Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

    But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God… Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy… (Jude 1:20-21,24 ESV)

The Adjustment Bureau wants to be a profound, thought-provoking and encouraging epic. It tries so hard to get there but didn’t quite do it. It’s not merely that the end is a little absurd, it’s that what it’s trying to achieve is nearly impossible. When any movie attempts to deal with the question of free will versus determinism, it always has to pick one. Movies like Minority Report may come close to demonstrating that both are true but ultimately, free will usually wins (unless the movie is 12 Monkeys). Am I saying this movie was terrible? No. Is it worth watching? Maybe. Damon and Blunt have awesome chemistry and are super believable in their almost instant depth of love for each other. I enjoyed their interactions and banter. Each of their characters is very winsome and easy to root for and want the best for. But I think part of the flaws of this film start with concept of an “adjustment bureau.”

You’re Either Sovereign or Not, There’s No In-between!

Is the adjustment bureau sovereign or not? They act like they control everything and that you cannot go against the plan – unless they make a mistake, that is. Ultimately, they come off as rather weak. One man working against them, with the help of one “agent,” manages to throw everything off and change things. All he needs is to be committed and determined. That’s it? I kept thinking: “Really? That’s the best they can throw at Damon?” I also kept thinking: “What’s with the hats? Why do these guys need to stand out like sore thumbs?” I so badly wanted this movie to work but the adjustment bureau entity was so much talk and very little results. These guys are in control and have a chairman who is essentially God? They sure look and act like a human government. Power is not sovereignty. It’s just power.

Suffering & Satisfaction versus Ease & Loneliness

Even with all the flaws, I was into this film and hoping for an excellent ending right up until one key decision. I won’t reveal it and it is a bit subtle, but it changed the remaining part of the movie for me. The choice is painted as success versus pain but it really is about suffering and satisfaction versus ease and loneliness. This is exactly what we trend towards, especially as Americans. Think about it. We bail on marriage when it gets hard. We choose our careers so quickly. Stay at home moms are looked down on. Education is an idol. Suffering is pushed away – we have to fix or numb that. We cannot compute with a path that suffering is associated with peace and joy, only that suffering is death.

Do we really believe that life is simply about surface level success? If I’m president, it’s better than having a healthy family. If I’m a successful engineer, that’s better than spending time with my kids. Is it any surprise that, as Americans, we can be so lonely? Watch the decision made in this film and think about it. We want our cake and to eat it too but “success” tends to win that battle.

The Never-ending Question: Free Will or Predestination?

What is the point of this film that it roughly crashes into at the end? Seize your free will. Change your future. But what if seizing your free will only means burning it all down? This movie presumes our goodness. Damon cracks the code in a sense but he has good and noble intentions. What if those intentions were bad? What about the people that get kicked around in this movie as a result Damon’s choices and changing of his future? Are they less deserving? The movie wants to dig into the question of whether we have free will or not. The adjustment bureau claims free will is a joke. The age old question. Are we determined, either chemically or by a sovereign God? Are we free, just within certain parameters? Do we dictate our own destiny? No film can answer this question, try as they may. Honestly, even the Bible doesn’t answer it! We absolutely have to believe in both. We have a sovereign good God. He is not surprised by anything. He wills the suffering of Job. He plans the death of his only son on the cross. We are chosen in Christ. We are totally depraved and would not turn to Jesus apart from his intervention. The grace he gives is completely unmerited and a gift. However, God tells us that our choices matter. Our prayers affect things. Evangelism matters. My actions have impacts. Every morning I know this it true – I know my choices and who is responsible for my sin. Believe both.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

I appreciate the intentions of Adjustment Bureau. It wanted to be more. I rooted for Damon and Blunt. I love how unyielding Damon is and how he doesn’t give up. You’ll probably enjoy this movie. There is a some foul language and a PG-13 sex scene so be wary. If you see it, think about how God is both good as well as sovereign. Hard stuff happens but God knows what is best for us. We can balk at that or trust him, let him give you the peace that transcends all understanding, and walk in relationship with him and others.

Affliction may deprive us of our estates, but sin deprives us of our God…

Better [to] be in a prison and have God’s presence, than on a throne and lack it. – Thomas Watson

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In my first post on Richard Baxter‘s The Cure of Melancholy, I laid out some of Baxter’s practical tips for those in the throes and fog of depression. Now, I want to walk through his tips for those who are trying to help those struggling with depression. Again, he has some great thoughts for us.

1. As far as you can, avoid those things that displease them and cause them to stumble. He has some strong words for us husbands here:

A husband that hath a such a wife [one that is struggling] is obliged to do his best to cure her, both in charity, and by his relatively bond, and for his own peace. It is a great weakness in some men, that if they have wives, who by natural passionate weakness, or by melancholy or infirmity, are willful and will not yield to reason, they show their anger at them to their further provocation. You took her in marriage for better and for worse, for sickness and health… Your passion and sourness towards a person that cannot cure her own unpleasing carriage, is a more unexcusable fault and folly than hers, who hath not the power of reason as you have. If you know any lawful thing that will please them in speech, in company, in apparel, in rooms, in attendance, give it to them: if you know they are displeased, remove it.

2. Divert them and interrupt their drifting thoughts! I appreciate what he says here:

As much as you can, divert them from the thoughts which are their trouble; keep them on some other talks and business; break in upon them, and interrupt their musings; rouse them out of it, but with loving importunity; suffer them not to be long alone; get fit company to them, or them to it; especially, suffer them not to be idle, but drive or draw them to some pleasing works which may stir the body, and employ the thoughts. If they are addicted to reading, let it not be too long, nor any books that are unfit for them; and rather let another read to them than themselves.

He recommends books from Richard Sibbes, also recommended here by my friend and pastor.

3. Set the great truths of the gospel before them which align most with what they’re struggling with. Baxter encourages us to read them encouraging books.

4. Help them find a solid pastor both for counsel and to sit under their preaching.

5. Gently seek to convince them of how much it grieves God to doubt His love. Listen to Baxter’s thoughts here:

Labour to convince them frequently how great a wrong it is to the God of infinite love and mercy, and to a Saviour who hath so wonderfully expressed his love, to think hardlier of him than they would do of a friend, yea, or of a moderate enemy; and so hardly to be persuaded of that love which has been manifested by the most stupendous miracle. Had they but a father, husband, or friend, that had ventured his life for them, and given them all that ever they had, were it not a shameful ingratitude and injury to suspect still that they intended all against them, and designed mischief to them, and did not love them?

6. Introduce them to strangers and strange company. This is an interesting suggestion to say the least! I think part of Baxter’s heart is to help folks struggling with depression to take their eyes off of themselves.

7. Engage them in comforting others that struggling more than they are. Why? Baxter’s thought and experience is that this will help them understand they are not alone in their struggle, that their struggle is not unique or incurable.

8. Do not neglect medicine! Depression may be just spiritual, might be just physical, or it might be both! Baxter encourages us to not rule out either.

The Cure of Melancholy is a great read and I highly recommend you read it, especially husbands. It should encourage us that depression and deep discouragement is nothing new and is not particular to our time and culture even. Baxter was dealing with same things in himself and in ministering to others almost 400 years ago!

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Depression is a very common struggle, even in the church in America. You might call that merely a blanket statement, but in my experience I’ve seen a number of brothers deal with deep discouragement and even more wives of husbands I know. I’ve seen my own wife struggle with the fog of deep discouragement and borderline depression. Personally, I’ve never battled it; I’m more of a thinker and less of a feeler. On top of that, a major weakness and sin in my life has been a lack of empathy for others. For most of my marriage, I feel like I have not been hugely helpful to my wife! I want to grow and God has been working on my heart, using my marriage, my kids, and a slowly growing understanding of the gospel. Countless times I have had to confess my lack of love and there are likely many more times my family has simply given me grace for my coldness and lack of compassion.

Out of my desire to learn and keep growing, I read through John Piper’s When the Darkness Does Not Lift. It’s a worthwhile read with an excellent closing chapter. However, in the book, Piper kept referencing another book, The Cure of Melancholy by Richard Baxter. I looked it up on my Kindle and bought and downloaded it for 99 cents! It didn’t take long for me to realize what a jewel this book is and what wisdom Baxter has for us even 400 years later! Baxter’s book on dealing with depression (melancholy) and discouragement is tremendously insightful, practical, and revealed that depression is not a new struggle. He lists a number of tips for those walking through depression:

1. Listen to folks wiser than yourself and believe them!

2. Trust that God is sovereign even over the purposes of Satan.

3. Avoid prolonged times of thinking and prayer alone! (see quote below)

4. Do not spend much time alone! (see quote below)

Avoid your musings, and exercise not your thoughts now too deeply, nor too much. Long meditation is a duty to some, but not to you, no more than it is a man’s duty to go to church that hath his leg broken, or his foot out of joint: he must rest and ease it till it be set again, and strengthened. You may live in the faith and fear of God, without setting yourself to deep, disturbing thoughts. Those that will not obey this counsel, their friends must rouse them from their musings, and call them off to something else. Therefore you must not be much alone, but always in some pleasing, cheerful company: solitariness doth but cherish musings. Nor must such be long in secret prayer, but more in public prayer with others.

5. As much as you can, think on these things:

  • The infinite goodness of God
  • Christ’s immeasurable love for you and how that love is demonstrated in His redemption and sacrifice
  • God’s offer of grace and free covenant
  • The awesome love and joy which we have in Christ and God has promised.

Do not be given over to complaining but talk of these things. Be honest but run to the gospel in conversations.

6. When you pray, resolve to spend much of that time in thanksgiving and praising God!

7. Do not entertain the thoughts and lies and temptations of Satan nor be troubled by them. Ask for help from trusted friends when losing the battle against these thoughts!

8. Be encouraged that you are even wrestling with sin and the weight of it. This reflects the heart of a believer, not an unbeliever outside of His love. Baxter says this:

Again, still remember what a comfortable evidence you carry about with you that your sin is not damning, while you feel that you love it not, but hate it, and are weary of it. Scarce any sort of sinners have so little pleasure in their sins as the melancholy, nor so little desire to keep them; and only beloved sins undo men.

9. Avoid idleness but seek to work hard. Baxter is not saying to avoid rest or downtime altogether but that idleness is dangerous.

One more immensely practical thought from Baxter for the depressed:

I would give you this advice, that instead of long meditation, or long secret prayer, you will sing a psalm of praise to God, such as the twenty-third, or the one hundred and thirty-third. This will excite your spirit to that sort of holy affection which is much more acceptable to God, and suitable to the hopes of a believer, that your repining troubles are.

I highly recommend this short read and thank God for Richard Baxter, who is known for having been a very practical and a powerful preacher of the gospel in the early 1600s. I want to leave a final sobering thought for those of us whom the fog of depression rarely if ever invades. If you are reading this and struggling with depression, please stop reading, this last note is not for you! Most of us are not dealing with the deep fog that depression can be. Most of us, like me, are dealing with discouragement or discontentment from something else…

The more pleasure you have in sin, usually the more sorrow it will bring you; and the more you know it to be sin, and conscience tells you that God is against it, and yet you will go on, and bear down conscience, the sharper will conscience afterwards afflict you,

Sin does not bring me joy but pain and death. It may bring temporary pleasure, but it won’t last. Much of my wrestling with discouragement is my own battle to let go of sin and cling to greater joy in Christ. In my next post, I’ll delve more into Baxter’s thoughts on how to help others who are wrestling with depression or deep discouragement.

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This is part 2 on Job 1-25, read part 1 for the foundation and the initial discussion of grieving.

Grieving is hard (continued)

Why do we need such grief? Death feels wrong and reveals how we were never meant to experience it apart from the destructive result of our sin. Yes, Jesus defeated ultimate death at the cross. Yes, death has lost its sting. But it is still loss. To lose someone close hurts immensely. To merely blow off any loss in this life as trivial, is to be callous. Suffering is not good and Jesus came to ultimately wipe it away but while we walk in this earthly life, in our flesh, suffering is our life and our calling. However, nowhere does God call us to become stoic unemotional beings. Jesus certainly was not a stoic when walking in our shoes. Jesus empathizes time and time again. This life will always be bittersweet: news of a friend’s stillborn baby coupled with news of the birth of a child to friends after years of battling infertility. We might enjoy a delicious steak and glass of wine for dinner one evening but then deal with immense ailments the next month. We have sweet times of closeness with God followed by hard times when we can question if He is really there. We get enough of a glimpse of the goodness of God but not so much so that we would cling to this life. Grieve with Job when you read the book of his namesake. His friends do this initially but then make foolish attempts to reason with him.

Grief is not assuaged by logic

Job’s friends do not speak for a whole week when first visiting him. This is an enormous grace on their part! However, they then try to diagnose Job’s problems, try to fix it, at the same time they are trying to understand this harsh episode of suffering for themselves. They are his friends! They are foolish, and it is so easy to forget that they are his friends who are trying to enter into his suffering. The problem is that they try to fix things, to reason with Job. They end up isolating him even more. Even if they were completely right, would it matter? Would it have been helpful to Job? I don’t think so. Job needed encouragement, even if that meant letting him process thoughts that were not necessarily truth. I am not professing to completely understand the book of Job, but I do have some understanding of grief. The way Job’s friends do not listen to him would likely have made a scoffer of me as well. Job did not need reproof or reasons or logic to get through the fog. His friends did not get this.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27 ESV)

Grief is only assuaged by our Father

Notice that I said assuaged not answered. Does God tell Job about His confrontation with Satan? Does God truly answer any of Job’s questions? Nope. In His words to Job, God seems to merely assert His infinite power and wisdom over Job’s. However, God reveals Himself to Job! God meets Job exactly where He is at! Even if God did not restore much of what Job lost, I think Job would have been satisfied. Job 38-42 is not a prescription, just as grief and loss are not the same for each of us. To me it reveals that suffering is ultimately answered not in logic or in reason or in some pat answer but through the presence of God by way of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel gives us the hope we need to freely approach our heavenly Father with our hurts and loneliness. The Gospel gives us the knowledge that we have not merely a savior but also a brother in Jesus who walked in our shoes, knows us, understands us, empathizes with us, even in our loneliness. The Gospel gives us the truth that we have the comfort in us, the Holy Spirit; a presence better than even having Jesus with us in the flesh. Job shows us that grief is not easy, is part of being human, and that ultimately assuaging it is a job of God and God alone.

Why did Job suffer? A refinement of his righteousness? Drawing him more personally near to God? Glorifying God and rubbing Satan’s face in the sand of Job’s choosing the truth and choosing to still wrestle with and walk with God? Giving us a small faint picture of the innocent suffering of Jesus in Job’s life? The answers don’t nearly assuage as much as meeting God personally and intimately.

Additional resource: “Job: Five Sermons on Suffering”

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In my reading plan the past 2 weeks I have been immersed in the book of Job. It is a challenging book, difficult to fly through Job, taking what is said at face value. It’s easy to judge Job and focus too much on his subtle self-entitlement. This time through, I attempted to focus on empathizing with Job, trying to feel what he feels. It’s been helpful, revealing new insights that have hit me. I have to set up the important foundation first though.

The Foundation

In the first 2 chapters we are given a glimpse of God’s confrontation with Satan. God calls Satan’s attention to Job and his righteous life. Satan scoffs and says that this is because Job’s life is easy. Satan says to take away what he cares about and he’ll spit in God’s face. God then gives Satan permission to do anything but harm Job physically. The next thing we know is that Job loses his livestock, servants, and his children all die. Job mourns but still praises God. Satan again comes before God and again scoffs at God defending Job. Satan is then given permission to afflict Job with sickness but not to kill him. Job is then afflicted with sores and skin problems and the book moves on the dialog with Job and his friends. This is huge. Job never gets this glimpse. Job never even gets this confrontation explained to him later (which is awesome, stay tuned). We do. Why? A major reason is because we must see that God does not initiate suffering in Job’s life because of any particular sin in his life. Yes, Job has sin. Yes, God draws out some issues through Job’s suffering. But it was not primarily due to sin in Job’s life.

All the back and forth then in chapters 4 through 25 are not, honestly, helpful. Job and his friends can’t see what we see and so it quickly devolves into trying to tie up Job’s suffering in a neat a tidy equation: Job + suffering = Job’s unrepentance from sin. The disciples do the same thing in Luke 13:1-4 and get rebuked by Jesus in doing so. We need to be careful of this equation when reading Job as well as when trying to interpret the dialog between Job and his friends. Therefore, In light of this foundation, what did I notice?

Grieving is hard

We cannot gloss over what Job is enduring emotionally or water down the heavy fog of grief. Grief is different for each of us but, for me, I didn’t feel like myself for 6 months after my dad passed away. I felt cut off and isolated, but there was nothing I could do. Most of it I just didn’t even notice. I was very lonely. My wife was an irreplaceable presence and encouragement, but this was a much deeper loneliness. I was not angry with God or going through depression, I just felt like I was in a cloud of hurt and numbness. Would I have said that to you at the time? No, I couldn’t put words to it. Even the loneliness that grief drew out in me is much easier to see in retrospect.

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:18-19 ESV)

Think about this in Job’s life. He has lost all of his kids and is disunified with his wife. Think about what kind of fog that would bring on. Think about the loneliness you would feel. So much of what Job expresses in Chapters 4 through 25 surrounds how isolated and cut off he feels. Why does he long for death in Job 3 and 6-7? Do we think this righteous example of a man is merely whining and complaining? This man is broken and in a massive dark cloud!

What then was the point of Job’s suffering? You’ll have to stay tuned. It’s not an easy answer at face value nor can I say I understand it fully.

Part 2: Dealing with Grief

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