Archives For suffering

Why would God allow Satan to harm Job? Is God placing side bets while we battle cancer or lose loved ones? Here are some preliminary thoughts in response to those questions.

Our church continues our series on the book of Job, A Journey With Job: Seeing and Savoring the Beauty of Christ Amid the Long Walk of Suffering. You can listen to the first sermon, “Someone You Need to Meet,” on our church web site.

Any study of the book of Job raises questions about the debate between God and Satan. We wonder, why would God allow Satan to harm Job and his family. I will be speaking to this question more in our next sermon, but let me make some of the points in advance here in this blog post. The idea is that these points are all part of the answer.

So what should we say in response to the question, “Why did God allow Satan to harm Job”?

  1. The objective of the book of Job is not to teach a comprehensive view of the workings of Satan. Satan – – more literally, “the adversary” — in Job is a minor character. He appears in the first two chapters and is not heard from again. This tips us off from the beginning that Satan’s role is “incidental” in Job. We shouldn’t bring all our questions to Job. Rather, we should listen to those answers it gives. God does not intend for the book of Job to comprehensively explain his dealings with the Satan.
  2. Satan is only a pawn in God’s sovereign purposes. Just as God allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery in Egypt, God sometimes permits those motivated by hate to inflict temporary harm. But we can be sure that even when God allows harm, ultimately all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).
  3. We do not have the capacity to comprehensively understand why God allowed Satan to harm Job. God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not ours (Psalm 103:11-12). We cannot process all the ways of God. When my children were babies, and Jamie bathed them, they usually screamed loudly because they were temporarily naked and cold. Babies can’t understand their mother’s care. You see the analogy- –  the gulf between us and God is infinitely greater than the gulf between a baby and her mother. Loving parents allow temporary pain for reasons that their children do not understand.
  4. The Cross shows us that we can trust God even though we don’t understand everything. When considering the interaction between God and the Satan in Job, we must understand that this is not anywhere near the most notable instance of God allowing someone to be harmed. The ultimate example of unjust suffering is that God sent his one and only Son – – – to enter into our space and history – – – and to be crucified. The Cross shows us that it is reasonable to trust in God even though we can’t understand terrible pain. As Kelly Clark wrote: “A God who shares in our pain, who redeems our sorrows and our shortcomings, who wipes away ever tear, is surely a good God.”
  5. We cannot imagine how the pain of this life will be undone by Christ. There are wounds that we face in life that hurt so badly we cannot imagine ever healing. I suffered the first major blow of grief over 40 years ago and it is still hard for me to think about. I can’t imagine how that pain can be healed. And yet, the resurrection shows us that Satan will not have the last word and that pain can be undone for those who know Christ. While God’s people cannot understand the beauty of all that Christ is accomplishing, we can be sure that He is doing immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

If we are to take our heads out of the sand, and hit the hard questions head-on, so that we can be prepared for suffering, as we plan to do in the book of Job on Sunday, then we need to be sure about what we believe to be true.

In explaining how to begin considering what we believe to be true, Ravi Zacharias points out that every thinking person must confront four basic questions: the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

  1. How did life come to be in the first place?
  2. To what purpose is my life?
  3. How may I choose between right and wrong?
  4. What happens to me when I die?

Ravi goes on to explain that the answers we arrive at and give must correspond with reality and fit with one another. Ravi encourages us that “Answers that correspond with reality and fit into a coherent system provide the individual a world-view by which all of life’s choices may then be made.”

*Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil, 219.

See also:

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

 

Don't Bury Your Head in the Sand About SufferingEveryone needs to prepare for suffering. It’s sure to come. Step forward in preparing for suffering by being part of the Job sermon series at the Red Brick Church beginning on October 5, 2014.

Suffering is a fact of life. We all have suffered.  We all will suffer. There is no choice. Cancer and car accidents crash into lives. Betrayals break hearts. Disease and disaster destroy health.

We should prepare. But many don’t. They take the ostrich’s approach of closing their eyes to reality. People will their heads buried in the sands of denial are in a place far more dangerous than any ostrich. Pretending suffering will never happen leaves people completely vulnerable to the worst kind of future.

Beginning October 5, Pastor Chris Brauns will begin preaching a new series on the book of Job. This series will equip us to see how we can be prepared to face whatever suffering comes our way.

Together we will learn and deeply own the wonderful truth that those willing to “take their heads out of the sand,” and look to God’s Word answers in Christ and the cross that are more beautiful than we ever 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.

See also:

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

Hitting Hard Questions Head On

Chris —  September 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

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.

Do you agree – – “time” is the aspect of suffering that makes it so difficult?

I have been preparing for months a sermon series: A Journey With Job: Seeing and Savoring the Beauty of Christ Amid the Long Walk of Suffering. Preaching on Job means preaching on suffering – – so I have been prayerfully reflecting on suffering a great deal.

One point which I have considered for some time is that “time” is what makes pain so difficult. We could stand any amount of pain for an instant. We could bear losing the person closest to us this morning if we knew we would see them in the afternoon.

But instant relief is not how it goes. And so pain becomes . . . painful. Time intensifies pain.

Having said that – – I would treasure your input. Does that point make sense? Would you agree?

Job: Preaching Propositions

Chris —  July 31, 2014 — 5 Comments

photoDuring our upcoming series on Job in the Fall, we will see that Christ alone is sufficient to sustain us through whatever suffering we may face. He is the only one who can truly see us through the inevitable pain of a fallen world. The more we soak in the book of Job, the more we will see the sufficiency of Christ in the face of suffering, and the more we will realize that all other ground but Christ is sinking sand.

I continue my preparation for Job – – and that has meant thousands of pages of prayerful reading and pages of notes. For several weeks, I have labored to distill from my notes propositions and truths that will form the skeleton of the series. These are a work in progress, but they show much of where I will go in the series.

As I state above, the central thesis of the series on Job will be that Christ alone is sufficient to sustain us through the suffering of life. This overall thought in mind, the below propositions flow out of my study of Job. Of course, these are very abbreviated! I don’t want to give all of the series in advance!

  1. When studying Job we should be reminded that suffering is inevitable and that we must be prepared for it individually, as families, and corporately.
  2. The central concern of the book of Job is the question of whether or not God’s people legitimately glorify Him. Do God’s people serve only for what they get from God? Or do God’s people serve God because He is God?
  3. This side of the cross, we live at a remarkably different time in salvation history than Job. We should be cross-eyed when we read Job. While nothing can allow us to exhaustively understand the problem of evil – – we simply do not have the capacity to comprehend the answer – – we can be overjoyed that on this side of the cross we can look to Christ knowing that He is sufficient.
  4. The truth that the patient of endurance of Christians glorifies God should motivate us individually and as Christian communities to suffer well. The fact that God calls Job’s conduct into evidence shows us how eternally important it is that Christians endure suffering in ways that are glorifying to God. Not only is one’s conduct in suffering a testimony to family, friends, and church – – what image bearers do is significant to God. God, and the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms are watching, and what Christians do reflects on the name of Christ. Our battles with pain are not private, isolated affairs. No child of the king is obscure or unknown.
  5. We must be intellectually prepared for suffering. While explaining the problem of evil is not the central concern of the book of Job, a study of the book inevitably puts this question on the table.
  6. All worldviews, other than the Christian one, are opaque lenses that ultimately give no insight into the meaning of life or how we can find truly find comfort. Indeed, most other worldviews must “borrow capital” (See Van Til) from the Christian to even pose the question. The atheist’s question regarding evil disintegrates – – – it is self-destructive.
  7. Suffering in this life is not always proportional to righteousness. Some suffer greatly though they have sinned less than others who suffer less. The retribution principle (the idea that you reap what you sow) is not a calculation that allows us to consistently predict how life will go.
  8. Along with being prepared in our understanding of theology, we must also know how to endure the experience of suffering.
  9. We must have a vision for comforting the hurting and be equipped as a church family to minister with great wisdom to those who are suffering.

 

Job And His Friends - Ilya Yefimovich-RepinI am not given to hyperbole.  I’m the guy who starts a debate when someone uses words like “ever” or “all.” But here goes with a strong statement anyway. As a pastor, who who shepherds people, I would assert that Tim Keller’s book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is unquestionably one of the best books I have ever read.

Ever.

I could probably list 20 reasons why I think Keller’s book is so good and so important. But below are the top nine reasons.

After the first point, the list is basically in order of increasing importance. Some of the reasons overlap with others.

  1. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering takes on the most difficult question of life. To be considered one of the best books ever, the book has to be about an area of vital importance. For example, The Brothers Karamazov is considered to be one of the greatest novels because it tackles the tough questions. Likewise, Keller doesn’t duck the hard questions. Why is there pain and suffering? How can we live through pain? Is there really hope? How could we ever get over the loss of someone we love? Why does Christianity offer the right and best answers.
  2. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering includes stories of people who have endured agony.  We need to consider the question of suffering from academic angles, but we also need real life examples. Keller includes those. Most chapters end with account of someone who has endured suffering more than most of us will face. These stories show how Christ is sufficient whatever our lot and bear witness to the grace of God.
  3. Keller quotes great hymns and poetry. One of the points I will make this fall when preaching on suffering is that we desperately need the Psalms if we are to walk with God through suffering. Poetry involves both our minds and emotions – – and helps us to move to a different place. For more, see Memorize a Psalm in Order to Be Moved Emotionally.
  4. Keller considers suffering from multiple angles and disciplines. Some books on suffering are devotional. Others are philosophical. Still others are theological. Keller consciously makes the decision to consider suffering from each of these perspectives. This book could only be written by someone who is able to consider the intersection of real life suffering, deep theology, and mind blowing philosophy. There are only a handful of people alive who can do this. Keller is one of them.
  5. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering describes how people of the 20-21st century uniquely view suffering. The worldview of our culture is dramatically different than it was for people 1,000 years ago. Going much further back than 1000 years, we view suffering far differently than Job who lived before the time of Christ. If we are to understand how to walk with God through pain and suffering, then we need to understand our own culturally conditioned mindset. Keller traces the developments of Western thought and helps us understand ourselves.
  6. Keller responsibly engages “the Problem of Evil in a way that is accessible to readers who have no training in theology and philosophy. The problem of evil is the most demanding question we face intellectually. Derek Thomas, for instance, says this is the most troubling and perplexing question we ever face. John Stott adds, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” Briefly stated, the “problem of evil” is the question of how it can be simultaneously true that: (1) God is all-powerful, (2) God is good, (3) Evil exists. Keller summarizes some of the best thinking in a way that most will be able to find their way through if they are willing to work at it.
  7. Keller teaches and models apologetics. Apologetics is the branch of theology that deals with giving reasons for Christian hope. So when someone says, “there can’t be a god because of suffering and evil,” and when we respond to that statement, we are doing apologetics. Keller gives examples of both how to think about such questions, but also the tone to use when engaging them. He takes on the best attempts of atheists to show why the problem of evil proves or makes it unlikely that there is no God. In a way accessible to most readers, Keller then shows how those arguments are self-defeating.
  8. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is Scripture saturated. Keller summarizes Job, points to the Psalms over and over again in ways that will make the reader want to spend time in the Psalter, shows us the relevance of 1 Peter and Revelation, and does exposition of the writings of the Apostle Paul. If you do nothing other than read aloud the Bible passages that Keller points to, you will be blessed. But if you engage with his careful exposition, then you will profit eternally.
  9. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is Christ-Centered – Most important, Keller is thoroughly focused on the One true answer to suffering. Keller compares Christ to Job:

We don’t need a voice out of the storm. Rather, we need to know that Jesus Christ bowed his head into the greatest storm — the storm of divine justice — for us, so we can hear a voice of love from the holy God. he took the condemnation we deserves so God can accept us. For Jesus is the ultimate Job, the only truly innocent sufferer. Jesus “was willing to live the life of Job to its ultimate conclusion. He was willing to die while considered by friend and foe alike to be a fool, a blasphemer, even a criminal — powerless to save himself.” As Job was “naked,” penniless, and in physical pain (Job 1:21), so Jesus was homeless, stripped naked, and tortured on the cross. While Job was relatively innocent, Jesus was absolutely, perfectly innocent, and while Job felt God abandoning him, Jesus actually experienced the real absence of God, as well as the betrayal of his foolish friends and the loss of family. In the Garden of Gethsamane, Jesus saw that if he obeyed God fully, he’d be absolutely abandoned by God and, essentially, destroyed in hell. No one else has ever faced such a situation. Only Jesus truly “served God for nothing.” (293).

See also:

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

Francis Anderson, in his splendid little commentary on Job, compares how human beings view suffering with the biblical view:

Men seek an explanation of suffering in cause and effect. They look backwards for a connection between prior sin and present suffering. The Bible looks forward in hope and seeks explanations, not so much in origins as in goals. The purpose of suffering is seen, not in its cause, but in its result. The man was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him (Jn 9:3). But sometimes good never seems to come out of evil. Men wait in vain. They find God’s slowness irksome. They lose heart, and often lose faith. The Bible commends God’s self-restraint. The outworkings of His justice through the long processes of history, which sometimes require spans of many centuries, are part of existence in time. It is easier to see the hand of God in spectacular and immediate acts, and the sinner who is not instantly corrected is likely to despise God’s delay in executing justice as a sign that He is indifferent or even absent. We have to be patient as God Himself to see the end result, or to go on living in faith without seeing. In due season we shall reap, if we do not give up.

This Fall, I am super motivated to be used by God to help people prepare for the sorts of crises we will all inevitably face. Tim Keller writing on the importance of preparing for a crisis before it happens:

Once you are in a crisis, there is no time to sit down to give substantive study and attention to parts of the Bible. As a working pastor for nearly four decades, I have often sat beside people who were going through terrible troubles and silently wished they had take the time to learn more about their faith before the tidal wave of trouble had engulfed them.

See also: If You Never Did Anything in Advance, There is Relatively Little You Can Do At the Time

Good theology will help us avoid blaming God (“I hate Thee”) or improperly blaming ourselves (“I hate me”) when we face great difficulty.

I continue to prepare for my Fall series on the book of Job. As a part of my preparation, I am benefiting immensely from Tim Keller’s excellent book on suffering. I will post more on it in the days to come. It is one of the best books I have ever read.

Keller rightly points out that when facing suffering we must hold two truths in tension:

  • Suffering is just. The reason there is suffering is because humanity has rebelled against God. Our rebellion began with Adam and Eve’s sin, but we continue to make wrong decisions and there are consequences.
  • Suffering is unjust. At the same time, there is not always an immediate reason why we suffer. If someone endures a trial, it does not mean that the person sinned in some way. Trying to assign particular sins to particular difficulties was the error Job’s friends made when they told Job that his difficulties must have been due to some sin in his life.

Keller warns:

If we ignore either of these truths, we will be out of touch with the universe as it really is. If we forget the first truth –that, in general, suffering is just — we will fall into proud, resentful self-pity that bitterly rejects the goodness or even the existence of God. If we forget the second truth — that, in particular suffering is often unjust — we may be trapped in inordinate guilt and the belief that God must have abandoned us.  These teachings eliminate what could be called both the “I hate thee” response–debilitating anger toward God – – and the “I hate me” response – – devastating guilt and a sense of personal failure. Counselors know what an enormous number of people fall into one or the other – – or both of these abysses. This balance – – that God is just and will bring final justice, but life in the meantime is often deeply unfair – – keeps us from many deadly errors. If we end up in one abyss or the other, it will be due to being unwise, “incompetent with regard to the realities of life.” (Keller, 139).

See also:

Does the book of Job offer an explanation for why people suffer?

Christian books on pain and suffering

4 Wrong Answers to the Question, “Why me?”