Archives For pain

Why?

Chris —  February 13, 2017

“Why?” we cry out when we suffer. While we cannot understand all the reasons for pain. There are comforting answers to consider.

Many of you have prayed recently for our niece Michelle who underwent major surgery last week. Michelle (the daughter of one of my wife’s many sisters) is the mother of five daughters and a pastor’s wife.

Michelle is home and recovering. But more surgeries and a long road await.

Yesterday I preached at Johnston Evangelical Free Church in Iowa for Michelle’s husband Jeremy. The title of my sermon was “Why?” I preached on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and the Apostle Paul’s comments on his own painful afflictions in that passage.

Of course, we cannot understand intellectually or comprehensively why people suffer. We might as well attempt to individually name every grain of sand on the beach as to explain all of God’s sovereign ways. All of God will not fit between our ears.

But, amid pain, God does give us comforting answers to consider  that sustain us and help us find our way forward.

You can listen to the sermon on Johnston Evangelical Free Church’s web site.

 

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!

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.

The Real Problem of Evil

Chris —  November 12, 2014

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).

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!”

Hitting Hard Questions Head On

Chris —  September 24, 2014

iStock_000000166691MediumOnly Christianity can truly hit the hard questions head-on. A new sermon series at the Red Brick Church will address the central questions of life.

Thoughtful human beings encounter vexing questions:

·      Why are we here? What’s the purpose of life?

·      Does what I do matter?

·      Why do good people suffer while others get away with murder?

·      Is there real hope?

·      How can I step off the mental gerbil wheel and the inner turmoil I face?

·      How can I help someone I love who is hurting?

Thankfully we do not have to dig for answers on our own. God is there. And He is not silent. He has spoken clearly in his Word.

Beginning October 5 Pastor Chris Brauns will begin a new series at The Red Brick Church, A Journey with Job: Seeing and Savoring the Beauty of Christ Amid the Long Walk of Suffering. In this series Chris will show how the Bible hits these questions head on. And in this series, those willing to look to Christ will begin to see that the biblical answers to hard questions are more beautiful than we could have imagined.

The Red Brick Church has worship services at 9 and 10:30 on Sunday mornings. There is a nursery during both hours. Children’s Sunday School for all ages is offered at 9:00 and Children’s Church for preschool through third grace is offered at 10:30.

Haddon Robinson's Lake Geneva Study Group with John WaltonI am preparing to preach this coming fall on the book of Job. This week, I am studying with a group with Dr. John Walton of Wheaton College. One of the first questions that comes up when studying Job is whether or not the book of Job offers an explanation of why bad things happen to good people.

Theologians use the term “theodicy” to refer to explanations of why evil exists.  A theodicy speaks to the question, “If God is good and all-powerful, how do we explain the existence of evil?”

In preaching Job this fall, I will stress  that the purpose of the book of Job is not to explain suffering (D.V.)  In fact, the purpose of Job on some level is to show that suffering cannot be understood. God’s ways are completely beyond ours (38-39). So Walton contends, “The role of the book of Job is to perform the radical surgery that separates theology from theodicy, contending that in the end Yahweh’s justice must be accepted on faith rather than worked out philosophically (Walton, 41).”

To be sure, Job’s suffering is front and center. His pain cannot be missed. But Longman contends that wisdom, not suffering, is the subject of Job (462). “Job’s suffering is the occasion for discussing wisdom (Longman, 462).” Walton identifies the purpose of the book as an evaluation of God’s policies – – more on the purpose of Job later. The point in this post is that the purpose of the book of Job is not to provide a tidy answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

While it is true that Job does not offer an explanation of why suffering takes place, the book of Job does help us understand suffering more. Longman writes:

That does not mean that the book of Job makes no contribution to our understanding of suffering, but it does so predominantly in a negative sense. In particular, it loudly and clearly denies that suffering is the result of sin or that all suffering has the purpose of discipline. The cause of suffering is much too complex to be reduced to a single explanation that can be applied to every case. The book of Job serves as a warning to those who want to judge others based on the quality of their life (Longman, 462).

Estes adds:

Although the book of Job does not formally address the problem of evil, which asks why innocent people suffer in a world governed by a God who is all-good and all-powerful, it does provide several insights that relate to the issue. The book teaches that suffering is not always attributable to personal sin. It also indicates that factors beyond human control can intrude, such as the suffering that Job experienced at the instigation of the adversary. Job’s final response reveals that suffering can result in instruction and growth, as God brings good out of evil. Ultimately, the book of Job brings the reader to realize that the explanation for why good people suffer must be left in the realm of divine mystery, but that Yahweh can be trusted, even when humans cannot comprehend his ways (Estes, 5).

I’m not preaching on Job to the fall . . . my understanding is still very much a work in progress! And my understanding will be a work in progress even after I preach it! But by the fall, I will be much further.

See Christians need not be intellectually troubled that they can’t exhaustively explain why God allows evil and Why is There Evil and Suffering?

See also Christopher Ansberry’s comparison of Walton and Longman’s commentaries.

 

 

Christian books on pain and suffering shouldn’t give simplistic answers. Yancey is right, “Why?” is a question that doesn’t go away.

I am preparing for a series on Job this fall at the Red Brick Church– – and I’m a pastor – – and a person living in a fallen world – – all of which means I read a great deal on suffering. Today, I’ve been encouraged by reading Philip Yancey’s honest, raw interaction with the Japanese Tsunami, the murder of children at Sandyhook elementary in Newtown, Boston and other awful tragedies.

Did you know?

  • The earthquake that struck Japan and caused the Tsunami released 600 million times more energy than the atomic bombs that fell on Japan (Yancey, 45).
  • 410,000 automobiles were destroyed in the Tsunami.
  • Approximately 19,000 people were killed or are missing.

Why?

There are no trite answers to suffering. In fact, simplistic answers are insulting. But there is real comfort in Yancey’s book.

Thankfully, there are a number of thoughtful Christan books on pain and suffering.

I will soon be reading carefully reading Tim Keller’s highly recommended Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.

I have previously recommended Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil.

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, is also excellent.