Categories
Life

When God Burns Down Your House

Tragedy is a part of living in a broken world. More than a part, it’s inevitable. When tragedy strikes, our first question is, Why? Whether or not we get an answer, we quickly must ask a second, and perhaps even more important question, How do I deal with this?

Think of a tragedy in your life recently. How did you deal with it?

Perhaps you dismissed it, chalked it up to bad luck, stuffed your feelings, or even blamed someone (maybe yourself). Maybe you blamed God. And got angry with him.

Anne Bradstreet’s poem Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666 teaches us how to deal with tragedy and why we experience it. Shockingly, she puts responsibility of the event solely on God. Yet she does so without blaming him or attributing sin to him, much the way Job does in the first two chapters of his story.

Bradstreet can do this because she has the eyes to see two vital realities. First,  Bradstreet sees that all her goods belonged to God anyway and that he could do with them whatever he pleased. In taking away her home and possessions, God did Bradstreet and her family no wrong.

Second, she sees that this tragedy was for a divine purpose: God wanted her to treasure God above everything. Even the comfort and safety of a home. Thus, her poetic prayer is reminiscent of an ancient Scriptural one: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

Consider this a prayer of lament. Watch what Bradstreet does, let it teach you, and let it shape the way you respond to tragedy when it comes your way.

Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666

Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning 
of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of 
a Loose Paper.

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Framed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.

Categories
Life Ministry

When Jesus Died, Death Died

Last Thursday, our senior pastor and his wife lost their twenty-four year old son to a failed liver transplant. Yesterday, I stood in to preach for our pastor. In my short time of preaching and teaching, this was the hardest message I’ve ever given. The message was designed to help people feel the truth that death is not how it’s supposed to be, and one day, Jesus will finally make all death come untrue.

God was gracious to greatly encourage many people in our congregation to fix their eyes on Jesus in the midst of so much pain. I’m praying God uses this tragic even to spark renewal in our church family and wider community.

Here’s an excerpt from the sermon:

Now you might be asking throughout this sermon, “What kind of a God allows such suffering in the world? I can’t worship a God like that!” Truly, friends, I say to you, let’s ask a different question: “What kind of God offers up his only Son to suffer for you and me?” This is where Jesus Christ enters the picture…Jesus destroyed the power of death through his own death on the cross. When Jesus died, death died.

Your first reaction to this may be, “This seems too soon to talk about Jesus conquering death. Death is too real right now.” Death is real, but throughout Scripture, whenever death shows its ugly face, God is quick to point us to the victory of his Son.

Christianity does not give us all the answers for why bad things happen in the world; but it does reveal a Person who is sovereign over all creation, yet intimately familiar with suffering and death. God is not some mythical deity who sits above the earth and does not identify with his broken creation. He did not say, “Good luck with sin, death, and hell, I hope you find a solution.” No, he said, “I will be your solution. I will bear the weight of death itself for you.”

Christianity is unique among all the world religions in that God became man in the person of Jesus so that he would know heartache, suffering, pain, loss, tragedy, injustice, betrayal, and death. Jesus Christ, the God-man, is not immune to pain. No, he is Immanuel—“God with us”—especially in our sufferings.

But Jesus did not stay dead. If he had, he would have merely been a martyr. An example. An inspiring story of a 30-something whose life ended too soon. But he was—he is—more than that. He is Redeemer because he rose from the dead. In John 11:25-26 (ESV), Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus tells us that the power to conquer death—spiritual, physical, and eternal death—is to be connected to him by faith. Listen again to his magnificent words: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Just a few chapters earlier in John 8:51 Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” “Even though your body dies,” Jesus says, “your soul will not die because I will be your life and if you are connected to me, then my life becomes your life.” Jesus is life, and if you are connected to him by faith then even when you die, you conquer death through Jesus, and you live. Paul said, “To live is Christ and die is gain.” Even when you die, you live.

Listen to the whole message.

Categories
Life Theology

Monday Miscellanies: Sovereignty of God

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

414. Sovereignty of God. Affliction of the Godly.

‘Tis part of God’s sovereignty, that he may if he pleases bring afflictions upon an innocent creature if he compensates it with equal good; for affliction with equal good to balance it is just equivalent to an indifference. And if God is not obliged to bestow good upon the creature, but may leave it in the state of indifference, why mayn’t he order that for the creature that is perfectly equivalent to it? God may therefore bring many and great afflictions upon the godly, as he intends to bestow upon them an infinitely greater good, and designs [the afflictions] as a means of a far greater good, though all their sins are satisfied for.

Categories
Theology

Does It Matter if Job Was a Real Person?

The issue of whether the biblical character Job is a “real person” or not is not a Christian essential. It is not necessary that Job be a real, historical person for the book to have its proper theological and practical influence. Why? Simply, some literary genres can communicate what God desires without referencing actual historical events.

The fact that Job may not be a “real person” should not bring doubt upon the inspiration and authority of God’s word in the book. If God is the sovereign, divine author behind Scripture, and he chose to include Job in his self-revelation as a wisdom parable, not “history,” then it’s still authoritative and beneficial to God’s people. The theological truths in Job (particularly God’s sovereignty, mystery, power, perfection, etc.) are not eliminated if the book is a parable, for they are still confirmed in other parts of Scripture. Doubting Job’s personal historicity is not the same as doubting Adam’s personal historicity, for example. Doubting the latter would generate quite a dilemma as it concerns the origin of man, the fall, and Christ as the Second Adam. In other words, doubting Adam would seriously undermine other parts of Scripture (particularly Rom. 5). Doubting Job would not present the same type of theological problems.

Where am I at on the issue? In the end, it seems best to me that based on the references to Job elsewhere in Scripture (Ez. 14:14, 20; James 5:11) and the various historical references in the book (e.g. Job 1:1) that Job should be understood as a real, historical person. Still, we must remember that no matter how one interprets the book (parable or history) if one believes God’s intention is behind the human author’ s activity, then Job, like the other 65 books, can be considered sufficient and authoritative.

Categories
Theology

Why Is That Preacher So Skeptical?!

Many of us have read Ecclesiastes and have been blown away at how negative it is. Incredibly negative. Unbelievably negative. Depressingly negative.While the author of Ecclesiastes is skeptical, however, it’s clear from the book itself that “the Preacher” (Eccl. 1:1) is not on par with modern atheistic nihilists. A nihilist argues that nothing has meaning. The Preacher appears to argue that (cf. 1:2), but throughout the book, the Preacher actually believes life has meaning, for God is real, true, and trustworthy. He even states that the whole point of life is to fear God and obey him, for God is the final judge of everyone (12:13-14). That implies, beyond a doubt, there is meaning and purpose to reality.

Graeme Goldsworthy has provided a view of Ecclesiastes that I have found helpful. He does not think that the Preacher is writing a polemic against secularism or fleshly indulgence. Rather, “[The Preacher’s] main attack is directed at a form of Israelite wisdom that found a few simple answers to the question of our existence in the world. The friends of Job gave one expression of this dogmatic wisdom, which operated on a perceptible rule of retribution.”[1] Other scholars agree: “[The Preacher] protested against the easy generalizations with which his fellow teachers taught their pupils to be successful.”[2] The Preacher rebukes those who use proverbial wisdom as timeless rules. In other words, wisdom has its limits, but God is unsearchable and sovereign over the entire universe (cf. 3:1-8). Therefore, in the face of life’s uncertainties, the point is that the sovereign God is the one worthy of trust, not “wisdom.”

With this in mind, Ecclesiastes’ tone is not negative about God or even life in general, but rather, it’s skeptical of a trite use of wisdom which turns life into a composition of simplistic formulas: do this and you’ll get that; avoid this and enjoy the benefits; invest here and relish the returns. The truth is that life is complex, and it does not always work out the way we imagine, whether we are righteous or unrighteous. The author (whoever it is) makes it clear that he doesn’t want any part of that kind of wisdom.

As a Christian message, Ecclesiastes provides a silver lining. The Preacher hammers home the point that life is hard and death is certain (e.g. 2:16; 3:19; 6:12). The same ends waits for everyone. But there is hope in Jesus, the righteous sufferer par excellence. Only in light of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion does Ecclesiastes begin to make sense. Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30), and in him are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Though his suffering and death is foolishness to the world, it is the way of redemption for those who believe, and these believers willingly suffer with him in hope of greater inheritance than this world and its pithy wisdom can offer.

With his own unique touch, the Preacher challenged the overconfidence of the prevailing wisdom of his day and paved the way for one “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42).[3]


[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Wisdom, in The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001), 455.
[2] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 500.
[3] Ibid., 509.