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Blessed to Death

This is a letter posted on a Caring Bridge web site for a young boy with acute myelogenous leukemia:

  • God has so many ways to teach patience – and all of the other Fruits of the Spirit. Keep remembering that you are all doing God’s work right now. What a blessed job you are called to do – what an awesome job you all are doing! Thank you for being faithful servants. What an example you are to the rest of us. Rose

Although I’m sure Rose is well intentioned, her comments (to me, at least) raise a number of questions about who she believes God to be and how He interacts with us. Perhaps Rose is a “Godwillian” – someone who believes that whatever happens, God desires it to be, and we need to figure out what it is that God wants us to learn.

I’m guessing that John Piper is a Godwillian. He’s quoted in Greg Boyd’s book, Is God to Blame (pg 48) as saying, “From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for His wise and just and good purpose.”

Greg Boyd responds on pg 53:”Not once did Jesus suggest that a person’s afflictions were brought about or specifically allowed by God as part of a ‘secret plan’. Nor did He suggest that some people suffered because God was punishing them or teaching them a lesson. He didn’t ask people what they might have done to get in the sad predicament they found themselves in – even when dealing with demonized people. Jesus never suggested that a person’s suffering was brought about to contribute to a ‘higher harmony’. To the contrary, Jesus consistently revealed God’s will for people by healing them of their infirmities”.

I’m told that my thoughts on will-of-God issues tend to put God in a box. We mere mortals simply can’t understand the nature of God and how He interacts with His creation. Fair enough. But I can’t help but think that people, such as Rose, who posted about God using leukemia to teach patience, often make God out to be something He isn’t.

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  1. Colleen
    June 30, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Bob,

    Despite the throbbing in my shoulder, I will simply respond to this by pointing you to John 9:1-3…

    “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

    Boyd is off the track to presume “a secret plan”. The “higher harmony” that you speak of is man-centered and prideful. God’s purpose in all things is for His glory. In Ezekiel 36:22, the LORD states, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name…”

    I need drugs now…I look forward to your response!

  2. Bob
    July 1, 2008 at 6:43 am

    Dear Colleen,

    Thank-you for your response to this post. Having experienced “issues” with knees, hips, and shoulders, I can certainly sympathize with throbbing joints. Aren’t the wonders of modern medicine and state-of-the-art-pharmaceuticals simply wonderful?. I wish you all the best in dealing with your shoulder.

    Greg Boyd places quotation marks around “a secret plan” and “higher harmony” to indicate that these are the beliefs of many Christians. I’ll have to verify this, but I think it was John Calvin who initiated the term “a secret plan”. There’s not a reference that I can find regarding the phrase “a higher harmony” in Greg Boyd’s book, Is God To Blame. However, I’m confident in stating that Dr. Boyd does not agree with “secret plan” or “higher harmony” concepts. Rather, Greg Boyd’s response from his book, Is God To Blame?, which I quoted in my original post, would seem to indicate that he rejects the notion that God gives a young boy cancer (referencing Rose from my original post) in order to teach that young boy, or some else for that matter, some undetermined lesson.

    I know a number of Christians who speak of God doing “something” in their life or how they must need to “learn something” because of a given trial that they are experiencing. I would submit that John Piper believes in “a secret plan” and a “higher harmony”. If I paraphrase his quote from my original post – we may not understand God’s ways, but God controls everything that happens for His reasons.

    I looked up Ez 36:22. This verse is in the middle of a long passage and is entitled “A Prophecy to the Mountains of Israel” according to my NIV Topical Bible. From my perspective, verse 22 seems tied to verse 23.

    • Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.’

    This passage is directed to the Israelites where God promises, irrespective of Israel’s past naughtiness and sin, to restore the nation of Israel in such a way that (I presume) other nations will see God’s holiness through (again, I presume) the actions and attitudes of the Israelites. Perhaps there are inferences we can draw as to the nature and character of God related to this event. However, I don’t think it’s accurate to claim that this verse demonstrates that God’s purpose in all things, as you indicated, is for His glory. I would certainly agree that God was doing things with and through His chosen people, the Israelites. Certainly the Old Testament is full of instances where God did specific actions with (and against) specific people and groups (nations). However, I respectfully disagree that this verse teaches that no matter what happens, it is God’s specific doing to a specific person or group at a specific time to enact a definitive response or reaction.

    With regard to the verses about Jesus healing the blind man (Jn 9:1-3), although I don’t believe it to be the case, I can accept that God “caused” this man to have been born blind. God is sovereign and He can certainly cause blindness, birth defects, disease, and perhaps even a throbbing shoulder, an arthritic knee, or even cancer in a young boy. However, in my opinion, this passage doesn’t teach that all infirmities are directly attributed to God. Looking again at the passage, the thought that catches my attention is, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The question for me is what is the work of God in this instance: a miracle, a healing, a demonstration of God’s love, Jesus demonstrating His power, Jesus dealing with the unbelief of the blind man or of the Pharisees, all of the above, or something else altogether?

    Well, it doesn’t appear that we’re agreeing on much here. Still, feel free to write back. I’d welcome the chance to kick these, and perhaps some other, thoughts around

    Most Sincerely,

    Bob

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