Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Discussion with an Old Friend

I found this the other day. A friend had sent me a very heartfelt groan about a Christian's suffering under the hand of God. Why? What is the purpose? In the hopes that this exchange might cheer someone, or provide clarification of the notion of God's fatherly discipline, I post it here. My response is interleaved through his queries, as I sent it to him, for the purpose of being as close to conversational as possible in an email. His words are in blue.

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Hey ----,

I adopted a comment form, so that you would have a somewhat more conversational feeling from this. I would, as always, be delighted to talk to you about these or any other thing. I don’t have all the answers, by God’s grace I have a few, but the rest (of the ones that he wants us to know) are to be pursued through the Scriptures and prayer. I hope this is helpful to you.

Soli Deo Gloria,

MJM

> Hey,

> My weakness is salvation by grace, and trusting that God is

> loving. This is where I have problems.

Not sure what you mean by “problems”. Is it that you have difficulty trusting in Christ as your sole source of salvation, recognizing the futility of your own efforts? Or what?

> Here are some Q&A from the faith notes.

> Q. Why does God scourge us? A. Because he loves us.

> I don't scourge my son like God has scourged me. I give

> appropriate training. I want to certify him to be a functional

> human being.

Whose definition of “functional human being” do you mean? Also, do you truly not discipline as God does? I hope you do! God’s discipline of his children is a bittersweet, but healthy, cordial. In ways that we seldom see at the time he prepares us to serve him better, burning away the lingering shreds of sin that trouble us. Do we finite humans pretend to know the intricate purposes of God in his actions towards his children? I cannot.

> If I gave as I have received then my son would die at my hand. I

> bend to heal, while it seems that God breaks to break, and his

> healing is far away.

If you truly gave as you have received, you would be able to ultimately spare your son from incurring the righteous judgment due for his sins. You would personally assure him of an eternal dwelling, safe from the ravages of sin and death. You would promise to raise him from the dead (and ultimately deliver on it). You would provide him with the Holy Spirit to prepare him to do the work of the Lord. You would hand down to him infallible revelation to guide him until you returned to finish the work you began. You would found and certify an institution to instruct, care for, encourage, and discipline him. That is a taste of how you would have to give if you were to give as you have received.

> God is bizarre. He takes away the well in a drought, and offers a

> cup of cool water.

As to the first comment, he may seem bizarre, and that may be an appropriate word, since he does provide many “striking contrasts or incongruities” (m-w.com), but it is often more instructive to consult the Bible and examine how God has worked in history, especially in the lives of individuals in similar situations. There are few situations that do not have some kind of archtype or parallel in scripture.

As to the second comment, I do not know quite what you mean. If you are referring to withholding of blessings, I refer you to Ephesians chapter 1, Paul’s doxology “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms…” is always a striking reminder that our blessing at the present time is primarily spiritual. In fact, physically we are promised by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. This may take many forms, but it is guaranteed to come.

>What is he doing? I can't understand him.

Me neither. His ways are above my ways, and his thoughts are not my thoughts.

> Q. Compare and contrast the motive for the discipline of human

> fathers vs. God.

> A. They both do it for the same reason: to conform us to their image.

> Q. How would you explain the promises of Eph. 6:3 to a child?

> A. There are three parts:

> 1. That you would increase greatly in prosperity and number

> 2. That you would remain in the land that God has given (and not

> have it taken away)

> 3. That you would live a long life instead of a short one.

> Q. Why do love and scourging fit together?

> A. Clarify scourging from the bible

“whom the Lord loves, he also chastens” Why is this so? Because God hates our disobedience, and since he has punished Christ on the cross for our sins, what we receive is not judgment, but correction, lest we continue in waywardness and alienate our Father.

> Q2. Why does love and the scourging done to Jesus or Job fit together?

> A2. Faith. One can not go through a meat-grinder without a

> vision. God wants men who have a bigger faith in him than

> themselves or the world. It is men of that degree of faith that

> God is gathering to himself.

I assure you, God did not choose anyone because of their faith in Him. Rather, you and I only experience the tremendous blessing of loving and serving God because he first chose us. He did not choose the strong things of this world, but the weak. The world admires those of great faith, as long as it is reposed in something inoffensive, like humanity, weapons, social programs, etc.

God is gathering to himself all those whom he, operating solely on the motives of his grace and mercy, with no respect for persons, chose in Christ from before the foundations of the world.

>In the life to come God wants

> faithful servants, so in this wrecked world and wrecked life God

> spends His time separating the grain from the chaff. That still

> seems too utilitarian.

It is. God desired for himself a people, from eternity past he decreed this, and wrote the names of those who will be saved in his book, when as yet none of them existed. He decreed Adam’s fall for the furtherance of his glory in showing judgment and mercy. He is not “utilitarian” except insofar as he “utilizes” every aspect of the created universe to his own glory. His hand cannot be forced, he cannot be driven or pushed around.

> Q3. That's utility, not love. Why does love and scourging fit

> together?

> A3. They don't. Love is extending the boundary of self to another

> person, so they live under the umbrella of your self. Love is

> about denying, in part, one understanding of image, to extend the

> whole definition of image in such a way that includes another

> person who was not identically in your image. Love is about the

> lover bearing a suffering so that the loved does not have to. Im

> having problems reconciling a loving God with a requirement for us

> all to be cross-bearers. If he wants to destroy us why do it in

> the way that optimizes the suffering of men?

I don’t quite catch your drift. If I use big words (and I have been accused of it) you have used some phrases that I don’t understand. “boundary of self” and “understanding of image” are not terms that I have come across. Check out 1 Cor. 13 it is NOT primarily about romantic love, it is about the kind of love that keeps the two great commandments. Here are some (hopefully) helpful quotes from 1 John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.[5:3]” Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.[4:7-12]

>Am I suffering the

> critical lack of vision and faith that makes me not his?

Um, the lack of faith that makes you not his is the persistent lack of faith in the saving power of the risen Christ. “If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead” we are OK. It is not good to doubt, but it does happen. In a postmodern world that embraces doubt it is easy to succumb to the constant questioning and outright dismissal that we suffer for the sake of his name. Pray and trust God to be powerful to keep until that day what you have entrusted. We know whom we have believed, and he is reliable.

> Did Jesus die on the cross for us and pay for our debt or not?

Yes

> If my debt is paid then I cannot be crucified for my debt.

Correct

> Did Jesus die on the cross for all who are saved?

Yes

> If he did then I cannot be crucified for another's debt.

Correct

> For what purpose then am I crucified?

Strong words. We are called to take up our cross and follow him. We do not bear his cross (we could not) and we do not bear other crosses, but God has weighed out for each of us exactly what he will put on our backs. Crucifixion is punishment. God will not punish you, his law is satisfied on your account. God will beat you into whatever shape he wants. He is the master smith, and it is not for us to answer back. It IS our duty to keep his law wholly and love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are blameless in these things then we must content ourselves with the lot we are given, knowing that it is from the hand of a Father who knows better than we.

You are not paying a debt, you are learning and growing. Paul was promised grief: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” Acts 9:15,16

> Did Jesus impute his righteousness to me on the cross?

Yes. We are clear on imputation, right? A credit to your account, not something that is even yours, but you receive the benefits of it.

> If he did then I cannot be crucified to make me righteous.

Those words again…but a true statement nonetheless.

> Can my works give me any righteousness above the righteousness of

> Jesus imputed?

Not in a sense of salvation. There are clearly rewards in heaven for those who have served God well, but salvation is assured solely based on the merit of Christ.

> If not then I cannot be crucified to make me righteous.

Of course not, but I think you are trying to build an argument on terms that are misused.

> If the death of Jesus is, as I have been taught, a payment for sin,

> and an imputation of righteousness, then my cross can do neither.

Correct

> It cannot affect my standing before God. What therefore is the

> purpose of my cross?

If you are not growing you are dying. That is a general truth. There is never a flat spot on your spiritual life vs time curve. So, in the sense of procuring salvation, no, your works now mean nothing, just as they always have. BUT, in the sense of sanctification, making you holy and more and more pleasing to God, your patient and faithful bearing of your cross DOES DO GOOD. It is your desire to please God, I assume, so he has revealed how he will be pleased, by obedience to his law . Do you do this perfectly? I sure don’t. Far from it! But I must always be trying to do better. It is hard, and it will always be hard, but it is required, and it will always be required.

> Is it to teach something to my head?

> That's not the way its done, and God never fails.

Not quite sure what you mean. Yes, it is to teach you, but it is to teach you heart, mind, body and soul how to better please God. What do you mean “that’s not the way it is done”? How is it done? I am afraid that I know of no other way to grow in grace than by constant work.

> Is it to transform my internal heart or nature in some way?

Transform? I suppose. Spiritual growth is transformation of a sort. Not the same way regeneration is, but still…

> Is it to teach something to my heart, a lesson pressed so deep it

> goes into my bones?

Perhaps…

> Maybe. Why is that the only way to teach it?

> There are more ways than one to teach a bone-deep lesson.

I suppose, but I can’t think of any. Just as foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, it is still bound up in our hearts. Different in kind, different in measure, but still there. I have been blessed in my life, but I know that the time I learned the most all at once was when I was in a church that broke itself apart, and I had to learn what I really believed, fast. Object lessons are useful until we are no longer dogged by sin (dead). Also, God does not always or exclusively deal in chastening, and the hole always looks deeper when you are in it. Do not falter, he will deliver in his good timing.

> There's always the point that only living tissue can feel pain.

> Could it be that God is trying to make me aware of the extent of

> life in me?

Possible, but I am dubious. That is a pretty backhanded kind of lesson, and even the wicked feel pain, so I suspect the lesson is more significant than that.

> Either I am suffering by Gods hand or another, but the other would

> have no room to give pain if God had not given it to them.

> I don't know why God causes men to suffer. There is room for

> mystery in this world, and this is a big one. Why pain?

Remember, all things are done to the ultimate glory of God. That’s the satellite view answer. The bird’s eye view probably shows that pain is a teacher to the wise, a punishment to the wicked, a tool for the use of superiors to obtain their desire from their inferiors. You cannot save someone who is safe, nor can you discipline someone who is right all the time.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” [Romans 9:19-24]

Though this is primarily referring to election and reprobation, it makes the valid point that God is not wrong for doing as he wishes with his creation.

> I gotta get prepping for a "midterm" exam.

Hope it goes well for you.

Again, I am afraid that I have been too wordy. I hope these comments are a help to you, they are offered in a spirit of humility and desire to assist a friend as much as God will allow me to. I appreciate your curiosity and desire to discuss these things. The things of God are simultaneously the most important and most neglected tings in the universe. Have a great night.

Soli Deo Gloria,

MJM

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