The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: February 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (12)

Keller is ready to discuss “ . . . the individual ways or strategies that the Bible lays out for walking through suffering” (p. 240).  The first:  “Weeping”.

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/
1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488306024&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+
by+timothy+keller

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF LAMENT

Early Reformers frowned on Christians weeping.  They should trust God through “unflinching, joyful acceptance of his will” in suffering (p. 241).

But, Keller notes, their teaching doesn’t square with Scripture.  Many Psalms are called “Lament Psalms”—prayers which express frustration with or sorrow before God.

“Rouse yourself!  Why do you sleep, O Lord?” (Psalm 44:23).

“Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49).

Jeremiah prays . . .

“Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  You are to me like a deceptive book, like a spring that fails” (Jeremiah 15:18).

In Job’s last chapter he admits his faith wasn’t what it should have been, yet the text says, “In all this Job sinned not” (Job 1:22).

By the book’s middle, Job curses the day he was born and almost angrily charges God with injustice.  Yet hear God’s verdict on Job . . .

“I will accept [my servant Job’s] prayer . . . You (Job’s ‘friends’) have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-9).

This despite, as Keller writes, “Job’s grief was expressed with powerful emotion and soaring rhetoric.  He did not ‘make nice’ with God, praying politely” (p. 242).

Surely, then, we are allowed to grieve.

A BRUISED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK

Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant, who is Jesus (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20; Acts 8:32,33).  Applied to a person, Keller says, “ . . . ‘bruised’ means an injury that doesn’t show on the surface, but that is nonetheless fatal . . . Jesus Christ is attracted to hopeless cases.  He cares for the fragile” (p. 243).

Elijah was a mighty prophet against whom the people turned.  Despondent, he travels to the wilderness and prays, “Take my life.  I don’t even want to live” (1 Kings 19:4).  Does God condemn him?  No.  He sends an angel who cooks him a meal.  “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:4-8).  Eventually God talks with Elijah, questions and challenges him.  God, says Keller, know we are complex creatures.  In this case, to have challenged Elijah first would have been breaking a bruised reed.

In The Bruised Reed and a Smoking Flax, the 27 century British Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote, “Never fear to go to God, since [we have] a mediator with him [who] “died that he might heal our souls with the medicine of his own blood . . . Let this keep us up when we feel ourselves bruised” (p. 245).

“The point,” Keller says is this—suffering people need to be able to weep and pour out their hearts, and not to immediately be shut down by being told what to do.  Nor should we do that to ourselves . . . “ (p. 245).

WEEPING IN THE DARK

Psalm 88, writes commentator Derek Kidner of Psalm 88, “There is no sadder prayer in the Psalter” (p. 246).  Unlike all other lament psalms (except 39), Psalm 88 end without a glimmer of hope. (No space to quote it here; grab a Bible and read it!).  From the psalm, Keller draws three lessons.

One, as the psalm’s word implies, “believer can stay in darkness for a long time” (p. 247).

Two, “times of darkness . . . can reveal God’s grace in new depths” (p. 248).  God’s treatment of Job “shows that God remains this man’s God not because the man puts on a happy face and controls all his emotions, but because of grace.

Third, “it is perhaps when we are still in unrelenting darkness that we have the greatest opportunity to defeat the forces of evil.  In the darkness we have a choice that is not really there in better times. We can choose to serve God just because he is God” (p. 248).

THE DARKNESS OF JESUS

How can we be sure God is present with us and working our suffering for good?

Jesus, writes Keller, experienced the ultimate darkness:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 24:45,46).  He was truly God-abandoned; we believers only feel as if we are.  Keller says . . .

“[Jesus] went into suffering for us.  He did not abandon us despite all his own suffering.  Do you think he will abandon you now in the midst of yours?” (p. 251).

GRIEVING AND REJOICING

What does it mean to “rejoice in suffering”?  Keller argues it can’t mean to have happy emotions or keep a stiff upper lip or defiantly claim this suffering won’t defeat us (p. 252).

Peter writes, “in [God’s] salvation you greatly rejoice though now . . . you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6,7).  They’re rejoicing and suffering simultaneously.  So can we.

Keller explains to “rejoice in God” means to “ dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what he has done for us . . . Here is how it works.  The grief and sorrow drive you more into God . . . and show you the resources you never had . . . The weeping drives you into the joy . . . and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you” (p. 253).

D. M. Lloyd-Jones writes . . .

“What we are really saying . . . is that the Christian is one who has become immune to what is happening around him . . . [He] has something that enables him to rise above these things, but the glory of the Christian life is that you rise above them through you feel them” (p. 254).

PERSONAL THOUGHTS

I’m reminded of Psalm 30:5b—“ . . . weeping my remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  David is celebrating deliverance from his enemies.  Suffering is over.  The Lord has turned his wailing into dancing (30:11).

On the other hand, Keller is writing not about joy after rescue from suffering, but about joy in the midst of suffering.

It occurs to me, though, we might apply Psalm 30:5b in line with Keller’s thoughts.  That is, in the midst of nighttime weeping, we may experience tastes of morning-like joy.

Joy is an emotion that runs deep and high.  Far more than a broad, bright smile.  More than rumbling laughter or giddy happiness. The Hebrew word here bears that out.  It implies a “shout of joy” or a “ringing cry”.  It connotes a victory celebration after the war is won. To say, then, we may taste morning-like joy while weeping in the night is to proclaim a weighty statement.

I think we might apply Psalm 30:5b, because I think I may have tasted little morsels of morning-like joy in night-like suffering.  Not a shout of joy or ringing cry.  More an assurance, an inner sense, that the Lord is with me.  That he’s using this for good.  That his grace is enough.  That with his strength in my weakness I can endure in faith.  That, even when I feel as if God has become a stranger, I’m coming to know him more deeply.

It’s okay to cry.  No need to put on a happy false face.  Go ahead and weep.  But know this:  before that glorious morning of eternal joy dawns, we can taste bits of its joy even when we hurt.

 

 

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Different Gifts, Same Spirit, Common Good

Without openness to the Holy Spirit, gathered worship becomes a pep rally (the worship team as cheerleaders) or a classroom (the pastor as professor).  Expectations center almost entirely on the “up-front” people.  Welcome to today’s typical evangelical church.

Different scenario with the Corinthians.  Spiritual gifts fascinated them to the point that Paul wrote to rein them in.  He writes 1 Corinthians 12-14, not to offer comprehensive spiritual-gifts-theology, but to pastorally correct the church’s abuse of them.

Paul had reminded them that all spiritual utterances do not come from the Holy Spirit, only those that acknowledge Jesus as Lord (12:1-3).  Now, in 12:4-11, he lists a variety of gifts, so the church will learn that the one Holy Spirit gives a diversity of gifts (not just tongues–the Corinthians’ gift of choice) for the good of all.

GOD-ROOTED DIVERSITY (12:4-6)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Gifts (charismaton), service (diakoniown), and working (energown) are different ways of expressing what Paul in 12:7 calls the “manifestation” (phanerosis) or “expression, demonstration” or “display” of the Spirit.  The distributions of the Spirit are many, but all come from the same Spirit, Lord and God.

Thus Paul pictures the Trinity.  But “Lord” (Jesus) has special significance since the Corinthians exuded spiritual pride over certain spiritual gifts.  “Lord” and “service” remind them that the spiritually-gifted are servants of all.

DIVERSE GIFTS TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE FOR THE GOOD OF ALL (12:7)

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

By one sentence Paul captures the heart of chapter 12.  Each one can participate.  What are called “gifts” Paul here calls “the manifestation of the Spirit”–an expression of the Spirit’s presence among them.  And these Spirit-manifestations to each one are given, not for the good of the recipient, but for the good of all.

DIVERSE GIFT-LIST (12:8-10)

To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

Other gifts in other lists (1 Corinthians 12:28,29, Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:8-14 and 1 Peter 4:10,11) show that this list isn’t exhaustive.  And who know how many more ways the Holy Spirit might manifest himself not identified in Scripture?

Looking at Paul’s list here, we want a technical explanation for what each gift is.  Paul doesn’t explain, so we’re left to deduce from what he does say elsewhere about some gifts and just plain guess about others.

The message of wisdom and the message of knowledge.  These are mentioned nowhere else, so welcome to educated-guessing!  Wayne Grudem (theologian, professor, author) suggests the first may be the ability to speak the right word at the right time, the second the ability to impart timely insight, both to others for their sake (Systematic Theology).

Faith.  Not saving faith (Ephesians 2:8,9), this is probably a supernatural “certainty” that God will reveal his power in a special way for a particular circumstance.

Gifts of healing(s).   Even a quick-read of the New Testament reveals that Jesus, Paul and first century Christians regularly expected God would heal physical bodies.  These gifts are Holy Spirit-manifestations to do just that.  The plural probably implies a variety of gifts and healings for a variety of illness.

Miraculous powers.  This probably refers to other kinds of miraculous workings apart from healing.

Prophecy.  “ . . . the evidence in [1 Corinthians 14) indicates that it consists of spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible messages, orally delivered in the gathered assembly, intended for the edification or encouragement of the people” (Gordon Fee, theologian and Professor Emeritus at Regent College).  It is not telling the future!

Distinguishing between spirits.  In 14:29, Paul writes, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.”  Perhaps this (the ability to discern the spirit/Spirit source of a prophetic utterance is what Paul means by this gift.  On the other hand, Grudem defines it as “the ability to recognize the influence of the Holy Spirit or of demonic spirits in a person” (Systematic Theology, p. 1082).

Different kinds of tongues. The Greek word, glosa, means the physical tongue or language. Unfortunately, translators have stuck with “tongues” when “languages” might have been more appropriate.  Grudem defines:  “ . . . a prayer or praise spoken (spontaneously) in syllables not understood by the speaker.”  Thus it is speech directed to God,whereas prophecy is directed to the people.   

The interpretation of tongues.  Hermayneea can mean “translation” or “interpretation”.  The latter is better here, since we have no indication that the “interpreter” is giving a word-for-word translation of the message in tongues.  Rather he is explaining what the tongues-speaker has said.  Together with interpretation, the gift of tongues “builds up” the church (14:5), functioning similar to prophecy.  Without interpretation, the message in tongues is unintelligible and useless for the church (14:28).

Sovereign Distribution (12:11)

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

Giftedness doesn’t depend on the recipient.  The Spirit is sovereign and he gives gifts/manifestations as he chooses.  But, whatever the gift, it is the work of the same Spirit.  Thus, Paul puts the spiritually-proud Corinthians in their “place”, humbled under the sovereign Spirit.

* * * *

Most of our churches today don’t share the Corinthians’ problem.  We don’t need to be told, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good . . . All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines”(12:7,11). 

Why?  Because most of our worship gatherings are packed with singing, preaching, maybe praying, announcements and offerings.  The focus is “up front” and there’s no quiet time to “reach out” for what the Spirit may choose to do.  How sad when he has so much to give for the good of the church and the glory of the Lord Jesus!

So my conclusion today is a prayer-worship song.  What might the Spirit do if the church (even some members) faithfully prayed it?  And if we made time for the Spirit to “rain down”?

 

 

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (11)

“Walking with God in the Furnace”–Part Three of Keller’s book.  He titles Chapter 11 simply “Walking”.

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/
1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488122671&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+by+
timothy+keller

Here’s his opening question:  “How can we actually, practically, face and get through the suffering that has come upon us?” (p. 225).

Resources today generally tell us how to manage suffering and how to cope with its stress.  But Christianity offers a deeper response.

WALKING WITH GOD IN SUFFERING

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
That every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest
–Crown Him with Many Crowns

Walking is a biblical metaphor for facing affliction.  The familiar hymn above speaks of treading where the Son of God had trod.  David writes of walking in this well-known verse:  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

Walking implies progress.  Keller observes: “We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair” (p. 226).

Flood and fire are also biblical metaphors, but of extreme hardship.  However we have this biblical promise, not of suffering’s removal, but in suffering God with us . . .

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior . . . Do not be afraid, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:2,3,5).

 Peter tells us that trials come to prove the genuineness of our faith.  Keller comments:     “ . . . adversity is like a fire that, rather than destroying you, can refine, strengthen, and beautify you, as a fire does with metal ore” (p. 228).

But not automatically.  “We must recognize, depend on, speak with, and believe in God while in the fire . . . Knowing him personally . . . in our affliction is the key to becoming stronger rather than weaker” (p. 22(0.

THREE IN THE FURNACE

 Three Hebrews, among the captives in Babylon, refused to bow down to the self-image King Nebuchadnezzar had erected.  The penalty:  the fiery furnace.  They replied . . .

“If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17,18, NRS).

God might not deliver them.  Their faith wasn’t in rescue but in God himself, whom they would serve no matter what.

FOUR IN THE FURNACE

Of course, the king threw the three into the flames.  But when he looked inside . . .

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O king.”  He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:24,25, NIV).

 The Old Testament speaks of “the angel of the Lord” (Exodus 3:2-6; Judges 13:16-20).  Perhaps that’s who the “fourth” was.  And who is he?  Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer explains . . .

There is only one other in the Bible who is both identical with and yet distinct from the Lord.  One who, without abandoning the full essence and prerogatives of deity . . . is able to accommodate himself to the company of sinners . . . Jesus Christ.

 FURNACE LESSONS

One, God is with us in the fire.  We find the supreme example at the cross where Jesus came to die to save us from a “fiery” hell.

Two, the fires of suffering refine our faith, if we relate to God as God and as being with us.  Otherwise, fire hardens our hearts in unbelief and despair.

Three, we can recall the words of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” . . .

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

WAYS TO WALK WITH GOD

“A walk”, writes Keller, “is a day in and day out praying; day in and day out Bible and Psalms reading; day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of a church . . . To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress” (p. 236).

In other words, God walking with us in fiery sufferings doesn’t begin with our crying out to him from the furnace, but our walking with God in the “nondramatic, rhythmic . . . steady repeated actions” of everyday, ordinary life (Keller, p. 237).

A PERSONAL TESTIMONY

As my Primary Lateral Sclerosis worsened, my faith-test got harder.  God seemed gone.  The disability was senseless.  I became angry at God.  But I couldn’t turn away from him.  Where would I go?  To whom would I go?  So:  I held on.  One reason I could . . .

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NRS).

My second reason for being able to hold on doesn’t diminish the first.  Both, in fact, are from God and of grace.  God was bending me, but he wouldn’t let me break.  He was feeding my anger, but he wouldn’t let me storm out the door.  He was testing me, but not beyond my strength.

That second reason is this:  my life had been “walking with God in the ‘nondramatic, rhythmic’ . . . . steady repeated actions” of everyday, ordinary life.”  When PLS hit without a cure, I kept on with God (though sometimes with just a whisper of faith), because I had walked with him in everyday life for years before.  “With him” became a way of walking, a way of living.  So, when I was confined to a wheelchair, I kept “walking”.  I can’t imagine what I would have done without the “steady, repeated actions of everyday, ordinary life with God.”

That’s my lesson take-away from Keller’s chapter.  But my image take-away is this:  the fourth man in the furnace.

 

 

 

 

 

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About “Spirituals”

I’m not referring to a music genre.  I’m using Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 12:1—“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.”  The word “gifts” is absent from the Greek (showing up in 12:4); hence, “spirituals” (pneumatikown).

Before we embark (the spiritual gifts topic continues through chapter 14), we should note the cessationist/continuationist debate.  Cessantionists believe spiritual gifts ceased with the death of the last of the twelve apostles.  Continuationists believe (duh) gifts continue and will until Jesus comes again.

This is more than counting angels on a pinhead.  If the gifts have ceased, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 have no meaning for us today (nor do Romans 12:5-8 or 1 Peter 4:10,11)—unless the cessationist is eliminating only the “spectacular” gifts like prophecy, healing and tongues (gets confusing, doesn’t it).

The links below present both positions well and are worth reading.  If the first one convinces you, no need to continue reading this post.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-i-am-a-cessationisthttps://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-i-am-a-continuationist

We don’t know if the Corinthians had asked about spiritual gifts (7:1), but we do know Paul wants them “in the know” about pneumatikown. 

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed (1 Corinthians 12:1).

 What he first wants them to know comes unexpectedly . . .

You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak (1 Corinthians 12:2).

Paul has in view their former experiences of “inspired utterances” as pagans.  Even though idols are “mute”, demons lurk behind them (10:20) and inspire the utterances featured in idol-worship.

Why, though, did Paul bring that up?  He wants the Corinthians to know that “inspired” speech in itself is not evidence of the Holy Spirit.

In one church I pastored, a dear old saintly woman invariably gave a message in tongues at the end of our worship singing. It came like clockwork and eventually distracted.  When I cautioned her about it, she left the church.  Were her messages from the Holy Spirit?  I don’t know.  But inspired speaking in and of itself is not necessarily Spirit-prompted.

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Paul is saying, “Since I don’t want you to be uninformed about things of the Spirit, and since you’re familiar with inspired utterances from your pagan days, I want you to understand ‘that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.’”

Did anyone, purportedly influenced by the Spirit, actually say, “Let Jesus be cursed”?  We’re not told.  But we can agree Paul is making at least three assertions.  One, the content of “Spirit-speaking” is crucial. Not its length or volume or “theatrics”, but its content.  And, by implication, the content must harmonize with the gospel.

Two, it follows, then, that the content of the utterance determines its source. If it harmonizes with the gospel, it’s Spirit-given.  If it doesn’t, it isn’t (no matter how it feels!).

And, three, only the Holy Spirit can inspire anyone to confess “Jesus is Lord”.  Anybody can merely mouth the words.  But only by the Spirit can a sinful human profess absolute allegiance to Jesus as his God and Master of the universe.

* * * * *

I’m a continuationist (or I wouldn’t waste time commenting on 1 Corinthians 12-14).  However, I’m not ignorant of excess and abuse in the charismatic camp.  Growing up in a Pentecostal church, for example, I saw the reverential place accorded a message in tongues, and how it sometimes became an automatic part of the worship order.  Worse abuses have occurred; but I’ve seen them mostly on TV, rarely in person.

I’m convinced some Christians are cessationist because of these abuses.  A second reason (in my opinion) is that some cessationist pastors actually fear giving people freedom in worship to respond to the Spirit (but I digress).

The important take-away for us is this:  the Holy Spirit will always exalt the Lord Jesus.  In fact, as Paul says, the Holy Spirit will enable one to say, “Jesus is Lord”.  This is astounding.  To say “Jesus is Lord” is to say he is the Yahweh (LORD) of the Old Testament.  To say “Jesus is Lord” is to say he is God.  To say “Jesus is Lord” is to say he is worthy of absolute allegiance.  To say “Jesus is Lord” is to say what every human will be finally compelled to acknowledge.  And only the Holy Spirit can enable a self-seeking, self-centered sinner to utter that confession.

Someone has said, “The Holy Spirit is the shy member of the Trinity.”  In other words, he doesn’t draw attention to himself, but to Jesus.  Spiritual gifts are another way God the Father has given us to glorify his Son.  They weren’t given to stir up controversy.  Nor were they given for a mere 70 years.  They were given to glorify Jesus in his church until he comes for us.

So, as we embark on Paul’s words about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, we don’t want to pursue them for their own sake.  We want to seek them for Jesus’ sake:  that he might be glorified in his church as we experience the dynamic of his presence among his gathered people.

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (10)

“The Varieties of Suffering”—Keller’s title for Chapter Ten in his book very much worth reading . . .

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/
1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487880186&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+by
+timothy+keller

DIVERSITIES OF SUFFERING

A “one size fits all” prescription for suffering won’t work, because kinds of suffering are varied as are the personalities and spirituality of the sufferers.

JONAH, DAVID AND THE SUFFERING WE SELF-INFLICT

A husband has sex with a woman not his wife.  He’s found out.  His wife files for divorce.  He’s separated from his children (except for alternate weekends).  He’s brought suffering on himself.

A life-threatening storm engulfed Jonah.  A worm ate his shade tree.  In the first case, Jonah was running from God.  In the second, Jonah was pouting because his enemies, the Assyrians, had repented and escaped God’s judgment.  In both cases, God was trying to show Jonah the evil in his heart.

David lusted after Bathsheba, another man’s wife.  After sex produced a son, the child died—and David’s life largely fell apart.  God was using that brokenness to awaken him to his sin and turn David back to himself.

On the other hand, Job did nothing to cause his suffering.  It’s crucial we see the difference in our own suffering.  At the same time, a Christian “must not  . . . miss this opportunity to put his roots deep into God and discover a dimension of spiritual growth and wisdom he would never otherwise have had access to” (Keller, p. 208).

PAUL, JEREMIAH, AND BETRAYAL-SUFFERING

Paul’s and Jeremiah’s suffering was both caused by the betrayal or attacks of others.

Paul was beaten, imprisoned and attacked by his own Jewish people and by Gentiles (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).  Jeremiah was held in stocks and put in prison just for “speaking the truth to power” (Jeremiah 20:1-6).

Today an employee might become the object of attack for taking an unpopular political position.  If someone thinks he has been wronged by a friend, he might try to hurt his “friend” or damage his reputation.

All are examples of suffering by betrayal.

MARY, MARTHA, AND LOSS-SUFFERING

This is the kind of suffering that crushes one with grief.  Though this comes to everyone, there are many varieties—a spouse’s death after 50 years of marriage to the death of a young child, the slow decay of aging to death by an automobile accident.

Paul directs us not to “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and reminds us that “ . . . our light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

JOB AND MYSTERY-SUFFERING

This is the suffering of which Psalm 44 speaks . . .

All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.  Our heart has not turned back nor have out steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death . . . Why do you hide your face?  Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? (Psalm 44:17-19,24).

Job, remains the classic example.

Keller observes what we all have seen or endured:  “When people experience horrendous, unusually severe suffering, it leaves the sufferer not so much filled with guilt, or resentment toward others, or pure grief—but with anger toward life and God himself . . . [Job] was being led to the place where he would obey God simply for the sake of who God is, not in order to receive something or to get something done . . . Job-type suffering requires a process of honest prayer and crying, the hard work of deliberate trust in God, and what St. Augustine called a re-ordering of our loves” (p. 212,213).

DIVERSITIES OF TEMPERAMENT

Quoting Simone Weil (a French philosopher, mystic, political activist and teacher), Keller lists various aspects of affliction.

Isolation—barriers go up between the sufferer and anyone who hasn’t experienced the same suffering.

Implosion—the sufferer becomes self-absorbed.

Condemnation—the sufferer feels she’s being punished.

Anger—at oneself, others, God, or at the general injustice of life.

Diversities of temperament will determine which of these affliction-aspects a sufferer feels, what combination of them, and to what degree.

DIVERSITIES OF PATHWAYS

Because every affliction is unique, every sufferer needs to find her own pathway through it.  Some “helps” are unhelpful for finding a pathway, such as those things we know in our mind are true, yet irritate or discourage at the time–statements like “we know all things are for the best and we know we have to trust God.”

That, of course, is true.  But sometimes the sufferer has to cry out like David in the Psalms or like Job.  In other words, the sufferer needs truth applied in the right order or for her pathway.

One sufferer was told by his father that “he shouldn’t expect to feel God’s grace and strength now for the whole ordeal ahead . . . God only promised today’s grace for today” (Keller, p. 217,281).  It was like a ray of light breaking through.

“Everything is needful that [God] sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds” (John Newton in Keller, p. 219).  Most helpful, yet not a “pill” for curing discouragement.

Keller insightfully comments on Psalm 23:4—“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  A precious promise to sink into one’s soul.

One size “encouragement” doesn’t fit every size sufferer . . .

“As it turns out, there is more than one path in that valley.  And the Lord, the perfect Guide, will help you find the best way through” (p. 220).

 

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The Lord’s Supper: the Unworthy Way

Some believers vehemently bar unbelievers from the Lord’s Supper.  That, however, isn’t “the unworthy way” Paul discusses here.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27).

Paul now applies to the Corinthians what he’s just said concerning the words Jesus spoke about the Lord’s Supper.

Bottom line warning: they’re eating and drinking “in an unworthy manner”–the manner he’d described a few sentences earlier . . .

So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter (1 Corinthians 11:20-22).

That’s unworthy behavior at the Table where the Lord’s death is proclaimed–the death that brought salvation, the death that united them as the New Covenant people of God.

Thus, they are “guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”  They’re desecrating the Supper.  They’re as guilty as those who had him killed.

Sound harsh?  That’s how sacred the Supper is.  Therefore, Paul urges . . .

Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup (1 Corinthians 11:28).

Paul begins this sentence with “But” (Greek, de), which the NIV doesn’t translate.  In contrast to eating and drinking unworthily everyone ought to examine themselves . . . “

“Examine” is the Greek dokimazo—“to try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing”  (The Greek-English Lexicon by Louw and Nida).  Paul admonishes each one to determine the genuineness of his/her faith by examining his/her attitude and behavior toward others at the Supper.  Paul aims this especially at the wealthy who are humiliating the poor.

For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians11:29,30).

“For” indicates the reason for self-examination:  judgment!  “ . . . the body of Christ” refers not to Christ’s physical body, but the church.”  But what does he mean by “discerning (or, recognizing) the body of Christ”?  Dr. Gordon Fee answers . . .

The meaning here . . . [is] to distinguish as distinct and different.  The Lord’s Supper is not just any meal; it is the meal, in which at a common table with one loaf and a common cup they proclaimed that through the death of Christ, they were one body, the body of Christ; and therefore they are not just any group of sociologically diverse people who could keep those differences intact at the this table.  Here they must “discern/recognize as distinct” the one body of Christ, of which they all are parts and in which they all are gifts to one another (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 564).

Failure to recognize the body this way and they “eat and drink [God’s] judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” This judgment takes the form of physical weakness and sickness and even death (“fallen asleep”).

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:31,32).

Paul turns to a positive note.  If they were more discerning (11:29), they would not be judged as they are (11:30). This judgment, however, is not eternal damnation, but discipline (Greek, paiduometha—correction, guidance as moral discipline).

God disciplines (with weakness, sickness, even death) for a purpose: so that we will not be condemned with the world at final judgment.

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.  Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions  (1 Corinthians 11:33,34).

Paul offers two practical instructions.  “ . . . you should all eat together” (NIV) is better translated “wait for one another” or “welcome one another”.  In either case, Paul urges them (the rich in particular) to be hospitable to the poor by not feasting on their lavish meals before the poor even arrive.

Second instruction,  “Anyone hungry should eat something at home . . . “  In other words, if you must gorge yourself on your rich food, eat it first at home “so that when you meet together it may not result in {God’s) judgment.”

* * * * *

Unlike the Corinthians, we don’t humiliate the poor at the Lord’s Supper.  Our problem (at least one): we so personalize the “meal” that we hardly think of it as a community experience at all.

Yes we know we’re all being served and all eat and drink together.  But our methodology makes the Lord’s Supper rather like a group going to a Sonic Drive-In.  We all drive in, order our food through the parking space intercom, our food is brought out, and we each eat in the privacy of our car.  Okay, that’s a stretch.  But it makes a point:  our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is far more personal than inter-relational.

In one church I pastored, we tried something different.  Small groups met in various homes on a weeknight.  Once a month each group’s members brought a covered dish.  We climaxed the meal with the Lord’s Supper.  That setting maximized the meal’s community nature.  Not every church can or will do that.  But this text should challenge us to ask, “How can we decrease the privatizing of the Lord’s Supper and increase the community of it?”

Two other considerations.  At the start of the Supper the pastor urges reconciliation for any broken relationship.  Meal participants forgive a brother in personal prayer, then go to the brother afterward to affirm unity.

A second:  ask the Lord whom you should reach out to during the Supper.  Then, quietly go sit next to that person, whispering, “I just want you to know I appreciate you” or “I felt led to share Communion with you.”  (If that person is different from you racially or economically, the more meaningful will be your reaching out.  For only here is our hope for the unity of a violently divided humanity!)

Certainly the Lord’s Supper provides opportunity to reflect on the Lord’s death for us personally.  Apart from his bloody sacrifice, we’re lost, condemned sinners.  But the Supper is a meal at which we must affirm, not only out faith-unity with Christ, but our love-unity with one another.

“Because there is one bread, who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

 

 

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (9)

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of the book with the title of this blog, calls Chapter 9 “Learning to Walk”.

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487604920&sr=1-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+
by+timothy+keller

WHAT ABOUT OUR GLORY?

Suffering reveals God’s glory, but it also prepares us for glory.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Therefore, in suffering trust God.  Keller writes, “If we love and obey God for his own sake, not ours, it begins to turn us into something strong and great and wise” (p. 187).

How, then, should we view suffering?  Primarily, as a way to know God better.

PRODUCTIVE SUFFERING

In his book, The Importance of Suffering, psychologist James Davies observes a lack of courage and a streak of selfishness in our character.  Further, when we get depressed, it can show us we have less control of our lives than we had thought.  Therefore, instead of denying those flaws that suffering exposes, we should work to learn and grow through them.  In other words, this right approach of what suffering reveals about us can lead to remarkable person growth.

HOW GOD USES SUFFERING

Keller lists Bible passages that reveal how God uses suffering to build us up . . .

  • Hebrews 12:1-17
  • Romans 8:18-30
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-12 and 4:7-5:5 and 11:24-12:10
  • Nearly all of 1 Peter

Suffering changes our attitude toward ourselves.  “It humbles us and removes unrealistic self-regard and pride” (Keller, p. 190).  It also brings out the worst in us, so it leads us to examine ourselves.

Suffering shows us that certain good things have become too important to us.

Suffering can strengthen our relationship to God.  C. S. Lewis wrote that in prosperity God whispers to us but in adversity he shouts to us.  True, it may make us angry at God.  Yet, as Keller writes, “ . . . it also has the resources to greatly deepen our divine friendship . . . When times are good, how do you know if you love God or just love the things he is giving you or doing for you?” (p. 191).  So we should allow suffering to drive us to God, to pray as we never would otherwise.  John Newton wrote to a grieving woman, “Above all, keep close to the throne of grace [in prayer].  If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near him, we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from him” (p. 192).

Suffering is necessary for us to be of use to other people.  Paul wrote of his suffering . . .

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3,4). 

GOD’S GYMNASIUM

Affliction is painful but “later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who are being trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  “Trained” is the Greek gymnazo, from which comes our word “gymnasium”.  As gym clothes reveal our physical bodies for what they are, so suffering exposes our character for what it is. Our worries, temper, pride, deceit, lack of self-discipline all emerge.

Suffering, then, calls us to “fix [our] eyes on Jesus . . . who endured the cross . . . its shame   .  . . who endured such opposition . . . so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2,3).  God is like an exercise-coach, stretching and pushing us toward that “harvest of righteousness and peace.”

PREPARING THE MIND FOR SUFFERING

Suffering doesn’t automatically lead to growth.  So how are we to walk through pain and suffering?  We must prepare our mind before suffering hits.  But, again, how?  “It means developing a deep enough knowledge of the Bible and a strong and vital enough prayer life that you will neither be surprised or overthrown by affliction” (Keller, p. 197).

For example, listen to this often-missed theological truth:  “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12,13).

Some good Christians presume that a really bad thing could never happen to them.  And so, when it comes they’re shocked, and that shock multiplies their suffering.

This fallen world is filled with disease, death and natural disasters all due to sin.  Why does it wash over me?  We can’t understand the ways of the infinite God.  But sound theological reflection can prepare our mind for what may come.

PREPARING THE HEART FOR SUFFERING

“How will I get through this?” is a personal problem, not intellectual.  To prepare the heart for suffering we must develop “a consistent, vibrant, theologically deep yet existentially rich prayer life” (Keller, p. 198.

John S. Feinberg was a theology student who thought that intellectual answers to suffering were enough to endure it.  Then he learned his wife had Huntington’s Chorea, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes the loss of all voluntary bodily movements, memory loss, depression, hallucinations and paranoia.  And, because the disease is genetically transmitted, his children had a 50-50 chance of getting it.

Though he knew theology intellectually, in his heart he felt God had tricked him.  In this furnace of suffering he couldn’t function.  “Feinberg relates how, eventually, he was able to regain his equilibrium only through revisiting many of the truths he had known in the abstract but that he had never connected to lived experience, or to the actual affections and functions of his heart” (Keller, p. 201).

I (Allan), too, knew the biblical answers intellectually.  But when my suffering hit, it took (and still takes) a great deal of work for them to make a difference in my heart. 

Keller concludes:  “It is one thing to have an intellectual explanation for why God allows suffering; it is another thing to actually find a path through suffering so that, instead of becoming more bitter, cynical, despondent and broken, you become more wise, grounded, humble, strong and even content . . .

Using the intellect to make some sense out of suffering is important, but it must be accompanied not merely with knowing about God, but with knowing God” (p. 202).

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Perfect

God is perfect.

Repeatedly Scripture declares that God, or some attribute of his character, is perfect.  A few samples . . .

  • He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him (2 Samuel 22:31).
  • O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things . . . (Isaiah 25:1).
  • Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
  • Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
  • For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:28).

The Old Testament Hebrew word for “perfect” can also be translated “without blemish” and “whole”.  The New Testament Greek word can also be translated “complete” and “fully developed”.  The English “perfect” means “as good as it can possibly be, faultless, flawless, the best.”

God is perfect.  My blog is not–nor is my now former web hosting company–which is why you’ve received all sorts of posts lately, or none at all.

Theoldpreacher.com has over 7000 subscribers (though some are “junk”).  That means it took 30 hours to send one post to all of them.  Since the web hosters never notified me, I kept on sending out new blogs.  Naturally, the whole system backed up.  It was a Chris Christie-caused George Washington Bridge traffic jam online!  I apologize for the problem.  (And don’t expect to run for public office soon.)

A huge THANK YOU to my son, who spent hours over many days resolving the issue!  I don’t know what I would have done without him.

So, we’re back up and running.  I can’t promise no occasional little “bugs”.  After all, only God is perfect.  He is “a faithful God who does no wrong.”  Whose word is “flawless.”  Who has done “marvelous things.”  Whose will is “perfect.”  Whose Son is “perfect.”

Therefore, we who are so imperfect, are wise to trust the only perfect One!

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (2)

“The classical author Cicero famously argued that the main task of philosophy is to teach us how to face death” (p. 35).

With that, Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of the book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1484864868&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering), begins Chapter Two .  He goes on to trace historical philosophies that have influenced our concepts of suffering and death.

Stoicism was an influential Greek school of philosophy.  While denying a personal God, it believed the universe had a moral order to which human must align themselves.  This meant facing suffering and death by accepting the twists and turns of fate, not attaching ourselves to anything in life, and realizing that when we die our substance becomes part of the universe in another form. The Roman Cicero (cited above), influenced by the Stoics, believed that grief over suffering and death was useless.

Meanwhile, in Eastern culture the oldest scriptures of Hindu thought there is “not only no evil but no good, no individuals, no material world.  Everything is actually part of the One, the All-Soul, the Absolute Spirit . . . Ultimately we cannot lose anything.  We are part of everything” (p. 40).  (That’s what today’s Buddhists believe.)

Therefore, we overcome suffering by detaching our heart from things in this world, which are impermanent.  Not only so, both Stoics and Buddhists claim to live in hope is not a good thing.

Christianity’s birth brought radically new ideas that countered Western and Eastern thought, especially regarding suffering and grief.  First, Christianity offered a better hope.  The doctrine of a future bodily resurrection in which “our personalities will be sustain, beautified and perfected after death” (p. 42), where we will be reunited with our loved ones sharply contrasted with Stoicism and Eastern thought.

John 1:1-18 offers the most striking contrast.  The Greeks called the moral order of the universe Logos.    John wrote, “In the beginning was the Logos” and “The Logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14).  John was saying “that the Logos behind the universe was not an abstract, rational principle that could be known only through high contemplation by the educated elite.  Rather, the Logos of the universe is a person—Jesus Christ—who can be loved and known in a person relation by anyone at all” (p.43).

Second, Christianity offered, not only a better hope, but the right to express sorrow and grief, yet not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  Christians do not stoically repress grief over the loss of life or loved ones.  And while Christianity agrees we mustn’t love this world’s things too much, it doesn’t teach us renounce them so much as to love God more. 

In the poem “The Raven”, Edgar Allan Poe gives the bird one word to say:  nevermore.  Keller observes, “With frightening pithiness, this conveys the irreversibility of life.  Once our youth, our childhood home, our loved ones are gone there is no going back . . . but Christianity offers a restoration of life.  We get our bodies back—indeed, we get the bodies we never had but wished we had . . . We get our lives back . . . the soul and the body are finally perfectly integrated, one in which we dance, sing, hug, work and play.  The Christian doctrine of the resurrection is, then, a reversal of death’s seeming irreversibility.  It is the end of ‘nevermore’” (p. 46).

After the time of Pope Gregory (c. 540-604), the idea grew that suffering was a way to “work off” one’s sins and merit heaven.  That all changed, however, with the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther.  Luther taught that suffering crucified our pride and led us to find our only security in Christ.  More importantly, Luther taught “the theology of the cross”—God doesn’t reveal himself in “the theology of glory”, but “the deepest revelation of the character of God is in the weakness, suffering and death of the cross” (p. 50). And in that weakness and suffering, the Messiah died to put death to death.

Luther prized Jesus’ cry from the cross—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) as “the greatest words in all Scripture.”  Keller writes, “Christ suffered Godforsakeness in his human nature; he knew [that state of hopelessness and helplessness] in infinite degree . . . “ Thus we can approach him for mercy and grace “in our time of need” because he can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:14,15).  Keller concludes, “Suffering produces growth in us when we understand Christ’s suffering and work on our behalf” (p. 52).

I’m especially moved by these words:  “Christ suffered Godforsakeness in his human nature; he knew [that state of hopeless and helplessness] . . . “.  They move me because I often feel that way.  So, I envision Jesus hopeless and helpless on the cross, then breathing his last and buried.  But on the third day he was raised from death.  New life defeated hopelessness and helplessness!

In recent centuries, instead of living with that triumphant view of Luther, philosopher Charles Taylor says we live inside “’an immanent frame,’ the view that the world if a completely natural order without any supernatural” (p. 53).  Strangely however,  we still believe in God, but he/it is distant, not someone/something we can know.  And instead of believing that we exist for God’s glory, this new belief holds that God exists to take care of us.  This is why we explode in anger at God or fall into deep depression when we suffer—because God’s not doing “his job.”

We then have go further:  we claim that evil’s existence disproves God’s.  If we  believe God exists to make us happy, then, when evil strikes, our belief in God fades.

For all practical purposes, we (along with all Western societies) have become secularists (even though many profess a traditional belief in God).  Keller notes, “ . . . this secularized belief in God, or this residue of Christianity, may be the worst possible preexisting condition in which to encounter suffering” (p. 58).

As I’ve admitted elsewhere, my suffering has shown me how much I’ve allowed “this secularized belief in God” to influence me.  If asked, I would vehemently deny that God exists to make me happy.  But deep inside I get angry and depressed when he lets me suffer.  I am more a product of worldly philosophies that I thought or like to admit.  I study Scripture but close my mind to it when I’m in pain.

I need to reshape my thinking.  Keller concludes Chapter Two withfour Christian beliefs which do just that, beliefs that giveus “victory” in suffering . . .

One, God is a “personal, wise, infinite and therefore inscrutable (mysterious) God who controls the affairs of the world—and that is far more comforting than the belief that our lives are in the hands of fickle fate or random chance.

Two, “in Jesus Christ, God came to earth and suffered with and for us sacrificially—and that is far more comforting than the idea that God is remote and uninvolved… “

Third, “ . . . through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, we can have assurance of our salvation—and that is far more comforting than the karmic systems of thought.”

Fourth, because of Christ’s resurrection, we who are his by faith will also be bodily resurrected.  “We get our bodies back, in a state of beauty and power that we cannot today imagine” (p. 58).

Long-held philosophies have failed.  Only God is Christ gives us sufferers victory.

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (8)

The reason for suffering.  That’s what we all want to know.  In Chapter 8 of Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Timothy Keller unveils it.

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486654568&sr=1-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+
by+timothy+keller

“According to Christian theology, suffering is not meaningless—neither in general nor in particular instances.  For God has proposed to defeat evil so exhaustively on the cross that all the ravages of evil will someday be undone and we, despite participating in it so deeply, will be saved . . . it is through the suffering of God that the suffering of humankind will eventually be overcome and undone” (p. 163).

ON NOT WASTING YOUR SUFFERING

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt claims “people need adversity, setbacks and perhaps even trauma to reach the highest levels of strength, fulfillment and personal development” (p. 164).

That’s all well and good.  But, when we’re suffering we’re hardly concerned about personal development!  That’s one reason the Bible shows us many of the afflicted crying, “Why, Lord?”  How does he answer?

TO GLORIFY GOD

This is our ultimate life’s purpose.  If we respond the right way to our sufferings, even they can glorify God. (How cruel that must sound to parents watching a child die from cancer.)

C.S. Lewis once questioned Scripture commands to glorify God.  “We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness,” he wrote (p. 167).  But eventually Lewis realized we find our peace and joy when we glorify God, because it is “fitting . . . to praise him” (Psalm 33:1).  For then we are giving God what is appropriate and fulfilling our reason for being.

THE GOD OF GLORY

What is the glory of God? Keller defines it:  the glory of God is “the combined magnitude of all God’s attributes and qualities put together”—that is, “his infinite beyondness” (p. 168).

It’s also “his supreme importance.”  Kabad, the Hebrew word for “glory”, means “weight.”  God is “weighty.”  God matters.  Nothing should matter more to us than him.

God’s glory is also his “absolute beauty and splendor.”  The New Testament Greek word for glory, doxa, means “praise and wonder; luminosity, brilliance, or beauty” (p. 169).  We don’t glorify God by obeying him because we have to, but because we’re attracted to him and have learned to delight in him.

NO GRAVEN IMAGE

How, then, can we glorify God in suffering?

By trusting in his wisdom, even when we don’t understand.

How prone we are to see God as the One who follows our plans, who supports us, who acts as we want him to!  That God is our creation, an idol, a graven image.  But God as he is, as the God we can’t understand, we’re aghast when asked to trust him.

But that’s how in suffering we glorify him–“by simply treating him as the infinite, sovereign, all-wise, and yet incarnate and suffering God that he is” (Keller, p. 174).

GLORIFYING GOD TO OTHERS

When others know we are Christians, our patient endurance of suffering can reveal to them God’s power.  Christian writers after the first century like Ambrose, Cyprian, Ignatius and Polycarp repeatedly said, “Christians died so well, leaving onlookers wondering where they got their power” (p. 176).  Paul wrote from imprisonment, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:12,13).

October 2006.  A gunman takes hostages in a one-room school in a Lancaster, Pennsylvania Amish community.  He shoots ten aged seven through thirteen.  Five die. Then he kills himself.  The Amish supports his parents, his young widow and three children.  They attend the killers’ funeral.

Their testimony was so powerful many muted it. A made-for-TV movie had the mother of one murdered child doubt God, explode in anger at him and almost lose her faith.  The Amish, to a person, denied that anyone had their faith shaken or refused to forgive.

Years later, a group of sociologists published a book and concluded, “forgiveness is a form of self-renunciation—it means giving up your right to pay back . . . this is directly opposed to how Americans are taught to live.”  And, “Most of us have been formed by a culture that nourishes revenge and mocks grace” (p. 177).  That’s why our peace and love in suffering so powerfully bear witness of Jesus who renounced himself and died for us.

GLORIFYING GOD WHEN NO ONE SEES

Joni Earekson Tada has been paralyzed from the neck down since her teenage years, the result of a diving accident.  Through books and speaking engagements, Joni has been able to use her condition as a platform to glorify God.

But Joni wondered about Denise, who she came to know from a hospital stay.  Denise was seventeen years old when she was stricken with multiple sclerosis.  Eight long years later, she died.  But few people knew about her.  To Joni, Denise’s suffering seemed for nothing.

Then she read Luke15:10 about the angels rejoicing over one repentant sinner.  And Ephesians 3:10 about angels seeing what happens in the church.  And she knew:  “Someone was watching [Denise] in that lonely hospital room—a great many someones” (p. 179).

SUFFERING AND GLORY

“Suffering glorifes God to the universe and eventually even achieves glory for us” (Keller, p. 180).

And we must remember that “Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you:  . . .being cast away from God.  He took that so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great” (Keller, p. 180,181).

Why, then,suffering?  For God’s glory and our ultimate good.

 

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