I want to follow up on what Lisa wrote in the previous post "Gospel of Signs and Wonders" in which she gave an overview of what is wrong with the theology presented by Bill Johnson in his book "When Heaven Invades Earth" before moving on to other issues. Apart from the changing of the central message of the bible (Man and his ruined state and God's redemption of man through the death of Jesus Christ) one of the things that disturbs me most is the view of suffering presented by Johnson and many others in the evangelical world. To quote Johnson:
"The same misconception about God affecst those who need to have faith for their own miracle. A woman who needed a miracle once told me she believed God had allowed her sickness for a purpose. I told her if I treated my children that way I'd be locked up for child abuse" (p.45 WHIE) Johnson explains the woman eventually sided with him and received healing.
Now like almost every sentence from this book I could address several errors for example the idea that God is waiting to heal we just need to tap in by "faith". I simply want to focus on Johnson's accusation that if God ordains sickness He is a child abuser.
I) We deserve nothing but wrath from God
a)Do we understand what mercy is?
To say that it would be unfair of God to operate in such a way is not a biblical charge but a humanistic man centered one, note that Johnson appeals to human standards to justify that it would be wrong for God to deal in such a way. The biblical view is one in which man has absolutely no grounds upon which to quibble and accuse God of injustice for God is the very embodiment of justice, He is the standard of what is just. As rebels we deserve nothing but judgement from God and any goodness we may enjoy (such as the sun shining on Wisconsin as I write) is sheer mercy. To go to scripture Jacob, as Esau is about to meet him after years of being apart, is terrified and is inspired to pray in this manner:
"O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me 'Return to your country and to your family and I will deal well with you, I am not worthy of the least of your mercies and of all the truth you have shown your servant..." (Gen 32:9-10)
David when he had sinned prayed in this manner:
"Have mercy upon me according to your lovingkndness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions." (Ps 51:1)
The very essence of mercy is not getting what we deserve, namely wrath.
Jesus gives an excellent description of mercy when confronted with tragic stories in Israel:
"There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think the were worse sinners than all other men in Jerusalem? I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." (Lk 13:1-5)
The point that Jesus is getting across is that everyone deserves to have their blood mingled with sacrifices and towers fall upon them. These men on which these tragedies occurred were no more deserving of the judgment than those who were listening to Jesus talk. Thus the real question is not "Is it fair for God to allow such things to occur?" The real question is "Is it fair of God to not have the roof crumble upon me as I write these words!" Jesus' point is that we all deserve to come to such ends but it is sheer mercy that we have woken up this day and took in breath. What I am trying to get across is the reality of God's mercy which we take for granted every day, none of us have gotten what we deserve.
Thus the accusation against God of being a child abuser for having a purpose behind our trials and suffering is absurd, for it applies a fallen human standard of Justice to a infinitely perfect God. If we deserve nothing but wrath to begin with, what quibble can we raise if God out of His goodness ordains trials and hardships in the lives of men for a purpose which He alone knows? As I said above God Himself is the standard of justice, no creature can ever rightfully bring a charge against the creator. As Job said "I put my hand over my mouth"(Job 40:4)
What grieves me is that we expect the unsaved to bring charges against God, but when Christian leaders fall right in step with the spirit of the age with its humanistic indictments of God I think it is tragic. People raise the question "Where was God when hurricane Katrina hit?" or "How can God be good when there is so much suffering?" I think these are valid questions for doubters to ask, the problem I have is when Christian leaders cop out to humanistic values and join in the remonstrance against God's justice. Saying things like "God wasn't in this tragedy, it was outside His control, but come trust Him and He will comfort you." Extra-biblical mop-ups to appease the consciences of the unconverted are common (I dealt with some examples in post 1 problems that arise from synergism) but what does the Bible say about God's involvement in suffering and tragedy?
"'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand." (Deut 32:39)
"The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts" (1 Sam 26-7)
"Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him." (Hos 6:1-2)
Looking at these passages I think it is clear that God is in the business of wounding that He might heal. These two things are clear I think, 1. God is in the trials, and 2. The trials God orders have a purpose. These are passages dealing with Israel their trials which God had created, and out of His mercy the trials clearly had a purpose.
II) Purposed Suffering
I think from the above scriptures it is clear that God is sovereign over suffering. I think it is also clear Johnson and all who would bring a charge against God's sovereignty in suffering are imposing a fallen man made/centered standard of justice upon God (another example is Geisler and Pearls' accusation that irresistible grace is rape). The final points I want to make and destroy this theological cyclops, will deal with God's purpose behind suffering.
a)Does God inflict trials/suffering upon His people?
I think I know what Johnson would say in response to this question based upon the quote and the underlying theology I am trying to refute. To go to scripture, As it is written:
"And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6)
"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." (Rev 3:19)
It is obvious that the people whom God loves are chastened, but someone who is pretty staunch in the anti-sovereign suffering mindset could say "Well that doesn't seem to talk about suffering maybe chasten merely means correct when we are going off the path." I think that this response is half right. I think that it is absolutely true that discipline is a correction of error. However the correction of lukewarmness may indeed be a suffering trial, which results in heartily crying to God. Luther calls this the 'alien' work of God, it could be as simple as crying babies or lines at the DMV, but the purpose is to reveal our sin to us resulting in hearty repentance.
"But what about pain" one may ask "is God behind sickness?" Lisa responded briefly by pointing us to Paul:
" So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor 12:7-10)
Most scholars believe this thorn to be blindness. The fact that Paul in the midst of the trials saw a purpose of God should tell us how we are to view our own struggles.
b) Means to an end
To give further biblical evidence of the sovereignty of God in suffering is not easy, not easy because there are so many examples to choose from. The two that I think stand out most are the testimonies of Joseph and Christ.
As we know Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers to slave traders and was consequently sold to be a slave in Egypt. Joseph was blessed by God and became the overseer of all that was his master's until his master's wife accused him of rape. Next he was thrown into a dungeon only to later be exalted to the second most powerful man in the world. Joseph later forgives his brothers when they come as beggars before him as it says:
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him."
"So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died,
'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Gen 50:16-20)
The death of Christ of course is the highest example of God's purpose in suffering. Jesus didn't happen to tick the wrong people off and oops the messiah was crucified. No, the death of Christ was designed by God for a purpose.
"this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23)
For what purpose did Christ suffer?
"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. "
c) Where do Johnson's ideas arise from?
In light of the overwhelming testimony from scripture showing that God is indeed behind our suffering and has a purpose in it, I ask where do Johnson and Christians get these anti-sovereign views of suffering?
I think it is a case in point example of cultural ideas and the spirit of the age interpreting the character of God. Our culture, says Francis Schaeffer, has 2 dominant values: 1.Personal peace and 2.Affluence. We see the church catering directly to these values via health wealth and prosperity teaching. Therefore to have a view of God who orders and designs suffering (the destruction of personal peace) is a monstrosity in our cultural environment. So Christians are left with the options of changing God's involvement in suffering (that He has none) or being counter cultural. And frankly it's easier to tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need (this is the back bone of the emergent church movement).
One more brief thought.....
As I looked over Johnson's book I found error underlying at least half of the sentences I read, but to bring up one more statement of his I found extremely presumptuous he says:
"All of church history is built upon a partial revelation. Everything that has happened in the church over the past 1900 years has fallen short of what the early church had and lost. [...] Yet not even the early church fulfilled what God had intended for His people." (WHIE p.186-187)
Good night! It's a good thing Mr.Johnson is here to set Christianity, which has been sub par since its inception, straight. Am I crazy here or doesn't a statement as sweeping as that reek of presumption and error? He might as well say "The church has always failed because it didn't realize what I realize." Isn't that a little arrogant?
I personally would be very hesitant to call men who bled and died for their testimony of Jesus Christ sub par Christians. I find it very hypocritical that Johnson will make such a pummeling statement on all Christendom yet declare autonomy from criticism of his theology repeatedly throughout the book.
To conclude I haven't given a refutation of Johnson's entire book to do that would take a book in itself due to the mass amounts of error in it. Rather I took up the suffering issue because this issue is precious to me, the fact that my trials have a purpose and that God really is working all to the good of His church is a great comfort. I do pray for healings for sick friends, but I do not demand them from God.
Ultimately I think this verse sums up the right perspective towards trials of all kinds for believers:
"I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Phi 4:12-13)
John Piper has recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, he has written an article that fits perfectly with this issue called "If God wills Disease Should we Work to eradicate it?" the link is here: http://www.desiringgod.org/library/fresh_words/2006/030806.html