Archives For suffering

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?”

“Job is a fireball book”

Chris —  June 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

I continue to think about the family in our community who lost everything in a fire at the same time that their twelve year old’s son was broken in an accident. At the same time, I am preparing my fall preaching series at the Red Brick Church on the book of Job. You probably recall that Job is the Old Testament man who lost everything through a series of tragedies. In preparing today I read this quote from a new commentary by Christopher Ash on the book of Job:

Job is a fireball of a book. It is a staggeringly honest book. It is a book that knows what people actually say and think – – not just what they say publicly in church. It knows what people say behind closed doors and in whispers, and it knows what we say in our tears. It is not merely an academic book. If we listen to it carefully, it will touch us, trouble us, and unsettle us at a deep level.

I am praying, even as I prepare, that God will use this series to encourage many who hurt, or will hurt.

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.

 

 

Hurting On Mother’s Day

Chris —  May 8, 2014 — 11 Comments

Hurting on Mothers DayMother’s Day is a wonderful time to be thankful for maternity. But the celebration of Mother’s Day can also focus pain.*

I am taking the time this week to pray on my knees for women in several categories. I know specific ladies in nearly all of these categories. And I know some who are in multiple categories.

Who have I missed?

  1. Mothers who miss their mothers
  2. Women who have mothers with Alzheimers, dementia, or other illnesses that require care.
  3. Mothers who have lost a child: such incredible grief – See Christian books on pain and suffering
  4. Women (couples) struggling with infertility
  5. Women (couples) who could not have children and now watch friends with grandchildren
  6. Women who had abusive or neglectful mothers including some who even abandoned them
  7. Women who clash with their mothers on a personality level
  8. Mothers who miss husbands who have died
  9. Women (couples) who are trying to adopt and yet continue to be met with obstacles – See these posts on Russ Moore’s book here and here.
  10. Women grieved by rebellious children (see this post) and how parents should unpack forgiveness with rebellious children
  11. Single women who battle loneliness
  12. Mothers who regret how they raised their children
  13. Mothers battling “empty nest” syndrome
  14. Mothers who are estranged from their children and cannot see their grandchildren
  15. Single mothers trying to do everything on their own
  16. Women who chose not to have children and feel ostracized or out of place amongst other Christians.
  17. Mothers overwhelmed by financial concerns
  18. Mothers worn out physically who are facing other physical problems
  19. Mothers battling depression
  20. Mothers who have gone through a painful divorce or who are in painful marriages
  21. Mothers who regret abortions

Do be encouraged by the gospel. As one of the comments below said, “For some, Mother’s Day is difficult because of their experience or non-experience with their mother. Yet it can be transformed into something that is more positive when they think about how God provided someone to fill that void.”

*I will be updating and editing this as I receive input. I have already received excellent input. I have already made 4 revisions based on input in the comments.

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.

TGC Nunez

Pastor Miguel Nuenez interacts with an important pastoral question.

This controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. Those of us who grew up Roman Catholic have always heard suicide is a mortal sin that irretrievably sends people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. However, for Luther, the Devil is capable of oppressing (not possessing) a believer to the point of pushing him to commit the sin of suicide (Table Talk, Vol 54:29). As the salvation became better understood, many Reformation thinkers and theologians distanced their views from the Church of Rome.

Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

a) A true Christian would never commit suicide, since God wouldn’t allow it.

b) A Christian may commit suicide, but would lose his salvation.

c) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

So what does the Bible say?

Let’s begin by talking about those truths we know as revealed in God’s Word . . .

Read the rest here.