Persecution: Why Doesn’t God Do Something? (Stott)

The Christians who were part of the new church plant in Thessalonica around 50AD knew quite a bit about persecution and suffering. Not only did they receive the Word with much affliction, they also had to deal with ongoing persecution (1 Thes. 1:6; 2 Thes. 1:5, etc.). And it was serious enough that Paul, Timothy, and Silas (the church planters) were very worried about them (1 Thes. 3:1-5). So in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 the Missionary Team reminds the Christians in Thessalonica about God’s justice and perfect judgment. Here are John Stott’s helpful comments on these verses. These comments are helpful for us to think about as followers of Jesus today:

Of course it takes spiritual discernment to see in a situation of injustice (like the persecution of the innocent) evidence of the just judgment of God. Our habit is to see only the surface appearance, and so make only superficial comments. We see the malice, cruelty, power and arrogance of the evil men who persecute. We see also the sufferings of the people of God, who are opposed, ridiculed, boycotted, harassed, imprisoned, tortured and killed. In other words, what we see is injustice—the wicked flourishing and the righteous suffering. It seems completely topsy-turvy. We are tempted to inveigh against God and against the miscarriage of justice. ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’ we complain indignantly. And the answer is that he is doing something and will go on doing it. He is allowing his people to suffer, in order to qualify them for his heavenly kingdom. He is allowing the wicked to triumph temporarily, but his just judgment will fall upon them in the end.

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Thessalonians: The Gospel & the End of Time, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 147.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 45015

Denying Hell? (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 Volumes

The last section of Francis Turretin’s Institutes appropriately covers the doctrine of the last things (eschatology). Turretin’s seventh question is this: “Is there a hell? And what are its punishments…?” Turretin immediately says yes, hell is real and it is a place of punishment for the wicked. He gives numerous Scripture quotations to defend the doctrine of hell (Mk. 9:44, Mt. 22:13, Mt. 25:41, Rev. 19:20, Heb. 6:2, Mt. 3:7, etc. etc.). In other words, Turretin says, yes, quite clearly the doctrine of hell is taught in the Bible. I like how he then commented on the question itself:

We think it is superfluous to inquire whether there is a hell, whatever Epicureans and atheists (who consider it as a mere figment and empty scarecrow of the simple) may say. For it is asserted in so many passages of the Scriptures, and is confirmed by so many arguments (whether from the justice of God, or from the curse of the law, or from the heinousness and demerit of sin, or from the terrors and torments of conscience) that it is a proof not only of the highest impiety, but also madness to question or deny it. Those deriders will too well feel its truth and terribleness to their own great hurt.

Francis Turretin, Institutes, volume 3, p. 605.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Trusting God’s Justice When We Can’t Trace It (Augustine)

 In book 20, chapter 2 of City of God, Augustine discusses the difficult reality that sometimes the wicked prosper (Ps. 73:3) while the righteous suffer (cf. Job).  Here are Augustine’s comments on this reality and how it corresponds to God’s justice, which we as his people should trust.

…For not only are the good sometimes unfortunate and the wicked fortunate—a seeming injustice—but, as often as not, bad luck befalls bad men and good luck good men. The whole arrangement makes God’s judgments all the more inscrutable and His ways unsearchable.

Accordingly, even though we cannot understand what kind of divine judgment can positively or even permissively will such inequalities—since God is omnipotent, all-wise, all-just, and in no way weak, rash, or unfair—it is still good for our souls to learn to attach no importance to the good or ill fortune which we see visited without distinction upon the good and the bad. We learn, too, to seek the good things that are meant for the good, and to avoid at all costs the evil things that are fit for the bad.

When, however, we come to that judgment of God the proper name of which is ‘judgment day’ or ‘the day of the Lord,’ we shall see that all His judgments are perfectly just: those reserved for that occasion, all those that He had made from the beginning, and those, too, He is to make between now and then. Then, too, it will be shown plainly how just is that divine decree which makes practically all of God’s judgments lie beyond the present understanding of men’s mind, even though devout men may know by faith that God’s hidden judgments are most surely just.

 Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan, vol. 24, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 252–253.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Hatred, Forgiveness, and Justice (Guinness)

carpe diem cover image In chapter 5 of his excellent book, Carpe Diem Redeemed, Os Guinness makes a great point that true justice does not have hatred as its fuel:

…Hatred poisons society and holds the hater captive as mercilessly as any ancient Pharaoh, Southern overseer, modern tyrant, or sexual predator.  Will the United States ever transcend racism and sexism?  Certainly not through the ways in which racial and sexual politics are being waged now.

Booker T. Washington exemplified the way of the gospel in shining contrast with many of today’s racial and sexual activists.  Freed by Abraham Lincoln from slavery in Franklin County, Virginia, Washington was remarkable for his complete absence of any bitterness.  ‘I was resolved,’ he wrote, ‘that I would permit no  man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him…I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race predjudice.’  In strong contrast, he wrote, there were those then (and there are those today) who make it their business to  keep stoking racial wrongs in the public square.  ‘Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances because they do not want to lose their jobs.’

Born in slavery and facing the dark rise of the Ku Klux Klan, Booker T. Washington knew the degradation of slavery all too well and hated it as an institution – as we should hate racism today.  The stark contrast between the spirit of such great African American champions and that of many of today’s racial activists is stunning.  These great ex-slaves and oppponents of slavery knew that freedom that begins in the heart must never issue in hate, whereas activism that is not free in the heart only compounds hate even as it claims to fight hate.  Justice pursued with hate leads only to more evil and even greater injustice.  To be reconciling and restorative, justice must be pursued with an eye to the possibility of genuine repentance, genuine forgiveness, and genuine reconciliation – and thus with hearts that are freed from bitterness.

The past is always present.  It is certainly not dead.  But forgiveness and reconciliation can draw the poison out of hate so that the past no longer kills the present but liberates it to go forward freely into the future.  Through repentance and forgiveness, the poison is prevented from spreading.  The ball and chain is broken.  Reaction needs\ no longer follow action.  Even before the end of time, the past can be redeemed in part, with the evil acknowledged and contained.

Os Guinness, Carpe Diem Redeemed, p. 95-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

God’s Wrath, God’s Love, and the Cross (Carson)

Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God God’s love and his wrath are on display throughout the Bible.  I realize “the wrath of God” sounds harsh in many people’s ears, but it clearly is a teaching of the Bible.  It’s a teaching that has to do with the perfect justice of God.  Here’s how Don Carson well explained the love and wrath of God:

“The reality is that the Old Testament displays the grace and love of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in new covenant writings.  Similarly, the Old Testament displays the righteous wrath of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the new covenant writings.  In other words, both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New.  These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – in the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s love?  Look at the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s wrath?  Look at the cross.

Hymn writers have sometimes captured this best,  In Wales Christians sing a nineteenth-century hymn by William Rees:

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, p 70-71.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015