Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Few of February's Highlights!

Michael Simeon VanBerkel was born!

Ian's sister and her husband were blessed with his safe arrival on February 5th. As you can see, Ella is his proud and adorable big sister.

Grandpa turned 60!

Here we are enjoying dinner out at Tucker's Marketplace, where if it's your birthday, you eat free!

Our bed returned!

You are probably wondering why this was so exciting...well, I guess it's because the bed means a lot to us. A good friend (and his family) laboured long and hard to make it for us as a wedding gift. Fear of the tropical humidity ruining it, caused us to leave it behind with family members when we moved to PNG. And now it is back in our home for us to enjoy, for a few months anyway!
Speaking of which, it's about that time to head to bed! Good night!

Friday, February 13, 2009


reflections on TOUGH QUESTIONS of faith
Christopher J.H. Wright
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008)
Hardcover, 221 pages, $19.99 USD

I picked up this book for free at a conference in Providence, Rhode Island. It was free with the proviso that a book review be forthcoming in a journal or posted on a blog or website. Since Nadia and I have our own blog I thought I would post it here and I hope you may be blessed by this different kind of entry. (I realize this review is rather lengthy, but to give due diligence to a book that covers a number of themes I felt this necessary)

Now, the question might be asked: having received this book for free and now having read it a few times, would you have bought it at full price? The answer is yes; while at the same time--as you will read below--this book needs to be read with a measure of discernment. Christopher Wright carefully works through a number of questions of faith with an approach that is marked by humility and sensitivity to the Scriptural text. He has no pretense that he can answer the questions of suffering and evil or explain God’s judgments or the final judgment with sufficient clarity and great erudition. Rather, he remarks: “ seems the older I get the less I think I really understand God. Which is not to say that I don’t love and trust him. On the contrary, as life goes on, my love and trust grow deeper, but my struggle with what God does or allow grows deeper too” (p.16). And yet Wright does not fail to try to tackle the difficult questions for the sake of God’s people. He writes: “I want to explore questions that the Bible itself wrestles with, but I want to build up God’s people, not betray their faith” in the process. It is this faith that “seeks understanding, builds on understanding but does not finally depend on understanding” that he is seeking to strengthen (p.22). The fact of the matter is, God’s ways are so often beyond our understanding and yet never beyond our humble adoration as Wright periodically states throughout the book.

As one skims the table of contents one might think that it is a rather eclectic presentation of various, somewhat unrelated, themes of Scripture. However, Wright does tacitly draw a redemptive line through the book. The book begins, as it were, at the fall with questions of the cause of evil and suffering and ends at the new creation, and powerfully sandwiched between these themes is the cross serving as the hinge for which all these other questions can swing.

Wright begins the book by addressing the thorny issues surrounding evil and suffering. His argument is premised on this important truth that “any solution to the problem of evil that makes evil less evil than the Bible says it actually is, is no solution at all for the Christian” (p.58).

The truth of the matter is that we have to face evil square on and in the end realize that “evil does not make sense….evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing” (p.42). Still, as Wright points out Scripture demands that we see its destruction on Golgatha. Wright wrestles with God's sovereignty and the depth of evilness in this world by drawing from Henri Blocher’s book, “Evil and the Cross.” Blocher defends that ‘the utter evilness of evil’, ‘the utter sovereignty of God’ and ‘the utter goodness of God’ all converge on the cross (p.63).

Wright also addresses the Canaanite problem. It is a problem for many because it seems at first blush that God engaged Joshua to commit an act of genocide against the Canaanites. Is this the case? To be sure, atheists like Richard Dawkins are foaming at the mouth when they talk about the so-called God of the Old Testament. Wright points out that Dawkins has no shortage of dark, sordid and debasing words to try to describe ‘God.’ To list a few, Dawkins views the ‘God’ of the Old Testament as “…an unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser…a capriciously malevolent bully"(p.73). We wince at this deplorable depiction of Yahweh. Yet the question remains: how do we confront the deaths of so many Canaanites, and what about Achan and Korah and Uzzah et al? Here Wright correctly takes his starting point from the angle of God’s justice while at the same time calls the reader to rightly align his view of God with the view that God Himself presents of Himself in Scripture—one that is full of compassion, slow to anger and bent on sacrificial-love for His people. The point is well made that although some of the acts of God are beyond understanding, the act of conquering the Canaanites, “was an act of God that took place within an overarching narrative through which the only hope for the world’s salvation was constituted” (p.107). Wright again correctly forces us to the cross, where God, in the person of Jesus Christ “bore on himself the judgment of God on human wickedness (p. 107).”

The next number of chapters in the book focuses the reader on the cross, or better, the mystery of the cross. Here Wright tries to grapple with the ‘how’ and ‘what’ and ‘when’ of the cross. He gives due attention to those three interrogatives trying to capture in so many words the power, beauty and glory of the cross. This may be the strongest section of the book. Indeed, for these chapters alone I would purchase this book. Wright also spends considerable time on penal substitution, “that is that God in Christ bore the penalty of sin and death in our place, so that we can be pardoned by God and be declared righteous” (128). There is no shortage of ink spilled or keys struck over the description of the nature of substitution. There are many, even so-called Christians, who balk at the cross because of its violence. Some go as far as to call it a deplorable act of child abuse. Others argue that God was controlled by the law—that is, that the law became a tyrant which controlled God leaving him with few options to atone for us save the horrific death of his Son on the cross. Wright carefully and accurately debunks all the theories against substitutionary atonement and effectively argues that one cannot separate God’s anger from his love “for they are intrinsically connected to one another” (p.131). “Would you want to be loved by a God who was not angry with evil?”(p.131). The only answer to deal with the offence of evil was death: “God made him ho had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21). For the conclusion of the matter is this: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).

Wright concludes the book with a thorough study of the various ‘end-times’ views. He entitles one of these chapters: “Cranks and Controversies.” Wright wades into the problem with careful exegesis of various texts and exposes all the ‘fear mongering’ that fill so many books on end-times prophecies. His approach is very balanced and one that I find myself agreeing with repeatedly. Although the end of the world leaves us with more questions than answers, we know God’s justice, His Name and His Glory will be vindicated and worshipped. Wright, quoting John Stott's summary on this matter, writes: “our eternal destiny is settled in life, sealed in death, and stated on the day of judgment”(p.191). God is sovereign over that destiny. And past that great ending is the new beginning reaching to eternity that Wright fills another chapter writing about.

The book is an enjoyable and challenging read. Yet, as stated above, it needs to be read with discerning eyes. One of the issues in dealing with evil in this world is our response to it.
Can we be angry with God because of the moral evil (eg. Holocaust) or the natural evil (Tsunamis) that we experience or see around us?

Wright applies this dichotomy in dealing with evil, but he is not completely clear as to whether we can or should even be ‘angry’ with God with regards to either or both of these two. At one point, he answers the question: "Is it sinful to be angry with God?" with this answer: "Again I turn to my Bible and find that the answer simply has to be No" (p.50). However, at the conclusion of the chapter on evil we find this summary: “the Bible allows us to lament, protest and be angry at the offensiveness of evil” (Italics mine, p.55). It seems, though I may be reading more into it, that Wright is not sure whether he sanctions this anger against God or the offensiveness of evil? But the question is, however, does God? Sure, God has accommodated the protests of His children in his mercy (Job), and even understands our protests, but just as a child can get angry with his parent and we accommodate that anger in love, we don’t ever condone it as good behaviour. I don't find in either the Old, but especially not in the New Testament, a case for viewing 'being angry with God' as good behaviour.

Another concern is whether natural evil in this world is in fact evil? Wright is not clear on this point either. It is one thing to call natural phenomena (like earthquakes) evil, which he does, but it is another thing to say that these phenomena existed even before the fall into sin. Such a conclusion makes the word evil a misnomer. Coupled with this, Wright has a rather loose view of Genesis chapter 1 arguing that catstrophic events happened long before the emergence of human life. quoting Tom Wright he states: "A tectonic plate's got to do what a tectonic plate's got to do" (p.47) This is an unscriptural extrapolation. I find it unfortunate that Wright looses much of the clarity and precision when he deals with the matter of natural evil especially pre-fall.

Being aware of these issues, one can still find a lot of Scripturally based counsel in the pages of this book. It does not shy away from the difficult questions and one is blessed by the due diligence Wright pays to the issues of faith. In the end, it is a book that can serve to strengthen our faith and testify to the great work of God in dealing with a broken, suffering, world in the clutches of evil.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Journey Continues

When we first made the decision to leave Lae last August 2008, it was with the hope and intent that we could return in about six months time. We arrived here in Canada just in time to enjoy the last couple weeks of summer; we were privileged to once again experience the vibrancy of a Canadian autumn; and are now in the middle of a cold and snowy winter. With the passing of the seasons marks the end of this six month period.

Today, the 2nd of February, in fact, marks the day we expected to return. Our plan was to fly to Perth, Australia and enjoy three weeks of fellowship with our Mission Board and at least some of the members of the supporting churches there before flying on to Lae in early March. So were our plans, but the Lord’s were different. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” His purpose is that we stay for another seven months or so.

This comes with mixed emotions. On the one hand there is an element of sadness in that we long to be back in PNG and become fully engaged once again in the work. Instead, we remain in a curious state of being in ‘limbo’: will I get better? And how long are we to be here? This is a difficult place in which to be. In this state one’s sense of purpose can be put into question. It is said that most men--and women to a lesser degree--are defined by what they do, or don’t do. If that is how we are hardwired, as it were, what happens when you’re not able to do a lot? What happens when you’re not productive? What happens when you see others around you serving with heart and soul as you are forced to rest and watch from afar? The upshot of all of this is that Nadia and I are forced to take careful stock of what God has given us and to find joy in waiting on Him. The school of waiting is an important school to be enrolled in, but the program is never really completed. The heart and mind has to be constantly reminded that the Lord is in control and will give us all that we need in His time.

On the other hand, we live with a measure of expectancy. I mean that in a few ways. First, Nadia is expecting. ‘How is she feeling?’ You ask. Well, she is doing fine in her own tired way as she enters her 14th week of pregnancy. We praise God for this gift of life; and also we thank Him for allowing this pregnancy to confirm to us that we are to stay at least to the beginning of September. The baby is due early August. That’s the first and greatest expectation. We are also prayerfully expecting to fly away after the baby’s VISA is in order and resume our work in Lae in September before our colleagues leave for their much needed furlough in October. We covet your prayers in all of this—the pregnancy, my full recovery and the ability to fly ‘home.’ These great expectations (not to steal from Dickens) are allowing us to keep our sights on what lies ahead with joy and anticipation.

Although great strides have been made in my health there are a few symptoms compounding the chronic fatigue, (continual not debilitating), which need to clear up before I can resume a full workload in Lae. Nadia just read this and said I should share more about my illness—but I am rather ambivalent about sharing the ambiguous. Notwithstanding, I’ve been told more recently that the virus I am dealing with is in my spleen. The effect is that I am dealing with fatigue and have minor issues with my heart and lung. That is, when I am extra tired, most evenings and sometimes during the day, I pick up this uncomfortable (for me and others) breathing problem. That is, I am not able to get a satisfying breath of air—air hunger, they call it. This sometimes turns into sharp chest pain, but not always. The tests do not show any structural issues with these organs or blockages in the arteries etc, and for this we are very thankful. But here’s my guess—it’s the virus. It is a curious virus at best and my job is to keep the viral load that it produces down, somehow. Our prayer is, however, that God will remove this virus completely! And further, it is our humble prayer that God will allow us to go back to the work and life we dearly love and miss after another two seasons-—spring and summer—-pass.

Before signing off, we'll share a few photos...

Uncle Joel visits from Holland over Christmas.

Our little pink astronaut braves the cold.

Dinner out with the Wildeboers to celebrate Ian's 35th and his father's 65th.

Fun with Nana in the snow.

As faithfully as He makes the sun rise and set, so does He care for us.