No More Tears, No More Reproach (Smith)

 I’ve been enjoying Gary Smith’s Isaiah commentary in the “New American Commentary” series.  I haven’t read it all, but so far so good!  This morning when studying Isaiah 25 I was looking at verse 8, which says this: “…he [Yahweh] will swallow up death forever.The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.The Lord has spoken” (NIV).

Here’s Smith’s helpful commentary:

…When God rules over his kingdom, death will have no power over people in this new world.

As if that were not enough, God also promises the removal of all tears. This includes tears shed when people die, but certainly also tears of oppression, sickness, pain, disappointment, loneliness, rejection, military defeat, financial trouble, and other kinds of loss. All these experiences will be obsolete in God’s kingdom.

Finally, God’s removal of the reproach of “his people” (ʿammî 25:8b) should not be interpreted as a specific reference to removing Israel’s reproach of the exile, for at this point all people (ʿam, “people,” is used in 25:3, 6, 7, 8) in God’s kingdom are his people. When people are reproached they are objects of derision, mockery, shame, and humiliation by others. These evil actions will not be experienced any longer. If the enemies of God are defeated, there will no longer be people to give a reproach, and there will be no sinful people who will deserve to be reproached. This paragraph ends (25:8b) with the affirmation that God has declared that this is what will happen; thus, one can know that all these statements are true.

Gary Smith, Isaiah, (The New American Commentary), Isaiah 25:8.

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

Resources for the Afflicted

Most Christians, at one time or another, go through trials, affliction, distress, and deep sorrow. Whether it be physical pain, spiritual anguish, grief, persecution, or a heavy cross, followers of Jesus face tribulation on their journey to the New Jerusalem.  Sometimes we can’t sleep, we can’t stop crying, and we can’t stop asking God “why?” in our feeble prayers.  We definitely need help getting through affliction in a godly way.

The first thing one should do under God’s hand of affliction is turn to God in prayer and to his Word for comfort.  The second thing one should do is lean on the body of Christ (pastors, elders, Christian friends).  Another thing to do is read solid books written for the afflicted.  To that end, I’ll give this list of books that I’ve found incredibly helpful when the rod and staff of God’s affliction weigh heavy.

 Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod.  This book was originally published in 1659 and was based on sermons that Brooks had preached.  It is written, of course, in older English, but it isn’t too difficult and is only around 100 pages long.  Brooks writes in a very orderly way – I’d suggest outlining the book as you read.  I assure you, this book will teach you what it means biblically to see God’s hand in affliction, God’s help in affliction, and Christ’s hope through it.  (You can find it on Kindle for $.99).

Is God Really in Control?: Trusting God in a World of Terrorism, Tsunamis, and Personal Tragedy Jerry Bridges, Is God Really In Control?  This book was written just a few years ago, and like all of Bridges’ work, is clear, biblical, and pastoral.  It is around 150 pages long, and includes questions for further thought.  I appreciate how Bridges understands the magnitude of tragedy and tackles it head on while firmly upholding God’s sovereignty, providence and love for his people in and through suffering.

Product Details Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised.  Sittser lost his mother, wife, and little girl in a car accident.  This book is a sort of a theological and philosophical reflection on the tragedy of losing loved ones.  Even though this book is focused on a specific kind of affliction – death and loss– it does deal with grief, pain, and doubt in an excellent way.  If you’re in the middle of a season of trial and pain, this book will help you deal with it and look to the light of Christ for hope and help.

Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life R. C. Sproul, Surprised By Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life.  The first part of this book focuses on suffering; the last part focuses on death.  There is also a helpful question and answer section in the appendix.  If your affliction is not “unto death,” the first few chapters will be where you’ll want to focus, as Sproul discusses suffering in a gospel centered way.

 Michael Horton, Too Good To Be True (aka A Place for Weakness).  This book specifically deals with tragedy and what it has to do with God’s plan and Christ’s cross.  Horton talks about Luther’s theology of suffering vs. the theology of glory, and talks about suffering in light of the gospel.  It’s an easier read – and not too long – so this too would be a good one to read when your cross weighs you down and you can’t read anything too long and deep.

 William Bridge, A Lifting Up For the Downcast.  This Puritan Paperback is a great resource on trials, suffering, and affliction.  Bridge takes Satan’s attacks seriously, uses the Psalms extensively, and continually focuses the reader on God’s sovereignty, love, and providence.  He also gives some excellent pastoral advice for those suffering affliction.  It isn’t short (around 300 small pages), and it is a bit tougher to read than some others on my list here, but if you’re an intermediate or advanced reader you’ll want to study through this one.

 Thomas Boston, The Crook in the Lot.  This booklet was first published in 1737.  It is a great treatise on suffering and God’s providence – how he uses affliction for the good of his people and his own glory.  It is quite difficult to read in some places, however, but it is not too long (c. 150 pages).  I appreciate how Boston calls the Christian to remember his duty during affliction and suffering – while resting in God’s sovereignty.  You can find this on Kindle for $.99.

There are other excellent books about affliction in the Christian life; feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments below.  If you haven’t yet gone through deep affliction, I recommend getting one or two of these books in preparation for it.  These books won’t take away the pain and heartache of trials, but they will help you keep your feet on the path and your eyes on Christ as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Sweetness of Tears

 Sometimes Christians forget the sweetness that can exist along with the bitterness of tears.  Because we live in a culture that focuses on entertainment, instant amusement, glamor, fame, and popularity, it is easy for us to jump on the bandwagon by doing our best to avoid tears, pain, and sorrow.  Everyone is searching for happiness and trying to get rid of tears.  So we turn to pills, personal trainers, makeovers, religion, sex, drink, and drugs (the list goes on) to try to attain happiness.  Of course there is a longing in every human heart for happiness because sin (in us and “out there”) has left humans an unhappy bunch.  What about tears?  Should we avoid them at all costs?  Why did Jesus say, Blessed are those who mourn and Blessed are you who weep now?  Below are some points made by Thomas Watson in The Beatitudes, as he discussed Matthew 5.4.

“1) Sin must have tears.  While we carry the fire of sin about us, we must carry the water of tears to quench it (Ezek. 7.16).  We have in  our hearts the seed of the unpardonable sin.  And shall we not mourn?  He that does not mourn has surely lost the use of his reason.

2) Gospel-mourning [the weeping of repentance] is spontaneous and free (it is not forced).  It is spiritual, that is, we mourn for sin more than suffering. 

3) Gospel-mourning sends the soul to God.  Evangelical mourning is a spur to prayer.  Gospel tears must drop from the eye of faith.  Our disease must make us mourn, but when we look up to our Physician, who has made a plaister of his own blood, we must not mourn without hope.  Believing tears are precious.  When the clouds of sorrow have over-cast the soul, some sunshine of faith must break forth.  Though our tears drop to the earth, our faith must reach heaven.

4) Gospel-mourning is joined with self-loathing.  The sinner admires himself.  The penitent lathes himself (Ezek. 20:43).  Gospel-mourning must be purifying.  We must not only mourn but turn.  ‘Turn to Me with weeping’ (Joel 2.12).  We must not only abstain from sin and weep over it, we must also abhor it.

5) Tears cannot be put to a better use.  The brinish water of repenting tears will help to kil that worm of sin which should gnaw the conscience.  Gospel-mourning is an evidence of grace.  Weeping for sin is a sign of the new birth.

6) Repentant tears are precious.  Tears dropping from a mournful, penitent eye, are like water dropping from the roses, very sweet and precious to God.  That heart is most delightful to God which has a fountain of sorrow running in it.  ‘Mary stood at Christ’s feet weeping’ (Lk 7.38).  Her tears were more fragrant than her ointment.  God delights much in tears, else he would not keep a bottle and a book for them (Ps 56.8).  Tears, though they are silent, yet have a voice (Ps 6.8).  David who was the greatest mourner in Israel was the sweet swinger in Israel.  My tears were my food (Ps 42.3).  Ambrose gives this gloss: ‘No food so sweet as tears!’  Bernard says ‘The tears of the repentant are sweeter than all worldly joy.’

7) Tears line the road to the New Jerusalem.  Perhaps a man may think, ‘If I cannot mourn for sin, I will get to heaven some other way.  I will go to church, I will give alms, I will lead a civil life.’  No, but I tell you there is but one way to blessedness, and that is through the Valley of Tears.  ‘I tell you, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish’ (Lk 13.3).

8) Christian tears will eventually end.  It is only a while that we shall weep.  After a few showers fall from our eyes, we shall have perpetual sunshine.  God shall wipe away all tears (Rev. 7.17).  When sin shall cease, tears shall cease.  ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning’ (Ps. 30.5).”

There are other reasons why Christians weep, to be sure.  I appreciate Watson’s perspective here because he gives us a good biblical way to view tears of repentance.  They don’t save us nor do they wash away our sins, but they do have a place in our pilgrimage.  So Christian weeping truly is bittersweet: bitter because it has to do with sin and sweet because it has to do with faith in Jesus the Savior.

The above quotes are slightly edited and abbreviated.  You can find the full discussion in chapters 6-10 of Thomas Watson’s The Beatitudes.

shane lems

Affliction: The Christian’s Great Teacher

 Though affliction, trials, suffering, and sorrow are difficult to bear in this life, they are not meaningless for the Christian.  In fact, as Paul says, God can uses affliction for our good (Rom 8).  Thomas Watson, in All Things for Good, lists several ways how affliction works for the good of God’s people.  I’ve slightly edited them here.

1) Affliction is our teacher.  Affliction teaches us to know ourselves.  In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves.  God makes us know affliction, that we may better know ourselves.  We see corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. 

2) Affliction draws the Christian away from the love of the world.  In prosperity the heart cleaves partly to the world, partly to God.  Then God takes away the world so that the heart may cleave more to him in sincerity.

3) Afflictions conform the Christian to Christ.  God’s chastening rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively upon us.  Was Christ’s head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses?

4) Affliction takes away the dross of sin.  Just like a doctor sometimes prescribes painful methods to get rid of tumors, so God uses afflictions as the painful medicine which heals many spiritual diseases.

5) Afflictions help loosen our grip on the world.  When you dig away the dirt from the root of a tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth.  So God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the world.

6) Affliction is a sign of God’s fatherly love.  God disciplines those whom he loves.  Every stroke of the rod of affliction is a badge of sonship.

Watson lists a few more ways that affliction is one of the teachers God uses in the Christian’s life.  Again, though they are difficult to bear and bring tears, they are not useless.

The above quotes and paraphrases above are found in chapter two of All Things for Good.

shane lems

 

Weeping, Lamenting, Worship

Edited by Dave, circa 2011-??These are some great words to think about in the context of corporate worship and Christian lament, grief, and sorrow.  In this context, Andrew Byers is talking about the cries found in the Psalter.

“At some point along the way the Western church stopped associating weeping with worship.  It probably occurred about the time we stopped reading and preaching so much from Lamentations and those more ominous psalms.  We may rejoice to see a few tears in response to a moving song or message, but we seem unable to truly value the regular expression of sorrow as a necessary dimension to our worship.  Because of this, we have become less hospitable to the dispirited and injured individuals for whom the church should serve as a haven for healing.  When the depressed are in our midst, do they feel free not to answer ‘fine, just fine’ to our greetings?  Are they silently shunned when they talk of God as though he is their oppressor rather than their Deliverer?  Does the worship service provide them with a context in which they are encouraged to express their pain (and not just their joy) as an act of worshiping God?  What are the beleaguered and downcast to do when they find themselves in need singing to God with sad songs in minor keys if all that provided  are joyful refrains in major keys?”

“When the church fails to provide some outlet for crying to God from ‘out of the depths’ (Psalm 130:1), then broken souls will turn elsewhere.  To our shame the bar stool and the psychiatrist’s couch are often viewed as more hospitable contexts for tormented souls than the chapel’s pew.  By minimizing – or worse, eliminating – the biblical role of lament in the life of the church, we are communicating to the world, as well as to members of our own congregations, that they must take their struggles with God elsewhere.  Brokenness turns into bitterness when God is denied access to our wounds and when pain is removed from the context of worship.  The absence of lament on Sunday mornings is therefore promoting cynicism.  So once again, we find the church unintentionally culpable for populating our own ranks with cynics.”

What a great reminder for us!  Rather than get rid of the laments in the songs, prayers, and sermons of the church, we really should let them play their biblical role in the life of God’s people.  This also shows the value of singing and praying all the genres found in the Psalter – not just the hymns, but also the laments, cries, and pleas for forgiveness.  It’s not coincidental that laments make up a good part of the Psalter.  I think Byers is right on here.  Read the quote again!

  The Byers’ quote is found on page 161 of Faith Without Illusions.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

 

 

Dear Christian: Close Your Crying Eyes

 In this grim and grueling journal of grief and sorrow, Lewis takes the reader through the valley of the shadow of death.  He’s brutal and honest: in suffering, tears, and pain, sometimes the Christian only gets a tiny and brief ray of hope.  But since it is heaven’s ray, it is sufficient even though it might not  be warm enough to immediately dry our tears.  Here’s a part I was just reading as I study Philippians 3.10. 

“From the rational point of view, what new factor has H’s death (“H” is Lewis’ wife who had recently died) introduced into the problem of the universe?  What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe?  I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily.  I would have said that I had taken them into account.  I had been warned – I had warned myself – not to reckon on worldly happiness.  We were even promised sufferings.  They were part of the program.  We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accepted it.  I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.”

This is also an amazing sentence about grief and suffering.

“You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears.”

Taking these two things together – that we will weep and that tears will distort our vision – leads us to a great note by Thomas Watson: We are not competent judges of what’s best for us (The Lord’s Prayer, p. 193).  When weeping for sorrow, we should reserve judgment and neither think any rash thoughts nor make any big decisions, because our minds are fogged over by pain.  Maybe that’s why the Sage said, Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool and lean not on your own understanding, but instead trust in the Lord with all your heart (Prov. 28.26 & 3.5).   Being made passive in suffering hurts like crazy, but it should make us distrust ourselves and trust the Lord all the more, because he know’s what is best for us in the long run and suffering is part of the program:

“So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you” (1 Pet. 4.19 NLT).

shane lems

sunnyside wa