Greg was interviewed on Ray Comfort’s internet show, “On the Box,” last week, discussing the relationship between apologetics and proclaiming the gospel, the speakers at Stand to Reason, the need to persevere in fighting against abortion, the Ambassador’s Creed, and Ray Comfort’s accent. Enjoy.
In John 11, when Jesus arrives in Bethany and sees Mary and her friends and family weeping at Lazarus’s death, Jesus Himself weeps. The two reactions to this from the mourners are particularly interesting, for they represent well the common reactions suffering people have toward God today:
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?"
There are those who see Jesus dying on the cross to put an end to suffering and say, "See how He loved us!" And there are those who say, "If He's really all-powerful, couldn't he have prevented the suffering in the first place?" The first set has their eyes fixed on God Himself; the second is firmly focused on their own thwarted plans.
Needless to say, the second view leads straight to anger and bitterness. Only the first view, resting on God’s loving, trustworthy character, is strong enough to carry a person through suffering.
John says that after Jesus heard about His friend’s illness, though He knew it would lead to death, He waited two days before coming to Lazarus and his sisters because He loved them. Lazarus was about to have the magnificent honor of showing God's glory to the world: "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it." Through that situation, those who had eyes to see saw Jesus' love, saw Him disturbed by suffering, saw that He was the giver of life and the healer of all things, saw that He was more powerful than death.
Could Jesus have prevented Lazarus from dying? Certainly. But what the people complaining about Jesus' lack of action could not see was that Jesus had something greater in mind for Lazarus (and for the world) than a mere healing.
Now what if every instance of our suffering is likewise not an end in itself, but remains "for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it"? Lord, help us to say in all circumstances, "See how He loves me!" as we keep our eyes on Your love and compassion revealed in the cross and wait to see how You will give us the joy of bringing glory to You through every situation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together about living in—and glorifying God through—the hard realities of Christian communities. If we’re to have real fellowship, we must first shatter our utopian expectations of life with our fellow Christians:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves…. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.
It's difficult to love real people in real churches when you're trying to attain an ideal that does not exist. Embracing the reality of our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others is the only way to enter true fellowship—with all members completely dependent on Christ for forgiveness, hiding nothing from each other, experiencing conflict and forgiveness, and extending grace to others because we receive grace from Him. A church that is focused on building the perfect community will never have the patience to recognize and work on the community that already exists. Bonhoeffer continues:
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself…When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Disillusionment is necessary if we're to settle down to learn what God would have us learn, rejoicing in our weakness, thankful for His strength, humbled by our sin; but we have to move on through this, or we'll end up wandering from church to church, spiritually alone and trapped in bitterness. We don't need to chase after a vision when, in truth, our struggle with God through the difficulties of reality reveals His power and glory and shapes our character far more than would our participation in the (mythical) perfect community.
I’m seeing quite a lot of Facebook discussion on the article “Key Minnesota pastors opt out of marriage fight” about John Piper “opting out” of the discussion on same-sex marriage. And I’ve seen a quick rush to judgment against Piper based on this article.
Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: when, as in this Star Tribune article, someone in the media talks about Christians or Christianity, don’t immediately assume the picture he's painting is accurate, particularly when his description supports the general political goals of said media. In fact, one probably ought to assume the opposite until it can be confirmed.
Social media is a great tool for spreading the truth quickly, but it’s just as efficient at spreading partial truths and falsehoods, so we need to carry the weight of this power carefully and deliberately. Facebook and Twitter lend themselves to quick reactions, but we have to resist that temptation. Charity and caution ought to guide us. (Most of us have had to learn this lesson the hard way, so I hope to spare you this!)
If you’ve found a person to be generally trustworthy in the past, it’s a good idea to give him (or her) the benefit of the doubt and take some time to confirm the story before publicly condemning him. It’s easier to join in the discussion later if it turns out to be true than it is to take back what you’ve said prematurely. Social media spreads ideas so quickly that you can never gather them all up again, even if you want to.
Piper has responded to the Star Tribune article with “What the Star-Tribune Got Right—and Wrong,” and I would encourage everyone to read his sermon from last Sunday, which was on the topic of same-sex marriage. I honestly don’t understand how a reporter could interpret that sermon as “opting out."
From Piper’s post:
I didn’t opt out. I opted in. What is at stake more than anything else is the meaning of marriage and how important it is for the common good and for the glory of Christ. That was the main burden of the message. Marriage is the sexual and covenantal union of a man and a woman pledging life-long allegiance to each other as husband and wife. There is no such thing as so-called same-sex “marriage.” That is clear in God’s word….
The aim of point 7 [in the sermon] was to help our people know how to vote on the marriage amendment. The question for all of us is, Which of our beliefs about what is good for the common good should be put into constitutional law? I gave four guidelines. The aim of those guidelines was not to discourage our people from “taking a stand” but to help them take an intelligent one.
The aim of point 8 was that over the long haul Christians will take clearer, stronger, more effective stands for justice and righteousness and the common good if pastors and preachers speak powerfully and faithfully and biblically to the moral and spiritual and ethical and theological issues surrounding political issues, rather than advocating particular candidates and laws.
This also happens to be the position of Stand to Reason. Our goal is to train you to think clearly about issues in the culture (and right now, the issue where our culture is challenging the Christian worldview happens to be homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and so we must address it, whether or not we’d rather discuss other topics). We’ll analyze each issue rigorously, and you’ll know our position on each subject, but you won’t hear us explicitly telling you to vote for specific candidates or propositions.
Like Piper, I don’t see this as a failure on our part. Training you to apply the Christian worldview to all of your decisions is a worthy endeavor that matches our goal as an educational organization. If all we did was to weigh in on legislation here and there, telling you how to vote, you might not take the time to fully understand the issues, and you wouldn’t be empowered to make wise decisions on your own.
An article in Fast Company titled “Can Tech Companies Continue to Innovate with No Women At the Table?” argues that businesses are harming themselves by not having both men and women on their boards.
Many are concerned about this right now, including Norway, which has passed laws enforcing 40% female boards in companies. Supporters of gender diversity have been quoted as saying, “In my experience, mixed teams, mixed by gender, ethnic background, by age and experience, perform better than homogeneous teams,” and, “[W]hen you start using the half of the talent you have previously ignored, then everybody gains.”
According to those who are concerned (and even protesting), men and women are different, and their perspectives are unique and necessary to an institution’s successful leadership. Here’s what Fast Company has to say against those who don’t have gender diversity:
Diversifying boards also brings different perspectives to companies’ big picture objectives, product development, and problem solving. Companies can’t continue to innovate without diverse leaders at the table.
And yet, the boards of one in 10 Fortune 500 companies include no women.
“[S]ince the data also shows that companies with more diversity at the very top achieve better financial results, it's just as important to bring diverse perspectives to the entire chain of command. It's good business from every angle”….
Facebook and other tech/social media companies’ decisions to exclude women from the boardroom is disappointing and a setback.
But what if we move from business to another institution? What if we’re talking about marriages that exclude women and the diversity they bring? Then there’s no problem? Nothing is lost? Suddenly men and women are interchangeable? Aren’t the differences in their perspectives and contributions even morerelevant when it comes to the relationships within the family—the institution responsible for creating and socializing the next generation? Why is it bigotry to argue for governmental support of diversity on the basis of the differences between men and women in one case, but not the other?
You who support the creation of laws to uphold gender diversity for the sake of businesses, would it be a similar disappointment and setback for families if the laws upholding diversity in marriage were removed?
Toward the end of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is God, he offers some helpful insights from Job’s story for those who are suffering:
Job has taught me many valuable lessons, including these:
Life is not predictable or formulaic.
Most of life’s expectations and suffering’s explanations are simplistic and naïve, waiting to be toppled.
When the day of crisis comes, we should pour out our hearts to God, who can handle our grief and even our anger.
We should not turn from God and internalize our anger, allowing it to become bitterness.
We should weigh and measure the words of friends, authors, teachers, and counselors, finding whatever truth they might speak without embracing their errors or getting derailed by their insensitivities.
We should not insist on taking control by demanding a rational explanation for the evils and suffering that befall us.
We should look to God and ask him to reveal himself to us; in contemplating his greatness we will come to see him as the Answer above all answers.
We should trust that God is working behind the scenes and that our suffering has hidden purposes that one day, even if not in this life, we will see.
We should cry out to Jesus, the mediator and friend whom Job could only glimpse, but who indwells us by grace.