Wednesday, November 22, 2017

When it is awful

When everything is awful and life is too much to bear, we need the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Bible story.

We need the beginning because we need to know that it wasn't meant to be this way.  We need to know that God did not intend for us a world of suffering and tears and chaos.  In fact, Genesis 1 and 2 can be read as stories of the systematic binding of chaos and the perfect provision of spreading goodness respectively.  We need to know that God isn't cruel, that he didn't set us up for a fall.  The beginning of the story is all goodness, and we need that if we are going to remember in the darkness that God is good.

We need the middle of the story because we need to know that we are not left alone.  We see in the incarnation of the Son of God that the Creator has not abandoned his creation.  Far from it, as far from it as can be: he has entered his creation, become a creature, the Author inside the story.  And paradoxically we see how deeply committed to the non-abandonment of creation God is at the point where the Son of God casts his eyes towards heaven on the cross and finds himself... abandoned.  God is with us, and he is with us right at that point of God-forsaken agony.  The middle of the story is God-with-us on the cross, and we need that if we're to remember that his care is not removed from us in our own suffering.

We need the end of the story because we need to know that it will not always be like this.  It is small comfort to have a God who would have loved to help, and would even travel into the depths to be with us, but could not ultimately change anything.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ points forward to a future in which God himself will make every wrong right, will wipe away every tear from the eyes of his suffering people, and will make of our sad ruin a glorious future.  That is the ultimate hope, and it bleeds through into the little hopes for today, yes, even the very little ones.  The end of the story is a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells, and we need that if we are going to persevere in the darkness.


  1. Keep telling the story Daniel.

  2. Yes!! This is also roughly what I say to people. Except I say it less concisely. Preach

  3. I agree with the middle and end. But doesn't the book of Job, to name one Scriptural voice, speak against your proposed beginning?

    1. So, I think I see why you'd say that, but can you unpack it a bit in relation to Job? Obviously I'm not convinced that Job does count against what I've said, but would be interested to explore a little more...

    2. I just mean in terms of 'God doesn't set us up for a fall,' whereas he does quite deliberately in Job. And then of course the wider implications of providence and God's sovereignty, 'some he has made for dishonourable purposes' and so on. And I don't think arguing about the 'order of the decrees' as some do is particularly helpful or Biblical to soften the blow.

      The only 'reason' I can discern is God's purpose in choosing the lowly and despised to shame those of higher worldly status. An aesthetic rather than utilitarian pupose in ordaining evil and suffering, perhaps.

    3. Well, Job is already in the middle of the story. And in fact, he isn't set up for a fall but for a resurrection ending - better than he started with. Personally, I don't think you can make sense of Job without Adam in the background and Jesus in the foreground.

      I think that's the way I see it: if the life of Christ provides the hermeneutic key to the rest of Scripture (and it does), then some of those voices can't be saying quite what you think they are...

    4. Sure - but God still 'intended' bad things to happen to Job. And assuming you hold to God's sovereignty over all things (which you may not, for all I know), then God intended all the evil that takes place, just as He intended Christ's own death and suffering.Your first para just makes it sound like evil caught Him by surprise or was outside His governance, which may have been your intention anyway.

    5. I think my reply, without developing here a complete doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty (which I affirm!), would be that God stands behind good and evil in different ways. I don't think evil ever catches him by surprise, but neither do I believe he willed that humanity should fall.

      Of course it is true that God willed Christ's suffering *as a response to evil*, and that other people are caught up in that response (Job, for example). But I'd still stick by my original assertion: God's will for the world never was evil and suffering, but good.

  4. It depends what will you mean... decretally it was His will for evil to happen, though not morally, and I agree there's an important distinction.

    But assuming you hold to that distinction, my purpose was not to nit-pick but just to say that, as an apologetic of sorts for believers and none believers alike, the middle and end are great. It's just that, assuming you hold to the decretal/moral distinction (or maybe eternal/temporal is another way of expressing it), then it would deflate the power of beginning paragraph to have to say 'He didn't intend it... and yet He also did in a very real sense'. Even under the 'foreknowledge' view, God still didn't act to prevent it when He could have, which is still an intention for it to happen, really.