Tag Archives: tragedy
Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #18): Chapter 17- “Jesus’ Resurrection”
Chapter 17 of Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? is entitled Jesus’ Resurrection. His subtitle is “Is There Hope?” Thielen does a masterful job of affirming the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and showing that it is our HOPE.
I like how he brings in contemporary films (such as Cast Away and The Shawshank Redemption) to show the absolute necessity of HOPE. He also bears his own soul in telling about his sorrow of having to conduct the funeral for a pastor friend who died (with his whole family) in a car crash. Only hope (inspired by the resurrection of Jesus) could redeem this awful tragedy, he thought to himself.
He quotes the words from The Shawshank Redemption in which Andy says to Red, “Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
MY RESPONSE: I don’t disagree with Thielen about anything in this chapter. What concerns me is that he says nothing to challenge one of the scholars he quotes earlier in his book (Marcus Borg) on another issue. But Borg said the following about the resurrection of Christ: “I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb, and for me, that doesn’t matter because the central meaning of the Easter experience or the resurrection of Jesus is that His followers continue to experience Him as a living reality, a living presence after His death. So I would have no problem whatsoever with archaeologists finding the corpse of Jesus. For me that would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition.”
Granted, Thielen is writing these last chapters to state what he believes Christians ought to believe. But I wish he were more forthcoming about those who deny the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #17): Chapter 16- “Jesus’ Death”
Chapter 16 of Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? is subtitled What about Suffering? Thielen gives several stories to illustrate both the problem of suffering and the fact that God is with us, in the midst of our suffering.
Our questions of “Why?” do not have a final answer — unless we look at our “crucified God” on the cross. He enters into our suffering. There are various sources of our suffering — human sin, the laws of nature, God’s allowing suffering, the possibility of demonic forces producing pain and suffering.
To the question “Where is God When It Hurts?”, Thielen says He is right smack in the middle of our pain. And Christianity is a religion of the cross. “The cross is the center of our faith.”
MY RESPONSE: C.S. Lewis said that “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world!” As someone who was a cheerleader in college, I learned a very valuable lesson: don’t stand next to the girl with the megaphone! We need the loudness of suffering to wake us up from the myths that life is safe, that good people deserve good things, that all is right with the world. Although there is much to be thankful for in this world (“This is my Father’s world”), much is WRONG with this world. And suffering can fix our eyes on God instead of the goodness we think we deserve.
Thielen is right to point to the Lord Jesus on the cross as proof that God is with us in our suffering. I wish he had said something about WHY Jesus died. But perhaps that will come in a later chapter. Might I suggest that as we listen to the stories of our non-Christian friends and neighbors who tell us of their suffering, we should be ready to pray for them. And when the occasion is right, to point out that suffering has a way of drawing our minds toward God and the things of God.
Dr. William Sloan Coffin of New York’s Riverside Church said this in the April 20,1984 Lutheran Standard after the death of his son, Alex.”The night after Alex died, I was sitting in the living room of my sister’s house outside of Boston, when a middle-aged lady came in, shook her head when she saw me and said,”I just don’t understand the will of God.” Instantly, I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady!!” I said. (I knew the anger would do me good, and the instruction to her was long overdue. )
I continued,”Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper of his, that he was probably driving too fast in such a storm, that he probably had had a couple of ’frosties’ too many? Do you think it is God’s will that there are no street lights along that stretch of road, and no guard rails separating the road and Boston Harbor?”
Dr. Coffin continues in the article:”Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with His fingers on triggers, His fist around knives, His hands on steering wheels. God is against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy and muteness. As Alex’s younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket:”You blew it buddy. You blew it.”
Dr. Coffin continues:”The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is,”It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s was the first of all our hearts to break.”
My Workshop “Five Certainties in the Light of Tragic Events” (for “Iron Sharpens Iron” conference) Part 4
In a few days I’ll be presenting several workshops at Emmaus Bible College’s leadership conference “Iron Sharpens Iron.” Registration (it’s not too late!) for the conference can be found here. We’ve been thinking about my first workshop entitled —
“Five Certainties in the Light of Tragic Events”
The first certainty we’ve noticed is: Man is fallen and capable of great evil. We’ve also seen the second certainty which is: God is holy and will judge rightly. In our last post we focused on the fact that we must preach and teach that this life is brief– one must be ready to meet God!
The fourth certainty we must keep a grip on is that man is still made in the image of God and is capable of incredible acts of kindness and heroism. In several of the school shootings teachers lost their lives by standing between their students and the shooter.
Biblically, we would say that, although sin has infected man’s being made in the image of God, it has not obliterated it. Man is still able to do good things, but none of those good deeds can bring him salvation.
Sometimes Christians confuse the concepts of total depravity and utter depravity. Total depravity means that every aspect of the human being has been affected by sin. However, the human person is still made in the image of God and can do good, even heroic, things. Utter depravity is the concept that man can only sin, that the image has somehow been completely lost, that unsaved people are incapable of doing anything good.
But the Bible doesn’t teach that unsaved people are incapable of doing anything good. Jesus says, for example, in Luke 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
We can (and should) compliment our unsaved friends when they are good parents, good neighbors, good friends. But salvation is not a matter of our goodness, is it? And that’s why they need Jesus. As we did.
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?
“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)
Imagine being the parent of the man born blind. In Jewish culture physical disabilities were often thought of as God’s punishment for personal sin (see the book of Job). Even though the Jews did not believe in the preexistence of the soul, some might have even blamed the man himself for his blindness.
Physical challenges are hard: verbal attacks are often more painful. And it may be that some said painful and injurious words to the man born blind as he begged for help. They might have said, “Why should we help you? You’re obviously under God’s judgment! Or at least your parents are!”
Imagine how refreshing it must have been for this blind man to hear Jesus’ response to the question, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The text doesn’t specifically tell us that the man born blind heard these words from Jesus, but it seems reasonable to assume so.
How could another human being make such a categorical declaration about someone else?! “Neither this man nor his parents sinned . . .” Who is qualified to say something like this? ONLY GOD! And God knows us and our sins and why we experience the tragedies that we do in life. Jesus not only declared what was NOT true (“Neither this man nor his parents sinned”) but also what WAS true (“but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him”) (or COULD BE true). Isn’t it the case that when we are suffering the real question we need an answer to is not “Why has this happened to me?”, but “FOR WHAT PURPOSE am I gong through this trial?” And they are not the same question. To ask WHY assumes we might challenge God’s wisdom in sending or at least allowing such and such to come into our lives. To ask FOR WHAT PURPOSE indicates a willingness to honor God with this trial. We need to know that our challenges are not purposeless! And this blind man’s wasn’t!
As the great preacher Steve Brown put it, “Sometimes we serve God better with our wounds than with our wellness!” (to be continued)