Friday, November 16, 2012

For the Joy Set Before Us

How Long O Lord?
Reflections on Suffering and Evil
D.A. Carson
Ch 8 - From the Vantage of the End

Thoughts on the monthly book study with members of Andover Baptist and Severna Park Evangelical Presbyterian.

It is absurd to suffer for Christ if we do not have a clear view of what we are hoping for in the future.  The quintessential example for us is Christ Jesus Himself: "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2

Carson: "Without that prospect [of "vindication and resurrection"] ... Christianity does not make much sense..."

"if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others." First Letter to the Corinthians 15:19. 


The Kingdom of God has come already in one sense. And yet in another it is still to come.  The inauguration of the Kingdom occurred when Jesus came to earth and announced, "repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." And yet since that time the wheat and tares grow together until the Kingdom comes with finality.  At this future time the wheat and tares will be separated and Jesus will conquer His enemies once and for all.  Yes He won the victory over sin in the past on the cross.  But that victory will be brought to the ripeness of its fruition in His second coming.

Then His fiery wrath will be poured out on His enemies and the hope for which the children of God have waited will come.  We "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8)

The Spread of Wheat: "...the spread of Christianity during the past twenty centuries, especially during the past two centuries, [is] nothing short of astonishing."
China had one-million Protestants in 1949 when the Communists took over, now there are over 80 million. Multiple examples of this spread are given.

The Growth of the Tares: "...not everything is sweetness and light. In Europe, evangelicals constitute less than three percent of the population. In France, on any given weekend there are two-and-a-half to three times more Muslims worshiping than there are Catholics..."

Alan Shook mentioned that the points Carson raises with regard to Kingdom are important to remember especially in light of the recent election.  Too true.

Also, the Kingdom characteristics referenced by Carson are not dealing with the same questions as the so-called "Two Kingdoms Theology" which deal more with the extent of the influence of the church in politics, law, and culture (if I understand it correctly).


One of the chief difficulties with suffering is that it is not uniform across humanity.  It is certainly ubiquitous but it is not homogeneous.  This is an astounding point because it leaves us staggering in disbelief, jaws agape, with our sense of justice unfulfilled.  Pastor Shane mentioned that Pol Pot died in His sleep while Pastor Benfer referenced the suffering of His dear mother.  How does this balance? What is the reckoning wherein these circumstances make sense?  Carson writes, "One of the reasons ... the books of Job and Ecclesiastes play so important a role in Scripture is that they frankly acknowledge the irrationality and disproportionality of evil in this world."

Three Passages are addressed at length - Psalm 73, Amos 4, and Matthew 11:20-24. 

Psalm 73 Section: "But if you begin with genuine delight in God; both in this world and in the world to come, you can put up with "flesh and heart failing," and be absolutely confident that, far from being the victim of injustice,  you are in the best possible position; near to the good (v. 1) and sovereign (v.28) God."  (emphasis mine)

Amos 4: "The truth of the matter is that meeting God is either transcendentally wonderful, or utterly horrific.  If God meets sinners - sinners like you and me - in mere justice, in raw justice, the ultimate result is cataclysmic judgement; if God meets sinners in mercy and transforming power; the ultimate result is ecstasy."

Matthew 11:20-24: Middle knowledge is held by God and is presupposed by the text.  John Byl writes, "as the creator of all that exists, God surely has fully comprehensive middle knowledge. He knows exactly how any of his creatures will act in any conceivable situation."(1)  Middle knowledge must not necessarily be applied incorrectly to Soteriology as with Molinism.  But it does recognize the infinitude of the mind of God to encompass and understand the endless possibilities available to Him.  If a philosopher uses a truth like middle knowledge to pervert good doctrine, we are not deprived of that truth forever because of his error.  Perhaps we would do well to tread carefully with it though.  Instead of employing middle knowledge to upend the truths regarding God being the ultimate first cause of all existence, history, and human decisions(2) as in a system where God sees endless possibilities and arranges everything to save the most people "possible," or Molinism(3), Carson employs it for another end.  Namely, to illustrate the exhaustive nature of the final judgement.  "... for it [middle knowledge] ensures that God's justice on the last day will be perfect, and will be seen as perfect. Every conceivable factor will be taken into account by omniscience." (emphasis mine)

It seems reasonable to reach these conclusions from the text.  Otherwise, what are we to do with the statement, "If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you"?


"... those who are genuinely heavenly minded have the highest incentive to serve well here: they are laying up treasure in heaven."

"Preaching and teaching that do not constantly make heaven the Christian's hope and goal are not only unfaithful to the Scriptures, but rob believers of one of the most important perspectives for helping them to cope with pressures here and now." Both of the above are quotes of Carson.

Consider the following song written by a slave, Wallace Willis, who when looking at the Red River was reminded of the Jordan river and Elijah being taken to heaven by a chariot.  Ah, what a comfort such thoughts must have been for our brothers and sisters in Christ as they suffered in the toil and humility of their slavery!

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.

Sometimes I'm up, and sometimes I'm down,
(Coming for to carry me home)
But still my soul feels heavenly bound.
(Coming for to carry me home)

The brightest day that I can say,
(Coming for to carry me home)
When Jesus washed my sins away.
(Coming for to carry me home)

If I get there before you do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
I'll cut a hole and pull you through.
(Coming for to carry me home)

If you get there before I do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends I'm coming too.
(Coming for to carry me home)

"though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Christ Jesus is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:6-9

Overall this chapter was very helpful in that Carson brought out some interesting insights from scripture that I had not considered before and because of the clear practical helps he provided.

(1)  John Byl, The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, & Meaning (Trowbridge, Wilts: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), 207.
(2)  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  God decreed it.  Man freely chose it.
(3) One issue with the Molinist argument is the "moment" where God's middle knowledge, or knowledge of counterfactuals, is placed. Middle Knowledge being the knowledge of all possible choices a creature would make in various circumstances. If this moment is placed after the creation of the world and retains God as the first and primary cause of all events, "ifs" which contradict and confound the whole point of the Molinist system, many of the subsequent failures of the system are averted.  But aside from that, the underlying error of the Molinist system is quite simple: it is a poor excuse for denying the bondage of the human will, as if God choosing a world in which men go to @#!*% by their own choice is less problematic than God decreeing "all things according to the counsel of His will."  Is the vigorous Molinist defense of the liberty of choice any consolation to the damned?  Would the reprobate be less under the just wrath of God because they are reprobate?  No, the result is the same.  And if the result is the same, then why fight against the clear teaching of scripture on this matter?  To vindicate God? He does not need it. To vindicate the freedom of man to choose?  He does not need it - for the only vindication any man can have is through Christ Jesus.  And that vindication is through faith which is the gift of God.  I have nothing against complicated systems, just ones which are contrary to the clear teaching of Romans 9, Ephesians 1, the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, and the New Testament.  Such teachings as Molinism, Pelagianism, and Arminianism. 

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