The God of Job and Jeremiah

On Friday night / Saturday morning, while sitting in hospital with one of Gayle’s relatives I managed to read Francis Chan’s “Erasing Hell” (which was partially written as a response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins). One particular passage on pages 140 and 141 struck me powerfully as it mirrored so closely our decisions and experiences with Zachary, both during and after his gestation. Here’s that passage.

Throughout Scripture and throughout history, godly women and men have embraced the God of Job and Jeremiah. They held on to a God whom they didn’t always understand; a God who is immeasurably good, even though circumstances in life seem to suggest otherwise.

Years ago, I came across an article entitled “Two Minutes to Eternity” by Marshall Shelley, one of the editors of Christianity Today at the time. In the article, Marshall tells the story of the miraculous birth of his son. When the child was in the womb, Marshall and his wife, Susan, found out that their child had an abnormal heart and would probably not survive the birth, if he even made it that Far. And so the Shelleys wrestled with God. “This was a design flaw,” Marshall writes, “and the Designer was responsible.” So they prayed. They prayed for a miracle, they prayed for survival, they prayed that the God of all compassion would give the child the breath of life.

Then the day of birth came, and the child was still alive. The child had survived the pregnancy! God is so good! As the child was born, Marshall looked upon his beautiful son: “He was a healthy pink, and we saw his chest rise and fall. The breath of life. Thank you, God.”

And then the child died. Two minutes later, their son turned from pink to blue, and he died. The miracle of life was followed by the mystery of death. And as far as the Shelleys were concerned, the Designer was responsible. When the nurse asked the Shelleys if they had a name for the child, Susan responded: “Toby. It’s short for a biblical name, Tobiah, which means ‘God is good.’”

God is good.

God is good? How could they say that? How could they believe such an unbelievable attribute of God, when everything in that moment seemed to be proving the opposite? Because the Shelleys believed that God is good not only when He makes sense to us, but even when He doesn’t. God is good, because God is God. Goodness is inherent in who He is. And the Shelleys believed this. “The name was what we believed, not what we felt,” Marshall writes. “It was what we wanted to feel again someday.”

And so it is with many things about God that don°t seem to add up.

And so it must be with hell.

As I have said all along, I don’t feel like believing in hell. And yet I do. Maybe someday I will stand in complete agreement with Him, but for now I attribute the discrepancy to an underdeveloped sense of justice on my part. God is perfect. And I joyfully submit to a God whose ways are much, much higher than mine.

The whole book is short but powerful. I’ll try and review it properly next week, but in the meantime you can get hold of a copy below.

2 Comments on “The God of Job and Jeremiah

  1. Thanks, Peter, for this wonderful extract from Francis Chan's book. My son has been recommending his books to me and I can now see why!

    Why are babies still-born or born deformed? Why are those that long for a child not granted them, while pre-born babies are ripped from the womb?

    But God is good.

    Why do people go hungry when there is enough food for everyone? Why do the greedy prosper and are allowed to destroy people's jobs, while the poor pay the price through cuts in government services?

    But God is still good.

    Why are the ruthless allowed to stay in power and turn their guns on their own people? Why are powerful countries allowed to wage war based on lies and the need to control?

    God is good. All the time.

    If the world is so it is because we have made it thus.

  2. I can appreciate most of this. Certainly the story is moving. And I agree that the mystery of God includes the mystery of His goodness even at moments when He has not done what we would judge to be good, that His ways are higher than our ways. What disturbs me is the insertion of the notion that God is directly responsible for evil, that God not only didn't intervene to stop the death of Toby but actually planned to make that death a reality. It is one thing to say that God has not intervened to stop a particular evil and quite another to say that He purposely caused evil. But perhaps reading the book will give some insight into what Chan actually means there.

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