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Christianity Has Some Answers

March 31, 2020

Christianity Has Some Answers

An article has begun to circulate from a prominent theologian that is entitled, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To,” (a link to the article is at the end of this response). The author rightly says that we should be careful to declare the coronavirus a warning, a judgment, or a sign. Of course, Jesus Himself told us that when tragedies occur, we must be careful of exclaiming, “It is because of their sin that this is occurring!” (see Luke 13 and the tower of Siloam). We ought not to make judgments like this. We may not know why God is doing what He is doing.

However, being told that we ought not make these judgments, does not imply that we have no answers from Scripture to comfort us during a time of crisis. The author moves on to claim that our culture is one driven by rationalism, or the desire to have all the answers. I would disagree and believe the contemporary influence is strongly based on irrationalism, or the proclamation that there are no certain answers whatsoever (Unfortunately, developing this would take us down a long rabbit trail). He then states that Romantics just want a sigh of relief. He arrives at an idea which is that we have to realize that we are simply to lament, without answers. He makes this statement, “What if, after all, there are moments such as T. S. Eliot recognized in the early 1940s, when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing?” Is this the hope of Christianity?

In order to justify this claim from Scripture, various Psalms are quoted. Psalm 6 is quoted as stating, “Be gracious to me, Lord for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.” Psalm 10 is quoted for the statement, “Why do you stand far off, O Lord?” Significantly, Psalm 22 is quoted where we read, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The goal of the article is to encourage the Christian to recognize that lament is perfectly acceptable. We will return to that below.

We must ask, are these truly statements concerning which the psalmist received no answer? Is the Christian to wait in difficulty without hope so they will not hope for the wrong thing? Does Christianity not provide any answers during times of crisis? The author does admit, “Yes, these poems often come out into the light by the end, with a fresh sense of God’s presence and hope, not to explain the trouble but to provide reassurance within it,” but then goes on to discuss Psalms 88-89 where they end in darkness. The hope that is admittedly present is largely set aside for the emphasis on questions, darkness, and hopelessness. In the last paragraph we read, “In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.” We should notice that the author does declare in the final sentence of the article, that out of the lament he is encouraging, “there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope. New wisdom for our leaders? Now there’s a thought.”

The few inclusions of hope should be appreciated and not completely ignored. The author leaves room for a light at the end of the tunnel. However, the emphasis is indeed on questions without answers, lament without hope, and darkness without a focus on the light. Notice the article ends with more questions to which we are given no concrete answers. What is the hope we can have? What is the wisdom we can come to understand? We can also wish that added to the list of things we may gain was new insights into the Word of God.

We ought to ask, does biblical lament require a lament that deemphasizes answers and hope? If some Psalms begin with rejoicing and end in struggle, and others begin in struggle and end in rejoicing, are we to focus only on the struggle and forget the rejoicing? Do we have to deemphasize the light at the end of the tunnel in order to truly appreciate the darkness? The short answer is that we do not. The Bible includes both. Perhaps the points of Psalms 6 and 10 are to remind people in the midst of struggle to look forward to the hope they have in a sovereign and loving King. Perhaps the point of Psalm 89 is to remind people of the goodness of God they have already come to know and see in their past experiences in the midst of their contemporary trouble. Of course, we can note the pouring out of struggle that exists in Psalm 88, but we must also note that Psalm 88 is not the only Psalm in the Bible, and exists within the context of Psalm 89. So, in the midst of difficulty, we certainly can remind people that it is OK to lament. But, biblically, lament is always given a context of answers from our communicating God, and hope from the God of all comfort.

It is indeed important to note that Psalm 6 does not end with verse 2 which is quoted above. Although the psalmist does indeed lament, he is then encouraged by the answer he receives from the Lord. He says, “Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity; For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; The Lord will receive my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.” In other words, the psalmist is reminded of the promises of God. He knows God hears his prayer and His Father in heaven will indeed help him. This is far from lament without answers and hope. It is lament which brings him to the reminder of God’s power, love, and faithfulness to His people. It is lament that receives an answer. Psalm 10 does not end with the first half of the first verse quoted above. In verses 14-17, we read, “But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief, To repay it by Your hand. The helpless commits himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and the evil man; Seek out his wickedness until You find none. The Lord is King forever and ever. The nations have perished out of His land. Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear.” The psalmist is encouraged by his present distress as he remembers who his gracious God is. His God is one that helps those in trouble. He will defeat His enemies. He is the King, who has sovereign power forever. God hears his pleas! What incredible answers the psalmist received to his lament.

Further, we are referred to Psalm 22 and “Why have you forsaken my O God?” Of course, this should bring us to the remembrance of the cross. At the cross we learn that the greatest tragedy that ever occurred, the crucifixion of the perfectly innocent Son of God, was actually the greatest event that could have occurred for sinful man. It is there that death, the curse, and all the enemies of God were soundly defeated. Then, the Son of God rose in power and victory over all of God’s enemies, including the power and penalty of sin. The greatest tragedy in the history of mankind, led to the greatest triumph of history. 

We can then ask the question, if the greatest tragedy of all time actually worked out for the greatest good of all time, then perhaps we can trust God in the midst of whatever specific tragedy we are facing? Psalm 22 actually provides us with the greatest answer to tragedy that we could ever ask for; the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of the divine Son of God. 

So, we may not know the exact reason a particular tragedy is occurring. But that does not mean that the Christian is called to lament without answers or hope. We certainly do lament, but we lament with all of the hope and answers that God provides us in His Word. He may not tell us exactly why a certain virus occurs at a certain date. But he does tell us, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). He does tell us, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). He does tell us, “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b). He tells those in the midst of mourning, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope,” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and then fittingly encourages them to hope in the resurrection of Christ, in which they can hope for their own resurrection some day. He does indeed say, “The Lord is King forever and ever,” (Psalm 10:16a) and, “Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble.” (Psalm 10:17a). God provides us with answers.

Can the Church work on recovering the idea of biblical lament? Of course she can. If we recognize an aspect of God’s Word that the Church perhaps could better emphasize, do we need to exalt that thing at the expense of other truths of God’s Word? No we do not (This type of error occurs in other areas of theology as well, but again we cannot develop that at this time). In order to discuss the biblical role of lament, must we talk about Christianity as if it has no answers whatsoever to offer during a time of crisis? Scripture demands that we do not. 

Let us recognize that there is a time for lament before God. But let us praise our wonderful God that Christianity is not a religion of hopeless lament with only unanswerable questions. God may not have given us all of the answers, but He has given us many incredible answers. We may not know how the contemporary circumstances will work out, but we do indeed have the hope that they will work out for the good of God’s people. We can know that no matter what, God’s people will know the joys of eternal life, and rely on the hope that one day all the enemies of God, including sickness and death, will be defeated. We can hope because Jesus is alive. We can hope because we have a resurrected Savior who defeated His enemies with the curse on the cross. So, no, Christianity does not have all answers to every circumstance. But it does have the most wonderful answers that exist. We can hope in that.
Note: The full original article to which this is a response can be seen here: https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/?fbclid=IwAR2R9AFMULAsaNOHOT3RpuGtuaqbLZiKsf5nfylDB6Tp5cnX5OQSRBwlDko

From → Theology

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