Today the world is small, and its many troubles are often brought close to home for all to see. Into the comfort and tranquility of a living room, television transmits scenes of mud-encrusted bodies pulled from volcanic slides where thousands perish in Columbia. We hear the sobs and see the tears of those mourning their loved ones lost under mountains of earthquake rubble in Mexico City. We shrink from looking at the fly-pestered skeletal forms of starving children hunched in the dust of Ethiopia, and are appalled to see the flattened aftermath and flooded villages in the wake of a killer storm.

Just brief reminders that our world continues on as it has for centuries, a groaning creation, travailing in pain.—Romans 8:22

Has God No Pity?

“For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up and cast me down. My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O LORD, shalt endure forever, and thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: For the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust thereof So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD. For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those that are appointed to death.” —Psalm 102:9-20

HUMAN suffering is not a new thing, for it has made up no small part of man’s experiences throughout all ages. It is only when its ugly form seems about to overwhelm humanity, and there seems to be no God in heaven to interfere, that the question of doubt is raised in so many minds. And then too, suffering needs to come pretty close home before the average man or woman gives any serious thought as to what might be its underlying cause, or whether or not God complacently sleeps, quite oblivious to what is happening to his earthly creatures.

But why should we as Christians have reason to suppose that God may be asleep simply on the grounds that he does not prevent human suffering? Have not most church systems taught that so far as the vast majority of mankind is concerned God intends to perpetuate their suffering throughout all eternity? Have they not taught that the Creator has prepared a great abyss called hell in which he proposes to torment unbelievers forever?

In view of the fact that a God-dishonoring theory of this kind has been spread upon the church books of Christendom for centuries, how strange that so few have ever thought to raise the question, “Has God no pity?” In seeking an answer, therefore, let us do so not alone in the light of human suffering, but in the light also of what Christendom has professed to believe concerning the God in whose name so many of earth’s wars have been waged.

God Does Have Pity

The Bible assures us that God does love the world (John 3:16); that he is a God of compassion and comfort; that as a “father pitieth his children,” so does God pity those who fear him. (Ps. 103:13) Our text declares that God looks down from heaven above and beholds the earth, hears the groanings of the prisoners, and rescues those who are appointed to death. These and many other passages of Scripture assure us of God’s interest in his earthly creatures. But, the point is, how are they to be understood in the light of the many, long ages of human suffering?

First of all, let us recognize that in order to properly understand any subject relating to God it is fundamentally important that we view it from his standpoint, and not from the standpoint of our circumscribed knowledge and experience. In our Scripture lesson herewith, the prophet gives us a timely hint along this line, saying, “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass; but thou, O Lord, shalt endure forever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.”—Ps. 102:11,12

Here David is telling us that God is able to take a view of matters that extends over all generations, hence we should bow to his will and wisdom. David himself had suffered. “I have eaten ashes like bread,” he declares, “and have mingled my drink with weeping.” (Ps. 102:9) It is following this statement that he reminds us of God’s ability to take a comprehensive view of human suffering, and based upon this larger view, he is making preparations to loose those who are appointed to death.

Prisoners of Death

The prophet informs us that God hears the groanings of the prisoners. Who are these prisoners, and how did they come to be incarcerated? The remainder of the passage identifies them as those who are appointed to death. Evidently, then, they are prisoners who are sentenced to death, waiting for the time of their execution. And while waiting, they groan because of the suffering through which they are passing. Who, then, can they be?

These prisoners are viewed by God as he looks down upon the earth; hence, it seems very evident they are the whole human family, who through the sin of our first parents, came under condemnation to death. Paul declares that through one man’s disobedience, “sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all for all have sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Adam, then, was evidently the first prisoner of death. He was under sentence, but did not actually die for more than nine hundred years.

Likewise, the whole human family are under condemnation, but are permitted to live awhile before the full penalty of sin is exacted. All, nevertheless, from the divine standpoint, are considered dead. This is evident from the words of Jesus who advised a prospective follower who wanted time to bury his father, to “let the dead bury the dead.” (Matt. 8:22) God, then, views the whole world as being already dead, so that from his standpoint any measure of life they enjoy, and for whatever time it is theirs, is just that much of a reprieve from, or postponement of, the sentence.

In most cases, God has permitted each individual prisoner to live out his ‘natural’ lifetime, to be buffeted by whatever trials might lie in the way, and to enjoy whatever blessings were at hand. Sometimes, though, he has interfered, either to hasten the death sentence or to postpone it beyond the time it would ordinarily fall. He destroyed the Sodomites prematurely, for example, because of their great wickedness, explaining merely that he “took them away as he saw good.”—Ezek. 16:50

God Hears the Groanings

The great prison-house of death has already claimed many billions of prisoners; and throughout the ages, the courtyard of the prison has been filled with convicts waiting their time to answer to the final summons. And these prisoners in the courtyard have done considerable groaning. They have exploited each other and quarreled bitterly among themselves. One group has waged war against another group, and millions have thus been slain before they ordinarily would have died. Being justly condemned to death by their Creator, he has been under no obligation to protect the convicts from the results of their own selfishness and jealousy.

But God has not been asleep all the while. He has heard the groanings of these prisoners, and, according to our text, purposes one day to loose those appointed to death. What can this mean? The Scriptures answer by explaining that “God so loved the world [all these prisoners] that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16

This is a wonderful promise, well known to all readers of the Bible, but how does it affect the problem of human suffering? Does it mean simply that those who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity of believing in Jesus before they die, and accept him, will go to heaven at death instead of to a place of torment? No, this cannot be its meaning. The Bible explains that the “dead know not anything” (Eccles. 9:5), which means that they evidently do not go anywhere when they die, except to sleep. Indeed, the Bible describes death as being a condition of sleep; and Job explains it is a condition wherein “the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.”—Job 3:17

This is a blessed thought. It is comforting to know that after years of struggle, the prisoners of death are finally at rest in a condition of unconsciousness. But how does God’s loving gift of his Son affect them? The Bible answers that Jesus died to pay the penalty of death resting against all the children of Adam, and that this makes possible their ultimate release from the prison-house. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” Paul explains. (I Cor. 15:22) The Bible describes this arrangement as being that of a ransom; and Paul says that Jesus gave himself a “ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”—I Tim. 2:4-6

In Due Time

Jesus gave his life for the world more than nineteen centuries ago, but still the prisoners continue to go down into death—some by war, some by accident, some by calamities—while others, the vast majority, indeed, from so-called natural causes. Why has not the ransom work of Jesus released those who are appointed to death? The apostle gives us the key to the answer in the expression, ‘in due time’. God has a fixed, due time for the accomplishment of all his loving purposes, and the due time to release the prisoners of death has not yet come.

But why the delay? Was not full provision made for the commutation of the death sentence when Jesus gave himself in death for the sins of the world? Legally, yes; but there was further preparatory work to be done. Provision needed to be made for the care of the released prisoners. In this phase of the divine plan for deliverance, the church of this age is being prepared to share. All the hundreds of promises made to the footstep followers of Jesus are with this objective in view.

Through an erroneous understanding of what is actually implied in the divine promises to the church, the thought has developed that the only ones to be saved from among all earth’s millions are those who become Christians. With this in view, great and costly efforts have been made to convert and save as many of the world of mankind as possible. And nearly always as a background of these missionary efforts is the terrifying thought that those not converted must suffer the eternal agonies of the damned.

Changed Viewpoint Forced by Circumstances

Now that missionary efforts have well-nigh collapsed, and what has been considered to be Christianity is on the defensive everywhere, it is time that all thinking Christians reexamine the Bible to find out where they have been wrong in their understanding of it. Doing this, we discover it was not God’s intention that the church convert the world in this age, but merely that she should be a witness in the world, meanwhile making herself ready to be associated with Christ in his future kingdom, to reign with him as his bride.—Rev. 19:7

This thought of the future triumph of Christ and his true followers is brought to our attention in a number of ways in the Bible, one of them being in the fact that the church is represented as being exalted with Jesus on Mount Zion—not literal Mount Zion, but symbolic. Many of the promises of the Bible are based upon God’s dealings with the nation of Israel prior to the first advent of Christ. This nation was peculiarly God’s people. Their capital was Jerusalem, and Mount Zion in Jerusalem was the ‘capitol hill’ of that city. Hence, Mount Zion, in a very special sense, is an appropriate symbol of the governmental arrangements of the kingdom of Christ in which the church will share with him as joint-heirs.

The kingdom promises of the Old Testament were made originally to the natural seed of Abraham, the nation of Israel. When Jesus came at his first advent, he offered himself to this nation, but only a few individuals out of all Israel accepted him and espoused his cause. Paul explains that the nation as a whole, because of unbelief, lost the great opportunity of association with Jesus which would have been theirs, and, like the natural branches of an olive tree, were broken off from divine favor, and Gentiles are being grafted in to take their place. See Romans, chapter eleven.

This means that the promises of association with the Messiah in his kingdom work, made originally to the Jews, are now applicable to the Gospel church, selected mostly from among the Gentiles. It is for this purpose that God visited the Gentiles, as shown in Acts 15:13-15. Later, the natural house of Israel will be restored to divine favor; for, says the apostle, out of spiritual Zion “shall come forth the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom. 11:26) But the Jewish nation will have lost the high honor of joint-heirship with Jesus in his kingdom.

Zion Class Persecuted

Both the typical and antitypical Zion classes have been persecuted. This has been particularly true of antitypical spiritual Israel, called and developed during this age. These follow in the footsteps of Jesus. They suffer with him. They share his passion, and like him are unrecognized by the world, and often bitterly persecuted. To endure all this they need faith—faith that God is with them, and will finally deliver and exalt them in the Messianic kingdom with their Lord and heavenly Bridegroom.

With these thoughts in mind, we can see a depth of meaning in the prophet’s words which constitute another portion of our lesson. We quote, “Thou shalt rise and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come.”—Ps. 102:13

Here again we are reminded that God has a due time, a set time, for the accomplishment of his purposes. There is a due time for the final deliverance and exaltation of the Gospel Age Zion class.

“Thou shalt arise”—this gives the thought that there had been a period during which it might have appeared to the less strong in faith that God had been inactive on behalf of his people. A similar thought, and evidently applying to the same time and event, is given in Daniel 12:1, where we read, “At that time [the set time] shall Michael [one representing God] stand up, the Prince that standeth for the children of thy people, and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.”

All down through the centuries there have been princes and rulers of various sorts, but none has stood for God’s people, the Zion class. This class, on the contrary, has usually suffered at the hands of earthly rulers. But finally the set time comes for a change. The Lord arises, and through Christ—styled Michael in the prophecy—makes manifest his favor toward his hitherto apparently neglected people. Coincident with this development there comes upon the people of the world a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.

The ‘Set Time’ Here

The worldwide distress and trouble today is, therefore, one of the outstanding signs that the time is come when we may expect soon to see evidence that the Lord is not sleeping, but is about to demonstrate his power in the restoration and blessing of the people. Jesus mentioned Daniel’s prophecy of the time of trouble. He said there would be upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity. For the special benefit of the Zion class who would be living when the set time should come for these events to occur, the Master then added this thought, “When ye see these things come to pass, look up, lift up your heads, for your deliverance draweth nigh.”—Luke 21:28

The deliverance of the church, described in Revelation 20:6 as taking place in the “first resurrection,” signals the time for the blessing of the world, for the church is delivered and exalted with Christ for the express purpose of reigning with him for the dispensing of the blessings of life purchased by the Savior’s death. David further elucidates this point in our lesson, saying, “So the heathen [all not previously the Lord’s people] shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory, when the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.”—Ps. 102:15,16

“He shall appear in his glory,” Paul says, “when Christ who is our life shall appear also with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4) This will be when the Zion class of this age is all complete, and with her Lord as his bride. In the second psalm, Jehovah declares that he has set his king upon his holy hill Zion, and that he shall rule the nations with a rod of iron, and as a potter’s vessel shall they be broken. In Revelation 14:1, this king, as the slain Lamb, is shown on Mount Zion, and the church class is shown there with him. In the last verse of the prophecy of Obadiah, these, all together, are represented on Mount Zion as “saviors,” and the time is shown to be when the kingdom is the Lord’s.

Clearly then, all of these scriptures add up to definitely prove that since the first advent of Christ the work of the Lord has been that of preparing the kingdom class, and now that this work is about complete, we may expect that soon the kingdom work will be fully established and operating for the actual blessing of the people with life, liberty, and happiness. This, then, at long last, will be the answer to the prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”—Matt. 6:10

The Prayer of the Destitute

The Prophet David continues his outline of the divine plan for the blessing of the people by informing us that after the Lord has built up Zion and appeared in his glory, then he “will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” (Ps. 102:17) How different this has been from the experiences of the destitute heretofore!

“Now,” another prophet says, “we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up: yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” (Mal. 3:15) Now the poor, the destitute, the suffering among the prisoners of death, go apparently unnoticed by him, even though many of them do fervently pray to the Lord for help, with the result that gradually they come to believe either that God is asleep or else there is no God.

The prophet did not mean that in his day the prayers of the destitute would necessarily be answered, nor that the prayers of the destitute and suffering in any age before the set time would be heeded. He makes this point plain in verse eighteen of the psalm, saying, “This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people that shall be created [resurrected] shall praise the Lord.” Then he adds, “He hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groanings of the prisoners; to loose those that are appointed to death.”—Ps. 102:19,20

Yes, God does have pity! For six thousand years he has been hearing the groanings of earth’s prisoners appointed to death. He has taken note of their cries for help. And all the while, although apparently asleep or indifferent, he has been preparing to answer their prayers by setting them free from the penalty of death that rests upon them, and by restoring as many as will to his full favor and to everlasting life upon the earth.

Like the sympathetic doctor who hears every outcry of his suffering patient, yet in the interest of his final recovery does not yield to his feverish pleading for relief, except when his professional skill deems it wise, so the Heavenly Father, through his beloved Son as the Great Physician, will ultimately heal the world of mankind of all its sicknesses. He waits until the due time decreed by his wisdom to be for the best interest of all concerned.

Liberty to the Captives

Yes, Christ in his kingdom glory, and associated with him, his bride, the church, will be the Great Physician and Deliverer, who throughout the thousand-year Messianic reign will be instrumental in setting free the prisoners of death—those who have actually gone down into the tomb, as well as those who are still in the prison courtyard awaiting the full execution of their sentence. In the synagogue at Nazareth the Master quoted the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, which he said he had come to fulfill. It reads, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

This comforting message is another proof that God does have pity. It assures us that God has indeed heard the groanings of the prisoners, and that nearly two thousand years ago he sent his beloved Son into the world to initiate a program by which the groaning ones would ultimately be comforted and blessed. This program calls for the liberating of the captives of sin, and the freeing of the prisoners of death—a program that is to be fully consummated at the set time, the due time, mentioned by Paul when the good tidings of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus will be made known to all mankind.—I Tim. 2:3-6

Another prophecy assuring us that the prisoners of death are to be released is that of Isaiah 49:8-10. In II Corinthians 6:1,2, Saint Paul quotes a part of the eighth verse of this prophecy, and applies it to the church. It is one of the many promises of the Bible which associates the church with Jesus in the work of restoring the world of mankind to life during the kingdom period. The prophecy reads: “Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pasture shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them [in releasing them from the prison house of death] shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.”

Note the reference in the foregoing prophecy to the acceptable time. This is the same period mentioned in Isaiah 61:3, as the “acceptable year.” It refers to the entire Gospel Age, from the first advent to the second advent of Jesus. During this time the followers of the Master are invited to lay down their lives in sacrifice with him, with the assurance that such sacrifice will be acceptable. “I beseech you,” said Paul, “to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1

Few have been willing thus to take up their cross and follow the Master—only a “little flock” in all—but these have the assurance that it is “the Father’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) The object of inviting them to sacrifice is in order that thus they may be prepared to share with Jesus in the future work of liberating the captives of death, and leading them by the springs of life-giving waters. It will be then that this class, as the bride of Christ, will say, “Come, and … partake of the water of life freely.”—Rev. 22:17

Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail

Psalm 102:16, already quoted, speaks of building Zion. As noted before, Zion is one of the scriptural titles of the Gospel Age church. Jesus told Peter of the divine purpose to build this church, and he added that when built, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) The word hell in this instance is a translation of the Greek word, hades, meaning ‘the state of death’. It is the same as the Hebrew word sheol in the Old Testament, which is translated ‘grave’ in Ecclesiastes 9:10, where we are told that it is a condition of unconsciousness.

In Revelation 1:18, the resurrected Jesus informs us that he has the “keys” of death and of hell—hades. In John 5:28, Jesus declares that all are to hear his voice and come forth from death. The combined thought of these texts is that Jesus will use the keys of hell to unlock its gates and set its captives free. The church is to share in this work with the Master. Hence it is when the church, Zion, is fully built, the gates of hell will not prevail to prevent its prisoners of death from coming forth.

Thus, again, we are assured that God does have pity on the dying world, and that in loosing those who are appointed to death the work will be so all-comprehensive that even the ones who have actually gone down into death are to be brought forth and blessed. We have also in this statement of the Master, a further confirmation that God has not been asleep down through the centuries, but has been building his church, preparing her for association with Christ in the joint administration of the future kingdom blessings of life.

Restitution—The World’s Only Hope

The Apostle Peter says, “He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things, whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.”—Acts 3:20-23

This prophecy locates the time for the restoration of the world to be following the second advent of Jesus. That God does not act to relieve the sufferings of the prisoners before that time is indicated by the Master when he explained that when he should return, there would be upon the earth “distress of nations with perplexity.” Also, “All the tribes of the earth” would “mourn” because of the great “time of trouble” which would then envelop the world.—Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21

But following that last great trouble will come the healing blessings of the kingdom—the times of restitution mentioned by Peter. That these times of restitution described by Peter in Acts actually do mean the restoration of the dead world to life is clearly shown in the beginning of chapter four, where we are told that Peter was persecuted because he had preached the resurrection of the dead through Christ.

This prophecy was not merely an expression of Peter’s personal enthusiasm, for he assures us that these restitution blessings had been foretold by the “mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began.” Yes, this has been God’s provision for the dying world all along! And for the encouragement of those who could exercise faith, he has caused his prophets to describe many of the rich blessings which will come to the prisoners of death when the due time arrives.

It is because God sees the end from the beginning and knows, therefore, that all who die—whether by war, famine, plague, accident, disease, or old age—are to be restored to life upon the earth under conditions far more favorable than they have ever been up till now, that he can be merciful in letting the reign of death continue until the time set by his wisdom to stop it.

If those killed by war, or otherwise, were being hurried into a hell of torment by divine decree, without a proper chance for repentance, or if no further opportunity for blessing was ever to be theirs, God would, indeed, be cruel.

From the Lord’s standpoint, however, it is similar to the case of the surgeon who puts his patient to sleep during what would otherwise be a painful operation. The doctor knows the patient will awaken and afterward be healthy—at least this is what the doctor hopes. One looking on who did not understand might criticize the doctor for having no pity because he deprives the patient of consciousness. But the doctor administers the drug because he does have pity.

Just so with the Lord. He sees that while sin still abounds, the prisoners of death are in many ways better off while actually asleep in the tomb. So, he seldom interferes with the circumstances which end their present sufferings. His wisdom sees they need the experiences they are getting, because ultimately they will help them the more fully to realize the terrible results of sin and selfishness. After their lesson has been experienced, he permits them to fall asleep to await the glad morning of the new day, when Paradise will be restored.

True, it has seemed like a long night of weeping through which the prisoners have continued to groan. But for each individual it has been comparatively brief, while the blessings of the new day will, by contrast, be everlasting to all who will accept them on the divine terms. God, on the other hand, with his great heart of love, has patiently endured hearing the groanings of the prisoners throughout all the ages, as each successive generation has come and gone. He has endured this—yea, has even endured having his own glorious name blasphemed on account of it—because he knew that his time and way for answering the cries of the suffering was the best way, a way that would lead to the greatest and most lasting blessing for the largest number of the prisoners.

Whole Creation Groans

St. Paul tells us about the sons of God, the church class, who suffer with Jesus and who, in the future, will reign with him. And then he explains that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now.” (Rom. 8:22) The reason these groanings must continue, the apostle explains, is because the prisoners—all mankind—must wait “for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

This coincides with what we have already seen; namely, that God is waiting to answer the prayers of suffering humanity until his work of selecting the church is complete. Then the church, appearing with Christ in glory, will be “manifested” for the blessing of the groaning world. (Rom. 8:19) This will mean that the kingdom of Christ is finally established, and then the world will no longer wonder if God is asleep. Their prayers will then be answered with dispatch: “It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Isa. 65:24) What rejoicing there will be when that glad day comes! It is to be a day of peace and harmony everywhere, as beautifully and poetically pictured by the prophet, who said, “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock; and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain [kingdom] saith the Lord.” (Isa. 65:25) In this symbolic mountain, the kingdom, the Lord will “swallow up death in victory, and the Lord God will wipe away all tears from off all faces.”—Isa. 25:6-8

Who then will wonder whether or not God has pity! Instead, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of his glory “as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) Then every creature in heaven and on the earth, and everywhere, will be heard saying, “Praise and honor and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever!”—Rev. 5:13

Dawn Bible Students Association
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