The hope of the resurrection is the sure promise that, for the believer, all that is sad and hurts will become untrue. These quotes help us meditate on our blessed hope. 

From The Lord of the Rings series:

 “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?

 A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

Another quote, this one from Keller:

The fourth great doctrine is that of the bodily resurrection from the dead for all who believe. This completes the spectrum of our joys and consolations. One of the deepest desires of the human heart is for love without parting. Needless to say, the prospect of the resurrection is far more comforting than the beliefs that death takes you into nothingness or into an impersonal spiritual substance. The resurrection goes beyond the promise of an ethereal, disembodied afterlife. We get our bodies back, in a state of beauty and power that we cannot totally imagine. Jesus’ resurrection body was corporeal – – it could be touched and embraced, and he ate foot. And yet he passed through closed doors and could disappear. This is a material existence, but one beyond the bounds of our imagination. The idea of heaven can be a consolation for suffering, a compensation for the life we have lost. But resurrection is not just consolation–it is a restoration. We get it all back–the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life–but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength. It is a reversal of the seeming irreversibility of loss that Luc Ferry speaks of. (Keller, 58-59).

C.S. Lewis:

“Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.

Be Sociable, Share!

Which is fundamental to reality: persons or impersonal structures? Your answer to this question determines whether you see life as a great, beautiful adventure, or if you are living in a gray world of particle collisions. You will have to stretch your minds a little when reading this post, but it is worth doing!

John Frame acknowledges the influence of Francis Schaeffer as he articulates this thought in Apologetics to the Glory of God (pages 35-37):

The great question confronting modern humanity is this: Granted that the universe contains both persons (like you and me) and impersonal structures (like matter, motion, chance, time, space, and physical laws), which is fundamental? Is the impersonal aspect of the universe grounded in the personal, or is it the other way around? Secular thought generally assumes the latter–that persons are the products of matter, motion, chance, and so on. It holds that to explain a phenomenon in terms of personal intentions (e.g., “This house is here because someone built it live in”) is less than an ultimate explanation, a fully satisfying explanation, requires the house because of the ultimacy of the impersonal (e.g. “The person built the house because the atoms in his brain moved about in certain ways”). But is that a necessary assumption?

Let us think of the consequences of each. If the impersonal is primary, then there is no consciousness, no wisdom, and no will in the ultimate origin of things. What we call reason and value are the unintended, accidental consequences of chance events. (So why should we trust reason, if it is only the accidental result of irrational happenings?) Moral virtue will, in the end, be unrewarded. Friendship, love, and beauty are all of no ultimate consequence for, they are reducible to blind, uncaring process . . .

But if the personal is primary, then the world was made according to a rational plan that can be understood by rational minds. Friendship and love are not only profound human experiences, but fundamental ingredients of the whole world order. There is someone who wants there to be friendship, who wants there to be love. Moral goodness, too, is part of the great design of the universe. If personality is absolute, there is one who cares about what we do, who approves or disapproves of our conduct. And that person has some purpose for evil, too, mysterious as that may seem to use . . . Beauty, too, does not just happen for a while; it is the art of a great craftsman. And if indeed the solar system comes to a “vast death,” there is one who can deliver us from that death, if it pleases him to do so. So it may be that some of our thoughts, plans, trust, love, and achievements have eternal consequences after all, consequences that impart to all these things a great seriousness, but also humor: humor at the ironic comparison of our trivial efforts with “eternal consequences.”

What a difference! Instead of a gray world of matter and motion and chance, in which anything could happen, but nothing much (nothing of human interest) ever does, the world would be the artistic creation of the greatest mind imaginable, with a dazzling beauty and fascinating logic. It would be a history with a drama, a human interest, a profound subtlety and allusiveness more illuminating than the greatest novelist could produce. That divine history would have a moral grandeur that would turn all the world’s evil to good. Most amazingly: the world would be under the control of a being somehow, wonderfully, akin to ourselves! Could we pray to him? Could we know him as a friend? Or would we have to flee from him as our enemy? What would he expect of us? What incredible experiences might have in store for us? What new knowledge? What blessings? What curses?

Be Sociable, Share!

The Real Problem of Evil

Chris —  November 12, 2014 — 7 Comments

Image of woment comforting one another.The reality that so few struggle with the problem of evil is a major warning sign that many are not considering the reality of a sovereign and good God.

John Stott wrote, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” Virtually all theologians agree. There is no tougher area of theology to considerAnd yet, today fewer Christians wrestle with the problem of evil – – and that may be the biggest problem of all.

The problem of evil is the question of how it can simultaneously be true that:

  1. God is all-powerful and all-knowing.
  2. God is good.
  3. Yet, evil and suffering exist.

(Note that Dan Phillips worked on this syllogism in several forms a few days ago!)

From the finite vantage point of our minds, it may seem as though the only reason that suffering exists is because God can’t stop it (he’s not sovereign or all-powerful) or he won’t stop evil (he’s not benevolent or good).

I won’t lay out a Christian response to the problem of evil – – though I’m doing that in my current sermon series at The Red Brick Church – – and I believe there is a completely satisfying answer. But here I want to make the point that as troubling as it may seem to consider why God allow suffering, it is far more troubling to never wrestle with the question of why God allows children to be harmed or for hurricanes to come.

Let me explain why it is a problem if we are not somewhat conflicted about suffering. First, understand that the problem of evil is unique to people of the Bible.

  • Polytheists don’t struggle with the problem of evil. They believe that suffering flows out of the conflicts of many flawed gods.
  • Atheists don’t struggle with the problem of evil. Suffering is simply another aspect of material reality.
  • Monism (Hinduism or Buddhism) believes in the unity of everything which will one day be achieved.
  • Deists holds that God wound up the clock of the universe and is now watching it tick. He is not involved.

Only people who believe in one, sovereign, good God wonder why God allows suffering. And struggle we do! Given that we live in a fallen world where little girls are sold into sex slavery, why wouldn’t anyone struggle with the problem of evil?

Fact: right now, somewhere in the world there is someone being raped or murdered.

Fact: God hates rape and murder.

Fact: God could stop rape and murder.

The question is not why has so many pages have been written about the problem of evil. Rather, the question is why aren’t people asking about it more? While preaching through Job I’ve considered why aren’t thinking about the problem of evil more. I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  • A person might not struggle with the problem of evil because he or she has a thin understanding of the experiences of life. A five year, who has been protected from suffering, has probably never cried out, “Why?” But those who have watched loved ones waste away to cancer, or lose their minds to Alzheimer’s wonder why God allows it.
  • A person who is cocksure or cavalier about theology might not struggle. I’ve heard people say, “There is no problem of evil. God allows pain for his glory.” While this s a true statement – – it is amazingly insensitive and non-pastoral, and it is unhelpful when comforting someone whose child has been murdered.
  • Others have personalities that are not given to theological reflection. They are blessed with a deep and child-like faith.
  • Admittedly, some no longer struggle over the difficult question of the problem of evil because they have very mature faith. They have worked through their concerns and now they trust God.

I would call those first two possibilities shallow Christian responses to the problem of evil. Many of us are guilty of them at some point to one degree or another. But the above reasons are not the alarming explanations for why  people are not struggling with the problem of evil. Here’s another set of reasons people aren’t wrestling with the problem of evil.

  1. Many people do not wrestle with the problem of evil because they do not really believe that God is sovereign. Deep down they have accepted the answer that God feels bad about evil but he isn’t really big enough to stop it.
  2. Others don’t wrestle with the problem of evil because they are what Christian Smith has called “moralistic therapeutic deists.” That is, they believe in a distant God, who is easy to please, who exists to make us feel better. They comfort themselves with simple platitudes like, “Well, it must all work together for good,” but they do not consider their relationship to God or who He really is.
  3. Still others don’t wrestle with the problem of evil because they do not believe God is just – – deep down they do not believe that wrong behavior must given an account to an all-powerful God who will judge evil. They never picture themselves giving an account to God.

If you think about this latter list, what you see is that these reasons have in common is that they are characteristics of people who do not  believe in the God of the Bible.

Again, the problem of evil is a question posed to those concerned with the God of the Bible. When people stop asking the question, it shows that people are not really contemplating a good and sovereign God.

In my decades of pastoral ministry, I have done many funerals for those who are not Christians – – and, of course, many for those who are – – and I have had very few people say to me in anger – – “Why did God let this happen?” And to be honest, I think it is a problem. Job was upset with his suffering because he believed in a good God who is in control and he wanted to know “Why?” The fact that we so rarely face people asking Job’s passionate questions is because we live in a culture where, increasingly, people do not believe in a sovereign, good God. Indeed, it may be that most people with whom we rub shoulders are deists, not theists.

Which is to say, the real problem of evil is when we stop believing enough in the sovereignty and goodness of God to ask the really hard questions.

See also:

Four Wrong Answers to the Question “Why Me?”

Andy Naselli Interviews John Frame on the Problem of Evil

Frame on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Be Sociable, Share!

Interacting with the problem of suffering, Christopher J.H. Wright writes:

Whereas we often ask “Why?” people in the Bible more often asked “How long?” Their tendency was not to demand that God give an explanation for the origin of evil but rather to plead with God to do something to bring about an end to evil. And that, we shall see is exactly what God has promised to do (page 27).

Be Sociable, Share!

In our series on Job, A Journey With Job, I continue to be helped by Christopher Ash’s commentary. Ash helps us understand how Job could be considered right even when he was wrong.

In Job 9-10, Job is in agony. The heart of Job’s pain is that he longs for dialogue with God – – yet, there seems no possible way forward. Commentator Christopher Ash breaks down Job’s struggle in the following way. Job can’t:

  1. “Will” himself through the suffering (Job 9:27-29) – – he can’t just cheer up and move.
  2. Job cannot cleanse himself. There is no hope of Job being his own savior (Job 9:30-31).
  3. Find a mediator (Job 9:32-35) – – Job longs for one to stand between God and him, but there is no one immediately forthcoming.

So Job’s complaints give way to despair. He raises four agonized questions:

  1. Why are You Against Me God? (Job 10:1-3)
  2. Why Do You Watch Me? (Job 10:4-7)
  3. Why Did You Create Me? (Job 10:8-17)
  4. Why Don’t You Kill Me? (Job 10:18-22)

At this point, much of what Job says is flatly wrong. He is wrong to say that God treats the innocent and the wicked in the same way (Job 9:22-23). We begin to wonder why God does not rebuke Job in a harsher way. Ash explains the way in which Job is right even as he is wrong.

Whatever Job says, the fact that he says it to God and says it with such vehemence suggests that he knows he has not yet reached the end of his quest for meaning. There is in Job the inner energy of faith, the mark of a real believer. Job may be wrong in his perception of God and of the reality of his situation, but he is deeply right in his heart and the direction of his turning and his yearning. Thank God for that. (Ash, 151).

At the beginning of the same chapter, Ash writes:

It is possible to be wrong and right at the same time. God will say that Job has spoken rightly about him (42:7). And yet Job says a great many things about God that are not right. How are we to reconcile this apparent contradiction? When we listen to Job’s speeches, we need to bear in mind the distinction between Job’s perception and Job’s heart. His heart is in the heart of a believer, which is why the Lord commends and affirms him at the end. But his perceptions are partial and flawed. We hear in these speeches the honest grapplings of a real believer with a heart for God as he sees what he thought was a secure worldview crumble around him. This is why we will hear Job say some things that are plain wrong, and yet we hear him say them from a heart that is deeply right (Ash, 139).

See also:

Why Did God Allow Satan to Harm Job and His Family?

A Summary of Job’s Friends

The Head in the Sand Approach to Suffering is a Bad Idea

Hope: This is Just the Beginning of the Beginning

Why is God Harder on Job’s Friends Than on Complaining Job?

Hitting Hard Questions Head-On

Would You Agree That Time is the Hard Part?

Job: Preaching Propositions

Current Questions for the Study of Job

Ash Helps Us Move to the Heart of the Matter on Job

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Andy Naselli’s interview of John Frame regarding the Problem of Evil

Men seek an understanding of suffering in cause and effect

Job: A Writer of Superb Genius Has Erected a Monumental Work

When Suffering Avoid “I Hate Thee” and “I Hate Me”

Job is a Fireball Book

Does the Book of Job Offer An Explanation for Why People Suffer?

Christian Books on Pain and Suffering

If You Never Did Anything in Advance, There is Relatively Little You Can Do At The Time

Once You Are In A Crisis, There is Not Time

Four Wrong Answers to the Question Why Me

Be Sociable, Share!

“Greatful for Your Preaching”

Chris —  October 17, 2014 — 1 Comment

2014_10_17_11_25_03One of the best parts of being a pastor is having a front row seat as parents teach their children about the preaching of the Word of God. This morning my friend, Jaxen (the blond little boy pictured below with his older brother) , gave me an illustrated note to tell me that he is grateful for my preaching of the Holy Word.

There is so much about the note that I appreciate:

  • Jaxson is thankful for his pastor and recognizes that pastors are a gift from God (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  • Jaxson has a high view of the word of God. He refers to the Bible as God’s “holy” Word.
  • Jaxson knows that it is important to take the time to thank people.
  • Jaxon (see illustration)  thinks I am skinny.

Thank God for Christian homes.

Yes – – we know the traditional spelling of “grateful” at the Red Brick Church. We just prefer “greatful” to communicate the extent of our gratitude.

2014-04-26 18.24.36

Be Sociable, Share!

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.45.57 PMI am thankful for the ways that the Internet and social media allow others to suggest worship music to accompany sermon series. My youngest sister, Erin (see her blog here), suggested this song to go along with our Job series at the Red Brick Church. The video is worth watching! My sister wrote:

I don’t know how familiar you are with Steven Curtis Chapman, but this song always reminds me of the book of Job because of the message behind it. And if you know anything about the testimony of the Chapmans, they are no strangers to tragedy. Last year at this time, Chad’s grandpa was dying. Chad was extremely close to his grandpa. The week after coming home from his funeral, on Chad’s birthday (which he happens to share with SCC who also happens to be his all time favorite artist), we were able to attend The Glorious Unfolding Tour at Harmony Bible Church in Danville, IA. It was during that concert that God began working on our hearts toward adoption. In March we decided to take the next steps. Now we have two new daughters in China who wait for us to come and bring them home. I should also mention that some of our best friends through this adoption were also at the concert and we didn’t even know them then. Now, today, we are praying for their daughter, Evie, as she will have life-saving heart surgery on Monday. This song is very deep and meaningful to us. “This is just the beginning of the beginning!”

Be Sociable, Share!

A Summary of Job’s Friends

Chris —  October 16, 2014 — 4 Comments

Here’s a window to my world of study – – this is how I organized my attempt to understand Job’s friends.

One of the real challenges of preaching Job is that it’s such a long book. There are three cycles of Job’s “friends” responding to him. Below is a page from my study notes that I have been working on for quite some time.

A Summary of Job's Friends

Be Sociable, Share!

“Job stays married to God and throws dishes at him; the three friends have a polite non-marriage . . .” Peter Kreeft

Anyone who studies the biblical book of Job knows that in between Job saying, “blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21)” and “I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2),” Job complained bitterly. By his own admission, Job said things that were rash (Job 6:3).

Yet, at the end of the book, God told Job’s friends that his anger burned against them (Job 42:7). God tells Job’s friends  that their future depends on Job’s intercession on their behalf (Job 42:8).

So why did God view Job so much more favorably than Job’s friends?

Peter Kreeft helps us move toward an answer by pointing out that, unlike his friends, Job is directly concerned with his relationship with God. While Job’s friends are apathetic and indifferent:

Job sticks to God, retains intimacy, passion, and care, while the three friends are satisfied with correctness of words, “dead orthodoxy”. Job’s words do not accurately reflect God, as the three friends’ words do, but Job himself is in a true relationship to God, as the three friends are not: a relationship of heart and soul, life-or-death passion. No one can be truly related to God without life-or-death passion. To be related to God in a way that is only finite, partial, held back, or calculating is not truly to be related to God. God is everything or nothing. Job thinks God has let him down, so that in a sense God has become nothing to him. That is a mistake, but Job at least knows it must be all or nothing. God is infinite love, and the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Job’s love for God is infected with hate, but the three friends’ love for God is infected with indifference. Job stays married to God and throws dishes at him; the three friends have a polite non-marriage, with separate bedrooms and separate vacations. The family that fights together stays together.

I wouldn’t say everything in quite the same way as Kreeft. Isn’t it a bit much to say that Job’s words are infected with “hate”? Yet, we can all agree that God despises mediocrity. He spits out that which is “luke warm (Revelation 3:16).”
 

 

Be Sociable, Share!

Fascinating article on Derrick Rose including this quote.

Internal drives aren’t easy to understand, much less defeat, even if [Rose] is healthy; Michael Jordan won every battle he fought, and he is entering middle age unhappy and lost. Derrick Rose escaped his neighborhood and his old life, but he remains a citizen of his own ambition.

Read the whole article here.

Be Sociable, Share!