Monday, 26 May 2008

Glorious Apologetics?

I've just put another sermon on my website. It's onHaggai chapter 1. It's a bit rough around the edges, and I don't like the introduction, but it seemed to go down OK. I really like Haggai, although I don't think he gets enough attention. I particularly love this chapter - it's a kick up the backside to the Jews who'd returned from exile but become more concerned with their fancy houses than with God's glory. Something which is really clear from Haggai 1 is God's concern for his own glory - he makes all the effort to get people to see his glory. He sends Haggai with a message, he's been frustrating their efforts to find satisfaction in other things, he tells them what to do, and he stirs their hearts to do it. God's glory is God's top priority.

As I mention (possibly a bit clumsily) in the introduction, this has had a huge impact on my understanding of God. People like John Piper have helped me to see that God's number one priority is his own glory, and it's a truth which turns everything upside down. One major effect is that it puts us in our place. We tend to think that we're God's main concern, which he proved by dying for us. But, in truth, God's glory is demonstrated in the death of the Lord Jesus as his love and grace and holiness and justice are displayed.

Something else I was trying to get at in the sermon, which I don't think I did justice to, is that God's glory is key to understanding who he is, and why he acts the way he does. When we lose sight of it, we see God differently, and a lot of things about him become far more difficult to understand.

One obvious area is the problem of suffering. How can God possibly allow suffering if he is good and powerful? God's glory is key to understanding this - listen to John Piper's talks on suffering from New Word Alive, or read Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. It's only when we factor in God's glory that these things begin to make sense. Otherwise any answers we come up with are either deeply unsatisfying, or we have to make things up.

Which brings me to the point of this post, and a question I've been pondering for a while. It seems to me that we don't like to talk about God's glory to non-Christians. I don't think I've ever heard an apologetic talk on suffering which deals with the subject in the way Piper would. I don't think I've ever given a talk like that either. I'm wondering, why not? Perhaps it's because we can't understand it or explain it properly, so it makes God sound like an egomaniac? How can I talk about God's glory to non-Christians in a way that will make sense of the big problem they have, but which will do justice to God and maintain his goodness and grace and compassion? Hmmm... I feel there will be more to come on this...


Chris said...

Not to diminish any of this, but I'd be wary of an "apologetic of glory" for non-christians. The problem of suffering is too big for general solutions. Here are 2 dangers:
1) you end up justifying evil itself in the grand scheme of things (eg God permitted it in order that it would serve [his glory] in this way , so it's not so bad in the end. This kind of optimism is really a high road to despair.)

2) you end up abstracting atemporal universal principles from the biblical plotline, giving no account of how God's relation to suffering might change pre-/post-fall, and again in redemption while we wait for the redemption of our bodies. (this is my only gripe with "free-will" defences. It's all helpful in its right place

gazleaney said...

Hey Chris, thanks for your comments.

I'll admit I didn't totally understand the beginning of your second point, but I think you're right, and I think you've articulated some of the hesitations I have (and the reasons I don't end up using glory in answering the question).

But I'm usually uncomfortable with what I'm left with, because it ends up being very man-centred. "The world is rubbish for us, because we messed it up. But God doesn't like it when we're hurting, so he's sorted it all out." (I try really hard not to end up saying that, but there's always a hint of it there).

I think this is nagging me even more since Piper at NWA, because of the importance of God's glory in understanding suffering for Christians. If the stuff he said is right, then can we really just not mention it when we're talking to non-Christians?

I think those are the issues I'm rolling around in my brain - although I don't think I spelled them out very clearly in the original post.

peterdray said...

Hi all

Gareth - I'd suggest you get hold of Rafael Anzenberger's stuff from ELF 08 when it goes up. He did a fantastic session on suffering. He said that there was a difference between those 'watching' suffering and those experiencing it. His stuff for those watching suffering (ie those who want real answers rather than primarily needing compassion) was quite similar to Piper's but for use in an evangelistic context. (I'm quite concerned about aspects of over-emphasising free will).

Perhaps the key thing is to emphasise that God's design was always for the new creation, and that the effects of sin in the present order are painful and real. The danger is what Chris highlights - that suffering seems to be something that God approves of in order to justify the end - and so presenting this eschatological tension is vital. God hates suffering, as he hates death and all sin.