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:
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)
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?
(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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
OF WORK (TENT module) by
Rev John Ting will be commencing on 2 Sep, Tuesday,
. 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
A BLESSED BIRTHDAY TO ...
Daisy Sim 11/8
Ong Hock Chye 11/8
Edwin Chee 14/8
Goh Chay Giam 14/8
Benjamin Lee 14/8
Era Mahendran 14/8
Koe Hung Tatt 15/8
Ming Feong Ching 15/8
Immanuel Andrew 15/8
Phua Kok Wee 16/8
Grace Losreyes 16/8
Violet Lim 17/8
Stephen Looi 17/8
Mrs Tan Kwee Tin 17/8