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Thursday, April 07, 2016

Inbox: Applied Grace and the Smoking Ruins of My Life

Bernie holds forth about four causes of suffering:

“I suggest the source of suffering is four-fold in a mature Christian view:
  1. Sin in me (bad choices I make to my own detriment) — God’s purpose is discipline and correction.
  2. Sin around me (sins of others / fallen environment) — God’s purpose is to produce a stronger faith and, in our dissatisfaction here, a longing for our true home.
  3. Satan against me (the opposition made to those who are seeking to be productive for God) — “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus ...” You know the rest. If you’re going to be productive for God, you’re going to get hit often and painfully.
  4. God for me (a loving Father conforming me — through suffering — to produce Christlikeness: “The fellowship of his suffering”).
Though I have outlined four unique causes of suffering and treated them as if they were completely distinct, things don’t quite work so neatly. In our own real world experience, we are often unable to tell what the source of suffering is in our lives.

Sometimes (often!) there is a real overlap. So Paul could say that the thorn in his flesh was a messenger of Satan (point 3) but God’s response to him indicated that God would use the experience to bring Paul to rely more on grace than he had previously (point 4). Joseph could say of his brothers who threw him into a pit (point 2) that while they meant it for ill, God used it for good and to preserve life (point 4).

So I may ask — as I look at the smoking ruins of my life — what is the cause of all this misery?

Is it my sin? Maybe. Is it someone else’s contributory sin of which I am not even aware (hey there Uriah!)? Perhaps. Is it the work of opposing spiritual forces in a battle I cannot see or comprehend (hi Job!)? Could be. Is it simply and — as promised — God conforming me to Christ’s image and has nothing to do with my sin, someone else’s sin or a dark spiritual force? Could be that too.

The point is, I can’t (usually) be completely sure that I’ve pegged the cause.

If it is true to say that our self-evaluation is often woefully uninformed and misguided (and it IS true), it is far more fair to say that others’ view of the situation is even less informed and aware. Which makes it an immense (and anti-biblical) cruelty to pronounce judgment on someone else’s suffering.

But I’ve done it and I’ve heard it done:

“You know why his kids are all gone into the world and and seemingly abandoned their faith? It’s because he failed to be a good parent in the following ways …”

Blah. You simply don’t know in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases.

And even if you DO think you know because you’re so mature a Christian, the biblical response is not judgment, but applied grace. Hebrews encourages us to make sure that when sin is the cause of suffering and has been repented, it is time not for judgment and the production of bitterness but rather for encouragement, grace and healing.”

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