Archive for August, 2012

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On Eternal Conscious Punishment…

August 31, 2012

On the topic of Eternal Conscious punishment:

“Then [there] will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and the will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”[1]  Jesus spoke these words on the road to Jerusalem, and hence they have been the source of great anticipation and great apprehension for almost two thousand years.  Jesus spoke to His disciples about an impending moment of time, a moment impending still.  Most who read this text can detect the tension, the glorious and awful day of the Son of Man’s return.  We read this text confident with the knowledge that, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but (His) words will not pass away.”  The day is coming when; the trumpet shall sound, the elect shall be gathered, the wicked cast aside and the kingdom of God will endure forever more.  Then what? You might ask.  What is next?  What of the wicked?  Shall the wicked endure in punishment as the righteous in delight?  Can God’s kingdom, where the corruptible has become incorruptible, exist?  With the wicked present, suffering torment in light of God’s justice?

From the first Easter on these questions persist.  Christ’s resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples and community secure our faith’s belief in the like-resurrection awaiting the righteous; this belief is fundamental to that faith.[2]  His resurrection serves as a first-fruit of the promise, that for the saints, there is victory in death; “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]  Death’s sting shall not be removed for all however, for some will be raised not to inherit the kingdom, but to reap eternal punishment.  Our aim will be to address what shape that eternal punishment will take.

This view can be described as the orthodox position or traditional position within the church.  Throughout the history of the Church, many diverse individuals have found common ground on the profession that “the wicked will suffer the pains of hell forever.”[1]  “It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it.”[2]  To dissect this position let us take it word for word.

Eternal:  This means that the wicked that are cursed by God and have rejected His grace shall face punishment forever.  Jesus himself foretold that He shall declare to the wicked on the Day of Judgment: “depart from me in to the eternal fire…” and to the condemned He shall say, “…go away into eternal punishment.”[3]  This is furthermore declared in book of Christ’s Revelation, “and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night…”[4] The torment that awaits the wicked shall not end but shall endure eternally.

Conscious:  The conscious in Eternal Conscious Punishment denote that those who exist in torment and punishment forever will be cognizant of the punishment they receive and shall react with all the attributes of consciousness.[5]  In the previous passages mentioned, when Christ addresses the Day of Judgment, those who are cast into the outer darkness shall, “weep and gnash their teeth.”[6]  This is powerful imagery in that when one gnashes teeth it is in response to the infliction of pain.  There are no unconscious individuals who weep, none who knowingly gnash their teeth.

Punishment:  For those who hold the belief that the wicked shall suffer Hell eternally and consciously also believe that there shall be punishment.  Indeed just as “no eye has seen, nor ear heard… what things God has prepared for those who love him,” so too what has he prepared for those for do not love him.  “Hell is torment beyond comparison, the outcome of marvels, wrought by the greatest marvels of divine omnipotence, torment beyond any we could conceive.”[7]  These are strong words and powerful images, not the substance of joyous thought.  Those who cannot bear the thought of any suffering in such a manner, for such a time, have sought different interpretations of the same texts sighted.  Their conclusions hold that the future which awaits the damned is just as permanent but far different in experience than the one listed above.

I support the position of eternal conscious punishment; and I shall briefly outline the justification for said support.  My argument is really two-fold: one that ECP represents the majority and orthodox position and this fact is by no means incidental.  Two, I believe that ECP belies a consistency both biblically and theologically, which has accounted for its support throughout the development of Christianity and Christian Doctrine.

Orthodox for a Reason

The adoption of ECP as the orthodox view within Christianity was not an arbitrary choice.  Its support is first detected within the proclamations of Christ which lie at the very heart of the Faith.  Throughout the gospels Jesus proclaims the fate of those who fail to heed the call to follow Him.  Matthew 25:30, 41, 46 all speak to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, in the “eternal fire” for the purpose of “eternal punishment.”  Jesus affirms in Mark chapter 9 that the same fire is “never quenched.”  We see in Luke 16 He tells of the rich man and Lazarus, and the torment of the rich man.  Jesus first raises the dichotomy of eternal reward mirrored by eternal punishment.  “Matthew, as D.A. Carson notes, ‘uses the adjective aionios… only for what is eternal.’ The punishment that the lost suffer in hell is parallel to the bliss that the righteous enjoy on the new earth.”[1]  Like ripples in a pond Jesus’ testimony of future eternal punishment was adopted and perpetuated the apostles.

The apostles expanded and added interpretation to the gospels’ record of Jesus’ teachings.  While the word hell is not mentioned in Paul’s writings[2] there can be no doubt that from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, Paul proclaims that God’s judgment awaits the wicked.  The author of Hebrews considers eternal judgment to be a “foundational elementary teaching.[3]” James, Peter, Jude and John, in their letters, all allude to coming torment for the wicked apart from Christ.  The pinnacle of this commentary comes in apocalyptic narrative form in John’s Revelation of Christ.  We have mentioned some of the passages previously, suffice it to say, Revelation chapter 20 stands as a vivid picture “emphasizing that hell is just [and eternal] punishment for the wicked.”[4]  As the church developed and strengthened, so too did the affirmations of this doctrine by the early church fathers.

By the late second century the theologian Tertullian arguing against the Gnostic heresy and the denial of physical resurrection argued that the enduring punishment in view is akin to “never-ending killing” the continual conscious penalty for those who die in sin.[5]  Tertullian led to Augustine in AD 400; Augustine to the Council of Constantinople in AD 553;[6] from Constantinople to Aquinas in AD 1270; on through to Luther and the Reformation in AD 1553.[7]  In fact, “from Augustine to the Reformation, only the ninth century Irishman, John Scotus Erigena, positively denied an eternal, or even material hell.”[8]  ECP, as a doctrine of the church, maintained almost unparalleled loyalty throughout the churches history, this loyalty springs from its consistency with biblical theology.

 


[1] Matthew 24:30

[2] I Corinthians 15:14-19 “ And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hopein this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

[3] I Corinthians 15:57

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04.

[2] Beale, Christopher W. contr. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Pub. 2004.) 139.

[3] Hebrews 6:1-3 (Beale, 140.)

[4] Beale, 141.

[5] Peterson, Robert A. contr. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove, IL. IVP, 2000.) 119.

[6] Constantinople declared that “whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end… let him be anathema.” Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. (New York, NY. Simon and Schuster, 1976) 340.

[7] Peterson, 119-122.

[8] Johnson, 340.

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04. Indeed Peterson goes on to list 11 prominent figures from Christianity History who subscribe to this doctrine; among the 11 listed we find: Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, and Millard Erickson.

[2]  Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (USA, Hendrickson Pub. Inc.

1999.) 870.  Hodge also attests that the broad reception of this view among the church is due to more that simply church authority in protecting doctrine, “it was universally received before the external church had aggregated to itself the right to dictate to the people…what they must believe.”  The churches teaching on this was not upset or challenged by the reformation rather the reformation continued and affirmed the doctrine of ECP.

[3] Matthew 25:30 (emphasis mine), and Matthew 25:41 respectively.

[4] Revelation 14:11

 [5] The most chilling account of this conscious torment is found in Luke 16:19-31.  Here Jesus tells the story of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus; both die and head into eternity, the rich man to Hades and Lazarus to Heaven.  The Rich man Begs Abraham to dip the tip of his finger in water to quench the burning of his tongue, and even to send Lazarus back so that the rich man’s brothers might be warned.  Both requests end in denial and the realization that such torment is irreversible and permanent.

[6] Matthew 25:30

[7]  Winklhofer, Alois. The Coming of His Kingdom: A Theology of Last Things.

(New York, NY. Herder and Herder. 1966.) 86.

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The Comforted Heart Still Trembles…

August 30, 2012

 

“At this also my heart trembles
and leaps out of its place.
Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
(Job 37:1-2 ESV)

Job chapter 37 has some powerful insights about God and His meticulous control over all of creation.  It comes at the end of Elihu’s speech to Job and his friends, right before God’s appearance.  Elihu often gets a bad rap, mostly because he is portrayed as unfeeling toward Job’s plight and arrogant toward the elders gathered around Job.  Despite these flaws, he does proclaim some glorious truths about God which deserve our attention and are worthy of our meditation.

Let’s look at some brief background to the book of Job.  There are six main characters in the book of Job; there is God, Job, Job’s three “friends” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and then 2/3 of the way through the book a young man named Elihu arrives on the scene.  He is young and arrogant and many commentaries on Job simply exclude Elihu’s 5 chapters, for the feeling that whatever benefit they have is mitigated by their source.  I am thankful that his chapters are here, and I am grateful that god used a flawed arrogant young man to profess timeless truths about His character, that we can examine today.

My hope is that you will be encouraged by this passage and know that it is God who is in control.  He commands His creation to instruct, to control and does it all for his purposes.  And where there is fear seen in this passage, there is a great hope here that extends to us today.

I. God commands creation to instruct… vss 1-5

  1. Gods voice is likened here to Thunder, imagine when you here this sound which causes your knees to buckle and your heart to skip a beat, that this is what the voice of God who created the universe is like.  Throughout scripture we see this description Ps. 29:3-4 “the glory of G thund”, Ps. 77:18 “voice of thunder” Rev 14:2 “voice from Heaven, voice of great thunder”
  2. Lightening to see and thunder to hear, creations display informs our senses, it is an audio/visual display our eyes see and our ears hear.
  3. Our lack of understanding does not denote a lack of His control

II.God commands creation to control… vss 6-10

  1. “He says”, “he sends” the seasons and winter and rain
  2. He seals the hand of men; this is very instructive to us.  All that man can control, all that seeks to control and work toward can cease when winter comes, and he is sealed up in his home (ice storm analogy) this happens for a reason and should not be wasted time. “So that all men may know His work.  When we are sealed up, forced to rest and stay in we should reflect on Him who sent the snow.  Even the animal’s activities are curtailed.  So too the mighty waters, the most powerful rivers that in the height of spring will rush and flow free carving the landscape are frozen still by the breath of God as His creation freezes in its place.  Matthew Henry has said that “this is an instance of Gods power  that if it were not so common it would be next to a miracle”

III. God commands creation for His purpose… vss 11-24

  1. God guides the un-guidable, we see the moisture in the clouds and the wind scatter them, we see the whirlwind and it appears to be utter chaos, with no order in it at all, and yet it whirls about “being turned by His guidance”
  2. These activities do whatever He commands over the face of the whole earth, the phrase here in focus in the “whole globe of the earth” all of creation he commands, not one molecule of particle exists or whirls about apart from His knowledge and divine providence.
  3. These all occur for His purposes, and this is the focus point the power point that I would want to emphasize that these occur for correction, possibly judgment, for the “land “which is to say for provision, and for mercy, for it is by the mercy of God that he created a world that fresh water is Provided by the rain, and crops are nurtured in their season.

Conclusion: This is a fine passage but it is limited I feel, for Elihu in his Old Testament understanding fails to communicate the comfort and peace that a God in control should inspire.  He says in verse 24 “Therefore fear Him” This to me seems incomplete, but praise God that what is incomplete in the old testament is made whole in the New, turn with me to Matt. 10:29-31 and hear the words of our Lord in addressing the fears of His disciples, He points to nature and Gods sovereignty over creation to inspire confidence and vanquish fear.

Here we see a God who commands his creation, in that even the minutest of creatures has his eye, how much more should we then fear not for God has set us apart from creation and chosen us before the foundation of the world.

*The same God who sends the storm which thunders like his voice, quiets the same with a rebuke, the same God who sent his son to die 2000 years ago, commanded creation three days later, the by His word the body rose, the ground quaked and the stone rolled away.  This is the hope that we have, and we see displayed in nature and made evident in our hearts and through this we should fear not for it is this God who commands the whole of creation who has the hairs on our heads numbered,  Fear not for He commands creation to instruct and control and does so for His purpose, fear not brothers and marvel at His Grace “for are we not of more value than these”.

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Worried About Witnessing? Don’t be….

August 29, 2012

A member of your church tells you that he really wants to share his faith, but is afraid to do so. How would you respond to him?

I would first say that he should be very encouraged and thankful that he has a real desire to share his faith. A real mark of a believer, someone who has been born again by the “living” and abiding word of God is and should be a desire to proclaim the excellencies of “Him who called us out of darkness and into light.”(I Pet. 2:9) Indeed it is for this reason we have been called, to be a witness to all the nations. (Matt 28:19) I would then say that I understand the fear that comes with that calling, it is a natural foe that we all must face but one that we have been empowered to defeat to the glory of God. So we would then explore some possible causes and solutions to this fear.

As to the possible sources, it is important to examine the following: What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of not knowing enough scripture? Are you afraid of potentially doing more harm than good? Are you afraid of being rejected? Any one of these is natural and can be addressed. If ignorance of scripture is your concern then what can we do to improve your knowledge of scripture, memorization, use of a tract? It is very important that we are sure of the basics of the gospel; we need not all be expert theologians, but we can all memorize some scripture. As to the fear of doing more harm than good; it is important to remember that we can not place them in any more harm than they are in. Each and every person has “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3:23) and “the wages of those sins,” apart from God’s grace, “is death.” (Rom6:23) I believe that God will accept our honest effort in good faith since none of us are perfect, but He came that all “should have life and have it abundantly.”(John 10:10) As for rejection, we must understand that even Christ faced rejection, and each and every one of us rejected him until He gave us the gift of faith and grace unto salvation. He “came unto His own and His own received Him not.”(John 1:11)

If a particular fear can be pinpointed then we hopefully can move to some proper responses to fear. First we must remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear “but of power, love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” (I Tim 1:7-8a) If we take that verse point by point it is illustrative.

A Spirit of power. Christ Himself commanded his disciples not to far those who can do harm to the body, but “rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matt 10:28 God knows that we are imperfect and weak vessels, and yet he charges us to take his message to all those who would hear, so that they might believe. How are they to confess if they have not believed, how are they to believe if they have not heard, how are they to hear without someone preaching.(Rom 10:14) We access God’s power through, total reliance on Him through His word, prayer and the inner working of the Holy Spirit, so we must seek after these.

A spirit of love. God so loved the world he sent his son, he was willing to sacrifice part of himself to give life to all who believed. How much do we love those around us? Everyone we see who is without Christ is bound to face eternal separation from God apart from his grace. Now we can not save them, furthermore we cannot force them to believe, for it is God alone who justifies; who predestines, calls, glorifies and justifies. But we know that we abide in Him when we love one another and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:12-13) If we claim the name of Christ then how can we not share his desire that “none should perish but that all should have life.” In Mark chapter 6, Jesus came to a crowd saw them and had compassion because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” We too must have compassion for those who are in need of the Great Shepherd. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…we love because he first loved us.”(I John 4:18-19) If we truly believe this, then how can we not let love overcome our fear.

A spirit of self control. God has given you the grace of salvation, a sharp mind, and a spirit of self control. We must “prepare our minds for action,” be sober-minded and gird ourselves, setting our hope fully on the Glory which is to be revealed in Christ’s coming. (I Peter 1:13) Preparing our mind takes discipline, and we must equip ourselves with the tools God has given us. Foremost of these tools is the Spirit, who comforts and helps us, indeed he is our helper. Next is the word of God, which is the sword of the spirit by which souls are saved. Then we have the church, to aide us in equipping and bearing the burdens of ministry. Utilize these faithfully and you should be able to do all things “through Him who strengthens you!”(Phil 4:13) “All things” surely includes overcoming your fear to witness to those around you.

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God’s City: Augustine and His Great Work…

August 28, 2012

Tension marks the life of the believer.  This fact is as true today as it was in the time of Augustine.  The tension begins when one is ushered out of the realm darkness and into the light of salvation in Christ.  Once delivered a tension forms between the new creation in Christ (Christian), and the world he/she has both escaped and still occupies.  It is this ‘in the world but not of the world’ conundrum that draws Augustine’s intention in City of God.

Augustine, confronted by the harsh socio-political realities of life and death, freedom and conquest in the Roman empire, with realistic historical, theological and ecclesiastical focus.  In City of God (CG) he attempts to address three questions, each question is not treated in isolation rather, there is a constant interplay between them.  Historically he attempts to answer the question, ‘What is happening?’; Theologically he attempts to address the ‘why it is happening?’; in terms of ecclesiastical or pastoral focus he constantly asserts ‘how a Christian should respond?’ to their reality.

Within this collection of works slowly and systematically composed in the second decade of the fifth century after the sack of Rome; Augustine begins seeking answers by examining the ‘problem’.  Namely, mans’ fallen nature on display through; poor governance, idolatrous worship and misplaced affections.  One can detect the influence of neo-Platonism in his structure and thought; as this section (roughly chs. 1-7) represent the world we see displayed out against the wall before us.  But like any good Platonist, what we see is not enough, we must seek the source of our manifest troubles.

Augustine then, leaves the cave, so to speak, and examines the true reality behind our calamity.  In this section (chs. 8-14) he examines some of that other realm which has historically and theologically impacted man and his actions.  The source of the debauchery, idolatry, mis-governance, and ‘falleness’ is found in: the fall of Satan, His angels, and finally the fall of Adam, and all of mankind within him.  This alone would have represented a monumental work of history, philosophy and theology but Augustine exercises his discipline of rhetoric and constructs the argument further.  This section represents the root of the ‘city of man’ that realm in opposition to God, which we occupy in body if not in spirit.

Augustine then plays out the theory of fallen man in the course of human history.  In this section (chs. 15-20) Augustine examines history from pre-Adam to post-man, from Genesis to Revelation, he proceeds to trace his themes and their effects.  This is the civil history of God’s city and its inhabitants from Adam to Abraham; from Jeremiah to Jesus, and from Rome to Revelation.  In addition to his many specific admonitions concerning the Christian life, this section provides biographical examples of virtue and Godly character, which are just as informative as any specific pastoral encouragement.

He then looks beyond in the final section (chs. 21-22) to what amounts almost to an epilogue on the entire work, discussing Hell, Heaven, and hope.  So let us briefly examine Augustine’s structure and assertions as we have laid them out above.

The Problems with the City of Man chs. 1-7

For Augustine, misunderstanding and darkness cloud the minds of the pagans in and around the Roman empire.  These are the inhabitants of the city of man, denied the light of Christ they fumble around in darkness attempting to answer similar questions to Augustine’s   What is Happening? i.e. to the empire and Why do things occur? i.e. Rome being sacked by the Visigoths. Their answers are less than satisfying for Augustine, as they blame everyone but themselves; Christians, the Christian God and the pagan gods.  Their lack of understanding breeds confusion and that confusion inevitably led to conflict and persecution of Christians.  Augustine’s apologetic was to basically deconstruct their argument systematically and deductively reason that Christ, His followers and His God are not to blame for Rome’s recent calamities.  First he argues that pagans are wrong to even make the accusation. Second he asserts that Rome had experienced great suffering and events of defeat long before Christ.  In other words, while Christ is the pivot point of history, He is not the contributing factor to the degradation of their society, in fact quite the opposite.  God and His Son are the only true source of power and its exercise on earth.

Finally in this section, he examines the pagan’s clouded judgment on fate, freewill (versus pagan fatalism tied to idolatry), theology (worshipping the wrong gods), and civil life (the worship of things that do not lead to eternal life).  These are the underpinnings of the pagan experience in the city of man exemplified in Rome and its condition.  Chasing after a misunderstanding of power, its use and its source, ultimately leads society at war with itself and at enmity with is Creator God.  Now Augustine turns to the back-story, the ‘rest of the story’ if you will.

The Source of the Problem chs. 8-14

Augustine attempts to shed a light on the dark recesses of history far beyond human experience and revealed knowledge.  How did God’s good creation ‘devolve’ into what can only be described as unholy and odds with the creator.  This section addresses the privation; initially of Satan, then of his angels, and finally the privation of man through exercise of God’s gracious, if not misused, gift of free-will.  Book IX is especially helpful in discussing the origin of the cities.  Wrapped around this description is Satan’s fall found in his exercise of idolatrous pride; his angels too, lacking in the full measure of grace given to others, follow him precipitously down.  The chief gross domestic product of man’s city is death, and death saw its beginning in Adam’s sin.  Through his sin, death was exported to us as a punishment for our fallen natures.  This sad effect is most keenly seen in the role of reproduction.  Reproduction or man’s propagation, is muted in two ways by sin: one, in that its fruits ultimately spoil in death; and two, the effort becomes sinful and damning win corrupted by lust.  This is part of the penal judgment of man, in that the very means and ends of his God-prescribed role to pro-create are marred and subject to futility.  Having grappled with the source of man’s city, Augustine then traces the city’s development throughout history.

The Drama of History chs. 15-20.

As proof of the existence of these cities, Augustine offers parallel histories of each throughout the course of the human experience. From Adam on, the choices presented to the patriarchs, prophets, and finally to Christ, represent the grim effect of God’s bifurcated creation.  The murder of brothers, the devastation of flood, the proliferation of sacrifice, and the death of Christ and the coming of His church fill this section in an attempt to inform the miserable condition of man.  It also draws a subtle picture of God’s sovereignty and provision throughout history.  It is not a story of a passive creator and His unruly creation.  Rather a dynamic drama of fall, death, redemption and renewal.

Conclusion: Hell, Heaven and hope. Chs. 21-22

Much like the scripture that so richly informs Augustine’s thought his monumental work finishes with a description of two ends. The calamitous eternal judgment of the wicked and refreshing resurrection of the saints to eternal joy.  This above any single admonition throughout his work, serves to inform the Christian of how they should act and what awaits them in the future.  That which awaits is of preeminent importance to the Christian.  For it is in the hope of God’s heavenly city prevailing that the Christian should seek and rest in.  We pray that His kingdom come, over this earthly, fallen realm.  It is in this hope that we place our faith, that we shall one day ‘rest and see, see and love, love and praise’.

Augustine’s work for me, is both encouraging and informative.  As a perennial student I am often confronted with the drive to delve deeply into the things of God, but I also face the realities of life and pastoral care which pull at my greatest challenge of stewardship, my time.  Augustine displays a life and work lived out accomplishing both purposes, and he reconciles the apparent disparity of scholarship and pastoral ministry.  One informs the other, and serve to compliment each other.  The greatest end to ones endeavors in life is to lose that life in love and service to a brother; and the greatest means to that end is a life lost in study of the Word, and lived out in accordance with its example.  To that end, Augustine succeeds in a measure rarely seen among theologians and pastors.  May God grant me a mere taste of such delight and success.

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Casting upon a Caring God…

August 27, 2012

1 Peter is one of my favorite books in the Bible, so rich and so full of powerful applicable theology.

One of the most powerful verses or sets of verses in the book come as Peter is concluding his letter to the elect exiles in Pontus, Galatia, Capadoccia and Bythinia, Chapter 5:6-7.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.”

Believers must humble themselves under God’s might hand, regardless of how that hand is made manifest.  They might experience that hand in judgment through persecution, or deliverance through protection.  Regardless of how His hand is experienced, the believers response is one of humility.  They accomplish this act of humility by casting their anxieties on God.  Peter has provided the reader with the “what” (humility), and the “how” (casting), but now he moves in short order to provide the “why.”  Believers approach God and rely on Him because He cares for them.  This simple profound truth animates the entire text of 1 Peter, indeed it is seen through out the scriptures.  This type of care is seen in the gospel of John 10:13; where Jesus tells of the hired hand that abandons the sheep because he does not care for them.  In contrast, the shepherd would leave the flock to pursue even one lost sheep.  This caring and concern is in view in this passage.

God cares for His people from beginning to end, throughout all circumstances.  We do not rely on an unsympathetic God, or one who is distant or emotionally uninvolved.  No, Peter systematically displays the myriad of ways in which God cares for His people.   Listing them below grants us the ability to grasp the scope of Peter’s depiction of God’s manifold care for His people:

-1:3 God has caused us to be born again to a new hope.

-1:4 God has given us an inheritance

-1:5 God guards us

-1:9 God grants us the salvation of our souls

-1:18 God ransoms us from futile ways

-2:5 God Builds us up

-2:8-9 God calls us out of darkness and into marvelous light

-2:10 God makes us His people and gives us mercy

-2:21 Christ suffered for us, providing us an example

-4:11, 13 God allows us to take part in the glory of Christ

-5:4 God will give us an unfading crown of glory

-5:7 God cares for us

-5:10 God will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.

In the face of this litany, Peter asks his readers to cast their anxieties on God; this is an ultimate act of humility.  We are to be humble because God cares for us.  We are to display our humility by casting our anxieties on Him.  These truths form the essence of 1 Peter.

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The Unanswered Cry: Lord, Lord! But didn’t we…

August 3, 2012

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21 “ Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [n]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

“To be active in religious affairs is no substitute for obeying God.”

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been reorienting His disciples to a new reality, that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, and that they were to seek it above all else. These truths stood in marked contrast to the attitudes of the world which sought to receive temporary solutions to permanent problems. The world still seeks the quick fix. A law to follow, a checklist to finish, magic words to say; would that they could only live the way the wish and cry out Lord Lord when it suits them. But Jesus is testifying to a greater truth, that beyond the broad road of conflict their lies the difficult path of compassion; above the low road of worldly satisfaction there is the higher rocky trail of salvation. Fundamentally this text testifies to the fact that one must do more that simply declare Jesus as Lord to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (“For even the demons believe and shutter” James 2:19) It is not enough to proclaim Him Lord if you are not willing to let your life reflect the reality of that proclamation.

The Blessed, Happy life that Jesus calls us to, in the Sermon, is one that is constricted compared to the loose ways of the world. We achieve blessing by being poor in spirit among those rich in arrogance; by mourning among the indifferent; by being meek amidst the mighty; by finding God more appetizing than the world; by being merciful to the undeserving; having a clean heart in a filthy world; by being a people of peace on a planet of warriors, and finally by being a people persecuted among the privileged. None of those things are easy, each confession of blessing is a testimony to a rough and difficult life amidst a world of ease. But Jesus looks out across the crowd of His disciples and “those simply seeking him for signs and wonders” and He declares that it is not enough that the recognize Him; they must follow Him.

During His ministry Jesus encountered people who were willing to do much to gain His blessing; they would testify to His greatness, they would call Him teacher, but when it came time for them to lay down what they had, they clinched their fists around their possessions instead of grasping His hand. (“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matt 16:25) They were willing to do anything except truly giving themselves over into the hands of One who made them.

Consider Judas, among the crowd that day, who went out with the disciples to perform miracles and proclaim the Kingdom come, and yet he soon displayed his true loyalties turning his eyes on perishing silver and betraying his savior. Consider the rich young ruler, who approached Jesus as a Rabbi, but upon hearing the cost of the cross fled in despair, unwilling to part with what he valued greater than Christ. It is not enough to approach Christ, it is not enough to simply confess, we must “believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord and we will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

What Jesus is saying here is that we are to live in the light of the future reality that there is a Day coming when all will be revealed; a Day when we will stand before our Lord and the book of our life will be opened, and the truth will come out. This fact should give us pause. Each and every one of us must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, awaiting the Day of God’s judgement. To prepare for that Day, we are to ask, seek and knock; we are to believe that Jesus’ words are true. We are to live our lives bearing witness to the reality of that the truth we have heard has not only impacted our minds but changed our hearts. We must rely on God, rely on God, rely on God; we cannot trust in our own confessions, we can not trust in our own works. For if our hearts are not right with God, even if we prophesy in His name, do wonders in his name, cast out evil in His name, it will not matter. So ask yourself, when that Day comes will I push aside my sin and try and win God over with all I have done “in His name?” Or, will I lay myself bare before Him, and come to Him empty handed, poor in spirit, meekly seeking entrance to the Kingdom having displayed a life lived on the narrow road declaring “All I have is Christ”?

So to sum up, what are some take aways from this passage and from what we’ve discussed above? God prizes obedience over sacrifice, He always has, and He always will. He calls us to live according to all He has taught, and He calls us to repent and live a new life according to His will. So if you are living within un-repentant sin in your life and you are justifying it by saying, ‘its ok, surely God will accept me, I mean I go to church every Sunday, I teach Sunday school, I go on mission trips, Ive even led people to the Lord, surely all that will out-weigh my sin.’ IF that is your inner monologue, then you should question your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven; for that is the same works-righteousness that fails every time. That is the wide road taken by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, some Catholics, some protestants, and the vast majority of Americans who believe that ‘if I live a good life, then I’ll get into heaven.’ The ONLY way to enter the kingdom is through the narrow gate of Christ. The only work that we can present before God in order to enter His kingdom is the work of His Son on the cross, and our unqualified obedience to all that God has called us to in light of that wondrous work.

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Concluding thoughts on Theodicy in Job…

August 1, 2012

The book of Job “anticipates the Christian witness.”[1]  The reality of suffering and the pain of death is reflected in both Job and the New testament.  But Job lacks a certain measure of fulfillment and completion because it lacks the eschatological reality of Christ.  In Christ, “the greatest evils, the betrayal and crucifixion of the Son of God, become, and are now, the greatest good for all mankind.”[2] Job experiences evil according to the foreknowledge of God, as does Christ.  But Job in his lament, lacks the power to overcome the evil; he simply begs for relief and redress.  “Jesus own life was marked by suffering with loud cries and tears.”[3]  Jesus serves as the ultimate extension and realization of the Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy.  Christ experienced evil, suffering and death all according to God’s foreknowledge, delivered into the hands of evil men, and he simply proclaims that “it is finished.”  The futility of evil was finished and suffering ceased to be final and became instrumental.

Job reflects back to all its readers the familiar pattern recognizable to anyone who has experienced suffering and God’s grace.  We face an unseen Adversary who seeks our harm.  Evil exists and manifests itself in suffering.  When we experience suffering we cannot help but be inspired to question why.  God in His grace provides a revelation of Himself which both answers our questions and exceeds our capacity to understand.  That revelation necessitates a response.  It is God’s will that those who have received His light, will darken his counsel with words of knowledge and respond in repentance.  What awaits all who respond in repentance is a restoration, exceeding their previous state of being.  This is the hope of the gospel, that beyond the cross and the grave lies a new birth into a new life where sin and evil are no more; a picture of evil redeemed and instrumental in the hands of a loving God, to and for His Glory.

Here are links to the entire Series on Theodicy in the Book of Job

Darkened Counsel

Introduction: An Evil Job Well Done…

The Free Will Theodicy: A Will to Live…

The Augustinian Theodicy: Privation in Job…

The Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy: God’s Instrumental Use of Evil…


[1] Long, 108.

[2] Anderson, 69

[3] Long, 108.