Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Suffering

You’re Not the First Person to Ask

Faith Doubt QuestionsWe’ve All Got Questions

We all have questions we’d like answers to. But sometimes the questions we have of God can be the scariest to ask: we want to be reverential, not blasphemous. What if the question offends God?

More than that, deep-down we can be kind of afraid that there is no answer. What would that mean for our faith?

For some, the persistent presence of questions unasked has been a catalyst to their rejecting or abandoning of the Christian faith all together. That need not be so. In fact, the people in the Bible — those God uses to write his very word! — often asked the toughest questions of all.

Have you read them?

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The Cesspit and the Perfume

You don’t have to spend too much time with me before you’ll find out that one of my heroes in the faith is Aurelius Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo. He is a brilliant thinker, a captivating writer, and a theologian who stirs souls as well as minds.

A couple of weeks ago he would have celebrated his 1658th birthday (he lived 354-430AD). In other words, he lived a long time ago. A lot has changed in the world, but his writings continue to remain both relevant and helpful. Recently I’ve been reading his City of God.

Here are some of his thoughts on the good & evil that befalls both righteous and unrighteous people.

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A Disciple of Power & Suffering

I was really challenged in my study this week by this quote from Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, comparing the ending of Luke with the ending of Acts. I want to pause and think about what understanding this more would change in my life.

Or compare the endings of Luke and Acts. The Gospel ends with a long and detailed focus on Jesus’ passion and death. In fact, Lk 9:51 introduces the theme of Jesus journeying toward Jerusalem and the cross earlier than does any other Gospel. Acts, too, slows down its narrative substantially to focus on Paul’s final, fateful journey to Jerusalem and the sufferings and imprisonments that await him there, in Caesarea and in Rome. Luke may or may not have written his account after Paul’s eventual death, but he certainly sees parallels in the closing stages of the lives of both Jesus and Paul. These kinds of similarities between Luke and Acts suggest that Luke saw the life of a faithful disciple as often imitating that of Christ, both in its spiritual power and in the necessity of suffering. What was true for Paul should therefore be true for us. Unfortunately, we rarely find the combination of the themes “power” and “suffering” in contemporary Christianity; those who successfully emphasize the one usually tend to play down the other. 1

I pray that I would become more of that type of disciple: expecting power, enduring suffering, and reflecting Christ in all.

Notes:

  1. From Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 422.

Three Reasons to Have Joy in Trials

The Apostle Peter

This past Sunday at GFC we began a new series in the book of 1 Peter called ‘A Holy People Living Wholly for God.’ One of the themes that’s immediately apparent in this letter is that of suffering. Peter is clearly writing to Christians whom he expects will undergo trials. The suffering for them, to this point, is not extreme or absolute. Rather, they are ‘grieved by various trials.’ Some are worse than others, all are different, none are fun.

Peter reminds them of their salvation (1 Pet 1.3-5) and tells them that in light of their salvation they can still rejoice despite undergoing hardship (1 Pet 1.6). Apart from their salvation itself (with a certain future hope of an inalienable, glorious inheritance), there are at least three reasons given by Peter why Christians can rejoice in their trials. Though many of our circumstances are different, all of his reasons still pertain to us today.

1. Whatever trials I have are necessary

These are Peter’s words: ‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved…’. In other words, you have not been grieved by anything that is not necessary. Peter began his letter by reminding them that they had become ‘elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (1 Pet 1.1-2), indicating that all their sufferings in this life, like everything in their lives, had been ordained by their Father who loves them. Here the same holds true. Whatever a Christian suffers, it is necessary. God the Father does not discipline his children or call them to suffer on a whim. When he calls them to this it is necessary for their good, according to his wisdom.

So whatever you are suffering right now, here is one reason to have joy: God the Father, who loves you, deems it necessary. It is not meaningless, but full of purpose.

2. Whatever trials I have are for proving my faith

Sometimes we are tempted to think that my sufferings are intended to break us. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Peter says your trials are ‘so that the tested genuineness of your faith’ may be seen (1 Pet 1.7). When God ordains trials in your life, they are not to break you, but to prove to you and to all onlookers that your faith is genuine. The trials are just the fire which refines your faith and makes it more pure. As your faith is purified it becomes even purer, more enduring, more precious.

So whatever you are suffering right now, you can remember this: even in the trials, God is proving and purifying your faith which is the very thing which guarantees your inheritance (1 Pet 1.4-5). Through trials our living hope grows stronger thus giving us even more joy.

3. Trials will result in praise, glory, and honour

The tested genuineness of our faith (while something to find joy in) is not an end in and of itself. Rather, our tested and proven faith has a result: praise, glory and honour (1 Pet 1.7).

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself to whom the praise and glory and honour go? Our gut instinct is obviously to respond that all praise and glory and honour go to God alone. But I think Peter is getting at something different here. Compare these other texts:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2.28-29)

Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor 4.5)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1.12)

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Pet 5.4)

Isn’t that mind-blowing? Somehow in the wisdom of God it pleases him to crown us for our genuine faith, even though our faith is only upheld by his power (1 Pet 1.5).

So if there was ever a reason to rejoice in trials, here it is: When my faith is proven genuine it will result in praise and glory and honour from God! Can you imagine anything better than that? Can you imagine anything more joy-filled and humbling than that?

A joy greater than circumstances

Of course none of these things make suffering easy. The trials themselves are never joyful, nor are we specifically to find joy in the circumstances of the trial (as if we delight in pain). But we do have joy in this transcendent reality: the trials are necessary because our all-wise heavenly Father has ordained them for the proving of our faith, that we might receive praise and glory and honour from him. And of course, as we receive it, we will reflect all of it back to him as the one who upheld our faith by his power.

Our joy is not found in the trials, it is found in a hope and a future that is greater than our trials. God is working all things for our good.

After the Last Tear Falls…

Even though the album came out some time ago, lately I’ve been loving this song by Andrew Peterson. I thought I’d post the video here for you to hopefully be blessed as well.

Eight Perspectives on the Problem of Human Suffering

RBY Scott, in his book The Way of Wisdom (New York: MacMillan, 1971, 144-147) offers eight solutions / perspectives to take on the problem of human suffering. These perspectives are based on his analysis of Old Testament wisdom literature in particular.

Here’s Scott’s list:

  1. Retributive — just punishment for sin (Job 4.7-9; 8.20)
  2. Disciplinary — corrective affliction (Deut 8.3; Prov 3.11-12)
  3. Probationary — God’s testing of the heart (Deut 8.2; Job 1.6-12; 2.10)
  4. Temporary or apparent, in comparison with the good (or bad) fortune of others (Job 5.18; 8.20-21; Ps 73)
  5. Inevitable, as a result of the Fall (Job 5.6-7; Ps 14.1-4)
  6. Necessarily mysterious, since God’s character and plan are inscrutable (Job 11.7; 42.3; Eccl 3.11)
  7. Haphazard and morally meaningless, in that time and chance happen to all (Job 21.23, 25-26; Eccl 9.11-12)
  8. Vicarious — one may suffer for another or for the many (Deut 4.21; Ps 106.23; Isa 53.3, 9, 12)

Anything you’d add? Any of them that don’t make sense? Isn’t it interesting how in some sense, we can see Christ taking on each one of these types of suffering during his life, ministry, and death? Even the suffering of the Old Testament anticipates the Messiah!

The Purpose of Pain

The other day Stacey returned home with a special purchase for Susannah. It was a bottle of bright-coloured, foaming hand soap. Susannah has reached an age where we want her to be able to do more things (like washing her hands) on her own.

Susannah took to this task with joy! She stood at the sink (on a stool) like a big girl. She got her hands all soaped up, and then her daddy said, ‘Put your hands under the water and rinse them off.’ So she put her hands under the water… only to quickly pull them out and yelp, ‘Hot!’

I had accidentally left the tap turned a little too far too the left. She wasn’t badly hurt at all, but looked at me as if to say, ‘I’m not doing that again!’

That got me thinking about pain. I thank God that Susannah is able to feel pain. Not because I like the thought of my daughter hurting, but because I know God’s purposes in pain are good.

Medically speaking, it seems that the purposes of pain are generally straightforward: Pain alerts you to the fact that something is wrong in your body and needs attention. Something must be done now to avoid greater consequences later. Pain is a warning.

In James 5, James is alerting his audience–people who are undergoing suffering–that they must be patient to endure hardship and pain. He gives them several reasons. He argues that those who persecute them will be finally judged, and that the Judge stands at the door. He also refers to the prophets, and then to Job.

When he gets to Job, James becomes more specific and says,

you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The Lord’s purpose in Job’s suffering was compassionate and merciful. At the end of Job’s turmoil, not only did he receive back more than he ever lost, he said these words:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. … I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust ashes.

The Lord’s purpose in Job’s suffering was to reveal more of himself to Job–and then ultimately to us, thousands of years later. God was revealing himself as one who is compassionate and merciful, even in suffering.

There are things which are eternal and there are things which are temporal; things which will matter when the Judge appears, and other things that won’t. At least a part of the purpose in our pain in this life is to warn us of a bigger problem: that this world and everything in it is cursed because of sin, and already under condemnation. We suffer pain, things fall apart, tragedy happens, all to warn us of a potentially greater tragedy to come: eternal condemnation and wrath against sinners for sin.

If Susannah didn’t feel pain at the little bit of hot water, she might leave her hands there until they were scalded and then permanently damaged. The pain was uncomfortable, but it let her know that if she didn’t act, worse would result. The Lord’s purpose in pain is–like his purpose in everything else–compassionate and merciful. He desires to show us that there is no ultimate life, no hope, no safety in this world. Those things can and must be found in him alone. He wants to ween us off our selfish joy-seeking in the creation so that we might pursue true joy-seeking in the Creator.

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