“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
Suffering is inevitable.
At some point in our lives, we will encounter people who are going through a difficult season. At some point in our lives, we will go through a season of tremendous difficulty ourselves. As I have encountered both of these scenarios, I wanted to offer a thought on what to do during those times.
The Book of Job is believed to be the oldest book in the Bible, and it also proves to be the most challenging to digest. Without getting into the exegetical aspects of Job, I want to offer one observation from the narrative. When Job suffered for no fault of his own, he was able to express his great frustration in the silence and mystery of a mighty God. When Job was drowning in sorrow, he lamented that he was in a tempest and that God would not let him catch his breath.
He was treading water and his friends were present. So far so good.
Job was treading water and his friends knew it. But his friends offered advice, moralizing sermons, and asinine comments. They did not sit with Job in his pain, but instead told him what to do instead. They were present in an unhelpful way. While comments of God’s justice and power are true, those comments were not helpful. Romans 8:28 is a wonderful verse, but it is not helpful to share with someone who just experienced tremendous loss.
Grieve with those who grieve.
During seasons of lament, we have permission to grieve and mourn. As friends of the mourner, we need to provide an atmosphere where the suffering person can be upset and process their grief. Whether it is the loss of a marriage, a job, an identity, stability, or family member, there needs to be a safe place to unload our emotional burdens.
We need friends who mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. We need these friends who listen well and will enter into our pain through purely being present, instead of offering cheap platitudes. There will be a time for action, but perhaps that time is not in the initial days of grief.
In short, mourn with those who mourn, so that one day you can rejoice with those same people who will one day return to rejoicing.
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.”
One of the beautiful elements of Christian theology is that injustice and evil do not have a final word. Justice needs to be satisfied and something needs to be done about the genocides, the murders in major cities, and the young girl who died of cancer this morning. These things should not get the final word.
Richard John Neuhaus points out in his breathtakingly poignant devotional work Death on a Friday Afternoon that somebody has to be blamed for the pain and hurt in the world (theodicy). If somebody has to be blamed, then the finger of humanity is pointed directly at God (if there is a God).
God is guilty.
God is to be blamed.
“The word ‘theodicy’ means the judgment of God—not God judging us but our judging God. The philosophical problem of theodicy is that of trying to square God’s ways with our sense of justice. The assumes that we know what justice is, but the entire story the Bible tells begins with the error of the presumption. It is the original error of our wanting to name good and evil. Right from the start Adam tried to put God in the dock, making God responsible for the fall because, after all, God gave him the woman who tempted him to sin. From the beginning we see the argument building up to humanity’s cry, ‘God is guilty!’—building up to the derelict nailed to the cross.”
God accepted the verdict we passed on him. He accepted what had to be done about what we had done.
When we look at the bloody, mess of a man on the cross, we see how far God went for you and me—he abided by a sham of a trial and subsequently gets the final word about injustice.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”
Jesus gets the final word. He gets the final word and ensures the final word is rooted in both justice and mercy. He said, “It is finished” on the cross and in his last words of the Bible (Revelation 22), he said, “Surely I am coming soon.”