Some circumstances in life are so tragic that they defy explanation. Nowhere is that more so than in situations that involve untimely death. Bryan Chappell writes:
In order for the human heart to maintain love for a Sovereign God, faith must affirm what it cannot prove: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)
We trust our sovereign God because he has shown us his heart at the cross. The sacrifice of Christ is the heart’s ultimate solace in times of greatest pain.
When we remember the cross, our faith in God’s sovereign purposes strengthens and comforts our hearts, though tragedy comes and human answers faith.
No where do we feel the need for some answers than after the death of a Christian through suicide.
Dr Wilson Benton wrote the following sermon for his congregation after the death, by suicide, of a Christian leader in the community. It is included in the book The hardest sermons you’ll ever have to preach and in it we find consolation and hope for even the darkest of situations. Below is a heavily edited summary of its contents.
Is suicide a sin?
The answer is yes. It is the taking of a life in a manner forbidden by God. It is murder – self-inflicted murder, but murder nonetheless – and God’s Word states, ‘You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13)
Is it an unforgiveable sin?
Suicide is not the unforgivable sin.
If a person is not forgiven by God, then the effect is the same as if none of his sins are forgiven. But if a person is identified as one forgiven by God, then all of his sins, including the sin of suicide, are forgiven.
Can a Christian commit suicide?
The answer is yes. Christians can commit all kinds of sins. Sometimes in those deep waters we forget. Our faith, which is real, is nonetheless really weak. And the fogs of despair, discouragement, and depression become so thick that we cannot see the face of the Lord Jesus.
What happens to the person who commits suicide?
That depends. What happens to any person who dies, regardless of how he dies? If that person is an unbeliever, that person goes to hell. If that person is a believer, that person goes to heaven. If the person who commits suicide is not a Christian, that person goes to hell. If the person who commits suicide is a Christian, that person goes to heaven.
Are others to blame when one commits suicide?
The answer is no. Many will feel guilty in this situation, many always do. Yes, we ought to be more sensitive and more caring and more supportive and certainly more prayerful, but we are not responsible for another’s decision.
Is God still in control at the point of suicide?
The answer is yes – God is still on control.
At age thirty-two, the great hymn writer William Cowper became so depressed that he determined to take his life. He ordered a horse-drawn cab to pick him up at his home and transport him to the London Bridge, where he planned to jump to his death. It was a foggy night, The cabbie got lost, and Cowper got frustrated. He thold the man to stop, got out of the cab, paid his fare, and truned around to discover that he was right back at his own doorstep. He went inside, stil bent on his evil intention. He drank poison, but it made him sick, and he threw it up. Then he determined to fall on a knife, but the knife blade broke, Finally, he made a crude attempt at hanging himself, but he was discovered, unconscious yet still alive, and he was cut down. In the days that followed, as he contemplated these events he wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.
Do God’s promises still apply to the person who commits suicide?
The answer is yes. All of God’s promises still apply to the person who commits suicide, for don’t you see that all of God’s promises in Christ are ‘yes’ and in him ‘Amen’ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). Suicide does not contravene the promises of God.
And what should we do?
We should cry out in pain, but we should also cry out in prayer.
We should pray for [X’s] family, and we should pray for his congregation, and we should pray for those who are bewildered and confused by his actions, and we should pray that God will somehow use all of this for his own honour and glory. And we should pray that he would even use this to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. And we should prya for ourselves – that we may be more sensitive to the pain borne by those around us, more supportive, more enoucrging, more prayerful.
But most of all, we c an praise God for being God, for being the God he really is, for beling the God whom we can trust even in the face of such tragedies. He is the God whom we can turn with all of our questions and heartache and pain, and he is the God who has already triumphed for us in Jesus Christ.
Are you right with God through faith in Jesus Christ?
If you are desperate or despondent, do not believe that your sadness disqualifies you from Jesus’ love or dismays your Saviour. Instead, recognize that he is the Saviour of the disconsolate an dloves to call the sorrowful to his embrace.
And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31 NIV)
The words of Jesus here in Matthew 12 have frightened many Christians. Have I committed the unforgiveable sin? No less a man than the great preacher, John Bunyan, feared that he might be guilty of the sin and was deeply troubled by it.
If you are someone who worries about this verse let me tell you what it does not mean. Jesus is not saying that there might have been a sin in your past, maybe something that continues to haunt you that you cannot confess to God and find complete and final forgiveness. Too many Christians struggle with guilt over sins of the past when the promise of God is clear.
If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin – 1 John 1:9
If we are ever to understand what Jesus is referring to we need to put these verses in their proper context.
What prompts Jesus to utter these remarks is what happens at the beginning of the section that leads up to his statement. In v.22-23 we discover that the people of Israel see Jesus cast out a demon from a blind and mute man. What they see leads them to conclude that maybe this man is the Christ. But when the Pharisees see that many are considering Christ they in turn attribute the work of God through Christ to Satan.
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Mat 12:22 NIV)
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is therefore to deliberately and wilfully attributes the work of God to his ultimate enemy Satan. This sin is to self-consciously reject self evident truth about God.
The casting out of a demon can ONLY be the work of God. So to witness it and accept it is to see the incontrovertible hand of God at work. To then call it evil is the sin of blaspheming the Spirit.
So what does Jesus mean when he says ‘anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not’?
I think the best way to understand this is to see that it is possible to speak against Jesus out of ignorance. RT France in his commentary argues that it is possible to speak a word against Jesus
‘without being aware that one was opposing the saving purpose of God….But the significance of Jesus’ exorcisms was plain for all to see; there could be no excuse for misinterpreting this work of the Holy Spirit and attributing it to Beelzebul.’
Of course in our own times we are too sophisticated to believe in evil spirits but that doesn’t change the fact that there are men and women out there who make it their business, sometimes quite literally their business, for profit, to call what is good, evil.
Some of the new atheists come close to this. When Christopher Hitchens in his book ‘God is not great: How religion poisons everything‘ describes Christianity as an agent for evil in the world that is self-evidently false. It is a deliberate distortion of history to call good evil. Even a most basic look back into history reveals the profound impact for good that Christianity has had on our culture.
David Cameron in a speech remembering the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible said this
‘the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality…When each and every individual is related to a power above all of us, and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God, we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights.’
Bruce Sheiman in his book ‘An atheist defends religion’ writes of the extraordinary impact of Christianity when he reminds us of what we owe to the gospel;
‘A commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in ANY other culture’
To describe Christianity as a force for evil in our world is to call light to darkness, calling that which is good, evil is the very message brought to us today most clearly in the message of new atheism.
We also have to fear for a culture that refuses to see the hand of God at work in creation preferring to ascribe the existence and complexity of our universe to nothing rather than to God.
Dick Lucas, Rector Emeritus of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, a large church in the city of London said this:
To look at this marvellous creation and dismiss the idea of God seems to me to be very close to calling light darkness
Are we any more rational than the Pharisees when we attribute the universe to ‘nothing’. Are we not so close to blaspheming the Spirit?
The psalmist writes
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3 NIV)
Christian Concern highlights the conclusion of Oxford Professor Roger Trigg, founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion that Christians are in danger of facing ever growing persecution for their beliefs in British courts.
I’m working through Tullian Tchividjan’s (cha-vi-jin) great book Jesus+Nothing=Everything, winner of Christianity Today’s award for best book in the category of Christian living for 2011.
At one point he includes an illustration put together by a friend on how easy it is to avoid Jesus by becoming a legalist:
1) Makes rules outside the Bible
2) Push yourself to try and keep your rules
3) Castigate yourself when you don’t keep your rules
4) Become proud when you do keep your rules
5) Appoint yourself judge over other people
6) Get angry with people who break your rules or have different rules
7) ‘Beat’ the losers.
Should Christians make New Year resolutions?
Matt Perman in his excellent leadership blog, What’s Best Next, makes a great point when he writes ‘a well lived life doesn’t just happen’.
Perman takes us to the writings of Jonathan Edwards to showcase a great example of why and how resolutions can play a part in the Christian life:
Edwards is a good example not just of a life that is lived well, but also of the “practical side” of how to actually build that intentionality into our lives, rather than just letting it remain a vague wish that never takes deep root and makes a real difference.
Jonathan Edwards the greatest theologian America (or arguably British theologian as during his lifetime the US was part of the British Empire) was a man who made resolutions.
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
What’s noticeable about Edwards resolutions over and against modern-day new year resolutions are their focus on the development not of the outer-man (going to the gym, losing weight, finding a new job) but instead the inner-man (spiritual development, character, godliness).
Perman helpfully categorises them into Overall Life mission, Good Works, Time Management, Relationships, Suffering, Character, Spiritual Development.
So taking time to reflect on life and resolve to live life for him (with God’s help) is certainly a godly thing to do. There certainly seems to be an intentionality about Paul’s Christian life. Take for example, 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.
Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.
Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Should we make such resolutions public?
There’s no doubt that involving others in making and keeping resolutions can help us in keeping them.
We might be tempted to mock the public nature of resolutions. Why resolve things at New Year? Why tell people? Precisely for the same reason that we tend to go in for public marriage: because it can be useful to back up our own resolve with the pressure that stems from the expectation of others. It is often not bad enough to let ourselves down, so in addition, we need the fear of letting lots of people down to keep us on track. By being declared in public, a resolution gains confirmation and amplification.
If, as Christians, we only think about making changes at new year that certainly leaves us open to the charge that we’re simply adding a Christian veneer to a secular idea. But if like Edwards we are willing to regularly take stock, take note and by God’s grace seek change then new year is as good a time as any.
There is the opportunity that a holiday time provides for reflection and a focus that the ‘new year, new start, new you’ opportunity provides.
De Botton rightly says:
We can use the energy that surrounds the birth of a new year to lend our own inner change some impetus.
The most common and desperate question I have receivedover the last three decades is: What can I do? How can I become the kindof person the Bible is calling me to be?
In effect Christians say to Piper:
I want this [life].But I fear I don’t have it. In fact, as far as I can see, it is outside my power to obtain. How do you get a desire that you don’t have and you can’t create? Or how do you turn the spark into a ﬂame so that you can besure it is pure ﬁre?
When I don’t desire God is John Piper’s response.
You must download the book by 31st Decemeber to get if for free. You can also access and print out a free pdf version of the book at the Desiring God website.
There is a sense in which WWJD is the wrong question to ask. A better question, when it comes to grasping the message of Christianity is what DID Jesus do? It is his life of perfect obedience and his death as a sin-bearing sacrifice that alone brings us into relationship with Christ. As the Apostle Paul says ‘God justifies the wicked’ Romans 4:5. So when it comes to answering the question what gets us right with God WDJD is a better question.
But in another sense once restored to a relationship with God through Christ WWJD is a good question.
Philippians 2:5 (NIV) says ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.’
1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV) says ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’
Ultimately we are called in the strength of God’s spirit to follow the example of Christ. Luke 9:23 ‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”
Tony Reinke’s book Lit! Contains a load of practical advice on how to read widely and read well. The final chapter Raising readers is a superb chapter on encouraging children to read. Some of them are most obviously directed at parents but there’s a lot that grand-parents, God-parents, aunts and uncles can glean.
The headings are taken from the book as is anything in italics.
1. Fill your home with books.
Nothing encourages children to read than readily-accessible books. A home full of books is a home that demonstrates the importance of reading.
To save paper (or money), take them regularly to the library.
2. Read to your kids. Make daily reading with them a priority.
3. Don’t stop reading to your kids.
I found this a thought-provoking suggestion. Reike makes a case for reading out loud with your children from birth through to college!
That may seem a bit much but there are ways and means of making reading a family activity. See some of the points below and what about listening to audio-books together especially in the car on longer journeys ( see 7 below) and then re-reading extracts on return as a highlight.
4. Read your own books in front of your kids.
Seeing that reading books is a high priority in your own life will motivate them.
Neil adds: I would add try to engage your kids with some of the content of what you’re reading. Tell them what you’re reading and why it’s important to you or entertaining to you.
5. Teach your children to read.
As you train them in the basics of reading, find ways to motivate your children. We have motivated our children by offering to buy them brand new books when they can being to read simple sentences. And we encourage them by offering to take them on ‘dates’ to the local library.
6. Push entertainment into the background
Reinke offers this advice from Thomas Spence’s How to Raise Boys who read
The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple – keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.
7. Listen to audio books in the car
8. Hunt for the best books
Look for books that will engage your kind of child and ask others for recommendations.
Neil adds – it may even encourage your child to read it if it is borrowed from a good friend who’s also enjoyed it.
9. Anticipate new books
Be on look out for new titles by an author your child has enjoyed and you have appreciated.
10. Celebrate the classics
Find ways to get significant dates from your favourite books, and the birthdays of your favourite authors, into your calendar so you can celebrate.
Neil comments: We’ve enjoyed reading our own copies of books we read as children to our 6 year old son. It’s special if they know that you loved the same book when you were their age.
11. Cultivate your child’s moral imagination
Imaginative literature like myth or fantasy is not only permissible for children, but it provides us with an opportunity to cultivate the moral imagination of our children. Our family has been blessed by the moral lessons in C.S.Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The rich spiritual and moral lessons in these books make rereading them a priority in our home.
12. Help interpret worldviews as you read to your children
Reading literature together allows parents to read about sin and evil and goodness and beauty – and to pause and help the child interpret those realities in light of Scripture.
13. Read your favourite excerpts to your children
Even young children can enjoy edited extracts from your own reading
14. Invite your children to read to the family
I will buy [my oldest son,9,] as many books as he can read, so long as he agrees to mark his five favourite pages in each book, bring those marked pages to the dinner table, explain the context, and read them to the family. This practice models a love of reading for his younger brother and sister.
15. Challenge your children to improve books
I particularly appreciated this idea! Encourage your children to engage with the books they read by suggesting alternative endings or better story-lines or even to bring the themes of the book in line with a Christian worldview.
16. Most importantly, read the Bible together as a family.
Stop mocking religions and start stealing from them? Why Alain de Botton’s new book is doomed to fail
The thesis of Alain de Botton‘s next book is that religion is good for atheists. It’s sure to create a stir (and sell a few copies) if Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion is all that it is cracked up to be.
There’s even an opportunity to hear a secular sermon from him in advance via the school of life in January of next year.
Judging from the introduction to the book on his own website it seems that de Botton thinks you can steal the best bits of a religion without being religious yourself.
The problem with the thesis is that, uniquely for Christianity, it simply cannot work that way. For to steal gospel instructions on how to live without relying on God who gives us life through the gospel is to steal a car without an engine. Quite simply you are going nowhere.
Here’s what I hope de Botton might grasp: the Christian life depends, and depends absolutely, on the Christian gospel . It is the engine of the Christian life because only a deep inner grasp of what the gospel has done for us can enable the response required in the Christian life.
So, for example, Christian community is made possible not because we choose to be nice, or like to forgive, or want to get along but because of a fundamental change of identity that the gospel alone has brought about.Christian community depends, absolutely, on the knowledge that IF Christ has died for me and you, and IF he has reconciled us to God, then he has reconciled us to each other.
The FACT that both I and they have been loved by God in Christ obligates me to love and serve them and gives me. The FACT that I have been loved by God in Christ also gives me a compelling and powerful motivation to boot. The ability to love flows out of the experience of love. The desire to forgive flows out of the experience of forgivenss. That is why the power to live the Christian life flows out of the gospel itself.
The same is true of forgiveness. The apostle Paul says to the Christian ‘forgive because’, but because what? Because, Ephesians 4:32 ‘in Christ Jesus God forgave you.’ I forgive because I have been forgiven.
And this is where de Botton’s thesis breaks down for the atheist does not share that experience and as a result does not share that obligation to live with regard to anyone. He does not claim to have experienced a forgiveness that compels him to forgive others. Forgiveness for the atheist is a lifestyle choice. He is not being inconsistent if he does or doesn’t forgive his neighbour. There is the world of difference between the Christian requirement to forgive because we have been forgiven and the atheist who is under no such obligation.
Take away the gospel indicatives (Christ forgave us) and there remain no binding gospel imperatives (therefore forgive one another).
It will be a curious thing to see how de Botton will escape such an obvious and necessary conclusion.
‘Why are there so many unmarried, college graduated, serious-about-Christ, committed-to-the-church, put-together young women who haven’t found a groom, and don’t see any possibilities on the horizon?’
asks Kevin deYoung. Well worth a read.
For an interesting follow-up piece read this.
Thanks Lizzie for drawing my attention to these.
- Church Planting
- Global Church
- Jesus Christ
- Medical ethics
- Social media
- Suffering Church
- The Christian Life
- Transforming Society
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010