Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Spectacular Sins - Chapter 4

Whew! If you are looking for some light reading to idly pass the time, Spectacular Sins isn't the book to grab. But if you want to think, wrestle with truth, be stirred, and ultimately worship the omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign God we serve - this one fits the bill.

Chapter 4 sounds benign enough. Titled The Fatal Sin of Adam and the Triumphant Obedience of Christ, one might expect it to be a treatise on how Christ was somewhat of a Plan B (albeit a beyond-wonderful Plan B!) after humanity messed up God's wonderful creation.

But this is a book on God's sovereignty, remember? So Piper walks us down the path of God's permissive will and God's causative will. And among these mind-bending truths, we discover that Christ was Plan A after all. As Piper says,
Saving grace was given to us before the ages began. That is, it was given to us before there was any human sin to save us from. Therefore, grace was planned before human sin was there to need it. . .God did not find sin in the world and then make a plan to remedy it. He had the plan before the ages, and that plan was for the glory of sin-conquering grace through the death of Jesus Christ." (pp. 58-59)

That might be a new concept for some, but the idea comes straight from Scriptures. Piper cites Revelation 13:8, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 1:4-6. I Peter 1:19-21 also speaks of Christ's sacrifice being ordained before the creation of the world.

Ah, no wimpy theology here! Which is good, because Piper reminds us that wimpy Christians with wimpy worldviews will not survive the days ahead. So in the discussion this week at The Preacher's Wife blog, Lisa challenges us to wrestle with a foundational question that we must know how to answer within our own minds and to biblically defend when asked by those who question our faith:

We are going to approach this week's discussion a little differently. I know there was much more to this chapter than what I've presented but I believe this issue of why bad things happen to "good people" is one that is foundational in our arsenal of answers for those who do not yet believe in Christ. It's a huge hangup and one which we need to be able to address biblically.

So here is the one scenario I have for you today:

You are in a coffee shop reading your Bible. A stranger sits beside you and asks, "How can you believe in a God who allows terrorists to fly into towers or children to starve and die?"

Based on all we've learned so far, what do you say?

First of all, I think it's important to distinguish the difference between answering a ridiculing skeptic vs. a genuinely questioning seeker. Obviously, we must follow the Spirit's leading in discerning how much we allow others to engage us in debates. Jesus Himself refused to enter into some conversations that were simply aimed at being inflammatory. I don't know of anyone who has been argued into the kingdom of God! Having said that, with someone who is truly perplexed and trying to sort out this dilemma, it is a conversation that can be entered into with love and humility, yet confidence in God's word.

As Piper pointed out (and Lisa highlights as well), Proverbs 16:4 says "The LORD works out everything for his own ends — even the wicked for a day of disaster." He has an ultimate purpose and plan for everything. Everything. "Even the wicked." He has a plan and a purpose that is greater than anything we can even comprehend. We don't have to understand the "how" to understand the "what."

Revelation 17:17 says "For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled." He has not given up one iota of control. He has allowed Satan to rule in order for His purpose and His words to be fulfilled. We know that one purpose He has is that He (and Jesus Christ) will be glorified. This is seen in several instances in Scripture when "bad things" happen to people. When Lazarus died, Jesus declared that "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."(John 11:4)

With the man born blind - some might claim that to be at odds with a loving God - Jesus said ". . this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:3) When Job lost all, he asked "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:9) when he was urged to curse God & die. And we think nothing could seem as evil as the persecution and martyrdom of believers, yet Jesus even indicated that Peter's horrific death would glorify God. (John 21:19)

I love how Piper puts it on p. 56: "Sooner or later every rebellion comes to ruin and serves to glorify Christ."

In our society of continuous news coverage and the interent that puts the world on our fingers, we can erroneously begin to presume that we should be privy to know what God knows. As if! Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that His thoughts and ways are far above and beyond ours. Yet we can trust Him in faith to bring it all to fruition.

Of course, the ultimate example of a "bad thing happening to a good person" is Job. And yet, after all his confusion and questioning and wondering, God's response in Job 38-41, which basically says "I AM and who are you to dispute Me?" leads Job to say "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures My counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (Job 42:2-3)

As Piper says, "We do not make him what he is by thinking a certain way about him. . .We don't decide what he is going to be like. He decides what we are going to be like. He created the universe, and it has the meaning he gives it, not the meaning we give it. If we give it a meaning different from his, we are fools. And our lives will be tragic in the end." (p. 57) That's a vital truth that moral relativists and those who preach humanistic gospels need to grasp.

This example pales in comparison, but imagine someone saying to an ill individual: "How can you put your trust in and go to those doctors? They can't really be doctors - they certainly don't care about you. They're out to harm you, not help you. After all, one of them cut you open and took out part of your insides, causing all sorts of pain and putting you at risk for infection. Then when you had barely recovered from that, another doctor started pumping your body full of toxic chemicals that made your hair fall out and made you throw up continuously. Who wants to live like that? I'd find another doctor who was kind and didn't cause me so much misery."

Of course, it's apparent that the "cruel" doctors are simply a surgeon who removed a malignant organ or tumor and an oncologist who administers life-saving chemotherapy to kill off any remaining cancer sells. There is a greater purpose, even though the process resulted in heartache.

How infinitely much more so the plans and purposes of the "God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:6) and is working it all out for His glory!

Be sure to join us over at Lisa's blog to see everyone else's thoughts!


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Xandra@Heart-of-Service said...

We do not make him what he is by thinking a certain way about him. I think this is one of my favorite quotes from the book so far. So many people try to shape God into what fits with their lifestyle, beliefs or idea of Christianity. WE have to submit to who He is...not the other way around!

Every week I glean something from this book, and then I get to read your take and it just makes it even better!


sara said...

awesome post! and very timely as I had someone whose relative just lost their 2 yr old child and has asked questions along this line...truly searching! Thanks for the input!!!

A Stone Gatherer said...

I am still chewing over what to say! The first part of your answer is how I feel! I would definately have to decern whether the questions was one of ridicule or geniune. We don't want to miss a Holy Spirit moment. We just talked about this very thing at Bible Study this morning.