Category Archives: Suffering

MISUNDERSTANDING GOD’S FAITHFULNESS

In a minister’s recent sermon (outside our hometown), he made a common error that I have heard many Christians make. I thought it important enough to write him. To his credit, he responded favorably. Here is what I wrote:

In today’s sermon, you mentioned the importance of looking back rather than forward.  I agree but was concerned about where you described our spiritual anchor should be placed.  You instructed us to look back at times “where God was faithful.” In that regard, you mentioned two things: your wife rebounding from a perilous situation, and your friend receiving a favorable answer with unexpected help.

I certainly believe God answers prayer.  My journals are full of many examples.  I don’t think it wise, however, to tether God’s faithfulness to getting the answers we want.  I know you don’t believe this, and you later said bad things happen, and we die, but it was not clear that God is faithful irrespective of whether the circumstances turn out in our favor.

This is why I try to steer clear of using the word “when” with God’s faithfulness other than describing the completed work of Christ.  Asking about “when God was faithful” at least raises the question of when He might not have been.

God certainly answers prayer in the ways we desire at times, but what about when He doesn’t?  He is still faithful.  Thinking about God’s faithfulness with when He answered a prayer in the way we desired results in at least wondering whether God is faithful when the favorable answer never comes. Again, I know you believe God is faithful irrespective of us getting a favorable answer to prayer, but I don’t think it was clear.  

I’ve heard many times, as I am sure you have, a fellow Christian describe how God favorably answered their prayer with the commentary “Isn’t God good?!” or simply “God is faithful.”  Yes, God is, but not just when He answers one’s prayer favorably.

Yes, we look back, but we look back to the finished work of Christ.  That is where our anchor should be placed.  Nothing or no one can take that from us no matter how bad things get (Hab. 3:17-19).

Your evident desire to honor God made it easy to send this note, so for that, THANK YOU!

Your Brother in Christ,

Dave

 

NOTHING TO SAY

In 2003, my commentary on Ecclesiastes was published.  In it, I included a few lines from Stephen Crane’s poem about the utter indifference of nature to man’s plight:

A man said to the universe:

“Sir, I exist”

“However,” replied the universe,

“The fact has not created in me

a sense of obligation.”

Like nature, secularism is eerily silent and offers no hope:

“The epidemics [during the early Church] swamped the explanatory and comforting capacities of paganism…”

“Indeed, the pagan gods offered no salvation…Galen [distinguished medical researcher, born 129 AD] lacked belief in life after death. The Christians were certain that this life was but prelude. For Galen to have remained in Rome to treat the afflicted would have required bravery far beyond that needed by Christians to do likewise.”

(From Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity)

And then there is Jesus:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus raises and answers the most important question of life.

 

 

MORTALITY

This is the second book I’ve read by the happy atheistic gadfly, Christopher Hitchens.  His writing is beautiful, funny, and makes you think, even, perhaps especially, when you disagree with him.

This was his last book.  He was dying of esophageal cancer.  

Read to find out how an atheist can have better theology than the silly notions of too many Christians.  Read for the enjoyment of engaging great writing.  Read to consider what kind of friend you want to be to your atheist friends.  I hope you have some!

BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN AND DESIGNED!

It is wonderful to see publishers who care about a book’s design and aesthetics. Baylor University Press consistently hits home runs in these areas.

John Swinton has written a terrific book that makes us look more honestly at our ideas of time and how they impinge on our treatment of those with disabilities. Non-spoiler alert: we don’t do very well at either!

There is much to like about this book. It helps us wrestle with issues of great consequence and yet maintains a gracious tone throughout.

Perhaps this quote by Scott Bader-Saye from page 57 well describes the tenor of this terrific book: “The ways we experience, name, and interpret time contribute to the kinds of communities we imagine and inhabit.”

Highly recommended!

SECULAR, STOIC, OR SCRIPTURE ON DEATH?

I read things on a regular basis that trumpet the glories of the Stoic way of life.  It got me thinking about three options when it comes to death:

SECULAR folks think death is something we should not think of.  We need to get distracted with lesser things.  Ernest Becker talked about these things in his Pulitzer winning book, The Denial of Death.

STOICS say we ought to face death bravely as it is so “natural.”  Everyone has to experience it.  Hunker down and face the music.  Stop complaining you weak-willed soul!

SCRIPTURE tells us that death is our final enemy (I Cor. 15:26).  Satan uses death to terrorize us (Heb. 2:14,15).  Christ says he has abolished death (II Tim. 1:10).  We long for eternity (Ecc. 3:11).  Death is not the way it was suppose to be.  We can face it (contra the SECULARIST), but we don’t face it in our own strength (contra the STOIC).