Woe is Us!
Woe is a three letter word that packs a powerful punch. Used more than a hundred times in the Bible it is not a word to ignore! Woe conveys some very strong emotions that range from the utter grief and despair to vehement anger. It expresses the grief and despair felt about the wretched conditions suffered by humanity and expresses anger toward its cause and the perpetrator of such misery and sorrow.
There is a great deal of suffering and hardship in this world. Sorrow, misery and fear are the lot of many. Poverty is a major problem that challenges world leaders today. Whenever we open a newspaper or turn on the television we are confronted with tragedy, pain and anguish. Reports of natural disaster, war, conflict and terrorism dominate the news on a daily basis. Crime, murder and violence are increasing not only on the other side of the globe, but in the very cities and towns in which we live. Let’s face it, the world is in a woeful state!
Today we experience increased levels of drug use. Sickness and disease have reached pandemic proportions. Some diseases have become resistant to treatment. On top of all this the current financial crisis hangs like a dead albatross around our necks. Despite financial bailouts, promises by politicians, scientific advancements, developing technologies and new medicines the world continues to sink deeper into the morass under the burden of its woes.
The unprecedented conditions faced by humanity in these times were long ago predicted, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:21). It was prophesied that mankind would teeter on brink of extinction, “…except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved:” (Matthew 24:22). How did we get into this mess? Why were these conditions so predictable?
Cause of Woe
Would it surprise you to learn that we are the authors of our own demise? We have brought the woes upon ourselves, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (James 4:1-5). What is this ‘spirit’ that lusts to envy and causes enmity toward God?
God created a spirit in man. He, “...stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.” (Zechariah 12:1). That spirit is our intellect, or nature. It enables us to understand the physical environment in which we live and distinguishes humanity from other creatures, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” (I Corinthians 2:11). It also differentiates humanity from God, “...even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (same verse).
As we saw in the previous verse (I Corinthians 2:11) the spirit in man is not the same as the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God, often referred to as the Holy Spirit, is the very essence, mind and nature of God, a portion of which is given to believers who repent and are baptised, “Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NKJV). It provides them with spiritual discernment, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14).
God has a righteous nature, “…for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth:” (Daniel 9:14). Righteousness means that everything God says and does is right, good, true and just. He knows how to differentiate between good and evil. God is immortal and incorruptible.
Unlike God, man is a created being that is both mortal and corruptible. We were created physical, subject to aging and death with a nature that could be corrupted. And human nature was quickly corrupted when Adam and Eve rejected what God told them. Instead of believing God they put their faith in Satan who persuaded them to do what God had forbidden. He said that they would become like gods themselves having the wisdom to determine what was good and what was evil, “…your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5). But Satan had lied to them. Instead of gaining the wisdom to know good from evil their human nature that had been created good became tainted with evil. It became an unrighteous mixture of good and evil. This is the legacy we have all inherited from our first parents.
As a consequence, no human being is righteous, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Romans 3:10). Our nature has been corrupted, “The heart (mind) is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Wickedness is defined as disruptive conduct that causes adversity, affliction, calamity, displeasure, distress, grief, harm, hurt, mischief, misery, sorrow, trouble, vexation, wretchedness and destruction, which is the summary of the human state. Because our nature has been corrupt we are not able to properly determine good from evil without God's help. By rejecting His help humanity exists in an unrighteous state, “…even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness…” (Romans 1:28-29). A reprobate mind is one that is void of judgement. It is wicked. Not knowing good from evil.
Jesus Christ confirmed that the very nature of mankind is defiled with evil, “…That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23).
The wicked nature in man is a stumbling block that keeps us from eternal life in God's Kingdom (Genesis 3:22-24). God's Kingdom is founded on righteousness which can be sustained indefinitely, but a society like ours that is unrighteous is doomed to failure. The outcome is predictable, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6-8 see also Romans 6:23). Knowing that human nature is a toxic mixture of good and evil that will inevitably destroy all life forms from this planet He will intervene, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved” (Matthew 24:22).
Woe to Unrighteousness
Tribulation and anguish are the outcomes of unrighteous behaviour, “...unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil...” (Romans 2:8-9). It is the actions of the unrighteous or wicked that bring woe upon humanity, “Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” (Isaiah 3:10). The inevitable result is death and destruction, “For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.” (Proverbs 24:20).
Woe to Judah
Look at the example of Judah. In the days of Isaiah the nation was suffering a number of calamitous woes and God asked them why they continued to bring such affliction upon themselves, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.” (Isaiah 1:5-7).
God knew that Judah would be quickly devoured by her enemies if He removed His protection. He was giving them a chance to circumvent disaster and to reverse their woeful state. All they had to do was to stop striving with God and change their ways, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 1:18-20). Unfortunately they did not take the opportunity God offered them and suffered the woe of defeat by the Babylonians who took them into captivity as a result.
On a later occasion after the Jews had returned to Judah and the nation was under Roman occupation Christ had to rebuke the religious authorities (scribes and Pharisees) of that time. He used the word ‘woe’ eight times warning them of their unrighteous ways (Matthew 23:1-39). He told them of the woe that would befall them if they didn’t change their ways, “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (verses 36- 38). Instead of changing their ways they killed Christ and, as predicted, the temple, the city and most of its people were destroyed (in 70 AD by the Romans).
Belief and Obedience
God requires both belief and obedience, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2). And, “...but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17). If we strive against God we bring woe upon ourselves, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!” (Isaiah 45:9). The inevitable outcome is death and destruction. This is not what God wants, “...but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9). He does not want us to destroy ourselves. If we cease to strive we will be rewarded with eternal life, “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life... ...glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good” (Romans 2:7 and 10).
It is has been God’s purpose from the outset that we should have the same righteous nature as Himself. But to be righteous like God we must first reject evil. He is in the process of creating humans in His own likeness (Genesis 1:26) as members of His own family, “...I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (II Corinthians 6:17-7:1). He wants us to come before Him holy and without blame, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
Holy, Without Blame
To be 'holy' means to be set be apart from the world. To be 'without blame' means to be without sin. In order to be holy and without blame the corrupt human spirit must be renewed by a right spirit. King David understood this concept, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10). That spirit is the righteous Spirit of God, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” (Romans 8:7-9). If we repent and commit to His way of life we can be given God's Spirit, “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38).
The Holy Spirit which He gives to us is a small portion of His very own essence, mind and nature. This small portion of Spirit can reproduce God's own nature in us, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Also, “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23). God's nature can be epitomized by one word, “...God is love” (I John 4:16).
Through God's Spirit that love can be perfected in humans, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” (I John 4:12-13). Love is expressed in the law God gave mankind as a guide to a righteous way of life (Matthew 22:37-40). Transgression of the law is sin (I John 3:4). It leads to death and destruction.
If we believe God and are willing to turn from evil to obedience then God is willing to give a portion of His very own essence that will help us overcome sin so we can appear before Him 'holy' and 'without blame' (sin) and receive eternal life.
God does not want us to conform to this world which has not changed since the days of Noah, “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:37). In Noah’s time wickedness prevailed, “...the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). They had, “...corrupted his way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:12). God could see that their ways would prematurely bring death and destruction on all humanity before His preparations for salvation were complete, “And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them...” (Genesis 6:13). He destroyed that generation so that preparations could be completed as planned. In the meantime human nature has not changed. As we approach the end of this age conditions are much the same as they were prior to the flood except that the preparations for salvation have now been completed. And before the end of this age God will once again intervene to prevent humanity from totally destroying all life on this planet.
Instead of conforming to the ways of the world God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, “...be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2). We can only be transformed if He gives us His Holy Spirit by which we are transformed as the fruits of that Spirit come to maturity in our lives.
Some teach that when the Spirit of God is received it combines with the spirit in man to produce the new man. Usually when pure is mixed with contaminated the pure will become contaminated rather than the contaminated becoming pure. Neither the physical human body, nor corrupt human nature is acceptable for God's Kingdom, “...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” (I Corinthians 15:50). Therefore it is more likely that the spirit in man is completely replaced by God's righteous Spirit rather than the two combining.
During the process of creating man in the image of God the corrupt human nature is replaced by a the righteous nature of God, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Also, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:10). The remnants of the old corrupt nature will be shed along with the physical body so that the new persona with its righteous nature is resurrected to a spiritual existence, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:6). The new man perfected in righteousness and freed from the corruptness of sin to be resurrected to eternal life, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23).
Woes Common to Man
Even though we have God's Spirit and are no longer striving against Him it does not exempt us from some of the woes that are common to man. We are all subjected to the curse of sorrow and suffering that our first parents brought upon mankind (Genesis 3:17-19). Some things must be suffered because the whole of creation was subjected to corruption in the hope of a much better outcome, “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21). We cannot help but suffer some of the fallout and grief that comes upon the greater population among whom we live. And having been appointed once to die (Hebrews 9:27) we are not completely free from causes of death such as accidents and illness. But when a loved one does die we are not without hope, unlike many in the world who believe death is permanent. Although the loss can cause great grief at the time we do have comfort in knowing that our loved ones will be resurrected at a later date. That was why Martha when grieving at the loss of her brother Lazarus was able to say, “…I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24 - see also I Corinthians 15:20-22).
Those with God's Spirit who have their minds open to a greater spiritual understanding can look upon trials, grievous though they are, as occasions for spiritual growth rather than punishments, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.” (I Peter 4:12-14).
Temptation Common to Man
If we are overcome by temptation to sin we know that it is not God who has tempted us, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” (James 1:13). God may use these occasions to assess how we react and what we think but He does not tempt us. Satan is the tempter (Matthew 4:3 and I Thessalonians 3:5) and it is our own corrupt human nature that does the rest, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” (James 1:14). God does not let Satan to tempt us above what we are able to cope with ensuring that we are able to overcome the temptation if we try, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)
When trials do come upon us we can rest assured that our suffering has a spiritual purpose from which we will eventually benefit. For example, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” (I Peter 1:7). What we suffer now will translate into something greater in the future, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18). The glory that is to be revealed in us is the divine righteous nature of God that results form the gift of God’s Spirit which is also our guarantee of eternal life, “…ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Times of Failure
Because we are not yet perfected there will always be times when we fail to overcome. When this happens we are able to call upon God, repent and try again. This does not give anyone licence to deliberately sin in the misguided hope that they will benefit from the ensuing trials. That would be striving against God, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Hebrew 10:26-27).
God does not want us to suffer. But if we choose to break the law and commit a crime we must suffer the consequences, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” (I Peter 4:15). Christ gave the clear message that law breakers will have to suffer the punishments dealt out by the civil authorities, “...lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” (Matthew 5:25-26).
Given a Choice
Adam and Eve had a choice between the ‘tree of life’ which represented eternal life and the tree of ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ which represented death (Genesis 2:9, 16-17). They did not believe God and made the wrong choice. They not only brought woe upon themselves as a result but also on their descendants (Genesis 3:6, 15-19).
When God chose Israel to be an example nation for the rest of the world He gave them a choice between life and death, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deuteronomy 30:19). They made wrong choice and have brought woe upon themselves resulting in defeat, destruction and captivity.
We all have choice. If we can believe God and choose His way we shall have access to the ‘tree of life’ (Genesis 3:24) and live forever, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14). We will be raised to spirit as He promises, “And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (I Corinthians 15:49-53).
In spirit form we will live an eternal life of great joy, “Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11). There will be no more death, sorrow, sadness nor pain, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). And we will have marvellous things beyond our imagination to look forward to, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9).
The woes that Adam and Eve brought upon humanity will no longer apply to us, “And there shall be no more curse...” (Revelation 22:3). We will not be under the sentence of death, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24). Death will no longer exist for us, “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54 see also verses 25-26).
Woe of Death
However, those who reject God’s way and continue in sin will also continue to suffer woe, “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” (Psalm 11:6). The inevitable outcome of continued sin is death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It is inescapable, “But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37:38). That woe of death will be permanent for those who utterly refuse God’s offer of salvation, “...and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:13-15). They shall be consumed to ash, “...for they (the wicked) shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 4:3). Woe to those who strive against God!
Woe expresses the great grief God feels for those who refuse Him. He grieves because of the misery, sorrow and suffering they bring upon themselves. He expresses His grief in that single word over one hundred times in the Bible to warn us away from unrighteousness and evil because He knows that the inevitable outcome is death and destruction. And for those who continue to refuse the warning that outcome will be permanent. God does not want us to live in sorrow and misery until we inevitably destroy ourselves. He will intervene and bring the suffering of this world to a conclusion. God has given each of us a choice between life and death, eternal life or eternal death. He wants us to stop inflicting woe upon ourselves and to choose life!