Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Why Suffering/Trials? (Habakkuk cont'd)

Following up on my intro to Habakkuk...

The first answer—that we live in a “fallen world”—takes care of this thorny question in general, but offers little in terms of why there is so much suffering or any suffering in a given case.

From there, then, one can easily come up with five categories. Suffering and trials…

1.) work toward our own (greater) good

In A Grief Observed (an indispensable book on this topic), C.S. Lewis compares God to a dentist. And Lewis notes that if God is good (and knowledgeable), then the pain is necessary.

To what purpose? Scripture makes a number of references to the “refining” nature of trials (Job 23:10, Ps 66:10, Prov 25:4, Is 1:25, I Pet 1:6-7).

And then there’s the intriguing passage in Heb 5:7-9 where it says that Jesus was made perfect by his sufferings. In other words, his and our experiences serve to complete us.

Again, Lewis quite helpful here. In the movie and play, Shadowlands, the heart of the message is delivered through the same words spoken at three different times—before, during and after the trial. Suddenly, the same words were more convincing, especially to the outsider and to cynics.

Of course, fire can refine and perfect or it can destroy and consume. In other words, how do/will we respond to our trials? (It is helpful to think of a temptation as hoping you will fail and a test/trial as hoping you will pass.) As Matthew Henry observed: the same sun melts wax and hardens clay.

A great example of this is in contrasting the famous I Cor 10:13 with II Cor 1:8-9a. In the midst of a trial, life often feels more like the latter than the former.

2.) are for the benefit of others (Phil 1:12-14)

3.) are for God & others in the spiritual world (Job 1:9-11, III Jn 4)

4.) are necessary for "the system" (Ecc 9:11, Jn 9:1-3, Mt 5:45b)

For example, if our obedience was purely causal of earthly blessing, then we would "believe"/"behave" for the wrong reasons. There would be no faith/trust. And interestingly, we would control God with our actions.

5.) ahhh...sometimes we just don't know (a la Job)

What do we do with all of this? As modeled in Habakkuk, Job and elsewhere, the person of faith...

A. doesn't back away from the hard questions of life (Ps 73:16)

The believer is not to have a pollyanna outlook or an uninformed faith. Elie Wiesel asserted that "For unbelievers, there are no answers; for believers, there are no questions". But Lewis disagrees: "He who has doubted little, has believed little."

B. goes to the Lord with their questions (1:2,12, 2:1; Job 42:7)

C. doesn't soften the hard realities of life (1:4,6-11,14-17; Joseph to brothers in Gen 50:20)

D. is more focused on going thru a trial in a God-honoring manner than escaping it (Dan 3:16-17)


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