Stickers, Thorns and Other Blessings
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I’m not sure what you call them in your neck of the woods, but where I grew up they were called sticker burs – little globes of pricklies that can cause large amounts of pain to the barefooted and the four-footed. I’ve heard them called sand burs. They’re not like the polite but troublesome burs that are like Velcro. Sticker burs are just mean.

sandburrI’m a barefoot person. My shoes come off at the earliest possible second after I’ve walked through the door and don’t go back on again until the last moment before I leave the house – summer or whatever passes for winter in Texas. I learned painfully that venturing outside without shoes is not a pleasant experience because of sticker burs. What I never expected was to have to learn that same lesson inside my house. This year, however, I have found walking through my house almost as painful as walking in my yard. Why? Apparently sticker burs attach themselves in the fur of long-haired dogs until they walk onto carpet and then somehow the stickers come out of the dogs’ hair and stick in the carpet. That is, until my foot finds one and then it sticks in me. I know, if I were wearing shoes, I wouldn’t have a problem … I’ve been ignoring that advice for fifty-some years.

This problem led me to ask the question, “Why do we have sticker burs … or thorns, … or mosquitos, … or any other inconvenient, painful or bothersome thing you can think of?

The answer that all Christians know is, “Because Adam and Eve sinned.” OK, but why does their sin mean that I have to step on sticker burs stuck in my carpet? For a long time my answer would have been that at the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, entropy and genetic anomalies entered all life forms. I still believe that, but that doesn’t answer the why part of the question. “Why?”

But then, I noticed something I had never noticed before.

“To the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.’

“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”: Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.'” Genesis 3:16-19

Did you catch it? “Cursed is the ground for your sake; …” Think for a minute. What do you usually mean when you make a statement that includes the words “for your sake?” Are you going to help or hurt that person? Well, if you’re doing something for another person’s sake, you’re trying to help that person in some way, right?

So, how does making Adam work harder benefit him and by extension, us?
Consider this:

“Only one professional football team that plays its home games in a domed stadium with artificial turf has ever won the Super Bowl: The St. Louis Rams in 2000.

“While a climate-controlled stadium protects players (and fans) from the misery of sleet, snow, mud, heat, and wind, players who brave the elements on a regular basis are disciplined to handle hardship wherever it’s found. The Green Bay Packers were the 1996 Super Bowl champions, in part, because of the discipline gained from regularly playing in some of the worst weather in the country.

‘Endure hardship as discipline. … No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it'(Hebrews 12:7),(Hebrews 12:11).”1

Challenges make us stronger, but that’s not all. If we allow them to, they can help us focus on what’s really important. Many of us know that Beethoven, the great composer, was deaf for a large part of his adult life. He was completely deaf by the time he turned 47. The process of going deaf had taken 16 years. Can you imagine being aware that the sense most needed for your chosen occupation was leaving you, and you couldn’t do anything to stop it?

Beethoven was severely depressed and actually admitted to thinking of suicide.

But he never quit composing music that he could only hear in his imagination.
The Ninth Symphony is the best-known piece Beethoven wrote during the time he was completely deaf. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Several years ago, my sons and I had an opportunity to hear the whole symphony performed in person. It was spectacular. As we discussed it on the way home, my oldest son made an observation that has changed my way of thinking about limitations.

I made some comment like, “Imagine if Beethoven could do that when he was deaf, what he could have done if he could still hear.” My son, a senior in high school at the time, and a musician, quickly disagreed with me. He pointed out his belief that Beethoven’s deafness had focused him more completely – so much so that my son felt that the Ninth Symphony was based on the one thing Beethoven could still “hear” – his heartbeat. See if you can’t hear it the next time you’re listening to the Ninth Symphony.

Why did God introduce struggles and challenges after the Fall? Well, for one thing, have you ever met a child who has no limits? Challenges teach us discipline. Like for Beethoven, they can help us block out the trivia and noise around us and help us focus on what’s important.

And, as Paul reminds us, learning to live within our limitations teaches us humility and our need for a Savior.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

And finally, there’s this:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

Why do I have sticker burs in my carpet? Probably because I need to vacuum more. But God gave us thorns for our sakes, because He wants us to stay close to Him.

[1] Greg Asimakoupoulos, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3

  1. Greg Asimakoupoulos, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3
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Stickers, Thorns and Other Blessings — 32 Comments

  1. Excellent! This is such a great thing: to see something you have never seen before. From someone else's perspective. "For your sake". I never really "saw" that before: God did it for our very own sake. God loves us but permits us to have weaknesses so that He can reach down through our levels of pride and get to us. I love lifting weights and I wanted to be Superman, to be big like Arnold. It seemed that when I lifted weights and ate carbohydrates, my muscles would expand, but then I would get ill the same way every time: hypertension, flushed face, nausea and a rapid heartbeat, tiredness and unwellness. No matter what I did, the same result happened. I would say to myself, "God, why are you letting this happen to me. What does it mean?" It seems that God would not answer. (Of course, I went to the doctor, he gave me hypertension pills, he told me to exercise moderately. He gave the right advice.) But I still wanted to know why and the answers never satisfied me. I wanted to know why, why, why from God, and the answer was not coming. I did find a reasonable hypothesis, but I digress; my point is that now that I can look back at my life is that God wanted to get my attention and the only way that He could do that was get through to me through that weakness. So I would stay close to Him and depend on Him and not on my own paltry achievements.

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  2. Thank you for your article. I think accepting the challenges that God allows to come our way can be one of the most difficult things to do in the life of a believer. Even Paul went back to plead with God three times... This was obviously more than just a thorn in the flesh. Whatever it was it must have really bothered him. Recently I was contemplating Gen 3:17-19 and like you, the phrase "for your sake," caught my attention. I am not one to take a translation at face value, especially not on topics that affect my trust in God. I looked into the Hebrew and could not find the phrase "for thy sake" in those verses! I am not sure just how those words were supplied. Does anybody know why I can't find them in the original text and if so, what are they doing in the English text? The idea of thorns being for our sake kindof depends on those words actually being there and I can't find them.
    [I go by "Q" its Japanese and pronounced "ki-OO"]

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    • I believe the correct rendering of this verse (Gen 3:17) seems to be (in my own words): "Because you listened to Eve [instead of Me] and ate from the forbidden tree, cursed [is] the land because [of that which you did]."

      Does that make sense?

      Also, does anyone else think that God did not create thorns and thistles, but because Adam relinquished the dominion to Satan, Satan could now tamper with nature? I have several reasons for considering this. One is Deuteronomy 28, where disobedience removes God's ability to bless and protect from the natural course of evil. As in the wilderness with the fiery serpents, God didn't have to bring them, they were already there and He had been protecting Israel from them.

      The evidence is that the thorns were not there before sin, and with the change of command, the way was open for the most brilliant creature of all to bend his powers to creating misery, woe and hardship by marring God's "good" creation. It's just a thought I've had lately. Clearly, God has set limits upon Satan's abilities or we would have been destroyed long ago, but given enough permission so the results of Satan's true intention could be witnessed by all. Satan has shot himself in the foot by exercising his power for evil, thinking to make God look bad, but he has only made God look even better!

      Now, with this all being said, I agree with Lillian's conclusion of our many trials and hardships being a blessing. Anyone who has learned from their's will agree. A child always kept from falling will probably take longer to learn how to walk or ride a bike. I'm not saying that falling is vital, but in this world, it seems to be a good teacher when faith is weak. Just ask Peter. David. Abraham. Jacob. Nebuchadnezzar...or me.

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      • Robert I have a tendency to agree with you on this. I looked up Gen 3:17 and found that the newer translations render the verse differently. Those translations say, "because of you" in the NIV, NAS, NLT, RSV, TNK, and TNIV. The Net Bible has "thanks to you" and the YLT has "on thine account." The translators of these versions are not looking at it as a gift of God but something that was caused because of what Adam did.

        Ellen White's understanding of this also seems to be along that line:

        From that time the race would be afflicted by Satan's temptations. Instead of the happy labor heretofore appointed them, anxiety and toil were to be their lot. They would be subject to disappointment, grief, and pain, and finally to death. Under the curse of sin all nature was to witness to man of the character and results of rebellion against God" (Patriarchs and Prophets 59.3).

        Even though this seems to be so I think Lillianne makes an important point about how we relate to the nasty things in life. We can either view a glass as being half full or we can moan that it is half empty. The thorns in our life don't have to depress us if we will only think of them as incentive boosters and directors to Christ our strength.

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        • "Sometimes God has to put us flat on our back before we are looking up to Him."
          -- Jack Graham

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        • I think the quote is very true but I am awfully glad that the author of that quote began it with the word "sometimes." Without that word one would get the impression that God is the one that causes all of our troubles.

          While I can see the truth of the quote in the experiences of people like Paul, Balaam, and Elijah I also recognize the fact that we are, more often than not, the ones responsible for our own problems. God then only has to wait until we see how far down we have dug ourselves and recognize how helpless we are. Then like He did with the judges He grabs us by the hand and lifts us out of peril the same as He did with sinking Peter.

          So, in my opinion most of the time God uses situations that others create to teach us what we need to learn.

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      • No, I do not believe that Satan has creative powers. But it is because of him that nature took on chacteristics that God never intended to occur. Many thistles at least are the seed-carrying components of the plant and after sin there would be death of plants as well so there had to be a seed to restore what death would end. The thorns are on many plants that need to the flower to reach full maturity to produce the seed for the next plant - thorns keep animals including man away (to a degree) and allow the flower to remain to full maturity and make the next generation. God love for His creation is shown even to the lilly so we can know that He cares for us!!

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        • It's true Denise, Satan can no more create than we could, but man has developed many plant mutations with his inferior intellect, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility that a creature of much greater intellect could work to deface creation in some way. Not thinking to make this a doctrine or even a sound argument, but merely suggesting God may not have made such things since they were the results of the curse caused by man. I have no problem accepting that it could have been God who created the thorns and thistles. I love artichokes!

          We understand that God did not create the very large creatures now referred to as dinosaurs.

          I guess we have to ask (without sure hope of answering in this life) if God would force the issue of the curse, or if He was telling Adam that his actions paved the way for a despot to have free access to our world and it's habitat. A very intelligent and wonderfully powerful despot. God does limit Satan's activities as revealed in the Bible, but he is given certain freedoms to exercise his power, which only exposes his real intent. Yet Satan has succeeded in leading many to blame God for the many results of sin on our world, with Job and his "friends" even wondering why God had thus dealt with him. Satan cannot create, but it was he who brought the great wind from the east that killed Job's sons and daughters. He would seem to have some control over nature, but could never create the elements that give nature life.

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  3. Perhaps one of the best descriptions of the relationship of pain and suffering is found in C S Lewis's "The Problem of Pain" (p91):

    There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by "judgement" (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying from city to city, and may pray to be spared it, as Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads. In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (1) The simple good descending from God, (2) The simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted; suffering and repented sin contribute.

    When I have found myself up treading on the bindies (Australian burs) I have always found some assurance in this quote.

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    • Thank you Maurice for your thoughtful response. After years of wrestling with the issue, Ive come to the same conclusions, plus this one; Satan seeks to convince us to continue suffering unnecessarily, or to quit suffering when it is necessary. he's a clever demon. he will trick you even if you ride the fencepost. and he does so in various ways.

      One way in which Satan convinces us that suffering is ok is by convincing us that it somehow makes us holier. Lie! Nothing about suffering, absolutely nothing works to our good. The only thing that works to our good is the Holy Spirit who can bring good out of ANYTHING, even suffering. Suffering is inherently not of God.

      Another way Satan convinces us to prolong our suffering is by making us addicted to it. That's very similar to a chemical dependency in that we become so adapted to the experience that we would rather have it than the unknown.

      Another way is by convincing us that we are righteous martyrs. This is in a sense a temptation to presume upon God's favor, when we may not merit it. Our suffering may not be due to OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, but our UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. In which case there may be an element of Divine discipline involved.

      Other times the enemy tempts us to reproach God for allowing such a state of suffering to exist. The reality, however, may be that we are actually being shielded by God from EVEN WORSE SUFFERING. Usually I think that is the actual case.

      Whatever the case, suffering hurts, and we must ever be sensitive to ourselves when we are suffering, rather than being harsh on ourselves. It is usually easier for me to have compassion on others than on myself. I may be an exception like this but nonetheless we all need to remember to be as kind and sensitive to OURSELVES when suffering, as we believe The Lord would be. In this way the most good can be brought out from the suffering.

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      • “Nothing about suffering, absolutely nothing works to our good.”
        Balam, I would have to respectfully disagree with this statement. I know that I have certainly had suffering which works to my good. If you’ve ever touched a hot stove you know that suffering pain works for your good. If we did not feel the suffering of pain we would not realize that we’re being injured. Dr. Paul Brand made a startling discovery about leprosy. “Because leprosy attacks chiefly the nervous system, resultant tissue abuse occurs because the patient loses the warnings of pain – not because of inherent decay brought on by the disease. Paul Brand discovered the gift of pain, claiming that because leprosy destroyed the sensation of pain in affected parts of the body, pain-deprived people inadvertently injured and destroyed themselves.” http://jmm.org.au/articles/4786.htm
        I believe that God gave us the gift of suffering to continually remind us of the destructive nature of sin. Think about it. If the effects of sin did not bring suffering, we would not feel our need of salvation from sin, and it would eventually destroy us. I thank God that he has given me a conscience that causes me to suffer if I go against it. I believe that is why Jesus told Paul that it was hard for him to kick against the goads.

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  4. It seems to me that suffering can be either a stepping stone or a stumbling block, depending on how we take it.

    I have never forgotten a sermon by Emilio Knechtle which was on suffering. His thesis was that there’s no growth without suffering, and my own experience seems to verify this. Just as muscles do not grow without stressing them, so our faith does not grow without being “stressed.”

    Yet focusing on our suffering is not positive — whether we see it as being a martyr or see it as making us holier or any of the other ways you suggest — because it is one way of focusing on self.

    It seems to me that a response I wrote to Tyler’s comment on another post is applicable here too. We grow through suffering by looking away from self to Christ and trusting Him completely, no matter what the nature of our suffering is.

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    • "Focusing on your suffering is not positive." True!

      "It is not wise to gather together all the unpleasant recollections of a past life,—its iniquities and disappointments,—to talk over them and mourn over them until we are overwhelmed with discouragement. A discouraged soul is filled with darkness, shutting out the light of God from his own soul and casting a shadow upon the pathway of others. {SC 117.3}

      About spiritual stress... I cannot agree that it necessarily perceived as suffering. I do not feel any suffering when swimming through a beautiful river. but my body IS very stressed; swimming in a river is HARD WORK, but so much fun you really don't even notice it until after when the runners high kicks in. so you never actually Feel the stress. Stress should be as pleasant as possible... God made growth pleasant... Growing pains are not necessary, but we are likely to experience them anyhow.

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    • Thanks Inge for reminding us of a purpose of suffering. The response you wrote to Tyler on another post is worth reading and I received instruction and a blessing. The Christian's walk is so different than the non-Christian. Becoming like Jesus does involve all kinds of suffering. For some people, even physical suffering. Good thing for the promise of God's sustaining grace today, and of a new life in the future. It make life livable!

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  5. I agree; I am very much aware of those who make a religion out of suffering. There is a colloquial saying, "S**t happens!", and while that is essentially true there is no need for Christians to wallow in it. God has a plan for us to rise above it.

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  6. Hi Lillianne,

    That is a wonderful post on a topic that interests me. I haven't reached the point where I truly delight in my sufferings, and as you pointed out, it keeps us close to God and that is where I want to remain.

    In our area, you might go barefoot and pick up a tick with lyme disease and/or co-infections. The only place I go barefoot is on the beach and hope for no ticks. There are so many details about these diseases and they are complicated to resolve and heal. I'll trade a sticker bur for a tick with lyme any day! Thanks Lillianne!

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    • Jane I can really relate to what you are saying. I grew up in New Jersey about five miles outside of Morristown. At that time it was far more rural than it is now. All of us kids had a lot of woods and fields to romp and stomp in and usually we would come home with at least one or two ticks on us with their heads buried in our skin. In spite of that we never got lyme disease just some frustrated looks from mom.

      No matter where we live we always live with some sort of danger in the area. At least we didn't have rattle snakes like we have here in Montana or poisonous water snakes like they have in the southern states but we did have ticks and rats and bats and all sorts of slimy little things.

      I remember one movie that I saw a few years ago which was filmed in Central America. One of the actors was an American Indian from the southwestern part of the US. In the extras after the movie he made the remark that he was glad he didn't live down there because where he came from at least you could see the snakes before they got to you. Besides he said that some of the vegetation was so poisonous that you could die just from touching it. But you know those people live with those things just like we live with the dangers around us.

      To me the biggest danger of all is to live in constant fear of everything in our lives. That has a tendency to paralyze us and put our lives in neutral. Of course we shouldn't become reckless either but should live with a healthy respect of the dangers and know how to deal with them.

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  7. Inge, once again I have to agree with you but I don't think all suffering is beneficial. In reflecting on what happened on the cross Ellen White tells us, "That cry, uttered 'with a loud voice' (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46), at the moment of death, the stream of blood and water that flowed from His side, declared that He died of a broken heart. His heart was broken by mental anguish" (Desire of Ages 772.2). To me such suffering is destructive rather than constructive and will be the device that Satan uses against the saints during the seven last plagues.

    Like you, I have read of the necessity of stress, however, from what I have seen the world often stresses people in ways that tend to destroy them. Unless they have supernatural strength from God too much stress crushes the life out of a person. For instance, it has been found that under extreme stress a person is rather vulnerable to drastic shifts in fundamental beliefs. In the past such things as that have been called "brain washing" where under the Nazi regime in Germany experiments were conducted that actually confirmed the problem. So I think some is good but too much isn't.

    What Maurice says is also true, however, in Christian circles the "colloquial saying" is usually stated as "stuff happens."

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  8. Thank you Sister L. Lopez for your encouraging comments on Stickers, Thorns and other Blessings, so much so that I had to called one of my sisters in Christ who resently join this truth.She is so discouraged with trials in her life that she is angry with God, saying why, why, why doesn;t God hear me, He's not answering my prayers. I'm better off dead.I told her to go on this website and to read what the Lord put on your heart to encourage others.Again thank you and keep Betty T. and myself in prayer as the trials will continue to come to help make us strong in Jesus...In Jesus Love. By the way I failed to let you know that she does love Jesus and was told that He understands how she feels and that His Love for her will never change. I praise God for our friendship as Sisters in Christ. Have a blessed Sabbath Rest. Don’t forget to whisper a prayer for us… Bye, Bye, Love Sister Bellam

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    • Re: the discussion of Genesis 3:17 and the phrase "... for your sake..."

      Could it be the very thorns that make the rose so beautiful? If there was not suffering (and death) on earth, how would that affect our view of and desire for heaven (and eternal life with God)? Did not Beethoven love and appreciate the sound of music more after he lost his hearing? This is not to say that God created the thorn (or suffering). He does however allow it, perhaps for our sake (Romans 8:28 "...all things..." includes the bad, painful things too).

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    • Thanks for mentioning this. What a sobering truth that even Jesus, The King of Kings, had to learn obedience through suffering. Tuff cookies for everyone! How important it is to maintain sensitivity towards each other.

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  9. Thanks Lillianne, a timely reminder that I've being called to a cause greater than myself. The process of reformation is not one I would have chosen for myself but He who knows me, knows how best to break me and make me into that which He wants me to be.

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  10. On the flip side of the thorns and briers I have often had to reflect back on the comment Ellen wrote in steps to Christ how the the thorns and briers will only wound and grieve you I know from personal expirence this to be so true that they can tend to draw me from the savior a side and leave me in despair instead of letting them do they're intended work to mold and shape me I can let them discourage and leave me in darkness about the savior,s love for me

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  11. Tyler, I would like to suggest that Paul, Balaam and Elijah were the cause of their misfortunes. I know Paul was not the cause of all his trials, but in several of them, it was his compromising manner in wanting to be of greater influence rather than trusting God as the 3 Hebrews who were cast into the fiery furnace. I recently reread Acts of the Apostles and Prophets and Kings, and this is brought out clearly. It was Paul who brought on certain trials in his desire to help others when God's will was not for him to make the effort that God knew would fail. God had a specific work for Paul, which was cut short because of Paul's desire to help his fellow Jews to see the truth. Yet, God made it work out for good as far as possible. Same with Elijah, who after such a great display of God's power, ran from the threats of a wicked woman, forgetting the great protection God had already provided.

    God doesn't put us on our backs, but will pick us up when we turn to Him for help, and allows us to learn in the manner of our choosing. Nice that WE have the choice!

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    • Robert your suggestion is well taken and the clarification needed. After thinking about it I really do feel that Elijah should not have been on that list so I admit that I made a mistake there. I guess in my life sinful humanity shows through at times.

      What I do think that we need to be careful of is in thinking that God's intervention in our lives is strictly an either / or proposition. God neither causes all stress nor does He cause none. There is a lot of gray area out there that is very difficult to define. In the case of Paul on the Damascus road I think we all can see that God directly inserted His authority in order to redirect Paul's life while Balaam's experience with the donkey was a little less so.

      On the other end of the spectrum there is Job where God releases total control of Satan in order to teach some things about the controversy and to let Job know that he didn't know as much as he thought he did. However way we wish to look at it God is in control and nothing happens unless He does it Himself or allows someone else to do it.

      Because of these things I believe it is safe to say that there are times when the quotation that Sieg Hoppe used becomes true.

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  12. Interesting discussion. Lilliane, remember the Bible wasn't written in English. Even without the benefit of much education, I figured "for your sake' means because of you.

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  13. Thank you for this wonderful article. I never thought of Gen. 3:17 that way before. It is so true that facing challenges can draw us closer to God and that by learning our limitations and living within them can be a blessing as well. Very often when we have to work for something we appreciate it that much more than if it were just handed to us.

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