If there’s one idea that is missing a lot from the current national discourse, it’s the idea of what peace can look like in the midst of all the turmoil and anger that is the currency of our emotional economy these days. Jarod and I wanted to talk some about what real peace looks like–not simply a lack of conflict, or not what happens when some group asserts itself as the new dominant force above others, but actual peace. And the answer, as always, lies in the words of Scripture:
Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
Ephesians 4:32 CSB
Now you may say, “What does this have to do with peace?” And truth be told there are dozens, even hundreds of verses I could have quoted that underline what a biblical view of peace is from different angles. But this one is particularly at the forefront of my mind right now because, for all reasons, it just happens to be trending on Twitter, and it’s getting the expected response on there. When you have a bunch of people whose righteousness is rooted not in the work of Christ for unworthy people who He gives Himself for willingly, but rather is rooted in their own correct thought and speech (at least, correct for the moment), then it should be no surprise that a command from Scripture towards an attitude of love, forgiveness and generosity that is itself pointed back to the work of Christ is angering to them.
But as Christians who do believe that, Jarod and I want to take the time to point to Christ as the only real, lasting, meaningful foundation of peace. We want to love our neighbors well. We want to see the sin in our own lives put to death. And we want to hold our own hearts up against this standard, not the standard of the world. Take a listen to this conversation, and let us know through email or in the comments below: how do you wrestle with this idea? What does it look like for you to put the desires of the flesh to death and to live in obedience to commands like the one above?
You will all perceive at once that there must be love even in this apparently angry word; that this contention must, after all, have something to do with contentment, and that this battle must be, after all, but a disguised mercy, but another shape of an embrace from the God of love. Carry this consoling reflection in your thoughts while I am preaching to you; and if any of you are saying to-day, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me,” the very fact of God contending with you at all, the fact that he has not consumed you, that he has not smitten you to the lowest hell, may thus, at the very outset, afford consolation and hope.
The title of this sermon is truly countercultural. I say that because I don’t know of any culture that embraces, loves, and celebrates adversity. Hard times are rarely anticipated with the same kind of excitement as a day at the beach or a family holiday. Certainly the kind of adversity seen by Job would not be something anyone would see as a joyful experience that they would desire to pass through.
Therefore we can understand Job’s anger and his sharp words. God’s mercy shines through in that, rather than ignoring an impertinent question or even more justifiably, punishing such a creature, He hears Job’s words and (as we’ll see in later sermons and as we work through the book in Scripture Sunday) even answers him. Whether that answer is satisfying in a human sense is up for discussion in a later episode as well.
Job the self-justified
If you’ve been listening along as we’ve read through Job on Scripture Sunday, you’ve heard the increasing frustrations of Job and the befuddlement of his friends as they try to apply their notion of retributive justice to God’s actions in Job’s life. His friends insist that Job surely must have done something wrong, because after all, God doesn’t do things with no purpose or with malice. Job insists that he has done nothing, and rests his increasingly self-righteous anger on his own actions.
How often do we wrestle with these same ideas about God? The old question “why do bad things happen to good people?” has gotten the response from Christians that “That only happened once,” because of course we recognize that there has only been one truly good man, Jesus. But this isn’t a satisfying answer for most, and I don’t think that should be surprising, because that kind of answer doesn’t actually help us wrestle with the bigger questions that press on us each time we watch the news.
In a world ruled by a just, holy, and good God, why do babies die? Why are children born into third-world nations with not enough food, clothing, or medicine, only to starve to death or die of a disease that hasn’t appeared in the rest of the world for decades? Why are innocent civilians in Yemen losing everything as war consumes their country? Why are innocent civilians in the United States losing everything because of a turn down the wrong street, an encounter with the wrong person, the wrong thing said?
We look at these horrors of our world and we look at ourselves, and I think it’s safe to say we often feel like Job is fully justified in his frustration: “I know I’ve never done anything nearly bad enough to warrant this. Why is this happening? Why doesn’t God hear us?” The psalms are full of similar laments, aching cries to understand even as the psalmist admits they will never know the full wisdom of God.
The answer is not simple
We don’t get a nice, clean answer to this either in the book of Job or elsewhere in the Bible, outside of this: these things happen because our world is stained by sin, and its child death follows gleefully behind. Yet as Christians, we ought to be sure that the standard by which we engage these is not following after the ways of the world. I have seen people trying to wrap the faith up in ideas that are borne of the angry cynicism of the world towards injustice, while lacking true faith in God’s eternal and perfect justice. Look to Paul’s words in Romans 8:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.
Romans 8:18-25, CSB
I’ve been reading a book that Jarod recommended to me, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings. He writes this book as he battles a form of incurable cancer, and his struggle with this issue is palpable. I am not finished, but I have been tremendously ministered to by this book. In one section he speaks to the struggles Job and his friends have with viewing God’s justice as purely retributive. Job believes he deserves good things because he does good things. His friends believe, if he’s receiving bad things, that must mean he’s done something bad. But Pastor Billings wrestles that idea into perspective:
While sometimes a rigid form of retribution theology makes us search for what we did to “deserve” a tragedy (in retrospect), at other times it relates more directly to how Christians view the future. Many Christians don’t seem to expect to suffer–assuming that if we are “good Christians” who “obey God’s will,” then we might face obstacles, but not great tragedies that appear senseless. But in this form as well, the book of Job breaks through our illusions, for it “shatters the myth that our own righteousness can protect us from unjust suffering.” God has not given us a bargain such that he would spare us of unjust suffering if we seek to obey his will. To the contrary, in Jesus Christ, we are called to take up our crosses daily and follow the path of the One who was unjustly crucified.
Rejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, p.25
This is why on Kings Highway Radio, Jarod and I have been so insistent on the importance of Scripture as the foundation upon which we must build our lives and our views of who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Left to our own devices we can find ourselves “tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” I see this so often as Christians struggle with how to engage the world’s discussion and debate surrounding issues of race. We find ourselves torn apart as we find one side or another more appealing, and we lose perspective on what Christians must keep central: who Christ is, and who we are in Him.
Job’s only hope
Though Job is deeply confused about his righteousness compared to God’s, he does know where his hope ought to lie, and that will be the subject of the next sermon in this series. For those who look to their Redeemer, suffering is a transformative experience that leads us to greater faith and hope, and “hope does not bring us to shame” when it is fixed on the perfect Object that is Jesus and Him crucified.
Jarod and Dave chop it up about a few topics in the aftermath of the last few heavy episodes. In particular they dig into stories and reactions online to the continued national controversy over racism. This has produced no small amount of opportunities for many to try to prove their self-righteousness, and the guys talk about a few of those, as well as the positive influences they’ve been looking to in this difficult time.
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Jarod and Dave sit down to a conversation about the dividing lines that we often find, and the terms we use to try to both understand and shut down the other side in these debates of the day. We often find ourselves feeling like we’re in the middle of a culture clash, and this one is no exception, as we seek to point to the truth of the need for reformation while also rejecting the calls for undermining the entirety of society or for “decolonizing our faith.”
Scripture alone is sufficient as the infallible rule of faith for the church, and when we try to add another level above thing, things get rather tricky. Listen in and join the conversation.
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“I know that my redeemer lives.” These are the words of Job we hear in this passage that ring through the millenia into today, and that Christians everywhere echo in their times of suffering and doubt.
Listen in and be sure to listen to the companion sermon series on Spurgeon Audio as we dig into the deeper questions raised by Job and his friends.
The last few weeks saw a tragedy explode into furious and righteous anger across the nation and even into other countries, in the aftermath of the cell phone video of a police officer recklessly and carelessly killing a man in the street. I tried to address the outcry in the last Spurgeon Audio, but in the time since, quite a bit has happened and many cities still are experiencing everything from regular demonstrations and rioting to even certain cities losing control of areas to activists.
The question on the minds of so many is, how should we react to this? Many are calling this a revolution and the tendency of many on the conservative side is to see this as at least destructive to any idea of national identity, let alone peace and safety.
While they aren’t wrong, it’s also not wise for us to begin digging into this without first looking to our own hearts. Jarod and I were inspired by the term “carnal conservatism,” coined in the Power Religion book by R.C. Sproul, to consider how political allegiances affect the way we relate to those around us, both inside and outside of the church.
Listen in, and stay tuned for further debates as we start to go deeper into these issues–what does a right response to this look like from a Christian perspective? How do we engage in disagreement in a way that upholds what we believe is true–that all of us have inherent value as humans made in God’s image?
We welcome all feedback, and whether you want to interact with us here in the comments, through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or on YouTube, I hope you will take the time to check out this episode and join us in trying to think through the implications of what’s been happening for the church and for society.
[O]ften, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ’s sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master’s purpose, and brought you near his side.
Yesterday while I was thinking about this next sermon in the Job series, I was also wrestling with the frustrations and failures and injustices that led to the recent horror we witnessed together in Minneapolis via someone’s cell phone camera–namely, the slow choking death of George Floyd as he lay in handcuffs on the ground, with a police officer’s knee on his neck. I thought about the fact that he probably left his home with the idea that it was any other night, and it would end like any other night. I’m aware of the statements about the forged bill and all that, but it hardly seems relevant, let alone in proportion to what happened.
I find myself looking at this as another in a long series of microcosms pointing to the evils and injustices not just hiding in a corner, but out in the wide open ruling over this world. I thought about how so many people have to consider their actions carefully every day, not knowing what may happen to them just like George Floyd had no idea what would happen to him. We all value our ability to live safely and feel safe at home, yet it’s such a shell, so easily broken whether on purpose or accident.
It’s easy, when considering these things, to begin to feel their weight very deeply. I have to often remind myself that when I confess faith in Christ, I’m not simply saying “I believe Jesus exists and that He did a thing.” What I’m saying is, I trust Him with my all. I trust Him to be who He says He is–the King, the Savior, and the One who is guiding me every step of the way. That reminder, that confession, is needed when despair creeps in, and it creeps in easily at times like this.
It’s difficult for Christians often to process the horrors and evils and frustrations, both personal and corporate, of living in a sinful and broken world. We look at our holy, just, and loving God, and we ask the same question any other person would ask at such times: Why? Why does a just God allow injustice to continue its iron-fisted rule? Why does a loving God allow loveless fury to reign in the streets and in the hearts of so many?
When Jarod and I started discussing the book Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, we were interested in it because it spoke directly to issues we’ve been discussing on this podcast for over a year now, and because it was such a broad representation of mainstream evangelical thought. It has been all the more impressive to us because, in spite of the fact that it was published in 1992, it hardly seems out of step with the issues currently faced by the church. So many of the seeds that have grown up into struggles over things like politics and conspiracy theories, social justice and critical theory, and the increasing ubiquity of the Word of Faith movement in the American church are seen in the warnings and discussions set forth.
Seen just as clearly are the calls for best practices to replace the questionable and dangerous ones that were and are present throughout the evangelical church. When pastors from Presbyterian, Baptist, Evangelical Free, and other denominations stand together in calling the church to judge its view of power with a biblical lens, we ought to take special notice.
It was a little unusual for a podcast to spend its time digging into a book that is not current, but I hope our point and our reason was clear throughout: the weight of being the church calls us to look back, both to recent and ancient history, and know where we have been, so that we don’t stumble into traps unaware and so that we don’t invent new heresies, or rehash old ones.
I know the charismatic/Word of Faith crowd took the biggest beating during this discussion. It isn’t our goal to anathematize everyone who has set foot in a Pentacostal church. It is, however, our desire to warn of the ease of falling under the sway of false teaching, and that particular movement has been a major breeding ground for them. There, power is sought out of a desire to be closer to God, but it puts power in the wrong hands, rather than calling the church to trust the One who wields power perfectly at all times. That includes the power to endure suffering unto the end.
The thing I think we found most engaging, and what will probably drive our discussion in the next few episodes, is the struggle of Christians to engage with the world in a way that says “I trust God” while not being antagonistic to our neighbors. For so many, being a conservative believer often seems to mean you find yourself clucking your tongue at the latest nonsense being put in children’s programming and getting into fights online over hot button issues. It results in us not spending much time truly “giving a defense for the hope that is within us” because as conservatives we often seem to have no hope. On the contrary, we often operate from this idea that says “Well, the world’s going to hell, I’m going to just dig in here and try to keep my kids from going along with it.”
I am grateful to everyone listening to us as we dig into this, and I hope you will give us feedback as to your own thoughts, either in the comments below or by email. We want to know how we can strengthen believers to truly walk in faith as we seek to grow our own.
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