Archive for March, 2012

After telling about a tourist who once said about the famed Plymouth Rock “It’s a rock!  Nothing ever happens to it,” Sean McDonough concludes his sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 with this:

We tend to look at God the same way- a big, immobile passive boulder who’s just kind of there.  He’s a rock- whatever happens to him?  But the true and living God has shown himself in Christ both in the past- in the wilderness- but also in the present in our life corporately in the church.  He has shown himself to be a God who is near us, a God who walks with us through our troubles, who provides for our needs at every level, a God who responds to us when we call out to him.  Indeed, a rock who let himself be split open so that his life-giving spirit might flow out to quench the deepest thirst of our hearts.

-Sean McDonough, sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, delivered on 6/28/09 at First Congregational Church in Hamilton MA

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Some Thoughts on Job

I recently made a promise to a class at one of our church’s training schools to spend a little bit of time talking about the book of Job, <sarcasm> because if any book of the Bible can be discussed in a short amount of time, its Job </sarcasm>.  Of course, we ran out of time anyway, so I was unable to offer some thoughts on this ever-perplexing book.  In the interest of mitigating my risk of being known as a big liar, some thoughts  (i.e., my notes for the class) on the book of Job follow.

  • Job is largely a book of what Douglas Stuart calls, “speculative dialogical wisdom.”  This is evident in the long exchanges between Job and his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu.  It is largely poetry, save the prologue, epilogue, and a brief sections that introduce the next speaker.
  • High-level structure of the book:
    • Prologue (Chs.1-2)
    • Job’s opening lament (Ch. 3)
    • Dialogue and dispute (3 cycles: Chs. 4-14, 15-21, 22-27)
    • Wisdom interlude (Ch. 28; unidentified speaker, perhaps the author)
    • Monologues (Job: 29-31; Eluhu: 32-37; God: 38-42)
    • Job’s contrition (40:3-5; 42:1-6)
    • Epilogue (42:7-17)
  • How has Job offended God?  Why does God speak to Him so harshly?
    • Job is calling God to account, most explicitly in 31:35: “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! / I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; / let my accuser put his indictment in writing” (emphasis mine).
    • This might remind us of Romans 9, esp. v.20: “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (c.f., Is. 29:16; 45:9).  All of these texts speak negatively of the one who questions God in this way.
    • Bottom line:  It is completely backwards for us to question God – as if we’re His judge.
    • Note a distinction: questioning God can be demanding an answer from Him (implying that you think He’s wrong), or questioning God can be expressing a lack of understanding, and asking for clarity or peace.  I would content that only the former (Job’s response) is sinful.
  • How do the others (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar) sin?  (Aside: It’s interesting that Elihu isn’t mentioned in the epilogue; some contend that because of this, his speech was a later addition).
    • Some of what they say seems right on, no?
    • Ultimately, the book teaches that nobody knows the mind of God.  All these characters offer answers as to why Job suffers, but they’re all wrong, supposing to know the answer Job seeks, but only God does.  P.S.: He doesn’t tell them, either.
    • N.b., An important life lesson here:  Don’t dare try to explain God’s actions unless its explained clearly in Scripture:  Talking about God’s plans in redeeming humankind is one thing, saying that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on the sinfulness of New Orleans is egregious folly!
    • A funny paraphrase of something Stuart said, “We don’t even know what chipmunks are thinking, why should we think we know what God is thinking?”
  • More thoughts on suffering (tons more could be said):
    • Remember two “levels” to suffering:  The pastoral/emotional level, and the philosophical/intellectual level.
      • This should affect how we respond to people engaging with the problem of suffering.
      • If they just lost a loved one, we oughtn’t make the mistake of Job’s friends and theologize about it; this is rarely helpful at all.
    • By trusting God – not cursing or questioning Him – through suffering, we are glorifying Him.
    • Job makes as clear as any other book in Scripture that we won’t always know why or whence suffering; this doesn’t need to affect our response to suffering, which is the same whether we know why or not: Run to God.
    • We must never (ever!) forget the Christ when we suffer:
      • We cannot look at the cross and say that God doesn’t care, or love us with unfathomable love.
      • We cannot look at the cross and say that God is not just, and one who deals with evil, and will ultimately eradicate the suffering of those who love Him.
      • We must remember that God became man and suffered for us, so we wouldn’t have to.
      • I’ve always found comfort in an adaptation of an illustration by Alvin Plantinga:
        • The classic viewpoint of the problem:
          • A good God would not allow pointless suffering.*
          • There is pointless suffering.
          • There is no good God.
        • The viewpoint from the cross:
          • A good God would not allow pointless suffering.*
          • There is a good God.
          • There is no pointless suffering.
        • (*The statement “A good God would not allow suffering,”  is itself a highly questionable statement; one many accept without question, yet it is highly suspect.  E.g., as a good father, there are times when I allow my son to suffer.  There are actually some very compelling arguments for a good God precisely because evil and suffering exist; but that’s out of scope here).

I am officially no longer a liar :)  Of course, so much more could be (has been!) written about Job, evil and suffering.  I make no claim that this is a well-nuanced or complete treatment here.  Hopefully, however, it is helpful as food for thought, if nothing else.

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It’s been roughly a month now, but my mind keeps wandering back to a post I read by R C Sproul Jr. called “Five Evangelical Myths or Half Truths.”  In it, as you can imagine, Sproul writes about 5 sayings commonly heard in the evangelical world that either aren’t true at all, or aren’t completely true and thus potentially dangerous.  I agree, for the most part, with his disagreements on 4 of the 5, but the middle one is something he botches pretty badly, in my opinion.  I’ll quote it here:

3. “Jesus saves us from our sins.”

Well, no. It is absolutely true that Jesus saves us. When we face trouble, He is the one we should be crying out to for deliverance. But the great problem with our sins isn’t our sins, but the wrath of God. The trouble I need to be delivered from is the wrath of God. Hell is not my sins, but the wrath of God. We don’t need to be saved from our sins. We need to be saved from the wrath due for our sins.

Now, I can see what he’s thinking here.  He’s worried that if we focus too much on sin, we miss the fact that sin itself is an offense to God and justifiably incurs his wrath and punishment.  The wrath of God is a topic rarely addressed and taken seriously, and perhaps the precise wording he quotes – ‘Jesus saves us from our sins’- contributes to that neglect (although I’m not convinced).

But his approach is just as bad than the one he opposes.  ‘Jesus saves us from our sins’ is 100% true.  The problem is not in the saying itself, but in the fact that we don’t know just how true it is.

Sproul misdiagnoses the problem to begin with.  He wants to focus more on our salvation from the consequences of our sin (God’s wrath) rather than sin itself.  In my experience most evangelicals share that focus with him.  That is, when evangelicals talk about salvation, we are really referring to eternal salvation/salvation from hell/etc.  So while Sproul disagrees with wording of the above phrase (and I’ll agree wording is important), the basic intention is the same as what he means.

But Jesus actually does save us from our sins.  We have been set free from ‘the law of sin and death’ and sin has been condemned (Rom 8:2-3).  We have been set free from sin (Rom 6:7), are dead to sin (6:11) and are no longer under the rule of our old master, sin (6:14).  We used to be slaves to sin, but have been freed (6:17-18, 22).

So let’s get this straight: we used to be enslaved to sin, but Jesus has freed us from sin and bound us to himself.  Isn’t that, by its very definition, saving us from our sin?  How can Sproul respond to this statement with “well, no”?  Is he not perpetuating a half-truth himself?

Many Christians don’t take seriously enough that Jesus has actually saved us from our sins.  We are (rightfully) grateful for salvation from the consequences of our sin, but forget that there is a ‘here and now’ victory over sin that is made possible by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God (Rom 8:3-4).

The best way to fight a half-truth is not to replace it with another one.  The best approach is to teach the whole truth, and in this case, not only to teach it, but to live it.  We have been saved from our sins and are no longer slaves to what once bound us.  Now, by the power of the Spirit, let’s live that truth out in our daily lives.

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