Posts Tagged ‘eschatology’

5.5.  This post is dedicated to the Sermon Writer’s Block.

5.  I really liked Michael Bird’s (relatively) short post on how the Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Christus Victor models of atonement work together. 

4.  His biting sarcasm is largely what makes Carl Trueman so popular, but it also makes it easy to miss some of his better stuff.  In an article titled “The Price of Everything,” Trueman suggests that “cynicism, along with its close cousin pessimism, are among two of the greatest contributions that historians can make to the life of the church.” 

3.  Some of you have heard about Harold Camping and his predictions that the end of the world is coming in October of this year (and the rapture is only weeks away!).  W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary California has written an intriguing, if not sad, series on “Harold Camping and the End of the World”.  It’s worth reading through it, as it’s both insightful and instructive, from someone who has known Camping for a long time.  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.  Update: I somehow missed Part 5.  Sorry.

2.  Earlier this morning Justin Taylor posted a really helpful chart called “Differences between Jesus and the Levitical High Priests,” based on Hebrews 7 and 9.  Don’t think I won’t be stealing this for future use.

1.  The aforementioned Carl Trueman has created a bit of a stir, particularly with the “New Calvinist” crowd, recently with some posts regarding American mega-conferences and the celebrity culture of American evangelicalism.  As I said earlier, I think his sarcasm (not to mention his vast use of over-generalization, which granted is a feature of satire but can be counter-productive) can obscure his point.  Never fear, the ever reasonable Tim Challies steps in to help a bit (with links to Trueman’s posts, if you’re interested).  It’s a good read, and a great topic to consider more deeply.  I’d like to think we can learn a thing or two here.

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This week, the Marchionni household has experienced a number of light and momentary afflictions, each of which have conspired to keep us from getting a good night of sleep for nearly a week.  “A good night” here means “more than 4 hours.”  One source of this sleep deprivation, which will come as no surprise to the seasoned parents among my readers, is my 15-month old son, who has taken ill this week with some flavor of virus.

Whenever my son is suffering, even from a simple cold (and praise God that it’s naught more serious than that!), the cerebral circuits devoted to Christian suffering always turn on in my head, giving rise to a panoply of reflections and questions.  Last night, I was especially struck by the words of the excellent Craig Blomberg in a post he wrote some time ago dealing with the particularly American response to suffering.  Says Blomberg,

At an international evangelical consultation on contextualizing the gospel this summer in Oxford, the Asian representatives agreed that one of the biggest theological differences between Asian and American Christianity was that Asians assumed suffering was a normal part of life, especially if you were a believer, whereas Americans were always trying to avoid it or end it. One Chinese theologian explained, “The typical Chinese Christian, when suffering, asks, “How may I acquit myself in a God-pleasing way as I suffer?” The typical American Christian asks, “How may I get rid of the suffering?”

When was the last time you heard a public list of Christian prayer requests that included prayers for people to be good witnesses in the midst of their suffering rather than for God to take away everything from terminal cancer to the common cold?

Clearly, in the case of my son, there isn’t much he can do yet to be a faithful witness to God in the midst of his suffering.  But what about me?  How do I respond to my own suffering, or the suffering of others?  Like a “typical American Christian,” I usually ask God to take it away.  As I reflect on this, however, I am increasingly convinced that I am due for a rearrangement of priorities.

I cannot address all of the dynamics of suffering here, nor will I attempt to introduce a theodicy.  However, I do believe that the question of the Chinese Christian above ought to be ours as well.  Specifically, our first priority in prayer concerning suffering ought to be bringing God glory, as opposed to bringing ourselves relief.

Consider Jesus’ miracles:  Many of Jesus’ healings are explicitly explained as being performed to bring glory to God (e.g., Jn. 9:3; 11:4).  Other miracles have a clear pedagogical purpose in revealing Christ’s identity (e.g., Mk 2:10; 3:35-41; Jn.15:24), which is another way of bringing glory to God.

Also consider that in the first instance, Jesus’ healings are about the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God; they are an eschatological annoucement (c.f., Mt. 11:2-5).  Part of that eschatology is the restoration of all things back to the way they were meant to be, viz. people aren’t going to be blind, or lame, or subject to acute bleeding  when the Kingdom of God is fully manifest on earth.  Note the subtle distinction between healing somebody to relieve their suffering, versus healing somebody in order to reveal the coming Kingdom, which includes the relief of suffering.

Scanning deeper into the New Testament, I have trouble finding many prayers aimed only at taking away suffering.  When Paul prays for the suffering Thessolonians, his prayer is that they are good witnesses in the midst of it; that their faith is strengthened (2 Ths.1:11-12).  A plea for relief is nowhere to be found, but a promise for it is included in the eschatological encouragement preceding his prayers (vv.5-10).

So then, what is our proper response to suffering?  Ought we pray for relief or healing?  Of course!  But, the effort must be framed in terms of a bigger priority: God’s glory.  Consider Christ’s example as he predicted his torturous death on the cross (Jn. 12:27-30), or his agony in Gesthemane (Mt. 26:39-43).  His first focus is God’s glory and submission to His will.  Our prayers for healing or relief should therefore start with the same focus:  “God, be glorified; thy will be done.  If it pleases you to bring relief, please do so quickly, only be glorified by it.”

Suffering, as C.S.Lewis notes, is often God’s megaphone.  Within hard times, opportunies upon opportunies avail themselves to be redeemed to bring glory to our Creator.  May this be our priority at all times, because God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

Coming in Part II:  The broader categories of suffering.

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