I had a brief interaction with an atheist on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that unexpectedly turned to the issue of suffering when she said:
You clearly never had a time you were hurt. I don’t mean sick. I don’t mean heart broken. I mean literally a near death experience or rape or abusive relationship…. You can keep floating on a [expletive] cloud thinking Jesus will do everything for you but it’s a lie. What makes you so special?
That surprised me at first because it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the tweet she was responding to, and I was confused as to why she would assume I’d never been through anything traumatic. But then in subsequent tweets, when she revealed she had been raped, it became clear that her trauma had played a central role in her becoming an outspoken, obviously angry “antitheist.” She’s a self-described antitheist now because she thinks Christianity teaches Jesus “will do everything for you” to give you a perfect life, and now she knows that’s a lie. The rape proved her understanding of Christianity false.
So it made sense for her to reason that since I believe Christianity is true, I must still be under the delusion that Jesus is making my life special, which means I obviously never encountered any evil or suffering to shake that delusion.
Hear me, everyone: This is a failure of the church.
A friend of mine who was deeply suffering once said to me that many Christians are in for “an epic letdown” when they realize their preconceived notions about what God is expected to do for us are false. Pastors who preach a life-improvement Jesus are leading people down this precarious path to disillusionment.
If suffering disproves your Christianity, you’ve missed Christianity. The Bible is filled with the suffering of those whom God loves. The central event of the Bible is one of suffering. Love involves suffering. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” That means suffering.
But Christianity also promises justice for evil. And grace. And life from death. Resurrection. New bodies. Hope. Jesus is the only hope for true pain. Without Him, there’s nothing left to do but rail against God with the most perverse insults imaginable.
The truth is that even if you’ve been taught these things, a time will come when an experience will make this real to you, and then you will struggle to learn how to entrust yourself to God when you can’t trust He’ll protect you from pain and tragedy, can’t trust that things will get better. The only thing you can trust is Him. That He is good. That He knows what suffering is. That if He was willing to give His son over to death for us “because of His great love with which He loved us,” then we know His love won’t stop there—He’ll withhold nothing else from us that we should have. The good He seeks for us is to reveal Himself and conform us to the image of His Son. We will suffer no pain without purpose.
I said to the atheist, “Those who suffer know Him better,” and I meant it. He is the God who knows suffering. He is the God who suffered. He is the God who works beauty through suffering. He is the God who resurrects.
In Tim Keller’s book Prayer, he stresses the idea that proper prayer comes out of our knowledge of God, which we increase by immersing ourselves in the Bible. It’s our knowledge of who God is that directs how we pray and the types of things we pray about. The greater our knowledge of God, the richer and more varied our prayers.
The Bible not only gives rise to our prayers, it also gives us certainty of God’s response to us. We learn there, in His very words, what He has promised us and how He sees us. Our emotions and impressions, on the other hand, are not reliable indicators of God's response. Therefore, Keller cautions, “[W]e cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture.”
As an illustration of this, Keller tells a story about the great preacher George Whitefield:
If we leave the Bible out, we may plumb our impressions and feelings and imagine God saying various things to us, but how can we be sure we are not self-deceived? The eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman George Whitefield was one of the spearheads of the Great Awakening, a period of massive renewal of interest in Christianity across Western societies and a time of significant church growth. Whitefield was a riveting orator and is considered one of the greatest preachers in church history. In late 1743 his first child, a son, was born to he and his wife, Elizabeth. Whitefield had a strong impression that God was telling him the child would grow up to also be a “preacher of the everlasting Gospel.” In view of this divine assurance, he gave his son the name John, after John the Baptist, whose mother was also named Elizabeth. When John Whitefield was born, George baptized his son before a large crowd and preached a sermon on the great works that God would do through his son. He knew that cynics were sneering at his prophecies, but he ignored them.
Then, at just four months old, his son died suddenly of a seizure. The Whitefields were of course grief-stricken, but George was particularly convicted about how wrong he had been to count his inward impulses and intuitions as being essentially equal to God’s Word. He realized he had led his congregation into the same disillusioning mistake. Whitefield had interpreted his own feelings—his understandable and powerful fatherly pride and joy in his son, and his hopes for him—as God speaking to his heart. Not long afterward, he wrote a wrenching prayer for himself, that God would “render this mistaken parent more cautious, more sober-minded, more experienced in Satan’s devices, and consequently more useful in his future labors to the church of God.”
The lesson here is not that God never guides our thoughts or prompts us to choose wise courses of action, but that we cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture.
The days of gospel persecution in the United States no longer just hang on the distant horizon; they are already here, at least for some. It’s beginning with the bakers, florists, and photographers. Before long, the consensus may be that faithful biblical exposition is “hate speech.”
For 350 years, the church on American soil has enjoyed relatively little affliction for her fidelity to the Scriptures. This nation, though, is an anomaly in church history….
Jesus said as much. “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Paul picks up the refrain. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). The Scriptures seem to suggest we should be more concerned if we’re not being persecuted, than if we are….
To say we will suffer opposition is not to say that the spread of the gospel will be stymied. In fact, what we learn from Peter and John in Acts 4:3–4, and from the life of the apostle Paul, and from Jesus himself, is that arrest and advance go together in God’s invincible story….
Christians are not a dour people, even in the darkness of a dungeon. We don’t whine and bellyache as our society lines up against us and our convictions. We plead. We grieve. But beneath it all we have untouchable strongholds of joy. Even in the worst, most inconvenient, most lonely days, we rejoice. The suffering days are good days for gospel advance. We have great cause to be optimistic about our good news, to “joyfully accept” prison and the plundering of our possessions and even our freedoms.
After all, they can take our civil liberties, garnish our wages, and smear our names, but they cannot take our Treasure, who is “a better possession and abiding one.”
So we are not surprised. We do not retreat. Instead, grounded in God’s eternal promises, armed with joy in him, and assured of victory in the end, we ready ourselves for whatever opposition comes.
When I teach on homosexuality, I’m often asked about how a believer can bring up the topic of homosexuality with a friend or family member who identifies as gay or lesbian. I’m always puzzled by this question. It assumes we’re supposed to go through life and try to figure out non-believers’ sins and bring them up in conversation so they’ll consider stopping the prohibited behavior. But we can’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians. As my pastor often says, “Don’t put family rules on those outside the family.”
Our hope for homosexuals is not heterosexuality, but holiness. We’re not trying to make them straight, but lead them straight to Jesus. In almost every case where I’ve seen a man or woman with same-sex attraction abandon a life fulfilling homosexual desires, it was because they first committed their life to Christ. Then, with the Holy Spirit in their heart, they were transformed from the inside out and began to live obediently to the standard of Scripture.
That’s why my advice to believers is not to focus on behavior modification of non-Christians. That’s only a band aid. If you really want to say something about your convictions that is also relevant to them, tell them about Jesus Christ. Homosexuals, like any other non-Christian, need to hear the offer to be pardoned from their crimes against God. Only then can there be true healing.
Who is Jesus? What has He done for us? What is He doing now, and why? How does His work relate to the Mosaic Covenant, and how should we now view that covenant? Hebrews explores these questions and unifies the Old and New Testaments in Christ.
Nothing is more central to the defense of Mormon scripture, Mormon doctrine, and the existence of the Mormon Church than a personal testimony. Also referred to as a “burning in the bosom” or “spiritual witness,” the Mormon testimony amounts to positive spiritual feelings about the LDS religion. At the end of the day, this personal, private, subjective experience is crucial to Mormon confidence, so you must be prepared to deal with it. In this talk, I lay down some important groundwork for understanding knowledge and then apply these insights to Mormonism. I think it provides some helpful ways to engage your Mormon friends.