Apr 5, 2012
An unexpected death
This week I read Ben Witherington’s story of his 32-year old daughter’s unexpected death.
It was moving to hear of the love he had for his daughter, the grief he and his wife felt in their loss, and the strong hope they share in Christ.
I also appreciated his discussion of good vs. bad grief, and his affirmation that grief is good because it expresses love.
He and his wife are powerful examples of what it means to grieve with hope (1Th 4:13).
But it was troubling to hear him say “I do not believe in God’s detailed control of all events,” and hear him deny that “it’s all God’s will.”
This was troubling because I believe the Bible teaches that God is in detailed control of all events. That’s what frees me from fear about the future — and gives me peace and strength as I experience trials.
So what does the Bible teach?
Dr. Witherington gives three reasons why he does not believe the Bible teaches that God is in detailed control of all events.
First, he finds it impossible to believe he is more merciful or compassionate than God.
Let’s take the case of Joseph’s kidnapping, separation from his father, and years of prison in Egypt.
Dr. Witherington says that since God is more compassionate than he is, and he would never plan such suffering for Joseph, therefore God would never plan such suffering for Joseph.
But in Gen 50:20 we read that God DID plan this suffering for Joseph. Here’s what Joseph said to his brothers about their evil actions against him —
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Notice that God “meant” Joseph’s imprisonment — which means He planned it, intended it, willed it.
So — does Joseph conclude that God was not merciful or compassionate? Not at all — Joseph says “God meant it for good.” It was part of God’s goodness, love, and mercy.
So the fact that we would not plan imprisonment for Joseph does not mean we are more loving than God. It just means we have a different role in the universe than God.
Second, because the biblical portrait shows that God is pure light and holy love. In him there is no darkness, nothing other than light and love.
That is a glorious truth about God that I celebrate with Dr. Witherington.
But does God’s pure light and holy love mean He never brings us trials?
Not according to Joseph.
Joseph said his imprisonment was an expression of God’s goodness (Gen 50:20) — that it was God’s desire to do good that motivated God to have Joseph be imprisoned.
So the Bible sees no contradiction between saying God is perfect love, and that He plans trials which bring us great good.
Third, the words “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away,” from the lips of Job (1:21), are not good theology.
Dr. Witherington continues — “According to Job 1, it was not God but the Devil who took away Job’s children, health, and wealth. God allowed it to happen, but when Job said these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not yet enlightened about the true nature of the source of his calamity and God’s actual will for his life. God’s will for him was for good and not for harm.”
Was Job wrong to say “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21)?
The author of Job tells us in the very next verse — “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22).
Surely the “all this” has to include the words of the previous verse.
The author does the same in chapter two. Job says “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
And the author’s next words are “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
So Job was not wrong. Job spoke truth. The Lord had taken away from Job.
Just as with Joseph, this was an expression of God’s perfect love, since God brought Job great good through these trials.
Here’s why this is important —
It means every detail of my future is in God’s wise and loving hands (Eph 1:11). I have nothing to fear. Ever.
It means every trial is ultimately from God’s wise and loving hands (Exo 4:11; Amos 3:6; Acts 14:22). Every trial has a wise and loving purpose.
It means every trial is a gift from God planned to bring me great good — especially the greatest good of His gracious presence (2Cor 12:9-10). The grief, the pain, the sorrow are all worth it — because He is worth it.
Comments? Feedback? Pushback?
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And here’s some related posts —
- Spurgeon’s Take on Trials.
- How God Comforted Hudson Taylor.
- Facing a Trial? Jesus is the Super-Piling.
(Picture is by Gustave Dore, and in the public domain.)