Christian Responses to the Tragedy in Aurora

While this certainly grabs at the heart of every American, it is somewhat nuanced for me in that I attended that midnight showing of The Dark Knight earlier this morning.  But in God’s providence, I watched in Louisville, KY and not Aurora, CO.  Still, the news was, needless to say, burdening and broadening.  Here are two responses from Collin Hansen and Al Mohler.  Praying for these families during yet another sin-evincing crisis, and for all the churches in the Denver area, that they will be granted wisdom, grace, spiritual life, and a gentle boldness in bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear upon the hardest realities of this world.

How Pastor-Counselors Differ from Secular Counselors, by David Powlison

The uniqueness of your message is easy to see. But you already know this. I won’t rehearse the unsearchable riches of Christ, or the 10,000 pertinent implications.

But I do want to note the uniqueness of your message by contrast. Every counselor brings a “message”: an interpretation of problems, a theory that weighs causalities and context, a proposal for cure, a goal that defines thriving humanness. How does your message compare with their messages? Simply consider what our culture’s other counselors do not say.

To discover what they do not say and what we have to say, go here.

Quotables from John Stott’s “The Cross of Christ”: Concerning (1) the value of God’s cross-love, (2) the forgiveness of sins exclusive to Christianity, (3) Christian sacrifices, (4) Pride, (5) the Cross and Discipleship, (6) the Cross and Mission, (7) the Cross and Change through Suffering, and (8) the God who identifies with us in our Suffering

1.  On the cross and the value of God’s love:

The value of a love-gift is assessed both by what it costs the giver and by the degree to which the recipient may be held to deserve it.  A young man who is in love, for example, will give his beloved expensive presents, often beyond what he can afford, as symbols of his self-giving love, because he believes she deserves them, and more.  Jacob served seven years for Rachel because of his love for her.  But God in giving his Son gave himself to die for his enemies.  He gave everything for those who deserved nothing from him.  ‘And that is God’s own proof of his love toward us’ (Rom 5.8 NEB). . . .

2. On the cross and the exclusivity of the Christian message of forgiveness of sin:

W. M. Clow was right to draw our attention to singing as a unique feature of Christian worship, and to the reason for it: ‘There is no forgiveness in this world, or in that which to come, except through the cross of Christ.  “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”  The religions of paganism scarcely knew the word. . . . the great faiths of the Buddhist and the Mohammedan give no place either to the need or the grace of reconciliation.  The clearest proof of this is the simplest.  It lies in the hymns of Christian worship.  A Buddhist temple never resounds with a cry of praise.  Mohammedan worshippers never sing.  Their prayers are, at the highest, prayers of submission and of request.  They seldom reach the gladder note of thanksgiving.  They are never jubilant with the songs of the forgiven. . . .

3.  On the Christian’s sacrifices “of laud” consequent of Christ’s atoning sacrifice:

What spiritual sacrifices, then, do the people of God as a ‘holy priesthood’ offer to him?  Eight are mentioned in Scripture.  First, we are to present our bodies to him for his service, as a “living sacrifice.”  This sounds like a material offering, but it is termed our “spiritual worship” (Rom 12.1), presumably because it pleases God only if it expresses the worship of the heart.  Second, we offer God our praise, worship and thanksgiving, “the fruit of lips that confess his name.”  Our third sacrifice is prayer, which is said to ascend to God like a fragrant incense, and our fourth “a broken and contrite heart,” which God accepts and never despises.  Fifth, faith is called a “sacrifice and service.”  So too, sixth, are our gifts and good deeds, for “with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  The seventh sacrifice is our life poured out like a drink offering in God’s service, even unto death, while the eighth is the special offering of the evangelist, whose preaching of the gospel is called a “priestly duty” because he is able to present his converts as “an offering acceptable to God” (Phil 2.17; 2 Tim 4.6; Rom 15.16).  These eight are all, in Daniel Waterland’s words, “true and evangelical sacrifices,” because they belong to the gospel, not the law, and are thankful responses to God’s grace in Christ. . . .

4.  On pride:

There once was a nymph named Narcissus, Who thought himself very delicious; So he stared like a fool – At his face in a pool, And his folly today is still with us. . . .

5. On the cross and the Christian’s decision between comfort and suffering:

The spirit of James and John lingers on, especially in us who have been cushioned by affluence.  It is true that inflation and unemployment have brought to many a new experience of insecurity.  Yet we still regard security as our birthright and ‘safety first’ as a prudent motto.  Where is the spirit of adventure, the sense of uncalculating solidarity with the underprivileged?  Where are the Christians who are prepared to put service before security, compassion before comfort, hardship before ease?  Thousands of pioneer Christian tasks are waiting to be done, which challenge our complacency and call for risk.  Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross.  What daring adventures the incarnation and the atonement were!  What a breach of convention and decorum that Almighty God should renounce his privileges in order to take human flesh and bear human sin!  Jesus had no security except in his Father.  So to follow Jesus is always to accept at least a measure of uncertainty, danger and rejection for his sake. . . .

6. On the cross and mission:

Douglas Webster has written, “Mission sooner or later leads into passion.  In biblical categories . . . the servant must suffer. . . . Every form of mission leads to some form of cross.  The very shape of mission is cruciform.  We can understand mission only in terms of the cross. . . .”

7. On the view of human suffering in light of the cross and eternity, and how God changes us through what we suffer:

“We may wish, indeed,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “that we were of so little account to God that he left us alone to follow our natural impulses  – that he would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more love, but for less . . . To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God. . . .”

8. On the God of the cross who identified with us in our suffering, the God to believe upon:

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.  The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.”  In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?  I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.  But each time after a while I have had to turn away.  And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness.  That is the God for me!  He laid aside his immunity to pain.  He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.  He suffered for us.  Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.  There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering.  “The cross of Christ . . . is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours. . . . “The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pp. 210, 251, 257, 268, 280-81, 283, 315-16, 326-27, respectively.

Divine Revelation Fundamental to Suffering Well: Insights for Contemporary Counseling from the Book of Job

From the introduction (paper posted under “Other Writings” tab above):

“The thesis of this paper is that divine revelation is fundamental to that true transformation of the individual, the appeasement of that troubled soul when it gazes upon the sovereign wisdom and power of God displayed therein.  If the righteous sufferer is to be comforted and planted in the everlasting soils of divine communion, he must see God.  Thus, revelation is fundamental to counseling Job through the experience of his suffering because it manifests God, and in so doing, the character of God which teaches Job that God is greater than his circumstance of affliction.  Indeed, the circumstance is a tool in the hand of the Almighty.  Insofar as one’s counsel is derivative of this Word, the counseled heart will see with new eyes.  This brief sketch of Job’s experience and the insights attained from it for contemporary counseling will accord with the following outline: first, a description of Job’s predicament; secondly, a description of poor counseling exemplified in the words of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar; thirdly, whether we can learn anything from Elihu as distinct from the three friends; and lastly, the place and content of good counsel, the Word of God and the essential attributes of God set forth within.”

Bibliography is not provided.  If you would like to view it, you can drop me a reply.

Notes on the Book of Job (With an Eye to Biblical Counseling)

The opening paragraph to my notes (just placed in “Other Writings” tab above):

“What follows are the notes that I took as I read through the book of Job.  As it was with the purpose of gaining insights for biblical counseling from the book of Job, the notes are slanted that way.  I hope that they might be of some encouragement to you, and that by them you might be directed to the biblical text itself, and to the magnificent revelation of God by which grace you will receive eyes with which to see Him and so be overcome by His meticulous wisdom, providence, and purpose – even with, in, and through your suffering.  For a less choppy, and I hope, clearer presentation of insights for counseling from the book of Job, see my paper on the subject which is largely derivative of these notes.  If you are wondering why bother with these notes, I submit to you that they include more than I was allowed to fit in the final form.”

The final paper will be posted tomorrow for anyone curious – it’s simply too late, and I need to go to bed.

Praying Imprecatory Psalms: Weeping and Rejoicing Over the Same Event

It has often been wondered in our soft American culture if and how Christians should pray imprecatory prayers in light of Christ’s command to love our enemies.  In this blog post, John Piper answers “yes.”  I agree!

Suffering in God’s Economy Not Arbitrary: The Counsel of Elihu

This is another sermon, technically entitled “Job: Rebuked in Suffering”, from John Piper in 1985.  In it, he does at least two things, I think – he shows that suffering is not arbitrary, not retributive or punitive, but rather, purposeful, sanctifying, and, ultimately, curative or healing.  That is all one thing!  Secondly, there is a vindication of Job’s acquaintance, Elihu.  Many today think him synonymous with Job’s three friends, another irritator of the man Job.  Piper provides a different look into this biblical figure.  I tend to agree with his assessment on both fronts (Having recently read Job, I too found Elihu to be quite different from Job’s other friends concerning the content of his answer, and held him to be an exemplar in the poetic story; today in one of my classes, that view was challenged – hence my attendance to Pipers – and others – views on this issue).  A truly terrific sermon.  Go here to read or download and listen.

Q and A with the Puritan Thomas Watson (1620-1686) on Patience in Suffering

Question: How shall I get my heart tuned to a patient mood?

Answer: Get faith; all our impatience proceeds from unbelief.  Faith is the breeder of patience.  When a storm of passion begins to arise, faith says to the heart, as Christ did to the sea, ‘Peace, be still’, and there is at once a calm.

Question: How does faith work patience?

Answer: Faith argues the soul into patience. Faith is like that town clerk in Ephesus who allayed the contention of the multitude and argued them soberly into peace (Acts 19:35, 36).  So when impatience begins to clamour and make a hubbub in the soul, faith appeases the tumult and argues the soul into holy patience.  Faith says, ‘Why art thou disquieted, O my soul?’ (Psa. 42:5). ‘Are you afflicted? Is it not your Father who has done it? He is carving and polishing you and making you fit for glory.  He smites that he may save.  What is your trial?  Is it sickness? God shakes the tree of your body so that some fruit may fall, even the “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).  Are you driven from your home?  God has prepared a city for you (Heb. 11:16).  Do you suffer reproach for Christ’s sake? “The spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1 Pet. 4:14).’ Thus faith argues and disputes the soul into patience.

From The Godly Man’s Picture, by Thomas Watson (p. 127).  Italics mine.  Note also that the way in which “faith argues and disputes the soul into patience” is by referring the questions of the soul to the Word of God.  For a short discourse along similar lines, namely, that the primary course of study for the soul in affliction is the Word of God, see the post that I recently “published” – “The Curriculum of the Word in the Seminary of Suffering.