Bear The Yoke

It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.

I’ve been reading a commentary by Robin Parry on Lamentations. It’s in a fairly new series called ‘Two Horizons’ which offers both a commentary on the text, and a series of essays exploring the theological implications of the text from a variety of angles. I have especially enjoyed Parry’s treatment of Lamentations as a worshipper’s text and his exploration of how it can inform Christian worship.

He even manages to go beyond relating The Man in Lamentations 3 to Jesus to letting the mourning of the text speak as the mourning of all humanity over their Godforsakenness.

I especially enjoyed his exploration of the Old Testament idea of God forsaking his people. This is uncomfortable language in the light of Jeremiah 29:11, where God promises to ‘never leave nor forsake’ his people. Contrast that with these words of the Lamentation:

The LORD has done what he purposed;
he has carried out his word,
which he commanded long ago;
he has thrown down without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you
and exalted the might of your foes.

(Lamentations 2:17)

Parry reminds us that such language does not indicate the absence of God, “if anything, the problem is not that God is absent so much as that he is present as enemy-of-Israel” (p. 197). God in interaction with his people never leaves or forsakes them, rather he deals with them as the stipulations of the Covenant demand for the sake of the glory of his name. Parry suggests that what we read as abandonment language in the Old Testament is from the experience of Israel rather than the true dealing of God with them.

However I must raise one criticism against Parry: I would have liked him to have reflected on this motif as far as it informs the Church today. He mentions that the New Testament instances of God’s judgement being poured out in the present age upon churches (Revelation 3:16) and individuals (Acts 5:1-11). My complaint is that he only spends a couple of pages on the subject, and much of that is referencing historic uses of Lamentations as a warning to Churches (Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, Matthew Henry, Calvin) rather than exploring the idea of Covenant discipline in the light of the New Covenant of Christ.

I have am inclined to believe that the Christian Tradition does warrant such a reading of Lamentations. Granted, Parry DOES flesh out a framework for using the text in the Christian community in order to respond to suffering, I remain a little frustrated that the precise New Covenant grounding for such an interaction is left a little hollow. I don’t see him connecting God as enemy-of-Israel to God as enemy-of-the-Church.

Or perhaps the reader might think I’m missing the point of Christ’s covenant.

In either case, I’d appreciate a discussion on the matter and perhaps some kind of reading list.

Advertisements

31 Comments

Add yours →

  1. mmmm…..it would be easy to look at this issue rather superficially methinks. Kind of black and white: He loves me so all is good, or He punishes me cos I am bad, etc etc

    I feel a bit uncomfortable with equating punishment to the absence, or even opposition, of God. Punishment can sound like something undeserved or even spiteful – I do not believe God can or will act like this.

    So the concept of “the mourning of all humanity over their Godforsakenness” doesn’t fit in my views as punishment. It is surely punishing; but not punishment as the fault lies with humanity. God is always there to be approached, even from a truly wicked standpoint. Our sins (whatever and varied they may be) are the cause of Godforsakenness – Jesus felt and endured that on the cross, its what he cried out about.

    Moving on from this view, it then places the emphasis on us, humanity, to try to aspire to taking ourselves to a place where God can heal our Godforsakeness. So its not a black/white case of taking the punishment and afterwards feeling good, rather more a shades of grey case – of moving ourselves and our will to be near enough to God to feel His presence in our lives.

    Like

    • I’m not following your description of punishment: How can punishment refer to something undeserved?

      Though I do take your point that it is not a case of “He loves me so all is good, or He punishes me cos I am bad, etc etc”

      However, does punishment indicate a lack of love? Love, in our subjective definition is always closely aligned with our ideal of comfort. I do not think this is so with God. In this case, his covenant-defined action towards us IS love, as love is God’s commitment to our ultimate good, which is himself.

      I don’t think Lamentations is about enduring the punishment so they can feel like they’ve atoned for their actions at the end. No, Lamentations describes the experience of God’s judgement and cries out for deliverance. We’re not holding out hope that if we endure enough suffering, then God will turn to us. No, God IS turned to Israel. He is turned as their enemy and conqueror. Israel felt the presence of the Lord. And it was a terror.

      Maybe you’re being a little optimistic about how good people are at repenting! The action of God in the Exile was in order to change his people’s hearts that they would seek him. Being told and encouraged often will not result in change, thus Israel were put in a place where they MUST cry out to God.

      Like

  2. Well, I came at the blog because I saw you wrote this on Facebook…..
    “Does God discipline and punish his New Covenant people. Discuss.”

    So I did 🙂

    I think its the word punishment itself – most people would think of parents punishing children (which sadly can be loveless/changeable/spiteful – especially when its the sort handed out in public by a ‘bad’ parent) and that doesn’t meet my views on how punishing it is to be without God.

    I don’t see Lamentations purely about enduring – its also about hand wringing, staring at the failures that led to isolation and failures, a lament indeed. Which of course is a precursor for many people to experience of the boundless love and grace of God.

    If I am optimistic about people lamenting and subsequently repenting – well, not the worst thing I’ve ever been charged with! I agree its not an everyday thing but I’d say not an uncommon thing either.

    Its possibly instructive to consider the whole of Israel and where they were – I’m not conviced the whole of the nation was in tune with Lamentations. They could have been but I’d guess that quite a few either refused to acknowledge their situation or ‘just got on with life’.

    Like

    • They could have been but I’d guess that quite a few either refused to acknowledge their situation or ‘just got on with life’.”

      Now THAT’S optimistic! Im inclined to believe the frequent Old Testament descriptions of Israel’s suffering in Exile were real, felt experiences for the community. Sure, not all would be in tune as such but I think the transformation we see in Ezra and Nehemiah indicate at least a majority shift.

      “how punishing it is to be without God”

      I think that is a great insight for contemporary interpretation of Lamentations, but I would want to nuance it a little more. The phrase ‘being without God’ or ‘not in relationship with God’ is a little misleading, since God is in a ‘personal’ relationship with all people, as either king or judge.

      So what you say is true in as much as it is easier to think of the saint as being ‘with’ God and the sinner ‘without’ God in as much as the saint knows God.

      Like

  3. “Does God discipline and punish his New Covenant people. Discuss.” (over at fb)

    doesn’t seem to be quite what you are asking here

    I have a different idea of disciplines … they are voluntary ways of responding to the grace of God and pull us closer to Him

    e.g. prayer. If we don’t pray God doesn’t punish us, He doesn’t desert us or forsake us, but gradually OUR relationship with HIm is impaired .. that IS a result of our choice but no not a punishment

    Like

    • Is it possible that our distancing ourselves from God through our actions and attitudes is his judgement and punishment, enacted by his non-engagement with us in a stubborn state.

      In this case it is a sort of passive discipline, in a similar way to a man who refuses to drink water will realise the foolishness of that decision and beg for the water again.

      Lamentations does include that idea of God, in that Israel had distanced itself from God and now experienced it’s lonely exile. However, I see Lamentations use language which describes God as the enemy of Israel in an active sense.

      Is this an anthropomorphism, or does God really interact with his people in this way?

      Like

  4. mourning of all humanity over their Godforsakenness. – can you explain in what context he talks about this happening – can’t see that the bible as a whole speaks of all humanity talking about their godforsakenness – as you rightly point out God never forsakes – otherwise he would be acting inconsistently with his character.

    Am not sure I see in Lamentations 2 v 17 the idea of forsakenness – just the concept of just punishment – we as parents fairly punish our children without forsaking them.

    Again biblical context of God being the enemy of Israel? Why the enemy – why not just punishment as duly promised by God if they didn’t comply – which they didn’t.

    New testament church age punishment in Revelation?? think not – that is future age punishment.

    New testament punishment in Acts 5 by God?? I think not – where in the text does it say that the death of Ananias and his wife is attributable to God. All the text tells us is that Peter had a word of wisdom/knowledge about the situation – not the same at all as God striking them dead!!

    I fundamentally disagree with your concept that God is actively meeting out his justice in this present age – if he did that he would have to apologise to Jesus – what exactly was the point of Jesus dying if God continued to meat out old covenant style punishment? This concept makes the blood of Christ to no avail.

    Don’t know about you but God healed my forsakenness when I confessed Jesus as Lord and believed in my heart God raised him from the dead. The holy spirit moved in – and created a new spirit within me – I have never been (or actually even felt) God forsaken since that moment. I will NEVER leave thee nor forsake thee.

    Regardless of whether I “feel” God’s presence in my life – he is ALWAYS there.

    Amen

    Like

    • This comment from Beverly seems to be in error?
      “I fundamentally disagree with your concept that God is actively meeting out his justice in this present age – if he did that he would have to apologise to Jesus – what exactly was the point of Jesus dying if God continued to meat out old covenant style punishment? This concept makes the blood of Christ to no avail.”

      Acts 5:1-5 sounds pretty Old Testament to me, or have I missed something?

      I feel deeply uncomfortable with even considering God apologising to Jesus – where has that notion come from? Deeply unhelpful on this discussion I think

      (there are other NT examples of God’s justice v actions, but I chose this one as it specifically links sin, to God, to consequence)

      Like

      • I would also go with Matthew 25 as indicative of the New Covenant promise of judgement.

        I’d also like to posit that limiting God’s judging acts to either the Old Testament or the Eschaton is a severely limited reading which presents numerous problems. If one is going to suggest that, one also has to limit God’s acts of grace to the Old Testament or the Eschaton. This is because God’s acts in human history are bound to his faithfulness to his covenant, therefore if God acts in grace according to his covenant, he must also act in judgement according to the covenant.

        Or, to change the discussion, grace and justice might be mere subjective labels for the altogether loving actions of God towards humanity. Surely if God acts according to his covenant to bring about his purposes in the world, whatever else these acts might make us FEEL, they are ultimately the loving actions of the God of love.

        Now, I see the Covenant in Christ’s blood interact with this in a number of ways: Through Christ’s covenant the faithful are part of his community, which is defined by it’s ethical practice than it’s creedal confession. One becomes a Christian by having faith, by obeying Jesus’ teaching and becoming his disciple. This is a covenant relationship which promises both blessings and curses.

        Now, to collapse that into the verse in Romans which says ‘if you confess with your mouth and believe with your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved’ is to miss what Paul is communicating. In a world where ethical practice was NOT divorced from belief and confession (as it certainly is today), to confess Jesus had an implicit ethical demand. The demand to be crucified with him, to be a foolish lover of all people.

        Christ’s death has less to do with appeasing an angry Old Testament Deity and more to do with creating for God a new people who will be the heralds of his coming Kingdom.

        I understand this with the full involvement of God with his people, blessing them and disciplining them in order that we might be the people he desires us to be, the humanity which was meant to be.

        Like

      • absolutely – so do I – but – that would be God’s only option if he was still meeting out punishment after Jesus took all the punishment on himself. So praise the Lord that he Did.

        What are the other new testament punishments you have in mind – we can discount Herod and Paul’s thorn in the flesh because a correct reading will show they weren’t

        Like

  5. But any punishment in the old testament was fair and just and based entirely upon people’s own choice to disobey – do this and you will live has Always been God’s way of doing in. Someone has to pay the punishment. God hasn’t changed his way of operating at all – it’s just that Jesus took the punishment for us – meaning God doesn’t have to punish.

    In a way you are correct about the age of grace – that’s why so many commentators refer to this period we are currently in as the age of grace. It is quite clear in revelation that the current age comes to an end – peace is removed from the earth – peace came to the earth at the birth of Jesus – and in Revelation 6 peace is removed from the earth – You must have read about the different dispensations – the different periods of God’s grace and mercy – you can see them clearly set out in the bible. adam and eve, before noah, noah to abraham, children of israel, exile etc.

    The rest of your post is interesting and I am mostly in agreement with it. Have you read The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee – his first chapter on the blood being primarily for God and what God has evaluated sufficient we shouldn’t question – it’s an excellent read if you get the chance.

    Like

    • Sorry, I mistyped above. The sentence ought to read:

      I’d also like to posit that limiting God’s judging acts to either the Old Testament or the Eschaton is a severely limited reading which presents numerous problems.

      That might make it more sensible

      Like

    • “But any punishment in the old testament was fair and just and based entirely upon people’s own choice to disobey”

      …more absolutism here methinks…..does this ‘one size fits all’ statement match Job, for example?

      Like

    • “Someone has to pay the punishment. God hasn’t changed his way of operating at all – it’s just that Jesus took the punishment for us – meaning God doesn’t have to punish.”

      I’m not sure I share your conviction entirely in this. Christ became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21) but I want to couch this in the broader New Testament idea of the nature of the people of God. Paul discusses this at great length in Galatians, noting that the people of God are not and have NEVER been those who keep the law, but those who have faith (Galatians 3:9).

      When we take seriously this notion of being the people of God, being his witnesses (Acts 1:8), we see a close alignment between Israel’s calling and the calling of the Church. Indeed, it seems that the same faith in the Gospel is evident both in Israel and in the Church. As an aside, this is also why I disagree with the dispensationalist position.

      So, we have a the called out people of God through whom God will manifest his whole being, and through whom will bless the nations. This is the purpose for which God has called a people to himself and in as much as we disobey and rebel against God in this, I do not find it unreasonable that God should discipline his people as he did with Israel.

      Participation in Christ’s body, then, is not about us ‘escaping’ punishment, but about becoming part of God’s covenant people for the glory of his name. Indeed one might also say of the Church that it bears the sins of the world unto death, that it might manifest the resurrection glory of the Lord.

      Like

      • like the looking positive rather than sounding negative about escaping punishment Ian.

        I just got this from a friend on Facebook – “The Bible was not given to us so that we could judge others, but so we could love them. If you need to stop judging and begin to love those around you, click ‘like’. If you would like others to do the same, click ‘share’.”

        I clicked share, which was also a bit optimistic of me!

        I just thought this sentiment might add balance to some views and comments on your blog…..

        Like

      • Are you saying Ian that the position of Israel and the church as the people of God are exactly the same?

        Where does the sacrifice of Jesus fit into all this – and all the new testament scriptures about no condemnation, and a done deal and Jesus took the sacrifice once for all?

        In the view you are statement I can’t quite understand why Jesus needed to come – if God was just going to continue dealing with people under the law? You are absolutely right that it was/is faith that always the means by which we please God but I struggle with “I do not find it unreasonable that God should discipline his people as he did with Israel” – you might not find it unreasonable – but I sincerely struggle to find that as a concept in the new testament? And Hebrews makes it very very clear that people were under the law in the OT and are not under the law in the NT – and God couldn’t deal differently with them until Jesus came.

        Also ” Indeed one might also say of the Church that it bears the sins of the world unto death, ” one might say it – but again is this found at all in new testament scripture? If not surely we can’t go with it as a supposition?

        I really don’t mean to come across as argumental – I am eager to investigate new revelation but do need to know where to find the concepts in Scripture before I can take them on board as truth?

        Like

  6. It seems that the words ‘punish’ and ‘discipline’ are being used interchangeably. Is it worth noting any nuances between the two? I’m sure Beverly wouldn’t disagree with the term ‘discipline’ or ‘chasten’ in the context of Hebrews 12:4-11?

    Like

  7. Good point Nathan – although I don’t think a lot that people attribute to God’s “discipline” is from God. A good father doesn’t give their child cancer to “discipline” them! Of course I believe in discipline but I believe what the bible has to say about discipline -not what “the church” has misinformed us. “that must be happening because of sin in your life” is not a statement that can be supported from post resurrection scripture.

    God is a good father – he can only do good things to his children – discipline is good – when it is positive, and brings life – every good and perfect gift comes from God – not every evil and nasty deed. If what we are calling God’s discipline brings us physical pain and suffering and detracts us from serving God (as indeed illness always does) then we must question whether we are correct in attributing to to God. The devil comes to steal kill and destroy – if we are experiencing something that is stealing something from our life, killing something from our life or destroying something from our ability to live life to the full then we can be assured it is a “gift!” from satan not from God. If God as a father really did the things people attribute to him in the guise of “discipline” – if he was on this earth today we would arrest him and put him in jail for child abuse!

    And in terms of punishment – God is a good God – he is a fair God, he is a just God. Sin had to be punished. A just punishment for sin is what we all deserve.
    A just punishment for sin is what Jesus (undeservedly) received on our behalf
    therefore
    God no longer needs to meet out a just punishment – because the punishment for the crime has been paid – the sentence for the crime has been served – Jesus did that for us so we won’t receive that same punishment. That is such an amazing wonderful awesome statement. We have such an amazing wonderful awesome God.

    Like

    • “that must be happening because of sin in your life” is not a statement that can be supported from post resurrection scripture.

      There really isn’t much Scripture post-ressurection to go by…

      Of course it’s silly for someone else to think they can see the hand of the Lord in a person’s situation without really asking the deep questions, really getting to know and love the people involved.

      1 Corintians 6 might be of use in this discussion. Verses 12-20 have a discussion about the body of the believer being the dwelling place of God. Clearly here Paul is applying the Old Testament theology of Jerusalem and it’s temple to the Church. The Church is God’s temple and dwelling place. Paul goes on to explain that this temple is defiled by sin (sexual sin, in this instance). I do not find it unreasonable that one who stumbles down the path of sin and selfishness should, like the Jerusalem temple, experience the Lord’s presence leaving them in some way. As the Lord’s glory left Jerusalem, so perhaps it might become invisible to us, that like Jerusalem we would repent and pray. I think God works even in his ‘absence’, that the non-presence of God is still accomplishing God’s work in causing his people to call on him.

      Similarly, in Galatians 5 and Pauls discussion of the works of flesh and fruit of the Spirit, we have the two contrasted. That is to suggest that if someone is walking in one they cannot also walk in the other. Paul sets that as a point of division. Leaving behind the acts of the flesh and walking in the Spirit is dependant upon repentance and change. Again I see that as the non-presence of God. Or to think in the other direction, if one steps away from the Spirit they will necessarily be leaving the presence of God.

      I am not quoting these as proof texts, I merely want to draw attention to what I see as some consistencies in New Testament spirituality.

      A response might be that I have forgotten that Jesus died for sinners.

      No, I have not. I do however reject the notion that believing in the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection results in a person’s salvation. Jesus called women and men to repent of sin and follow him. He didn’t tell them to believe in his ‘finished work’. He asked to be part of his work and take up their crosses. His death judges all sin, and his resurrection is the redemption, the TRUE transformation, of sin and death into righteousness and life.

      Now, far more disturbing for me was the statement:

      If what we are calling God’s discipline brings us physical pain and suffering and detracts us from serving God (as indeed illness always does) then we must question whether we are correct in attributing to to God.

      A good friend of mine who is training as a priest has cerebral palsy. He cannot stand up straight and must use a wheelchair to get around. Sometimes he has spasms of pain and sometimes gets tired easily. Are you suggesting that he will be a less effective minister than an able-bodied person? In John 9, Jesus meets a young man who was born blind. Jesus said: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3).

      If God chooses to afflict, or allow affliction, we can at the same time depend on God’s purpose in all things: That he should be glorified and enjoyed. This is true at all times.

      And you are quite right that we perhaps might arrest God and jail him for child abuse. But surely that has always been the case? What did he do to Job? Or to David’s child with Bathsheba? Or the genocide of the Canaanites? Or the execution and murder of his own Son?

      “The LORD is in his holy temple;
      let all the earth keep silence before him.”
      Hab 2:20

      God, in Jesus, was (is?) doing far more than merely giving us a way to avoid punishment. He demonstrated his own glory, he projected his own image into sinful earth and love it, and spoke his word into it and created for himself a people who would know and be loved by him and bless all the people of the earth. His power undoes our wickedness to one another and his weakness collapses the strongholds of our world.

      To know Jesus, to truly know his crucifixion means the crucifixion of the ego, the need for one’s own comfort. Jesus, in his Passion, was acted upon by others. He did nothing for himself but others did horrific things to him. This is the death of self to which Christ draws us. Here, the grand story of Christ and our real, tiny, stories of our sins and our need for redemption meet. It’s not about us avoiding punishment, but about having our sin crucified with Christ that we might follow him and indeed be him as much as he lives in us.

      Like

  8. I don’t even know where to begin Ian. Paul isn’t “using the Old Testament Temple as an analagy – all OT reality is a shadow of new testament reality and as always a shadow is never quite the same as the real thing. We now have the real deal and would be really stupid to keep looking back to the shadow once we have the real deal.

    Of course I don’t think your friend will be any less effective – but I bet your bottom dollar he would rather be operating in full health and strength?

    Once again I point out that God did not inflict punishment on Job – satan did and unless you are calling satan God’s whipping boy then there is a difference. And once again – old testament retribution had to happen under the law but we are no longer under the law so there is no OT retribution.

    But I see I will not change your doctrine or your theology so perhaps I will stop writing but continue to pray for you if you will allow me to.

    Like

  9. IAN – once again I don’t feel any useful purpose will be served by publishing this – but I felt saddened in the Spirit when I read what you seem to believe and can’t believe you are the same wonderful – full on for Jesus – 100% committed to the true gospel = young man I knew and admired so much at school. Just what has almost three years of theology done to you? My answers as follows:
    “that must be happening because of sin in your life” is not a statement that can be supported from post resurrection scripture.
    There really isn’t much Scripture post-ressurection to go by… then are you accurate to formulate an opinion you can’t support from scripture?
    Of course it’s silly for someone else to think they can see the hand of the Lord in a person’s situation without really asking the deep questions, really getting to know and love the people involved. ?? its perfectly possible for someone to see the hand of God in a person’s situation – that’s what the Word of God is there for. Deep questions? Do you mean “what’s going on in someone’s life”? That’s the secular way of doing things – that’s not God’s way of doing things. God says if you’ve got a problem it’s because you aren’t paying attention to his word – die to self (stop dwelling on your own problem) and find out what the Word of God says about your situation. God’s love – supernatural love – agape love – is a fruit of the Spirit that lives in us – so again we need to tap into the power available inside us and we will then supernaturally love the person involved.
    1 Corintians 6 might be of use in this discussion. Verses 12-20 have a discussion about the body of the believer being the dwelling place of God. Clearly here Paul is applying the Old Testament theology of Jerusalem and it’s temple to the Church This is a completely wrong analogy and reading of what Paul is saying – Paul most certainly isn’t saying compare yourself to the Old Testament – he is saying this IS what you now are – now die to self and start acting like it..
    The Church is God’s temple and dwelling place. Paul goes on to explain that this temple is defiled by sin (sexual sin, in this instance). That is most certainly not what Paul is saying – look at verses 11, 17 and 20 – he is saying you are the temple of God – stop acting as if you aren’t. No where does he actually say the temple IS defiled by sin – he is just incredulous that they are operating in the flesh rather than realising WHO they are in Christ.

    . I do not find it unreasonable that one who stumbles down the path of sin and selfishness should, like the Jerusalem temple, experience the Lord’s presence leaving them in some way. You might not find it unreasonable – but the bible does – the bible certainly does not support this point of view – Hebrews 13 v 5 to name but one verse says I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU – exactly how can you imagine God’s presence leaves us – is God a liar?
    As the Lord’s glory left Jerusalem, so perhaps it might become invisible to us, that like Jerusalem we would repent and pray. Which verse are you referring to here – where in the new testament does it tell us like Jerusalem to repent and pray.
    I think God works even in his ‘absence’, that the non-presence of God is still accomplishing God’s work in causing his people to call on him. Again this is your opinion and completely unsustainable from Scripture. Ian you are going to be responsible for teaching others – you have to be absolutely sure that what you are teaching them is biblically accurate and not just the opinion of man.
    Similarly, in Galatians 5 and Pauls discussion of the works of flesh and fruit of the Spirit, we have the two contrasted. That is to suggest that if someone is walking in one they cannot also walk in the other. Once again that is NOT what Paul is saying – he is saying you ARE FREE – stop acting as if you are in bondage. You ARE under Grace – stop acting as if you are still under the law. I don’t understand how you can’t see this in the words Ian?

    Paul sets that as a point of division. Leaving behind the acts of the flesh and walking in the Spirit is dependant upon repentance and change. Once again – exactly where in the text do you find the word REPENT? It just isn’t there Ian and regardless of whether you want it to be because it fits your currently thinking – it just isn’t. This isn’t what Paul is saying – he is saying – LOOK WHO YOU ARE and start acting like it
    Again I see that as the non-presence of God. Or to think in the other direction, if one steps away from the Spirit they will necessarily be leaving the presence of God. Once again – was Jesus a liar when he said and he shall give you anotherComforter, that he may abide with you for ever; John 14?
    I am not quoting these as proof texts, I merely want to draw attention to what I see as some consistencies in New Testament spirituality. No Ian you are spouting your own doctrine and squeezing texts out of complete context to try and (unsuccessfully) fit your doctrine. You are going to be responsible for the spiritual growth of others – teachers will be judged harder – is this really not a worry to you?
    A response might be that I have forgotten that Jesus died for sinners.
    No, I have not. I do however reject the notion that believing in the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection results in a person’s salvation. Then you most certainly don’t agree with Paul and other apostles – Romans 10 v 9, Acts 8 v 37, Acts 15 v 11, Acts 16 v 31, Romans 3 v 22, Romans 4 v 24, Romans 10 v 14, 1 Cor 1 v 21, Gal 3 v 22, 1 John 5 v 13
    Jesus called women and men to repent of sin Did he really say Repent of your SIN? I think not – find me a text that says this. The word Repent has nothing to do with sin – it just means change your frame of mind – do a 180% turn. and follow him. He didn’t tell them to believe in his ‘finished work’. Of course he didn’t – because he hadn’t finished his work – Jesus was addressing jews – he came to his own and his own received him not. You really can’t say that Paul didn’t talk about believing in Jesus’ finished work can you?
    He asked to be part of his work and take up their crosses. His death judges all sin, and his resurrection is the redemption, the TRUE transformation, of sin and death into righteousness and life. And does this surely not constitute a finished work? He didn’t ask us to be part of his work – he asked us to work for him – as his body as his representative – the work we are given is the ministry of reconciliation – not the paying the penalty for the sins of the world. Surely you aren’t believing that you have a responsibility to pay the penalty for your own sins are you?
    Now, far more disturbing for me was the statement:
    If what we are calling God’s discipline brings us physical pain and suffering and detracts us from serving God (as indeed illness always does) then we must question whether we are correct in attributing to to God.
    A good friend of mine who is training as a priest has cerebral palsy. He cannot stand up straight and must use a wheelchair to get around. SOo with the best will in the world he is less able to work than a person operating in full health and strength. Sometimes he has spasms of pain and sometimes gets tired easily. Are you suggesting that he will be a less effective minister than an able-bodied person? In John 9, Jesus meets a young man who was born blind. Jesus said: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3). What on earth has this scripture got to do with your argument – the whole point of what Jesus was saying is that the works of God might be displayed in him WHEN HE WAS HEALED!!

    If God chooses to afflict, or allow affliction, we can at the same time depend on God’s purpose in all things: That he should be glorified and enjoyed. This is true at all times. God does not – “choose” to afflict or “allow” affliction.
    And you are quite right that we perhaps might arrest God and jail him for child abuse. But surely that has always been the case? What did he do to Job? Or to David’s child with Bathsheba? Or the genocide of the Canaanites? Or the execution and murder of his own Son? So if God is be to judged and found wanting – then how can he be God. If God can’t even come up to scratch in terms of human justice how can we rely on him to be just
    “The LORD is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him.”
    Hab 2:20
    Once again this is surely lifting a verse completely out of context –

    God, in Jesus, was (is?) doing far more than merely giving us a way to avoid punishment. Totally agree – he was in the reconciliation business – the cross and resurrection is the central point of his entire plan – through the OT he was looking forward to what he was going to be able to do once Jesus had paid the price. He demonstrated his own glory, he projected his own image into sinful earth and love it, and spoke his word into it and created for himself a people who would know and be loved by him and bless all the people of the earth. And he made sure that these people were sealed and protected and not in any way like the OT people who were hampered by their sin and the law and were unable to have his Holy Spirit abiding in them always . Now we are not hampered by our sin and by the law and are able to have his Holy Spirit abiding in us always. His power undoes our wickedness to one another and his weakness collapses the strongholds of our world.
    To know Jesus, to truly know his crucifixion means the crucifixion of the ego, the need for one’s own comfort. Yes – die to self – stop thinking about ourselves and think about him, stop dwelling on us and start dwelling on him – stop dwelling on our sin when Jesus shouts out – I;ve sorted that problem – dwell on me instead. Jesus, in his Passion, was acted upon by others. He did nothing for himself but others did horrific things to him. This is the death of self to which Christ draws us. Here, the grand story of Christ and our real, tiny, stories of our sins and our need for redemption meet. It’s not about us avoiding punishment, but about having our sin crucified with Christ that we might follow him and indeed be him as much as he lives in us. “indeed be him as much as he lives in us” this is to miss the point of the entire new testament message – the whole point is we ARE everything IN him and we are NOTHING if we are NOT in HIM – but as Christians we ARE IN HIM. (Count how many times in Ephesians alone the words IN HIM occur. God did everything IN HIM – nothing God did is outside of HIM and IN HIM we have everything – we are being called upon to act like the Sons of God we ARE.
    Romans 6 v 6 – KNOW yourselves to be dead – and Romans 6 v 11 – now you KNOW it – RECKON IT.

    Like

  10. It seems to me that Paul is not using the Old Testament as analogy. He is using it as a basis for his writings. One must remember Paul was a learned Jew, one who knew his Torah off by heart, certainly the Pentateuch.

    I think the Old Testament is not overshadowed or outclassed by the New Testament, it merely precedes it. What once applied to one nation can now apply to all nations as Christ’s death tore the temple curtain in two (that very act demonstrates the importance of understanding the Old Testament in order to fully understand the New, if that is possible) and allowed each of us to come into the presence of God.

    I do not recall Ian or Nathan suggesting that God punishes in physical illness. Nathan highlighted God’s discipline in the light of Ian’s suggestion that sometimes we are Godforsaken. I took this to mean that God sometimes disciplines us through abandonment that we may discover what life is like without him in order that we cry out to return to his way.

    I would also like to highlight that God gave Satan permission to plague Job and his family. If someone is part of bullying for doing nothing about it, a person who says, ‘Yeah, go ahead. I bet they put up with it fine,’ is a lot worse.

    I am also concerned that Beverly only seeks truth in scripture. I personally believe truth can be found elsewhere. We are privileged to live in God’s creation and his truth is all around us. May you be blessed enough to discover something more of God tomorrow through the world around you.

    Like

  11. Ian, your writing style is excellent, as always 🙂 I would probably choose to raise the point that God never leaves us. Scripture says that He will never leave or forsake us, and that sin is not counted against us. However, I think that often sin leaves us with baggage to work through, not because God has not forgiven us but because behaviours and mindsets often take a long time to change. As sin separates us from God (rudimentary phrase, but it will suffice), I think there is a difference between God leaving us and God being separate from us. The first is by His decision, the second is by the impact that sin has on humanity that echoes down the centuries.
    Re: the punishment/discipline discourse – sin carries its own punishment, in separateness from God and the baggage it leaves us with. I don’t know that we are under the punishment of God as our welfare in the covenant no longer depends on us keeping it, but there is a natural correlation between following God’s commands and the fullness of life Jesus came to bring. So if you like, see that as the punishment of God for disobedience as inherent in creation.
    Beverly, God clearly allows Job’s suffering as perpetrated by Satan – and yes, in that particular book, Satan does come across as God’s whipping boy. Thankfully, we hold the canon in context which allows us to see God humiliating Satan through Job’s faithfulness and through His own death and resurrection.
    Peace 🙂 x

    Like

  12. Wow, so fascinating, this discussion. I’m going to insert my own questions that come from the Ian’s original question? Isn’t all death, all sickness, all pain, all unfulfilled longing on this earth truly the result of sin… original sin? In a purely logical sense, something difficult that happens to us because of something wrong that we’ve done fits the definition of punishment. This definition will be important to remember as I pose the rest of my questions/thoughts.

    It is a stretch too far, I agree, to say that we of the new covenant experience a direct one to one correlation between our “bad” behavior and subsequent “bad” things that happen to us. Many believe this just because we like to have a formula with which to approach God, so that we can feel safe in a world that will never be safe. Therefore, since we can’t say that God is predictable in His way of dealing with us for our negative behavior, we have to make room in our theology for the truth that we cannot predict God’s response to us for our “good” behavior. We are suffering daily, whether from our own actions or the actions of something external to us. This is/feels “punishing.”

    The first chapter of Job describes a plan between God and Satan that will result in something “punishing.” Job was considered righteous, and yet he was “punished.” Why? Because this “punishment” was crucial in the light of God’s reputation and glory in a way we can’t truly grasp. Something cosmic was happening that had only a small bit to do with Job. And yet, God is present and involved and concerned during this “punishment.”

    Did Job deserve this just because he was a sinner? Yes, as do we all. So, we can be “punished” and righteous? Apparently. Was this a direct response of God to a specific sin of Job’s? Apparently not. Is it possible to be righteous and to still bear the “punishment” of our bad decisions presently? Seems so. Can all these things be true at the same time… yes! I think this is the crux of a good arguement… there are coexisting truths about God that are very difficult to grasp and accept. We cannot predetermine our menu of truths that we accept or reject according to our comfort level. Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient, AND, we need constant and sometimes severe intervention to assist us in our sanctification process. Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for the salvation of man. God’s continued responses to our choices in real time is sufficient for the sanctification of those who have been saved. Whether the “punishment” of our sins was set in motion when God reordered this world after the Fall, or the “punishment” of our sins remains at God’s discretion (with Christ at His side) we must remain open to the mystery of His sovereignty.

    Also, I believe it is somewhat disturbing to look at Jesus in the context of His death, as a helpless victim. He was LIKE a lamb led to slaughter. But, He wasn’t truly a lamb, as we think in our context. Jesus’ death was planned. It was the answer to God’s just character which demanded blood. Jesus, present at the beginning of creation, submitted to God- he did not submit to His attackers. He allowed this plan to happen by subjecting His power, not because He was over-powered. He bore our “punishment.” He did this by suffering. We are united to him in suffering, which comes from the “punishment” or result of sin. Because being united with Christ seems to be the point of it all, it would seem that “punishment” is necessary, regardless of how it was or is set in motion. We can be united with Chirst because He knows what punishment is like. He can continue our sanctification through many things, including “punishment,” which is the path of our completion. We become more like Him through our “punishment.”

    The question Ian poses is apt. We fail in teaching future generations when we are afraid to ask the questions. When we are afraid to look at coexisting truths about God that force us to let go of our theologic formulas and fall into the seeming abyss of aGod who is perfect, but sometimes not to our liking. It is a leap into the blinding light of God, born of desperation and trust. This leap carries with it the very difficult truth that we must choose to love a God we cannot understand, predict, or control.

    As Rilke said to his young poet protege, we must learn to love the questions. The really, really hard questions. Because when we are faithful to allow God to speak into really difficult questions, more truth will emerge, not less.

    Like

    • We have an unction from the Holy Spirit and know all things – there are no mysteries that haven’t been revealed – we are to grow up into Christ – who is the fullness of God –
      You are right we can’t control God – but yes we can understand him – the more we seek the more he is happy and willing to reveal. And yes we certainly can predict God because he is unchangeable, faithful and trustworthy. God always always works in a fashion that is consistent with his character and nature – if we find confusion it is because we have misunderstood something not because God is unpredictable.

      Really wish I could get you guys to see the reality in Job and why it’s there for us to learn from. The misinterpretation of Job it seems to me is purely based on what satan says – that God has ringfenced Job. God does not ring fence any one – God is no respector of persons – so satan is (in character) lying. Once we understand that truth and see that at this point in history – before Jesus – satan has the dominion – given to him freely by us (in adam and eve) then the book makes complete sense and fits naturally into the nature and character of God.

      God has (consistently confirmed throughout scripture) set up a spiritual rule – IF you do this you will live IF you do this you will die – and then anyone (because of free will) is free to believe or disbelieve – to obey or disobey. God is not inconsistent – he hasn’t changed his way of dealing with people – Job did not have the power to stand against satan in the way we do (James) because Jesus had not yet destroyed the works of satan on the cross. Job is no-where praised for his God righteousness – he is not listed in the book of Hebrews as one of the great men of God – which is odd if you attribute to Job what people seem to think it means – the only thing praised about Job is his patience which is the lesson we are supposed to learn from this book and that (ezekial 14) he could only deliver his own soul not his sons and daughters – even though in Job he thought he could. The teaching point here being Job was doing stuff to save his kids – we are all responsible for our own salvation (not physically but in terms of how we personally relate to the message – we can’t claim salvation on behalf of someone else).

      Like

  13. Jonathan:
    John 17 v 17 – thy word is Truth. The Bible doesn’t tell us we find truth elsewhere – how can you be confident that the “truth” you find “out there” is truth. The Bible confirms itself to be the only truth – Jesus (the Word made flesh) confirms himself to be the only truth. Jesus tells us that this world is satan’s – and that satan is a liar – so believing you can find truth outside of and independent of God’s word is surely suspect? Satan is out to deceive us – that’s why we are encouraged throughout God’s word (eg proverbs and psalm 119, acts 17) to check everything against scripture.

    I totally agree we can see amazing evidence of God outside of his word in the world he created but we always have to check against his word to check it is of God. There has to be a plumb line against which we check everything we see and hear – and there is – it’s the absolute truth, the only truth – the very word of God that was made flesh – but is no less valid in writing.

    Regarding Job – God did not “give permission” he just pointed out that satan was lying (as usual – again the bible tells us that satan always lies – so when he accuses God of ringfencing job he is lying! – God just points out that he (God) hasn’t ringfenced job and that satan had power to get to job if he bothered to try – and God just asked him not to a) touch his body and b)then not to kill him. Try just reading the text with fresh eyes and not with an already reinforced opinion of what the text means.

    I wonder what you think the book of Hebrews is all about if it isn’t about showing that the Old Testament was a shadow of the reality to come in and through Jesus. And by shadow I don’t mean inferior/insignificant – just lesser in revelation. Full revelation is not possible through the old testament alone without knowledge of Jesus Christ – because Jesus Christ fulfilled the old testament. As Paul tells us in colossians and ephesians there were mysteries in the old testament that weren’t revealed but have now – post resurrection of Christ been revealed. We must see the old testament in the light of the new testament because we have a better covenant with better promises Hebrews 8 – to see the old testament any other way will lead to conversion to judaism not christianity!

    Glad you mentioned the veil – was just reading about that this morning – and you make the point very clearly yourself and then seem to contradict yourself – the veil torn in the temple was a shadow of the reality that Jesus (who is the veil as confirmed in Hebrews) is torn down (killed) for us – and thereafter FOR EVER men are no longer separated from God – so if men are forever allowed access into God’s throne room (the shadow of the holy of holies was representative of God’s throne room) then the only way God could now absent himself from men is to get off his throne and leave the room – and if that ever happened I wouldn’t want to be around – infact I wouldn’t be – the whole world would just disintegrate! We can walk away from his throne but he CANNOT leave his throne and as he has no longer barred us from his throne room then he CANNOT abandon us.

    Do I read a different scripture to you guys?

    Like

  14. You do not read a different scripture, you simply read it differently. That is OK.

    As we each seek out God and discover more of his love, his justice and his discipline we will continue to ask questions of one another and to test one another. That is fine and good.

    I maintain truth can be found elsewhere, though I think using scripture as a benchmark can be helpful. I do, however, take less heed of it in some cases than in others. I see this as helpful rather than a problem as it allows me to understand that some texts may be superceded by others. For example, ‘an eye for an eye’ is shown to be not enough by Jesus who suggests we should forgive instead.

    Like

  15. I do, however, take less heed of it in some cases than in others. – sorry Jonathan are you saying that we can decide which bits of scripture we choose to take notice of?

    Nothing in scripture contradicts itself – all of scripture has a design and integrity which complements itself – indeed the best commentary on scripture is scripture itself. We are called to read scripture and DO scripture not decide which bits we like and which we don’t Scripture is JESUS and if we have made Jesus our Lord we are obliged (willinging) to take it and DO it not make our own minds up

    Eye for Eye – Jesus did not say do the opposite – he said do far more than the law requires of you – out of Love. Eye for eye – was required of law – one cheek was required by law – go further and offer the other too – much much further than is required of law. Love your neighbour and hate your enemy – no love your neighbour and love your enemy too.

    Jesus is not talking about forgiveness here but acting in love because we are forgiven.

    I am not sure the problem here is that we read scripture differently – its our fundamental point of view of what scripture is in the first place. When I stand in front of God I am not going to say – well I’ll take some of what you say but if you don’t mind Lord I’ll decide for myself what bits – there is no different between standing in front of God and reading his written word.

    Like

    • I am saying we can choose which scripture we put priority on. All scripture should be noted.

      I agree with what you said about Jesus – hence I said he went further than that. I simply expressed that in one word, forgiveness. You put it much more clearly and fully.

      When I stand in front of God I too will not ignore him. However, I do not expect this to be through a haze of 2000 years or more written by a man or woman who was writing on paper their experience of God. I expect it to be overwhelming and incredible, awesome in its splendour. Whilst the word of God is powerful I do not believe it to be purely the word of God, in that I believe there is some humanity in there. That is a personal belief, and I am quite happy for you to think otherwise. I think Ian believes scripture to be the direct word of God too, so don’t discredit him too much.

      I hope you discovered something more of God today through an experience outside of Bible reading. 🙂

      Like

  16. “I am saying we can choose which scripture we put priority on However, I do not expect this to be through a haze of 2000 years or more written by a man or woman who was writing on paper their experience of God Whilst the word of God is powerful I do not believe it to be purely the word of God, in that I believe there is some humanity in there.”

    Hmmm – am afraid Jesus and the new testament writers would disagree with you there – do you know how many times – “it is written” is said by Jesus , Paul etc – and on every occasion they are quoting directly from the word of God and showing that the Word of God – what we now call our bible – especially the OT although Peter makes definite reference to Paul’s writings being considered scripture too – is absolute truth, the definitive word of God and not to be questioned or discarded in any way.

    Quite simply Jonathan if you do not believe it to be purely the Word of God then how do you decide what is truth and what isn’t? satan can have a field day with people who are not sure what absolute truth is – just watch the news.

    “I hope you discovered something more of God today through an experience outside of Bible reading.”
    Jonathan I have a wonderful relationship with God – and experience God every day in so many wonders and miracles – only this week I have seen a fantastic answer to prayer, and a physical healing – both of which came about through believing, praying and doing the Word of God – as instructed by the Word of God. I would contend that my experience of God daily rather than being hampered by reading his word is magnified 1000 x 1000 by being IN his word daily. I have the same experience as the psalmist in 119 – the more I study the word the more the word comes alive in my heart and in my life – the more I live my life through the word the closer I walk with God the more I enjoy his company the more I hear from him, the more I praise and worship him, the more I find strength to face life’s trials, the more I glory in his creation the more I love spending time with him.

    Try it someday – you just might be surprised at the results.

    Like

  17. Praise God! Exalt him to the ends of the earth,

    His works are never ending,
    his wonders never cease,
    his works displayed for all to see,
    the captured are released,

    mysteries revealing,
    his infinite majesty,
    seeking first his kingdom,
    bowing at the knee.

    Behold the Lamb of God,
    born in squalor, born in pain,
    living, breathing, dying,
    for our greatest gain,

    Praise him all you people,
    praise him ever more,
    look for him each day,
    the Temple Curtain tore,

    God is ever with us,
    disciplined to see,
    God is greater than my all,
    than both you and me.

    Praise God all you people,
    praise God ever more.

    Praise God! Exalt him to the ends of the earth!

    Like

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: