If God is Good: Developing a Theology of Suffering

Sadly, suffering is a fact of life. At one point or another, to one degree or another, you will face suffering. Suffering will consume your being.

It is never too late to develop a theology of suffering. We all need a proper foundation because it is not a question of if but when we will suffer (; ; ).

How do we develop a theology of suffering?

Read and study. Here are resources to help you in your pursuit of a good foundation in the theology of suffering.

  1. If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn (Kindle edition)
  2. When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  3. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Kindle edition)
  4. Kindle edition)
  5. O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence in God by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Richard Baxter, Nancy Guthrie and John Piper
  6. A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  7. Why, O God?: Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church by Larry J. Waters, Roy B. Zuck, Randy Alcorn and Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  8. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace by Michael S. Beates and Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  9. The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  10. Glorious Intruder: God’s Presence in Life’s Chaos by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)

Do you have other books and resources? Please share!

Update: 1/15/2013
Don’t You Dare Be Caught Rejoicing with Those Who Weep, an interview with Joni Eareckson Tada and Marvin Olasky.


Listen

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (ESV)


Listen

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, (ESV)


Listen

then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, (ESV)

Revelation by Steve Camp

Steve Camp, yes that Steve Camp is the Teaching Pastor at The Cross Church in Palm City, FL has begun a series in Revelation.

Here are the sermons:

  1. “The Victor” Rev 1:1-3 – The Prologue – November 4, 2012
  2. The Exalted King (pt 1) – November 11, 2012
  3. The Exalted King, Part 2 – November 18, 2012
  4. The Exalted King, Part 3 – November 25, 2012
  5. The Vision of the Glorified Son – December 2, 2012
  6. The Vision of the Glorified Son, Pt 2 – December 9, 2012
  7. Pergamum – The Compromised Church – December 30th, 2012
  8. Thyatira – The Church That Tolerates Sin – January 6, 2013

Note: This list will be updated as time permits. You can also see the complete list as updated here.

Discussing Harry Potter

Regarding edification, things can only edify if we think rightly about them. To ask, “does it edify?” is simplistic at best. It is what we DO with the subject matter. Are we “thinking” in terms of what is right?

For instance, pastors must deal with people who struggle with a particular sin. That sin is definitely not good by any stretch, but what is edifying is that the Pastor helps the counseled person to think rightly about the issue, hence, he is edifying him.

It just seems to me that the issue of edification comes up as if the topic must do the edifying and we just sit back and be edified without much effort on our part. It is what we DO with the subject that it becomes edifying.

Paul commands us to “THINK on these things” – it is an effort, something we DO to establish edification.

I cannot shield my kids from every evil, however, I can address an issue to help them think rightly about it. When we watch a TV program they like and bad attitudes arise, I like to ask them, “Is this a right attitude? Why not? What kind of attitude must we have in a situation like that? How can we change our attitude from a bad attitude to a good attitude in a situation like that? What makes Jesus happy in this situation?”

THAT is edification. It’s engaging the worldly situations and rightly thinking and acting within those types of situations.

Sometimes it’s good and right to denounce something outright (NC+17 movies?), but to outright denounce something like Harry Potter yet you watch the Wizard of Oz every year, creates questions in your kids’ minds and shows inconsistencies.

With this in mind, let’s begin an edified conversation.

Years ago I struggled through this very issue– edification and Harry Potter. I decided to read proponents and opponents of Harry Potter, and there were some key points the proponents made, at least in my mind, that the opponents could not overcome.

  1. Scripture never condemns using innate ability. In the world of Harry Potter (Lord Of The Rings / Chronicles of Narnia, etc…) the wizards have an innate ability to do magic because their world is innately made of magic.
  2. Scripture condemns obtaining a “power” that is not innate nor from God – like real Wicca, which tries to obtain power outside themselves and God. The worlds of Harry Potter, et al, possess innate power.
  3. Quote: “While this may be considered a positive, one definite negative is that there is no higher power to answer to at all.” I don’t see this as a real point, unless there’s something I’m missing. I am thinking in terms of the book of Esther in Scripture.
  4. The magic in Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, Chronicles of Narnia are purely fictional. Can you make a patronus charm? Can you take a specific kind of stick and do wondrous things with it because IT has innate “power”? I believe there is a difference in make-believe and what Scripture condemns.

My points overlap with each other, but I wanted to show (at least try to show) different aspects of the same point.

What do you think?

Introverted Christian

Tim Challies is spot on. Hammer? Meet nail.

I am an introvert. But I have to do extrovert-type things at times. However, I must prepare mentally for my non-introverted activities, and those activities tire me out. Like speaking in front of people. I don’t fear it so much as I have to prepare for it.

This is what makes it difficult to be in a group setting in which the speaker / teacher specifically calls on me to answer a question.

Pure panic.

And then I provide the wrong answer.

But as Challies says, “introversion is what I am, not who I am.”

Who am I?

In timely fashion, Challies also wrote a review of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Who Do you Think You Are. Tim writes,

At the heart of it all is our identity as God’s image-bearers. We have been created in God’s image and this gives us inherent worth and dignity. We are created as worshippers, yet by falling into sin we worship all the wrong things, leading us to craft idolatrous identities for ourselves. Instead of being identified first and foremost in our relationship to God, we ignore the Creator and craft other identities. It is the gospel, the good news of what Christ has done, that transforms, or re-forms, our identity. Driscoll writes, “Only by knowing our false identity apart from Christ in relation to our true identity in him can we rightly deal with and overcome the issues in our lives.” Identity is a matter of life and death.

My identity is in Christ.

Interpreting Scripture – Questions

Interpreting Scripture is a challenging task. But when you read Scripture, you are interpreting it.

Here are some questions to answer which will help you interpret Scripture so you understand it as it was intended. When these questions are answered, you will discover that the fulfillment is greater than the prediction, just as the antitype is greater than the type:

  • Does the New Testament quote it or allude to it?
  • How does the New Testament treat the oracle’s themes and theological points?
  • Who is the author of the passage?
  • To whom were they writing?
  • What is the outline/structure of the passage?
  • Is the choice of words, wording, or word order significant in this particular passage?
  • Are any words repeated? Any significance to the repetition?
  • What is the cultural, historical background and context of the passage?
  • What was the author’s original intended meaning?
  • How did the author’s contemporaries understand him?
  • How would the original audience have been affected by the passage?
  • Why did he say it that way?
  • Are there any unusual words in the passage that call for more exploration?
  • How does the passage fit into the surrounding paragraph? Chapter? Book?
  • Why did the author place the passage here and not somewhere else?
  • In one sentence, what is the main point of the passage?
  • How does this passage connect to the overall storyline of the Bible?
  • How does God want this passage to function in my life?
  • What kind of response does this passage call for?
  • How does this passage reveal Jesus as savior?
  • Father, I believe this passage is about the gospel of your Son. Help me see how!

What other questions would you add?

Interpreting Scripture

Reading the Bible is challenging. We are 2,000+ years removed from when the content was written and the time(s) it was written about.

Much of the struggle in reading Scripture is truly understanding what is meant by the original author(s) rather than understanding it from our 21st Century mindset.

Striving to understand Scripture from its original context is called hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the method of interpreting Scripture.

Of course, rules for interpreting Scripture are needed. I strive to follow nine (9) rules of interpretation:

  1. Literal Sense – Seek the one intended or literal sense of the text, and to do so with the recognition that God in some cases has chosen to convey meaning through symbolism and figures of speech (e.g., metonymy, metaphor, and simile). Making the sense plain to others is not necessarily looking to the plain sense. With this said, though, be faithful to Scripture, not necessarily literal.
  2. Shortened Perspective – Events in the near and the distant future are often telescoped into one picture, like mountain peaks when seen from a distance. Sometimes the prophets focus on the immediate future and at other times on the distant future; however, both are seen at the same time.
  3. Historical Times-Coloring – Seeking the meaning of the text within the immediate historical situation. Reflecting the historical situation in which they spoke, the prophets preached to a definite life situation and delivered their oracles in terms which their original hearers could understand.
  4. Typical or Typological nature of Eschatology – A type is a person, institution, or event which prefigures and foreshadows a new and greater reality (the antitype). The antitype historically and theologically corresponds to, elucidates, fulfills, and eschatologically completes the type. The antitype is no mere repetition of the type but is always greater than its prefigurement. And since the Scriptures are Christological, the Old Testament’s types (which are so indicated by Scripture) are related to, centered in, and fulfilled in Christ (and His people, the church, reap what Christ has sown).
  5. Christological Focus – The Old Testament prophets were both “foretellers” and “forthtellers.” They were preachers of the covenant, proclaiming the Law and the Gospel to their original hearers. Even their eschatological predictions were given not to provide unrelated bits of information or to satisfy curiosity about the future, but to lead their hearers to repentance and faith.
  6. Old Testament Israel prefigured Christ and Christ is the True Israel – Christ is the New Israel, Israel reduced to one.
  7. Analogy of Faith – “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” (Westminster Confession (1.9)).
  8. Interpret the Less Clear by the Clear – “There must be a consistency in all revealed truth because it represents absolute truth in the mind of God. Therefore each passage can have only one certain and simple sense. As the infallibly inspired word of God, the Scriptures are reliable, self-consistent and carry within them all that is needed for clarity. Since all that God makes known fits with what He knows perfectly, it is always proper to assume that no contradictions or dual realities can be attached to what He speaks.” (Bob Burridge)
  9. The Christian interpreter must regard the final form of the canon as the norm for interpretation – For instance, the New Testament provides clear and concise statements which should influence our understanding of the Old Testament. And the Old Testament provides the basis for our understanding of the New Testament.

What do you think? Are there any rules that should be added? Changed?

CrossTraining

This year is the year of CrossTraining. CrossTraining is all about two things . . . bringing others to the cross and taking up our own.

; ; ; ; ; ;

Come CrossTraining with me. You won’t regret it.


Listen

38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (ESV)


Listen

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (ESV)


Listen

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (ESV)


Listen

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (ESV)

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (ESV)


Listen

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (ESV)

Reading the Bible – Chronologically

Reading the Bible just makes sense. Reading plans are a dime a dozen. This does not negate or lessen their value, however. But it does make for difficult decisions on which reading plan you use.

This year, I’m using a two-year chronological reading plan (pdf) provided by Providence Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Concord, NC.

I want to be thoughtful when I read, and I did not want to rush through it.

Today’s reading is . Will you join me this year?

1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (ESV)

Struggle of Life

Have you struggled with the way life is and the way it should be?

People fall into one of three philosophies of thought when struggling through this tension: Theist (We can know God), Agnostic (I’m not sure God exists or that we can know), and Atheist (We cannot know).

For the theist, the presence of evil is proof God exists; for the agnostic, evil creates a huge question in the mind; Atheists see evil as proof God does not exist.

At best, I am a theist. At worst, I am agnostic of the variety. Doubting Dawkins and Atheism’s Strength demonstrate the achilles heal of Atheism. Atheism is not a tenable option for me.

One honest atheist explains (please pardon some of the wording),

In a godless universe shit happens without rhyme nor reason. Life is predatory from the ground up. Creatures eat one another by trapping unsuspecting victims in unusual ways, launching surprise attacks out of the blue, and hunting in packs by overpowering prey with brute force and numbers. Sometimes a creature just goes wacko for no reason at all. Humans are not exempt. Sometimes the wiring in our brains goes haywire and we snap. We too are violent and we inherited this trait from our animal predecessors. We also show care and concern to our kith and kin but we can lash out in horrific ways at what we consider an uncaring world.

David Heddle remarks,

On the one hand, a very illuminating observation. On the other hand it is nothing more than yet another attempt at the proof of godlessness by the existence of evil. Axiomatic atheism is, if you will, a one-trick pony: Bad things happen, ergo no god. They also throw in “show me god exists” – a reasonable request from their perspective—but this is a negative statement rather than a positive. The only positive argument atheism has is, as Loftus puts it, shit happens. He writes:

In a universe where there is an all powerful, perfectly good, all knowing God this tragedy is not what we would expect to happen.

Here Loftus is 100% wrong. He is operating under the misguided assumption that Christianity is a religion that teaches shit never happens.

The bible teaches us to enjoy life, God’s bounty, and temporal happiness. It also promises, like a prescription medication: side effects may include pain, despair, suffering, lapses into grievous sin, weakness, apparent senselessness, persecution, misery, and physical death. Why atheists think that fallen man in a fallen world behaving exactly as the bible tells us is somehow a problem for Christianity is unfathomable. Shit happens. Loftus is correct that a godless world predicts as much. He is incorrect that a world with the god of the bible does not. Both hypotheses fit the data.

Heddle is spot on. But further, I would say that many people see God as a Ivory-Tower God, a God that is disconnected from His creation in any meaningful way.

If God were an Ivory-Tower God, then Atheists would be correct

But God is not an Ivory-Tower God but a God who can identify with our suffering.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.” We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.

But more to the point, as Peter Kreeft goes so far as to say, “If good and evil exist, God exists. The struggle of life is a struggle for faith, but not just faith but faith in Jesus, our Emmanuel.


Listen

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (ESV)