November 22, 2017

iMonk 101: Josh Strodtbeck on the Lutheran View of God’s Sovereignty

NOTE: This is part of a series of questions I did last year with Lutheran friend Josh Strodtbeck on how the sovereignty of God enters into issues of tragedy using the Lutheran theological framework. Very relevant to our discussion this week. If you want all of these – 5 posts- then search “Strodtbeck” in the IM search engine.

luther2.jpgHere’s the last in our “Lutheran Theology and God’s Sovereignty Series.” I appreciate all the work Josh put into this and the good comments from those of you involved in the discussion.

How would Lutheran theology speak about God’s role in a tragedy like the I-35 Bridge collapse? Would you say God ordained it for his glory?

The important thing to remember in any question like this is that questions don’t happen in a vacuum, and neither is theology something floating around in a platonic realm of ideals. Generally, these questions are posed to pastors by real people, so what we always have is a pastoral situation. Even if you’re just a layman, you still have to deal with the person. But this is complex, so you’re going to get a long answer.

Abstractly, in the “ultimate reasons” sense, I don’t have any satisfying answer. Luther’s idea of being a theologian of the cross, which he develops in his Heidelberg Disputation, is hugely influential in the Lutheran tradition. You could probably add the theological part of the Disputation to the Confessions and no one would object. Anyway, Thesis 19 says, “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.” In other words, you just can’t look around at the events of the world and making declarations about the mind of God based on them. First of all, everything in this world is tainted by sinful humanity and the work of the devil. You’re looking at a fallen creation that is not the way God wants it to be. Second, your intellect doesn’t give you access to the mind of God. It’s amazing how many people will say you can’t be saved by works, but then turn around and basically try to find God through rational deduction without seeing any contradiction in that.

The next thesis is really important. In Thesis 20, Luther says “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” This is part of the answer to the pastoral question. You don’t answer a suffering person, such as someone who lost limbs or loved ones in the collapse, by assuring him God caused it and is being glorified. That’s basically saying, “God has carefully orchestrated things for the purpose of screwing you over, because in some obtuse, incomprehensible way it helps him achieve a greater level of satisfaction. And that alone should make you feel better.” You remind him of Jesus’ suffering, not just how Jesus suffered freely for his salvation, but how because of Jesus and that ineffable mystery we call the Incarnation, God actually knows what it’s like to suffer. He’s with you in your suffering as one who empathizes because he himself has suffered in his own flesh and his own human soul. And it’s in his own suffering that God promises to redeem you of yours, to set right everything that’s gone wrong in this life. So you don’t explain the event except to affirm it’s wrongness and point people toward Christ’s suffering and the redemption he promises.

But sometimes people aren’t asking you as those suffering, and that’s what one of my favorite profs at Concordia, Carl Fickenscher, would call a “Law moment.” Sometimes people are asking questions like that because they want you to say that those people must have had secret sins, or they’re trying to trick you, or whatever. And I think that’s the time to say something like Jesus said in Luke 13:1-9. Something like “Yeah, those people got it bad, but if you don’t repent, you’re going to get it worse. Let this remind you that everyone dies, including you. Without Christ, you’ve got no escape, either.” But you have to recognize whether people are hurting or just asking idle questions.

In the 21st disputation, Luther says, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the things what it actually is.” Usually, when people try to rationalize some life-taking tragedy, such as saying God caused it for his glory or some other way of saying, “Well, it’s all for the best,” they’re calling evil good. They’re actually calling death itself, that which Christ came to abolish, good because “it redounds to the glory of God.” Death is an evil, satanic thing. I think the “best of all possible worlds” theory is absolute bunk, because God himself tells us the best of all possible worlds is one where there’s no death and no sin, the one that Christ came to create through his own death and resurrection. God himself condemned death, so what are you doing justifying it? I was baptized out of this crappy world and into the best of all possible worlds. This is all part of this psychological need many Christians have to justify God before the throne of the human ego. We’re the ones who need to be justified, but we act like God is the one who needs it. So when you start off with some kind of natural theology, seeing God as the one who does everything in the world, you quickly find yourself trying to justify God and ultimately end up declaring evil to be good.

So don’t water down the evil of death. Call the thing what it is, and that will allow you to give real comfort in the Cross and the resurrection. And unlike consoling yourself that God is screwing you to the wall because it makes him look awesome somehow, the Cross brings real comfort.

That’s it for the questions, thanks for the opportunity. I’m glad people are finding some of this worthwhile.

Comments

  1. Still, the hard part for me is praying for physical deliverance God. I know he has already intervened for my soul. and he has the power to deliver both in this life and the life to come, but the question of when and how he chooses to intervene and deliver us in this life remains a mystery.

    I wonder what Lazarus’ relatives thought when he died the second time…

  2. thanks for a great essay. “unlike consoling yourself that God is screwing you to the wall because it makes him look awesome somehow” is just incredible writing. I love it.

    I just got exposed to this ‘theology of the cross vs. theologies of glory” idea a few months ago (I’m not a scholar.) It’s amazing how often it applies. Thanks again!

  3. “In other words, you just can’t look around at the events of the world and making declarations about the mind of God based on them.”

    I can’t speak for Piper but I can speak for myself when I said a similar thing to my wife upon hearing about the tornado. I certainly don’t take a tornado hitting an assembly of people as a sign that they are doing something wrong. I believe scripture tells us what is wrong. But when I know that an assembly is in the process clearly breaking from God’s word and then I see that a tornado hits their building, I have no problem ascribing divine judgement to the action.

    I don’t look at the world and ‘make declarations on the mind of God’. Scripture tells us the mind of God and a well placed tornado is a gentle reminder for anyone who will listen.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But when I know that an assembly is in the process clearly breaking from God’s word and then I see that a tornado hits their building, I have no problem ascribing divine judgement to the action.

      Then I will have no problem ascribing Divine Judgment to the action when YOU suffer a disaster. Enjoy God’s Punishment, You Brought It On Yourself…

      “Maybe If you stopped pooping in the tub, God wouldn’t hate you.”
      — Webcartoonist David Hopkins, in the horror parody “Frigid Mc Thunderbones” (some other pages NSFW)

      • HUG, nuance is needed. When Nebuchadnezzar went crazy for 7 years the Israelites understood it to be God’s judgement for his pride. This doesn’t mean that all people with mental problems are being judged for pride. We need a bit of discernment. If you want to call a tornado hitting a hall full of people calling sin good and good sin a coincidence…. feel free. It looks like a gentle divine statement to me. This doesn’t mean that I am saying that all tornadoes are gentle reminders of course (no more than all mental disorders are judgments for pride).

  4. That’s it. I’m converting to Lutheranism. Seriously, though, I’ve never heard this before. Thanks for the awesome essay. Incredibly useful to me as a minister and a human.
    SDG 😛

    • “That’s it. I’m converting to Lutheranism”
      I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought about it… 😉 These are great thoughts.

      “SDG :)”
      Amen!

  5. Thank you Michael. I’m heading off to seminary as we speak. To Gordon Conwell in particular. Please, all of you, pray for me! This is the most exciting and scary time in my life. Help me Lord to see You in Your Cross. I’m Reformed, but lean Lutheran in these particular issues. I would, any day of the week, give comfort by pointing to Christ’s emptying, self abnegating sacrifice, to any “theology” that does not take seriously the reality of suffering. I’ve suffered. I want a God Who knows that suffering. Anything less isn’t worth worshiping.

  6. alvin_tsf says:

    hi iMonk. thanks for this post. not been exposed to lutheran theology. that’s the bad consequence of growing up with Calvin. but this is one of the primary reasons why i visit the post. to learn how wide and how deep and how long God’s love is. and that He is ultimately unfathomable. and though i’m reformed, i really cringed at that article by john piper. we are all fallen…

    have a blessed day.

    alvin

  7. Jennifer Graham says:

    Find this explanation somewhat reductionist, with a “theology of glory” label on the one hand vs a “theology of the cross” label on the other and wouldn’t like to “box” myself in to either of them.

    The author claims that we cannot assume to look around at events and know the mind of God, but goes on to attempt to do so anyway. How does he know that the world is not the way God wants it to be? This points to a blundering and impotent god who did nor foresee the fall of man. Whether it be His “ideal” will or His “permissive” will it is nonetheless His will. See Lamentations 3:37-38

    Secondly you have verses like John 9:3 … Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents:but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. Applying the above argument to this verse doesn’t quite hold. It clearly appears that God has a hand in this man’s blindness. And then we have the book of Job. How does one squeeze this book into this narrow argument above?

    On a more personal note, my husband was involved in a car accident (caused by negligence on the part of someone else) a while back and sustained serious head injuries and as a result has never been the same since (brain damage, blindness and deafness). A few weeks after the accident my daughter and I were hijacked at gun point . A few days after that my mother was was violently assaulted, tied up and held at gun point whilst her house was robbed (life in Africa). I was reeling. Spiritually, mentally and emotianally. I wrestled with and continue to wrestle with the issues you are tackling and whilst I agree in part with what is being said, ie surely death, illness and suffering do not come from the hand of God so as to affrim his sovereignty and glory, it does not really comfort one in that one must then ask exactly what role does God play in all this mess? Are we simply at the mercy of random events and not privy, as a child of God, to His protection and intervention (this reeks havoc with one’s prayer life btw)?

    A banevolent but impotent god vs a malevolent but sovereign god? I’ll take neither thanks. I do however continue to pursue the God I cannot quite wrap my mind around.

    • How does he know that the world is not the way God wants it to be?

      Because he didn’t say, “Behold, I’m leaving things exactly as they are.” He said “Behold, I am making all things new.”

      This points to a blundering and impotent god who did nor foresee the fall of man

      We do have the sort of God who does the sort of things that make us think less of him. See Matt 27:41-44 for an example.

    • ryan mueller says:

      I feel much the same way as you; I’ll take neither. I’ve thought about some of the problems of evil and suffering too much for my own health. There are problems that I cannot solve, I guess I’ll just trust in Jesus as my God, sacrifice, counselor, medic, lawyer, etc. I have, though, gained some perspective from the Book of Concord, and more recently, author Gregory Boyd.

      John 9:3 neither the man nor his parents’ sin caused the problem: I agree. But consider another interpretation of the “but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”.

      Consider what Gregory A. Boyd writes in ‘Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering’ (page 81)

      “I concede the explanation that suffering happens as punishment or discipline is found in both the Old and New Testaments…But there are several important points about this biblical motif that qualify it as a general explanation for why people suffer. First, nowhere is this explanation of suffering put forth as a general explanation for the problem of evil in Scripture. Indeed, the only time an explicit connection is made between divine punishment and evil in general is to deny that such a connection can be made. For example, the psalmist repeatedly complains that suffering and blessing are meted out to the righteous and unrighteous arbitrarily. This is one of the central points of the book of Job. This denial also occurs in the ministry of Jesus. When certain people assumed that those murdered by Pilate or killed by a collapsing tower were being punished by God, Jesus emphatically denied it (Lk 13:1-5). When his disciples inquired into whose sin was responsible for a man being born blind, Jesus invalidated the question and simply proclaimed “Let God be glorified” (Jn 9:1-6). Even more significantly, Jesus never suggests that any of the multitude of afflicted or demonized people he ministered to were being disciplined or punished. Rather, he suggests that such afflictions or demonizations were the direct or indirect result of Satan being the ‘ruler’ of this world (Jn 12:31).”

      I am not an open theist in the Gregory Boyd tradition, but did find some of his analysis comforting. Maybe you have developed your theology far beyond where I am or was when I read his book, but do recommend it to anyone interested in how there could be evil concurrent with an omnipotent and loving God.

  8. Wow.

    Great read. Makes me feel i have been on the right track when I have tried to engage folks in terrible situations, even though i did not put it so well I’m sure. I always felt just silly telling someone after a horrible sitution or tragedy that God was getting glory out of it.

    the above reasoning is much more gospel oriented

    Why aren’t there more Lutherans around, with this sound theology it’s a shame

    • We’re around… we just don’t tend to be the big churches with the glitzy ad campaigns. And, sadly, there are some parts of the country that are very thin on Lutheran churches. BOO! on us for that.

      • yea in the seven counties around me there are only two,

        a ELCA one county over and a LCMS about a mile from my house. the best I have figured the church was started by transplants from the north when GE opened a plant in the 50’s in our small southern town

        they seem to be doing well, they had a very small brick church and have recently been building a larger but modest brick structure, i keep waiting for them to complete it, I almost went there last Christmas eve, but opted for the local ECUSA, but now that I have got to know the local ECUSA rector and have found out he has all sorts of doctrinal issues, I’ll probably be at Holy Trinity Lutheran the Christmas Eve

        • Austin,

          Wow, we both live in Rome, GA! I’m Lutheran in my theology, but my wife isn’t. We mostly go to a Reformed Baptist church, but attend Holy Trinity from time to time. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

          rr

    • There are millions of us. We’re one of the most populous tradition in the USA, actually. We just keep to ourselves, mostly.

      Internet’s changing that.

  9. One interesting question to ponder:

    Do we know Lazarus died a second time?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That would explain the legend of The Wandering Jew…

      More seriously, if Lazarus became immortal, I’m sure somebody would have commented on that in the NT and early Church tradition. That’s the sort of word that gets around.

      • You’ve kind of made my behind the scenes point for me.

        My point is that we have no Scriptural basis upon which to say whether or not Lazarus is dead. He was dead. He was raised from the dead. We do not know whether he, the son of the widow at Nain, or even those who rose at the hour of our Lord’s death are dead. We do know they were dead, then they weren’t. On the basis of Scripture we know nothing about now.

        If they aren’t dead, that doesn’t mean that the early church knew they weren’t dead. It’s possible that they were taken up into heaven bodily.

        Back to the point. We don’t know on the basis of the Scriptures what Lazarus might have thought when he died the second time because we don’t even know if he died a second time. No point speculating.

    • I heard that somewhere in the early church it was said that after Lazarus was raised he never smiled again. Can’t find the citation, but always found that story fascinating and have often pondered it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I can see how that story got started.

        As they said of veterans during the American Civil War, “He’d seen the elephant.”

  10. God bless Luther, Gerhard Forde and Josh. Magnificent.

  11. Christiane/L's says:

    I am more inclined to see the Hand of God in that tornado long ago in the Midwest (forgot the details of time and place) where an infant was found alive in the total devastation of a home.
    The baby was unharmed. People called it ‘a miracle’.

    I guess some need to see the fate of ‘the damned’ as proof of God’s greatness.

    But for others, in the midst of death and natural destruction, the miraculous preservation of a small infant speaks more to us of the greatness of God.

  12. This is a great example of why I have been drawn to Lutheranism and why Reformed theology has lost much of its appeal to me. So much Reformed teaching approaches theology and related questions from an intellectual or academic viewpoint, ultimately glorying in the consistent and persuasive logic of their system. On the other hand, starting with Luther himself, the Lutheran approach to theology is pastoral at its heart and core, and always moves toward bringing Gospel comfort to those whose souls are distressed.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      In other words, Reformed Theology is from Vulcan (as in Mr Spock) and Lutherans are from Earth.

    • Have you read or listened to the Reformed theologian D.A. Carson, on the subject of evil & suffering? I consider him very pastoral.

      I recommend his talks, “On Being Prepared for Suffering and Evil”, (Part 1, Part 2).

      He also has a conference called Making Sense of Suffering to which I haven’t listened, and a book I haven’t read.

      • I love Dr. Carson. Actually, he preached at my service when I was licensed as a pastor, and I took many classes from him in seminary. I don’t mean to paint all Reformed folks with the same broad brush. These are general tendencies. The solid and faithful reasoning of John Calvin and his followers has often provided me solace. Nevertheless, I think the distinction holds.

  13. Northeasterner says:

    Very well put, Josh.

    One of my pet peeves is the way that our culture handles funerals. With the best of intentions, we often increase the suffering of the bereaved by mouthing cliches about how Christians should consider a funeral a celebration and how death is a natural part of life. We think any display of grief is unhealthy, and we expect the bereaved to instantly bounce back to full happiness, or there is something wrong with them.

    A well-formed theology of the cross does not water down the evil of death. Sharp grief is a natural reaction to the injustice of death and the sin that lead to it. Death is not part of God’s plan; God’s plan is to reverse death for all of us through the resurrection of His Son.

    A funeral is a wonderful opportunity to clearly proclaim the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and everlasting life to people who don’t ordinarily come to church. Too bad so many of our ministers muff these opportunities, and in doing so, actually worsen the suffering of the bereaved.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Be careful it doesn’t go too far in the other direction. Like my mother’s funeral in July of 1975, where the lay preacher conducting the service did a Personal Salvation Altar-Call sermon that only mentioned the deceased once at the end.

      (I found out later that “HaveYouAcceptedJesusChristAsYourPersonalLORDandSavior?” was the only sermon he knew how to preach.)

      We think any display of grief is unhealthy, and we expect the bereaved to instantly bounce back to full happiness, or there is something wrong with them.

      I got that treatment after the same funeral. Funny thing is, at the funeral I got called on the carpet for not greiving enough. (Turns out I go completely numb and act very cold and intellectual during the depths; my emotions slowly turn back on over the next couple months, but that didn’t help the relatives who wanted to see me completely cracked up and “grieving”…)

      • I agree that it must be balanced. As a hospice Chaplain, I conduct a lot of funerals, many of which are for people that may not have been believers. Even in those cases, I have come to believe that it is important to celebrate God’s gift of life and to remember the experiences that a grieving family cherishes from their journey with their lost loved one. To acknowledge the image of God in another human being and to show honor and respect for his or her life need not downplay the Gospel. Indeed, imho it gives the only adequate context for it.

    • To be blunt, “Death is a natural part of life” is one of the worst lies to ever infect Christianity. If death is no enemy, why did Jesus defeat it? Why did he call himself “the Life?”

    • Northeasterner says:

      I think the core of the funeral message should be:

      “Joe held firm to the promises of his Savior to forgive his sins and lead him to eternal life. Christ has defeated death and the grave in His death and resurrection. Therefore we can be certain that today Joe is with Christ in heaven and will one day be bodily resurrected.”

      I think it is interesting that Jesus wept with grief for Lazarus, even when He knew that Lazarus would be raised from the dead in a few minutes! Death is unnatural, the final product of our sinful lives. It destroys the relationships that sustain us as humans. Death deserves our sorrow and our rage.

      But in Christ, death is swallowed up, abolished. Ultimately, our tears will be wiped away and turned to joy.

      There it is. Comfort for those who grieve and the saving Gospel proclaimed for all in attendance, without coersion, threat, or heavy-handed proseletyzing. Of course, if you are called upon to perform a funeral for someone who was not a Christian, you would have to take a very different tack.

  14. Thanks for this post. It really made me think. Today is the 2nd anniversary of the death of my niece. She was only 35 days old. It’s a truly sickening moment when you realize a child, a mere baby, is gone.

    I think that, in terms of this world, it’s a fallen one. We try to rationalize bad events by saying that it’s a judgment of God.

    The fact is, we’ve all already been judged and condemned. It’s only through God’s mercy we’ve even been saved.

    The other fact is, in this fallen world, it’s our lot, whether we are ‘bad’ or ‘good’, to suffer. The only difference is how we react to it.

    • JoeA, I am so sorry about your niece. Yes, it is our collective lot to suffer, but the suffering caused by the death of this baby must be particularly distressing. I hope you’ve been able to find some comfort over the last two years.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    You don’t answer a suffering person, such as someone who lost limbs or loved ones in the collapse, by assuring him God caused it and is being glorified.

    Remember Udo Middleman’s essay on “The Islamization of Christianity”? The ending section about “passive acceptance of evil as The Will of God”? This is a perfect example of such “Christlam”:
    “Eh, Kismet! Inshal’lah… Al’lah’u Akbar Al’lah’u Akbar Al’lah’u Akbar…”
    Only the language is different.

    You remind him of Jesus’ suffering, not just how Jesus suffered freely for his salvation, but how because of Jesus and that ineffable mystery we call the Incarnation, God actually knows what it’s like to suffer.

    As in “snuffed as a political prisoner” — how many other deities have THAT on their resume? If that doesn’t hit home, screen that Mel Gibson movie. Shouldn’t need more than one screening.

    I think the “best of all possible worlds” theory is absolute bunk, because God himself tells us the best of all possible worlds is one where there’s no death and no sin, the one that Christ came to create through his own death and resurrection.

    My writing partner (the burned-out country preacher in PA) has told me of run-ins with young Hyper-Calvinists. They say it in so many words, “This is the Best of All Possible Worlds because This is What God Has Willed.” (Inshal’lah… Al’lah’u Akbar!!!)

    God himself condemned death, so what are you doing justifying it?

    Around a year(?) ago, IMonk did this three-part essay on how Fluffy Cloud Heaven has obscured and replaced Resurrection of the Body as the Christian afterlife. (JMJ/Christian Monist’s manuscript also touches on the subject as part of his theme of Platonic Dualism infiltratiing/influencing Christian thought.) One of the commenters in the thread said that “Fluffy Cloud Heaven means Death is Permanent.” And it isn’t much of a stretch after that to Death trumps God — Thanatos Akbar, Anubis Akbar, Hades Akbar, Azrael Akbar…

    So don’t water down the evil of death.

    Otherwise you’re just like the “scientists”/villains in that B-movie Night of the Comet, when they tell the children they’re going to euthanize and vivisect about “going to sleep and waking up at the North Pole with Santa Claus.”

  16. I grew up Wesleyan and I thought I was Wesleyan until I discovered Anabaptist teaching, and then I thought I was Anabaptist until I discovered Calvinistic teaching, and then I thought I was Calvinistic until I discovered the Charismatic Renewal, and then I thought I was Charismatic until I discovered I had become post-Evangelical, et cetera, et cetera.

    And all the while I’ve seem to have been a Lutheran.

    Thank you for this post.

  17. Richard W. says:

    I think some of us Reformed are “getting” the theology of the Cross too. One of the better presentations I have heard recently on this was given by Carl Trueman, of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, found here: http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH05/10b.html
    Also, Mike Horton has written some excellent thoughts on the theology of the Cross vs. theology of glory–his somewhat neglected book, “Too Good to be True,” is full of Luther’s theology; it is good stuff.

    • Mike Horton is one of the main reasons I became a Lutheran. And I mean that in a good way–love the man’s books.

  18. Usually, when people try to rationalize some life-taking tragedy, such as saying God caused it for his glory or some other way of saying, “Well, it’s all for the best,” they’re calling evil good. They’re actually calling death itself, that which Christ came to abolish, good because “it redounds to the glory of God.”

    I don’t get this–saying that “God caused it for his glory” is equivalent to calling evil good.

    When you’re talking in terms of “theology of the Cross”, how can you ignore the Cross? How can you miss that the crucifixion was a spectacularly evil act, which God ordained for His glory?

    Perhaps Josh Strodtbeck has a response to that. Some additional nuance, to distinguish between what happened at the Cross and what happens with tornadoes. I would be surprised if he didn’t–this isn’t exactly an obscure argument, if you read any defenses of a Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty. But in that case, why would he say something like the above without even hinting at how he deals with the Cross? What is he responding to?

    (Note: I realize that “cause” and “ordain” aren’t equivalent. But Strodtbeck switched from one to the other, so apparently he’s using them interchangeably.)

    • Maybe I’m missing something to your question, but the Bible says God sent his son as part of his plan to defeat death and the devil. It doesn’t say God sent this earthquake to kill these people for his glory.

      Christ on the cross is the Gospel. It’s special.

      • I think the thing you’re missing is what the Cross disproves: The complaint that “God caused evil X for his glory” or “God caused evil X for his glory & our good” or some variant is equivalent to calling evil good.

        The Cross involved spectacularly evil sins; the fact that they were part of God’s predetermine plan for a good purpose doesn’t make them less sinful. It’s not “watering down evil” to talk about God’s purpose. (Though it could be done. Someone could try excusing those who crucified Christ with, “Well, it was all for the best, after all.” And that would be as wrong as people who say that kind of thing after suffering & tragedy.)

        What the Bible specifically teaches about God’s sovereignty in every circumstance is another question, and I wasn’t trying to prove anything about it.

  19. By the way, I do absolutely agree with Josh when he says, “You don’t answer a suffering person, such as someone who lost limbs or loved ones in the collapse, by assuring him God caused it and is being glorified.”

    There is a difference between “speaking truth” and “being pastoral, comforting, & encouraging”. Suffering people first need others to love them, and mourn with them. They don’t need a primer on sovereignty. They don’t need a theological pontification.

    And that goes for everyone. You don’t assure people by watering down the evil of what they are suffering. But neither do you comfort them by denying that God ordains evil. Working through those issues is best done ahead of time–building a trust and rest in God’s promises into the deep structures of our hearts and minds.

    Not that you avoid ever discussing these things with suffering people–but this isn’t what you pull out of your first aid kit.

  20. As a friend of mine says, “Sometimes life sucks.” God didn’t ask for evil to overrun this world. God didn’t condemn us all to death. Mankind did that on our own.

    That doesn’t mean that God cannot use the evil to his good. Quite on the contrary, that is exactly what he frequently does. Even to the point of allowing evil to crucify Jesus. But by allowing evil to punish the blameless and then overcoming evil by raising Jesus from the dead, God redeemed all those who call upon the name of Jesus with mind, soul, and strength.

    Why do I stub my toe? Why do people die? Why do natural disasters happen? Because I am an imperfect human in an imperfect world.

    Why do I not curl into the fetal position and wish it all to end? Because I have been touched by the hand of grace, my eyes have been opened to the glory of Him who is to return, and I have been called to share this knowledge with others. Hence, I can wake up in the morning, smile, and enjoy the wonder that is God’s creation, even in this current imperfect form. For I have placed my trust in Him who promises to one day make me perfect!

    • “Why do I stub my toe?”

      I do know the answer to that one. Because – like me – the dumb cat trips you, or because – again, like me – you’re too dumb to turn on the light in the middle of the might… 😉

  21. Richard W. says:

    Mike Horton is a treasure. As I sat in a hospital waiting room, waiting for my wife to pull through some brutal cancer surgery recently, I re-read his book. “Too Good to be True.” At that time, I did NOT want to hear some Joel Osten crap about “Having your best life now.” I wanted to hear about a God who is FOR me in the midst of suffering, thank God.

  22. It might be helpful to think about what “God’s glory” even means. Calvinists tend to think of God’s glory in terms of his power or attributes, so God is glorified when he is displaying his dominating control over some aspect of creation, or when some attribute of his is magnified. Lutherans tend to think of God’s glory in terms of the Gospel–God is glorified when the Cross is preached, when the power of the devil is destroyed, when the grip of sin is broken, and when sinners pass from death into life.

    So God is “glorified” in disasters when they are turned into occasions of preaching the Cross and hope for sinners.

  23. nail on the head Josh S. “So God is “glorified” in disasters when they are turned into occasions of preaching the Cross and hope for sinners.”

    I will have to read this several times to grasp what Luther is saying between the lines, but the points you make Michael do make a lot of sense. As one who has suffered great pain physically and emotionally I can say “Amen” to your saying that offering words of counsel and encouragement when someone is bleeding all over the place is about the worst thing one can do. Silence is golden in those moments and just being there for the sufferer is priceless. We want to re-arrange drapes, get a glass of water, get another pillow… do something to ease the pain. But we can’t and ought to recognize it. There is nothing more like finger nails on the chalkboard than someone who says “Praise God for it brother” to you when all you feel like doing is cursing God.

    Death never was God’s design no doubt, even though he has chosen to reach in and redeem something so terrible in his good, and most often times I’d say, hidden ways.

  24. saymay123 says:

    sins and punishment has been paid for by JESUS.I believe GOD causes it to rain on the righteous and unrighteous the same. So who’s to judge? things just happen!