Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    "And my God shall supply all your needs..."

    In an article entitled "Over-Promise, Under Deliver" over at Debunking Christianity, an argument is made that the Scriptural truth and promise made in Philippians 4:19 ("And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus") along with other biblical promises made in Scripture cannot be trusted. To this end, besides recounting his own practice and experience in a church, Joe, the author, tries to substantiate his claim by stating "Occasionally, my comfortable theological bubble was punctured by instances of sincere believers being inflicted with pointless suffering" after which he goes on to tell the experience of a young Christian wife whose cheating husband left her and her life in shambles and to add to it all she experienced cancer during the divorce.

    The question is: Did God's promise fail her?

    First, one must not confuse provision of one's needs with freedom from all suffering. Surely Joe understands that by this provision God who placed the curse upon the world (both as punishment as well as a help in redemption) did not intend to communicate by this verse that man would be free from all humiliation, hardship and suffering associated with living in this fallen world. One's exegesis, given the biblical and historical record, would have to be found lacking to arrive at such a conclusion (as well as to make such an assertion, or to apply it in this manner). At the same time, that is not to say that God does not rule over, make use of, as well work and provide through suffering circumstances to accomplish both His will and the good of his people, including ultimately providing for all their needs.

    Second, one must ask who decides whether suffering is "pointless" or not? Is not even this based upon one's true and ultimate need? As one put it "We may not feel the want of what God sees we require. We may desire wealth, or health of body, but God may see that that we need spiritual riches and health of sould, and to give the latter He may have to withhold the former." Look at the apostle Paul who prayed for deliverence from his thorn in the flesh, but "God's response was grace to bear it, and Paul saw that his need was supplied, and then gloried in his infirmity." God promises to answer all Christian's prayers the way statement that "God does not give himself an out"God, who simply gave man over to the suffering resulting from his sin, often and still uses suffering and hardship for good. As one put it "Job's need could only be supplied by passing through a peculiar experience; but it was supplied. He was led into the furnace, supported through it, and brought out of it. Noah's need could not be met without a demand on faith and obedience such as had never been made before. But Noah believed and obeyed God, built the ark and was saved. Jacob's need could only be met by Joseph's being governor of Egypt, and this involved much grief. Abraham's need could only be met by the stern call to offer us his son, and the result of that action will follow him throughout eternity in untold blessings. And so with Moses, David, Daniel, Jonah, and Paul." The point is that by assigning an atheist view of suffering to deny the promise of God regarding provision even in the face of suffering is to poison the very water one then seeks to condemn.

    (BTW: As far as Joe's statement that "...God does not give himself an out" and his inference that God commits to answering Christians prayers the way we ask/desire, perhaps Paul's example should cause him to check his exegisis and findings on this matter as well.)

    Third, in regard to the ability of God to provide for our needs, it's not just a question whether we will face certain circumstances or not, but whether God is able to provide for us in and through those circumstances. It's been rightly pointed out that "Jesus is... the comfort and encouragement of His people. Are we wounded? He is our balm. Are we sick? He is medicine. Are we naked? He is clothing. Are we poor? He is wealth. Are we hungry? He is bread. Are we thirsty? He is water Are we in debt? He is our Surety. Are we in darkness? He is our Sun. Have we a house to build? He is the Rock on which to build it. Have we a black and gathering storm to face? He is a swtrong tower to which we may flee and be safe. Are we to be tried? He is our Advocate. Is sentence passed, and are we under condemnation? He is our pardon. To deck Him out and set Him forth Nature culls her finest flowers, brings her choicest ornaments, and lays these treasures at His feet."

    Finally, when considering experiences, I have witnessed in my ministry, those who experience the same difficulty, yet for one it results in understanding, maturity and growth while for another it results in misunderstanding, more immaturity and further decline. Similarly, I've experienced those who have been done wrong, while for some it leads to wisdom and righteousness while for another it leads only to bitterness and revenge. I've also witnessed those who have endured sickness and even faced death, which for some drew them and their family members closer to God and to one another,... while leading and resulting in the exact opposite for others. Experience, when qualified and understood, does not detract from but leads to the praise of God's faithfulness.

    Conclusion: The problem is not with the promise of God but the faulty exegesis and outlook of man. God's promises are trustworthy and not only can be relied upon, but should be looked to continually with confidence. Just as God provided for Paul and his need, and would look to the Philippians and their needs, so he will provide for all those who look in faith to Him today!

    Hopefully, Joe will consider again, not only his exegesis and the way he looks upon circumstances, but the way he looks upon God as well.

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