Archives For Job

The final pages of The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name:

One day, John knew, Heaven would come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect home once again.

And he knew, in some mysterious way that would be hard to explain, that everything was going to be more wonderful for once having been so sad.

And he knew then that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun.

“I’m on my way,” said Jesus. “I’ll be there soon!

Why?

Chris —  September 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

In the context of life’s most difficult moments, we want to know “why?”

We might at as well ask to to pluck the planet Mars from the heavens between our thumb and forefinger and flatten it between our hands like a piece of Play-dough. We have neither the strength nor the wisdom to comprehend the reasons of the Universe.

Indeed, flattening Mars between our palms would be far easier than understanding all the reasons of life and history.

However, having acknowledged how little capacity we have for understanding the reasons of God in the universe, we should be quick to note that it is not as though we have no understanding in hard times. There is so much we do understand.

To begin with, love is real. There is truth in Queen Elizabeth’s words after 9/11 that grief is the price we pain for love. The depth of pain we feel when met with sudden loss reminds us of the reality of love. Grief hurts so much because love is so real.

Still more, amid loss, we understand more about the love of parents for children when we see their grief. Could any reasonable person explain the feelings of a mother for her child by merely saying that evolution organically programmed mothers to care for their young?

A parent’s love for his or her child also assures us that the present path on which we find ourselves is the only possible avenue forward towards redemption. Had there been any other option, God the Father would have pursued it rather than giving his only begotten Son (John 3:16). Sending a child to die is the last option any parent would choose.

No, we cannot pluck Mars out of the air like we are taking decorations off our Christmas tree. Nor can we understand why life can hurt so much. But we can be sure that love is real. And that the God who loves us so much that he gave His only Son is the one true God who can be trusted even though we cannot comprehensively understand why.

See also:

Reflections on the Road During Our Time of Grief

Amid Tragedy, Let’s Talk

The Danger of Cherry-Picking Only Praises from the Psalms

Incurable Cancer and the Problem of Good

The Real Problem of Evil

Ask, “How Long?” Instead of “Why?”

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”

Suffering with incurable cancer, J.T. Billings points out that the way we see and interpret life must account for goodness and beauty as well as suffering.

J. Todd Billings is a theologian who has been diagnosed with incurable cancer. In his new book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, Billings wrestles with the problem of evil and the question of why a good and all powerful God would allow suffering.

But Billings does not stop with the problem of evil. Even though he has cancer, Billings also points out that there is a “problem of good.” As much pain as there can be in this world, there is also so much beauty and goodness. The problem of good considers the questions, “How can we explain so much beauty?” Our worldviews must explain “goodness” as well as pain. Billings writes:

The incredible goodness of creation, including the hope in new life – – in a marriage, in children, in creation as a whole–exposed me to what some philosophers and theologians have referred to as the “problem of good.” I’ve reflected already in earlier chapters on the problem of evil. But there is a “problem” (if one does not believe in a good God) explaining the goodness in the world that goes far beyond the banal. “If the world is the chance assembly of accidental phenomena, where is there so much that we want to praise and celebrate? Why is there beauty, love, and laughter? God’s creation is drenched with wonder and goodness: lush waterfalls and sandy deserts; children who can blow bubbles and wear crazy wigs: material bodies that can dance, play sports, and express sexual intimacy in the secure freedom of marriage. Who are you going to thank for it? If you have no one to thank, then you have not done justice to the “problem of good.” The beauties and delights of creation point beyond themselves; they cry out to thank someone–a Creator. Indeed, apart from the specific philosophical “problem of good,” Scripture indicates that God’s creation is not just good–it’s very good!

For the materialist (who believes that there is nothing more than random collisions of molecules) the problem of good is insurmountable. Is it really possible that Beethoven’s 9th symphony is the product of a mass of meat?

You can watch J. Todd Billings talk more about his book below:

See also:

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

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

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

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

I haven’t yet read Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, but I’ve ordered it. J. Todd Billings, the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, describes his journey after learning that he has terminal cancer the age of 39. An impressive group endorse the book.

Publisher’s description:

At the age of thirty-nine, Christian theologian Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. In the wake of that diagnosis, he began grappling with the hard theological questions we face in the midst of crisis: Why me? Why now? Where is God in all of this? This eloquently written book shares Billings’s journey, struggle, and reflections on providence, lament, and life in Christ in light of his illness, moving beyond pat answers toward hope in God’s promises. Theologically robust yet eminently practical, it engages the open questions, areas of mystery, and times of disorientation in the Christian life. Billings offers concrete examples through autobiography, cultural commentary, and stories from others, showing how our human stories of joy and grief can be incorporated into the larger biblical story of God’s saving work in Christ.

“Rejoicing in Lament is a profound witness to the gospel. I can hardly find words to express its intelligence, honesty, and richness.”
–Gerald L. Sittser, Whitworth University; author of A Grace Disguised and A Grace Revealed

“Every chapter brims with pools of insight, pointing us beyond platitudes to the God who has met us–and keeps on meeting us–in the Suffering and Risen Servant. This is a book not just for reading but for meditation and prayer.”
–Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California

“Rejoicing in Lament will touch and shape those who give pastoral care, and will offer hope and meaning for all Christians who face great suffering.”
–Kathryn Greene-McCreight, the Episcopal Church at Yale; author of Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness

“Courageous, revealing, sometimes raw–this book reminds us that lament is an act of faith and that faith is a communal treasure. Billings’s testimony is that love is stronger than death. Unforgettable!”
–Cornelius Plantinga Jr., author of Engaging God’s World

“Here there is no simplistic moralizing, but a persistently questing witness to a God who is present in the midst of life-changing sorrow. To read with Todd is to join him in struggle and faith, doubt and hope, lament and praise.”
–Marianne Meye Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This profound and heartfelt book is for all Christians, for sooner or later we must all face the challenge of our own mortality.”
–Carl R. Trueman, Westminster Theological Seminary, Pennsylvania

HT: JT

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.

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?

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

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).

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

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!”