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Cambridge Conference - The Christian and Suffering

Lectures Index
Comment: These notes were taken on a laptop during live lectures. Due to transcription errors and subsequent editing, these notes may not accurately reflect the original lecture content.

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Posted: APR-21-04

Cambridge Conference - The Christian and Suffering April 16-17, 2004

Calvary Pentecostal Church 127 Hespeler Road (Hwy 24) Cambridge, Ontario

Speaker: Dr. Derek Thomas

Theme: The Christian and Suffering

1. When the Storm Breaks (Job 1)
2. When Counselors Are No Help (Job 4 & 5)
3. When God Speaks In Our Anguish (Job 38)

Session 1: When the Storm Breaks (Job 1)

Intro: John Van Eyk: Instances of persecution in Sudan or China are but extreme examples of the Christian life of suffering. We should learn how to live as suffering Christians in the light of Godís grace. Weíll look at the book of Job. It is a good job to understand Job. Dr. Thomasí essay "Feed My Sheep" says preaching must help people to understand their Bibles. Blessings will extend as we learn how to read our Bibles. Tomorrowís lectures begin at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. There are many restaurants. Save money to buy books. We want to thank Calvary Pentecostal Church for opening their facility to us.

First Presbyterian Church in Jackson Mississippi - Prof. Derek Thomas

Dr. Derek Thomas: Job 1:1-22

(Note: Job 1:5 - the word translated as cursed is actually the word blessed because the Jews would not write cursed close to God.)

A child was born and had multiple tumors on her brain. She was expected to live only to age 10. The husband left one week after she was born. They were not reconciled. The mother asked why? Her only child needs 24 hour care. Why? She has fits during the day and cannot move for 30 minutes after those fits. Why? She wasnít expecting an answer. She felt better to ask the question. One of the first lessons of the missionary work of Paul was that we enter the kingdom of God through many tribulations.

Calvin on Ephesians says that God ordained tribulation. Death is the way to victory. The cross the way to life. Perhaps we find children rebelling or people losing financial security. People may receive news about a terminal illness. We may turn to the book of Job for comfort and to gain understanding of our circumstance. Why? Why me? We need to know the book at little before we can profit from it.

During the years 1643-1666 (almost 24 years) Joseph Caryl, a Congregationalist minister who was present at The Westminster Assembly, preached some 250 lectures on Job. Thereís no greater story. No more moving and gripping story in the Bible than Job.

Job was a patient man. James mentions the patience of Job. Look at chapter 3 and youíll see the impatience of Job. James is implying the quality of endurance or perseverance. Stickability is the word which comes to mind. Job persevered through his trial.

Here is a man who feared God. As Job 28:28 explains to us, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The book is about wisdom. Wisdom books are designed to answer practical questions about how to live out our lives as God intends.

Job deals with the most basic issue. How to live to the glory of God in the face of pain and suffering and trial and distress? Everyone identifies with this with this book. You may be troubled, discouraged, tried, tested. Difficulties may have befallen you. You ask, "Why?" Three characters emerge. Job, Satan and God. This prologue is given for our benefit. Job was wholly unaware of the discourses between God and Satan. These are clues to help us unpack and to fathom the book of Job.

Job comes from the land of Uz. It may be in the land of Iraq or the Arabian desert. This may be before the time of Abraham, into the early days of the unfolding of redemptive history. The story is real, not just a fable. Perhaps this is representative of all of history. Heís a bit like Melchizedek. He appears like Melchizedek without history, maybe so he can identify with us.

The character of Job is displayed. A man of spiritual integrity, morally upright. He bore distinguishing marks of true godliness and true spirituality. This is Godís assessment of Job and his character. Itís not saying he was sinless. But he was a godly man. It was common for the older generation to note that someone was a Godly man. A reputation and demeanor is the basis to judge one to be godly. God says this is my servant who loves and serves me. This is a man with a relationship with God. (In the face of Jobís constant pleas of innocence, his friends disagree.) This is the story of the godliest man in the world at that time. Heís blameless and upright and he feared God and shunned evil. What is expected in one who is blameless?

What does God look for? When writing a reference, weíre giving a testimonial of past history. Job spoke of God with reverence. Disrespect for God is a disease. Fear of God is the soul of Godliness. Many of us would draw the conclusion that weíre missing the fear of God in the modern evangelical church. Job had a great God. Fear him ye saints and youíll have nothing else to fear. (Psalm 32) Calvin covered Job in 1554-1555 over about 14 months: 159 sermons on Job in French. They were translated in 1574 into English. Theyíre available today, in Elizabethan English. Thereís nothing better than to be subject to the majesty and greatness of God. Thatís at the heart of true, biblical religion.

This corroborates what will become important in the rest of the book: Jobís plea of innocence. The reason for his suffering must lie outside the sin in his own life. The point is that God agrees with Jobís later plea of innocence. Job was godliest man in the world in his time. This man is the one who suffers. It raises the question, of the day. We donít have much trouble when wicked, evil people suffer. Theyíre reaping what they have sown. God is meeting out his just recompense to their evil behaviour. Best selling book title: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" In one sense there is no one who is good. Romans 3:23 Job is a very Godly man and God says so. Why does someone like Job suffer?

An early experience in my ministry: a friend, young, recently married, expecting a child, student in ministry. Late one night the phone rang. Something was wrong. Their firstborn was not well. The baby died immediately after birth due to missing brain [Anencephaly: a congenital malformation characterized by the total or partial absence of the cranial vault , the covering skin, and the brain missing or reduced to small mass]. This was a fine Christian couple. Why?

Job has lost everything in one day. Heís lost all his savings, His security. Lost all his children. Imagine losing one child! But Job lost all 10 in one day! Why? In the second chapter Job will lose his health. His condition sounds almost like aids. Sores, emaciated, sitting in the dust.

The devil doesnít appear often. (Three times in OT: Gen 3, Zech 3 and here in Job 1.) Satan is a word which means "to bear a grudge against" or "to oppose"; the adversary; someone with a huge chip on his shoulder which he carries forever. At the risk of an oxymoron, Satan is pure evil. He opposes everything that God stands for. The chief of fallen angels appeared before God (at some mysterious place in the created realm; Satan is a finite being). Somewhere, somehow, Satan is giving account for himself to God. Imagine how that must irk him? Is there a greater testimony to the sovereignty of God than the fact that Satan answers to Him?

The answer of Satan indicates that he is a vagabond; he doesnít have a home. Hell is an eternal experience of homelessness. A feeling of never reaching home, never finding fulfillment, never becoming what God intended for you to be. Heís always wondering, always restless. Imagine driving up the driveway, and youíre home. Knowing that you have a home which is worth coming home to is comforting. The feeling when you get to heaven is like, "Youíre home!" This is where youíve always wanted to be.

Thereís no dualism in the Bible. Dualism says good and evil are equally ultimate. But in the Bible good always wins, because God is sovereign. Whatís the relationship between God and evil? Where did evil come from? We hold to Godís sovereignty - however God is not the author of sin. The Westminster Confession authors didnít begin to explain. They simply stated the fact. That says something very profound: Ďtrials and difficulties cannot simply be attributed to Satan." In one sense these came from Satan, but Satan couldnít lift a finger without the decree of God. These cannot be attributed solely to Satan. It is God who brings up the possibility of Satan considering "my servant Job."

Some have explained these things by "theodicy" - that God can change his mind. However this is an unbiblical view. God ordains the end and the beginning. God must order these things to come to pass. The ultimate authority for this sick child is God, and not Satan. When bad things happen to Godís people, we know God is there. The minister is lying if he says that God wasnít there in the death of a loved one. God gives and the takes life away. Modern theological liberals are saying the book of Job gets the issue of Godís sovereignty wrong. This challenges us, because weíre asking fundamental questions about God.

When a Christian wife discovers adultery. Her life falls apart. Sheís a victim of something she has not brought upon herself. Why is the God who I love and trust involved in this? The book of Job is not really a book about Job. It is a book about God. If you approach the book that way, it will help you to understand that you donít understand God.

Jobís response: Naked I came from my motherís womb, and naked I shall return. Jobís theology is the theology of the reformation. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. One commentary blatantly said, Job got it wrong at this point!

Mrs. Job - Job 2:9 - "curse God and die" Augustine calls here the Devilís advocate. Calvin called her the instrument of Satan. Letís try to understand her in the best possible light: she says to her husband, "if this is a punishment from God, then get it over with quickly." He responds: Should we receive good from God and not evil? All things, says Paul, work together for good to those who love him. Not just the happy days. Not just the blessed days. Not just the days when we say, Itís good to be alive! But even in the dark days are worked for good for those who love him.

Stonewall Jackson - Southren hero in "The war of northern aggression."

[James Robertsonís biography of Stonewall Jackson contains a beautiful and moving account of the time when, at 30 years of age, Jackson lost his wife, Ellie, and baby son: On Sunday afternoon, October 22, 1854. Ellie went into labor. The child was stillborn. About an hour later she began to hemorrhage and died very quickly. Jackson is writing to his unbelieving sister, Laura: "I have been called to pass through the deep waters of affliction, but all has been satisfied," he writes. "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. It is his will that my dear wife and child should no longer abide with me, and as it is His holy will, I am perfectly reconciled to the sad bereavement, though I deeply mourn my loss. My Dearest Ellie breathed her last on Sunday evening, the same day on which the child was born dead. Oh! The consolations of religion! I can willingly submit to anything if God strengthens me. Oh! My Sister would that you could have Him for your God! Though all nature to me is eclipsed, yet I have joy in knowing that God withholds no good things from them that love and keep his commandments. And he will overrule this Sad, Sad bereavement for good." A few weeks later he writes again: "She has now gone on a glorious visit through a gloomy portal. I look forward with delight to the day when I shall join her. Religion is all that I desire it to be. I am reconciled to my loss and have joy in hope of a future reunion when the wicked cease from trembling and the weary are at rest." Job would have said the same.]

May God fill us with believing hearts to respond as did Job.

Session 2: When Counselors Are No Help (Job 4&5)

Intro: Chriso Heiberg: The Lord Jesus is the true human, but we are aware of our sinful humanity as Christians. James 5:7-15 Derek Thomas from Whales. Welshman. Demonstration of Welsh spirit - Scottish statement of independence: "For so long as a hundred of us remain alive, we will yield in no least way to English dominion. For we fight, not for glory nor for riches nor for honour, but only and alone for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life."

Dr. Derek Thomas: Job 2:11-3:4 We often fail as Christians to empathize with our suffering brothers. Jesus prayed that some other way could be found to avoid the coming suffering. Jesus knew how to shed tears. Job sinned in some of the things he said in chapter 3 of Job. Whatever dark thoughts come into your mind, know that one of the most godly men in the Bible could descend into this kind of blackness. It is a comfort to us, that we endure common affliction with a most godly man as Job.

Job 4:1-2 Eliphaz speaks first in chapter 4 and 5 - the oldest and the wordiest of the three friends. With friends like Jobís you donít need enemies. They come and say nothing for a week. Thereís a time to be silent. Friends can often come and speak too soon. They repeat Romans 8:28 to you. They trivialize your condition. Youíre fallen, bruised and bleeding. Itís not the time for a trite word. Thereís a time to be silent. Thereís a time to show Christian grief and sorrow. Silence is sometimes appropriate.

Jobís friends tear their robes. Itís an act of mourning. Theyíre visually mourning. Theyíre visually demonstrating that as far as theyíre concerned Job is a good as dead. Job is giving this lament in chapter three. Itís reflected in Jeremiah 20 and Psalm 88. Calvin said that Psalms are the anatomy of all the parts of the soul. There are things in the Psalms you will never find in the hymns. There are depths of Christian experience and emotion. We donít sing enough Psalms. Maybe thatís why our Christianity is so shallow and unable to cope with the harsh realities of life. Weíre unable to deal with the consequences in the wake of devastating trials.

Jobís friends are silent no more. We could distinguish between the friends. Eliphaz is the oldest. Zophar is the youngest, and he is the most brutal with his words. All three friends, have only one song and they sing it to death. They have one message and one analysis of Jobís condition. Remember who is innocent and has ever perished. Those who plow iniquity reap the same. You get out of life what you put into it. Thereís a cartoon: Lucy pontificates about the harsh realities of life. You get out of life what you put into it. No more, no less. Snoopy was looking for some room for maneuver. It was too tight for him. In Job, Eliphaz backs up his argument with claims of personal revelation. His vision of a spirit. He beholds some appearance. Difficult to argue with someone who claims divine authority for his pronouncement. Eliphaz asks, can a mortal be right before God. All have sinned. Romans 3, 4. Eliphaz is saying Job is a sinner. Jobís claim to innocence is based on a false premise. Can a man be pure before his maker? Eliphaz is right to an extent. (You can preach a text outside its context. Be careful not to add foreign meanings to the text.)

Eliphaz goes on to say, not only are morals sinners fallen short of Godís glory, but more than that, in v. 18 Godís own angels are charged with error. Even the angels are impure in the face of Godís righteousness. Some tried to interpret this to mean that fallen angels are charged with error. (Calvin says thereís a righteousness in God which exceeds the righteousness of the law. Even if you were perfect before the law, youíd be a sinner in the face of God he says. There are problems with this however: If thereís a righteousness which is above the law, then Jesusí satisfaction is not sufficient.)

This much is true: all three of Jobís friends have an argument for Job: suffering, trial and pain are always invariably a consequence of our sin. It is an instance of the divine, instant retribution of God. It is God coming in judgment on sin. It may be little sin, or big sin, but itís retribution. They will argue this over and over. They sing their song to death.

Calvin (quoted favorably in this point) says Job was a Godly man, he had a good case but he argued it badly. His friends had a bad case but they argued it exceedingly well. This is the key which unlocks the book of Job.

The bad case of Jobís three friends: who that was innocent ever perished? Where were the upright cut off? Those who plowed iniquity reaped trouble. They lost their health; they were at the point of dying. It must have been a very bad sin Job committed. One way or another, trouble is the consequence of sin.

What do we make of that as a principle? Itís partly right. In one way it is correct. We do reap what we sow. Donít you teach your children that? If you carry on as a fool youíll get into trouble. If you live a certain lifestyle, and you reap aids. Whoís to blame? You are. Itís not societyís fault. Itís not your parentís fault. Youíve reaped what youíve sown. If you have an affair, and pregnancy results, whoís to blame? Your boss, your job, the weather? No, youíve sown iniquity and youíve reaped the consequences. Look at the Bible. God sometimes judges sin instantly. Learn from Uzzah and the Ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:6,7). The ark is on its way back to Jerusalem on a cart. They were not allowed to touch the ark. Uzzah is struck dead as he touches the ark to steady it.

The New Testament displays the same immediate just retribution of God in some instances. Letís go to Pentecost. In Acts 5 two people are stuck dead for breaking the Law. Who would want to be a minister of the Corinthian church?! They have a pot luck dinner and they have classes of eaters. There are people feasting and people going without food. This love feast is one in name only. It was connected with the Lordís supper. Not only is the celebration of the dinner wrong, because theyíre disregarding Christian charity, but theyíre also violating the Lordís supper. Some died as a result. Paul says to them: This death came into your life because you sinned. You violated Godís commands.

Liberals get all uptight about trouble, because they believe God wasnít there. They get into contortions about the "openness of God" view. They say God canít be involved in evil in any way shape or form. Job says, No, God did this. The Lord gave and the Lord takes away. We believe the Bible and the strong doctrines of the Bible. God is the judge and thereís a day when we will all give account. Sometime that judgment breaks in from the end to now. We see a little foretaste of the day of judgment. Sometimes the wrath of God doesnít wait. We canít dismiss Eliphaz. Heís not a liberal. He believes in the wrath of God. Heís not a liberal: he believes in the anger and righteousness of God, the doctrine of depravity. But when a half truth is told as the whole truth, it actually becomes an untruth.

You need to know a whole lot to do counseling. You ran off and wounded a sensitive conscience, when you only knew half of the story, maybe less. It wasnít true that Job was being punished for his sin. We know this because God says so. Job says over and over, that itís not true. But nobody listens to him.

Job 18. Job 19:25 - I know my redeemer lives. Heís saying heís innocent. Heís not looking for a redeemer, he wants someone to defend his argument. God wrote Jobís case in a book so weíre still reading about it 4000 years later. The argument of the three friends is not true. Itís partly true. Sometimes we reap instantly what weíve sown. We all havenít reaped the consequences of our sin immediately. We didnít actually reap what weíve sown. There are people who have lived lives of unimaginable wickedness. They havenít reaped what they have sown. Why do the heathen prosper? Have you ever watched the glamorous? Look at the life of the rich and famous. Do you ever think to yourself, "life isnít fair". Flagrant sinners broadcast their lifestyles, enjoy it and theyíre applauded. As in Psalm 73 donít we want to say to God: why donít you destroy them? If you do wrong you should be punished, if you do right you should be rewarded. Itís partly true. But itís entirely wrong in Jobís case.

You can be orthodox as Jobís friends are orthodox. You can be orthodox and entirely wrong. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Weíve been as fools giving some word of reproof, when we didnít know all the facts. Itís a fundamental problem we each face. The problem of seeming injustice. The frustration of it. Why do bad things happen to the Lordís people? Think of someone you dearly love and respect, a model of Christ to you. Terrible things happen to them.

One mother developed breast cancer, and it spread. She fought it for several months, but it was clear she was dying. She was put in the hospice. A wonderful facility. (Itís a wonderful thing how in a hospice thereís no pretense. Everybody knows that youíre dying.) She has three young daughters in their early teens. Dr. Thomas came for a visit. She was gaunt, emaciated, breathing laboured. This was probably the last 24 hours of her life. Just before he entered the room, out walked another pastor. He said to her "If you only had faith you would be healed." He put it positively, but what he was saying is that lack of faith if your problem, and thatís your sin. She was dying for the sin of unbelief. These were words out of hell. They were the Devilís words. These robbed the dear women of peace and security in her dying hours. Those words wounded the husband and the family. The pastor knew nothing of the womanís godliness. He was as a Jobís comforter, saying that you always invariably reap what you sow.

The book of Job doesnít elaborate on what Godís reasons are to allow suffering. Look at the New Testament for those answers. The reason for suffering is sometimes to teach us to value Godís goodness. For a young bachelor, months of trying to cook for himself makes him appreciate good home cooking. So too we appreciate what it means to enjoy the blessing of God after suffering.

Session 3: When God Speaks in Our Anguish (Job 38)

Intro: Pastor Ed Ludt: Romans 11:29-36 Pastor Ludt knew and studied under Dr. Thomas in seminary.

Dr. Derek Thomas: Letís consider Elihu between chapters 32 and 37. I want to comment on his speech. God says nothing about him. He says pain can be educative. It can teach you something. You can learn things from pain which you learn in no other way.

Chapter 32 and 33 are introductions, and a rebuke of Job. In chapter 34 he suggests that there are aspects of suffering that teach us things. He learnt things through pain which could not be learned in other ways. You then see him repeating the theme, you reap what you sow, you put in what you get out of it.

Thereís a suggestion that Job protests too much to be truly innocent. Calvin also suggests that Job is protesting too much. But we need to affirm that thereís no relationship between his suffering and any sin he is guilty of.

Job asks then the question, why me? Why now? God has said nothing. Not a sound. Not a word. Nothing. Chapter 38: "The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind Ö" With Elijah God comes in the still small voice. But here he comes in a storm. A theophonic (display of God in visible form) accompaniment. God hasnít said anything and already thereís shock factor. This is Godís opening word: "Who is this who darkens counsel with words without knowledge." This has been a fight about knowledge. Job has been asking about the fundamental realities of life. Why is life as it is?

Job has been asking questions. God says, I will question you and you make it known to me. This is loaded from the start. God says, Iíll ask and you do the answering. Thereís a mind-stretching program called who wants to be a millionaire (sarcasm). One contestant failed the first question. The first one for Job, is where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Job is flat on the floor, unconscious. Thatís not a fair question. Ask me something I know. Ask something relevant to my pain and suffering. God continues. Who stretched out the line upon it? Who laid its cornerstone? Who shut in the sea, when it burst out? Thick darkness, the expanse of the heavens. All put man in his place as a creature. Job 40:2 Shall a fault finder contend with the almighty? "Job, you need to stop talking now. Donít say another word."

God is exalting himself. Job is systematically being brought down to the creature that he is. Thereís more. In Job 40:7 we have round two. God has given Job time to rethink. Dress for action. Job is muttering, "this is not fair; I want to answer these questions." God however says, no I will ask the question. Prepare for action.

Behemoth - a large animal, exact identity unknown. Some have thought itís an elephant or a hippopotamus. Sometimes people think itís a dinosaur. For the sake of argument, letís say itís a hippo. Drop your eye down to 41:1. Maybe itís a dinosaur, maybe itís a crocodile. God says, did you ever see the hippo or the crocodile. Maybe you ask, why did God make the hippo? Maybe you ask why did God make a crocodile? But, they display the power of God. Animal planet movie - displays beautiful creature drinking water. Drinking cool water, and all of a sudden the crocodile eats the Bambie. Why would God make a crocodile? Why would God interrogate Job, whoís lost everything? Lost wealth, health, children. God says to him, did you ever think, why did God make a hippo. What in the world does this have to do with suffering? God made the hippo because Ö I donít know.

The biblical answer is God made them for His own glory. Pain is like that. Suffering is like that. Providence is like that. We have to conclude I donít know. He does it for his own glory. God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea. He rides upon the storm. Deep on unfathomable mines of never failing skill. He works his sovereign will. The clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy. Trust the Lord for his care, behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face. Purposes unfolding every hour. Blind unbelief is sure to err. Itís sure to scan his work in vain. God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain. You see what Job has been brought to. Though he knows God and knows him truly, he doesnít actually know him. Itís a humbling experience to expose the smallness of your knowledge. The overwhelming impression you get when doing a PhD is to know that you have little knowledge.

We Christians have been indwelled with the fear of God. Romans 11:33 God is incomprehensible. What we do know we do know truly. We know only a small amount. Of course there is vast treasures of being that we can never understand. Hereís the rub. We wonít understand everything completely as God understands even in heaven. Weíll always be finite. If I can put it this way. When weíve been there 10,000 years (note: thereís no time consciousness in heaven) how can we expect a answer to the question. Weíre not left in despair or nihilism. Weíre left with faith. We believe in order to understand.

Thereís an aspect of that which is true. I believe even though I donít understand. There was a boy who was born blind. He never saw the sun, his mother, a flower, a bird. The disciples ask the question: "who sinned, him or is parents?" Jesus said, neither. But that the works of God might be made manifest. Will you say, so be it Lord. I give you my heart and soul. Itís not about God, itís not about Job. Itís about what kind of God do we serve. Our concept of God is too small because we want to contain him. We want to put him into 550 pages of Berkhofís Systematic Theology. There are depths of God we cannot probe. Every now and then troubles and uncertainties come, and He says "Trust me." Thatís the issue. Itís an issue of discipleship and obedience. Itís an issue of a submissive heart. May God give it to us. END


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