Sunday, April 29, 2007

Question #5: What does our suffering say about the character of God?

About one month ago I began a series on suffering. This came about after my son, Bobby, was diagnosed with Lymphoma. The series includes these four posts: “Why does my child have to suffer?” “Does God want my child to be healed?” “Why does a good, omnipotent God allow suffering?” and “Does God cause or allow suffering?”

I have taken a while to put together the final post in this series because writing about the character of God is a daunting, profound thing.

As this post begins, let’s remember a few things. First, the Bible is our source of reference and authority. Second, we all deserve death, and anything good we have is a gift from God. Third, the word “our” in the title of this post refers specifically to the suffering of Christians that is not brought about directly because of our own sin.

The scriptures tell us that God has many wonderful attributes. These include His holiness (Exodus 20, Isaiah 6), His love (I John 4:7-21), His grace (Ephesians 2:1-10), and His mercy (II Corinthians 1:3-4). These attributes must be consistent with God being the cause of our suffering (Genesis 50:14-20, Job 1:21, Job 2:10, II Corinthians 12:7-9).

We also know from the Bible that God is the giver of good gifts. James 1:17 tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Scripture, then, is telling us that our sufferings and tribulations are gifts from our holy, loving, gracious, merciful Father.

How can this be? What good does suffering bring? Paul spells this out for us in Romans 5:3-4. These two verses say, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Suffering, then, leads to hope. Paul then tells us that hope “does not disappoint.” Biblical hope is the looking forward to an assured outcome.

In Titus 2:13, Paul refers to the second coming of Christ as our “blessed hope.” We have hope both for the future return of Jesus, and hope for today as God draws us closer to Him through our suffering (see again II Cor. 12:7-9).

Our holy, loving Father God grants us suffering as a gift in order to lead us to a hope that does not disappoint.

In light of all this, we can see clearly that God being holy, God being loving, God being gracious, and God being merciful is consistent with His causing suffering. His character is consistently, unwaveringly perfect.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How NOT to Pick a Seminary

At Together for the Gospel, Mark Dever recently wrote a post entitled, "How to Pick a Seminary." Dever is a pastor/elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (Washington, D.C.) and has written extensively on the topic of church polity. He is also greatly involved in the IX Marks Ministry. Pastor Dever is more than qualified to write on the topic of "How to Pick a Seminary."

Each year hundreds of young, and not so young, men and women choose a seminary. Reasons for making this choice are critical. However, reasons for NOT picking a seminary are also important. You need to know both why you are attending one seminary, and why you are not attending all of the rest. Dever's article is kind of "the glass is half full" post, while mine is "the glass is half empty." The similarities in quality of article probably end about right there.

My qualifications for writing this article are as follows: I attended a seminary.

I realize that is not a lengthy list, and that may impact this article. Be that as it may, here is my attempt at "How NOT to Pick a Seminary."

How NOT to Pick a Seminary:

1) Automatically go where Grandpa and Daddy went. Be sure to ignore quality of education, and head straight to where the family has always attended. This will ensure an easy choice.

2) Apply only to seminaries within your denominational affiliation. This tactic will ensure that you are not exposed to any divergent beliefs. We would not want seminary to challenge you to know why you believe what you believe.

3) Location, location, location. When in doubt, go to the closest place. Why travel farther for excellence? Stewardship of gasoline money is a top priority.

4) Go where you KNOW you have a job waiting. Some things are too scary to trust God with. Make certain that you have a job waiting before you arrive on the scene.

5) Ignore your wife in the decision-making process. After all, you are the man (this one is obviously for the married men who are reading this) in charge. Who cares if she is the one who will be stuck in seminary housing more than you will? Go for what you need, and I'm sure everything will work out in the end.

6) Buildings and grounds are KEY! Make sure the seminary of your choice has a sweet chapel, a big computer lab, a nice gym, and lots of pretty flowers. You need this type of environment to assist you in your quest for personal holiness.

7) Find a president you like and go there. I realize that you will probably never take a class with him, and due to the business of his schedule, you may never get an opportunity to talk with him. Never mind that. You need to attend where the big name is. When you apply to work at a church, they will be impressed.

8) A flashy website = a top-notch education. Surf your way through 20 or so different seminary websites. Pick the top five based on picture quality, moving words, and interactive types of things. If a seminary is not in your top five, don't bother visiting.

9) Go where the women are. For you single guys out there, seminary is tough. There will probably be ten of you on campus for every one woman. Therefore, find out which seminary has the most equivalent ratio of women to men, and make a bolt for that place.

10) SPORTS. Even if a particular seminary lacks most everything else, this can make up for it. You need to be in a place where you can be comfortable. Ensure that the gym is modern, the pool is open late, and the sauna is nice and hot. Most important, and this is a must, find out if there is a seminary-sponsored NCAA basketball tournament pool you can get in on. If you win a big one, you may just pay for your books for the upcoming semester.

I'm not sure if I hit all of the important points. If you are reading this and can think of any other reasons, please let me know.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is there a "Big Bang" Beginning in the Bible?

I realize that this book has been around for a while (Zondervan, 2004), but with all the required reading to do in seminary, and with a new language to learn in South Asia, I was just finally able to tackle The Case for a Creator.

This book is beneficial for several reasons. First, Lee Strobel thoroughly investigates the scientific data related to creation. Second, he objectively looks at the data he has gathered. Third, he comes to the rational conclusion that a creator made the world, and that evolution is a faulty theory. The best part of this book is that we see that true science supports the belief that God created the world.

My primary disagreement with Strobel is that even though he believes that God created the world, he also assumes that God began things with a "Big Bang." From the very outset of the book, Strobel seems to assume that the Big Bang theory is correct. As far as I can tell, he bases this solely on data that shows that the universe is expanding. While this may be the case, does this automatically mean that a Big Bang occurred?

It appears to me that the scientific data used to support the Big Bang theory is shaky at best. We must keep in mind that Strobel's purpose in writing this book was not to see what scripture says about creation, but rather to look at the scientific data. However, when discussing the possibility of a Big Bang, we certainly need to clearly look at what God's word says about how He created the world.

In looking at Genesis chapter 1, creation seems to be very orderly. In verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and 26 we read the statement, "And God said..." Immediately after God spoke, something was created. We read that these orderly creating acts took place over a six day period. We read that as God was creating, he pronounced His creation to be "good." However, after He made man and woman, He called His creation "very good."

Throughout the entire creation account of Genesis 1 & 2, we see a beautiful creation that God made through His word. He spoke and it happened. The text implies an orderly, step-by-step process that led to a "very good" creation.

Could God have used a Big Bang to begin this process? It is possible. However, by its very definition, a "bang" is an uncontrolled explosion. It seems odd that God would begin His creating acts with something so out of control.

If the Biblical text indicates an orderly creation, and the scientific data for the Big Bang is weak, then it seems that the best conclusion is that there was, in fact, no Big Bang, and that God created in an orderly manner right from the very beginning with His word.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My photos of Southeastern Seminary

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel back to Wake Forest, NC to visit friends from Messiah Baptist Church. While in Wake Forest, I stopped by the school where I spent much of 2002-2006. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) was in many ways a second home to me during our time in North Carolina.

As I was traveling northward on Saturday, I realized that I did not have many good pictures of the beautiful SEBTS campus. I know as well as you do that buildings and grounds are no reason to attend a particular seminary; however, they are a nice bonus. I hope you enjoy a few of the photos I took while back in Wake Forest.

East Entrance to Southeastern Seminary

Binkley Chapel

Fountain by Staley Hall

Staley Hall

Fountain by Denny Library

Broyhill Hall

Missions Center

Adams Hall

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Evangelism Overdone?

In many Southern Baptist churches today the primary focus, at least from the pulpit, is evangelism. This is such an emphasis that it borders on idolatry (click here for more on this). More attention is often to paid to the lost than to the members of the church body. Should this be the case?

I am in the process of reading "Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches" (John Hammett, Kregel, 2005). Dr. Hammett points out that in Acts 2:42-47 we can find the ministries of the church described.

Hammett states that in Acts 2, "the church is described as teaching, enjoying fellowship, worshiping, and serving. There is no explicit mention of the church evangelizing, but the passage concludes:'And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.'"

It is very interesting that the people of the early church, in general, were living holy, Christ-like lives. Because of this, God was adding to their number. This does not indicate that they were not openly evangelizing, but it does suggest that their primary focus was living lives that were pleasing to God.

It may be that more people would be coming to Christ, and our churches would be growing faster (I mean that in the good sense) if we were focused more on living holy lives than on just proclaiming the gospel message. It seems that we have "gotten the cart before the horse."

Clearly this is not an either/or issue, but let's put evangelism in its proper place in the functioning of the church. Holy living attracts people a lot more than just a knock on the door.

Where does evangelism fit into your church's list of priorities? Where is your church's primary focus: on the members or on the lost?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Am I a Heretic? Are you?

It is always shocking to find out that you are a heretic.

As you all may know by now, Jerry Falwell recently pronounced that limited atonement is a heresy.

I knew that I disagreed with some other Christians on this doctrine, but I had no idea that I was a heretic. Based upon my study of scripture, I thought I was correct on this issue (see Mark 10:45), but I tried not to pronounce the "Ανάθεμα" (anathema) on others who hold to a general atonement. I guess if Dr. Falwell is correct that means that other men such as John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Carey, John Piper, and R. C. Sproul are also heretics.

Seriously, does holding to limited atonement make me a heretic?

What about other issues? I believe all of the following. Do these make me a heretic? If you believe any of the following, are you a heretic?

-Not only limited atonement, but all of the doctrines of grace (TULIP)

-God's will always occurs.

-God does not "allow" but rather "causes" suffering.

-Jesus Christ not only did not sin, but could not have sinned.

-A Historical Pre-millenialist view of eschatology, including a post-tribulation rapture

-TaNaK ordering of the books of the O.T.

-Byzantine Priority of the Biblical Greek Text

-Matthean Priority of the gospels

-Paul preached the content of the book of Hebrews, and Luke wrote it down.

-Age-integration is the Biblical model for the church.

-A multiplicity of pastor/elder/overseers is the Biblical model for the church.

-A strong connection between the Lord's Supper and Church Discipline

-Altar calls can't be found in the Bible, and are not the model for the church to follow.

-The common practice of the "ordination council" is out of place if even some of people who make up the council do not know the candidate well.

-The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is a much weaker document than the Abstract of Principles (1858).

It may be that you agree with me on all of the above issues (this is doubtful). However, even if you disagree with me on all of these issues (also doubtful, I hope), I won't refer to you as a heretic, or say that you hold to heretical beliefs.

It seems that those who agree on the basics of the gospel message should not be referred to as heretics. For those who would hold to a common creed, such as the Nicene Creed, we can all agree that we serve the same Christ, love the Lord, and will all be together in heaven with our triune God one day.

Let's all learn from this to be careful with the language we use. We certainly should speak up for the truth of the gospel. We should witness to others about not only the love of Jesus, but also the exclusivity of Jesus. Let's not fall into the trap of our pluralistic society. However, let us all be very careful of the language we use, especially when we are talking about our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29

Thank you Messiah Baptist family

I'd like to give a BIG thank you to our Messiah Baptist Church family. I had the joy of visiting with the MBC family this weekend in Wake Forest, NC. The timing could not have been more perfect since I was able to visit with these wonderful friends of ours on both Saturday night and Sunday morning.

After moving to South Asia back in October, we greatly missed our friends at MBC. This weekend I was reminded once again why this is the case. Even though Alice and I have been gone from Wake Forest for nearly a year, we still feel knit to the MBC family. We are much more than still members of MBC, we still feel part of the family.

Thank you all so much for encouraging me, and for allowing me to share with you what God has done in our lives since we moved overseas. I look forward to another visit in about a month. Alice and our three kids cannot wait to see you all.

After visiting with you all, I was reminded of one of Alan's favorite passages: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-25

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Excellent Wife

"An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life." Proverbs 31:10-12

I have found an excellent wife. Rather, God has blessed me with an excellent wife.

Today, we celebrate Alice's birthday. I thank God for her for so many reasons. First, Alice is a woman who loves the Lord and serves Him with her whole heart. She is not perfect (who is?), but strives to serve God and others before herself. Second, Alice is a wonderful wife and mother. She sacrifices for our family each day. Third, Alice is incredibly talented in so many areas. This is good for many reasons; one of these is that it keeps me very humble.

She is also quite a blogger herself. Take a look at Thinking as a Woman.

I thank God for her. If God in His wonderful grace provides it, I look forward to many years ahead with my Proverbs 31 wife.

"The Holiness of God"

Since returning the USA about a month ago, I have had the opportunity to read a few books that I have wanted to dive into for some time. R.C. Sproul's "The Holiness of God" is one of those books.

Sproul is recognized as one of the leading Bible scholars and teachers of today. Most of his resources can be found at Ligonier Ministries. He has written many other books including "Chosen by God," "Loved by God," and "Surprised by Suffering."

As I approached this book, I was both excited and intimidated. The excitement stemmed from the glowing reviews that my friends had given about the book. The intimidation was due to the fact that I assumed the book would be at least a bit dense, thick, and difficult to read. Being a slow reader anyway, I figured it would take me quite a while to wade through this text.

As soon as I began reading, I was pleasantly surprised to find that "The Holiness of God" is very readable. Sproul does a masterful job of discussing deep theological truths while at the same time writing in a conversational tone. I'm not sure how Sproul accomplishes this, but he makes reading this book a joy.

Within the book, the one aspect that I appreciated the most was Sproul's concise discussion of what God's holiness is. According to Sproul, most people tend to think of God's holiness as being synonymous with His purity and/or moral perfection. I know that I tend to think of holiness this way. Sproul, however, points out that the primary biblical meaning of God's holiness is that He is "transcendentally separate." God is separated from this world and its carnality.

When I think of God's holiness in these terms, it makes His willingness to come to earth in the incarnation even that much more amazing. What a glorious God we serve!

If you have not read this book before, I would highly recommend it. It probably is not in my top three favorite books, but it is certainly in my top ten.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fasting, praying, and sending out missionaries

As Southern Baptists, we have a long history of involvement in international missions. We have a large sending agency (International Mission Board) that prepares, supports, and sends out new missionaries. We have a Woman's Missionary Union that provides great encouragement for overseas work. We have six seminaries (Southeastern, Southern, Southwestern, New Orleans, Midwestern, and Golden Gate) that all educate future missionaries.

In light of the existence of the IMB, WMU, and the seminaries, what responsibility does the local church have? Specifically related to the sending out of missionaries, where does the local church come in? After attending Southeastern Seminary, I got the feeling that it was the seminaries and/or the IMB that had the most to do with the sending out of those called to go overseas. The local church seemed to be relegated to a sort of background cheerleader. I am in no way criticizing either the seminaries or the IMB, but rather am wondering out loud how the local church should be more involved in the sending out of missionaries.

If we look at Paul's example, we know that he sensed a personal call to missions. This is clear in Acts 9. However, Paul's conversion does not give us a picture of the involvement of the local church. We must turn to Acts 13:1-4 for this. In these four verses, we see five men who appear to have been some of the leaders of the church. We can see these men both worshiping and fasting. At that point something amazing happened: the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul. The biblical text actually says, "The Holy Spirit said..." So God not only spoke audibly to Paul on the Damascus Road, but He also appears to have audibly told them to send out Barnabas and Saul.

After this amazing experience, the church responded by 1) fasting, 2) praying, 3) laying on of hands, and 4) sending out. So the local church was simply recognizing who the Holy Spirit was sending out. In fact, in verse 4 the text says, "So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia..."

In Antioch, the church recognized who the Holy Spirit had chosen, and then supported them in going out. This is the model of the bible. Is this what our local churches do? Or, do our local churches simply find out that one of their own wants to be a missionary, and supports them in this?

In other words, are our local SBC churches recognizing who the Holy Spirit has chosen, or are they just so proud of their own missionary-to-be that they forget to seek the Lord in this? Let us not forget that the men in Antioch were worshiping, fasting, and praying. When was the last time you saw a local church fast and pray over who God wants to be a missionary from their body?

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

During a recent stay in the hospital, we were treated to this sunset. It was a nice reprieve from the usual hospital decor. I was immediately reminded of Psalm 19, which tells us "the heavens declare the glory of God." We praise the Lord for His grace even in small things such as this beautiful sky.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Danger: Man-Centered Missions and Evangelism

Within most Southern Baptist churches, when we talk about missions and evangelism, we primarily talk about “man.” We discuss our salvation experience. We talk about other people’s need to hear the gospel. We make reference to certain people we know who are not saved. From many pulpits it is even implied that if we do not share the gospel, we are responsible for people going to Hell. What does this all lead to? This man-centered focus leads to guilt. This is why so few people want to have anything to do with sharing their faith. It has a legalistic, guilt-ridden feel to it.

The main problem with man-centered missions and evangelism is that it is simply not biblical. Biblical missions and evangelism is primarily about God. It is about God deserving the worship of the peoples of the world. It is about God being held up and magnified for who He truly is. Look at the following passages:

Isaiah 43:6-7: “I will say to the north, give up, and to the south, do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Acts 1:6-8: So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

In these three passages, we read about God creating men for His glory, about all authority being given to Jesus, about all peoples becoming disciples of Christ, about all peoples obeying Christ, about the Holy Spirit giving power, and about the original followers of Christ being witnesses to Him.

These critical passages appear to be very God-centered. This is how we should be focusing our missions and evangelism efforts in Southern Baptist Churches. We need to proclaim God’s majesty, beauty, wonder, and glory to our people in the pews. We need to give them a picture of joyful living in Christ. It is this joy in Jesus that will spur them on to want to share their faith, either here or on the other side of the globe.

Man-centered missions and evangelism leads to guilt. God-centered missions and evangelism leads to joy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cherish your church family

I am currently sitting in a hospital room with my son. As you probably know, Bobby has Lymphoma. He will be discharged soon for which we are all very grateful. When will he return to the hospital? Right now we do not know (You can read much more about Bobby at his website).

Because of his unpredictable treatment schedule, we have been unable to really be part of a church since we returned to the USA. Even as I am writing on Sunday morning, you are most likely gathered with your church family. We are, obviously, instead waiting for discharge from the hospital.

Several churches have been praying for us since we departed for South Asia back in October. We are so grateful for that support. Since we have returned, those churches have been very supportive of us in many ways. We thank God for you!

However, due to first living on the other side of the world, and then returning to this schedule, we have not really been a part of a church family since last June. This has been very difficult. It is not a matter of being taken care of. It is a matter of fellowship.

One of the most important, and ofter overlooked, aspects of church is the fellowship. I'm not talking about eating banana pudding, either. I am referring to really getting to know other people within the church, edifying one another, sharing in each other's lives, and building one another up in Christ. This is what we miss so much.

If you are part of a church family, please cherish your family members. Please get to know one another in a meaningful way. Please spend time together, and bear one another's burdens. Please do not rely on church programs, but go out of your way to serve others within the body.

We look forward to the end of these treatments so that we might join with a church family to worship together and to build one another up. Where will this be? We do not know. We do know that we cannot wait for the opportunity, whether it be here in the USA or 1/2 way around the world.

Once again, please cherish one another.

Piper likes Lewis, too

On this blog, we recently looked at what people's favorite books are. While we had a wide range of answers, two authors in particular stood out. I suppose it was no surprise that the two were C. S. Lewis and John Piper. If we were tallying votes, Lewis would have been first, Piper second, and no one else within shouting distance.

This week I am reading Piper's "Don't Waste Your Life." I'm not sure why I have not yet read this book, but now that we are stateside and I have a bit more time to read, it seemed appropriate. I had not been reading this book for long when I discovered that Lewis is one of Piper's favorite authors. In fact, Lewis had a profound impact on Piper when he was young in the 1960's.

The following are some direct Piper quotes from "Don't Waste Your Life":

"Someone introduced me to Lewis my freshman year with the book 'Mere Christianity.' For the next five or six years I was almost never without a Lewis book near at hand. I think that without his influence I would not have lived my life with as much joy or usefulness as I have."

"He has made me wary of chronological snobbery. That is, he showed me that newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice."

"He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not opposed to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively-even playful-imagination. He was a 'romantic rationalist.'"

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A New Church Growth Formula

Is your church stagnant? Do you want to fill up the pews at all costs? Is numerical growth what you want more than anything else? Then this might be just the program for you. It does require pain and sacrifice, but it will be worth it in the end. Click here to find out the secret formula.

This is a Bible we all need

I literally thank God that this Bible (ESV Literary Study Bible) is soon coming out. Why? Do we really need another study Bible? YES, we do need this particular study Bible. The reason is simple. The Bible is literature.

Before anyone panics over this statement, please relax. The Bible is literature, but it is also true and authoritative. Just because it is literature does not mean that it has to be fiction.

The Bible was written down at certain times, in certain places, by Holy Spirit inspired men. These men, in turn, wrote down the text as literature. God's Word, then, was designed to be understood in this way. Far too often, we pick certain verses or passages out of context in order to fit our already established ideas. What we should all be doing is striving to understand what God has said, what He has commanded, what He has willed, and what He desires. In order to do this, we must view the Bible as He intended it. Analyzing the scriptures in their literary forms helps us best accomplish this task.

Thank you God for this study Bible!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Question #4: Does God Cause or Allow Suffering?

So which is it? Does God cause suffering or does He allow it? Now that's a question that will get some people riled up. When we let our emotions take over, we can come up with all sorts of answers to a question like this. So we must return to the Bible and see what it says. If we have no source of authority to answer questions, then we can just come up with whatever answers we want (see postmodernism). We as Christians know that we do have one source of authority, the scriptures. So what does the Bible say?

First, let us begin with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Did God the Father simply allow Jesus to suffer, or did He cause this to happen? Isaiah 53:10, speaking of the Suffering Servant (Jesus) says, "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." Notice that it was the will of the Lord (God the Father) to crush him (Jesus).

In the New Testament, we see a similar statement in Acts 2:23. Peter is preaching about Jesus and states, "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." It is clear that Jesus' death occurred according to not just the foreknowledge, but also the plan of God the Father.

Both of the above passages at least show that God was in control of Christ's suffering. This seems to be more significant that just allowing Jesus to suffer. However, the texts do not explicitly state that God caused the suffering to occur.

Let's look to the testimony of faithful men elsewhere in the Bible.

If you read Lamentations 3, you will see Jeremiah repeatedly ascribe his sufferings to God. For example, Lam. 3:16 says, “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes.” This passage makes it clear that the prophet believes that God is causing his pain.

Three more examples stand out on this issue: Joseph, Paul, and Job. In Genesis chapter 50, Joseph is talking with his brothers after their father Jacob has died. Speaking of their selling him into slavery, Joseph says to his brothers in verses 19-20, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph’s belief is clear. He says that God “meant” it for good. Joseph believed that God caused his suffering.

Turning to Paul, in II Corinthians 12, he has been given “a thorn in the flesh.” Although not stated directly, the context implies that God sent this “messenger of Satan” to afflict Paul. Paul asks three times for it to leave, but it is God’s will for it to remain. In fact, God says to Paul in 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." God was in complete control of that situation. It seems that God caused Paul’s suffering.

Finally, let us turn to the example of Job. In chapter 1 of Job, Satan approaches God. However, it is God who says to Satan in verse 8, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" God actually initiates what Job will face.

In verse 11 we see that Satan wants to harm Job, but what does he say to God? Satan says to God, “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face. So even Satan believes that it is ultimately God who brings suffering.

It is important to note what happens next. In verse 12, God responds by saying to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand. At this point God gives permission to Satan to harm Job, and we know that he does.

What is Job’s reaction to all this? Does he believe God has caused his pain or merely allowed it to happen? We have two short testimonies of Job that shed some light. First, in 1:21 Job says, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

Second, in 2:10 Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? So in these two verses we see Job saying that God has “taken away,” and that he (Job) must “receive evil” from God.

Based on these scriptures (Isaiah, Acts, Lamentations, Genesis, II Corinthians, & Job), we appear to have a clear answer to our title question. Although not stated explicitly, God the Father appears to have caused Jesus to suffer. Jeremiah clearly states that God is causing his suffering. Joseph and Paul both seem to believe that God is causing their suffering. Finally, in the case of Job, both Satan and Job believe that it is God who causes suffering.

So what is Satan’s role in all of this? Based on what we see in Job, Satan is actively involved in at least some of the suffering we face. A safe conclusion is this: God is ultimately responsible for and is the ultimate cause of our suffering. He has every right to do this, and is sinless in doing it. Satan is involved in some of this suffering. When he is involved, he is sinful in his actions and motives, even if directed by God.

Why then would a loving God cause us to suffer? We may never know the answer to this in particular situations. Job could not see what was happening in heaven just before his suffering began. God never told Job why he suffered. We can be certain of this: our God will glorify Himself through our suffering. He will also use it to draw us closer to Himself.

So what is the final conclusion? Does God cause or allow suffering? According to the Bible, God causes suffering.

Please let me know what you think about this (even if you don’t agree).

For a good laugh...

If you enjoy religion-related satire and humor, check out Tom in the Box News Network. Tom has recently written two articles that I really enjoyed. They are entitled "Parents Seek Therapy for 'Brainwashed' Child" and "Bob Jones University Starts 'ThySpace' for Students."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Wise Word on Suffering

Adoniram Judson, the great missionary to Burma, knew what suffering was all about. By 1827, his wife and all three children had died. He had also spent over a year in a wretched Burmese prison. In 1831, he would write the following wise words to Sarah Boardman, who was a fellow missionary in Burma. Sarah’s husband, George, had just recently died, leaving her with a young son. Take particular note of the last sentence Judson wrote:

"My dear sister, you are now drinking the bitter cup whose dregs I am somewhat acquainted with. And though, for some time, you have been aware of its approach, I venture to say that it is far bitterer than you expected…I can assure you that months and months of heart-rending anguish are before you, whether you will or not,…yet take the bitter cup with both hands, and sit down to your repast. You will soon learn a secret, that there is sweetness at the bottom.”

Somewhat ironically, Adoniram would marry Sarah relatively soon after this.

The above quote was taken from "Bless God and Take Courage, The Judson History and Legacy" (Rosalie Hunt, Judson Press, 2005).

Monday, April 9, 2007

What God does, What man does

When God created the plant life of this world, it was good (Genesis 1:11-13). Despite the fall in Genesis 3, we can still see some of God's beauty through His creation. I have already posted some pictures of the plant life from our neighborhood, and here I am adding more. We get to enjoy a wide variety of flora. In these pictures alone you can see wisteria, cactus, azalea, dogwood, camellia, and something else (I don't know what the last one is). All of these beautiful and amazing plants point to their glorious, all-powerful Creator (see Psalm 19, Rom. 1:19-20).

We also know from Genesis 3 that man fell. We know from the rest of scripture that he fell a long way (see Doctrines of Grace). The fall of man greatly affects God's creation. Recently in our neighborhood we saw this in full effect. A house next door to ours had burned just before we moved in. All that remained was a burned-out shell. We had some fun a few weeks ago watching men in big equipment tear down the house.

The stark contrast between the beauty of the plant life and the ugly mess of the burned house was obvious. God brings beauty. Man brings destruction.

Yes, I realize that the house had to go before a new one could be built. I also realize that man is capable of some good (after salvation) in this world. However, the primary point I am trying to make is to compare the beauty of God with the ugliness of man.

To further illustrate this point, I have posted here pictures of the foliage in our neighborhood along with the destruction of the house next door. Do you see any contrast?