Suffering

Power of Problems vs. Power of God

In the mid-1700s Jonathan Edwards was serving as the pastor of a thriving church in Northampton, Massachusetts. He had been a faithful and hardworking pastor for 22 years. Though his gifts were clearly more academic than pastoral, he loved his flock, served them, prayed for them, and preached some of the most influential sermons in history from their pulpit.

Edwards has been credited by historians as having a leading role in starting the Great Awakening in which 10s of 1,000s became genuinely and noticeably converted. His famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was the spark that ignited the movement. And yet he remained the faithful pastor of a relatively small congregation… until 1749, when something made him leave his flock after 22 years.

What happened? Simple: they fired him.

Edwards wanted to insist that communion could only be taken by people who had evidence that they were, in fact, Christians but this was against the church’s tradition of allowing anyone, no matter how blatantly unrepentant they were, to partake in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Edwards was dismissed but then agreed to continue on as their pastor until they found a replacement, which took a year.

Can you imagine the hurt and betrayal he must have felt? Most of us would have spiraled into depression, cynicism, or bitterness. But Edwards remained cheerful, content, serene through the whole ordeal. How did Edwards survive the humiliating, unfair, and devastating dismissal?

His happiness was out of the reach of his enemies.

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Two Views of Suffering: Atheist Existentialism and Christianity

Right, But Still Dead Wrong

Sometimes, you can be right about something, and yet still be completely wrong.

When I was a criminal investigator with the Military Police, I had a case involving a Sailor who might have faked his promotion and been receiving extra pay for the past three years. That’s a lot of money. Add to it that your cost of living allowances change depending on your rank, and you’re looking at even more money. This was a good case.

Everything pointed to the conclusion that he had forged paperwork, and somehow gotten it past Personnel. We interviewed the Personnel Officer for several hours, wondering how it could have been done. We had the admin guys calculate a dollar figure. We briefed the Staff Judge Advocate, who began salivating with glee and plotting a general courts-martial. We were just missing the one thing. We needed confirmation from a training school back in Texas that they did not promote the guy.

2887 reads

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Job's Tormentors. Engraving, William Blake, 1793

You recall how the story goes—God and Satan are having a discussion about a man named Job. He was a man of great character whom God had given much wealth and blessing. God commends Job, and Satan accuses Job, betting that Job would deny God if God would simply allow difficulty in Job’s life (1:7-12). God allows Satan to test Job, and Job loses all of his wealth, most of his family, and his health.

Job is, of course, unaware that he is being tested, and is deeply frustrated by his change of fortune. He feels that he has done nothing to deserve these tragedies, and he speaks out—essentially proclaiming his innocence and the unfairness of the situation. Thankfully, Job has three friends who come to the rescue. They all have the same message: this could only be happening to Job if he had done something wrong. They understood that God would not allow such things to happen to an innocent person.

2427 reads

The Mimetic Sufferings of Christ

The ministry and pain—especially emotional pain—go together. Except for a few Pollyanna types who keep their heads buried in the sand, most of us know that times of suffering, sorrow, despair, grief, depression, and heartache are part of life. It is not until one is privy to many lives, however, that it becomes clear how pervasive these experiences are.

Fortunately, for most of us, not all of life is miserable. For many of us, life is mostly a positive experience. If we are particularly fortunate, we may escape the traumas of abuse, divorce, a straying child, extreme poverty, or a debilitating physical condition.

2306 reads

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