peter 3:6, 14; 5:7

1 John 4:18 

Revelation 1:17

Revelation 2:10 

Joshua 1:9
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Clashing Worldviews

By Wendy Clark © 2020

Sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, we make the mistake of thinking that everyone else sees the world the same way we do or that if we could just talk persuasively enough, others would shift directions and see the world the way that we see it. The “right” way.

We’ve all seen the written shouting matches going back and forth on social media.  Most of us have been caught off guard when we have posted something heartfelt and were met with hostility from people we think of as “friends.” We may have responded with a harsh answer back, or with silence, or with more explanation, or by deleting the entire conversation, or even by blocking the other person from ever engaging with us again. 

In 2020, it has become clearer than it has been in a long time, that we are living in an age of clashing worldviews.  No matter who you are and how you see the world, you can be pretty sure that you see the world differently than many of those around you: co-workers, neighbors, friends, even people in your own family.  

We all see the world from a perspective that has been shaped by our experiences and how we have interpreted and responded to those experiences.  Our interpretation of events is an interweaving of what we see, hear, feel, and believe.

When something happens to us in life, especially something uncomfortable, painful, or traumatic, we try to make meaning out of the experience, to find a place to categorize the what happened to us.

We tend to play what happened  over and over in our minds, the order of all of the little pieces, all of the details, but we don’t just sort through the facts; we have feelings attached to what happened, whether we recognize and acknowledge those feelings or not, and what we feel shapes our understanding of what we experienced, sometimes correctly, and sometimes incorrectly.

I think back to a very turbulent time in my life, back when I was in the 6th grade.  Someone who did business with my dad–a man who was a missionary–cheated my dad out of a lot of money.  This threw our family into an economic crisis.  

I was attending a small Christian school at the time and had been there since kindergarten. I was with the same kids every year and had known most of them from the beginning. My parents had sacrificed to pay for us to attend there, and we had received scholarships and other financial help as well.  But now we could no longer afford to stay, so suddenly in 6th grade, I was entering a K-6 public school, knowing only a few of the kids that lived on my block.

What a relief that this turned out to be a great school and a great situation for me!  I loved my sweet teacher.  I was put in a challenging, interesting, and fun class.  I was making friends.  But then . . .

To deal with our financial situation, we had to sell our house and rent a house in another neighborhood.  I didn’t really understand how public schools worked and that this would mean I would need to change schools again.  One day during school, the principal called me into her office to tell me that I would have to leave the school and go to a different school, closer to where we had moved.

I remember that I was completely shocked and devastated as this woman, who looked so cold and uncaring delivered the news, watched me break down into sobbing, and never said one kind or compassionate word. 

I asked her why I couldn’t just stay and finish out the year.  I had already switched schools once, and we would all be changing again the next year for junior high.  She responded to me in a tone that I remember being harsh and unkind:

“I can’t even get my own daughter into this school.  Why should you get to go to school here?”

She sent me back to class a complete wreck.  My kind teacher felt very bad and said she would do what she could to help me stay, but I had to leave anyway.  She did have the class write to me a few times, which was very kind.

I am stunned by the fact that I started crying as I was writing this, some 45 years later.

The new school experience was terrible for me.  The class of the motivated and engaged students was full, and I was put in a class with the lower academic students.  I was pulled out of the class for an advanced reading group and a few other things during the week, but it was clear what kind of class this was, and all of us in that class (and all the kids in the other class) knew it was the class for ‘the dumb kids.”

For a long time I didn’t have any friends in my class, and one girl at the school kept trying to bully me.  I use the word “tried” because I stood up to her, but it was a difficult and troubling time for me.

A few weeks after I had moved to the new school, my family and I were eating in a restaurant when the principal for the other school walked in.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Then I was filled with rage so powerful that I didn’t know what to do.  I remember silently praying over and over, “Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!”

Why was that woman so unkind to a young girl who was clearly devastated?  I have often wondered about her, and I have had to forgive her over and over again.  Even now, I find myself having to forgive her as I write this and to choose to think merciful thoughts about her. I doubt she ever had any idea of what effect her words, actions, and attitudes had on me, and how even the memory of them still has the power to affect me.

And recent events have brought this childhood experience to mind yet again because I started wondering how I might have interpreted this event if I had been a black little girl, facing that unloving white woman across the desk in her office.  Would I have been sure of her motives, sure of her heart?  Would I have “known” that her attitude toward me was because of my skin color?

I was white, and she was white, so of course it never occurred to me that her harshness was due to racism because it was not.  I don’t know why she behaved the way she did.  I think it had something to do with her wanting her daughter to go to the school where she was a principal, but I had nothing to do with whatever was going on there.  She didn’t speak to me with kindness or compassion.  She didn’t try to help me.  Why not?  I don’t know, and I can’t imagine that I ever will.

As I think back on that experience, I’m struck by how what we believe about God plays a part in how we interpret events, both how we relate to Him, and how we understand Him to relate to us.

When I was filled with a sickening rage against this woman for how she had treated me, I started praying because I understood, even then, that the source of my strength and help was and is the LORD. I also understood that holding onto those feelings was not good for me, and that I needed a way to release them, to release her, and to move forward in my life. 

What we believe about other people, how we see them, and how we believe they see us, also plays a part in how we shape our experiences, and because that is true, I recognize that my memory of those events may not be completely accurate.  I remember that principal as being cold and uncaring and for certain she said nothing kind to me, and she didn’t help me in any way.  I still wonder why she called me into her office during the school day to give me that news.  Why didn’t she call my parents?  Why wasn’t my mom there with me? What did the principal think was going to happen? 

But maybe she was moved by my distress, and I didn’t perceive it.  Maybe she was caught by surprise by my reaction.  My memory of her as being hard and uncaring is part of how I interpreted what I saw and heard and felt that day.  The evidence seems to support that interpretation, but it can’t reveal what the woman was thinking or feeling on that day or why she behaved the way she did.

Fast forward many years to an encounter with another woman who appeared to be cold and unfeeling. 

I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 32 and had two daughters, ages 2 and 4 months old. It was a shocking and devastating time for my whole family.  Again I found myself sitting in an office across from a woman who seemed unmoved as she laid out to my husband and me treatment plans and what we could expect. Although we had an appointment early that day, we had waited for several hours before getting in to see this doctor.  We were on edge, and she was expressionless. I went out of that room feeling like the doctor was a competent but hard woman.

Months later, after I had finished my treatment, was cancer free, and was coming back for a follow-up appointment, one of the nurses talked of what she remembered that first day.  She said that she knew from the beginning that I was going to be okay because I had a positive attitude and I was looking to the future.  Then she said something that surprised me.

She said that after our meeting, the doctor sat in her office for a while and cried.  She talked to the nurse about her great grief at the young women with cancer that she was treating.  (Another of her patients also had a baby and was being treated for cancer.) The doctor herself was pregnant.  She was overwhelmed by imagining what it might be like to have a new baby and be diagnosed with cancer.  She was struggling to “keep it together.”

When we have a bad experience that is connected to someone else, we want to know why people do the things they do.  We often make up our minds about why they do those things, and our worldview plays a big part in what we decide is true about other peoples’ hearts and motives.

But we have no way of knowing what is inside the heart of someone else.  Sometimes we are not even able to see our own hearts clearly.  The Bible talks about this problem:  

“Every way of a person is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2).

When Samuel was sent by God to anoint the person who would be the next king of Israel, he was distracted by what he could see and what he thought about who should be king. God corrected Samuel when he incorrectly picked out the person he thought should be king: 

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

We can’t see inside to the heart.  We can see lots of clues, and we are told to look for those clues, the things people say, the things people do  (what the Bible calls “fruit”) in order to have some understanding about who is trustworthy and truthful, but in the end, we can’t really know why people do what they do.

“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart . . .” (I Corinthians 4:5).

Motives and intentions are something that we can’t really know and we have to leave to a future time when God will reveal those deeper things that for now remain hidden.

Because we are such complex people, with so many things that shape how we see the world, God tells us not to use the world around us as the guide for interpreting events.  Instead, we are to replace whatever worldview we have come to have with a Biblical worldview.  We are to line up our thinking with God’s thinking.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

We must actively resist thinking like the world thinks by renewing our minds and being transformed.  How do we do that?  We surrender our thoughts, to God’s thoughts.  We let the Word of God shape us.

Jesus prayed for those who would follow Him, that the Father would sanctify us (transform, purify, refine) in the truth, and then He said this, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

So if I can’t know why people do the things they do, then what am I supposed to do with all the bad things that others have done to hurt me?  

The Apostle Paul writes, “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:12-13).

I can choose how I will think of other people.  I can choose to think of the principal with mercy and to forgive her even though I do not understand why she did what she did. I can choose to remember that doctor as a person, as a woman struggling with her own hopes, dreams, and fears.

The Apostle Paul also writes, “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith” (I Timothy 1;5).

And to the believers at Philippi, he writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

I can examine myself, comparing myself against the Word of God, I can agree with what God says is true and reject what I think or feel when it is contrary to God’s word. I can surrender and submit my thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and feelings, even my memories to make them obedient to God’s Word.

No, I don’t know the motives behind the things that you say and do.  I don’t know your heart and all the places where it has been hurt and broken.

Here’s what I do know about you:  You were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  God knew you before you were even born (Psalm 139:13-15).  God knows everything about you (Psalm 139:1-6).  God loves you (John 3:16).  God’s desire is that you would know Him (2 Peter 3:9). God wants me to love you even if you are not kind and loving toward me (Matthew 5:44). God’s goal is for you and I to live in peace and unity, and that we would love each other (Psalm 133;1-3).

None of these truths hinge on your experiences or my experiences.  They are true whether you or I believe them or not. And as I was taught long ago, the only two things from this world that will last forever are people, and the Word of God.

So we ought to give great care to both.