Chapter Three: Suffering on Purpose (Chapter Four, too)
by Elizabeth de Barros
“God nowhere promises us temporal prosperity, but the way he has redeemed us makes all of our trials cruciform,
that is, shaped not by the circumstances themselves,
but by the suffering and victory of Christ.”
— Michael Horton
Enjoying the book so far? Michael Horton covers a lot of ground in these next two chapters. If by now you understand a “theology of glory” vs. a “theology of the cross,” it should be clear sailing from here, as Horton has placed a sort of theological compass in your hand. Tip: Allow it to inform you the rest of the way, as we’re going to pick up the pace by covering two chapters a week. I’ll offer a brief summary for each and I’ll be pulling more quotes. Also, today’s chapter 4 summary has a few terms linked to their definitions just in case they’re new to some. Hey, maybe next time I’ll get tricky and throw out a question from the back of the book:) But for now, grab your favorite drink, get comfy and let’s have another go-round. By the way, I’m making mine a latte!
SUMMARY of CHAPTER 3
In “Suffering on Purpose,” Horton sets the tone for the rest of the book by affirming that just as Christ suffered on purpose, so do we. Nothing we undergo is in vain or wasted. God uses every bit to conform us into the likeness of His Son. And he reminds that God is not aloof or heartless as He carries out His secret plan, but He is working all things together for good. In all our troubles, God offers “more than chicken soup for our souls” — we have an anchor of hope that has “entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”¹ He goes on to detail how Jesus’ first coming was not to reign as Glorious King, as the disciples were expecting, but as Suffering Servant sent to die. God’s unfolding plan of redemption on the timeline of history was a theology of the cross — purposeful — yet terribly misunderstood. While the disciples were hankering for the best seat in the house and wondering who would get to sit on His left and right in glory, He was preparing to wear a crown of thorns, pour out His blood, and have a spear thrust into his side for the forgiveness of their sins — and ours.
1. Hebrews 6:19b
SUMMARY of CHAPTER 4
In defense of Truth, Horton calls the shots in “Is Your God Big Enough?” One by one, he lines up and fires away “execution-style” the prevailing lies of this postmodern age. By first taking aim at pragmatism, he quickly disposes of the view “God is useful” and the notion “if it works, it must be true.” He makes target practice out of moralistic therapeutic deism, a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith to describe what the average card-carrying American teen believes in the name of religion: “God is whatever I need.” He cleans up by offering a perspective on perhaps what is the most common detriment to genuine faith, that “fatal combination: experience-centeredness and sentimentalized pictures of God.” From this vantage point, Horton challenges the reader to believe God to be “most present precisely where He seems most absent.” He then bravely moves in for the kill. While he sympathizes with the problem of evil and suffering in our lives, he states that apart from Christ, there is no practical solution. His message? Our hope must be in a God bigger than ourselves, our experiences, and our understanding. Horton then points to where we must place our trust: In the promise of redemption — both now and in the future, that day when He wipes the last tear from our eyes.
“It is the Christian doctrine of God, as maintained within historic Christianity, that invalidates both hyper-immanence (pantheism) and hyper-transcendence (deism). Jesus Christ not only teaches us but exhibits to us that the God of Israel is both the Lord over and beyond us and Immanuel, “God with us.”
Growing up, my family experience was less than wonderful. By God’s grace, I endured the chaos from having been reared by an alcoholic father and an emotionally fragile mother. We sustained much collateral damage as sin tore at each of our souls in different ways. As the youngest, I learned to adapt and cope in the midst of an emotional war-zone, finding little comfort for my heartache. But at age 12, God saw me in my distress and caused me to cry out to Him. With great compassion, He met me in my need. Somehow, I knew that God had a purpose in it all. By the time I turned 16, that glimmer of hope turned into “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” I had become a Christian. And I discovered this: Time spent in the furnace of affliction was no mere happenstance, but allowed by God to bring me to Himself. I knew what things I had suffered would be used for His good purpose. After all, He was God. Looking back, that was the extent of my theology. All I could do was lean on Him with all my weight…little did I know He was carrying me.
Years later, I needed my God to be bigger than He had ever been. Newly married and about to turn 30, I received word that my dear older brother, Johnny, 32, had committed suicide. That September evening, it was as though time stood still while everything else changed.
How could someone in his prime, just married, so full of talent and flashes of brilliance be so deeply broken and distraught? This was my brother, my friend, the one with whom I had shared faith in Christ, played the game “I See Something Blue” on the grassy hill near our home, and survived alongside of in our own private holocaust. Now he was gone. That was the day I experienced the point of no return and what it means to “Trust God” — when all sense of control is lost and nothing makes sense. The moment when all the oxygen was being sucked from my lungs. I was devastated.
This is grace: In the midst of my grief and anguish, God got bigger — apart from anything I did, really. In the aftermath of such horrible tragedy, Grief became my closest friend. She accompanied my every sigh and left gold nuggets at the bottom of each puddle of tears. During that time, I learned this: There’s nothing that comes into my life that hasn’t already passed God’s white-glove inspection. He knows the exact number of all my days from before the foundations of the world and God perfectly understands my sorrow. His compassion is very great, and He rules in Majesty over all from a high and holy place. He is beyond finding out.
“We’re going to Jerusalem all right,” Jesus kept saying, “but it will be nothing like what you have in mind.” (p. 41)
“In Christ — that is, under his guardianship — we are assured that God, not Satan, is king; life, not death, has the last word; righteousness, not sin, reigns over us; blessing, not condemnation, is our inheritance here and now.” (p. 46)
“It is finished!”
“But the theology of the cross proclaimed, embraced, and enacted by the Suffering Servant has stripped from the powers of darkness their ultimate threat and will in due season trample all enemies underfoot.” (p. 50)
“We know that we have drilled into reality when its gushing intensity throws us off balance.” (p.53)
“There is no theology-free experience.”
“It is all interpreted, and the question is whether there is something outside our experience to critique it, to let it know whether it got things right. ” (p. 55)
“The God who comes to us in revelation is not a projection, but a Person. He wrestles us to the ground, takes away our pride, and leaves us walking with a limp so that we will never forget the encounter.” (p. 58)
God is self-sufficient…God is unchangeable in his nature and purposes…God has all knowledge and all power over every circumstance…God is everywhere…These “invisible attributes”…are not sufficient to arouse hope in the midst of crises, but they are essential presuppositions of it. Unless God is God, nothing else matters.” (pp.61, 62, 63)
“That God knows everything about us and has sovereign power over our destiny is bad news apart from a Mediator.” (p. 62)
“God is as present on the streets of New York City as He is in his heavens.” (p.63)
“God does not exist for us; we exist for God.” (p. 65)
“He can and will set everything right…”
“God determines the future, and therefore we can be confident that his suffering for us in Christ will yield the promised fruit: everlasting peace in a world where suffering is no more and God will be all in all.” (p. 68)
So there you have it. Those are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours. Please leave a comment, ask a question, share a quote or offer insight. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.
If you’d like to answer a chapter question from the back of the book, please feel free. Just remember to reference which chapter/question it is so the rest of us aren’t left stranded. Thanks.
FOR NEXT WEEK
Read Chapters 5 & 6: “Is Anybody Up There?” and “If We Just Knew Why God Let It Happen”