good books Recently I read with great interest a book written by Thomas Harvey, lecturer at TTC, Acquainted with Grief. Wang Mingdao’s Stand for the Persecuted Church in China (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002). I am not an expert on this topic, so shall not give a full-dress review. I was, however, greatly impressed by the book, both for its description of an uncompromising servant of Jesus Christ, who consistently stood for the truth of the gospel in the face of great hostility, and for its reflections on the continuing theological significance of Wang Mingdao. How does Christ relate to culture? Is the work of the Spirit of God in the present, as many in China during Wang’s lifetime argued, to be equated with sweeping social change, even when this has an avowedly secular face? Or must the church declare that its aims are not in the end those of any state, that its ultimate loyalties lie elsewhere, that it will follow Jesus Christ even when this brings it into conflict with the state? Wang unflinchingly took the second position, knowing what it would cost him. Here is a quotation from Harvey’s book which develops this theme, to whet your appetite:

‘Wang suffered because he was unwilling to consign faith to the realm of irrelevance and escape, insisting that right doctrine had public ramifications that could not be avoided. In so doing he incurred the wrath of the government and suffered two decades of harsh imprisonment. Those who would justify the excesses of revolutionary governments as nothing less than the hand of God dismiss Wang’s suffering. When compared with more ancient appraisals, however, such modernist assessments only reveal their intellectual and spiritual deformity, for it is neither in the state nor in its brutal treatment of Christians that God is revealed, but in the freedom, judgment, and ultimate victory revealed in those who suffer for Christ. … In bearing witness to Christ through twenty years of imprisonment, Wang Mingdao submitted himself to judgment – not to a “judgment of history” rendered by court historians or political theologians but to a judgment rendered by one well acquainted with sorrow and suffering.’ (pp. 144–45)

(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

CHAPEL

Chapel on August 6 was taken by Dr. Satterthwaite, who spoke on Job, chapters 1–2. He began by asking: What are we to make of a passage which seems to imply that God in effect enters into a bet with Satan concerning Job’s response to suffering? Job, to be sure, vindicates God’s trust in him, but isn’t the way he is treated somewhat outrageous? How are we to understand Job 1–2? Is this passage a true window onto spiritual realities, giving us the truth about God’s dealings with humankind?

Perhaps (we might respond) some details of Job 1–2 should not be pressed too far. Maybe it is a kind of ‘what if…?’ narrative: what if a righteous man were to suffer terribly for no reason that he could see? Perhaps it’s not meant as a literal description or full explanation of God’s dealings with humankind.

Well, certainly Job 1–2 is not the same kind of writing as (say) Paul’s letter to the Romans. But the main issue between God and Satan in these chapters is not a trivial one. The issue is this: Why do human beings serve God? Satan cynically implies that no-one worships God for God’s own sake (1:9–10; 2:4–5): even the most righteous-seeming person really only fears God out of self-interest, because it pays him to do so. That suggestion cuts very deep into our own lives: Why do we serve God? Simply because he blesses us? Singaporean Christians enjoy many material blessings. We like our comforts, as shown by the fact that ‘food’ and ‘fellowship’ are virtual synonyms in Christian circles. How would we respond if our blessings were taken from us?

Of course, to make the choice absolute (we must choose between God and God’s blessings) is in some ways to make a false distinction. God’s blessings give us a sense of God’s goodness, of the kind of God he is. We were made to enjoy things like love, the created order, music, satisfying work, even food; and when we do so, in a real sense it is God and his goodness that we are enjoying.

Further, if we treasure our relationship with God, then a sudden loss of God’s blessings will rightly alarm us, not so much because we miss the blessings themselves, but because of what this loss seems to imply for our relationship with God. What has happened? Has God turned against us? Certainly Job asked these questions, and he was right to do so.

Finally, if we widen the category of blessings to include spiritual blessings (blessings in Christ), then to say we must choose God instead of God’s blessings becomes meaningless. Can we choose between God and salvation? Between God and redemption in Christ? Between God and our adoption as God’s children?

So it is possible to press the distinction between God and God’s blessings too far. But, laying aside those blessings we have in Christ (which cannot be taken from us) where does our heart lie? That is surely the serious issue raised by Job 1–2. What is more important to us, God or material possessions? Or health? Or the approval of our friends? Or human love? Or safety? Or academic success? It is likely that our discipleship will be tested in some of these areas before we die.

Do we have a sense of the greatness and goodness of God, such that everything else in our lives pales by comparison? Do we have sense of the preciousness of our redemption in Christ, of the glory of the gospel, such that our attachment to all other things becomes provisional? (We will only seek these things, or hold on to them, if they do not hinder our relation to Christ.)

God has a right to our total commitment; and he is looking for real faith, people who truly trust in him and in his promises. Sometimes he tests our faith and commitment: by stripping from us blessings which he has previously allowed us to enjoy; or by keeping from us things we hoped to enjoy; or by allowing unexpected troubles into our life. He is entitled to do this because he is our creator and redeemer. He is entitled to ask of us: is your commitment to me your highest priority? He is even entitled to bring us into circumstances which will test our commitment – because he is God.

The theme of Job is often described as ‘the suffering of the righteous’, or ‘undeserved suffering’. But isn’t the book as much about commitment to God, and our relationship to God? That is Job’s concern throughout; not so much the suffering he endures, but that his relationship with God seems to be broken. And the only ‘answer’ he ever gets to his agonised questions in the main body of the book is the assurance that his relationship to God is intact, for God has met with him and declared him to be ‘my servant Job’ (42:7–8). That seems to be the fundamental issue which frames the entire book: the question of our relationship to him.

So: Do we fear God? Are we so committed to God that we will, like Job, accept evil as well as good from his hand? That is a question which searches our hearts.

 

Chapel on August 13 will be taken by Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

NEWS BITS

THEOLOGY OF WORK (TENT module) by Rev John Ting will be commencing on 2 Sep, Tuesday, 7.30-9.30pm . Registration is still open. Fees: $100. Please contact Dr John Lim at 63538071 for more details.

ASSIGNMENTS DUE - REMINDER. For those who are taking Theological Foundations I (TS211) or Ethics, War and Terrorism (TS271) for credit, please submit your assignments by 14 Aug 2003 to Library. Assignments that are submitted after this deadline will not be marked by Rev Dr Douglas Milne. Those who are unable to submit by 14 Aug can request in writing to Dr Quek Swee Hwa at bgstdean@starhub.net.sg for an extension, giving the reason and a new date.

A BLESSED BIRTHDAY TO ... 

Ms Daisy Sim  11/8

Mr Ong Hock Chye  11/8

Mr Edwin Chee  14/8

Dr Goh Chay Giam  14/8

Mr Benjamin Lee  14/8

Mr Era Mahendran  14/8

Mr Koe Hung Tatt  15/8

flower pot

Ms Ming Feong Ching  15/8

Mr Immanuel Andrew  15/8

Mr Phua Kok Wee  16/8

Ms Grace Losreyes  16/8

Ms Violet Lim 17/8

Mr Stephen Looi 17/8

Mrs Tan Kwee Tin  17/8

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