Jesus: The Great Physician

Not sure why this came to mind but I remember going to see the Oncologist back in January 2015 with my wife Sue. She had been given the all clear of a previous cancer and although I’ve no idea why, as the treatment was quite brutal, we were hopeful she would come through the treatment. Not so the second time. Again, I’ve no idea why, other than a feeling, but I remember well that we were not expecting good news. This time we did not have high expectations. Rather the opposite.

Then the meeting came. The doctor had all his notes, tests, and scan results. The news was not good. Sue was not expected to see Christmas. She didn’t. By November 23rd she was with Christ which is far better.

The doctor was the expert, he had been monitoring her condition for some time. He had all the expertise, the training, all the knowledge and all the test results. With heavy hearts we accepted the diagnosis, and the prognosis. Sue had to face the reality of leaving this world. As we all must sooner or later. I very clearly recall the drive home.

We go to the doctor and for the most part we accept the diagnosis: no matter how bad. The doctors usually know what they are doing.

But when faced with the diagnosis, and prognosis of Jesus the Great Physician we ignore it, laugh about it, mock Him, and resolutely refuse to believe it is true. You know the diagnosis. You, like me, and everyone else are sinners. We are fallen. We are under the judgement of a Holy God. The prognosis is eternal ruin.

Why O why, when the one who knows absolutely everything about you in all its sordid detail, your hopes and fears, your failures, all the self-righteousness, and every facet of your life you choose to ignore him? In Sue’s case the doctor could only offer another 6 months and that after a very severe and brutal round of cancer treatment. (Incidentally, Sue opted for palliative care only). The Lord Jesus is able to offer what the oncologist or any other doctor cannot.

The Son of God, The Lord Jesus Christ offers you Eternal Life, the Forgiveness of sins, Peace with God and you reject his offer out of hand. Even when The Lord Jesus bore the Cross instead of sinners, when ‘His blood can make the foulest clean’: still you reject him. This is a blindness, a madness even that only God can cure. Call upon him to have mercy upon you. Ask him to open your eyes. Turn in repentance and faith towards the Son of God, Jesus, the friend of sinners. Jesus, The Great Physician!

 

‘Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life & Thought’ by Stephen J. Nichols. A ‘Review’

‘Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Though’ by Stephen J. Nichols, P & R Publishing, 2002.

This is one book among many that are on the shelf and unread. We all have them. Not sure it’s been on my shelf for nearly 20 years but in any case I’ve wanted to read it for a while and as a change of reading matter was needed, here we are.

The ‘standard’ biography on Luther as I understand it is Bainton’s ‘Here I Stand (1987).’ I’ve dipped into an old edition of that but not read it, so apart from articles and the like this book by Nichols on Luther is really a first for me. Bainton’s book is mentioned at the end.

The book is 240 pages (it starts with the preface on page 11) about A5 size with easy to read print and headings throughout each chapter. It’s not complicated and suits me picking it up and putting it down. When I have sat and read it for a while it’s not been wearisome but actually very enjoyable. The book has several illustrations and is divided down into Preface (11 & 12), Introduction (13-20) followed by three main sections: Luther: His Life (21-66); Luther: The Reformer (67-146); and Luther: The Pastor (147-229). At the end of each chapter is a very helpful final section ‘A Note on the Sources.’ The last section (chapter?) of the book Nichols has included is Continuing the Journey: A Brief Guide to Books by and about Luther. At the end of the book there is a Bibliography, an Index of persons, an Index of Luther’s Works, and an Index of Scripture. A subject index would have been helpful. There are no footnotes or endnotes (my usual gripe) that can be a bit of a chore. I must admit the absence of notes helps the reading. The book is very accessible, reads well, and for me at least, was a good introduction to Luther.

On a topical note here’s a section in chapter 7 about Luther’s response to the plague. He wrote a pamphlet in 1527 on ‘Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.’ Given our Covid Virus situation it made me sit up and take special notice. I’ve linked to it so I can read it later. I thought he’d say we had to stay. But he didn’t. He tells us to do what we can. However, Luther stayed and did not flee. Rather, he opened his house as a hospital and cared for the sick with his wife at great personal risk. Almost dying in the process. The guy is unbelievable on every level! Like many Christians I’ve picked up aspects of Luther’s life and teaching, without, if I’m honest, reading much about him. To actually read about him is amazing. It really is.

The downside of the book, and this is no fault of the author, is that it missed the 500th anniversary of The Reformation. So there is probably a truck load of new stuff on Luther.

If you are new to Luther or want an overview then this book will, I think, do the job. You will read about a giant of a man. In the history of the church there are few his equal. What he accomplished is simply extraordinary. With someone like Luther it’s easy to see how we can be so in awe of the man. We so easily venerate such figures. And I can see why. And it’s easy to do. But we lose sight of what it is that’s driving him if we do. He’s driven by a love for Christ his Saviour and a love for truth, and love for his neighbour. So we copy Luther not worship him. Or anyone else.

I apologise if my ‘review’ lacks detail. So, read the book!

Martin Luther quote on The Lord’s Supper

Unfortunately I’ve been reading this book (I will do one of my reviews later) on Martin Luther a bit piecemeal. But this morning I finished the chapter (6) on The Lord’s Supper, which for Luther held a place of great prominence in his thinking. I’ve realised that I don’t regard The Lord’s Supper in anywhere near as high regard as I should. And I’m not entirely sure the Church as a whole does so either.

I should read some more on this vital topic. During the insanity through which we are now living celebrating the Lord’s Supper is becoming a distant memory. This should not be so. This is a means of Grace instituted not by man but by the Lord of the Church. As such it is something that should and needs to be celebrated. Whatever your view of The Supper, on page 129 Stephen Nichols offers the following quotation from Luther that I thought helpful:

The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh itself and not weaken in the struggle but continually grow stronger…. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attacks the old man, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about everywhere, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or yield hand and foot and become indifferent and impatient. For such times, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.

I had thought this could be done online. After reading this I’m not so sure. It’s an understatement to say that Luther lived through turbulent times, including times of the plague, and yet still maintained the keeping of this vital means of grace. It’s a reminder that the church cannot possibly be a virtual church. The use of the word virtual could be taken both ways. That is as an online church, or as a pretend church.

‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ by Mez McConnell – A Recommendation

This is an absolutely brilliant book – I need to say that right from the start.

‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ Mez McConnell. Christian Focus, 2019.

This isn’t merely another testimony book. Please don’t think of it that way. It’s not a ‘things were really awful, but now  everything is wonderful’ book either. And, be prepared, it’s a harrowing read – in places it is utterly horrific! Mez’s life has been turned round  and ‘upside down’ in the most extraordinary way by the Lord Jesus Christ. But, and this, I believe, is very important to understand – it is NOT a book only about recovering from child abuse. It is about that. And that is amazing. But there’s a wider application as well.

If you have suffered any form of abuse this book will hopefully be very helpful. He writes TO the reader, especially to the abused reader. If that’s you – please read it. And to the abuser as well. And if that’s you – please read it! And if you’re wondering what Christianity is all about or has to offer – then you need to read it. As you can tell, I’m blown away by this book.

A brief word then about the book. There are 49 chapters, which given the content, are mercifully short, Mez doesn’t shy away from stating things as they are (and were). He’s brutally honest. I’m sure things were actually much much worse than he describes them but we, the reader, get the picture full on. He’s also honest about how he feels now.

Alarming perhaps to our Christian sentimentalities, but the honesty is shocking yet devastatingly refreshing.

It’s written really well. I like the way he’s structured it. It works. It’s easy to read as a book (the content is quite gruelling though). The book is full of Reformed theology. It’s not cold and lifeless. It’s warm and life-changing. Creation – Fall – Redemption. The reality, the factualness of sin, of the sinful nature and the cost of Redemption, the love of God in Christ, the Cross is all here. It’s a book of HOPE. Mez has been delivered by Christ the great deliverer. But the fact is we all need that deliverance. Respectable sinners are still sinners and just as lost as the drug addict, the abused, and the abuser.

If ‘The Problem of Evil’ is a problem for you then you may well find this book to be very helpful indeed. If you want an answer, you won’t do any better than to read this book. People are looking for answers. Especially about why the world and their lives are the way they are. Some say there are no answers. But there are. This book is one. The real problem is people don’t like the answers. The answer means handing authority over to another. And we won’t have that at any price, even if that means our own lives suffer. Sin is such an awful master!

In case you wondered, there’s no redemptive merit in what Mez suffered. There’s no balancing of the universe. But, unlike in a humanistic system, it isn’t without purpose either.

I like the way he’ll take a subject based on his awful experience and then contrast it in the following chapter with the suffering of Christ which is redemptive – for and on behalf of sinners, not himself. This, I think, works really well. For example he does this with chapters on humiliation, rejection and pain & suffering. Christ is humiliated. Christ is rejected. Christ undergoes pain & suffering.

Every chapter was either Jaw – Dropping in its description of evil or in the Amazing Grace of God in Christ.

These chapters stood out to me: Hell on Earth; The Glorious Wonderful Reality of Hell; The Terrible Reality of Heaven; The Bittersweet Pill of God’s Sovereignty.

Like I said this isn’t ‘merely’ a testimony book so at the end there is a section of Helpful Resources:

  • Worshipping with the enemy? – Interview with a child abuser
  • Interview with the Pastor of a child abuser
  • FAQs from Child Abuse Sufferers
  • A Response to this Book from an Abuse Sufferer
  • Next Steps

I was going to put loads of quotes in but instead I will end with a plea to read it. If you are a Church Officer, Elder or Pastor / Minister you MUST read it. I hope you will.

Four Christian Books & Booklets on Grieving

There are many many Christian books and booklets on grieving. Some are more helpful than others. I was given seven to review. Having read them I’ve ended with the four below. These are my thoughts.

Reviewing them is difficult because grieving is such an individual thing but most of us are going to go through this process sooner or later to some degree or another. There is no getting round that. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that the grieving person needs friends that know them well. This came out in one of the books:

“After my tragedy, a lot of people wanted to minister to me, and in some cases they were people I didn’t know well. But this just isn’t the time to be making new friends. It’s a time you want to be surrounded by the people you are already close with.” For All Who Grieve, p. 89 & 90.

Booklets can be quite helpful, especially if you don’t know what to say. They let us express our sorrow for the grieving person without having to say anything. Just don’t keep asking them if they’ve read the one you gave them as if it’s the most important one of all. It isn’t. They might never read it but they’ll still appreciate it and remember the kindness.

People mean well. But they don’t always say or do helpful things. Booklets are the same. They won’t all be suitable for everyone and it may be that a combination of books or booklets will be most helpful. No one book can say it all. If you are going to give someone that’s grieving a book then make sure you read it first. For example, I’d appreciate the kindness, but giving me something that was full of things I didn’t believe wouldn’t be helpful, I’d only find it annoying. But then, it might provoke useful thought. There you go. Is there a right or wrong – no idea. Just try not to batter people.

The reality of church life means there will be Christians at various stages of grief. That is true of any church and is true where I’m a member. Death doesn’t come in a neat packaged order. You don’t have to be old to ‘go the way of all the earth’ as Joshua said and is shown so well in ‘For All Who Grieve.’ So there is wisdom in preparing for what all of us will eventually experience. Nothing, apart from God himself, can prepare us for it. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it and just stoically get on with life. No, we are Christians, so we can and should prepare as best we can with the resources God has given us. These, and books like them can help us. There’s a lot of doctrine in the following books. So don’t let anyone tell you doctrine is of no practical use! Here are the four books then, in no particular order.


‘How Can I Grieve to God’s Glory?’ by Ryan M. McGraw, Reformation Heritage Books, 2019. (£2.50) This little booklet of 28 pages is based on Lamentations ch 3 where the sin of Israel has brought judgement. Because of Adam’s sin, and our own sin, we live in a fallen world. But on page 4 it’s not clear if it’s a specific personal sin that causes the death of a loved one. This could, I think, have been phrased differently. It was unhelpful and I nearly didn’t read on. However, by the end I thought the booklet had many good points and in several places is very helpful. For example,

‘Like him (Jeremiah) Christians must walk by faith in their grief (Lam. 3:19-38). We are thinking and believing Christians, and how we think and what we meditate on during our trials largely determines how we bear them by faith in Christ.’ p.9.

Another good point is that the author doesn’t shy away from God’s Sovereignty. If The Lord is truly Lord of all, He’s Lord of what’s happening to us, including the death of our loved ones. This is an important point. The booklet is doctrinally correct but some might think it lacks warmth. That said, it is very well worth reading. There’s a lot in this that we need to hear but in the wrong hands it could be used as a cudgel.

The grieving believer needs these truths but like some medicines they need to be administered with care. I would recommend reading this, but with caution. Would I give it to someone in the depths of grief? I’m not sure.


‘Grief: Finding Hope Again’ by Paul David Tripp, New Growth Press, 2010. (£3.99) This booklet by Paul Tripp is helpful and is the shortest at 24 pages. And short can be really helpful. I would have no problem giving this to a Christian. He’s quite straight, but is perhaps a little more compassionate. For example, this sort of honesty is good to bear in mind,

‘Whether death results from a sudden accident or a long illness, it catches us unprepared. Death is so deeply emotional and stunningly final that there is nothing you can do ahead of time to sail through your moment of loss.’ p. 5.

There are some good, but brief, strategies for dealing with the peculiar temptations grief brings with it. It doesn’t go into much depth, so that alone could be helpful when your grief-stricken brain isn’t working correctly. This booklet is a good place to start.


‘Grief: Walking with Jesus’, Bob Kellemen, P & R Publishing, 2018. (£7.99) This is a 31 day devotional reading plan.

I struggled at first with this book but then I warmed to it. I wasn’t overly keen on some aspects but by the end I was personally glad to have read it, and thought how useful it could be. It’s real and warm but also challenging. I could see it helping to maintain or establish a regular time in the scriptures. I would have no problem giving this away. The three studies each on Lazarus and Gethsemane for example were excellent. At the end of each reading there are items for reflection or things to do. For some, in the midst of raw grief, giving them stuff to do too soon might not be helpful. But then, for others, maybe they need to stop for a few minutes to reflect. It really helps to know the person.

‘Grief is a journey. But you and I know that it’s not a straight line from one point to another. The messy, mixed-up journey of grief that zigs and zags from hills to valleys, from valleys to hills, is not a nice, neat process.’  P.17.

This is the sort of honesty that is so helpful because there isn’t a magic bullet that suddenly makes everything well. There just isn’t. But The Lord Jesus is with us in it. No matter how messy it gets.

One reading was on justice and at first it seemed strange for that to be in here. But if the death of your loved one came about through medical incompetence or violence or a myriad of other issues the desire for justice is understandably going to be very strong. And it might be just to peruse it. The author doesn’t by-pass these emotions but we are helped and challenged to deal with them by bringing them to the Lord.

When is the best time to give it to someone in the midst of their grief? I don’t know. It wouldn’t do any harm even if they didn’t get round to reading it until some time later.

One other use for this could be to read it through as a group or even as a church.


‘For All Who Grieve: Navigating the Valley of Sorrow and Loss’ by Colin S. Smith, 10 Publishing, 2020. (£9.99) Hardback 140 pages. This last one is the longest and looked formidable. Would I have tackled it in the midst of grief? I don’t know. But the text is easy to read with breaks and headings and text boxes that keep it from becoming just a wall of text. I opened it with a bit of trepidation and I was hooked. I didn’t want to put it down.

This book is also based on the book of Lamentations. He (the author) was called out to a couple whose son was suddenly killed and from this he started a group that met to discuss together their grief – some from 18 years previous. The book is made up of shared experiences (testimonies) of (mainly) couples from the group with comments and exposition after each testimony by the author.

The six chapter titles are TEARS, TALK, GUILT, GRIEVANCE, HOPE & HEALING with a Postscript and an Appendix on ‘Children who die in infancy. (The testimonies are mostly about the death of children – one of 27 days.) After each chapter there’s a page of ‘Questions for Reflection and Discussion.’ Scary. There is raw honesty here. We don’t get all our questions answered and even after many years the grief is still painful. I found it helpful. The testimony to the love and faithfulness of God is wonderful. Christ really is the answer. But it’s through many many tears. The chapter on ‘Grievance’ is actually about having a grievance with God. The care of God is unbelievable. So amazing!

‘Why did God breathe out a book filled with complaints and grievances against Himself? Surely it is because He wants us to bring our grievance to Him’ p. 76.

One section in the Grievance chapter is on ‘Did God Cause This or Did He Just Let it Happen?’ The book tackles hard questions.

Would a ‘sharing’ group like this work in every church? I don’t know. Would it work in our church in the UK? Again, I don’t know. I do think ministers and elders should read it though. Or if you want to try and understand grief then you should read it. I found it refreshing and encouraging.

It’s a book with great heartache and sadness but it’s not a gloomy book. There’s grief and there’s hope together.

I highly recommend this book.


There are some topics that are interesting to read but may have little relevance to our lives. Death and grieving isn’t one of them. Frankly, it could do us all a lot of good to read books like these in order to further prepare us and our churches for the difficult days ahead that will surely come.

Death, Suffering and The Compassion of Jesus

I’ve been going through nearly 200 unpublished draft posts. I came across this one and decided to post it. The draft was dated 30th October 2015. That’s about a month before Sue died. I pray this will be of some help as you read this.


It’s easy to read the Scriptures and miss so much of their richness. Although commentators are useful and wonderful gifts to the Church they don’t always tell everything that’s happening in a passage of the Bible. A case in point is when the disciples come to tell Jesus that John the Baptist had died. The passage is from Matthew 14: 1-12. Thinking of verse 12:

‘And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.’

It had never occured to me before, but why did Jesus withdraw to a lonely place?

‘Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.’ Mat 14:13

Various views might be that His time was not yet, or that if we fill in the narrative from the other Gospels there are a few things happening. The Disciples come back from their evangelistic mission exclaiming how  the spirits are subject to them and that many have been healed. But could it be that Jesus is grieving the loss of His friend and cousin John.

Could Jesus have prevented the death of John. Of course. Jesus could have brought down a fiery judgement upon the head of that wicked man Herod. But He didn’t. What then about the executioner who upon delivering the fateful blow was only obeying orders. Could Jesus have delivered John from the axeman. Of course. What about Herodias and her wicked mother? Could Jesus have foiled their terrible conspiracy to silence righteous John? Of course.

Even in the light of the knowledge that King Jesus could have prevented all, yet permitted all, nevertheless, Jesus grieved over the death of John the preacher of righteousness. Suffering, is often cited as the achilles heal of the Christian faith. But is it really an achilles heel? As Jesus telescopes down history to the final judgement when Herod and all those responsible for the death of John will face another judgement. On that last day the friend of sinners will be the Judge on His throne. We may know it now, but then, it will be seen by all that Jesus does all things well.

‘And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”’ Mark 7:37

 

Lost and Disorientated? Follow Christ

Last evening (actually, early this morning) I (that is, we) had the most disorientating feeling. In spite of the mist we decided to drive to Ynyslas beach to watch shooting stars. A bit crazy, but we hoped it might be a bit clearer there. We ended up on the beach in the pitch black and in a mist. (Plus I wasn’t sure if the tide was in or out. So we also had to try not to drive into the water. I then checked as we left. The tide was in.) I’ve been there several times but when I got out of the car to try and work out where we were it was hopeless.  The car ended up facing a line of posts with a couple of No Entry signs (The posts and signs can just about be made out in the picture). That was impossible I thought. We had gone, so I thought, in the other direction. I decided to get out of the car again and walk back to where I thought the entrance / exit should be (given the signs) despite thinking how impossible it was that we’d gone in completely the opposite direction. With the torch on my phone I found the exit. I walked back to the car and said ‘Turn round and follow me.’ That’s exactly what happened. I then got back in the car and we drove home.

Ridiculous I know, but it was really a very very uncomfortable feeling albeit briefly. What amazed us was how quickly we were effectively lost and completely disorientated. There was no one else there. There were no lights, no points of reference and completely pitch black and in a mist with water out there somewhere!

It’s not perfect, but there’s an obvious Gospel application here. We’ve no idea how it happened but we were facing the wrong way. We’re born facing the wrong way. We live our lives with no reference point. Then comes the time we realise we are lost in a dark uncomfortable world. We need a guide. We need light. We need to turn round (repent). If we don’t, there’s no getting out. I could say all sorts of things like how the No Entry signs represent the law of God and tell us we’re wrong, but I won’t. Instead, I simply want to say this: The Lord Jesus Christ through the Bible is our true guide.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12.

‘Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle

Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle. Evangelical Press.

As it says on the cover of this small booklet or ‘Tract’ it is ‘Lightly edited & updated by Mary Davis’ so it doesn’t read as a 19th Century text but it certainly addresses a 21st Century issue. It’s nicely laid out with easy to read text and isn’t very long at 51 pages.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Ryle gives us the essentials of true happiness followed by common mistakes about what will make us happy. ‘To be truly happy, a person must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world’ (p. 15). He brings out several witnesses to show how wealth, fame, education and several other things will not make a person happy. Well then, how to be really happy? He tells us. Here’s just the first thing, ‘Be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian.’

He doesn’t ignore the fact that Christians can go through much pain and sorrow. ‘Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy at all times? No, not for a moment!’ (p. 35) He goes through several objections before making a final plea. ‘Next, let me beg all readers of this book who are not yet happy to seek happiness in the only place it can be found’ (p. 48). ‘If you want to be happy, Come to Christ!’ (p.49)

As you would expect Ryle is plain in saying salvation is found only through the blood of Christ. The book challenges both believer and unbeliever. As a book it may not suit all but could be a good one to give away.

Ryles original tracts, along with this one can be found here: http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/john_charles_ryle.htm

Review – ‘If God is so good why are things so bad?’ by Melvin Tinker

This is the second book I’ve read by Melvin Tinker. It’s published by EP Books and dated 2019 so it’s a recent book. I like the way he writes. That is just a personal preference. The book is laid out nicely with easy to read type with headings throughout each one of its 8 chapters. At 156 pages it’s not a long book, and that includes several pages of end notes (I prefer footnotes), a foreword (by Tim Chester) and a preface. It isn’t a cheap book for its size with a retail price of £8.99 (what I paid), but you’ll probably find it for less.

Tim Chester describes the book as an invite ‘to walk with Job through the confusion suffering creates (p. 10).’ The author writes that ‘What follows iis a series of expositions which attempt to walk the way of wisdom with Job so that we might learn to think and speak of God aright when hard times come our way (p.15).’ As it says on the cover it’s a discussion of the problem of suffering. I have personally found the book of Job to be a great help. Suffering in some shape, mental or physical, will come upon us all and so books that deal with suffering will continue to be produced. Dealing with the problem and dealing with the suffering might be two separate but connected issues. This book does what it says on the tin and deals more with the problem. But it also deals with the suffering in the sense that it equips us to help others rather than batter them as Job’s friends did

One more minor gripe (the other is end notes – worth reading) is that he sometimes, for whatever reason, doesn’t given a reference. On page 49 & 50 he gives a lengthy quote from John Owen and I really wanted to see where it was from – alas, it was not given. He does this in another book as well as I recall. Maybe it’s just me.

Does he answer the question of the book title? You’ll have to answer that. I think he does, but whether you’re satisfied with his answer is another thing. In the Preface Melvin Tinker compares two men, Primo Levi and Victor Frankl, both prisoners in Auschwitz, who survive with two different views. He quotes Frankl saying, ‘The truth is that amongst those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number of those whose religious life was deepened – in spite, not to say because of this experience – by far exceeds those who gave up their belief (p. 14).’ That is quite telling. To use modern parlance then, Job is a survivor. And we should listen to what his book has to say. As Jesus said ‘He that has an ear let him hear (Mat 11:15).’

Chapter one introduces us to Job where we see that his ‘religious and moral credentials are established as impeccable from the very beginning (p. 22).’ On page 24 Melvin asks ‘What could possibly go wrong?‘ Job is afflicted as we may know. Satan is given permission to attack Job in the most horrendous manner. And so ‘Here was a man suffering alright, suffering which was heightened, not lessoned, by his faith in God (p. 28).’ Job is set up as one of the good people so ‘how is one to go about explaining what is happening to Job who is one of the good people (p. 28)?’ This is what faces us in the book of Job and what Melvin Tinker seeks to explain in his book.

Chapter two introduces us to Job’s three friends. I believe what Melvin says of them is correct that ‘no matter how crass, misleading and insensitive’ they ‘prove to be, their intentions were nonetheless sincere.’ And then we read ‘In their own way they represent a certain type of Christian today (p.35).’ We may have met that Christian, maybe we are or have been that Christian! The longest section in this chapter has the heading ‘How not to be a ‘comforter’ (p. 43).

Chapter three is a more detailed exposition of Job 9. Here, two profound questions have to be faced. The first question revolves around God’s power and sovereignty and whether he is good? ‘That is the question found lingering on Job’s lips (p. 52).’ The second question is found in Job 9:24 The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges— if it is not he, who then is it? That is an incredibly powerful question for anyone to ask. If some form of disaster comes into your life ‘if it is not he, who then is it?‘ Melvin discusses this very helpfully, I think, through the rest of the chapter. The materialist really has to face the consequences of how they answer this.

Chapter four sees Elihu step up, Job’s three friends having finished their speeches. Elihu brings a different perspective, suggesting, writes Melvin, ‘that it might be more helpful to look forward to try and identify a purpose in suffering (p. 70).’ it doesn’t mean Elihu hasn’t bought into the retributive principle (p.37), as most people have, but that ‘… it is too narrow a view to think of all suffering as retribution… (p. 70).’

In Chapter five God speaks. The chapter opens with the comment by C. S. Lewis about God being in the dock. Because the book of Job is an ancient courtroom setting Melvin quotes G. K. Chesterton that ‘He [God] is quite willing to be prosecuted (p. 86).’ But ‘God’s defence wasn’t quite as Job had anticipated (p.90).’ The courtroom setting makes sense, and in that context Job’s eventual response fits in with ancient customs. ‘Job finally realised his mistake, which is often ours, namely, to think we are privy to all the facts, when we are not (p. 92).’ Like previous chapters there are helpful testimonies here about how God and His word are known in ways that would have been impossible but for the suffering.

Chapter six explains the Behemoth as death and the Leviathan as the Satan and we are therefore introduced to the reality of death and of supernatural evil. There’s opposition to God and all his works. There’s a war on in the heavenly realm, and we (Christians) are in it.

In Chapter seven I appreciated Melvin’s comment on Job’s end. I mean, it’s a fairy tale ending isn’t it (p. 121, also endnote 3 p. 155). This isn’t a Disney film. Apart from the great loss he sustained materially, all his children were killed. I don’t think it ended with a plastic Christian smile on his face. Why ever do we think it did. There is restoration, but I believe Job’s heart continued for the rest of his life to ache for his dead children. The end is that he meets with God. ‘Job had his hearts desire fulfilled, he met with God. That encounter changed everything, his blessings and his trials, in a new light because he saw God (p. 128).’

In the final Chapter eight Melvin writes, ‘We have been following the trials of one who is ‘victim and hero’; subject to ‘the worst horrors of pain and humiliation,’ the man Job (p. 133).’ We are then taken typologically (and powerfully) from Job to Jesus. As I was reading the book I had confirmed, I think, that the answer to the why of evil has to be found in God himself. I haven’t quite thought all this through but it seems to me that it’s in Christ that we see the why of evil. For me then, the book has been extremely helpful. And the final chapter in particular. At one point I did wonder if I could in all honesty recommend it, but this chapter sold it to me. Here, we are taken to the cross of Christ. This, is where we must all come.

The book is sprinkled throughout with ‘testimonies’ of the suffering that have both rejected God, and those that have found him to be their all in all. I think it would be helpful if you were to read the book (this book, and Job) but most probably will not do that. The question that cannot be avoided though, is where do you find yourself? As the rejector of God? Or the one who finds God in Christ to be their all in all?

This a very helpful book and Christians will find much benefit in reading it. I’m not sure it will answer some of the deeper questions non-Christians might have or even of some Christians (although see above on Ch 8). Some answers will never be found in a book but only in an encounter with God himself. Let’s not forget, that is what happened to Job in the end. His questions – if I can put it that way – weren’t answered by his three friends, nor Elihu, or even Job but by God himself. Books are good, but they aren’t a substitute for meeting with God. There is only one book where God meets us, and that’s his own word The Bible. The book of Job, in the end is in the Bible for that very reason – so we can meet with the living God.

 

’12 Years a Slave’ A few notes.

The other evening I watched ‘12 Years a Slave’ for the first time. It’s a film I have wanted to watch since it was released in 2013. But somehow never got round to watching it.

The film was released before BLM came on the scene but watching it now seemed in some ways a better time to see it. I note the Director is Steve McQueen. Not that Steve McQueen. It’s a fantastic film. A beautiful film. A believable film. But it’s a deeply harrowing and distressing film, as it ought to be.

The first thing I noticed was the year. The film starts and is set in 1841. There’s no back-story of how Solomon Northup achieved the high standing he obviously has. He’s treated well as a man of money and of influence. He is married with two children with a very nice house. He’s doing well.

They obviously wanted us to note it, but I noted the date because I thought the slave trade had already been abolished in Britain by 1808 (1807 in the US). By 1841 the British navy was engaged in preventing slavery. That is, they were boarding ships and literally freeing slaves. Or so I thought. On reading a Guardian article yesterday it turns out we (Britain) weren’t engaged in abolishing it after all but merely trying to put its abolition off. We must be careful we don’t re-write history to fit our own ideology (that cuts both ways of course). It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start. The way some people write it’s as if we haven’t moved forward at all. I don’t have any books on the slave trade (maybe I should), but I did check my dates in America: A Narrative History, 4th Ed, Tindall & Shi, W. W. Norton, 1997, pp. 248, 394-95, 437-43. ‘In 1841 the British prime minister asserted the right to patrol off the coast of Africa and search vessels flying the American flag to see if they carried slaves (p. 394).’ (It’s worth watching this lecture by Simon Schama.)

The thing I noticed (Unless I missed it) was that Solomon (the main character) never or rarely engages in attacks of bitterness towards the white folks. He defends himself for sure, but all the time he seeks to have good relationships with the white folks. He doesn’t give up on that as we eventually get to see.

As I watch I make comparisons with The Holocaust. A couple of weeks ago I watched a film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his opposition to the Nazis. He made that comparison after visiting America where he ministered in a Black church. Bonhoeffer was executed just before the end of the war. At least the black man had some value.

I’m only going to comment on the white characters ((Someone else can comment on the black folk). They are a mixed bunch caught in that time in history. But it’s exactly what we find now. We’re a mixed bunch. It starts with a shop keeper. He respects Solomon’s money for sure and there seems to be a good relationship. Then there’s the two wicked deceivers that sell him for money. Then several appalling characters until the plantation owner played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He wants to do right but is trapped (imprisoned in the system?) and ends up continuing to condone slavery. Several evil men and women follow. Then we meet the man played by Brad Pitt. He ended up being Solomon’s deliverer. Notice Solomon builds a relationship with Pitt’s character. But also notice, he (Pitt) realises that he’s putting himself in danger for Solomon by going against the system he’s living with (sound familiar?). But he does it anyway. Notice it’s a white man that Solomon sends for. Why? Because he knows he will come for him – probably at great risk I might add. What relief as it soon follows that Solomon’s nightmare ends and he’s reunited with his family, including a son-in-law and grandson. It’s incredibly moving. We shouldn’t forget emancipation for thousands never came.

I find these films stir within me a deep sense of justice that rises up. I can get quite wound up. I want justice to be done and wrongs righted. Reading the notes at the end of the film Justice is not done. It’s a travesty. I know that. Some, most, injustices in this world will never be righted. There is a day coming though when justice will be seen to be done. A righteous judgement will take place when the Righteous Judge of all the earth will bring this corrupt sinful world to an end.

I know he was in a privileged position in the film but don’t you think we should all follow the example of Solomon in the film. We are not in 1841. Yes there is still improvements to be made. But things have moved forward a lot.

Zoom foreword to 2020. The conclusion I come to after watching the film is that the Black Lives Matter organisation could not care twopence for an improvement in relations between ethnicities. They are only interested in maintaining conflict and in reality (may) put any improvements made back 30 years or more. They just want to engage in blame (and have their own agenda by the way).

Those are a few of my thoughts after eventually watching the film.