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New Problem of Pain

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Read and comment on my blog.

Mark Tabb offers a very accessible explanation for why God allows pain and suffering in the world. Using the book of Job as well as anecdotes from his own experience as a pastor and chaplain, Tabb takes on the problem of pain and provides a defense that is compassionate, reasonable, and lucid.

The book of Job is not an easy book to understand. Written as ancient Hebrew poetry, it has troubled both translators and interpreters. Everything Job’s comforters say to him, for example, seems to come right out of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. Yet the author of Job charges them with bad comfort and—worse—misrepresenting God. Tabb does an excellent job navigating the concepts presented in Job, explaining their relevance to his theme, and making the book come alive for his readers.

Interpreting Job, however, is not Tabb’s main purpose. He wants to answer the question that forms the title of his book: How Can a Good God Let Bad Things Happen? He tells us right off that he has another question in mind, too, one that Job himself asks: Shall we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10). Tabb squarely confronts the conundrum of a good God who nevertheless permits or even causes disaster (see Isaiah 45:7).

Throughout, Tabb’s style is conversational and personal. I never had the feeling that he was talking down to me or telling me just to buck up. His use of personal anecdotes as well as liberal quoting from the Bible and C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain appeals to both heart and head. This is a book for those who have experienced pain and loss. It is also a book for those who simply want to understand. The hardest part of sharing another’s grief is that you can’t. You want to empathize, to feel with them, but you find yourself able to offer nothing more than your presence.

Tabb leads us through the shock and horror of tragic loss, through anger at God and disbelief, to acceptance and perhaps something more, perhaps to genuine comfort. To some his answers will still seem trite. Certainly the last chapter, introducing heaven and eternity as balm for the wounded soul, is the weakest. He is at his best when dealing with the here and now. But his reasoning is theologically sound and thoroughly orthodox, an excellent antidote to recent works that explain pain by diminishing God.

This book is for anyone who has ever questioned how God can be both loving and all powerful. For some, this issue is a major stumbling block preventing them from coming to faith in Christ. It may also be for someone who has experienced suffering, but I would urge caution. Those who are grieving do not need more books to read. They need your presence.

Disclosure: The publisher, NavPress, provided me a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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Death In The Family

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My brother Mark lost one of his children yesterday. He drove off the road into a ditch on a country highway in Nebraska. The airbags deployed, but he was not wearing a safety belt, and he suffered serious head trauma. A witness called the police, and they responded right away. My nephew, Scott, was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Lincoln, but he never regained consciousness, and doctors this morning determined that his brain was not receiving blood flow. Mark and his wife, Amy, made the difficult decision to allow his organs to be donated and to terminate life support.

I spoke to Mark this morning, and he was shaken. The tone of his voice told me more than words: how exhausted, how hopeless, how overwhelmed he was. I wanted to hug him, but my arms were too short. What comfort could I give him? Yet I prayed with him, and he was comforted a little. Tomorrow I am going to Nebraska to visit him.

There is perhaps no more painful experience than to lose a child. When they first appear, children are mysterious and demanding. They disrupt our lives and require us to be become less self-centered. But as they grow, something miraculous takes place. They become independent persons. If we are fortunate, they become our friends, and we see in them the bright potential of unfulfilled dreams and continuing possibility. Children give us hope for the future and remind us that life is good. The tragedy, then, of losing a child is compounded by losing a friend, losing a future, losing part of the goodness in life.

For some, the grief is so great that they become angry and bitter toward God. Some have rejected God, becoming atheists because they cannot believe in a God who would cause or allow such pain. Others, those who have learned to trust their loving Father, run to him in their pain, crying out to him, raging against him—yes—but also taking comfort in his arms.

No distant or abstract God took Scott from us. Our own dear Father took him or—perhaps more charitably—allowed him to be taken. If we turn away from him, where can we go for comfort? “[T]o whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). So the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). But more than that, the Lord comforts those who mourn (Matt. 5:4).

We live still in a world groaning under the burden of our first parent’s rebellion. It was not supposed to be this way. In a perfect world, there would be no car accidents, no sudden, tragic deaths. But our enemy still seeks to kill and steal and destroy. Sometimes he succeeds. But when he does, we remind him of our Savior’s victory over death. We comfort one another with the hope of rejoining those we have lost.

My heart is broken for my brother Mark and his wife Amy, for their children, and especially for Marshall, whom Scott was driving to meet. Words fail me, but I will be there soon. Meanwhile, may our Father comfort you and give you peace.

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Body Talk

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My last post before I started this new blog was about the Christian view of the body, particularly that pernicious bent given to the body’s natural desires by the flesh. My purpose was to lay the foundation for a discussion of the way we now tend to separate the mind from the body. We have come to think of ourselves in mechanistic terms. Our brains are hardware; our minds are software. In principle, at least, if not in fact, our minds could run on different hardware, perhaps even on better, faster hardware. We could achieve a kind of psychic immortality by porting our minds to machines we would be better able to upgrade and maintain.

This kind of thinking now permeates our culture and causes us to regard our bodies as houses or shells in which the real person for a time resides. When the body dies, the person dies as well because there is no longer hardware available to support the software. And there is no backup tucked away in a closet somewhere to be taken out and loaded on new hardware. Dead persons are like lost software and go into the bit-bucket of time. There’s no getting them back, so let’s move on.

Some no doubt think that this mindbody split was inherent in Christianity. To a certain extent they are right. No less authority than Jesus himself told the dying thief he would see him in paradise, and Paul told the Corinthians that to be away from the body was to be with the Lord. But Paul makes it clear that while we may long to be with the Lord, it is not as bodiless spirits but as people having a heavenly body, not subject to the laws of sin and death as are our present bodies. So while Christians see the mind (or spirit or soulI intend the intangible part of a person without worrying at this point about subtleties) as distinct from the body, they also see mind and body inseparably joined as the design of God. If we succeed in porting the mind to a man-made contraption, the result will no longer be a human being and may be an abomination to God.

Christians also believe that the mind lives on after death apart from the body. Exactly what kind of life it is we do not know. Nor do we know much about the experiences or capabilities of disembodied souls. Scripture is nearly silent on the subject. We can infer that they experience pleasure and pain, are able to communicate (at least with God), and still have desires. But it is not clear that they are able to have any impact on the physical world. They also do not appear to have the power to communicate with the living, despite claims to the contrary made by spiritualists.

Many scriptures condemn the flesh, and some have therefore concluded that the body (or the material world) is evil. Christian orthodoxy, however, maintains that the body is good. Otherwise, there would be no point to the resurrection.

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