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Posts Tagged ‘Christian suffering’

Lessons From the Book of Job

March 13, 2020 8 comments

Over the last few years I’ve looked for good sermon series in the wisdom literature, and especially on the book of Job, but had not found any until recently.  Now two such series, both from Reformed/Covenantal speakers/authors, are available:  a 9 part series from Danny Hyde (with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), “Whom Do I Trust?” as well as a still in-progress series on SermonAudio from Dr. Michael Barrett (covenantal premillennialist, at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary), series, “Dealing with Hard Providences.”  (Note:  SermonAudio for Michael Barrett also shows a much older (1991) sermon series in the book of Job; I have not listened to that earlier series.)

Both of these series provide some interesting points, with different approaches to the book and emphasizing particular sections of the 42 chapters.  Barrett points out more of the historical context, during the time after Noah’s flood and before Abraham, and suggested authorship of Solomon.   A main idea brought out in both is that Job’s three friends had right and correct theology, as far as it went—but very wrong application to Job’s particular case.  Along the way, both note the repetition, the three full cycle pattern of speeches from Job, then Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Hyde here makes good application from the friends’ first speeches:  the friends are actually saying the things noted by Satan in the prologue: man-centered theology, what can I get from God?, and even a version of the prosperity gospel in Bildad’s first speech:  just do the right thing, confess your sins and return to God, and you’ll be blessed.  Ironically enough, that is what happens to Job at the end, doubly blessed by God, and yet not for any reason on Job’s part.  It is not as though God can be manipulated like a slot machine by a ‘formula’ of doing particular outward acts in order to get the material blessings you want.

Another good observation (from both) is Job’s increasing faith throughout the dialogues.  As noted in the ‘Whom Do I Trust?’ series, Job’s speeches get longer and the others’ speeches shorter, showing Job dealing with his problems and increasing in faith.  The faith is often temporary, and then Job lapses back into despair, as also noted in Barrett’s series.

As sometimes happens, here I note a few areas of disagreement or questionable matters, on secondary issues:

  • Danny Hyde describes the behemoth and leviathan as modern-day animals such as water buffaloes and crocodiles.  Online resources have considered the details of these texts, to show that these animals fit with the very early time of the book of Job and do not really work as descriptions of modern-day animals; good evidence exists that these were what we know of as dinosaurs and historically were called dragons; reference this article from Creation Ministries International.
  • In the Barrett series, the dream and spirit references made by Eliphaz (Job 4:12-21; see this article) were legitimate revelations from God, in that age before the closed canon when God communicated by dreams — to unsaved biblical characters such as Joseph’s pharaoh; other examples here would include Nebuchadnezzar, Abimelech (Genesis 20), and Laban (Genesis 31) – and in visions and theophanies to His people.  (Though I would add that dream visions also came to God’s people, such as Joseph himself.)  Elsewhere I have read, regarding Job 4:12-21, that this spirit was actually not God but demonic (see, for example, this Days of Praise devotional).

I would have liked to see more treatment of the fourth, younger, friend Elihu.  Danny Hyde seems to just put him in the same category as the three friends, and completely skips over the Elihu chapters as well as the epilogue that mentions Job sacrificing for his three friends (specifically named), because the three friends had not spoken rightly about God.  Barrett briefly mentioned Elihu, noting that he didn’t quite know what to make of Elihu and had different feelings (depending on his mood) regarding Elihu.  Future messages in his series may add more teaching about Elihu.

Still, though, full treatment of everything in Job would require a commentary, rather than a survey series.  The 9 part series from Danny Hyde, as well as Michael Barrett’s series (in progress) accomplish their purposes, teaching on the major theme of the book of Job along with great application to the Christian life and how we deal with suffering when it happens.

A Theology of Suffering: Mark Talbot Lectures

April 10, 2018 Leave a comment

From last fall’s free special from Reformed Resources, a series done a few years ago by Mark Talbot is very helpful, a five-part series on Trusting God When We Suffer.  These lectures look at what suffering is, within the plan of God: a divine, though unsought gift.  Yes, we do not seek suffering – but it is still a gift from God.  So much information is presented, and presented clearly with the challenge for us to really think hard about it, to think through it.

Talbot mentioned a book he was working on, not yet published; this book is apparently still unpublished, but one free book resource from John Piper includes a chapter from Talbot: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.

Talbot responds to apostate agnostic Bart Ehrman, who has claimed that the Bible has nothing to say about the reality of suffering by believers; according to Ehrman, the Bible depicts a loving God who rescues His people and does not allow suffering, but instead provides good and prosperity not only in the life to come, but in this life also.  By contrast, scriptural examples of suffering (many to pick from) include the stories of Naomi (Ruth 1), Job, and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20).  Profound suffering sometimes involves the person coming to have false beliefs about God, such as Jeremiah in chapter 20; in other cases such as Naomi, the person maintains their basic belief in the goodness of God, while seeing no possibility of any further good in their own life.

Suffering includes physical and mental, and sometimes both, as well as many levels and degrees. It is person-relative, such that the particular suffering one person endures, would not necessarily affect another – an adolescent being bullied online versus an adult’s more mature response, for example.  An overall definition of suffering:  from the sufferer’s standpoint, all suffering involves something disrupting his/her life’s pleasantness, to the point where that disruption feels disagreeable enough that he/she wants it to end.  Suffering can be considered on a sliding scale, from minor (such as Talbot’s wife, who dislikes Wagner and Opera, having to listen to it) through more intense, chronic, or other types of suffering.   For scriptural support, Hebrews 12:1-13 deals with this in the abstract, the definition. For experience of it, we can turn to many places in the Bible, including the Psalms – such as Psalm 126, which contrasts positive and negative events.

A solid theology of suffering includes application from the many Bible accounts of actual suffering, “breathing” the promises of God, and a robust understanding of God’s sovereignty over everything – including our next breath, and even our thoughts.  How many times in everyday life do we start to say something and then realize we don’t know the words to express it, or forget what we were about to say?  God is sovereign over our thoughts.  Theological anthropology is another term, the biblical understanding of what it means to be human—and applied to suffering.

Talbot references studies that conclude that most people are happy most of the time – when accounting for all other factors such as age, gender, and economic situation – as long as a few basic physical and social needs are met.  Thus we find that poor people in third world countries are happier than some wealthy, successful people in developed countries.  Again we can return to biblical proof:  Acts 14, Paul’s speech to the people who attempted to offer sacrifices to him and Barnabas (as Hermes and Zeus); verse 17,  “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

We view life within the bookends of scripture, the first two and the last two chapters of God’s word.  Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 both describe a time – past and future – of undisturbed peace and pleasantness.  Everything in between these two times will be a mixture of pleasant and painful experiences.

Another area where people get tripped up is in their view of God as our Father.  Viewing this from a bottom-up expansion, of how good human fathers are and thus how much more God is this way, sufferers have trouble with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-11.  Instead we need to see God as Father from a “top-down” view:  God is the starting point, all goodness is in Him; when we happen to see some goodness in human fathers, that is a derivative or shadow of the reality in God.  Further analysis also brings out the reality of even human parenting: children cannot see the future, long-term good of certain things done by their parents – who have long-term goals for their children such as a good education and life-skills.  Mark Talbot as a child could not understand the value of the restriction his mother placed on him, requiring him to read for a certain amount of time every day before going out to play; the child who wants to have the same “popular” shoes as every other kid cannot appreciate the value of a different, higher quality shoe.

This series is very helpful, with a lot of information to think through – and held up to a second round of listening a few weeks later.  For further study of the theology of suffering, the above-mentioned book by John Piper looks interesting.  The Tabletalk issue from April 2007 (the same calendar year as 2018) also featured a study on Grief, with several articles on suffering and grief.  A good quote from one of the articles, ‘From Grief to Glory’:

God will birth His glory in us as we allow ourselves to honestly and passionately face our most terrible losses. To live honestly is to admit the pain and sadness of the loss. There is no reason to live in denial — Jesus did not die on the cross so we can pretend. … We must embrace God and the mystery of His provision and His sovereignty in the midst of our suffering. Through the pain, God is birthing a child who depends upon Him more and knows that He is good even in the most difficult of times.

All of us will experience loss. We will either withdraw from our loss with creative repressive strategies, or we will embrace our loss with faith in God. God is continually birthing renewed, revitalized, and dependent believers, but the road to hope often navigates through despair.