blown away

Sunday 4th March.  The kids were in a crazed state. I spent the morning weeping at church. Samuel got up from his afternoon nap and somehow managed to get poo all over his fingers and all over me. Then, with a car full of kids, I noticed the flashing empty fuel light so got to the petrol station only to find all the diesel pumps were empty. I just about managed to free-wheel down the hill, whilst praying I didn’t have to stop at any traffic lights, to fill up at the next petrol station.  And my husband was on a plane heading half-way round the world.

So, yes, as you’ve probably worked out, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.

And then came some perspective….

Ater I’d put the kids to bed I came across a post on a great blog which you can read here. But what really blew me away was a comment that one guy had put in response to the post. He’s called Cody Whittaker and he blogs here. I have emailed Cody to ask permission to post his comment on my blog, to which he has kindly and graciously agreed.

This testimony inspires me to follow Jesus to a deeper level, reminds me that my life is for the glory of God, and to keep an eternal perspective. Be prepared to be blown away too.

Thank you Cody and Maria for sharing this:

“We ourselves have felt like the carpet has been ripped out from underneath us BIG TIME. But it is true that as believers in Christ and His eternal promises, like Scripture says, we are “struck down, but not destroyed, persecuted, but not abandoned, hard pressed, but not crushed.” And we certainly have been all these things.

Having lived through the earthquake in Haiti where we are missionaries, then hear that our 4 year old daughter was diagnosed with stage IV terminal cancer, then to return to the states and live in hospitals and hotel rooms for the next ten months for treatment, then to have her called home to Heaven after all the fighting, then to return to Haiti a few months later, and now we are back in the states because last week our house was broken into at gunpoint and shots were fired through our bedroom door where I had my wife and children hiding behind as the thieves also had 3 guns pointed at me demanding that I give them all our money.
So, yeah, I totally get where you are coming from as far as the confusion or the frustration as to why this happens.

But here’s what I continue to say through it all…and trust me…this is not just some trite Christianese. In the words of Job, “though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”

You see, the problem comes when we try to make sense as to why these things happen to us but only look at things from a temporal, and often self-centered, viewpoint. That’s where it doesn’t make sense at all and that’s where we can get very discouraged. But as Christians, we must remember the words of Jesus, “In this world you will have many troubles, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” So, I think our solace and our hope come not from a season, no matter how long or short, of trouble free, all your dreams are unfolding, life is good, but rather from knowing that no matter what happens, Christ has risen, is on His throne, and has promised to take us to be with Him. Here is where all of our hope lies. We can’t forget that.

The first comment written on your post came from someone who stated, For now- I console myself with this: At least I don’t have cancer! My kids are safe and not being abused! I have a husband who is right in this with me!” Again, I understand that we can always try to find solace or confirmation with thinking that you don’t have it as bad as others. But what does someone like me do with something like that. I didn’t have cancer, but even worse, my little princess had cancer and did not survive it. My kids were not safe…they were just shot at last week by evil men who invaded our home and violated us. I cannot find solace in a statement such as “well, at least I’m not as bad as someone else.” Even though I’m certain that that’s true. I’m sure that there are people who lost more than one of their young children to a deadly disease.

But that’s not where we can find our hope and solace. Our hope as believers comes from ONE thing. God is good. It is not trite at all to say this. I think by hearing some of what we have gone through it is safe to say that I am allowed to say such things and not sound fluffy duffy and trite. But it is plain fact. He is sovereign and is in control of everything. And He has a purpose for everything. Even our greatest sufferings, trials, setbacks, failures, etc. He will use it for His glory. We simply need to trust Him in this. I think we need to be careful when we talk about our dreams. Again, sometimes we have a tendency to become self focused when we talk in terms of our dreams. It can be dangerous. The Bible doesn’t call us to pursue our dreams, but rather to pursue Christ, to live for Him and make His name known. And this must be for His glory alone, not for ourselves, otherwise we are missing something here.

Trust me, I know the struggle. And right now, sitting here in an undisclosed location in the states after having to flee Haiti in a moment…again…we wrestle and ask the Lord what He is doing through all of this because we certainly cannot make sense of any of it. And often, the Lord has been silent when it comes to our questions. But we sense that still small voice deep within the core of our being that bids us come as we hear Him say again, “Trust me.”

I will end my “comment” with something that I wrote about after Susana was taken home to Heaven. Corrie Ten Boom writes, “Only Heaven will reveal the front side of God’s tapestry of our lives.” Right now, we can only see the back of the tapestry. It looks like a mess. Nothing makes sense. Colors are random. Knots are everywhere. There is no rhythm or pattern. That is what the backside of a tapestry looks like. But when that tapestry is completed and flipped over and hung out for all to see, the comments are no longer, “This does not make sense”, but rather, “Wow, how incredibly beautiful!” And this, I believe, is what Heaven will reveal.

But until then fellow soldiers…press on. God has a plan…and He does all things well.”

posted by Anna

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8 thoughts on “blown away

  1. Bless you Anna for posting this man’s testimony. As uncomfortable as it is to read for consumer led Christians, there is no doubt that there is the sound of the eternal God in what he says. An encouragement personally also.
    Many thanks
    Aled

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  2. A great reminder to keep our lives in perspective – thanks for this.

    I am somewhat concerned though for the man’s welfare given the subtext of his reflection: God caused his child’s suffering in order to bring about good, or bring glory to Himself (he talks about God being in control, a purpose for everything, and quotes Corrie Ten Boom’s tapestry illustration). The deeply disturbing combatibilist view that God needs to cause evil in order to bring about good has a small-yet-significant following within Christianity since the days of Augustine. In my experience, over longer periods this leads to an erosion of trust in God (how can one pray for protection from disease or physical attack if one believes that it is ultimately God that is causing it? How would we pray? “please God, knock it off now”), or seeing God as some kind of cosmic bully rather than the meek God that Christ revealed.

    For him to be told and then believe that his & his child’s suffering was planned by God in order to make God look good and bring about good… could anyone come up with a more puzzling and tormenting theological conundrum? I’m going to pray for him.

    But thanks for sharing the story – sometimes I get totally wrapped up in my own life and issues that I forget just how trivial most of mine are compared to guys like this.

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  3. Thanks Matt for these thoughts. I agree that the combatabilist viewpoint can lead us to some ill-founded conclusions about God. However I don’t think that this is what Cody is saying here; at least that’s not how I interpreted it.
    I don’t know enough of Cody’s theological lens, but what I take from this is that God is always good, and always brings about good purposes through whatever we go through. This isn’t to say that He has willed or purposed the suffering but He is our Great Redeemer.
    We don’t always see God at work in the way we want to in this life. We don’t, and can’t, all live forever in our bodies as they are. We are in battle, and God has won the ultimate victory through Christ. I want to see the Kingdom break out more in this life though healing, salvation etc but I also want to walk with the perspective that this life is temporal and ultimate healing will come in our heavenly dwelling:
    “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life”
    (2 Corinthians 5)

    There is so much more we could both say, I’m sure. The topic of God and suffering is well debated and often fruitless. I know from having close friends who have walked through intense grief that eventually they have to stop debating the theology and asking the question “why”, and instead choose to trust in the goodness of God, knowing as Cody said, that the good that comes out of our suffering will produce a beautiful tapestry. Or as it say in the letter of James:
    “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
    I would make that my prayer for Cody and his family – that they may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

    Thanks Matt

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  4. Anna, Thank you for coming to my defense on this. The truth is, that after reading some posts on Matt’s blog, it is very evident that he strongly holds to a view of open theism, therefore I can see why he could be so appalled by how I have processed the suffering that I have been through. The view of open theism holds to a belief that God does not know the future, therefore Him loving us causes Him to risk. This makes God attractable to those who follow Him because it shows that God is loving us by choosing to risk. A person with this view could not see how God could be fully loving if He knows the complete future and orchestrates all events to His end. They would say that this does not enable God to truly love because there is no risk if He knows everything.

    So, I have no desire to bring this to an argument here, but I will say that I couldn’t disagree more with this point of view, and I can’t see it for the life of me in the Bible. It just does not hold up to the fulness of Scripture. The Scriptures are filled with verses that state that God does indeed know all things, is in complete control of all things, rules all things for the ultimate purpose of His glory. God cannot be stopped by any human hands. He is sovereign ruler over all. What does an open theist make of “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny, yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from it being the will of your Heavenly Father.” What does he make of the story of Joseph – “You meant these things for evil, but God meant it for good.” In other words, God was behind the scenes the entire time working out His perfect plan that would save the people of Israel from the famine and thus bring glory to His name. Joseph suffered terribly. Joseph did not know why he was suffering so much. One would look at it and think that this was all due to what his brothers did to him by sending him into slavery. Was God in Heaven saying, “Gee, I sure didn’t see that coming. I wonder what I can do to work this out? Absolutely not. God was working out a beautiful and perfect plan that would ultimately save the lives of all of Israel. That wasn’t God’s fall back plan. It was His original plan from the beginning. Just because Joseph suffered and did not understand why he suffered doesn’t mean that God was not loving. No, God was fully loving. He spared Joseph and everybody else in Israel. Did He risk? Absolutely not. He was in full control the entire time. Did He love? Absolutely. He saved all their lives.

    What does an open theist make of God’s plan “before the foundations of the world” to reconcile men to Himself through Christ crucified. It was all planned before man even fell into sin. So you see, there is just far too much in Scripture, practically all of Scripture, that clearly refutes any such notion of open theism where God does not know the entire future.

    I think the reason why some would come to believe in open theism is because they feel that they need to understand God and all His ways. But this is dangerous. If we can fit God into our finite understanding, then don’t we in some way end up becoming equal to God? I’m so glad that His ways are so much higher than my ways and His thoughts higher than my thoughts. Just because I can’t figure out on this side of Heaven why God allows and even orchestrates terrible suffering does not discredit Him as being a God who is fully loving and fully just. It simply means that He is beyond me and that He is doing something greater for His glory and my ultimate good than I am able to see.

    It was just like my original comment. We must not bring God down to our human level. That can become idolatry. He sits above the Heavens. Psalm 2 “Why do the people plot in vain? Why do kings take their stand against the anointed one? He who sits in the Heavens laughs…” Why does He laugh? Because absolutely nothing or nobody can thwart His plan. Read Isaiah 40:10-31. If this does not portray a God who is in complete control of everything, then there just must be other reasons why somebody is really holding to an open theistic view of God.

    And here is where we find our greatest hope and solace…not that He risks to love like humans, but that He does not need to risk because He is in complete control of our lives. And that He chooses to reveal Himself to us and bring us into the promise of eternal life with Him through faith in His son Jesus. Again, just like in my first post, we must guard against the danger of trying to figure God out just from this side of Heaven. This is not the end, people. Just because we go through suffering and pain now, and this is often orchestrated by God, He has a greater purpose for it than we are able to presently see. But one day, when we “take hold of the life that is truly life” we will see that His plan has been, is, and always will be perfect.

    If my daughter dying from cancer at age 4 is all there is to this life, then yeah, it would be such a hard pill to swallow. I would wrestle with such questions about God’s goodness. But, if He reveals through His word that though we suffer now in many things, our suffering will not be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed, then I am able, by His grace and wonderful promises, to praise Him, trust Him and forever declare that He is good. Because as Scripture states, our lives here on this earth are but a vapor, a mist that is here for one minute and then gone. But we are not created simply for this life, but rather are created to be with the Lord for eternity. So, if God orchestrated, yes planned the whole thing, for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross at the hands of the romans and the jews, but has used this event to be the greatest demonstration of His love for us and through it has brought the greatest glory to the Son forever, why should we think it strange and unjust and just not of God to cause suffering in our own lives? Could it be that He is also doing something behind the scenes (Like Joseph, Job, Jesus, all the apostles who were martyred, etc) that will bring greater good and will bring God greater glory, which in turn will always be for our greater good in Heaven? Why would we think this to be so strange or cruel of God?

    I don’t suppose to think that this reply will change the mind of Matt, but perhaps there are others who can be encouraged by the truth found in Scripture that clearly shows us that God is sovereign and in complete control of everything. And in this glorious truth is where we find such security and comfort even in our greatest suffering.

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  5. Hi Anna & Cody,

    Anna, totally agree with all that you’ve said – God is good and that we often don’t get to see in this life why things happen. Naturally, given the sheer breadth of theological perspectives within the church there are myriad different ideas of how to support the belief that God, particularly when both life and scripture present situations where that is less than clear. I am concerned (in true brotherly love – honestly!) for anyone who holds the view that Cody does, particularly the outline in his more recent comment (March 10, 3.10am) purely because he is my brother in Christ and I know where this view leads. While I began the theodicy-and-suffering-journey only a decade ago – not particularly long ago really – it became very real to me as I prayed for an older lady who was perplexed at “why God had given [her] cancer”. Finding the right way to challenge destructive theology is incredibly difficult, but releasing people wrapped up in doctrinal bondage is also important too – and a clear call in my life. I think you’re absolutely right that moving past the “why” is phenomenally important – primarily because the cause of most suffering is either indiscriminate natural evil or selfish human free-will – there simply is no divine answer to the question of why. We praise God that he can bring good out of suffering – despite not planning it for us. Thanks again.

    Cody, thanks for this fuller outline of your view of exhaustive meticulous sovereignty (EMS). There’s no offensive going on here – I didn’t see Anna’s comment as a “defence” – I really am gutted for you and concerned out of brotherly love for you, but as I mentioned to Anna – we all agree that God is good, but we have different ways of arriving at that conclusion. I’m not “appalled” by your processing – you’ve responded from squarely within one particular evangelical tradition. We’re brothers in Christ and I admire the conviction of God’s goodness despite what happens in this life – you are an inspiration to me in that regard. I do maintain an open view of the future and, like you, I have little appetite to debate this in a comment stream on one of Anna’s blog posts which has little to do with Open Theism, so I’ll keep this ultra brief:

    – What possible purpose could God have for causing the 1 million plus children worldwide who die of malnutrition each year? The boxing day Indonesian Tsunami? Simply saying “God’s ways are higher” is not an appropriate response. How much “beauty” will be created on the “other side of the tapestry” – what would make that sheer level of suffering worthwhile? It would be flabbergasting to say “God’s ways are higher than ours” in response to the suggestion that God planned the above disasters.

    – It doesn’t stop there though. While suffering may make sense to us Christians on the other side of death, for those that do not know God it will make no sense at all. If you believe that God is has meticulous control of everything and you also believe in Eternal Conscious Punishment then I doubt we will come to any sort of theological consensus on sovereignty because, taken together, you would be saying that God planned at the beginning of time for certain people to spend an eternity in conscious punishment. There are many who hold to EMS who do hold that view.

    – Prayer is another difficulty. Calvinist theologian Bruce Ware says that God listens to our prayers and does what he was going to do anyway. Open Theism posits an unwritten future to which we are invited by the divine to co-author – our prayers are highly influential as God looks to partner with us – a theme that runs throughout the bible.

    Open Theism, however, provides consistent answers to the problems in the view that you outline in a way that Arminianism has difficulty with. The definition of Open Theism you present is unrecognisable – perhaps I could suggest reading Pinnock, Sanders, McCabe – Boyd has some more popular and quick-to-read books on the subject. But while you laugh at Open Theists by suggesting perhaps God says “Gee, I didn’t see that coming”, there are lots of passages of scripture that present a partly open future:

    1. God expresses regret: “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Genesis 6:6, also see 1 Samuel 13:13-14). God then destroyed all humans on the earth bar Noah.

    2. God is surprised: Speaking of Israel, the Lord says “I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not” (Jeremiah 3:7) Could the Lord genuinely think Israel would return if he definitely knew she would not? In Isaiah 5:1-4 God expects good fruit but finds only bad. Closely related are verses that indicate God does not always know the outcome of a situation ahead of time. God says “perhaps” the people will listen (Jeremiah 26:3) and God is disappointed that the Babylonians punished Israel more than he had hoped (Zech 1:15), neither statement appears sincere if God either has EMS or even if he simply has perfect knowledge of the future.

    3. God gets frustrated: Moses’ persistent unbelief causes God to become angry (Exodus 4:14, also Ezekiel 22:30). Again, this is difficult to understand if the Lord knew in advance that Moses would continue doubting until he agreed to utilise Aaron.

    4. God tests to gain information: God speaks to Abraham after he is found willing to sacrifice his son,“Now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12). Typically texts like this are presented as God teaching the human a lesson, yet the text is clear that it is God who is gaining information: if God knew all along what the outcome would be then Genesis 22:12 would be insincere. Hezekiah was tested so that God could know his heart (2 Chr 32:31), and God withheld assistance in battle in order to test Israel’s way (Judges 2:22; also Exodus 16:4).

    5. God minimises risk: Israel is taken on a longer route to avoid trouble. God said “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Exodus 13:17) Use of the word “might” indicates open possibility not closed definitiveness.

    6. God modifies his plan according to dialogue: God states his intention to destroy Israel, yet relents after talking to Moses (Exodus 32:9-14). If God had foreknown that he would not destroy Israel his original intention would be insincere. Jesus did not believe that the future was settled when he asked God the Father to modify his plan “If it is possible let this cup pass” (Matt 26:39). Peter too encourages his readers to hasten parousia (2 Peter 3:12) – yet the “hour” is known by God the Father.

    7. God persists yet does not get the desired outcome. God persists in getting his people to repent and trust yet is upset when they do not (Isaiah 63, Ephesians 4, Acts 7, Hebrews 3). Why would God persist and then be grieved when attempting something he definitely knew to be futile?

    8. Failed prophecies: EMS (and definite foreknowledge views) have no adequate defence to failed prophecies such as the destruction of Tyre (Ezekiel 26) which is prophesied to be specifically executed by Nebuchadnezzar whose siege fails (Ezekiel 29:18 admits the prophecy failed). Some suggest that the prophecy was implicitly conditional because if it was unconditional God would have fulfilled it, yet this again reveals a prior theological commitment to EMS (or definite foreknowledge) and is undermined by history which tells us that the prophecy was eventually fulfilled anyway through Alexander the Great thus adding weight to the Open Theist idea of “divine purposes with open routes”. According to Renz, “Prophetic predictions are not historiography before the event, but a proclamation of God’s purposes which can be flexible and revisable in light of changing human situations”.

    Just to anticipate: Any suggestion that the above are anthropomorphisms relies on arbitrary application of that oft abused device, rather than from a proven hermeneutic control – we’re not free to pick & choose what is picture language and what is not based on our prior theological commitments. While we can understand that “The Lord’s outstretched hand” (Jeremiah 21:5; Psalm 136:12) is using a physical component of the human body to describe that no-one is beyond the power of God, it is unclear what God “regretting” could be an anthropomorphism for. If not regretting then what? If God did “regret” how else could the author communicate this?

    In order to keep this short, you can be sure that you’re not the first person to raise the scriptures you have against Open Theism and they have all been dealt with more than adequately (Joseph, Ephesians 1, Job, etc) – Sanders’ book “the God who risks” would be a great starting point for your journey exploring why Open Theism holds its view despite the various contrary interpretations of the passages of Scripture you query, but there has been volumes written on the subject and it is very much a solid view through and through.

    Finally, your suggestion that we should not try to figure God seems disingenuous. Jesus – the image of the invisible God – asks us to become his disciples and inevitably that means coming to know him, seeking him, learning more of him, trying to understand his ways and who he is – in the same way I communicate much to my wife by being interested in her, trying to understand her (mysterious though she is), and spending time getting to know her. God has revealed much of himself with the expectation that we can understand that much if we choose to pursue him – this is no way makes him smaller or confines him in any way, though you are right that often our view of God is too small. The answer then is not to reject seeking to understand God, but to get a better understanding of him. I think God loves our curiosity and pursuit of understanding him.

    In terms of theodicy: I absolutely understand the sense of needing a purpose for suffering that would somehow mitigate the pain. I am sorry you feel that God planned your child’s death – but that is simply not the case – I am sure God will use it now that it has happened to bring about good, but it was never in the plan. As we weep, God offers comfort not in a “sorry, but this had to happen” kind of way, but rather the Holy Spirit comforts us and weeps with us. God is genuinely gutted and bereft at what has happened.

    I really do have to stop here – this was not as brief as I had originally intended. This will be my last post on this blog entry – please feel free to drop me an email if you want to continue this conversation – or we can do it on my blog – whichever! (matt at the-parkins dot co dot uk)

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  6. So much to say about that, but it will not be on Anna’s comments page. For anybody who is struggling with this concept or idea of open theism, here is a link that I believe does a great job of using Scripture to point out the complete errancy found in open theism. I would just encourage you to be like the Bereans, who after hearing Paul preach Christ to them, went back and searched the Scriptures to see if Paul was speaking truth.

    May God bless those who pursue truth through God’s Word. May the Lord be glorified as He reveals Himself through His Holy Word.

    Please copy and paste the link below to learn about the danger of open theism.

    http://www.mediafire.com/?d1kz3py9v5t

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  7. Pingback: Life is but a weaving | Kaleidoscope of notes

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