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R.C. Sproul on Human Tragedies and Divine Purposes

Jesus had this discussion with his disciples in John 9:

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth (John 9:1).

Let’s stop right there. Let’s say you are a mother. You carry your baby to term. You’re excited in anticipation of the birth of this child. But soon after the baby is born, you discover that he is blind. Few people would respond to such an experience with joy or would react to that experience as a visitation of divine blessing. In a word, the parents in their disappointment, in all probability, would see that event, at least for them and for their child, as a personal tragedy. And certainly people would be inclined to ask, “Why, God, did You let this happen?”

The disciples of Jesus met a blind person when he was a grown adult. They knew that he had been born blind, suffering total blindness for many years. If anything seems senseless, it is the experience of a man born blind. So the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

Jesus immediately recognized that the question posed to Him committed a logical fallacy, for which we have a technical name. It is the fallacy of the false dilemma, sometimes called the either/or fallacy. The fallacy is committed when a person reduces possibilities or options to two and only two, when in fact there may be more possibilities. There are situations when the possibilities can legitimately and rationally be reduced to two. For instance, either there is a God or there is not a God. There’s no third alternative. It’s one or the other. You are either going to die or you are not going to die. But in this case, the disciples rushed to judgment and reduced the options to two when there was a third option they hadn’t considered. So Jesus, when He heard the question stated this way, answered by saying, “Neither.”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

This man had been born blind so many years before, so that, on this particular day, God’s kingdom could be manifested through his healing. God’s purpose here was to demonstrate who Jesus was. And to this day, 2,000 years later, that blind man, who presumably is in heaven today and perhaps has been joined by his children and grand- children, sits with them and talks about how God used his blindness to demonstrate the identity of Christ. He discovered that his tragic condition was by no means senseless. It had a divine purpose that has borne witness to Christ through all history.

Excerpt modified from When Worlds Collide: Where is God When Terror Strikes by R. C. Sproul

August 31, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life & Doctrine,Suffering,The Christian Life,Trials & Suffering | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 12:07 pm | 1 Comment »

Three Purposes of God in Your Suffering

It’s a timeless question: “God, why are you letting this happen to me?” We know that suffering is a result of sin and a fallen world, but that usually feels inadequate when we’re in anguish. In 2 Corinthians 1:3–11, Paul lays out three divine purposes that can bring helpful perspective to the suffering Christian:

  1. To comfort others (v. 3–7). This not only means that we will be able to comfort those who experience similar afflictions as ourselves, but we can comfort those in all afflictions as God has comforted us. What a believer learns experiencing one kind of suffering is very transferable to other types of suffering. God’s sovereignty, trust, joy, faith apply to every type of suffering.
  2. To learn our own inadequacies (v. 8-10). Many times suffering will do this for us. We realize that we simply cannot depend on our own strength. People learn about their own insufficiency and are left with only one alternative, namely, to trust in God.
  3. To give thanks to God (v. 11). Having a brush with suffering can make a believer tremendously thankful to the Lord for his provision in getting them through the situation, providing comfort, or teaching a lesson. Suffering can also serve as a reality check, reminding us of all God has done for us that we have taken for granted.

Excerpt modified from Why, O God?

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August 29, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life & Doctrine,Suffering,The Christian Life,Trials & Suffering | Author: Crossway Staff @ 12:16 pm | 0 Comments »

To Serve is to Suffer

Last August Ajith Fernando wrote To Serve is to Suffer in Christianity Today, an article that recently received an EPA Higher Goals Award. This is a great read for anyone in ministry, missions, or thinking about going into those fields. Fernando addresses vocational ministry and its elements of frustrations and fulfillment, commitment and community, our drivenness and servanthood, and the glory of the gospel.

Here are a few highlights:

  • “If the apostle Paul knew fatigue, anger, and anxiety in his ministry, what makes us think we can avoid them in ours?”
  • “The Cross must be an essential element in our definition of vocational fulfillment.”
  • “A church that has a wrong understanding of [vocational] fulfillment for its workers will certainly become sick.”
  • “This may be one reason why the church contains so much shallowness. We have measured success by the standards of the world and fail to challenge the world with the radically different biblical way to fulfillment.”
  • “When people leave a church because they do not fit the program, it communicates a deadly message: that our commitment is to the work and not to the person, that our unity is primarily in the work and not in Christ and the gospel.”
  • “People who are unfulfilled after pursuing things that do not satisfy may be astonished to see Christians who are joyful after depriving themselves for the sake of the gospel.”

Read the full article or check out Fernando’s book, The Call to Joy and Pain.

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August 2, 2011 | Posted in: Church and Ministry,Missions,Suffering,Vocation | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 11:24 am | (2) Comments »

Facing the Painful Side of Redemption

Which is more painful? To live without hope or to catch a glimpse of hope only to have it disappear? Often, this is our experience on the eve of redemption. Certainly, God is not a fickle redeemer. He is faithful. But if we expect redemption to be mainly about comfort, we may be disappointed when—at least for a season—it brings more pain.

Or you may have come to God with a life that was a mess with sin and were relieved to find that he accepts you in Christ, just as you are. But in time, you were confronted with the reality that some of those sins from your former life still had a powerful hold on you. Some new Christians at this point are so discouraged they question whether they were ever saved at all.

Or you may have found that after years of harboring the pain of abuse in secret, it’s time to talk about it. You may have to revisit some painful memories or confront someone who has harmed you. The battle to decide to speak out is pain unto itself, intensifying the pain of the original abuse. Maybe you’ve made your secrets known, and your confidants, rather than comforting and protecting you, have hurt you further by suggesting that you keep quiet or have even blamed you for stirring up trouble by digging up the past.

You may have developed various means of dealing with what’s been done to you—self-protection, hypersensitivity, catastrophizing to grab others’ attention, never trusting anyone or depending too much on their affirmation, getting even, withholding yourself from others, becoming the aggressor, or self-medicating with any number of substances or pleasures. In short, you may have constructed a comprehensive manner of life for surviving apart from God (Eph. 4:22).

In delivering you, God wants to show you that this manner of life, which may be all you’ve ever known, is actually death. He wants you to walk away. But walking away from the only life you’ve known can feel like death. This is all very risky. It may feel like it’s getting worse before it gets better.

The grip of sin does not loosen easily. Chances are that your sin has been some form of refuge for you, some means of comfort. But that comfort was merely bait on a hook, and now you’re being reeled in, you’re enslaved. In delivering us from sin, God breaks the chains of slavery and beckons us to freedom. But faithful obedience is very costly; he calls us to abandon everything we have clung to in our sin, and pulling out the hook of false comfort can be very painful.

We have been bound in darkness; in redemption, God calls us into his light. This can feel like coming out of a dark cave into a midday sun—our eyes may hurt at first as they adjust to the light. How can we be so sure we know what the picture of redemption should look like, when we’ve been so blind?

Excerpt from Redemption by Mike Wilkerson. Learn more or download a sample chapter.

Are you Prepared to Minister to Victims of Sexual Assault?

Guest post by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

There is an epidemic of sexual assault and the statistics are jarring. One in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. As sobering as the statistics are, they don’t begin to speak to the darkness and grief experienced by these victims. Because sexual assault causes physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual pain, victims need the kind of hope and help that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide.

Tragically, many churches and Christians are woefully unprepared to help those have been assaulted. Worse still, many Christian leaders (including parents) are ignorant of this epidemic because ashamed victims are reticent to simply declare what has been done to them, and untrained leaders do not recognize the signs of sexual assault or know how to inquire lovingly of victims.

Victims want and need a clear explanation of how the gospel applies to their experience of sexual assault and its effects in their lives.  Many parents, spouses, ministers, and friends are looking for solid, gospel-based information that would be helpful in serving victims. Informed supporters are needed for the healing process.

We wrote Rid of My Disgrace to help equip pastors and ministry staff as well as family members and friends of victims. As you read what we are saying to victims, you will become better prepared to respond and care for victims in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed. While avoiding platitudes and shallow theology, we combine biblical and theological depth with up-to-date research.

Much of the literature on sexual assault employs self-help approaches that do not offer the full-orbed good-news of the gospel—that it is God’s one-way love replacing self-love that is the true path to healing.

It is important to address the effects of sexual assault with the biblical message of grace and redemption. Jesus responds to victims’ pain and past. The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace. It is our hope that you will be equipped to provide accessible gospel-based help, hope, and healing to sexual assault victims who know too well the depths of destruction and the overwhelming sense of disgrace.

Justin Holcomb is the Director of The Resurgence and co-author with Lindsey Holcomb of Rid of My Disgrace. Read their other articles on this issue or download a sample chapter of Rid of My Disgrace.