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IF THE GOSPEL REALLY IS TRUE . . . We Have a THEODICY! (Part 6)

This profound question raised by Karl Barth is fundamental to biblical Christianity. Certain conclusions follow IF Christianity is true, such as we have a message for the world which is both good news and bad news. We’ve also seen that we have every reason to challenge other worldviews and religions as to their response to the gospel. If the gospel is true, we have a complete justification to make the Bible our absolute guidebook for life. We looked at a fourth conclusion which was we desperately need the people of God, the church.

Let’s look at a fifth conclusion and it is this —

IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .

We can honestly face the suffering in the world without becoming cynical or callous. Biblical Christianity affirms the reality of suffering. But it also affirms the truth of the goodness of God. Putting those two truths together — which many worldviews deny — is called a theodicy (a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality).

The “thorns” in our world come in many different varieties. There are self-inflicted thorns; pains produced by others; brokenness inherent in our fallen world. Some thorns are given directly by God (one thinks of 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”); others sovereignly allowed by Him.

Biblical Christianity provides the best theodicy for it acknowledges that this world is fallen (it is not what God intended it to be), mankind is in rebellion against God, and a Savior has been provided for those who turn to Him in faith. He solves the problem of personal evil and suffering and one day will deal with the issue of cosmic brokenness.

In his very helpful book Why a Suffering World Makes Sense, Chris Tiegreen makes the following points:
(1)  He writes: “I will never understand those who believe that spiritual problems can be solved with social programs, that peace can be achieved by treaties, that prejudices can be eliminated by discussion, that rebellious youth can be corrected with heavy doses of esteem and understanding, that scars can be healed through therapy, that wrongs can be righted by litigation, and that diseases can be eliminated by research. Evil is woven into the fabric of humanity, and it’s obvious.”
(2) Philosophically, “I both know that philosophers and theologians have found the existence of evil plus the existence of God more than a little troubling. They have also found the existence of evil plus the theoretical nonexistence of God utterly depressing.”
(3) “The Bible teaches that God is sovereign and that he is love, in spite of clear evidence of rampant evil and excruciating suffering in this world.”

Today’s Challenge: There so much that is helpful in Tiegreen’s book that I’ll do the following: For any of you who reads his book, I will send you one of mine free. You can choose from DocTALK, DocWALK, When Temptation Strikes, Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World, and even The Other Side of the Good News! Deal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2021 in gospel

 

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Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #1) TRAGEDY!

This book, written by Martin Thielen, a United Methodist pastor, captured me with its title.  Many of us, I’m afraid, are content with a kind of minimalist Christianity, and I wanted to read this for some insight on that tendency.  However, as the next several posts will show, Thielen challenges us to give up certain beliefs which many Christians hold.  Some beliefs ought to be jettisoned.  Others, not so much.

The book is divided into two sections:  Part 1 lists “Ten Things Christians Don’t Need to Believe” and Part 2 is entitled “Ten Things Christians Do Need to Believe.”  Let’s think about the first thing Christians don’t need to believe.

1. God Causes Cancer, Car Wrecks, and Other Catastrophes:  Thielen subtitles this chapter “Although God can and does bring good results out of tragedy, God does not cause tragic events to occur.”  He rightly challenges Christians’ interpretations that God causes awful things to happen all the time (car wrecks, 911, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, etc.).  Some Christian leaders declared that 911 was God’s punishment on America for its immoral views of homosexuality and abortion; other Christian leaders pontificated that the Haiti earthquake was because of that country’s embrace of voodoo.

Thielen asks, “How can we love and serve a God who inflicts cancer on children, wipes out teenagers in car wrecks, destroys families in tornadoes, or kills hundreds of thousands of people in a tsunami or earthquake?” (p. 6).  “God,” Thielen says, “does not have a weekly quota of malignant tumors to distribute, heart attacks to pass out, or battlefield wounds to inflict.”

He refers to the tragedy of the tower falling and killing 18 workers in Luke 13:4-5 and concludes: “God didn’t cause that tragedy back then, and God doesn’t cause tragedies today.” [By the way, in this text Jesus doesn’t explain the WHY of vicious crimes or violent accidents.  He simply implies, “This life is dangerous.  Be ready to meet the Lord!”]

The author dogmatically declares: “God is not the author of suffering” and “God does not cause tragic events to occur.” (p. 8).

MY RESPONSE:
I certainly concur with the spirit of Thielen’s position.  God is not some angry, haphazard deity who doles out tragedies for sport.  But what biblical evidence does he have that God doesn’t cause tragedy?  What about Jesus’ purposely not keeping His friend Lazarus from dying (John 11)?  What would Thielen say about God executing Uzzah (2 Sam. 6) or Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5)?  What about His inflicting boils on the people of Ashdod because of the ark (I Sam. 5)?  God threatens His own people in Deuteronomy 28 when He says, “The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.” (v. 35).  How would he interpret the plagues of Egypt when God inflicted tragedy after tragedy upon that nation keeping His people captive (Exodus 5ff).  In fact, the Lord says in Exodus 9 – “I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” (v. 14).

What does he do with a text like Exodus 4:11 where the Lord asks, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”?  Rather than unbiblically declaring that God doesn’t cause tragic events to occur, shouldn’t Thielen (and we) acknowledge that we don’t know why God causes or allows such events to take place?

There are many other examples of God’s sending or allowing to occur “tragic” events (some in judgment, such as His sending sickness or death upon the Corinthians for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, I Cor. 11; some for His own purposes, such as all that happened to His righteous servant Job).

Thielen says he can’t love or serve a God who sends such tragedies.  But does his God know about those tragedies?  Does He (at least) allow them to take place?  If God doesn’t know such tragedies will occur, how can one say He is omniscient?  If He allows them but can’t prevent them, then what about His omnipotence?  (“Open theism” compromises God’s omniscience; Rabbi Harold Kushner compromises God’s omnipotence).

Conclusion for Chapter 1:  I too reject the idea of a God who cruelly deals out disasters for His entertainment.  But the problem isn’t God’s involvement in such tragedies, but our interpretations as to why such events occur.  YOUR THOUGHTS?

 

 

 

Is. re who makes the blind?

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2019 in tragedies

 

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My Workshop “Five Certainties in the Light of Tragic Events” (for “Iron Sharpens Iron” conference) Part 3

The upcoming conference at Emmaus Bible College, entitled “Iron Sharpens Iron,” is having me give several workshops/seminars. Registration for the conference can be found here. We’ve been thinking about the workshop —

Workshop #1: “Five Certainties in the Light of Tragic Events”

We’ve seen the first certainty which is: Man is fallen and capable of great evil.  We’ve also noticed the second certainty which is: God is holy and will judge rightly.

The third certainty which we need to preach and teach is this Life is brief — One must be ready to meet God!  We think of the poor victims in Las Vegas (watching a country music concert) or the young kids at the school in Santa Fe, Texas, and we must ask, “Were they ready to meet God?”  This may seem like a heartless question, but it is not!  If the gospel is true — and it is — and one must receive Jesus as Savior to have one’s sins forgiven, then none of us knows when our time might be up.

The Lord Jesus deals with this issue in Luke 13:1-5.  Notice in the text to the left that He deals with two kinds of terrible evil in our world:  (1)  Victims of a Vicious Crime (vv. 1-3) and (2) Victims of a Violent Accident (vv. 4-5).  There is much here in Jesus’ theodicy (a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality), but His major point is that we must be ready to meet God!  One never knows when a Pilate will do the unthinkable or a tower might fall on an innocent group of people.

By the way, would you please notice that it is JESUS who brings up the second example of great tragedy, the falling tower!  We should not dodge our unsaved friends when there are news reports of great tragedies.  We should (on occasion) bring up such events to emphasize the uncertainty of life — and how one must be ready to meet the Lord!  Your comments?

Bridge collapse in Florida.

 

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2018 in evil

 

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Back to the Basics: Theology Proper #18 God and THE PROBLEM OF EVIL! (Part 3)

We are thinking about the PROBLEM OF EVIL and the issue of theodicy (a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality).  There are religions that try to deal with the problem of evil by denying its existence (Christian Science comes to mind, for example).  Other religions compromise the character of God in this area.

Thankfully the Bible affirms both the reality of evil and the truth of God’s justice.  One text that merits our attention is Luke 13.  There we read —

We’ve seen in our previous post that this text deals with two major sources of evil in the world: vicious crimes and violent accidents.  We’ve looked briefly at Pilate’s vicious crime of executing some Galileans while they were worshiping God!

Jesus’ response to their unspoken question of “Why?” may seem odd to us, but He asks, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?”  He answers His own question by stating in effect, “No!  The issue wasn’t their sin or their comparative wickedness.  They serve as an example of the need to REPENT!”

The text then records JESUS bringing up a current event.  He says (my paraphrase): “You know about that tower in Siloam that fell on those eighteen people and killed them?  Were they more guilty that all the others living in Jerusalem?”  Here it is Jesus who brings up a current event — a violent accident.

Accidents happen.  But what do they mean?  They are not necessarily indications that God has gotten someone.  They are not necessarily barometers of a person’s comparative sinfulness.  Jesus again answers His own question and says, “I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

We read with horror of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University that collapsed on March 15, 2018, killing several.  Were those innocent victims ready to meet the Lord?

Part of Jesus’ theodicy is simply:  “Be ready to meet the Lord!  Life is quite uncertain.  Vicious crimes and violent accidents happen every day.  Are you ready?”  (your comments?)

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2018 in doctrine of God

 

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Back to the Basics: Theology Proper #18 God and THE PROBLEM OF EVIL! (Part 2)

We must deal with the problem of evil in this ongoing discussion about God.  How can there be a good God and so much evil in the world?  Christians must respond to this question — and thankfully the Bible does!

One of the passages that has helped me is Luke 13:1-5.  There we receive what I call a bit of Jesus’ theodicy.  A theodicy is a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality.  Here’s what we read in Luke 13:

There is so much in this passage, but let me suggest that it deals with the problem of evil.  In fact, Jesus’ theodicy here covers two major sources of evil: vicious crimes and violent accidents.

Some people (perhaps Galileans) report to Jesus an awful event that has taken place.  Somehow some of Jesus’ countrymen had so angered the Roman governor Pontius Pilate that he had them massacred — while they were at a worship meeting!  Not only did he have them executed, he had their blood mixed with their sacrifices (desecration).  A vicious crime!

Jesus’ response to this report is quite astounding.  One perhaps expected Him to rail against Pilate, to call down God’s judgment on the evil governor.  But that’s not what Jesus does.  He asks a question of the reporters of this event:  “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” (v. 2).  He asks a question of comparison.  Perhaps He was asking, “Do you think God got these Galileans and punished them through Pilate?”

The Jews knew that God could use an evil nation to punish His own people.  But fortunately Jesus answers His own question:  “I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  Jesus doesn’t rail against Pilate.  He doesn’t pontificate on the problem of evil men doing despicable things.  He challenges His questioners on a very personal level.  And His response to this vicious crime is — the need to repent! (to be continued)

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2018 in doctrine of God

 

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Back to the Basics: Theology Proper #18 God and THE PROBLEM OF EVIL! (Part 1)

“If there is a good God, why is there so much EVIL in the world?”, my non-Christian friend asks.  And “why do the wicked prosper and the righteous take it on the chin?  If there is a good God,” he continues, “He wouldn’t want evil in His world.  And if He is a powerful God, He could put a stop to it.  Why doesn’t He?

These questions can’t be avoided, especially in light of the February 14th mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (17 people killed and 17 wounded), or the October 1, 2017 massacre of 58 people (and 851 injured) on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada while they were at a music festival, or the April 17, 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA which left 33 people dead.

And that’s only one kind of evil.  How about so-called “natural” disasters? In 1931 the death toll from floods in China was estimated to be between one and four million. In 2004 an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Indian Ocean took the lives of over 280,000. In 1920 the Haiyuan earthquake killed over 270,000. The Bhola cyclone in 1970 left between 250,000 and 500,000 dead. A cyclone in 2008 made landfall in Myanmar (where I am going in August) and killed 84,500 people with 53,800 missing. In 2005 a Pakistan earthquake registered 7.6 on the Richter scale. The official death toll was 75,000 people along with 106,000 injured. Need we continue with additional examples?

But the problem of evil is not a new one.  The Bible does not sugarcoat the issue.  The people in the Bible knew suffering, perhaps much more than we do.

So, how are we to respond to the problem of evil?  (to be continued)

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2018 in doctrine of God

 

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Psalms of My Life (Psalm 137)

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and weptScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 6.28.56 AM
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 6.34.10 AM

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in book of Psalms, Psalms

 

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Psalms of My Life (Psalm 73)

Psalm 73
A psalm of Asaph.Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 6.44.14 AM

1 Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.[a]
5 They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity[b];
their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.[c]
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 6.46.37 AM

12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.

15 If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.

21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in the book of Psalms

 

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“Why the storm?” (a message from Pastor Paul)

Our pastor, Paul Cochrane, concluded our series on the Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 8.26.04 AMbook of Job with this message on the WHY of suffering.  I believe he did a terrific job.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2014 in suffering

 

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What Does God Allow Suffering? (Pastor Jeff Philpott sermon)

I think my friend Jeff has done a good job with this message Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 9.55.56 AMon God and Suffering!

Let me know what you think.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2014 in suffering

 

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