The Salvation of the Christians: Answers to Question by Christopher, Part 5

Bible and crossIs Job the best answer?

Don’t misunderstand me…I am not opposed to seemingly unjust or terrible suffering, just so long as there is a good explanation for it and so long as God is willing to deliver all from it who cry out to Him. But that is not what we get from the scriptures and God does not deliver all (or even many) from evil. The best answer we get from scriptures is in Job where God asks Job “What do you know, after all?” My word – Job lost all ten of his children, his wealth, his friends and his health – all (according to God) – without just reason. It just seems God did not grasp how much Job suffered (having never suffered like that Himself as a human being) and was unwilling to share the reason for it (unlike how He answers the “complaint” of an angel in Zechariah 1:13), like He is saying “How dare you question why I allowed you to be brutally savaged by a fallen angel against whom you have no power to withstand?”. Might is not a good explanation for right.

As I think I’ve shown, I don’t take Job to be the “best” answer. It’s AN answer, but plenty more are offered. In fact, I now realized that I missed one —

Thirteenth Answer:

(2 Cor. 12:7-10 ESV) 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Sometimes God says, “No” even to his apostles.

This is a hard one because God has a long history of winning victories through weakness — from Moses to Gideon to David and Goliath to Jesus to Paul. Jeremiah preached from a prison hole in the ground. Ezekiel suffered all sorts of pains to preach for God. So did many other prophets.

Jesus promised his followers,

(Lk. 9:57-58 ESV) 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

To borrow a phrase, Jesus never promises us a rose garden. We pick and choose the pretty passages and hope to live like Job after he was tested and tried and not like Jesus or Paul. But it’s pretty clear on a fair reading of the text that many of Jesus’ followers will suffer in this life — as Jesus did. It’s even built into Paul’s theology —

(Rom. 5:1-5 ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Not many sermons get preached on this one, because “we rejoice in our sufferings” does not look good as a mission statement. But that’s what it is.

It’s not that all Christians suffer — but many do. I can barely type the keyboard because of my arthritis. The pain radiates to my elbows. And yet I type because I feel called to type. You’d think God would take away the pain, wouldn’t you? But maybe he wants me to minister to others who suffer. Beats me. I just know that I’m supposed to type.

I am not sure you have a full appreciation for what goes on in the world. Children are sold as sex slaves. Women in ancient China would have their feet bound from childhood so they would be deformed (that was thought to be desirable among men). There are people in North Korea who have grown up from infancy in a prison camp and lived their lives there. People contract all sorts of horrible diseases all over the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods and blizzards kill thousands every year. Lions and other animals kill and eat human beings. And so on and so forth. If God does not answer people like these when they cry out to Him in humility and dispair, what does that tell us? Why do so many scriptures allude to prayers and cries of people? What, then, is the “work” Jesus said the Father was at even to his day?

Please spare me your condescension. I live in Tuscaloosa, where we cared for Katrina refugees and dealt with an F5 tornado that ran next to my church building and near my house. It’s been years, and I just spent this afternoon talking to my wife about the families we tried to help and how the system works against the poor. My congregation has been at the epicenter of relief efforts for these disasters for years, and it’s been at considerable sacrifice and cost.

We’ve been in the homes of people who can’t afford rent to move out of buildings laced with mold, without utilities, and who refuse to move because their friends and neighbors living in similar squalor can’t move with them — and they need their friends to survive. And I practice law in the affordable housing field. I know how to help people — but not how to get the city to zone for affordable housing.

Although I live a privileged existence in many ways, I beat my head against the principalities and powers daily. I successfully campaigned for the state to grant additional housing credits to Tuscaloosa to bring affordable housing to people displaced by the tornado — and the housing industry couldn’t build enough new housing to use the credits because the red tape defeated my efforts. I beat my head against the principalities and powers daily.

How I’ve got it figured

But here’s the point: I beat my head against the principalities and powers daily. Sometimes, they lose. Not always, but often enough to make the effort worthwhile. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

I don’t expect you to have an answer to these questions. But if the world is to be won, answers would sure help that cause. It is not simply a matter of preaching the gospel. Most everyone has heard of Jesus. They have to know God is truly good beyond all question. That is a tough sell to someone who has suffered greatly in one way or another. Knowing that Jesus died on the cross for him does not explain why he was born with cystic fibrosis or why she was sexually abused, caged and beaten by her own father for over ten years or…well, you get the picture.

I have friends with CF, relatives with MS. I have friends who were abused and who suffer today from their childhood trauma. I have a brother who traveled to Nepal to free girls enslaved for the sex trade. He didn’t just send a check.  I’m not naive.

However, neither do I blame God.

To me, the metaphysics are very difficult to articulate. It’s hard to explain the WHY — except that somehow it has to do with human sin, which infects not just the sinners but the entire cosmos. (Perhaps we don’t understand because we’ve never seen what things would be like if there were no sin.)

But I can explain the THEREFORE, the “what do we do about it?” part pretty well.

What we do about it is —

  • Have faith that God’s plan is the right, best, only plan.
  • Look forward to a better heaven, earth, and body. (I would rather like a body that didn’t require pain meds to get through the day.)
  • Bring more people into the Kingdom.
  • Convert the church from politics, moralism, legalism, and Gnosticism to actually serving as Jesus served. Help the church become the church (to quote Hauerwas). Be a light on a hill.
  • Beat your head against the principalities and powers every day. And believe that God will — somehow or other — use your sacrifice in a way that betters this world. And believe that there’s no other way.
  • Pray — but not for magic. Pray that the church becomes the true church. That we each contribute something that helps redeem the world. Look forward to the day when we meet Jesus in the new heavens and new earth and recognize that the new world is perfect because of something we helped God accomplish. We’ll see the evidence that our works were not in vain when we get there. We’ll have treasures in heaven because of our labors in this life that survive into the next age. What we redeem in this age will remain redeemed in the next.
  • In the meantime, we live in the paradox, sustained by faith and the Spirit.

That’s my limit for tonight. Time to take my nighttime meds.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to The Salvation of the Christians: Answers to Question by Christopher, Part 5

  1. David Himes says:

    Personally, I think we have some false expectations of God. Somehow, we expect him to miraculously take care of us, physically and emotionally and spiritually.

    I don’t claim to fully understand this conundrum, but I believe our faith in God should be sufficient to sustain us thru any problem we face. For God to manipulate the circumstances around us, he would have to deprive someone else of their freedom to act independently — in order to “take care” of us.

    And I think that is inconsistent with what God has said he would do.

    Thus, I believe my faith and reliance upon God is sufficient. I do not expect God to change my circumstances; I expect my faith to guide my response to those circumstances.

  2. Dwight says:

    Paul said, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Philip.4

  3. Andrew says:

    Jay,

    I appreciate your thorough responses in this series. This is a question that I suppose most discerning Christians have struggled with including myself. I recall one moment in particular. My dad was having a heart attack, I was there kneeling beside him as he suffered. I was praying more earnestly and sincerely than I ever had before; “God Save Him!” He became unresponsive – “My prayers must be amplified!”, I thought. The ambulance arrived, did their work, and he died.

    Why?

    He was a good man and I was a decent man (or so I thought). I couldn’t understand why I was doing all the right things in all the right ways and God didn’t answer my prayer. (<–Legalism: AS if God owed me something) This event was a fork in the road for me. It was at this moment I learned that God is not predictable or definable. In other words, there is not an ideal "behavior set" that God subscribes to; He is the ideal himself. Let me explain that.

    When God doesn't act like I think he should then I must conclude that I don't understand God as he really is. (Basic scientific method: Time to reformulate my theory) If God should be bound by a logical system of behaviors, then that would imply something exists that is greater than He and that something defines his action. Furthermore, this "behavior set" would necessarily predate God. So, it is as if in Eternity past God said, "Yeah, I like this Love idea – I'm going to act like this. I hope I get it right most of the time." Now, this conclusion I must reject! As a Christian, I believe nothing predates God. Therefore, If God is LOVE (and he is) then his behavior IS the set of ideal "Love Behaviors". The way in which he behaves IS Godly Character 100% of the time (even If I don't understand it) God is God all the time especially when I can't wrap my mortal mind around it. He created me, sustains me, and loves me as a father would a son.

    In actuality, when my Dad died, my legalism began to die too. Knowing what I know about my earthly father, if he knew his death would lead me to this relationship with Deity that I now have, he would have gladly died. I now understand God far better in a relational sense than I ever did as the "head master" in a system of rules.

  4. Dwight says:

    “God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son” and Jesus died for us so that we might live, because of His love.
    While God might grant us more than this, God might not, as God is thinking not only of us, but of others. God has a greater context in which he works that we cannot see.
    I understand that we often want our loved ones to stay with us, but often this is for us and not for them. We have to ask ourselves is this world better than the next and won’t we someday see them in the next? God might not be doing the “best” thing for us, but might be doing the best thing for another.

  5. Andrew says:

    Many of us misinterpret Rom. 8:28 and we add “All things work together for OUR good…” It doesn’t say that. It says “all things work together for good” – in other words, Good in general or the greater good. Far be it from any mortal like us to lay claim to understanding the “greater good”.

  6. Dwight says:

    Amen Andrew.

  7. John F says:

    … for good to those who are called according to His purpose. Too often we think God’s purpose is to “give me what I want.” As pointed out above, His purpose is much greater and beyond our feeble understanding … ask Job, who could not answer “Where were you when. . . “

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Andrew wrote,

    In actuality, when my Dad died, my legalism began to die too. Knowing what I know about my earthly father, if he knew his death would lead me to this relationship with Deity that I now have, he would have gladly died. I now understand God far better in a relational sense than I ever did as the “head master” in a system of rules.

    Thanks.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Andrew,

    Here are several translations —

    ESV Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

    KJV Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

    NAS Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

    NET Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,

    NIV Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

    Rom. 8:28 Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν
    G3608a G1161 G3754 G0025
    οἶδα δέ ὅτι ὁ ἀγαπάω ὁ
    Verb Conj. Conj. Art. Verb Art.
    know And that — love —

    θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν τοῖς
    G2316 G4903 G1519 G0018
    θεός συνεργέω εἰς ἀγαθός ὁ
    Noun Verb Prep. Adj. Art.
    God together for good —

    κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν
    G2596 G4286 G2822 G1510
    κατά πρόθεσις κλητός εἰμί
    Prep. Noun Adj. Verb
    to purpose called are

    I pasted in the Greek interlinear from Accordance to show the complexity of the sentence.

    It’s actually worse, because of uncertainty of the original text. The NET Bible translators say,

    ὁ θεός (ho theos, “God”) is found after the verb συνεργεῖ (sunergei, “work”) in v. Rom 8:28 by î46 A B 81 sa; the shorter reading is found in ‌א‎‏‎ C D F G Ψ 33 1739 1881 Û latt sy bo. Although the inclusion is supported by a significant early papyrus, the alliance of significant Alexandrian and Western witnesses favors the shorter reading. As well, the longer reading is evidently motivated by a need for clarification. Since ὁ θεός is textually suspect, it is better to read the text without it. This leaves two good translational options: either “he works all things together for good” or “all things work together for good.” In the first instance the subject is embedded in the verb and “God” is clearly implied (as in v. Rom 8:29). In the second instance, πάντα (panta) becomes the subject of an intransitive verb. In either case, “What is expressed is a truly biblical confidence in the sovereignty of God” (C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans [ICC], 1:427).

    I do agree that Paul expresses confidence in the sovereignty of God here, as the translators say, but it’s not clear whether the good God provides is for those who love him or if they are the people who know this.

    The most thorough and thoughtful discussion I can find is from NT Wright (yet again) —

    Verse 28 does not represent a completely new thought (as is sometimes implied by paragraph divisions in translations, such as the NIV and the NRSV). It is not simply an extra devotional aside about the wonderful workings of providence. It is bound in tightly to the sequence of the argument. The introductory δέ(de) is the “but,” not of opposition, but of logic; not “I hoped he would come but he didn’t,” but rather “Donkeys like carrots; but this is a donkey; therefore let’s give him some carrots.” The train of thought is, “God knows the mind of the Spirit; but we know that God works all things together for good for those who love God; therefore (implicit but vital) God works all things together for good for us, we in whom the Spirit is operating.” (This, after all, is where the longer paragraph started, with the Christian being in God’s debt [v. 12]). The intercession spoken of in v. 26 will be heard and answered in ways that, though we cannot at present see them or even conceive them, will turn out to be that for which our groaning prayers have been yearning. “All things”–not just the groanings of the previous verses, but the entire range of experiences and events that may face God’s people–are taken care of by the creator God who is planning to renew the whole creation, and us along with it.
    I have assumed that “God” is the implied subject of “works together.” Two other views have been taken. A minority, represented by the NEB, make “the Spirit” the implied subject. The strength of this view is that the Spirit has been a main topic, perhaps the main topic, ever since 8:1, and is the subject of the immediately preceding clause. However, the subject of the previous main sentence is God, not the Spirit; and, with several commentators I regard the sudden and unexplained change of subject at the end of v. 28 (from the Spirit to God) as a fatal objection to making the Spirit the subject here.280 A more widely held view is that “all things” are the subject: so, famously, the KJV, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” There are considerable problems with this, not least the sheer oddity, for Paul, of giving “all things” such apparent theological priority (even if we understand, as devout readers usually have, a strong theology of providence behind the statement).
    The NRSV, echoing the King James, implies in its footnote that to make God the subject is to endorse the variant reading of several good MSS, according to which “God” (ὁ θεός ho theos) was to be read after “works together.” But this is not strictly the case. Even with the shorter text (which is surely correct; it would be easy to add the word “God” but very odd to omit it), the implied subject must still be that of the previous verse–namely, “the heartsearcher”: God. The verse runs on, without any indication of a change of subject, to “those whom [God] foreknew” in v. 29, and indeed to the implied subject of “called according to [God’s] purpose” at the end of v. 28. Had Paul not intended “God” as the subject of συνεργεῖ(synergei, “works together”), in fact, he really should have specified a change of subject to “God” toward the end of the present verse. Paul is, of course, capable of omitting connections, subjects, verbs, and anything else that he hopes will be understood by someone clinging to the tail of his fast-moving argument. But here it seems unlikely.281

    [Vol. 10, p. 601]

    Paul, then, pulls together the threads of his treatment of the triple groaning of world, church, and Spirit. The whole letter has been about God, God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s gospel revealed in the Son and the Spirit, and above all–not that this is a separate topic from all those–God’s love. The heart of the argument for assurance is the unshakable and sovereign love of God, and the certainty that this love will win out in the end. That, indeed, is the theme that is now emerging as the major subject of the end of the chapter. We are debtors, he says, to God, from whom we have received the Spirit of sonship/adoption, and from whom we shall receive the inheritance, the glory, the sonship/adoption in its full form; and the move from present to future is undergirded, made totally secure, by the fact that God works all things together for good to those who … now keep the most basic command of Torah.
    That most basic command is, of course, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one; and you shall love YHWH your God.” Paul has already alluded to the Shema more than once in the letter (1:5; 3:30; 5:5). Now he comes back to it, with a hint of the positive side of the equation of which 8:7–8 was the negative. Those in the flesh do not and cannot submit to God’s law; they cannot please God; but those in the Spirit now do that which the law commanded but could not of itself produce. They love God from the heart (cf. 1 Cor 2:9; 8:3). Just as Paul can vary his epithets for God, so here he pulls out a new epithet for the people of God in Christ and by the Spirit: they are the God-lovers, in other words, the true law-keepers, the true Israel.
    This epithet, “the God-lovers,” is again not a new idea introduced into the passage, but sums up what has been said in vv. 15, 26–27. In v. 15, those who are led by the Spirit are taught to address God in the language of familial love. In vv. 26–27, those who groan as they await their redemption discover that from the depths of their own heart there issues an inarticulate cry of faith, hope, and love to God. This, the work of the Spirit, is what qualifies them to be described in this way in the next verse (of which the clause “to those who love God” is the first substantial part). It is as though Paul had written: “because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people, calling from their own hearts with love to God; and for those who thus love God, God works all things together for good.”
    This same people can also be described with another Israel-epithet: they are those who are now “called according to God’s purpose.” That purpose–namely, that God would sum up all things in Christ (Col 1:15–20; Eph 1:10); that God would be all in all (1 Cor 15:28); that the whole creation would be liberated into the freedom that goes with the glorification of God’s children–this whole purpose was always designed to be fulfilled through the agency of God’s image-bearing children, the human race. This purpose has been decisively fulfilled in Jesus Christ (5:12–21), but that which was thereby inaugurated has now to be consummated. Those in Christ are the people through whom God intends to accomplish this task. They, like Israel, are assured that they have been called for a purpose–namely, to show forth the praises of the one true God in all the world (cf. Eph 1:11–12; 1 Pet 2:9). And–this is still the thrust of v. 28–those who find themselves in this category can be assured that the purpose will be fulfilled. God will accomplish it.</blockquote>

    N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians (vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 600-601.

    And amen.

  10. Andrew says:

    Jay,

    That’s intense. In a good way though…

    Some people are “believers” because of what they receive from it. Others are believers because of what they can contribute to His service. Similarly, some people view God as a “Genie in a Bottle” and others revere him as creator of the universe and original unmoved giver of life. Some serve his will with Joy and a sense of gratitude, others with a grudge and sense of entitlement. Would you think a “genuine” believer is a believer because his love of the greater good as God would define it or personal good as the individual would define it?

  11. John F says:

    I theorize: When “bad things” happens, we want to ask “Why me?” But perhaps we should ask. “Why not me? Why should I be so privileged to avoid pain or suffering or injury?

    Phil 1:29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

    Suffering has been “granted” (root Greek = charis) to us – a favor? “Chew” on that a while.

    1 Peter 4:19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

    A too short bottom line: as we “suffer” we become part of God’s call to compassion, not callousness. Jim McGuiggan speaks of his care for his wife, who significantly suffered, and how that “challenged” his compassion at times. Compassion can be unpleasant and dirty, but just a god came down to live in our dirt and filth — to show compassion, we are called to the same.

    It was this display of faithful compassion (along with grape jam) the changed the Roman empire.The same witness of compassion and continued faithful worship can accomplish much today.

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