Now, it is much better for things to be in a state of confusion so we will wake up, for if we were at peace, we would be asleep, we would no longer be aware of anything, anything at all. But if things go badly, we are forced to think about God and put our senses on alert and think about a judgment that is prepared, which is not yet apparent, and that is how our Lord leads us to hunger for the last day and the resurrection which has been promised. But the fact remains that men continue to surround themselves with false and wicked fantasies. For, as I have already said, inasmuch as events do not happen as we would like, we are tempted to suppose that God does not think of us or watch over us any longer, that serving him is a wasted effort and that there is no difference whether we live an upright life or not and that the good gain nothing by walking in fear under him.
John Calvin, Sermon on Job 24:1-9
let us realise that we must not come before God to plead our case, for we are all obliged to be condemned without his conducting a long trial against us, and all the more must our sins be compounded, since we think we have many defences and excuses to offer. So, there is no other remedy except acknowledging we are all indebted to him and asking for his pardon and mercy. This is how we must come to God: we must not claim to be righteous or be able to satisfy him; we must acknowledge the sins we have committed and ask him to receive us out of his pure kindness and mercy, and we must not open our mouths to plead our case, for that debate is not ours. That office is in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. As for us, let us keep our mouths shut and allow Jesus Christ to be our advocate and intercede for us so that our sins may be buried in this way and we may be absolved instead of condemned. That is the first thing we have to remember. And that is how we will be forever delivered by our Judge, as Paul says: ‘Who will lay anything to the charge of God’s children, since he justifies them?’ (Rom. 8: 33) Who will bring a suit against them, since Jesus Christ has taken their case in hand and wants to plead it? That, I say, is our only refuge, and without it we are lost and have no need to think about approaching God, for we will be struck down by his wrath, as we deserve.
John Calvin. Sermons on Job, Volume 2: Chapters 15-31 (Kindle Locations 7147-7151). The Banner of Truth Trust.
Advice from John Calvin on comforting others:
Here we have Eliphaz telling Job that God punishes the wicked to show that he is Judge of the world and that they are wasting their effort fortifying themselves because they will not be able to escape his hand, for despite their great numbers and cooperation, God will destroy everything. But if that language is applied to Job, Job would have to believe that God is his enemy because he is wicked and filled with hypocrisy. That is not the case. Job has good reason to say, ‘Well, I know all of that, and if I needed it now, I would use it, but it does not apply to me.’ Job understood that he was not being afflicted because of his sins and that this was not God’s intention. It is not that Job did not feel guilty and deserving of worse if God had wanted to examine him rigorously, but he knows that God is not dealing with him the way he is because of his sins, but that God has another purpose. Knowing that, Job rejects the accusation they charge him with. Why? Because it does not fit his situation. ‘You are,’ he says, ‘a sorry lot of comforters.’ Why? Because they do not offer him appropriate consolations.
That tells us that when we want to comfort our neighbours in their distress and sorrow, we are not to approach them unmindful of their situation, for there are many comforters who, without regard for the person they are addressing, have only one pat thing to say. We must address each person and situation differently. We must speak one way to a person who is stubbornly opposed to God and another way to a pitiful creature who has always walked in simplicity. And depending on what the affliction is, we need to know how to proceed. For example, if men are morally insensitive, we must reproach and reprove their indifference so they will feel God’s hand and humble themselves under it. So we need great wisdom when we want to comfort appropriately those whom God afflicts. That is what we have to remember about this passage when it says that those who were intending to comfort Job were sorry comforters because they offered nothing that could help him. That is the main thing we have to remember.
John Calvin. Sermons on Job, Volume 2: Chapters 15-31 (Kindle Locations 1243-1258). The Banner of Truth Trust.
The worm finds them sweet
Paton had courage to overcome the criticism he received from respected elders for going to the New Hebrides. A certain Mr. Dickson exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by can- nibals!” The memory of Williams and Harris on Erromanga was only nineteen years old. But to this Paton responded:
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serv- ing and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.
— John Piper, Filling Up The Affliction of Christ, John Paton, p. 58.
THE CONQUEROR WORM
By Edgar Allan Poe
Lo! ’t is a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
1 Kings 3, 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Augustine, covetousness, Diamond planet, Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, emerald star, Gems, gold, Jewels, Job, Job 42, Love of things, Luke 12:13-21, olivine, Philippians 4:13, proverbs, Proverbs 11:4, Proverbs 22:4, Proverbs 3:16, Proverbs 8:18, Psalm 73, Revelation 21:11, Revelation 21:19, Riches, The Journey to the Bending Light
These are rough notes for a talk on covetousness and consumerism:
I. The Good of Wealth
God seems quite fond of gold and jewels. In Genesis 2 we read of the gold of Havilah, where there is also bdellium and onyx. When Solomon builds the temple, it is made of gold and cedar. The New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and Earth has streets of pure gold, walls of jasper. “The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel” (Rev. 21:19). When describes the glory of God in the place, he compares it to “a most rare jewel, a jasper, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:11).
Those who search the sky have found a planet completely made of diamond and a star where it rains olivine, a green stone like an emerald;  crystals in comets and gems on the surface and mountains of crystal on the moon. Apparently, two neutron stars smashing into each other creates oceans of gold.
When God blessed Job, he gave him wealth (Job 42:10-17). And when Solomon showed humility in asking for wisdom, God blessed Solomon by giving him wealth (1 Kings 3:12-13). Riches are in the right hand of wisdom (Prov. 3:16; 8:18):
4 The reward for humility and fear of the LORD
is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4 (ESV)
II What then is the trouble with stuff?
A) Read from “The Journey to the Bending Light”.
Ask the kids – what’s the trouble with the toys?
Are toys bad? Is it wrong to play with the toys?
They wear them out by chasing the wrong things.
They make them discontent.
The toys lead them to covet and coveting leads to more sin.
B) No amount of property in this world will make us content
1. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11: In the end, he owned an illusion.
a) Riches don’t keep: they are vain. 1:2 Proverbs 27:24, “riches do not last forever”.
James 1:11 (ESV)
11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
b) Proverbs 11:4 (ESV)
4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.
2. When riches are end in themselves, they only leave to covetousness:
a) It ruins us in this life leading in pursuit of something which can never make us happy.
1 Timothy 6:9–10 (ESV)
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
b) It ruins us for the life to come:
Luke 12:13–21 (ESV)
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
III How does covetousness work?
A) What is going on with the desire for wealth?
1) When a young man wishes to marry a young lady, he may give her a ring. The ring causes her to think of him. The ring is a token. But what if she were to love the ring and not the boy?
2) Think of the ways in which wealth is spoken of as a good thing:
a) The Garden,
b) The New Jerusalem
c) God’s glory
d) The Temple
e) Wealth given as a blessing alleviates some of the pain caused by the Fall.
3) Wealth appeals to our desire for something greater than this vain, fallen world.
B) What then is the trouble with wealth?
a) Our focus is directed to the toy alone.
b) The rich fool who forgot God.
c) The wicked whose wealth causes them to forget God:
Psalm 73:11–12 (ESV)
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
d) Wealth becomes the end.
4): Augustine Book 10, Chapter 29:
For he loves You too little who loves anything with You, which he loves not for You, O love, who ever burnest, and art never quenched!
5) Here then is the secret:
a) We must receive all things – wealth as a gift from God:
Ecclesiastes 5:18–20 (ESV)
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
b) We must allow wealth or poverty to cause us to forget God:
Proverbs 30:7–9 (ESV)
7 Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Philippians 4:11–12 (ESV)
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
c) Contentment, ultimately, is a gift which comes by means of faith from Christ:
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (ESV)
The demands of the physical body seeks to bend the desire and soul to the present need. One in physical pain can be overwhelmed by the immediate need to resolve the pain:
18 “But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place;
19 the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man.
20 You prevail forever against him, and he passes; you change his countenance, and send him away.
21 His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not.
22 He feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself.”
The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.
While Jesus sympathizes with our weakness (Heb. 4:15), we must also realize that our physical difficulties do not compel our behavior. For this I give the example of Jesus who in overwhelming physical distress continue to submit to the will of the Father:
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.
40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,
42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.
44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,
46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Luke 22:40-46. Thus, the counselor must both sympathize with the weakness of another; yet, we must not go the step further and state that the end of alleviating physical pain justifies the means of any escape:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Cor. 10:13
2 Corinthians, A Preparation for Suffering in an Evil Day, Affliction, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, Edward Polhill, Evil, Hope, Job, Lamentations, Philippians, Problem of Evil, Problem of Harm, Puritan, Stoic, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, Thomas Brooks
The trouble of suffering, of evil constitutes a philosophical problem with which academics (typically) wrestle. There is a second category of problem, the actual subjective experience of evil, which drives one to ask, “How long O Lord!” (Psalm 13:1).
The philosophical discussions matter little to the sufferer. While I have cherry-picked a bit, I do not believer a suffering philosopher (or a philosopher on her death bed, awaiting the prospect of eternal judgment) will be comforted by
In slightly more detail, and using ‘Pr(P/Q)’ to stand either for the logical probability, or for the epistemic probability, of P given Q, the logic of the argument is as follows:
(1) Pr(O/HI) > Pr(O/T) (Substantive premise)
(2) Pr(O/HI) = Pr(O & HI)/Pr(HI) et cetera …..
The proof of God, despite suffering, or the “hope” that no God exists who will call to account matters less than (1) what I believe to be true of reality; (2) reality, itself. In the end, most of the philosophical arguments must be wrong in whole or part, because reality does not bend to my logical construct — however, well crafted and accepted by contemporary peers.
Arguments tell us nothing that we need. The man holding a bleeding child, the woman with cancer, cannot drink analytic philosophy — it will not digest. We would sooner feed scrap metal to a baby. The metal may good its place, but it will not ward off hunger.
The responses to suffering set forth below will answer to various philosophies, but they are in a very different form.
Suffering admits of only three responses. First, one can deny the reality of evil. This will also entail the denial of good, of love and joy and peace. The Stoic denial of all response is inhuman. And while a bit of peace may be had, the resignation of a stone to the rain does not end the rain. Rain will wear away the hardest stone. The stone may not rage, but the stone does not hope.
The drunkennes of cultures, flooding the senses with nonsense to obviate the real, a pornographic violence to the sense which wears away the soul merely mimics the Stoic without a hint of character or trial:
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! 12 They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands. Isaiah 5:11-12
Thomas Brooks notes and rejects such a stoic resignation in his book The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod:
And so Harpalus was not at all appalled when he saw two of his sons laid ready dressed in a charger, when Astyages had bid him to supper. This was a sottish insensibleness. Certainly if the loss of a child in the house be no more to thee than the loss of a chick in the yard, thy heart is base and sordid, and thou mayest well expect some sore awakening judgment.1 This age is full of such monsters, who think it below the greatness and magnanimity of their spirits to be moved, affected, or afflicted with any afflictions that befall them. I know none so ripe and ready for hell as these.
Aristotle speaks of fishes, that though they have spears thrust into their sides, yet they awake not. God thrusts many a sharp spear through many a sinner’s heart, and yet he feels nothing, he complains of nothing. These men’s souls will bleed to death. Seneca, Epist. x., reports of Senecio Cornelius, who minded his body more than his soul, and his money more than heaven; when he had all the day long waited on his dying friend, and his friend was dead, he returns to his house, sups merrily, comforts himself quickly, goes to bed cheerfully. His sorrows were ended, and the time of his mourning expired before his deceased friend was interred. Such stupidity is a curse that many a man lies under. But this stoical silence, which is but a sinful sullenness, is not the silence here meant.
This may seem odd, because the Christian response does entail an element of resignation, yet it is a resignation coupled to hope — I will bear this to gain that:
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul bears with his circumstances, not by denying but by transcending:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (ESV)
A second response is to curse. Job’s wife provides a memorable example of such:
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job’s response provides the appropriate example: the Christian may not respond with cursing or anger to God’s providence. Job seeing through the secondary causes, through Satan and the bridgands, through the storm and the disease in his body, looks to the ultimate cause: God. God has given this, therefore we must willing accept this providence.
A third response is resignation without cursing coupled to hope. The poet of Lamentations does not deny the trouble brougth by God:
7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy;
8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;
9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.
10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow.
13 He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. Lam. 3
Yet he sees through the trouble to kindness of God to come:
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Lam. 3
Polhill lays this truth at the heart of his response. To perserve in the midst of trial, we have a hope which transcends our circumstance:
THE sixth direction is this: if we would be in a fit posture for suffering, we must get a lively hope of eternal life. As our life is a sea, hope is compared to an anchor, which makes us stand steady in a storm; as our life is a warfare, hope is compared to a helmet, which covers the soul in times of danger; as the body liveth spirando, by breathing, so the soul lives sperando, by hoping. A man cannot drown so long as his head is above water; hope lifts up the head, and looks up to the redemption and salvation that is to come in another world in its fulness and perfection. Hope doth three things; it assures good things to come; it disposes us for them; it waits for them unto the end: each of which will, be of singular use to fit us for pious sufferings.
Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 346.
1 “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.
2 He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.
3 And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you?
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.
5 Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,
6 look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.
1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind:
2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.
3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.
4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered.
5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he.
6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good-do not all go to the one place?
Job begins thus:
1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Now consider the comment of Ecclesiastes a comment which Job illustrates:
Ver. 4. Feast.—The family banquet given by each of Job’s sons on his birthday was not in itself sinful, but is rather to be commended. Solomon must have been conversant with the Book of Job, and with this recorded practice of the sons of Job, the oriental Sheikh, “great beyond all the sons of the East.” His inspired language is expressive of commendation, not of censure:
“Behold, I have considered that it is good, that it is comely,
That a man should eat and drink and experience delight in all his labour,
Wherein he laboureth under the sun,
During the number of the days of his life which God hath assigned him,
Truly this is his allotted portion.
Yea, to every man to whom God hath given riches and wealth,
And hath enabled him to eat thereof,
And to sustain his allotted portion, and to rejoice in his labour,
This is the very gift of God.”—Ecclesiastes, 5:18, 19
The Book of Job, Translated from the Hebrew with notes explanatory, illustrative, and critical by
Rev. John Noble Coleman (1869)
1 “But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock.
2 What could I gain from the strength of their hands, men whose vigor is gone?
3 Through want and hard hunger they gnaw the dry ground by night in waste and desolation;
4 they pick saltwort and the leaves of bushes, and the roots of the broom tree for their food.
5 They are driven out from human company; they shout after them as after a thief.
6 In the gullies of the torrents they must dwell, in holes of the earth and of the rocks.
7 Among the bushes they bray; under the nettles they huddle together.
8 A senseless, a nameless brood, they have been whipped out of the land.