Sunday, December 28, 2014

John Piper on The Legal and Relational Aspects of Forgiveness

Does God respond to us as a judge or as a father?

First, some context. The core of the good news of Jesus is that, even though we're sinners filled with guilt and shame for the evil we've done, God graciously forgives our debt when we put our trust in Jesus. This is unfathomable freedom!

With that context, we find a tough question when we dig deeper: How does this forgiveness thing work? Is God's forgiveness a legal, objective, decisive, once-and-for-all cosmic judicial ruling? Or is God's forgiveness a subjective, relational, emotional, organic, temporal act that is repeated for each of our sins?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Innkeeper

Suffering. We all face it sooner or later. And it can cause us to wrestle fiercely with God when we come to confess that he's sovereign over our pain - that he could stop it but he doesn't sometimes. It's hard - but healthy - to see him truly... Nothing is out of his control.

But he's also compassionate. The good news of the cross teaches us to look at Jesus, who (in God's sovereign plan) looked on us with mercy and suffered for our sakes. He endured a kind of betrayal, mocking, and torture that no one else has ever endured - not merely because of its severity, but infinitely compounded because of how unjust it was. He was morally spotless. He deserved no suffering and suffered worse than I do. But in love, he showed that we were worth it. There was a greater good than avoiding suffering: the salvation of the world! This is amazing news that teaches us, whatever the reason for our suffering, it's not because Jesus withholds his love from us.

Still, when we suffer, it can be hard to relate Jesus' suffering to ours in time and space. Jesus already saved the world by suffering. Further, that greater good was clear to Jesus, so he walked into it with eyes wide open (Heb. 12:2, John 10:11). What about our suffering? What does ours accomplish? Wouldn't it be easier if we too knew what was at stake?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Paul and Tim Keller on Depravity and Deprivation

What's our deepest problem? What causes us to make destructive choices? Is it that there's some depravity within us that innately drives us towards evil? Or is it that we've been wounded and deprived of goodness in a way that causes us to be defensive or lash out?

In the book of First Timothy, the apostle Paul warns and encourages his spiritual son and protégé, Timothy, in various ways. In 1 Timothy 6:4-5 specifically, Paul passionately describes a person who opposes Jesus' character and teaching: "He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."

There are many important parts of this passage, but one that I want to highlight here is this: A sinful, selfish, person is both "depraved" and "deprived." And though we might not consciously oppose Jesus, Romans 3 makes it clear that we're all sinners.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Paul Miller on Naïvete and Cynicism

Is it possible to experience childlike trust and delight while still acknowledging a reality that contains evil? Or is it necessary either to be naïve (that is, to be numb intellectually) or to be cynical (that is, to be numb emotionally)?

In his book, A Praying Life [2009, p. 83-85], author and teacher Paul Miller sees Jesus offering a wise third way  something Miller calls "tension" and "cautious optimism." Here's an excerpt:

* * *

Jesus does not ignore evil. When he sends the disciples on their first missionary journey, he says, "I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). The overwhelming temptation when faced with evil is to become a wolf, to become cynical and lose your sheeplike spirit. Jesus tells us to instead be warm but wary  warm like a dove but wary like a serpent.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

C.S. Lewis on Confidence and Humility

Is it possible to be confident and humble at the same time? — to value and use our talents well without thinking we're more valuable than others? Or is it necessary that we either be confident with pride or be humble with self-deprecation?

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis communicates that God's aim is for us to have confident humility (or humble confidence) in Him without it being necessary either for us to be arrogant on the one hand or to debase the value and talents He's given us on the other. Further, this gratitude and diminishing concern for self altogether is an outgrowth of conversion — the change from trusting in ourselves to depending fully on Jesus.

As you may be aware, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, for rhetorical effect, as letters from one demon named Screwtape to his demonic nephew, Wormwood. Therefore, "the Enemy" in this passage (from that diabolical perspective) is God; The "patient" is a human like us.

The following quote is all of Chapter/Letter 14.

* * *

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of “grace” for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.

I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Louis C.K. and Tim Keller on Grief and Joy

I recently saw an interview on the Conan O'Brien show that caught my attention. In this segment, Conan interviewed comedian Louis C.K., who described a deep sadness that he carries:
Underneath everything in your life, there's that thing, that empty - forever empty... It's the knowledge that it's all for nothing and you're alone. It's down there. And sometimes when things clear away, you're not watching it. You're in your car and you start going, 'Oh, no, here it comes - that I'm alone.' It starts to visit on you - You know, just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it.
He went on to recount a time when he chose to let this deep sadness hit him, causing him to cry on the side of the road (Warning, some language):

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

John Gerstner on How Jesus Reconciles Justice and Mercy

In the last post John Piper described how, in some sense, God deeply opposes the sins of murder and the oppression of the innocent, and yet in some mysterious sense God did still will the sinful murder of Jesus, his innocent Son. Because that's a hard teaching, it may be helpful to consider the reason God planned and predestined this tragedy: This event reconciles justice and mercy in a way that gives us eternal life.

Let's consider the ideas of justice and mercy for a moment. If there had never been any injustice in human history, there would be no need for mercy. All would be fair and even. But we all commit injustice, and to this there are only two responses: Justice or mercy.

Which response is best? Paradoxically, both.