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an online resource for Reformed Charismatics, Pentecostal Calvinists, & Empowered Evangelicals

Reflections on Suffering & the Sovereignty of God (Chapter 4, part 1)

If you are just now stepping into this conversation, I encourage you to first look over INTRO & CHAPTER 1, CHAPTER 2 PART 1, CHAPTER 2 PART 2, CHAPTER 3, A DETOUR, & DISCUSSIONS.

Chapter 4, entitled WHY GOD APPOINTS SUFFERING FOR HIS SERVANTS, is another one of Piper’s own chapters, and as is normal for Piper, comes out of the starting block with a bold, yet Scripture-drenched proposal:

“Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines his children through suffering. His aim is deeper faith and deeper Holiness. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Jesus experienced the same thing. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). This does not mean that Jesus grew from disobedience to obedience; the same writer says he never sinned (Heb. 4:15). It means that the process through which he demonstrated deeper and deeper obedience was the process of suffering. For us there is not only the need to have our obedience tested and proven deep, but also purified of all remnants of self-reliance and entanglement with the world”

What immediately strikes me here is a quote I have long used in my own personal ministry, the origins of which I no longer can put my finger on: “God is not so much concerned with our happiness as He is our holiness”, or to put it another way: God did not save us to make us comfortable, but to make us like Jesus.

As a “3rd Wave/neoCharismatic“, profoundly influenced by the Vineyard movement, and John Wimber in particular, I carry with me a deep conscious awareness that it is the same Holy Spirit that fills me – a son of Adam – as empowered Jesus – the 2nd Adam – who set aside His rights to God-hood to usher in the Kingdom not ONLY as our savior who hung on a cross, but also as our model, who LIVED a God-empowered life. Think about it: if Jesus only came to simply be a blood sacrifice for us, the Father could have worked it out that he was simply born – perfectly innocent – fully human and yet fully God – then had him killed. Biblically, it would have atoned for God’s people, so why bother living 33 years, working a dull job, maturing as a person, eventually gathering disciples, and living life out before them? Christ modeled what the 1st Adam should have: Kingdom living.

But there is a catch. If Christ was our example in God-empowered life – in Kingdom living – as an example of what it looks like to walk in the miraculous and trust in God, that’s not the only thing He modeled for us, as Piper reminds us of above. Christ was the perfect example of suffering – he was, in fact, the suffering servant. And the suffering of Christ was part of the plan of God from the beginning (before the foundations of the world, in fact), and was FOR GOOD! If Christ, who modeled Kingdom living for us perfectly, suffered so deeply – and according to the will of God the Father, even – why do we assume, as Christ’s followers, that we will not?

In fact, the Bible promises that the opposite is the case.  Romans 8:17 goes so far as to suggest that if we do not find ourselves suffering as followers of Christ, that we may not be saved, when Paul writes there that we are God’s children and “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him“.  And that will take us to our next post…

Ever wondered how we might fill up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions“? Coming soon in Chapter 4, part 2.

Filed under: Bible, Calvinism, Charismatic, Contraversy, Debate, Discipline, Doctrine, Gospel, Holy Spirit, John Piper, Reformed, Salvation, Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, Theology, , , , , , , , , , ,

HEAT & LIGHT: Greatest Hits…

Whenever traffic picks up around here, I like to direct any newer readers to the more often read, and some of the simply more important (by my standards) posts here at Heat & Light.

As always, I suggest everyone begins with the ‘cornerstone’ of all I’ve written here: HOW TO EAT YOUR CAKE. If you read nothing else, read it, for the rest of what I’ve written here flows from it.

The 2nd tier: WHAT IS A REFORMED CHARISMATIC?; EARNESTLY DESIRE SPIRITUAL GIFTS; GOD IS IN CONTROL, CHRISTIAN HEDONISM & PLEASURES EVERMORE, DISCUSSIONS ON SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD, and ETERNAL SECURITY: IS IT BIBLICAL?, all of which expand further what I began explaining in “How to eat your cake”.

And the 3rd tier delves even deeper into some questions and critiques: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MIRACLES?; A FEW GOD-STIRRED THOUGHTS; HOW TO BE A CHARISMATIC IN A NON-CHARISMATIC CHURCH; HOLY LAUGHTER: BLESSING OR CURSE?; and the more recent posts; BE THE REVIVAL (DON’T GO TO ONE); BE THE MIRACLE, and SOUND DOCTRINE & CORRECT PRACTICE IN REVIVAL.

Yes, that’s a lot of reading, but I think it’ll be worth your while. Dive in, and comment – join in the discussion. Maybe God will lead you to teach me something – maybe we can sharpen one another. Either way, be blessed!

So be it!

Filed under: Adrian Warnock, Apostles, Bible, Bob Kauflin, Books, C.H. Spurgeon, C.J. Mahaney, Calvinism, Cessasionist, Charismatic, Christian Hedonism, Continualist, Contraversy, D.A. Carson, Debate, Doctrine, Emotionalism, Evangelical, FAVORITE BLOG POSTS, Flesh, Gospel, Grace, Grace Churches International, Grace Network, Greg Haslam, Ground Network, Hermeneutics, Holy Laughter, Holy Spirit, Intellectualism, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Josh Harris, Jubilee Church, Lakeland Revival, Lloyd-Jones, London, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Michael Fletcher, Miracles, Mystery, Pentecostalism, Pete Greasley, Prayer, prophecy, R.T. Kendall, Reformed, Revival, Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit, Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, Terry Virgo, Theology, Tongues, Wayne Grudem, Westminster Chapel, Word of Faith, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reflections on Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Chapter 2 – part 2)

For the first two parts in this blog read here & here.

Here is the question I posed last: is God involved, and if so, how, in creating, sending, & permitting evil?

I suppose THAT should be simple enough to answer? 😉

Mark Talbot’s chapter, “ALL THE GOOD THAT IS OURS IN CHRIST” brings to bear many troubling and – if seen in the correct light – comforting verses, many of which we tend to skim over in our Bible reading without thinking deeply about what they are really saying.

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'” – Isaiah 46:9b-10a

Talbot clarifies this passage: “They (the Jewish readers) would know that the One who said (Isaiah 46) is the One who ensures this by bringing everything about, including, in the immediate context of Isaiah’s words, ‘calling a bird of prey from the east, …from a far country’ (Isa. 46:10f.) – that is, Cyrus the Great, king of Persia from 559-530 B.C., who would conquer Babylon in 539 B.C. and then allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem so that they could rebuild the temple… God here calls the pagan, unbelieving Cyrus ‘a man to fulfill my purpose.’

God can use evil men – by creating them, sustaining them, and even by not deterring their actions (which He could easily do – look at the boundaries He set around Satan regarding what the devil could and could not do to Job) – to accomplish His own purposes, which He intended and foreknew from the beginning.

Matthew 10:20 says “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Sparrows – in man’s eyes, worth very little. Yet, God’s sovereign hold on things is so all-encompassing – far greater than the so-called ‘sovereignty’ of earthly kings – that even the seemingly insignificant events on earth, like the death of a single half-penny sparrow, only happen because of the Father – only happens because it is the Father’s will to allow it, and bring it to pass.

If not even a sparrow dies apart from the Father’s will, cannot God sovereignly move, direct, and restrain the hearts of evil men? As he adds in Isaiah 46:11b regarding his use of the pagan King Cyrus, “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

Some, when hearing this, will most assuredly run aground trying to understand how this understanding of God’s sovereignty squares with human ‘free will’ but we must always keep in mind that ‘free will’ as a word or phrase is found no where in the Scriptures, and though that is not proof that it does not true (the word “Trinity” is also nowhere found in the Scriptures, but the concept is centrally Biblical), it does seem that we should be incredibly careful to glean the concept of a ‘will’ from God’s Word, and not simply from the Western political ideas that have shaped our thinking far more greatly than we would often be comfortable admitting.

Again, I will revert to an excerpt from a later post, GOD IS IN CONTROL:

“The second foundation of Biblical Faith flows from the first; free will. I do not speak of the free will of man, but rather, the ultimately free and sovereign (all powerful – in control) will of God. It is frequently and clearly stated in Scripture that God does as he pleases. Psalm 135:6 states, “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and in their depths.” Likewise, Isaiah 46:9-10; “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: my purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Lastly, whether or not this passage supports traditionally understood views of salvation (I question that it does), Romans 9:15 indeed makes is clear that God’s will in regard to whom he will be merciful to will not be thwarted; “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.””

That is all just to say, God’s is the only will that is truly free, in the sense that He can do whatever He wills – man’s will must be subject to God’s to some degree, otherwise it may be possible for man, or even angels – like the devil himself – to thwart the will of God (however hard that is to imagine under any circumstances). However, the Bible is clear – God is truly free – He does whatever He pleases, and his purposes will stand. Therefore, it must be true that our will can only be as free as it keeps us from hindering God’s.

Think about it: say there is a man who is riding his bike along a beautiful bike path, when suddenly he hears a car coming up quickly from behind him. Glancing behind him, he sees the car swerving erratically, and knows he has only a moment to act. He dives from his bike to the left of the road, rolling down the sidewalk, and avoiding the speeding, drunk driver, getting nothing worse that some bloody road-rash from the concrete, and some rough marks on his clothes. Now, he chose to dive to the left onto the sidewalk, but was his decision ‘free’ in the sense that a person who emphasizes ‘free will’ would understand it?

Let’s just say that the opposite side of the road from the sidewalk was a stream, which any other bike rider may have opted to dive into to avoid the swerving car – but our bike rider never learned to swim, because his mother lost one of her best friends to drowning and wouldn’t let her children near water except for the bathtub. Let’s say that there was a railroad crossing exactly at the location, so tracks crossed not only the sidewalk to the left, but also created a bridge over the water to his right, which he could have dove towards and clung to – but he lost his own younger brother when he was in his teens because he got his feet stuck between the ties and was hit by a train, causing such a deep seated fear of trains and railroad tracks that he intended on turning around at this point in his bike trip so he wouldn’t have to cross the tracks on his bike. Another option would be to simply stop the bike in the middle of the road and take on the car head on – essentially suicide, but he had a very happy marriage, a good job, great kids, and people he loved who loved him, and killing himself wasn’t really a live option – he simply had too much to live for. If he were me, what he would have most wanted to do upon hearing that speeding car coming from behind is simply fly off his bike (do I have ANY dreams where-in I cannot fly?) like an eagle, out of the impending danger – unfortunately, his basic biology was of a human, and not a bird, so that wasn’t a live option either.

So, our ‘friend’ made his choice – he dove to the left onto the sidewalk – and he was responsible for that decision: the scratches he took were truly his, as was his life which was just saved. But, if you rewinded those events a million times, and played through them over and over again, could he have even considered doing anything else? The events of that day were entirely pre-determined by his genetics, biology, psychology, sociology – everything about who he was, by his birth, upbringing, and the events from his past DROVE him to do the only thing he could: the only option he could will was the one he chose!

I argue that such is our lot, especially when we look at the picture of human freedom painted in the Scriptures – we are absolutely responsible and pay the consequences and/or receive the rewards from our own actions – but to call them ‘free’ in the sense which most of us understand ‘freedom’, especially here in the West – the USA particularly – that seems to be a serious stretch and far outside the Biblical portrait of human freedom. Ask yourselves, is a human ‘will’ which is – in the flesh, before Christ frees it – a ‘slave to sin’ (John 8:34, Romans 6:20) in any sense ‘free’? Can we consider our wills ‘free’ if it is true, as Jesus says, that “…no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65b) and on the flip-side that “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37a)?

Though I admit that Biblically we seem to be given some degree of autonomy regarding our decision making, to call our wills “free” seems to me to be a stretch.

This all goes full circle back to our original topic: though God doesn’t DO evil, his sovereign control over it is far beyond what we are often comfortable with, but also brings us our greatest hope – the gospel itself:

“…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” – Acts 2:23

“…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” – Acts 4:27-28

The ‘lawless men’ – Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews – who killed God the Son, Jesus Christ, were entirely responsible for the evil done on that great day, however God had carried them along in the strongest sense of the word – He had actually predestined it (i.e. – it could not have happened any differently!) – he called them ‘annointed’ for this purposed – he had not only allowed, but had somehow ‘planned’ according to ‘foreknowledge’ to use the greatest evil the world has ever known for the greatest good possible: the death of the God-man, was the salvation of all who would believe.

This is why I see God’s sovereignty over evil as a comfort, and not something to despair over – if neither the death of a sparrow, nor the death of God’s son were meaningless evil, then neither is the pain and suffering I undergo as I live this life being conformed more and more into the image of Jesus for God’s glory.

Stay tuned next week for my reflections on chapter 3, one of John Piper’s chapters, “THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD”.

discuss…

Filed under: Bible, Books, Calvinism, Contraversy, Debate, Doctrine, Mystery, Philosophy, Reformed, Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, Theology

Reflections on Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Chapter 2 – part 1)

For the first part of this blog, please see “Reflections on the Suffering and Sovereignty of God (Intro & Chapter 1)”.

Diving right into the deep end, Chapter 2 of Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, entitled “All the Good that is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others do to Us”, is one of the most profound, and hard to grasp, of the whole book – and, after multiple re-reads, it is quite possibly my favorite.

In it, professor Mark Talbot addresses some of – given the nature of my friend’s comments the earlier blog – the most natural questions to ask when discussing this issue. Mark says; “Scripture declares that the Judge of all the earth will always do what is right (see Genesis 18:25). God is, as Moses sings, ‘the rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.’ He is a ‘faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.’ (Deut. 32:4, NIV). God never does evil.”

The Scripture is clear on this – God does what is right, perfect, & just – he is faithful, does no wrong, and never does evil. Then I think back to my upbringing, and my own fatherhood so far with my sons: as our children are young, we protect them from all sorts of dangers – we are direct and forthright about telling them what to do and what not to do, but we do expect them to eventually grow out of that, and in order to do that, sometimes we – knowingly – let them make their own mistakes. Sometimes even now I’ll see him trying something that I’m pretty sure will NOT turn out as he hoped, but since there seems to be little long-term danger in it, I’ll sit back and watch, so he can learn for himself – so he can mature. In those situations, I am not actively doing anything wrong – I am not forcing my son’s hand, or coercing his will, but I am still overseeing and even – as much as a finite human can be of another human’s actions – mostly in control of the situation as it unfolds. I will indeed maintain the situation so no ultimate harm befalls my son, yet it is my decision to allow what takes place, and in such a case, I even see the long-term good in it, even though I could never bring myself to DO the thing to him, myself. Though any human analogy has it’s faults, there is much truth in this. Regarding this, Talbot adds, “…this is not to say that God does not create, send, permit, or even move others to do evil, for Scripture is clear that nothing arises, exists or endures independently of God’s will.”

The first verse he uses to support his case is Hebrews 1:3: “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The word here we translate as “upholds” means ‘to bring or bear or produce or carry’. Wayne Grudems states that this word is commonly used “…for carrying something from one place to another, such as bringing a paralyzed man on a bed to Jesus… bringing wine to the steward of the feast… or bringing a cloak and books to Paul.” “Upholds” doesn’t mean to merely ‘sustain’, as Talbot makes clear “God the Son holds each and every aspect of creation, including all of its evil aspect, in his ‘hands’…and carries it…to where it accomplishes exactly what he wants it to do.”

So, though it is absolutely true that God never does evil, the level of control, involvement in, and power over evil that the Bible seems to give to God goes much further than most Christians are comfortable allowing. Our God is far bigger than we know.

So, is God involved, and if so, how, in creating, sending, permitting evil? That’ll be Chapter 2 – part 2, coming soon.

Filed under: Books, Doctrine, John Piper, Reformed, Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, Theology

Reflections on Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Intro & Chapter 1)

An online discussion among some of my friends a couple of months ago brought to mind the importance of grappling with God’s sovereignty and the issue of suffering. Given that the most powerful book I’ve ever read that Biblically addresses this issue is Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, (which is also available as a conference DVD set) edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor, I’m going to take time out over the next few weeks to reflect on this book chapter-by-chapter.

For starters, it would probably benefit everyone to read my older post GOD IS IN CONTROL, as it relates directly to this topic, but for those who can’t find the time, here is the most relevant excerpt:

…the human authors of Scripture had so high a view of God’s sovereignty as to even recognize evil as being ultimately from the hand of God. For instance, in spite of that fact that Satan was the one immediately bringing violence upon Job, Job himself stated, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” Job spoke truthfully, as well, for immediately afterward the author adds, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Also look at Isaiah 45:7; “I form light and create darkness, I make comfort and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” Or Lamentations 3:38; “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come?” Though at first this may sound unnerving, there is also comfort to be found here, for since God is ultimately sovereign over all and even the devil is “the God’s devil”, there is no meaningless or purposeless evil, for God ultimately has allowed it and will use it for the good of His children.

That is what I find most comforting in Piper’s (dare I say God’s?) view of God’s sovereignty and suffering: there is absolutely NO meaningless suffering or evil, even if we – in this lifetime – never fully understand the purpose of it now.

On to SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (Full Book), chapter one, most of which is summarized in this post on Piper’s website. I was struck by one quote in particular here.

Piper wrote, in response to a quote by David Wells on the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, that by them, “our vision of God in relation to evil and suffering was shown to be frivolous”. He later expounded:

“Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil. The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in His hand. The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like land mines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty.”

Reading this, however, my first thought is that it is not enough to simply address the issue of evil and suffering Biblically – in fact, that is not the issue whatsoever. It is not necessary to teach someone how to deal with evil and suffering if they have a big enough (Biblical) picture of God to recognize His hand in it. I heard once of a church that addressed the issue of suffering from the pulpit, telling their congregation that “God didn’t know” and that “He couldn’t stop it anymore than you could.” That’s just one example of where addressing the issue, but from a less than Scriptural viewpoint, can do more harm than good. Yes, at the moment it may feel better, but in the long-run, how is such a weak, impotent God worth worshiping?

So, how do we keep from painting ‘trivial notion(s) of the Almighty’? I say, by emphasizing two truths: God’s goodness (shown in His love, grace, mercy, etc.) AND his sovereignty (shown in his power, judgment, and authority). Biblical truth is a collection of ‘tensions’ – it is when settle for only one part of the big picture that we begin sliding towards heresy and cultism. God’s sovereignty without His goodness leaves us with a brutal dictator – unloving and unlovable, not unlike some Muslim’s view of Allah, who we must slave to please, always aware that pleasing Him is impossible. However, God’s goodness without his sovereignty leaves us with a cuddly bunny-rabbit deity – ‘Buddy Christ’, if you will – who is a pushover, and too ‘nice’ to make any long-term impact on our lives, let alone the world around us. Both ‘gods’ are deities of our imagination, however, not the God of revelation.

More to come as I move on to Mark Talbot‘s chapter, “ALL THE GOOD THAT IS OURS IN CHRIST”…

(Let me encourage you all to personally read this book and not only my commentary, because what might strike me as important in it may not be what catches you, and there is far too much in here for me to cover it all!)

Filed under: Books, Doctrine, John Piper, Reformed, Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, Theology

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