There are few things more common to the human experience than pain and suffering. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) their universality, there are also few things that seem more incompatible with the human experience. This is why a period of suffering, and especially a prolonged one, causes us to ask God why–to question the purpose behind our pain.
C.S. Lewis, the famed atheist-turned-apologist, was himself intimately acquainted with suffering–essentially orphaned at the age of 9 when his mother died and his father shipped him off to a strict boarding school, physically and mentally wounded while serving in the trenches in World War I, and tragically widowed when he finally married following a long bachelorhood. Unsurprisingly, considering his experience, his literary works are filled with references to, meditations on, and explanations of the problem of pain. How do we reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent God with the existence of pain and suffering? What possible purpose can pain have?
What’s interesting is that while Lewis agrees that pain is undoubtedly evil, he insists that it is sometimes a necessary evil (God in the Dock, 224-25). He goes even further in The Great Divorce, an allegory about the afterlife, when George MacDonald, his guide through the purgatory-like state in which the story takes place, tells him “that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory” (The Great Divorce, 69). He doesn’t actually explain how one’s pain results in glory, beyond saying that “the good man’s past begins to change so that his … remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven (The Great Divorce, 69), but based on the rest of the Lewis canon, there are at least 5 ways that this “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17): Continue reading 5 Purposes of Pain in the Works of C.S. Lewis
desiringGod: “How we approach a situation reveals what we expect to find. … And here’s the question for us this weekend: How will we approach God in corporate worship?”
In his book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan famously asked, “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?” In a society that glorifies the prosperity gospel through shows like this one, it’s probably a fair question to ask.
But it also isn’t a new question that’s relevant to our culture only. About 1500 years ago, another Christian leader, Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, asked the same thing of his congregants. In its volume on the gospel of Mark, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture quotes him as preaching the following: Continue reading Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?
I’m reading John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 2013 during my devotional time this month. If you’re not already reading something specific to focus on and celebrate the Incarnation (or even if you are), go download the book. It’s free. You can’t beat free. The readings so far have been deep, meaningful, and encouraging. Today’s entry on Luke 2:1-5 was especially good, emphasizing how God uses the big things of this world to bless the little people who are his. Here’s the key section (emphasis mine): Continue reading A Big God for Little People
J. I. Packer on the importance of cultivating the inward disciplines of the Christian faith and not focusing solely on outward performance (from his book, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God):
The journey of our lives is a double journey. There is an outward journey into external confrontations, discoveries, and relationships, and there is an inner journey into self-knowledge and the discovery of what for me as an individual constitutes self-expression, self-fulfillment, freedom, and contentment within. For the Christian, the outward journey takes the form of learning to relate positively and purposefully to the world and other people–that is, to all God’s creatures–for God the Creator’s sake, and the inward journey takes the form of gaining and deepening our acquaintance with God the Father and with Jesus the Son, through the mighty agency of the Holy Spirit.
Now in the hustling, bustling West today, life has become radically unbalanced, with education, business interests, the media, the knowledge explosion, and our go-getting community ethos all uniting to send folk off on the outward journey as fast as they can go and with that to distract them from ever bothering about its inward counterpart. In Western Christianity the story is the same, so that most of us without realizing it are nowadays unbalanced activists, conforming most unhappily in this respect to the world around us. Like the Pharisees, who were also great activists (see Matt. 23:15!), we are found to be harsh and legalistic, living busy, complacent lives of conforming to convention and caring much more, as it seems, for programs than for people. When we accuse businessmen of selling their souls to their firms and sacrificing their integrity on the altars of their organizations, it is the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps there are no truths about the Spirit that Christian people urgently need to learn today than those that relate to the inner life of fellowship with God, that life which I call the inward journey. (You could also call it the upward journey–that adjective would fit equally well.)
And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. (Matthew 17:4-6)
Peter just can’t seem to get out of his own way. You’d think that after he was so sternly rebuked by Jesus at the end of chapter 16, he would have learned to just keep his mouth shut. But here he is, six days later, sticking his foot in his mouth again.
I guess to be fair to Peter, I should mention that there does seem to be at least some disagreement among commentators as to what Peter’s intentions were, what he was thinking, and whether it was something negative. I’m pretty convinced, however, that this is another instance of Peter just not getting it. Continue reading Getting a Glimpse of Glory
But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:8-11)
“Do you not yet perceive? How is it that you fail to understand?” Jesus never spares the disciples’ feelings. They were being dense, and he told them so. It seems unbelievable to us that the disciples could still not get it. Jesus had fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread, and the 4,000 with 7 loaves of bread, and had leftovers both times. He had taught them that he was the Bread of Life who could provide manna from heaven. Yet the disciples were worried about where their next meal would come from! As I mentioned yesterday, the disciples were so worried about their stomachs, that they completely missed what Jesus wanted to teach them.
How was it that they still didn’t understand? I think we see the answer in another of Jesus’ questions in this passage: “Do you not remember?” Continue reading The Importance of Remembering
I’ve always loved the following passage from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (which is an utterly fantastic book), but it’s even more meaningful now that I have a 2-year-old with seemingly endless energy and life: Continue reading Do It Again
The following is my chapel message from the other day. The Secondary chapel had been going through a series based on the book Knowing God by J.I. Packer. I spoke on Chapter 22, “The Adequacy of God.” [All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.]
As Mr. P_____ said, our topic today is “The Adequacy of God.” Now, adequacy isn’t exactly a term we use on a daily basis so someone tell me what it means to be adequate. [students responded] I don’t know why, but to me, the word adequate has a negative connotation. It seems like it belongs between “fair” and “good” on a scale ranking how great something is. I tend to see being “adequate” as being a negative (or at best a neutral) thing, but in actuality it’s a positive thing. The definition we’ll be using for today will hopefully remove some of those negative connotations we assign to the word. And that is this: “to be adequate is to satisfy in terms of quality and/or quantity.” I’ll say that again: to be adequate is to satisfy in terms of quality and/or quantity. I have 3 cups of water on the podium here. [One was only about 1/4 filled with clean water, one was filled with dirty water, and one was filled with clean water.] You’ve just finished soccer, or basketball, or baseball practice; you’re hot and sweaty and thirsty. Which of these cups would be most adequate? [students responded, choosing the cup filled with clean water] Right, it is more satisfying in terms of quantity than this cup, and it is more satisfying in terms of quality than this cup. So when we talk about the “adequacy” of God, we are talking about him satisfying a need or needs, the way this cup of water would satisfy your thirst. Continue reading The Adequacy of God
No matter how many times I read the Old Testament prophets, I never cease to be shocked by the graphic language that God uses. I imagine that perhaps his intention in using such language was so that Israel and future readers would indeed be shocked about our sin. I think we sometimes take our sin too lightly (or at least I know I do) because of the free grace we have been given. Even Israel took that view in verses 4-5:
“Even now you say to me, ‘You are my father! You have been my faithful companion ever since I was young. You will not always be angry with me, will you? You will not be mad at me forever, will you?’ This is what you say, but you continually do all the evil that you can.”
Unfortunately, I know that line all too well. I sin, quickly ask for the forgiveness I know is available, and turn around to sin again. In Jeremiah 3, however, God gives us insight into how he views our sin, and I’m not sure one can read it and ever look at sin the same way again. Just look at the language God uses to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness: Continue reading Playing the Harlot