Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category
James Jordan suggests a kind of monergistic understanding of sacrifice:
Sacrifice is something God does, not something we do. We commonly speak of “making a sacrifice” when we give something up for someone else. That “works-centered” notion of sacrifice does not do justice to the Biblical idea of sacrifice. The lamb led to the slaughter was not particularly thrilled at the idea, and neither was Jesus, who asked that if possible the cup might be taken from Him. When God comes to sacrifice us it is usually painful, and that is why singing the psalms is so important, because the psalms are full of pain.
We would like to think that when the pain comes, we will joyfully accept it. Sometimes that is what happens, but think about it: If you are able to keep a cool head during your suffering, then you are not experiencing the fullness of suffering. The most potent kind of suffering, and of sacrifice, comes when you experience a “dark night of the soul,” when it feels as if God has deserted you, when the inward agony does not let up day after day, when you are weak and not strong, when you join Job on the ash heap of ignorance concerning what God is doing to you. This kind of sacrificial experience means that the Great Physician is doing “depth surgery” on you, operating at levels you cannot understand. The psalms are full of this kind of experience, and it is this kind of experience that Lord’s Day worship is, in part, all about. (Theses on Worship, 86)
The book of Job is, first and foremost, presenting Job as a type of Jesus the suffering servant. Job is the perfect, upright man (Job 1-2), the exemplary righteous man (Ezek. 14), who speaks what is right (Job 42) as he wrestles with God seeking a resurrection-vindication.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Just as the Psalms are firstly the songs of Jesus, but become the songs of the church; Job also secondarily becomes a guide for the righteous to wrestle with God through our suffering and the suffering of our brothers. But unlike Job, our great accuser has now been cast out of heaven. More than that, while Job ascends into God’s presence only at the end of his story, we have access to God immediately and continually through Jesus in whom we have already ascended.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
More than that, as the church we reign together with him.
[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)
Finally, the book of Job serves as a caution to us, a reminder that God calls his own son, and all who follow him, to temporary sufferings and deprivations of the privileges of sonship so that through our suffering he can achieve an even more glorious outcome. Here and now the redeemed do not deserve these sufferings, but just like the sufferings of Jesus, we endure them as soldiers on a mission to bring about a far greater good.
Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:26-27)
I contributed the following Advent reflection on Matthew 2:13-15 to the Sovereign Grace Church blog, where this is crossposted:
In today’s reading, we see Jesus and his family fleeing to Egypt at the warning of an angel, in order to escape Herod’s murderous rampage. Matthew writes that Jesus fulfilled what God had spoken through Hosea in this. But if you’ve ever taken the time to look back at Hosea 11, what Matthew says seems a bit of a puzzle. Hosea was referring to Israel rather than Jesus, and Israel’s calling out of Egypt had happened long before. Hosea does not seem to have been conscious of making any kind of prophecy. Calvin writes that because of this passage, “scoffers have attempted to disturb the whole religion of Christ, as though the Evangelist had misapplied the declaration of the Prophet.” But if we are not to be scoffers, how are we to understand this?
We have seen already that in the very first verse of his gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as the true Isaac, the true Solomon. In the same way, what Matthew is saying in today’s reading is that Jesus is also the true Israel. Just as Isaac failed to bring an enduring blessing to all the nations, and just as Solomon’s throne did not endure, so also Israel failed in their mission to be priests to the nations. Hosea himself goes on to indict Israel for their refusal to turn to God. But at the very climax of Israel’s failure — at the moment when they led all the nations in rebellion rather than worship — Jesus came as the true Israel, walking in their footsteps, suffering the same trials and temptations. Unlike Israel, Jesus remained faithful, and ultimately it was this very faithfulness that brought about the possibility of restoration that was also promised to Israel in Hosea 11. What the scoffers do not recognize is that Jesus fulfilled much more than just prophecy. We know, for example, that Jesus also fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). And what Matthew is telling us here is that Jesus fulfilled a calling. Where Israel failed in the calling to minister to the nations, Jesus has succeeded.
But there is more. Notice that it is out of Israel that Jesus was called by an angel. It is in Israel that a tyrant murders Hebrew sons and must be deceived so that the savior can be saved. It is out of Israel that Jesus escapes by night. It is not Israel but Egypt that is a place of refuge. Taking all this together, Matthew is not only telling us that Jesus is the true Israel: he is also telling us that Israel itself has become Egypt, and Herod has become Pharaoh. There is a need for a new exodus and for a new Moses.
There is a calling and a caution for us in this, because the body always follows the head. Just as Moses made a personal exodus from Egypt for 40 years before leading Israel in the great exodus, the church must follow our head. Our calling is this: the church must now lead the nations in worship. Our caution is this: we must fulfill our calling sacrificially. While we are called to different kinds of death in different seasons, it is always the church’s willingness to die that brings life and light to the world.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:13)
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” — Luke 22:39-46
In this passage, Luke shows us Jesus in a garden full of trees, on a mountain, experiencing temptation. All of this should ring a bell for us: the Holy Spirit means for us to read this and think of Adam in Eden, and to reflect on the contrast between Adam and Jesus.
God had promised Adam that eventually “every tree” would be given to him (Gen. 1:29). But Adam had to wait to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This tree’s name links it with the kingly privilege of exercising judgment. Adam impatiently seized this fruit before his time, before he had endured and matured. In just the same way, the Father intended to give Jesus a kingly seat over all the rulers of the earth. If at this point in Luke we knew only what had happened to Adam, this would leave us on the edge of our seats: Would Jesus call upon the angels for the wrong kind of help? Would he seize his seat at the Father’s right hand, or would he patiently suffer injustice and death in order to gain it? Would he be willing to be made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10)?
In the very middle of this passage Jesus does receive help: “an angel from heaven” strengthens him. The way Luke has structured this passage draws attention to this heavenly night-time help, making it the hinge, the turning point, of the passage. This is a kind of midnight Passover deliverance—but it is not the kind of deliverance you might expect. The angelic help does not seem to be a turning point for the better. Jesus was “delivered”—but straight into the Passover holocaust. Everything that happens afterwards is not relief from what came before, but an intensification of what came before, a realization and fulfillment of what was prophesied.
After Jesus received this help, it got much worse before it got better. His battle really begins in earnest as soon as he receives help.
This is frequently how God works. We pray for and receive preliminary help, sometimes even a preliminary victory. But then there is a further test, a greater battle. Adam received a helper, but then encountered a serpent. Jacob was delivered from Laban, then heard fearful news that his brother Esau was coming; Jacob even prefigured Jesus by wrestling in prayer at night over this. Israel was delivered from Egypt, then had to face Pharaoh and his armies. They were delivered miraculously from these at the Red Sea, and given the gift of manna, but then had to face Amalek in battle. Jesus was baptized and filled with the Spirit, only to face Satan in the wilderness. After Jesus’s resurrection, the church in Jerusalem experienced an initial period of growth and fruitfulness, only to have to battle Jews and Judaizers, until the church was sent out to the four corners of the earth by persecution.
We know that it is because Jesus endured his trial that we are able to receive heavenly help in our own trials. It is because he endured that we have received the Holy Spirit, our great helper and strengthener. Adam was not willing to die to defend his bride, but Jesus, in his death, succeeded in rescuing and providing for us. We also know that our own trials will never be so great as his, because he endured the very wrath of God in our place. But there are a few more reflections I want to draw from what we have seen here.
First, it is startling to see that Jesus needed heavenly help to endure his temptation and suffering. Elsewhere, Peter tells us that Jesus had to exercise faith in order to endure (1 Pet. 2:23). This adds greater depth to the assurance in Hebrews that Jesus is a sympathetic high priest, and a king who gladly welcomes us to his throne of grace and mercy. He is sympathetic and understanding even to the point that he needed help to strengthen him to resist temptation.
Second, along with the disciples we are chided by Jesus’s words. Help is available in our need—all we have to do is pray.
Finally, we have a sobering lesson in how help often comes to us in our trials and suffering. God does send us help, through his Spirit, his word, and one another. But very often this help is the prelude to the real battle. The Spirit carries us into the thick of battle. The Spirit strengthens us to fight. He enables us to be full of faith, full of hope, and full of the fruit of the Spirit in spite of the storm that is raging around us.
In the words of Peter: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:10) Amen.
nostalgia, n. — the dogged hope that you will somehow survive yesterday’s trials; considering the sufferings of this present time unworthy to be compared with the glory that has passed away from us; a gnawing craving for leeks and onions, accompanied with the realization that you are almost but not quite finished dying to yourself.
See also Mark Horne’s post, The appeal of the past.
Some things James Jordan has said about thorns and about Jacob make me wonder if we can glean additional insight into Paul’s enigmatic statement that “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”
First, Jacob wrestles with God, a type of prayer, bracketed by two other prayers. He prays for deliverance from his wrestling opponent, Esau; Paul prays three times for deliverance from his thorn. Second, at the time of his wrestling, Jacob has had two Christophanies, one of which is the occasion of his wound. Paul has had two Christophanies (his conversion and 2 Cor 12), the second of which is identified with his thorn. Finally, Jacob’s limp is directly connected with and signifies the blessing he receives from God; Paul’s thorn is directly connected with and signifies a blessing from God, specifically the power and strength of Christ.
So is Paul’s thorn analogous to Jacob’s wrestling, or to his limp?
If the wrestling, Paul’s thorn is a messenger (angelos), just as Jacob’s wrestling partner was the angel of Yahweh. Paul compares it to harassment, insults, persecutions. At the very time Paul mentions his thorn, he is wrestling with “super-apostles” in Corinth, just as Jacob had wrestled with Esau, Isaac and Laban. And Jordan has insightfully observed that Scripture’s constant analogy between men and plants, men and trees, gives the thorny curse of Genesis 3 a double meaning: Adam must wrestle with both thorns of the field and thorns of the flesh. Cain is the first such thorn; I wonder if we are, figuratively, the thorns Jesus bears on his crown. So perhaps Paul’s thorn is his opponents, false teachers, Judaizers.
But if Paul’s thorn is analogous to Jacob’s limp, and this seems to fit better, then it is a “foot” wound like Jacob’s, like the Messianic foot wound that Jesus shares with his people. Paul compares his thorn to weaknesses, hardships, calamities. Paul’s calling his wound a thorn establishes an interesting link between Adam’s curse and the serpent’s curse. We wrestle with thorns of all kinds in order to bear fruit, but it is in our very wrestling that we (Adam, Jacob, Israel, Jesus, Paul, Christians) receive a bruised heel. And Satan is not simply crushed, but it is precisely in Jesus’s and our wrestling with these thorns that Jesus wins victory and his kingdom is established. The curse, the way of decay and death and sacrifice, is the path to its own undoing.
In either case, Paul is a new Jacob. Both men have a name change. Both men experience fourteen years without apparent fruitfulness, but which God uses to prepare them for fruitfulness and dominion. Both men wrestle, although Paul’s wrestling does not seem to come to an end. Both are given a “foot” wound that is a sign of God’s blessing and power. And because their “bodily presence is weak,” they must both lead God’s flock with words and wisdom rather than strength.
Thinking a little more about Girard, and about Wilson’s provocative Girardian reading of Job, this makes me wonder if Job is a type of Jesus. A quick search reveals that this is not a new idea, but it is definitely new to me — especially as I am often tempted to side with Job’s accusers against Job. Here are a few ways the type seems to fit:
- Job is a righteous king brought low
- Job learned obedience through suffering
- Job is falsely accused
- Job did not revile or threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly
- Job is ultimately vindicated
- Job is clearly a type of the suffering servant
As to the suffering servant, there may even be ways that Job’s suffering is a type of substitutionary suffering. Job ultimately mediates for his own accusers. And while we are not left thinking that he is an explicit substitute for his people, there is always a sense in which a people are “in” their ruler. Finally, if Job is the Jobab of Genesis 10, then he is part of the Shemite / Eberite seed people before the line is narrowed to Abraham — so his preservation through suffering is representative of the preservation of the substitutionary seed.
Continuing the idea of substitution or identification, it is interesting that Job’s vindication in the face of his accusers and God’s vindication in the face of Satan are linked together. God has entrusted his name and reputation to a mere man. Amazingly, we who are declared righteous in Jesus are in the same position as we bear his name before the world.
Finally, it is instructive to see the way that God’s declaration of Job’s uprightness is worked out in time. We are left wondering until the very end of the book whether God’s preliminary verdict over Job will prove to be justified. There is no resting on past experience for Job; he must labor to persevere even through intense suffering.
Picture source: Job.