Holy AND Just

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On the one hand, God is holy and just and cannot tolerate or live with or bless evil. On the other hand, God is loving and faithful and cannot tolerate the loss of people he has committed himself to. This is a tremendous, seemingly irresolvable tension in the narrative—and also in the whole Bible (see, for instance, Exodus 34:6-7; Hosea 11:1-11). This tension is what should keep us in suspense throughout Judges. Will God finally give up on his people (but then what of his faithfulness)? Or will he finally give in to his people (but then what of his holiness)?

It is only on the cross that we can understand how God is able to resolve the tension. On the cross, our sin was given—imputed—to him, so that his righteousness could be imputed to us. On the cross, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the cross, God poured out his wrath on his people in the person of his Son. He satisfied both justice, because sin was punished, and loving faithfulness, since he is now able to accept and forgive us. Only through the cross can God be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, ESV). This is the only way the tension of Judges can be resolved; the only way that God can love us both conditionally and unconditionally.

-Tim Keller

Without Suffering

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…One of the main teachings of the Bible is that almost no one grows into greatness or finds God without suffering, without pain coming into our lives like smelling salts to wake us up to all sorts of facts about life and our own hearts to which we were blind. For reasons past our finding out, even Christ did not bring salvation and grace to us apart from infinite suffering on the cross. As he loved us enough to face the suffering with patience and courage, so we must learn to trust in him enough to do the same. And as his weakness and suffering, thus faced, led to resurrection power, so can ours.

– Tim Keller

Secular Suffering

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In the secular worldview, all happiness and meaning must be found in this lifetime and world. To live with any hope, then, secular people must believe that we can eliminate most sources of unhappiness for the majority of people. But that is impossible. The causes of suffering are infinitely complex and impossible to eliminate.

– Tim Keller

The Heart of the Christian Story

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We have been arguing that every culture gives its members a story about what life is all about, and the story of late modern culture – that life is about individual freedom and happiness – has no place for suffering. But the Christian story, as we will see, is utterly different. Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story. Suffering is the result of our turn away from God, and therefore it was the way through which God himself in Jesus Christ came and rescued us for himself. And now it is how we suffer that comprises one of the main ways we become great and Christ-like, holy and happy, and a crucial way we show the world the love and glory of our Savior.

– Tim Keller

Dependence Day

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The Bible and society agree on what freedom feels like. In fact, you can even agree, in some ways, on the definition of freedom. If you just simply defined it in terms of how it feels. Freedom is the fulfillment that comes when you’re doing what you most deeply desire. Freedom is the fulfillment that comes when you’re doing what you most deeply desire at the bottom.
The difference between what the Bible says and what society says is the Bible says if you know man is not what he ought to be, if you know a human being, to a great degree, is warped, is selfish, is self-centered, is self-absorbed, is sinful; therefore, our desires are at war with each other. They’re conflicting. Freedom is not necessarily the ability to do anything you want.
But freedom happens in our lives when we obey our deepest desires, the ones God put in us from the beginning, most of which are unconscious, because the thing we most desire to do is to be fulfilled by submitting to our Creator. We were built to do that. The trouble is sin has made that impossible or very, very hard for us to know consciously until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to it. Therefore, though everybody agrees (Christians and everyone else) freedom is the fulfillment that comes from doing what you most deeply desire, the Bible says that only happens when you’re willing to be completely dependent on God.
Becoming a Christian is like this: The day you become a Christian is the day you look at God, and you say, ‘You know, Lord, all along I’ve been dependent on you. I’ve been dependent on you for everything. You’ve kept me alive every moment. You kept me alive. I’m dependent on you for every breath. I’m dependent on you for keeping my molecules together. If it wasn’t for you holding me together, my molecules would go off in a billion different directions at once, and where would I be?
Even my rebellion against you, even my desire to live my own life, in a sense, has been like I’ve been slapping you in the face the way a little girl slaps her father in the face. She only can slap him in the face because he’s holding her up. I see all along I’ve been dependent, but today I declare my dependence. Today I make you my Master. I give up my right to organize my own life. I will obey you and your Word and not all of my contradictory, conflicting impulses. I will do what you say, and I know, then, I’ll find myself because I was built to obey you.’

– Tim Keller

*Words found in Tim Keller’s 1990 Sermon, “Active Discipline”

Living for Meaning

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…When suffering comes along, it takes the conditions for happiness away, and so suffering destroys all your reason to keep living. But to ‘live for meaning’ means not that you try to get something out of life but rather that life expects something from us. In other words, you have meaning only when there is something in life more important than your own personal freedom and happiness, something for which you are glad to sacrifice your happiness. 

– Tim Keller


Resources for Facing Evil, Suffering, and Death

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In ancient times, Christianity was widely recognized as having superior resources for facing evil, suffering, and death. In modern times – though it is not as publicly discussed – it continues to have assets for sufferers arguably far more powerful than anything secular culture can offer. Those assets, however, reside in robust, distinctive Christian beliefs. The first relevant Christian belief is in a personal, wise, infinite, and therefore inscrutable God who controls the affairs of the world – and that is far more comforting than the belief that our lives are in the hands of fickle fate or random chance. The second crucial tenet is that, in Jesus Christ, God came to earth and suffered with and for us sacrificially – and that is far more comforting than the idea that God is remote and uninvolved. The cross also proves that, despite all the inscrutability, God is for us. The third doctrine is that through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, we can have assurance of our 

salvation – that is far more comforting than the karmic systems of thought. We are assured that the difficulties of life are not payment for our past sins, since Jesus has paid for them. As Luther taught, suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you. Secularity cannot give you that, and religions that provide salvation through virtue and good works cannot give it, either. The fourth great doctrine is that of the bodily resurrection from the dead for all who believe. This completes the spectrum of our joys and consolations. One of the deepest desires of the human heart is for love without parting. Needless to say, the prospect of the resurrection is far more comforting than the beliefs that death takes you into nothingness or into an impersonal spiritual substance. The resurrection goes beyond the promise of an ethereal, disembodied afterlife. We get our bodies back, in a state of beauty and power that we cannot today imagine. Jesus’ resurrection body was corporeal – it could be touched and embraced, and he ate food. And yet he passed through closed doors and could disappear. This is a material existence, but one beyond the bounds of our imagination. The idea of heaven can be a consolation for suffering, a compensation for the life we have lost. But resurrection is not just consolation – it is restoration. We get it all back – the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life – but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.

– Tim Keller