Posts Tagged ‘PT Forsyth’
[Note: I wrote this for Easter Sunday, 2007. The week before, while preaching the sermon, I had suffered a massive attack of a kidney stone. It completely incapacitate me. I was in so much pain I was unable to finish the sermon and the rest of the week I merely laid around on the couch unable to do anything. I was going through some files tonight and came across it. It seems I am still learning this lesson.]
You see, I learned this past week that the world can in fact go on without me. I knew that intellectually—I’m not so completely full of myself to think otherwise—but practically, in the real world, I think there are times when I am certain that if I don’t go to my office to work, or show up at the cafeteria to monitor, or travel here or travel there, or go to this meeting, or carry my guitar, or a song, or a Bible, or go to a Scout meeting, or a Soccer meeting, or do all the jobs for little league that no one else will do, that the world will simply fall to pieces. But wonder of wonders, I can lay on the couch for four days and the world did not stop, explode, or disintegrate. Life goes on in spite of my best efforts. I felt helpless, quite, and I was perhaps a bit disjointed that the world did not stop because I had to. But it did not. Last week, I had to learn to be helpless. It’s not a fun way to be or an easy lesson to learn. I don’t like being helpless and I like even less being a burden: But isn’t ‘burden’ the best description of us there is? I had to learn this week to be helpless and accept being a burden.
And isn’t that just the point of the cross? Well of course, tell us about the Resurrection, you bloomin' idiot! Today is Resurrection Sunday, not Good Friday. Even, more, isn’t that quite the point of resurrection? Isn’t it there, in the twin and singular event of the greatest tragedy the world could perpetuate, that we most learn about helplessness? Isn’t it there we become children all over again? Isn’t it there that our legs are broken beneath us and we unlearn how to walk and forever crawl? But how can that ever mean anything if we do not, in fact, learn helplessness, learn that the world doesn’t need us, learn that it is in Christ and not us that the world holds together, learn that it is Christ who is the Author and Perfector of our Faith, learn that He is the Trailblazer, learn that He is the One who has promised to finish in us what He has started?
Helplessness! Pshaw! I’m not about being helpless. I’m about self-sufficiency. I’m the alpha male! I’m about working it all out without doctors, without pills, without my wife, without you, and sadly, too sometimes, without God. It’s a hopeless confession to make and, once again, I am ashamed that I have to admit it. But it’s true. It pains me to confess it but confess it I must. I’m about as anti-doctor as it gets and yet in this last week I have spent more of my money on doctors and pills for myself than I have in the last five, maybe 10 years of my life. Making up ground I suppose, catching up on lost time I suppose. I scoff at the notion that I need help, that I cannot get done what needs to be done, that I need anyone’s help at all. This past week disabused me of any such notion. No, on the contrary, I am helpless. And if I am that helpless when it comes to myself and work, then how helpless must I be when it comes to my salvation? If ‘God did not spare his own Son’ speaks of the foundation of my salvation, then how helpless must I truly be?
In this Kingdom of God it is necessary that we learn to be helpless. It’s a dirty word, to be sure. And I don’t like saying it. But when you are on the floor crying like a baby from a pain that you know you cannot control and you are calling out to God for mercy, when this happens, you begin to realize that there is more wrong than you alone, you at all, can handle. It is then that you raise your eyes to heaven, dew drenched as you are, like Nebuchadnezzar, and you ask for God to do for you what you know you cannot do yourself. Helplessness helps us to learn that holy fear that apart from God’s grace we are simply doomed. Helplessness is our pass to enter in and partake of the death of Christ. Become like little children he said. Become helpless.
Become dead because the only way to be resurrected is to first be dead.
Author: John Hart
Publisher: Baker Books (Bethany House)
Pages: 144 (e-book/Nook)
Disclaimer: In full disclosure, you need to know that I was provided with a free e-book copy of the above mentioned book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I have also posted this review at Goodreads.com and Amazon.com.
I think the initial problem I had with this book is found in the title of the book. The word 'need' is kind of strikes me as misplaced because Dr Hart never really tells the reader why they 'need' to know these things about heaven. Unless, of course, it is because 'our ideas of heaven are drawn from many different sources [so] how do we know whether any of [the concepts in those sources] are true?' Maybe that was the point. However, it then begs another question: How then do I know that this particular author has provided me anything more substantial than the other sources? How do I know his authority to write this book is any more noteworthy than, say, a 10 year old kid who died, went to 'heaven', and came back telling us all that it 'is real'?
Truth is, there are all sorts of books and films and seminars and motivational speakers and Oprah episodes dishing about heaven. What's one more voice going to add? And, to be sure, are there really 50 things I need to know? "But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by earth, for it is his footstool" (Matthew 5:34-35). What more is there to say besides that? Well, at least 50 other things; I guess.
That said, the introduction, a mere three paragraphs, is entirely too short for such a subject. This is the perpetual problem with the popular level book market in today's world of Christian book publishers and stores: very little depth. I think this book is no exception. It is 144 pages of hurry up and get a book on the market before someone else does. I found that in reading the book I grew weary of a lot of the retread: repeating the same parables or verses or ideas. That is, there was simply too much repetition in the book. (!) There is so much repetition, I think, because there's just not all that much to say about a subject that the Bible says so little about. So many of the questions are questions that the Bible cares so little about that the author has to offer a great deal of speculation in order to arrive at a satisfactory length chapter. Sure there are Bible references in every chapter and at the end of every chapter for 'further study,' but I was unconvinced that even those extra references were going to be helpful in developing this subject properly.
Another aspect that was extremely irritating to me was the constant use of a variety of Bible translations. Personally, I believe the text would have flowed more smoothly if I didn't have to stop and think about what translation the author was using when quoting Scripture (that is, by figuring out what the letters after the verses meant, CEV, NIV, TLB, etc). If you need to use a different translation to make your point then maybe, just maybe, the point is beyond making. Stick with one version and note textual variances if necessary–or use your own translation directly from the original languages. Most people read one translation–not all of us have fifteen different translations laying about for comparative readings.
Finally, my last criticism is this: some of the questions really had nothing to do whatsoever with 'heaven'–if heaven is defined properly. So the author entertained questions about whether or not we will be bored in heaven; what is 'soul sleep'; do some people go to purgatory; and how can I explain heaven to my children. And there were more. At times I thought I was reading a book of salvation theology–who's getting in, who's not. I think maybe this book should either be titled differently or it should have about half as many questions. I'll say it this way: there is simply not enough information in the Bible about some of these subjects to warrant so many questions or to fuel so much speculation about their answers. Pulling snips and pieces of Bible out of context and developing an entire theology around those pieces is, in my mind, not much different than the way most people in the world get their (false) ideas about heaven in the first place.
Now, on to a couple of the more commendable aspects of the book. You may have guessed so far that I didn't care all that much for the book. That's not entirely the truth. I actually like the format–questions/answers–I just don't think most of the questions asked/answered have anything to do whatsoever with heaven as it is properly defined in Scripture. I think many of the questions asked/answered are drawn more from pop-culture and the 'various sources' referenced in the short introduction. Maybe the book would be better titled something like '50 Misunderstood Ideas about What Happens After We Die' or something like that. The title is too narrow; the scope of the book too large. So for me there was somewhat of a disconnect.
Nevertheless, there is a place to answer some of these questions and, for the most part, I think the author does very well answering them. I was very satisfied that the author made proper reference to the fact that heaven is not where we will spend 'eternity,' but I wish he had dwelt a lot more on this idea of the 'new heavens and the new earth' (see chapter 5; I noted that this conversation should have been in the first chapter, not the fifth). Genesis and Revelation provide very nice bookends to this remarkable story in the Bible about our creation, our fall, our redemption, and our ultimate reward. This, it seems to me, is a far more interesting discussion than whether or not there will be animals in 'heaven.'
Second, there were other times when the author's keen attention to Scripture's detail was riveting. For example, in chapter twenty-two when he was discussing the New Jerusalem, I was very happy that he noted the connection between the cube shaped Jerusalem and the inner room of the temple. At this point I think his exegesis was dead-on especially after he went on to note that it is heaven that comes down to earth and not the other way around. On the other hand, I found his subsequent thoughts about the New Jerusalem having vertical levels and floors to be utterly ridiculous (p 68). Why talk about new heavens and new earth if we are going to live in a cube with floors with a mere acre of land?
Third, in chapter 35 I found his discussion of whether or not we can trust the testimony of those who claim to have died and gone to heaven and come back to earth with a story to tell compelling. His key: "Jesus himself suffered death and was raised to tell about it. Shouldn't his testimony be worthy of our trust?" Amen. He's right and maybe that's what needs to be understood most about this book. There's a lot of nonsense (endless creation of computer code, new musical instruments being created continuously), some sketchy (typically Calvinist) theology, and some silly questions (likely designed to get the book to 50 Questions) but throughout the book the author does manage to stay on point by showing us Jesus. And here we are in complete agreement.
So, then, I didn't enjoy the book nearly as much as I had hoped to; nevertheless, it is a quick, easy read, the author is fairly consistent with this theology, and, despite my questions about some of his exegesis and application, he does fill the book with a lot Scripture (I personally believe there simply needs to be more context around those references and a little more care paid to how some references are 'used' to make a point) and this, too, is a good thing.
PT Forsyth wrote, "The Bible is not a sketch-book of past things nor a picture-book of the last things. It has been especially discredited by treating its imaginative symbols of the future as if they were specifications or working plans attached to God's new covenant and contract with man" (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 197). Indeed, we must be careful when sketching our own ideas about things the Bible is only taking a passing, if not indifferent, notice of.
“The depth is simply the height inverted, as sin is the index of moral grandeur. The cry is not only truly human, but divine as well. God is deeper than the deepest depth in man. He is holier than our deepest sin is deep. There is no depth so deep to us as when God reveals his holiness in dealing with our sin…[And so] think more of the depth of God than the depth of your cry. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to have no God to cry to out of the depths.”—PT Forsyth, The Cure of Souls, as quoted by Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 139
Here is episode #2 of the Rain and Snow Skycast. In this episode, I finish my exploration of Revelation 1 by studying with you verses 9-21. I also included a book review of NT Wright’s book Surprised By Hope. I close the Skycast by talking about God’s grace and how the modern manifestation of the church seems to be lacking in grace to one another and those who are not like us. This is a serious, serious problem. The podcast opens with a quote from the book The Justification of God (or free here). by PT Forsyth which I believe serves as a great segue into my discussion of the contents of Revelation 1:9-21. This episode is about 34 minutes long. Thanks for stopping by. Tell your friends about the Rain and Snow Skycast. Thanks, and may God bless you as you search His Scripture, jerry
Listen here: Resurrected Jesus among the Churches
Or use the inline player below:
You can listen to the previous episode of the Rain and Snow Skycast, The unveiling of Jesus to the Church, here:
I’d like to share some personal reflections concerning president-elect Barrack Obama and how I have chosen to respond to his recent election to the highest office in our land (save for that of the local church preacher.)
I shall state from the beginning of this post that I am a conservative. That does not mean I am a Republican. Nor does it mean I am not a Democrat. What it means is that I believe certain things about fiscal responsibility, certain things about morality, and that I believe certain things about personal responsibility. It does not mean that I am a misogynist, homophobe, redneck, indigent-phobe, or racist.
It does mean that I think homosexuality is a sin (although for some conservatives it does not mean this at all), men are men and women are women and we are not alike, and that America has come a long way in its race relations since the Emancipation Proclamation. It does not mean I think America is the best place to live for everyone, but it is the best place for me to live (and that our history is rich, diverse, and blessed.) It does not mean I think America is perfect. It does mean I think a lot of places in the world would be rather bad-off if the USA didn’t exist. It does not mean I love war and violence. It does mean that I am not so naïve as to think a world, fallen as it is, will be devoid of war apart from the reign of Christ. It does not mean that those in elected-office get a blank check from me, but it does mean that I respect the office they hold and that per the Scripture, I should pray for them. It means that I think abortion to be one of the most despicable, heinous and outrageous crimes a person can perpetrate against the human body, against life. It does not mean that I think those who have had abortions have committed the unforgivable sin.
Being a conservative gets a bad rap because most think it means being intolerant of those who are living differently or believing differently—as if God’s grace depends upon the rightness of our opinions and convictions. Being conservative does not mean we are intolerant of people even if we are intolerant of certain ideas that people hold or certain lifestyles that people, for whatever reason, live. For that matter, intolerance does not mean or equate to hatred. My conservatism flows out of my being a Christ-follower and not the other way around. It doesn’t mean this for everyone, but it does for me. Being conservative means not being liberal. Neither idea means being less than or more than human. It means having ideas about things that matter this much.
I have made a very difficult decision to champion Barrack Obama. I have written critically of President-Elect Obama and some of his (political and theological) views at my own blog. I had an argument with family members at a summer picnic because they already supported him (actually they just opposed President Bush). I have harbored terrifying thoughts about what an Obama presidency might hold for America. I have read the blogs of those who also live in terrific fear of what an Obama presidency might hold. Like here. And here. And here. (And there are many, many more just like this.)
Suddenly it came over me last week at a prayer meeting, as I listened to a man I know speak about some of his concerns and how God is using this shake this and squeeze that and how the church needs to get ready, that I don’t need to or have to fear a so-called liberal president. Why should I fear? Whom shall I fear? The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in horses and chariots, but we trust in the Lord our God.” Whom shall I fear? I will not live the next four years of my life in constant fear of some imagined agenda people have put into his mouth. I have other things I’d rather worry about—like prayers, Scripture, those God has put in my life and the lives that God has shoved me into. Fear is not high on my list of fun ways to live, nor is it on my agenda for tomorrow.
So I have decided that I will be a supporter of Barrack Obama for a few different reasons.
First, I will be a supporter of Obama because it is not in my nature to act like an ADM. That is, I will not be one of those who will sit back and engage in schadenfreude. The writers of .info have always impressed me not because I agree with the position they take in regard to everything, but precisely because they do not engage in delight at the failure of others. I don’t want him to fail. Granted, I hope some of his policies fail and do so miserably. But I can hope for him, without supporting his particular ideas about morality.
Take abortion for example. When I went to Great Lakes Christian College in 1991, I remember gathering one night to pray for upcoming elections. The candidates were Bill Clinton and George Bush. We had one issue, mostly, on our minds: Abortion. Then Clinton was elected, much to the chagrin of many people. And you know what? Not a thing happened concerning Roe v. Wade for 8 years of the Clinton Administration. Then George W Bush was elected. And not a thing has happened to Roe v. Wade for 8 years of his administration. I’ll grant that Mr Obama is a flaming lunatic when it comes to his opinions on abortion, but I’m not naïve enough to think that John McCain, had he been elected, would have suddenly swung the pendulum so far right that Roe v. Wade would have been overturned. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m just saying that perhaps it is time for Christians to find alternative ways for dealing with the abortion issue besides putting all our stock in a presidential candidate who will ‘get the right people on the Supreme Court and get Roe v. Wade overturned.’ I think that is a pipe-dream at best.
To the point, I will not engage in schadenfreude when it comes to Pres-E Obama. I am not an ADM and I never will be.
Second, I don’t have to live in fear of him. He is a man and I just find it impossible to believe that it is his stated or secret goal and purpose to ruin the America we all know and love. Fact is, if he produces policies that differ from my point of view that is fine. If he produces legislation that is forcibly contrary to God’s Law, I have the biblical obligation to disobey. I don’t have the obligation to live in fear of Obama any more than liberals had reason to live in fear of George W Bush or than first century Christians had to fear Caesar. I will not conduct myself or raise my family or practice my faith based on fear of any man or woman in political office. The only fear I have a right to practice is fear of God.
The bottom line for me is this: God is still Sovereign. I heard someone say the other day that our fate lies in Obama’s hands. Pshaw! I saw an ad on facebook that has a picture of Obama with the word “Hope” underneath. Pshaw! I have heard people comparing him to the Messiah. Pshaw! I hear people say that the president of the United States is the most powerful man in the world. Horse****! He is none of these things for me because Christians are strangers, pilgrims, sojourners and aliens…I have as much fear of him as I do for the little old atheist lady who lives next door. Christians live under the sovereign watch-care and covenant-love of God Almighty. Whom shall I fear? This is not so much about should I support him, as much as can I support him. The answer is yes. I didn’t vote for him, but I’m not about to abandon him either. This is a matter of trust: Do I trust God who loves me or fear a man who cannot do me any harm?
Third, why not give peace a chance and take him at face-value? Pres-E Obama said he is a Christian and that his hope is in Jesus Christ: Why should I believe differently? For example, I might not like the things his pastor (Jeremiah Wright) said, but on the other hand…I don’t suppose that Jeremiah Wright would like everything I said about America either (and who’s to say that behind the sound-bites and rhetoric Wright is not making a larger point about which he is, well, right?) Point is, as a Christian, I belong to God first and America last. I am happy to be an American, but I am not defined by my nationality in the Kingdom of God. I’ll give Obama the benefit of the doubt and accept his word that he belongs to Christ. It’s the ADM culture that calls other people’s confessions of Christ into question, not .info’s. Barrack may have worshiped at a church for 20 years that has some questionable theology, but unlike many politicians, he was at least worshiping. Besides, whom among us doesn’t have impaired theology? None of us, not one of us, has it all right.
Fourth, I will support him because Jesus told us to love. He said, Love one another. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love those who persecute you. Well, at this juncture, the worst Obama is is my neighbor. He’s hardly persecuted me. He’s hardly my enemy. In fact, if he claims Christ as he says he does (and who are we to question that?) then don’t I have a biblical obligation to love him as I love myself? Even when Jesus said, “Love your enemies” he did not put any conditional strings on that love. He didn’t say, “Love them until they do something that offends you.” When he said to pray for those in positions of authority, he didn’t say, “Pray for them so long as they make policy decisions that you agree with.” He said: Love. Pray. He left these terms profoundly undefined and agenda-less. If Obama is my brother in Christ…well, love keeps no record of wrongs. Is God’s grace only efficacious for those of us who are not politicians we disagree with fiscally and morally or preachers we disagree with theologically? Is being a liberal senator an unforgivable sin now?
Fifth, because I will not treat Barrack Obama the way liberals (and many conservatives!!) treated George W Bush. My heart breaks for President Bush because he is a good man who became president at the wrong time (or the right time!) and he has been treated like absolute garbage by everyone. It is downright shameful how people have treated that man, that fellow American, that brother in Christ (as he too claims). He has protected our country—perhaps in ways we disagree with—and done a good job. He was called to serve and did so.
I read an essay at Wall Street Journal online by Jeffrey Scott Shapiro who makes this very case. He wrote:
The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time. Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty — a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House.
You know what? I will not treat Barrack Obama that way. Jesus also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I will not stoop to the levels that many Americans have with respect to President Bush.
Finally, I will support Barrack Obama because I prayed that God’s will would be done and I trust that it was. Many Christians spent a lot of energy and blog space lamenting the campaign and election of Barrack Obama (I no less than anyone else). I have a friend who wonders how the nation is even going to survive the next 20 years. Well, you know what? It might not. We might all be swallowed alive tomorrow by a flying spaghetti monster, but does that matter? Tomorrow, the stock market may crash and we may have to actually start planting gardens instead of going to Wal-Mart for food. Or perhaps tomorrow the rights of the church will be taken away: We could lose tax-exempt status, or be forced to close our doors, or told we can ‘no longer speak His name,’ or perhaps people might start burning down our buildings and then what would we do without heat and air? So what? Do we think that this means God has suddenly abandoned us? Do we think that this means God’s will is suddenly being thwarted?
Are we the type of Christians who think that the election of one man to political office suddenly means that God has been escorted from his throne? Do we think God cannot handle such things? Do we think this is a mere eventuality to God? Do we think that this makes God shake and quiver?
I’m going to support Barrack Obama because I can, I should, and I must. I can because God is Sovereign. I should because he is my brother in Christ. I must because he is the president for the next four years. PT Forsyth wrote an amazing book back in 1917 called The Justification of God. It is a fabulous book written to the world in the midst of a Great War and a time of economic peril. It was reissued again after WWII. In that book, he said this:
“It is not easy to believe that the Kingdom of God is the greatest Empire now in the world—and especially at present it is hard. But faith’s greatest conquest of the world is to believe, on the strength of Christ’s Cross, that the world has been overcome, and that the nations which rage so furiously are still in the leash of the redeeming God.” (158)
He’s not my choice. I didn’t vote for him (neither did I vote for McCain), but I will support President Elect and soon to be President Obama because my faith is in God who is faithful. I will pray that he will be a vessel of God’s grace, an agent of mercy, an ambassador for freedom and liberty that we in America enjoy because of God’s grace and mercy. But I will not just ‘support’ him in some meaningless, backhanded way. I will go a step further and do for him what others have not done for George W Bush: I will love him, his wife, and his children, and give honor to whom honor is due. I can either work hard to make it hard for him and more difficult or I can love him and pray for him. I will love him because I am commanded to love, because I want to love, because I choose to love, and because I have been empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to love. Perfect love casts out fear and God has created us to love, not to fear; to love, not hate; to love without an agenda all those created in his image.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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Here’s a lengthy, but necessary quote from my friend PT Forsyth. Every time I read something of his, I am astounded at his prescience (not to mention his depth of thought!) Here he is lamenting the church not only losing focus on the centrality of Christ’s cross and its vital connection to our salvation, but also I believe he is chiding those who purposely misrepresent the work of Christ at Calvary as a mere afterthought or aside. Instead, Forsyth rightly notes that the work of Christ is central, crucial, and second to nothing else he did.
“It has been asked concerning Christ, Was His will to die one with His will to save? Is there any doubt about the answer the Church has given to that question from first to last? The salvation has always been attached to Christ’s death, from New Testament days downward…If Christ’s atoning death is not the central effect of His person, and the central thing to our faith, if that notion of atonement has overlaid Christ’s real gospel, how has the whole Church come totally to misread its creator, and to miss what for Him was central? There has surely been some gigantic bungling on the Church’s part, some almost fatuous misconception of its Lord, a blunder whose long life and immense moral effect is quite unintelligible. An error of that kind is no misprint but a flaw. It is not mistake but heresy. And, as it concerns the centre and nature of faith, it must destroy any belief in the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit—which, however, is not a very lively faith among those whose challenge here occupies us….The church has done its Lord many a wrong, but none so grave as this, to have determinedly perverted His legacy, and grieved His spirit in regard to the central object of His mission on earth. It has often travestied His methods, misconstrued points of His teaching, and even compromised His principles; but these things have been done against its best conscience and its holiest spirits. These errors have passed, and been reformed, and renounced. But this perversion I speak of, if perversion it be, is greater than these, less culpable possibly, but even greater as perversion. For it has been the misrepresentation of Christ’s central gospel by the Church’s best and wisest. It has been a more total and venerable perversion than even the papacy. For even had all such passing ills and historic abuses been cured, this travesty of Christ’s central intent would still have gone on, and gone on with all the force lent by a purified Church, and all the spell of saintliness to wing the central lie. If the cross was but little to Christ in comparison with His real work, if it was a mere by-produced of His mission, a mere appendix to it and not its purpose, a mere calamity that befell it and not its consummation; and if His church has yet made it central, seminal, creative, and submersive of all else, then the enemies who swore Christ’s life away did Him no such bad turn as the train of disciples whose stupidity has belied Him over the whole world for all time. And those browbeaters who would let Him say nothing did His cause less harm than those apostles who made Him say what He did not mean.” –PT Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, 94-98
Soli Deo Gloria!
Aaron W Calhoun, MD, has a rather brilliant, if short, essay in the most recent issue of Touchstone titled “Jesus Wept.” In the short essay he touches on some of the objections that atheists and others come up with for why there almost certainly is not a god. This part of the essay has been rehearsed a thousand times by a thousand different authors so I won’t bother again. What makes this essay, in my opinion, brilliant is that he doesn’t let the Christian off the hook. He notes that it is Christians who often have the wrong answer (at the wrong times) for why there is suffering in the world and how we can justify God or God’s existence in light of such suffering. Answers that involve repeated references to ‘God’s plan,’ or ‘his sovereignty,’ while not wrong, are not necessarily the best approach either. I agree.
Instead of a necessarily philosophical answer or a ‘tired’ theological answer, what we need is a Christological answer. “Christological answers deal with natural evil not with a defense of who God is, but with an exposition of what God did. They stress, not logic and argument, but a direct appeal to the power of Christ death and resurrection over evil” (Calhoun, 14-15). Well that is just fantastic writing. It is too often that our apologetic for God in light of a suffering world is to neglect Christ’s work, his entrance into this world, the enfleshing of God in Christ, and his suffering. It’s almost as if Christians are afraid to talk about the cross when we are confronted with the horrors of suffering and evil in this world. Now of course, we cannot leave the cross here. The cross was not merely about God understanding our suffering or participating in it. The cross can never be about mere sympathy and we must carry it on to its ends of atonement, propitiation, and redemption. But Calhoun is surely correct in this assessment that in our quest to understand suffering and God in this world the cross is the place to start. In the cross is the renewal of all things.
The fact is, God did do something about suffering: He dealt the death blow to sin in Christ. This is the testimony of Scripture time and time again. Suffering has at its root sin and if suffering and evil are going to be dealt with then sin has to be confronted and defeated. Only in the total defeat of sin in the cross will the last enemy, death, be destroyed. “When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Colossians 2:15). Here is your victory: Christ Crucified. Here is your answer to suffering in the world: Christ Crucified. Here is the content of the Gospel: Christ Crucified. This means that the preacher has the responsibility to preach: Christ Crucified. It is only in this message that suffering will make any sense at all. Forsyth said it profoundly, “The Cross is at once creation’s final jar and final recovery. And there is no theodicy for the world except in a theology of the Cross. The only final theodicy is that self-justification of God which was fundamental to His justification of man. No reason of man can justify God in a world like this. He must justify Himself, and He did so in the Cross of His Son” (The Justification of God, 122).
Calhoun wrote, “We forget that the ultimate response to evil is not a theory or a doctrine, but a person…And it is in him, the Infinite God who became man and died, bearing our suffering and sin as his own, that we see the truth” (15). An absolutely brilliant essay. I am thankful that Dr Calhoun wrote it and I am hopeful that more of you who have tasted it here will discover it for yourselves. If you are wondering about suffering, about ‘where God is’ in all this mess we call the world, about the massive amount of and proliferation of evil in our culture, then there is only one answer: Jesus Christ crucified.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 20:11-23 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 87)
But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
“Paul’s insistence that we participate in the same resurrection as Jesus is congruent with Jesus’ actions and words to his assembled disciples on the evening of his resurrection when he ‘breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22).’ ‘The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead’—that’s Paul’s phrase in Romans 8:11—is the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on them. Jesus’ followers live resurrection-formed lives, not by watching him or imitating him or being influenced by him, but by being raised with him. It’s formation-by-resurrection. There’s an interesting echo of the Creation story in this. The word John uses for Jesus’ action in breathing the Holy Spirit on them—emphusao—is the same verb used in Genesis 2 for God’s breathing the ‘breath of life’ into the human form he had just made, resulting in a ‘living being’ (verse 7). What God did in Genesis, Jesus did with the disciples—breathing the Spirit, bringing life, bringing resurrection life. The parallelism of the two texts—Creation and Resurrection—suggests that they are similarly basic. Resurrection is no more an add-on to human life than Creation is an add-on to that Adamic lump of clay. It’s life itself—the God-breathed, Jesus-breathed beginning of who we are and who we become by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breathing.”—(Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection, 108-109)
It was evidently not a time to be crying. Twice Mary was asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” ‘They’ asked her and so did Jesus who was standing there, even though she did not recognize him at first. She thought he was a gardener and that if he had taken Jesus away she would go, get him, and carry him back to the tomb. She must have been a strong woman. (*Smile*)
Jesus didn’t do any tricks to awaken her senses to who he was. He simply spoke: “Mary.” I recall this: “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-6) Seems to me that this is a perfect illustration of those words: “Mary.” All she heard was his voice saying her name and she knew exactly who she was speaking to.
I do not believe we will mistake his voice for another’s. But I also do not think that his appearance to her was simply to satisfy her longing or to assuage her fear or sorrow. He had work for her to do, and in order for her to do that work, she had to stop clinging. I like how Don Carson paraphrases verse 17 so that we might understand why Jesus told Mary to stop clinging: “Stop touching me for I have not yet ascended to my Father—i.e. I am not yet in the ascended state, so you do not have to hang on to me as if I were about to disappear permanently. This is a time for joy and sharing the good news, not for clutching me as if I were some jealously guarded private dream-come-true. Stop clinging to me, but go and tell my disciples that I am in the process of ascending to my Father and your Father.” (The Gospel According to John, 644)
And she obeyed: “I have seen the Lord!” No more tears for Mary. There was work to be done and she did not wait to do it later.
Then Jesus appeared to his disciples who were hunkered down behind closed and locked doors. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” They too were full of joy. Jesus shows them his wounds—his hands and side—indicating that this One standing in their midst was the Lord who had been crucified. The wounds are the unmistakable evidence that He was the One who had been crucified. And he was not just another Joe who had been hung on a tree: The wound in his side distinguished him from all others.
He repeats his blessing of peace. “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” “Our belief in God, historic as it is, is a belief in spite of history. Those who draw their belief from God’s treatment of them or their time must collapse in the black hour…What we must know is, which is destined to conquer, which is on its way to conquer, however unmarked, which has the reversion of the world, and has it on the guarantee of the Ruler of a world overcome already.” (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 192-193) Jesus stood among them as the One who conquered and He pronounced upon them the blessing of peace. If we have peace through the Resurrected Lord, then have we not peace indeed? This world was conquered before Christ ever set foot on it, before he ever felt the cold steel in his wrists, before the tomb was destroyed. History is against the Christian, but Christ pronounces peace in their midst, and in spite of history.
Jesus sent Mary to the disciples and now he tells his disciples that they too are being sent. And his commission here is this: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not for them, they are not forgiven.” That is a lot of power, a lot of authority, and a terrible burden. But he gave it to them and they obeyed.
I have not unpacked a lot of the minutia concerning these verses. I’ll leave that to others. Allow me to consume a few more lines of space here to summarize and crystallize these thoughts:
First, he told Mary to go the disciples and tell them some things. Now whatever else we might say about all the minutia of these verses, this one thing is without question: Jesus Himself determined the content of Mary’s message (and, for that matter, the disciples’ message). Sadly, I think we miss this in the church today. I think we are far too content to think that we know perfectly well what we ought to preach or say or teach (probably because we think we know what others want to hear, or we haven’t listened to Jesus, or because we think his message weak and untrustworthy, etc.) when all along the content of our message is given us by Christ Himself. When Mary went to them, she told them, “I have seen the Lord” and she told them what Jesus had told her to say.
Jesus had a lot of confidence that Mary would do exactly what he told her to do, and it is a testimony to her that she was faithful in doing so. In the church today, we need to be obedient too. We need to make certain that the message we deliver is the message that Jesus told us to deliver. That message comes from His Word.
Second, John says that “Jesus stood among them” and declared to them “peace.” Well this sort of cinches it doesn’t it? There are many folks who are claiming a message of peace, but it seems to me that the only message of peace there will be is the one declared by Christ himself as He Himself is among us. We can simply dispense with the notion that there will be any sort of peace in this world apart from Jesus. It is Jesus who declares peace: The ultimate Shalom!
Third, Jesus gave the disciples an incredible amount of authority. Forgiveness of sins is no small thing and not something that we should mock. This responsibility, given to the disciples, is of immense importance to us. These disciples went out, armed in the authority of Christ to preach His message of forgiveness. That is, he told them the content of their message: Forgiveness.
They went out armed with a message that says this: There is forgiveness in no other place, from no other person, but Jesus. They had the message of forgiveness and if they didn’t forgive people then who could? Is Jesus then limiting where forgiveness can be had? I think He is. I think at this point he is laying a direct assault on all other forms of religious expression. Here Jesus is nullifying the message of any other ‘prophet’. Here Jesus is saying: Forgiveness can be had only through this message you will proclaim in my Name. (See Hebrews 1:1-4.)
But there is one final thing. This message of Resurrection, peace, and forgiveness begins with a simple premise and that is this: We are dead, we are at war, we are sinners. There is no need to proclaim “He is alive” if we are not dead. There is no need for “Peace” among us if we are not at war. There is no need for “Forgiveness” if we are not sinners. In this message, is a proclamation about humanity; a message we need to heed. There is no need for Jesus to send his disciples as the Father sent him if, in fact, all already belong to him or if, in fact, he doesn’t care about them. But they do not, and he does. So he sends his disciples out among the dead, out among the warring, out among the unforgiven. And we declare his message, only.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PT Forsyth died in 1921. Ever since I was introduced to his writings a little over 2 years ago, I have been constantly amazed at how prophetic his words were. He spoke to a generation of Christians that, evidently, were not much different from the current generation even though we are separated by a hundred years or more.
I make no profession to be a Forsyth expert. At this point, I am barely a student. I am a reader of Forsyth for now, but he continues to shape and challenge my ideas of God and Scripture and the Church. Consider this:
The preacher preaches to the divinest purpose only when his lips are touched with the red coal from the altar of the thrice holy in the innermost place. We must rise beyond social righteousness and universal justice to the holiness of an infinite God. What we on earth call righteousness among men, the saints in heaven call holiness in Him.
Have our churches lost that seal? Are we producing reform, social or theological, faster than we are producing faith? Have we become more liberal than sure? Then we are putting all our religious capital into the extension of our business, and carrying nothing to reserve or insurance. We are mortgaging and starving the future. We are not seeking first the Kingdom of God and His holiness, but only carrying on, with very expensive and noisy machinery, a ‘kingdom-of-God-industry.’ We are merely running the kingdom; and we are running it without the cross–with the cross perhaps on our sign, but not in our centre. We have the old trade mark, but what does that matter in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, if the artesian well on our premises is going dry? (The Cruciality of the Cross, 40)
I’ll say this much: There is nothing new under the sun. I wonder if we are reaping what was sown, or if we are sowing now what others will reap. Either way, his words make clear that the Kingdom of God is, in the eyes and hands of man, cheap. We sell it for a pittance, a mere dollar. And where does it start? With Preachers. Until preachers get this into their heads, and get their bodies back to the pulpit to preach the Word of God, the people of God will continue down this dismal, dry, empty road to nothing.
I wonder if it is possible to change course, to sow a new crop? I wonder if it is possible for the church to stop trying to manage the Kingdom of God and start pursuing it again? I wonder if the lament will continue, or if we can break out in praise at the harvest? I wonder if we will starve to death because of the famine of the Word, or if we will be baptized in a fresh outpouring of God’s grace because the Word is proclaimed? I wonder if the church will matter when we who preach now look back on the work that we have left behind?
Soli Deo Gloria!