Monday, 6 September 2010

...Jesus wept.

Disclaimer: this is an angry blog post. It's also confused, slightly broken, questioning and needs people to get involved. I don't need platitudes, nor do I need the Bible quoted at me. I need people to be angry, confused, broken and questioning with me.

Yesterday, I went to a large church in London. I had never been to this church, and it was an enjoyable experience. It has an esteemed history of good expositional preaching, but I couldn't help fundamentally disagreeing with the sermon. The text studied was Hebrews 12:4-11. Here it is, for your delectation:
4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Not an easy passage, by any means. I'm glad they did it, and they had the audacity to tackle it. But, in my opinion, they tackled it wrong.

He started by saying that as hard as it may be to fathom, God disciplines us. Good thus far, and I'm hopeful, as it may answer questions I have myself. He then said that we mustn't get discipline and punishment confused, as God doesn't punish us for specific sins. He may humble us, he may remind us who is God, but he will not punish us for particular sins. I agreed in essence with this idea, but it's hard to try and define things that happen to us as punishment, or consequences, or discipline. I still don't know the answer.

Then, unfortunately, he said something that I could not fathom, or agree with: 'God creates suffering or hardship to discipline us'. To take his understanding to an extreme, God caused the earthquake in Haiti, the cancer in a loved ones body, the flooding in Pakistan, the stillbirth of a child, the tsunami in the Pacific Ocean and the death of a teenage girl in a car crash.

I cannot accept this. I literally have no capacity to accept this. I cannot even begin to fathom that God, the creator of this world, would actively take part in those things in order to 'discipline' those he loves.

This morning, I awoke to a text from a very dear friend who split up with her boyfriend of 2 and a half years. A 'minor' event, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, but her whole world just came crashing down. Just to 'discipline' her? I got another text later on the morning telling me that another friend had multiple cysts on her ovaries, and at the age of 18, is looking at the possibility of not being able to bear children. Because God loves 'disciplining' us?

They're two things that I have experienced today that make me think that what the preacher said last night was more or less hocum.

I'm fairly sure I've communicated myself badly, and I'm fairly sure people are going to shoot me down. Right now, though, I don't care. Help.

17 comments:

fromthesamesky said...

Oh my oh my. I am SO with you. In fact, if I'd been there I'd be spitting mad too. Scratch that, I AM spitting mad. It's just so wrong to say that. God does not like suffering! Suffering is NOT good. It is NOT!!!! Grrr!

amy said...

Hi,

Just found your blog, it's very interesting.
I don't know if I'm even well versed to answer this question but I simply think that the definition of discipline with examples wasn't clear in the sermon. I do not think that God uses crisis events, or natural disasters to get our attention in a punishing/disciplining way. I think most of those things you listed God really has no true hand in. They are just events that have occurred in the process of life. However as I'm sure you know God does take advantage of those moments to mould us and help us grow. For example that girl and her boyfriend of 2.5 years, what if she was living a super comfortable life, everything seemingly perfect? Usually in environments like that your spiritual walk tends to be put on the back burner so in this moment if she reaches out to Him it's a moment of intervention that can help her to overcome the emotions about what happened. I don't know the situation but I guess I'm trying to shed light on another perspective. Romans 8: 28, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Hope that helps, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that. And don't feel bad about questioning this sermon, or the Bible or things like that, it helps strengthen your faith as scary as it is to put your foot out there and share your doubts.

-Amy :)

Aaron said...

So, do you basically want someone to tell you that God didn't create suffering?

David said...

Amy, thanks so much for your comments. I'm absolutely unafraid of questioning the sermon, or the Bible. Mainly because a lot of it makes no sense to me.

That Romans passage, unfortunately, is of little comfort, however. I know an awful lot of people who love God who have an awful lot of crap happen to them. I don't doubt that God has good intentions for us. But... well, real life. Y'know?

Thanks so much for getting involved, though. I really appreciate it. Blessings.

David said...

Aaron, thanks for commenting. No, I don't. I don't want people to TELL me anything. I just want people to tell me what they think. Am I going mad, or is that how people really view God?

Sam said...

Hi Dave

Read Job recently? Ha. His mates had all sorts of clever reasons for his suffering but in the end God showed up and rebuked Job - don't understand that either really...

But I read an account recently of parents whose daughter has a rare condition which means none of her nerves work. As you can imagine that's really dangerous. Their daily, desperate prayer is 'please God, let today be the day something hurts her'.

I don't think all suffering is discipline - after all, it was Satan who tortured Job - but the key thought is: if I'm suffering is God punishing me, or disciplining me? And Jesus took our punishment, so its not that.

And if it's not punishment then it's either out of Gods control, Gods doing it for the laugh, or it's discipline.

In my opinion.

Aaron said...

Well, this is basically how I've formulated my decision. God has control over everything - the world, the universe, us, etc. He knows what's going to happen and he has the power to control what will happen. So, he must have created suffering. There isn't any alternative, to me.

Unless anyone else cares to offer a plausible creation of suffering?

Will Clark said...

My turn to chuck some thoughts in the mix.

I firmly and wholly believe that God has no capacity to cause harm or distress. Why would He? What benefit would it be to punish the very people He sacrificed His Son to reconcile? What kind of a loving, compassionate God would that be? "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Why would God push us away while Jesus pulls us near? What a farce.

You and I both know that situations and trials and all the crap that the enemy throws at us will never stop God from being good, or making good out of it. I've never been one for that whole 'tapestry' metaphor of only seeing the mess while God sees the big picture, because the usual implication is that God is prescribing every event and detail. What kind of fool ignores the enemy at their door?

Anyway, what was my point? Ah yes, despite the inaccuracies of the above metaphor, God does see the big picture and the end from the beginning. If one were in God's position, it would be stupid to just sit back and watch. What kind of God is that? There has to be action, surely, and there is. But the what, when and why of God's plan is His business. Let Him handle the details.

I'll stop there for now.

tr0nics said...

I would consider punishment and discipline to be different, although perhaps not very distinct. I feel punishment is the consequence of sin, but discipline encompasses self-control, diligence and commitment (and probably more). I don't see much possibility for growth from punishment.

I totally disagree with this pastor's belief. God does not create these natural disasters and diseases because it's completely against his nature. God is love is about as plain as I can put it. I believe natural disasters and such-like are a result of our fallen nature and sinfulness. God said to Adam, cursed is the ground because of you, and we see several more times how the land itself is cursed because of the sin of a nation. Haiti for example has a massive voodoo culture, so perhaps those sinful practices reaped the destruction. You reap what you sow is a message in Galatians I believe, although maybe that was a different context.

A recent sermon at my church made a good point which hadn't occurred to me. People ask why God doesn't get rid of all evil. To do that he'd have to get rid of every human being on the planet, because we are born into a fallen world, as fallen, sinful people and only through Christ do we see the Father and have salvation. God loves a sinner, but he does not condone evil.

Riley said...

So, I may be a tad naive, but I'll take a crack at it.

I agree with you that the preacher is right and wrong... but here's why.
God DOESN'T create suffering, that something that we bring upon ourselves. He sent his one and only son to DIE for us, if he loves us that much, why would he CREATE suffering? But in our suffering, he teaches us- opens our eyes to messages already there.
Everyone goes through hard times when terrible things happen. And it hurts God to see us like this- it's like having a child with cancer who is very sick from chemo. The parents hate seeing their child suffer from the effects of chemo, but the truth of the matter is that the chemo is what is saving the child's life. So it's suffering now for joy in the long run. "One cannot know true joy until one has known true suffering."
Everything we do is a learning experience that God does plan out, though- if you're 1 or 107, you have more to learn. God does see the suffering coming (he is kind of the ruler of the universe) and that we can learn from it- grow. If you've suffered, you know how to help others- which is part of our vocation to God.
And if you've suffered, you are usually much closer to God- because once man has failed at giving you peace or healing, everyone turns to a God to see them through. God may do it to give us insight.
But no matter the suffering, God is there to pull us through. He's not trying to kill you because he thinks each and every life is precious. He's not beating you with a belt to discipline you. He's giving you an experience that you can learn from- not because you "deserve" it, but because at that time in your life he feels that you are strong enough to fight most of the battle and let him do the rest, you grow in faith. He puts you on the lake even though there's a storm, but He still walks on water to calm the seas. It's not a test of faith, but a chance for all to grow in faith.

God DOESN'T do it to punish us. What would that mean of our God? We've learned from day one that God is unconditionally loving. Again, a child may mess up- may write on the walls with crayon- so the parent tells them not to do it again, but still loves them. And if the kid does it again, the parent still loves them. And if the kid does it again, the parent still loves them. But in our case, God doesn't reprimand. He just loves and loves. Because when we find the fault in our own ways, that's when he has taught us our lesson. And if he were to "punish" us, then why in the world are there people out there who are lustful, greedy, vain, gluttonous, slothful, wrathful, or envious that are just fine- rich and powerful? God doesn't punish us for how we live. That happens when we reach the pearly gates. God tries to teach us now so that we can live eternally from now on.

That's what I think.

Elizabeth said...

I don't remember hearing that in the sermon myself, as I was in too much pain the whole service, so I couldn't tell you so succinctly what the sermon was about as you have done here. I was battling with pain and suffering and why I'm not really well enough to go to church?

I am hearing you fight the issue that I am fighting with here; http://onetheologicalcellist.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/does-god-will-suffering-on-us/

I'm glad you're not afraid of questioning the teaching, it is encouraged at the church. It might also be helpful for you to know that he doesn't preach regularly.

samisaacson said...

Hi Dave

Read Job recently? Ha. He suffered, but in the end God showed up and actually rebuked Job! It was therefore clearly for his discipline - NOTE it was not God causing the suffering, it was God redeeming Job's suffering for his good.

This is where I think the problem lies. Saying 'God uses suffering for discipline' is dangerous because it can be read that God causes suffering: God says, 'you've been naughty so I'm giving you a miscarriage'. That's not the case though - we live in a fallen world, so suffering happens whether or not we like it, but God uses that suffering to discipline us.

David said...

Thank you all for your comments. I am going to get back to you, but a) there's a lot to get back to, b) I'm still processing, and c) I'm at work.

Thanks so much for getting involved.

Butters said...

Thanks for that, Dave. I think I really agree with you (I don't disagree with Hebrews but it sounds like the chap was making it say more than it does). I wonder if that particular exposition has it's roots in more wider issues such as God's soveriegnty. It certainly sounds like the sound of thing a calvinist might say. I can remember reading a very disturbing article by John Piper about thanking God for cancer to which I had a similar reaction.

(last reply deleted due to typos)

David said...

So I just wrote a reply to each of you. Then Blogger screwed up. This does not a happy Dave make.

Maybe if I recover the will, I'll reply to you all later.

Kristi said...

Not everthing is punishment. God allowed Satan to get at Job but not because Job needed discipline. It was because Job was righteous and God knew Job would show others how to handle the valleys in life. Others watch us (Christians) as we go through trials and, although we find ourselves many times down and out, it is an opportunity to show others how our God can work and handle our trials.

That said, I do believe that with sin, comes consequences, and sometimes...SOMETIMES...God will allow judgement to fall upon us because of something we do. I know in my own life I know every time God has had to get my attention. For the most part, I have experienced mercy, receiving grace when I SHOULD have received His discipline! :)

But no, not every trial and tribulation that comes our way is an act of God's discipline on our lives. He's greater than that.

I do believe God can use a natural disaster to make a point. But I have to say that we do not know the mind of the Almighty God. Only He knows what he's doing and it is not up to us to say.

~Kristi

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