Tag Archives: Christopher Wright

The God I Don’t Understand 7: How does the Cross work?

My apologies to those waiting for the next chapter in Wright’s book. Some other writing assignments require me to put down my fun books and pick up some work-related reading these days. But enough of my excuses… In chapter 7 Chris Wright admits that one answer to the question, “How did the cross achieve salvation for us?” is simple and from Scripture: “Because it did.” But he like many others would rather not stop there. And he contends the bible doesn’t stop there either.

He reminds the reader that evangelical interpreters of the Bible regard the most helpful metaphor of the cross as judicial–substitutionary atonement. There are other metaphors used in the bible to explain the “how” but 1 Cor 15:3 underlines and emphasizes that Christ’s death on the cross was sacrificial and substitutionary. Here Wright brings up the controversy surrounding “penal substitution” and the grounds by which some reject this forensic focus to substitutionary atonement. Of the 7 reasons he lists, the primary ones (in my eyes) are the sense that penal substitution focuses too much on guilt, portrays God as mechanistic or always angry, and emphasizes the only way to deal with sin is with violence.

Wright believes the arguments for rejecting penal substitution would be good if in fact evangelicals held them. But he fears that the arguments against the penal metaphor are caricatures. From this point he looks at how the bible paints God’s love and anger. His anger and love must be, he contends, taken together as part of a whole, rather than having one negate the other. The two expressions are not contrary to each other any more than we may be angry with a loved one for bad behavior and yet still love them at the same time. He suggests the Cross satisfies both God’s love and anger.

He further rejects the conflict between God the father and Jesus the son. God is not the angry father and Jesus the loving son who steps between us. That viewpoint would destroy God’s essential unity (see John 17 for this). He uses extensive quotes from John Stott here to bolster his argument

Finally, he addresses the concepts of guilt and shame. The argument has arise that penal atonement only makes sense in cultures with a “developed sense of personal and objective guilt.” Shame cultures, it is suggested, would not be able to identify as well. Further, in a postmodern world it appears that shame is the more likely experience (of not being internally consistent with oneself). But Wright says that both shame and guilt are addressed by the cross and both are related. He points to Ezekiel who talks about being shamed and feeling shamed (36:16-32). The cross (and the forgiveness behind it) takes away the shame quality even though they still feel it when they remember what God has done. Wright suggests that ongoing feeling is healthy. He quotes from another of his books

Israel were not to feel ashamed in the presence of other nations (36:15), but they were to feel ashamed in the presence of their own memories before God (36:31-32). Similarly, there is a proper sense in which the believer may rightly hold up her head in company.

He then talks about how God in the OT and Jesus in the NT publicly affirms those who were shamed. God removes their shame, no matter what others think of them. They now hold their head high. And yet, Wright tries to articulate that this person may still feel shame when remembering past sins but he is quick to point out that this feeling does not crush but fuels “genuine repentance and humility and for joy and peace that flow from that source alone.”

While the content of this chapter seems a bit more about confronting a wrong he sees in the penal substitution debate than about answering how the cross works, nonetheless I find his writing about guilt and shame quite helpful here–especially how he distinguishes the kinds and sources of shame. I think it might be helpful for those who trust in Jesus but who struggle with shame to consider for a moment what their shame drives them to do. To hide? To be grateful for God’s restorative work?

Next week, we’ll look at his final chapter on the cross.

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The God I Don’t Understand: Chapter 6

Been blogging through Christopher Wright’s book about things that are hard to understand about the Christian God. In earlier chapters he covered things that make him uncomfortable but now he gets to the third section about the cross–something that puzzles but delights him. He begins with this thought:

As I ponder the cross, three fundamental questions sum up our struggle to understand it: Why? What? and How? Why did God ever consider sending Jesus to die on the cross? Why was it necessary from our point of view? Why was he willing to do it, from his point of view? And then, What did God actually accomplish through the death of his Son? What was it all for? And finally, How did it work? How did one man’s bleeding body stretched on two pieces of wood for six hours of torture and death on a particular Friday one spring outside a city in a remote province of the Roman Empire change everything in the universe? (p.111)

In this chapter he takes up the why and the what questions.

Why?The simple answer is “Because God Loves us.” (p. 112). But he also admits that the answer is “totally inexplicable.” Wright doesn’t believe that we can really answer the question but is convinced we can deepen our understanding traipsing through the OT. Then Wright shows what is not the OT’s answer for why God loves Israel. It is not because they are special in any shape or form. In fact they may have been the unfortunate example of “all that is worst about humanity in general.” The only way to understand why God loves us, says Wright, is to accept that it is God’s character to love. And while that states the truth, “…it doesn’t explain it.”

What? Wright points to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and the quick summary of what happened. He then reflects on the metaphors the Bible uses to describe what the cross does for human sinners. Metaphors used to describe the atonement cannot fully capture the “what” but neither are they lacking in reality. Wright then explores these metaphors:

1. Coming home (Eph. 2:11f)
2. Mercy (Eph. 2:3-7)
3. Redemption from slavery
4. Forgiveness
5. Reconciliation with God and other
6. Justification
7. Cleansing
8. New Life

Each of these reveal that God was doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. What is not a metaphor, says Wright, is the word “substitution.” That is, he says, is what he actually did. God accepts the penalty which belonged to us alone.

This chapter, as you may see, has less discussion of mystery and more discussion of the “what” and the “why.” Next chapter will take on some more of the mystery by exploring the “how” of the cross–how it could have such cosmic impact.

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The God I Don’t Understand 6: The Canaanites?

After a long break from blogging, I return to Chris Wright’s book, “The God I Don’t Understand.” We are now at chapter 5 where he explores whether there might be any possible satisfactory solution to the extermination of the Canaanites–something that might make the conquest by Israel more acceptable.

In short, he says he has no “solution…[nothing that would] neatly remove the emotional and moral pain and revulsion generated by the conquest narratives.” But, he does attempt to explore 3 “frameworks” in the chapter to help the reader “cope with the destruction of the Canaanites and understand at least some things about it in light of what the Bible as a whole says.” (p. 86)

1. The framework of the OT story. In this section of the book he explores some of the context of the Ancient Near East (ANE). He notes that the conquest isn’t considered a holy war, but the war of Yahweh. Further, Israel was not to profit from it but that all things were to be for the Lord. He speaks of the concept of “herem” (ban of plunder for personal gain) and that the total destruction of property and civilians was a common concept in the ANE. But, he also says that reports of total destruction were commonly rhetorical exaggeration and points to places where the Bible reports such total destruction (e.g., Jericho) but records individuals being saved. He suggests this is a literary convention rather than falsehoods in writing.

Here Wright takes a detour. He considers whether God accommodates himself and his will to “fallen reality within the historical earthing of his revealing and redeeming purpose.” (p. 88) God allows divorce and even provides a way for it but doesn’t sanction it. He has a creation ideal, says Wright but a legislative concession to our sinfulness 9p. 89). Then, might God use this kind of war because of the nature of the ANE but not have it as his ideal? Wright does not offer an opinion.

Returning to the context of the OT story, he reminds the reader that even though the conquest is bloody, it is limited to a single generation of the Canannites. So, we should not view God as “constantly on the warpath” (p. 90).

2. The framework of God’s sovereign justice. God’s destruction of any peoples is always put into the light of judgment against wickedness. This goes for gentiles and Jews. The conquest is not seen as a genocide by Wright since it is not spoken of in ethnic terms but in response to wickedness. Here Wright points to Gen 15:16 where the Canaanite sin had not reached its full measure in the time of Abraham and so God withheld his judgment at that time. He also points to NT passages depicting both conquest and later destructions of Israel as God’s punishment of wickedness.  While punishment doesn’t make the acts done any easier to swallow, for Wright it does change the “moral context of violence.” (p. 93) There is a difference, he says, between arbitrary violence and intentional punishment of sin. Finally, he ends this 2nd framework by reminding readers that Israel’s victories didn’t make them more righteous. In fact God uses unjust populations to his work (as in Habakkuk) and also warns and then delivers on that warning that Israel will fall if it fails to worship only Him.

3. The framework of God’s plan of salvation. Wright wants to look at the conquest in light of the whole story of salvation. He looks first to the promises to Abraham, which include blessings to all nations. God may use violence to do complete his plan but he condemns it when it is used for wicked reasons. Wright here points to the ultimate destruction of war in the new creation and points out that David was not allowed to build the new temple due to his warring nature.

While the conquest was violent, Wright points out that the work of God is here also to bless the nations. But, “It did not mean that God would therefore have to “be nice” to everybody or every nation, no matter how they behaved.” (p. 100)

Lest we see God as capricious in his choosing who to bless and who to judge, Wright wants the reader to note that conversion and ways to avoid destruction were offered to some of the Canaanites. Even the hated Philistines will have a remnant in God (Zech 9:7).

In the end of this chapter, Wright attempts to make a personal reflection and speaks of the image of the cross as a means to view the conquest.

For the cross too involved the most horrific and evil human violence, which, at the same time, also constituted the outpouring of God’s judgment on human sin. The crucial difference, of course, is that, whereas at the conquest, God poured out his judgment on a wicked society who deserved it, at the cross, God bore on himself the judgment of God on human wickedness, though the person of his own sinless Son–who deserved it not one bit. (p. 107) 


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The God I don’t Understand 5: OT violence?

We come to part two of Christopher Wright’s, The God I Don’t Understand(IVP, 2008). In the last section he muses about the problem of the existence of evil but in this section he considers the struggle to understand the violence and wrath of God found in the Old Testament. Wright says that atheists like Richard Dawkins have no trouble understanding (in their way of thinking) the God of the OT. He’s just a “petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak…vindictive, bloodthirsty…malevolent bully.” (as quoted on p. 73). Wright says their struggle is only to understand Christians who say they believe in this kind of God. It is Christians who struggle to understand the character of God and how punishments on whole families fits with the God of love we imagine. For the next two chapters he wants to consider the following question:

How are we to understand the language of God’s anger, jealousy, or vengeance alongside of what we have been taught about God’s love, mercy, and compassion? (p. 74)

And he wants to apply this to the treatment of the Canaanites.

We’ll look here at his chapter 4 which outlines three popular (but in his mind wrong) attempts to get around the interpretation of a capricious genocidal God.

1. OT God vs. NT God. That is, some try to ignore the problems of the OT by claiming that the NT sets to rights the OT. Wright says that behind this assumption is that the OT God is all “fire and brimstone, war and vengeance, blood and punishment. The so-called God of the New Testament is much nicer altogether.” (77).

Wright disagrees with this assumption because the OT has much to say about God’s compassion and love, the NT, “has much to say (and more in fact) about the anger and judgment of God…[and] because Jesus and writers of the New Testament never seem embarrassed by Old Testament stories, nor do they reject or even correct them (though they do move beyond them).” (ibid.)

To bolster his argument, Wright examines a number of OT passages (e.g., Ex. 34:6-7 [which he says is the “most pervasive definitions of the character of God in the Bible…Love is for thousands; punishment is for thre and four.”], Ps. 103:8-14, Jer. 31:3, 20, Eze 33:11, Deut 7, 10). Then he examines Jesus as the most frequent discussant of hell, the day of judgment, and then cites John Wenham’s observation that while the OT focuses on temporal punishment, the NT focuses on eternal punishments.

Finally, he addresses the ways the NT writers refer to the OT. They refer to the punishment of Sodom and of Korah. They refer to other horrors and do not re-interpret (though they do include Samson in the lessons of faith). And so, he concludes that you cannot and should not put the NT against the OT to resolve the problem of violence.

2. The Israelites thought they were doing God’s will to wipe out the Canaanites but were wrong. This is the 2nd way some try to get around the violence of the OT. God couldn’t have been behind it. It must have been the Israelites mistaken view that God was telling them to destroy the inhabitants of the land. Wright believes this argument fails because (a) when people speak falsely or act falsely for God, it is corrected [hmm., is that always true?] as in Nathan’s advice to David or in Jehu’s bloodbath murder of Baal priests. Since nowhere does the conquest of Canaan get rebuked…therefore it cannot be a misinterpretation of God’s will, and (b) in fact, the unwillingness to conquer the land (after the spies came back) led to the the wilderness wanderings and is seen as disobedience of God in both testaments. Wright concludes,

you simply can’t surgically remove the conquest alone from the great sweep of Bible history…while leaving all the rest of the story intact within the sovereign will of God. At least, you can’t if you treat the Bible seriously as a whole. (p. 83)

3. The conquest passages are allegory for the purpose of getting a “spiritual lesson” from them. Wright doesn’t deny the value of spiritualizing texts. But, he concludes that the “spiritual use of the Old Testament narratives is secondary and derivative. Their primary form is simply historical narrative.” (p. 84).

No one (and I imagine native Palestinians would be included) believes that the stories of the OT are intended as fictional accounts, even if numbers of people killed are somewhat symbolic or estimates.

So, if these ways of thinking about the conquest are not helpful, what is? That will be the content of chapter five.


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The God I don’t understand 4: Defeat of evil

We come to the 3rd chapter of Christopher Wright’s book, The God I don’t Understand(2008, IVP). Poking a little fun at theologians he tells us that while they want to explain evil, God intends and will destroy it. He reminds us that in the 1st chapter he called us to accept the mystery of evil and in the 2nd to protest and lament it. In this chapter he calls us to rejoice over evil’s final destruction.

The whole Bible, indeed, can be read as the epic account of God’s plan and purpose to defeat evil and rid his whole creation of it forever. (56)

Wright wants us to look at 3 ways the cross helps us understand God’s response to evil. “They are: the utter ‘evilness’ of evil; the utter goodness of God; and the utter sovereignty of God” (p. 57). The cross holds these 3 things together and Wright argues through the chapter how each of these things must be part of our understanding of how God defeats evil.

1. If evil isn’t that evil or rather was necessary, then God is somehow stained by it
2. God is utterly good. And his sovereignty over evil people and his use of their acts of evil does not stain him either.
3. God is sovereign and whether or not you try to distinguish between God’s permissive will and his declarative will, he is sovereign over all things.

Wright then recounts the Joseph story to show these three truths. Evil is evil in the life of Joseph. God is good to him and the whole area. God is sovereign, even over the evil behavior of his brothers.

And then he moves to the cross,

First, the cross exposed the utter depths of human and satanic evil–in hatred, injustice, cruelty, violence, and murder…

Second, the cross happened fully in accordance with God’s sovereign will from eternity…

Third, the cross also expressed the utter goodness of God, pouring out his mercy and grace in self-giving love. (62-63)

Finally, he finishes the chapter with an exploration of Revelation as it illustrates the centrality of the Cross in the defeat of evil. “Christ’s power to control these evil forces [the horsemen in Revelation] is the same power as the power he exercised on the cross.” (p. 67). And so, Rev. 21 tells us of the evils that will be banished (sea, death, pain, sin, darkness, shame, strife, curse, etc.).

This is a short but nice chapter on the power of the cross over evil–how God brings evil and righteousness together in one act in order to destroy all evil. Whenever human goodness and evil combine, the result is impurity. But God’s weakness/innocence on the cross results in the destruction of all that is evil.

From here we’ll move to questions about all the killing in the OT, of the destruction of the Canaanites to give Israel a land. How are we to understand that?


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The God I don’t understand 3: Chapter 2

Christopher Wright tackles “The Offence of Evil” in this chapter of his book. He begins by reminding the reader that even though she may need to accept the mystery of evil she cannot accept evil itself. No, “There is something within us that reacts to evil in the way the body reacts to a “foreign body”–with rejection and protest.” He tells us the point of this chapter is to say that we are absolutely right to react the way we do and that, “the Bible not only gives us permission but even gives us the words to do so.” (p. 44)

Natural disasters, says Wright, perplex us because these lack “moral or rational explanation.” While some natural disasters may have human agency as partial cause others do not. Wright cites the disasters brought on by movements of tectonic plates. Why? How can such things happen when God is supposed to be in charge?

Are these disasters God’s judgment? A result of the curse? Wright suggests that while both have elements of biblical truth,”both seem to me dangerously misleading when pressed into service as full explanations.” (p. 45). If you take these events to be the result of the curse, then if you follow the cause back far enough, you have to level the charge at human sin. Is this fair, Wright wonders. He finds this explanation “improbable” for several reasons. First, he disagrees that Gen 3:17 is a curse on the whole planet. Rather it describes the struggle relationship humans have with earth and the hardship encountered in trying to make a living from it. He sees it as a functional curse. If you take the curse of the ground as curse of the whole planet then you have to believe that our planet behaved differently before the fall. Wright doesn’t think so.

There is no evidence that our planet has ever been geologically different from the way it is now, or that animals were ever nonpredatory, or that tectonic plates in the earth’s crust were somehow stationary before the human species emerged and sinned. (p. 47)

So, in Wright’s mind, God placed humans on a planet with geological activity that seems rather precarious at times. He muses, “I don’t pretend to understand why…I might wish that it could be otherwise. But I don’t think I can be presumptuous enough to tell the Creator, “you should have thought of some other way of making a home for us.” (p. 47)

But what about these disasters being God’s judgment on a people? While all humans are judged to have fallen short are the victims of natural disasters worse sinners than those who live where no disaster has happened?

It is one thing to say that there may be elements of God’s judgment at work in the natural order as a result of prolonged human wickedness. It is another thing altogether to say that the people whose lives are snuffed out or devastated by a natural disaster are the ones deserving that judgment directly. (p. 48)

He likens those Christians who declare these disasters to be God’s specific judgment on a people for their sin to be no different than the Muslim cleric in Britain declaring that the Tsunami in Thailand was Allah’s judgment on sex tourists–even though most of those killed were families at the beach and not those seeking sex with minors. “The sheer crass arrogance of such responses staggers the imagination.” (p. 48)

This illogic happens, Wright says, because “we so easily take some aspects of what the Bible teaches, then invert the logic, and apply it quite wrongly.” (ibid) Yes, God sometimes uses natural disasters to punish or judge. The biblical account give a few examples. But Wright tells us that when we attempt to speak for God, to speak authoritatively, we err. He gives examples from Job, John 9 and Luke 13 that counter the believe that disaster always equals specific judgment. Also, while these disasters do cause some of us to reconsider life and to repent of sin, Wright believes it is “grotesque” to suggest  that God did this just to warn us.

Wright believes that there isn’t any one answer or explanation for the cause of natural disasters.

Science can tell us their natural causes, and they are awesome enough. This is the achievement, but also the limit, of scientific explanation of “what really happened”. But neither science nor faith can give a deeper or meaningful reason or a purpose for a disaster. Thus we are left with the agony of baffled grief and protest.

When we run out of explanations or reject the ones we try, what are we to do? We lament and protest. We shout that it simply isn’t fair. We cry out to God in anger. We tell him we cannot understand and demand to know why he did not prevent it. Is it wrong to do this? Is it something that real believers shouldn’t do, just like “real men don’t cry”? Is it sinful to be angry with God?” (p. 50)

Wright finds in his bible that the answer is NO. For the rest of the chapter he explores Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Psalms and finds that “those who loved and trusted him most” (and not God’s enemies) were frequently angry, questioning, lamenting, and protesting God’s seeming inaction. Wright tells us that there are more lament psalms than there are praise psalms and yet he finds the church unable to lament in corporate worship. Why? Why do we turn to other explanations (judgment, curse, God’s sovereignty, Rom 8:28, etc.) instead of engaging in public and corporate worship characterized by lament and despair?

We are to “file our protests before God….within a framework of faith that has hope and a future built into it. For the present state of creation is not its final state, according to the Bible.” (p. 54) But for praise to have “integrity”, we must be able to pour out our “true feelings before God”.

Wright ends with some choice quotes from Nicholas Wolterstorff and this,

But if that were all [that we accept the mystery of evil that we cannot understand and that we lament and protest it to God], life would be bleak and depressing in the extreme, and faith would be nothing but gritting our teeth in the face of the unexplained and unrelieved suffering. Thankfully the Bible has a lot more to say to lift our hearts with hope and certainty. That is where we are headed in chapter 3.


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The God I don’t Understand 2: Chapter 1

Chapter one of Chris Wright’s The God I don’t Understand (Zondervan, 2008) is the first chapter of his section entitled: “What about evil and suffering?” He reminds us that everyone struggles with the existence of evil in the world but that it is a particular struggle for the Christian  given our view of a good and sovereign God.

We Christians believe that there is one living God, the creator of the whole universe, who is personal, good, loving, omnipotent, and sovereign over all that happens. (p. 27)

He asks,

What help does the Bible give us in holding these jarring contradictions together in our minds in such a way that, even if it does not give us an answer we can fully understand, it does give us hope that we can fully trust? Or to put it another way: Whereas we often ask, “Why?” people in the Bible more often ask “How long?” (ibid)

So chapter one explores the mystery of evil. The Bible, he says, “compells us to accept the mystery of evil” (p. 29) in terms of its origin since the Bible does not explain its ultimate origin.

Despite the mystery, Wright tells us the origin of the “vast quantity” of evil can be known–the result of human sin and wickedness. So he distinguishes moral from natural evil. Moral evil is both intentional and unintentional acts (or failure to act) that cause human suffering. Of these Wright says,

Somehow, we manage to live with such facts, simply because they are so common and universal that we have “normalized” them, even if we regret or resent them and even if we grudgingly admit that humanity itself is largely to blame. (p. 31)

But, when we think of natural causes of suffering, “the cry goes up, “How can God allow such a thing? How can God allow such suffering?…Our gut reaction is to accuse God of callousness or carelessness and to demand that he do something to stop such things.” (ibid)

He muses that God might respond to such an accusation (especially those who don’t believe in God) with,

Well, excuse me, but if we’re talking here about who allows what, let point out that thousands of children are dying every minute in your world of preventable diseases that you have the means (but obviously not the will) to stop. How can you allow that?

If the large majority of sin is from human wickedness then Wright says we have to admit that none of us escapes the judgment. We both do evil and are complicit in evil. We benefit from the evil done elsewhere (think cheap clothing made in Asia). However, Wright doesn’t want us to wallow in guilt:

I say that not to turn all our enjoyment of life into guilty depression. Rather, as we enjoy the good gifts of God’s creation, we must at the same time accept the Bible’s diagnosis of how radical, pervasive, and deeply ingrained sin has become in all human life and relationships. (p. 35)

At this point in the chapter he steps back to ask where evil comes from even though he already stated we have no answer. “Evil seems to explode into the Bible narrative , unannounced, already formed, without explanation or rationale.” (p. 35) What can we say about evil from the Biblical record. Wright says, (a) It was not God, (b) it was not another human being, but (c) it was something from within creation. “Whatever the serpent in the narrative is, then, or whatever it represents, it is out of place, an intruder, unwelcome, incoherent, contrary to the story so far.” (p. 36) We have warrant from elsewhere in Scripture to see Satan as a fallen angel. Wright then asks about Satan. He reminds us that Satan isn’t God, isn’t omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnipresent. Wright suggests that we, “should take Satan seriously, but we should not dignify him with greater reality and power than is proper for a creature.” (p. 36)

Wright goes on to explore the differences between the devil and humans and gives us this pithy little statement, “The Bible calls us not so much to believe in the devil as to believe against the devil.” (p. 38.)

In summary, Wright reminds us that we cannot understand the presence of evil. This, he says, is a good thing.

“…we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not, “make sense” of evil. For the final truth is that evil does not make sense. “Sense” is part of our rationality that in itself is part of God’s good creation and God’s image in us. So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing.” (p. 42)

Instead Wright tells us that we are to grieve, weep, lament, protests, scream in pain and anger and cry out, “How long …” And he ends the chapter with the bible’s answer, “That’s OK. Go right ahead. And here are some words you may like to use when you feel that way.” (p. 43) What Wright doesn’t say is that our Savior uses these same words to communicate to the father.

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The God I don’t understand 1: Introduction

I’ll be blogging through Christopher Wright’s book by the above title (subtitle: Reflections on tought questions of faith) published by Zondervan, 2008. John Stott writes the forward. Unlike his “Mission of God” book, this is personal, and just over 200 pages. I am finding it a treasure to read. He tackles the problem of suffering and evil and the mystery/unanswered questions we have with great faith and trust–and does so looking at Ecclesiastes. He avoids easy answers but you also sense his basic trust and worship of God on every page.

In 4 sections he considers the problem of evil and suffering, the problem of the Canaanites (violence in the OT), the mystery of the Cross, and the mystery surrounding the end of the world. To whet your appetite, here’s some of his thoughts in the preface and introduction.

Right off on the first page he reiterates his joy of knowing and trusting God. “But knowing and trusting God does not necessarily add up to understanding.” He goes on to talk about the common experience of thinking that some suffering “just isn’t fair.” And he admits that his lack of suffering sometimes seems unfair too. “There seems to be no rhyme or reason to explain such unevenness of experience, when all of us are believers. None of us is any better as a saint. None of us is any worse as a sinner. Yet God has permitted great suffering for some and spared it for others” (p. 15).

Again, he clarifies his position: “It seems to me that the older I get the less I think I really understand GOd. Which is not to say that I don’t love and trust him.”

But still, “why Lord?” and “How long Lord?” are frequently part of his conversations with God.

He goes on to say that those who claim to have answers to the deep problems of life on earth are fooling themselves, “living in some kind of delusion.”

he finishes the introduction by exploring 5 different kinds of “not understanding.”
1. Things I don’t understand that leave me angry or grieved. He says here that the “very essence of evil is the negation of all goodness–and ‘sense’ is a good thing. In the end, evil does not and cannot ‘make sense’.”
2. Things I don’t understand about God that leave me morally disturbed. Such as the violent way God gives Israel their land.
3. Things I don’t understand about God that leave me puzzled. (ex: how Christians have so abused parts of the Bible and why God allows it.)
4. Things that I don’t understand about God but that flood me with gratitude (ex: the cross)
5. Things I don’t understand about God but they fill me with hope (ex: heaven)

Finally, he ends with reminding us that our questions have good company. Abraham, Sarah, Hagar (he mentions that Hagar was the first to give God a name in the OT), Moses, Naomi, David, Elijah, Job, Habakkuk, etc. all question God with WHY, HOW LONG, and WHEN.Even Jesus asks WHY on the cross.

Here are some last choice quotes:

“…faith seeks understanding, and faith builds on understanding where it is granted, but faith does not finally depend on understanding. (p. 22)

And he says something I say in my suffering lectures, that Psalm 73 brings our lack of understanding into faithful worship. It is in the context of worship that the Psalmist, who had been struggling with understanding God’s goodness when seeing life around him, has his perspective changed. His perspective, “does not change the realities of the present.” …the author does not go back and erase all that he has written in the first half [of the Psalm]. He lets us hear both his struggling lack of understanding and his restored, worshiping faith.” (p. 23)


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