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Monday
May072007

On Preparing for Suffering and Evil from D. A. Carson

You still have some tedious spring chores begging for your attention, don’t you? See, I knew it, and that’s why I’m providing notes for yet another of Don Carson’s lectures. These notes are for the first half of his two-lecture series On Being Prepared for Suffering and Evil. Download it to your iPod and away you go! Listen as you work, and before you know it you will be a little wiser and your house or yard will be a little tidier. It’s a win-win deal, right?
 
If you’ve been reading here long, you know how important I think developing your theology of suffering and evil is. Why? So that when tragedy strikes you—and it will—you don’t suffer a crisis of faith along with all your other suffering.* You don’t want your first bit of deep suffering to cause you to develop a suborthodox view of God or give up on God altogether, do you? [I’ve written a little more on why having a theology of suffering is important here: Getting Your Theology on Track.]
 
*Update, May 9: I’m listening to the second half of this series right now, and Carson says this very same thing in almost exactly the same words.


 
If you live long enough, you will suffer. How do we think about these things?

Questions about suffering and evil are asked by the Bible itself. It’s important not to enter this topic thinking we have all the tough questions and the Bible is simplistic. Examples of tough questions about suffering and evil in the Bible: Habakkuk, Job, Psalms, Elijah, etc.

There are five pillars from Biblical theology on which any serious Christian thinking in this domain must be built. 
  1. Insights from the beginning of the Bible’s story line: Creation and fall.

    This is God’s world, and when he made it he made the world good. Everything evil, dark, repulsive in it comes from Genesis 3. The Fall is revolt against the God who made us, sustains us, and who will be our judge. It is important to think through the significance of this.  

    The sin most offensive to God is idolatry—the degodding of God, the vertical dimension of sin. All the horizontal dimensions of sin come from the anarchy that results from the degodding of God—from us wanting to be God.

    In the Bible, in all sin, God is always the most offended party. For example, when David sinned, he confessed, “Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight.” What makes sin so vile is that it is against God.

    All the entailments of disaster, suffering, etc., spring from God’s pronouncement, “Thus far shall you go, and no more.” Unless you see this, you have not even begun to think in a Christian way about suffering and evil. When we face death, from a Christian perspective, it is the inevitable result of our rebellion. We are all under the sentence of perishing; we are all guilty.

    Summary: It’s a damned world, and justly so.

  2. Insights from the end of the Bible’s story line: There’s a heaven to be gained, and a hell to be shunned.

    Everything we go through here is not the last word. Death may be the last enemy, but it is not the last word.  Christians look forward to a new heaven and a new earth. In eternity, our brief life here will not seem all that bad.  Paul: “These light and momentary affliction cannot compare to the glory that shall be revealed.” You cannot sustain genuine ethics, spirituality, doctrine, right priorities, God-centeredness, unless your planning is for 50 billion years from now. 

    New Testament eschatology is not simply futuristic, it’s inaugurated (partially realized). This means we will look at disasters a little differently than everyone else. There is a sense in which every disaster, death, etc. is part of God’s “thus far shall you go and not farther.” What is striking is God’s forbearance: Heaven is put off until the consummation, but so is hell. There is a sense in which every death, every disaster is a taste of God’s final judgment in the same way that every converted person, every taste of the glory to comes, every work of the Spirit is a taste of heaven.

    Summary: There is an inaugurated damnation, just as there is an inaugurated salvation.

  3. Insights from the place of innocent suffering: Job.

    Job doesn’t know the reasons for his suffering. We know, because we’ve read chapters one and two, that what’s going on is a sort of wager between God and Satan, but Job doesn’t know this. In the end, Job says, “I repent,” but he is not repenting for some sin that he admits brought this suffering on him deservedly. His repentance is for his attitude—he was questioning God.

    However, in the end of the book of Job, justice is not only done, but seen to be done. Job 42 is the moral equivalent of Revelation 21 and 22. In the end everything will be made right.

    Summary: Before the end, we must put our hands over our mouths and admit there are things we don’t understand.
Next week, I hope to post notes from the last lecture in this series, which will introduce pillars 4 and 5.

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Reader Comments (2)

I'm glad you're posting on the theology of suffering, Rebecca. Most of us are caught without one, and we've not learned to put our hands over our mouths when we lack understanding. Rather, we shake our fists and complain loud and long of being treated unjustly.

May 7, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterrosemary

"You cannot sustain genuine ethics, spirituality, doctrine, right priorities, God-centeredness, unless your planning is for 50 billion years from now."

That is a profound statement and I believe so true. We are so this-life centered when it's only the briefest beginning.

May 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterviolet

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