Whatever the situation, when our children are hard-pressed with troubles and trials, we can be on the lookout for ways to come alongside to bear their burden (Gal. 6:2). This, too, takes wisdom because every situation and child are different. There is no one-size-fits-all playbook here, so godly wisdom is needed to meet each child where he or she is. As we gauge the gravity of the trial and a particular child’s capacity to handle it, wisdom means tailoring our engagement to the situation.
Seeing our children suffer through trials can be extremely difficult. Even parents who are well-equipped to cope with their own problems often find themselves feeling helpless when their child is the one hurting. How can we shepherd our children through adversity in a healthy, God-honoring way? When troubles find our children, here are three ways we can support them.
Provide a Faithful Presence
As parents and caregivers, when we see our children suffering, our impulse is to jump immediately into action mode. Sometimes urgent intervention is the right and necessary thing to do. But it is also often the case that children who are facing trials need our faithful presence more than our problem-solving skills. We know from our own experience that in times of turmoil, sometimes we simply want to be comforted by the presence of a loved one—someone who will patiently sit with us rather than rush to fix us, someone with whom we feel safe. Our children yearn for that type of refuge as well, and one of the highest privileges of being a parent is that we get to reflect this aspect of God’s good character in our homes.
If parenting can be compared to shepherding, this part of our role is the one in which the shepherd comes to know his sheep so well that his mere presence is a comfort to the flock. Likewise, there is a way in which we can embody the peace of God while pointing our children to Him as our ultimate rock and refuge (Ps. 18:2). When crisis barges into our children’s lives, we have an opportunity to be there for them in a way that communicates a calming reassurance over their distress. Before we even lift a finger to help resolve the crisis at hand, our presence and demeanor can show our children that we are with them and for them and, even better, so is God. In times of need, we can remind our children that the Lord is near to all who call on Him (Ps. 145:18).
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By Bill Muehlenberg — 11 months ago
If I alone can determine what is right and wrong, true and false, just and unjust, I will always be bumping heads with all the others who also think and act this way. With no higher objective absolutes that transcend my and your judgments and assessments, we will always clash. Real human dignity and community can only come from recognising who God is and how we share in the image of God.
There are many ways to describe and discuss sin. Perhaps one definition of major significance is to speak in terms of autonomy. In its simplest form this means self-law or self-government. However, if there is a God who created us and seeks to govern us for our own best good, then autonomy is the height of folly – as well as sin. It is idolatry on steroids.
We perhaps see this especially played out in the radical trans movement. Here we have folks who have so deified autonomy that they believe they can – at will – redefine morality, redefine biology, redefine truth, and redefine reality. Talk about playing God! Talk about kicking God off his throne and elevating mere man in his place.
Last week I penned a piece featuring the important new book by Christopher Watkin: Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture (Zondervan, 2022). As I said there, this is such a wide-ranging and significant volume that a short review will hardly do it justice.
So instead I will feature aspects or chapters of the book in a number of articles. The first one focused on Ch. 23 and is found here.
What I want to highlight today is found in Ch. 5: “Sin and Autonomy.” The Australian Christian philosophy professor also stresses autonomy as the heart of sin, and shows why it is so very destructive. And let me preface this by citing a paragraph from the previous chapter, “Sin and Society”:
The absence of a sustained emphasis on sin and judgment in Christian cultural engagement is, at least, a little odd and, at most, a heinous omission that leaves Christian cultural theory limping and unbalanced. After all, sin is such a crucial figure in the biblical rhythm of creation, fall, and redemption, the rhythm that taps out the distinctively Christian approach to all things from identity and ethics and the environment to culture, the economy, and politics. 108
Exactly right. So it is vital that we speak about sin and identify it properly and accurately. Autonomy is key to all this. And it is the perfect descriptor of what happened in the garden with our first parents:
Adam and Eve choose to live by their own law, their own code of what is permitted and not permitted, rather than by God’s law, and they choose to do so in a world that God has created and sustains, as the creatures God has created and sustains. In the context of Genesis 3, autonomy manifests itself as deciding for oneself what is to be counted as good and evil. It is not, of course, deciding for oneself what is good and evil, because God has already settled that question, and any new legislation that Adam and Eve pass down from their DIY parliament does not annul God’s royal decrees. 133
All this should be sensible enough to understand, but sin of course twists everything, including our understanding. So it is like a toddler telling his parents that he knows what is best, that he can fend for himself, and that he is able to determine what is right and wrong. Or as Watkin expresses it:
It is hard to underestimate the extent to which many in our society today fail to consider what the Bible has to say about God on its own terms because that would require admitting that our own autonomous reason may not be the most reliable truth-discerning tool in the universe. One of the crucial pennies to drop in the minds of those who find their way to faith in their adult years is often the realization that, if there really is a God such as the Bible reveals him to be, then he is smarter than I am and his judgement is more reliable than mine: if he and I differ on a matter, and if he is really God and I am really a creature, then it is more than reasonable to assume that he is correct and I am mistaken. To reach any other conclusion would require a bizarre routine of epistemological gymnastics. Either God is God and I am not, in which case his judgement is to be trusted over mine, or else God is not God, in which case there is no reliable way of satisfactorily arbitrating at all between what is reasonable and what is not.
By Stephane Simonnin — 2 years ago
On the other hand, we should not focus on death when it is close but rather should focus on Christ. This is because a large part of the terror of death comes from the awareness of our sins and our guilt before God. The unbeliever has no alternative but to hope that there is no God on the other side to judge him. The Christian, though, has a different kind of certainty, and he can focus on Christ rather than on his sin.
A few years ago, I received this unexpected request from one of my church members with multiple sclerosis: “When you have time, could you please do a Bible study on how to prepare for death?” This person knew that her condition was incurable and, although death still seemed a fairly long way off, she was anxious to receive advice on how to face it. I was taken aback by that request, but I should not have been. This was a very sensible idea. Why wouldn’t every church member be interested in such a Bible study? Yet, I could not remember the last time I preached or heard a sermon on that topic. The Bible is very upfront about the reality of death but also very clear that it is possible to die well. It is perhaps significant that one of the best-known Hebrew words in the Old Testament, the word shalom, which we associate with peace and well-being, first appears in the context of death (Gen. 15:15). Knowing how we may die “in peace” should be an important concern for us all.
As I reflected on this, I was struck again about how common that theme was in Christian sermons and devotional literature until about two hundred years ago. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, decisive breakthroughs in medical research, such as the discovery of germs and anesthetics, made death and pain feel more distant. For the first time in history, being healthy became the norm and being ill the exception. For most people in history, death was an ever-present companion. John Calvin, for example, gives a vivid description of how precarious life felt in his time:
Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, and present death in as many different forms. Not to go beyond ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, even the nurse, of a thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him many forms of destruction. . . . Then, in what direction soever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death. Go on board a ship, you are but a plank’s breadth from death. Mount a horse, the stumbling of a foot endangers your life. Walk along the streets, every tile upon the roofs is a source of danger . . . I say nothing of poison, treachery, robbery, some of which beset us at home, others follow us abroad.1
It is therefore not surprising that Christians felt the need to be trained in the ars moriendi (art of dying). In fact, the idea that the whole of life is a preparation to die was commonplace. As events in the world sometimes bring death considerably closer to us, I believe it is urgent for the church to recover the Christian ars moriendi. What we need in particular is not so much rehearsing general theological truths about death but precisely what that church member asked me: some practical advice on how to prepare ourselves for it. The Protestant Reformers and seventeenth-century Puritans can help us with this because they knew how to face death and how to think about it in concrete terms. They wrote a great deal on the topic but, for the sake of brevity, I will focus on Martin Luther, whose teaching on the matter sums up the Protestant ars moriendi.2
Luther’s view of the Christian life is attractive because of its concrete character. Luther was not simply a theologian of more abstract concepts such as justification but a pastor who preached and wrote to human beings of flesh and blood facing much hardship and who were never far away from death. Luther himself, like his contemporaries, did not expect to live for very long, and he thought he would soon die from illness or martyrdom. It is therefore not surprising that he preached and wrote about death throughout his life. As early as 1519, when he was only thirty-six, he wrote a series of exhortations for his sovereign, Elector Frederick the Wise, who was seriously ill.3 In that same year, he preached a famous sermon on preparing to die, and he no doubt preached many times on the subject. Practical considerations about dying are spread through his writings. We also have fairly precise information about Luther’s last days and his own death that allows us to know that he put into practice what he preached.
Luther can help us because he teaches us how to think properly about death both throughout our lives and when it is near. His insights can be summed up under four headings.
BE CONFIDENT BUT REALISTIC
First, Luther recognizes that death is frightening even for Christians. He is not so foolish as to believe that the fear of death can be neutralized by stoic fortitude, as certain atheists try to convince themselves. This is a conviction that is often found in his writings. For example, in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15 preached on October 6, 1532, he says: “The heathens have wisely said ‘he is a fool who is afraid of death, for through such fear he loses his own life.’ This would be true if only a man could act on the advice. . . . They advise that nothing is better than simply cast all such fear aside, to rid the mind of it and to think: why worry about it? When we are dead, we are dead. That is certainly disposing of the matter in short order and completely extinguishing God’s wrath, hell and damnation!”4
Or again, in one of his table talks: “I do not like to see people glad to die. . . . Great saints do not like to die. The fear of death is natural, for death is a penalty; therefore, it is something sad. According to the spirit one gladly dies; but according to the flesh, it is said ‘another shall carry you where you would not.’ ”5
Yet, because Christ defeated death, Luther also knows that the death of a Christian is fundamentally different. As he says to Frederick the Wise in one of his fourteen consolations: “The death of a Christian is to be looked upon as the brazen serpent of Moses. It does have the appearance of a serpent; but it is entirely without life, without motion, without poison, without sting. . . . We do resemble those who die, and the outward appearance of our death is not different from that of others. But the thing itself is different nevertheless because for us death is dead.”6
This is why the Christian is able to prepare for death in a meaningful way. However, this preparation should take place throughout the whole of life, and this leads to Luther’s next insight.
THINK OF DEATH AT THE RIGHT TIME
This is perhaps the most insightful piece of advice and the most challenging for us today. The issue is not simply how to think about death but when. Luther’s oft-repeated advice is that we should familiarize ourselves with death while we are still healthy, while death itself still seems far away. Conversely, we should not stare at death when it is near us but rather focus on Christ. Now it is clear that most people today—sadly, including many Christians—do precisely the opposite. They studiously ignore death while healthy and are caught unprepared when it comes.
On the contrary, Luther understood that spiritual growth is a slow process that takes a lifetime and that facing death is something that has to be learned. This is why he encourages us to think often of our own mortality, to reflect on its cause and consequences and on its ultimate outcome for the Christian—the resurrection of the body. One interesting suggestion on how to do that is to meditate on our own death and when we pass cemeteries.
John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, 1.17.10. ↩︎
Throughout this article I refer to the Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s complete works (Weimar Ausgabe or WA). The “Fourteen Consolations” and the famous sermon on preparing to die referred to below are also available in the American edition of Luther’s Works (Concordia Publishing House), vol. 42. ↩︎
“Fourteen Consolations for Them That Are Laboured and Laden” (1519). ↩︎
WA 36, 539. ↩︎
WA 408. ↩︎
WA 118. ↩︎
By Ron DiGiacomo — 2 years ago
Without God’s word, ultimate autonomous virtue leads to defending deviant behavior against conscience. That’s where the world lives today. It doesn’t have a good enough reason to condemn sinful practice without being bigoted, so the world defends what God condemns.
Although all men know by nature that homosexuality is sin, it’s only through Scripture that one can adequately defend the claim. (Natural theology types are free to try sometime.)
Since most people are autonomous in their thinking, it’s understandable why most cannot justify with any consistency and without avoiding arbitrariness, the claim that homosexuality is morally wrong.
Although many straight people still find homosexuality unnatural—unnatural does not imply moral deviance. Even the claim that something is unnatural presupposes a network of beliefs about reality, truth, and ethical standards that cannot adequately be justified apart from Scripture. Whether homosexuality is sin is indeed a worldview question.
Sure, in general revelation there is natural law that pronounces guilt for sin upon all mankind, including guilt for homosexuality. Notwithstanding, natural law can grow increasingly dim in the minds of the ungodly. Yet even when natural law was shining more brightly upon social conscience, it was never to be interpreted apart from special revelation. With the rejection of the Bible, mankind is left to grope in darkness but not in search for moral standards – rather for moral standards that are philosophically defensible in the context of a larger worldview context that should be consistent, coherent and explanatory. On the authority of God’s word, we know it cannot successfully be done, which has been corroborated and verified since the time of creation.
Accordingly, two unhappy alternatives:
Apart from viewing homosexuality through the lens of Scripture, one is left with two unhappy alternatives: (i) a bigoted rejection of homosexuality or else (ii) condoning what is known in conscience to be morally deviant. In other words, apart from Scripture one either can judge correctly yet for sinful reasons, or else violate conscience (and live in moral conflict) by condoning in the name of love, no less, that which is an abomination in God’s sight.