You know what really bothers me? All this talk about suffering in the Bible. How suffering is necessary to conform us into the image of Jesus. How suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5). Quite honestly, I want to go all Thomas Jefferson on this and cut these passages out of the Bible.
Am I the only one here?
But here’s the thing guys and gals— I believe that the Bible is God’s Word. No, not in the sense where it was dictated word for word. No, no, not that way at all. Instead, it is a revealing of who God is through many authors and genres. While Jesus definitively reveals who God is (since he’s God in the flesh), the other books of the Bible also paint portraits of God. And the Bible speaks to suffering in a completely different way from other world religions and worldviews.
Suffering is not some esoteric debate topic— it’s a very real thing. We all suffer in life, while some might suffer greater than others, all cannot escape . However, the way we handle suffering is quite different.
Christianity is different because God himself suffered. He knows what it’s like to suffer, both in want and in hurt. Not only did the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, suffer a brutal death through crucifixion, he also encountered separation from the Father.* The Christian faith makes the claim that God understands suffering and he is not indifferent to it. There is coming a time when wrongs will be righted and a Kingdom of Righteousness will be implemented—when the world is put to rights.
Until that day, we live in a broken world. The sunshine and rain alike will fall both on those who follow Jesus and those who reject him. And for this we wait in profound assurance that God hears our prayers in the middle of suffering.
*The second person of the Trinity experienced separation from the first person of the Trinity on the cross. If we understand that God is Trinitarian (3 in 1 and 1 in 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then this separation can be seen as incredibly painful. The eternal relationship within the Trinitarian God had an incredible strain, since Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross.
Have you ever felt like there were dark stains in the Bible that you were embarrassed about? In a new book by Joshua Ryan Butler, the Portland-area pastor speaks to three common stereotypes of God in his work “The Skeletons in God’s Closet.” Tackling the topics of hell, judgment, and holy war, Butler seeks to reframe our understanding of God in a modern world.
Butler sees these three tough topics differently than many in the more secular areas of the West Coast. He sees that God has mercy in hell, that judgment is incredibly gracious and just, and that holy war in the Old Testament is actually full of hope. Butler is up front in his philosophical framework, arguing from a place that God is good—regardless of our understanding.
What I appreciated about Butler’s works is that he did not shy away from these topics, but instead chose to paint the big caricatures first. Hell is a torture chamber with people begging to get out, Jesus is over the top in his judgments, and God is too violent (after all he ordered his people into genocide). He does not diminish objections, but systematically addresses them one by one in a gracious manner.
Butler does not leave it at diminishing opponents’ arguments though, what he does is so much greater. He chooses to offer something more productive through the reframing of arguments and constructing alternate narratives about God. He does take some interpretive license at times, so I would recommend doing your homework as you walk alongside Butler in his arguments.
For those who might be struggling with the harsher skeletons in the closet, I recommend Butler’s “The Skeletons in God’s Closet” for an open conversation on the dirty laundry of the Christian faith.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
“After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood opened!”
When we read Revelation responsibly (and I would urge you to neither be afraid of it nor read it with the lenses of the dispensationalist Left Behind series), we need to understand that things are not as they seem. There is more to this world than meets the eye. The ruling powers of that time (Rome) might have brutally persecuted the Church, but the Throne was/is occupied by God. It is through this apocalypse (unveiling) that we are given new glasses to view the broken world.
…the Lamb on the throne, and the ‘new song’ sung to him. That scene is the single-most important scene in the whole of The Book of Revelation. Everything else must be understood in its light.
The entire narrative of the book of Revelation will simply not make sense if we don’t grasp the vision of the Throne Room found in Revelation 4 and 5.
Eugene Peterson points out that we are not “being taught any new truth beyond what we are given in the other sixty-five books of the Bible. We being taught the truth in a new way, in a way that stays with us, and transforms us. Revelation 4 is a powerful summary of the message of the Old Testament. Revelation 5 is powerful summary of the message of the New Testament.”
Friend, can I remind us both to “look?” Look, the door is open! Look, there is a throne! And the Lamb that was slain has power over the chaos, evil, and death ensnaring the cosmos. Look!
What keeps you from looking?
Lately, I have been feeling somewhat unsettled, and I was/am not quite certain where the feeling comes from.
Have you ever had that feeling?
Naturally enough for me, these thoughts actually led me down the rabbit trail of wondering if this unsettled feeling is a normal thing this side of the Kingdom of God.
I remember in seminary discussing about the fact that Christ followers are exiles and displaced people, waiting in eager expectation for the Kingdom of God to be fully manifested on earth. After all, during Advent we pray for the return of Jesus and for the full establishment of the Kingdom. For now, we wait in tents for the coming King and his Kingdom.
Remember the great Hallelujah chorus found in Handel’s Messiah? There is a wonderful line in there that rings,
The kingdom of this world is become, The kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and of his Christ, And he shall reign forever and ever, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Handel and the writer of the Revelation get it right in expressing this continued tension between the already arrival of the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of God is at hand!, Jesus said in Mark 1) and the not yet complete fulfillment. That is the tension we live in. We wait for the Kingdom of God and his reign. We live in the tension between two worlds– two kingdoms and we wait for the return of Jesus.
For now, we prayerfully sing, O Come, O come, Emmanuel!
I use a reader during the Advent season composed of various Christian authors called Watch for the Light. On one of the days, I was struck by a passage by J.B. Philips where he writes on our waiting for the second Advent, the Return of Jesus in all his glory,
The New Testament is indeed a book full of hope, but we may search it in vain for any vague humanist optimism. The second coming of Christ, the second irruption of eternity into time, will be immediate, violent and conclusive. The human experiment is to end, illusion will give way to reality, the temporary will disappear before the permanent, and the king will be seen for who he is. The thief in the night, the lightning flash, the sound of the last trumpet, the voice of God’s archangel—these may all be picture language, but they are pictures of something sudden, catastrophic, and decisive. By no stretch of the imagination do they describe a gradual process.
I believe that the athiestic-scientifc-humanist point of view is, despite its apparent humanitarianism, both misleading and cruel. In appearance it may resemble Christianity in that it would encourage tolerance, love, understanding, and the amelioration of human conditions. But at heart it is cruel, because it teaches that this life is the only life, that we have no place prepared for us in eternity, and that the only realities are those that we can appreciate in our present temporary habitations…
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Growing up in a dispensationalist church, we spoke often about the end times. We spoke about wars, rumors of war, pestilence, and famine all as signs that Jesus was coming back soon. While the Left Behind series might have been taken as a dramatization of these last days, I never fully grasped the hope of Revelation.
Since leaving that tradition and mindset, I have found myself gravitating to these final chapters of this book. It became real for me when both of my grandparents were fading away on their deathbed. I remember reading to them about the hope of the New Jerusalem and the River of Life. After all, where else can we turn to when loved ones are so close to crossing the River Jordan?Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
In Christ, there is hope and there is a measure of peace in the face of loss. The incarnation points us to this new reality, this hope that God not only made us but he also came for those who were lost. He came not for those who believe they were never lost, instead he came for those who desperately needed to be found.
The weeks leading up to Christmas is not just about pondering his birth, or about finding a peaceful time of year. As much as I appreciate the great Charles Dickens, it is not just about generosity and kindness toward our fellow men and women. In Advent, we look to the promise penned by Isaac Watts that Jesus comes to spread blessing as far as the curse of sin is found. He comes to bless and restore the broken things of this world.No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.
How do you see God righting the world through the return of Jesus?
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Do you ever ask God to show up? Do you ever ask him to help you and it seems as if he forgot or perhaps overlooked you?
I wonder if the ancient people of Israel felt that way, when they found themselves in the position of perpetual invasions, exiles, and enslavement. I wonder if they felt that way when prophets told them about a coming messiah who would come and lead them to peace. They must have cried out to God in the darkness of their souls.
How long, O Lord? How long?
This cry, this yearning is something at the core of my heart. How long until God acts to save his people and remove the crap that is in the world? When will the wars, hatred, illness, and pure evil that contaminate the world be removed? Lord come quickly.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
As a people of the Way, we wait. We wait for Jesus to return and right the world. We wait for the Kingdom of God to set up a permanent home, so that his will might be done on earth is it is in heaven. In the season of Advent, we wait.
Come Lord Jesus, come.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
How do you stay sane during the wait?
“And further, not to know when the end is, or when the day of the end will occur is actually a good thing. If people knew the time of the end, they might begin to ignore the present time as they waited for the end days. They might well begin to argue that they should only focus on themselves. Therefore, God has also remained silent concerning the time of our death. If people knew the day of their death, they would immediately begin to neglect themselves for the greater part of their lifetime… this is so that, when things remain uncertain and always in prospect, we advance day by day as if summoned, reaching forward to the things before us and forgetting the things behind…”
Growing up, I used to think the end times were going to happen any minute and it absolutely terrified me. In high school, I thought it was going to happen by college. In college, I just knew it would occur by my mid-twenties. Now that I am the ripe old age of 28, I’ve decided to stop playing apocalyptic meteorologist and simply let God figure that out. For me, I’m thankful that only the Father knows when Jesus will come again.
In II Thessalonians, Paul wrote to the church he planted reassuring them that in fact Jesus had not returned and they did not miss the boat. Funny to think, but they were a little nervous about that.
Heck, when I signed off on the eschatology of the Left Behind series (Pretribulation-dispensationalist eschatology, for those of you keeping score at home), this thought absolutely terrified me! But this is not the “rapture” event portrayed in the Left Behind series that some within the American church believe will occur in the near future. This is the return of Christ, when he puts the world to rights and evil is finally rooted out. That for me is a reason to hope!
As Athanasius pointed out above, if we knew the exact date of his return (or our death, even), then we would probably slack off until the week of the event. OK, maybe you wouldn’t, but I certainly would!
Wait for the Lord’s return, but until then, keep pointing people to Christ. Live as an ambassador of the Kingdom that will one day bring his will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
What do you wait for?
Walking the streets of San Francisco this week brought to mind this passage from C.S. Lewis. Enjoy!
Excerpt from the essay “The Weight of Glory”
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.
But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.
We must play.
But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
—The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.
When I’m worn down and feel drained, I like to remember an end scene. I like to think of a big party where I am personally invited to be with friends and loved ones.
In fiction, there are often closing scenes in great stories that draw us into a celebration, when evil is vanquished and good prevails. I remember the coronation scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings, where the city of Gondor is renewed by the return of the rightful king. I also think about the scene at the end of the Star Wars saga where all the worlds celebrated the defeat of the Empire and look towards a renewed peace.
Why do these endings strike me?
Because they echo another party, one that will come at the close of this present chapter and mark the beginning of a new dawn. John saw this party and recorded it for us, writing:Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
I picture this scene with loved ones, with friends, and departed saints. Not only are my grandparents there, but all those who I have read about from throughout the ages. This party is a future reality, a hope that will be there and an encouragement when things go wrong. This feast full of laughter, wine, and unbridled happiness is coming.
I know it’s not always easy to believe this, it can be a pain to place hope in something down the road, but as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, this feast will get here. The best Thanksgiving dinner you ever had pales in comparison to this one.
Why am I confident in this?
Because the risen Messiah promises it. The dead don’t typically rise, and if they rise bodily, then we ought to listen to them! And the one who conquered death will come to right the world, it might be next Tuesday or the next century, but he will return.
Until he returns, I will place my hope in his promise, for where else can I go? Only Jesus offers the word of life.
What gives you hope?