Two posts at Desiring God are the source for today’s entry at The Wondering Eagle. Jennifer Brogdon writes a post about two funerals in two days and how one person she knows is in heaven while the other is suffering in hell. My pushback is the following, how does she know with affirmation that her friend is in hell? How does she know that in her final breathes between her and God she never said, ” Jesus, I believe…” Then Jon Bloom writes a post asking if you will wrestle with God? My reaction I don’t think Jon knows what wrestling with God is like. I draw upon my 5 year faith crisis to write that part of the post.
We go to the grave of a friend saying, “A man is dead,” but angels throng about him saying, “A man is born.”
Henry Ward Beecher
“Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.”
“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
Unknown Wrestling Quote
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
Genesis 32:24 NIV
In looking for material to write about and review I always hit up a number of blogs and sources. I actually have a pile and I regularly go back and forth between a number of blogs all across the board. The other day I was skimming through Desiring God and I read two articles that caught me eye. One is from Jennifer Brogdon who is also an assistant volunteer cross country coach at Mississippi College. She wrote about two funerals in two days, and some of what I read needed a push back, and I am quite glad to perform those duties in the function of this post. Now I have touched upon death and dying before on this blog and I will re-link these two posts for you to read. The first post I wrote is about how fundamentalism crashed my grandmother’s funeral in Butte, Montana in 2009. It was one of many things that triggered my faith crisis for 5 years. Then I read about the situation with country music stars Joey and Rory. Joey Feek has terminal cancer and is in the last days of her life. I wrote about her facing death in the context of fundamentalism, and asked some questions. Can you imagine a person dying of terminal cancer and leaving a church like Sovereign Grace and being shunned and treated as dead? What would Jesus say to that? But I also compare and contrast her behavior and her husband’s blog over cancer as compared to John Piper’s behavior and prostrate cancer. I wrote about John Piper’s cancer in this blog post here.
Then there is Jon Bloom’s piece. Jon Bloom wrote an article that asked if you would wrestle with God. I honestly don’t think Jon Bloom really knows what he is saying. If he knew how hard wrestling with God can be he wouldn’t be so flippant about it. I saw this and knew it needed a response especially in light of my faith crisis and my period of walking away from the Christian faith and trying to figure out who and what I am going to be. If you want to read about how my faith crisis developed you can read this post, and then if you want to read about the night my wrestling match ended with God you can read this post here. This is the second time I have written about Jon Bloom, I wrote this prior post about Reformation Day. In that I made a list of 95 reasons why we need a new reformation. As a recap John Piper is reason number 42, and his theology explaining why a woman submits to her domestic abuser is reason number 43. I am still waiting for someone to nail those 95 thesis to the door of Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist and C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Louisville. The first person who does it while either one are preaching will get a nice dinner from Eagle. 🙂 I have a lot to say about both posts and as usual my commentary is blunt. That is my trademark, I know 🙂 From here on forward my comments are going to be in read. As always I invite criticism and push back and I have emailed my blog post off to Jon Bloom and Jennifer Brogdon to give them an opportunity to respond if they so desire.
Jennifer Brogdon’s “Two Funerals in Two Days”
In the period of just forty-eight hours, I lost two people I cared for deeply.
The first was Noura, one of my friends from Saudi Arabia. I met her a year and a half ago, and we spent much time together running errands, eating meals, and going to events. During this time, I shared the good news of Jesus Christ often with my non-religious Muslim friend (as she would describe herself). She showed interest at times and even visited church with me, but she never put her faith in Christ. She often said, “Maybe one day I will believe these things.” Sadly, she never did. Noura has already stood in front of the judgement seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10–11).
Here is the problem Jennifer has in this article and it comes out in the very beginning. She, nor anyone else, knows with 100% certainty where Noura is. After all, and I am saying this as a guy who believes in hell; but how does she knew that there possibly wasn’t a heart change at the last minute? How does Jennifer know that maybe in the final seconds of her life where Noura didn’t say “Jesus forgive me…I believe.” How does Jennifer know that didn’t happen, especially if it occurred in a silent and direct method of communication between Noura and the Lord? Many evangelical Christiasn are quick to discern who is in heaven and who goes to hell. To be blunt I think that is quite foolish as in this article it means that Jennifer is God and puts her in that position. I think when that time comes we are going to be honestly surprised who is in heaven and who is not. There will probably be people who are there who we would not expect to be there. Then on the flip side there will probably be some surprises as to who is not there at all. But no one knows with 100% certainty where Noura is expect the Lord himself.
It bothers me when someone who is clearly not a Christian dies and is said to be, “in a better place,” or simply in heaven with God — the one they did not care about while on earth. It bothers me because that’s the only way many know how to cope with death. It’s not that I want to shove my theology down the throats of the person’s mourning family and friends. It bothers me for two reasons:
- Every human has sinned, and sin demands a punishment (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Christ died to take the wrath of God that we deserve because of our sin (Romans 5:8). If we think that every human who dies goes to “a better place,” then Jesus Christ died a brutal death on a cross for nothing (Galatians 1:3–5).
- More souls are going to hell every day because they think they will automatically go to “a better place” when they die, even if they did not put their faith in Jesus Christ (John 5:24). This creates more compassion within me to spread the truth so that some will believe and have their souls ripped from hell in which they are going (1 Timothy 4:16).
I am quick to give pause as to determine who is and who is not a Christian. Let’ s be honest I have seen shady behavior from many self-professed Christians. Some of the ugliest behavior I have seen comes from the John Piper groupies. In my story I had an Air Force Captain who worshipped the ground John Piper stood. He also taught me why rape is a problem in the military by using his Captain status to pull off a false accusation. He boasted of how healthy his faith is, and how healthy Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington is. Yet is that kind of behavior one you would expect to see from a Christian? A false accusation that could have destroyed someone’s life? On Sunday morning I stood in 19 degree weather to protest Star Scott’s Calvary Temple. One of the people I stood with is Molly Fitch who protested what this church has done to her family. It tore it apart and the leadership of this church who strongly claims to believe in the “Gospel” have turned 4 of her children against her. They won’t contact her, they won’t acknowledge her and treat her as dead. Molly hasn’t met her grandchildren. This situation personally angers me deeply. Is that how a Christian pastor should behave…to destroy a family? Yes sin is punished I believe that deeply. Yes sin is reprehensible. Yes I know that some people will go to hell. However, who goes and ends up where is not for me to decide. Nor is it for Jennifer to decide. Jennifer if you have compassion for people and want to spread the Gospel the best way to do that is through serving and loving others. Now that takes work. Love is hard especially when the person doesn’t acknowledge or is in a different place theologically. To love people means leaving your bubble and associating with those who are not like minded. Love is messy, difficult and hard…but if you want to spread the Gospel that is what you do. What are some examples of love? Being available for a friend at 3:00 a.m. when they learn their father is in the ER across country. Love is being stopped by a homeless person and having your life interrupted in the process where they plead for food and you take them to a nearby restaurant and buy them dinner. Love is about being available at all times and putting others ahead of yourself. Love overcomes barriers and knows no boundaries. Those in the Neo-Calvinist tribe are going to have problems because they turn inward and focus on themselves. They have a warped definition of love. I say this as a pretty conservative guy by the way, and I am in no way emergent or liberal.
The second person who died over those two difficult days in November was a Christian. Mike spent his life in relationship with Jesus Christ, and he was constantly meeting and getting to know more and more people so that he could share Jesus with them. He, too, has already stood before the judgement seat of Christ. The dramatic difference is that Mike stood there covered by the blood of Christ, poured out for his sins (Romans 5:9).
Daniel 12 shows the two destinations: some to everlasting shame, some to everlasting life. Just because I loved Noura very much, I cannot deceive myself to thinking that she is now experiencing eternal life — as hard as that is (and it is very hard). Instead, I picture her soul suffering in everlasting torment. It’s a horrible picture, one which keeps me from sleeping many nights. I cannot change what I believe to be true from the mouth of my God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) because of my personal or emotional connection to the person or circumstance.
I think Jennifer needs to read more about Jesus and less of Jonathan Edwards. I have so much to write about, but one of these days I need to write an essay about the problems with Jonathan Edwards and the way many people make him an idol. I would like to draw upon my graduate level history work to look at Jonathan Edwards being a slave owner and compare and contrast that against Thomas Jefferson and George Washington who also were slave owners. Again like I said above…how does she know for absolute certainty Noura is suffering in hell for eternity? How does she know that at the end of her life that she didn’t say to Jesus, “yes I believe….” Is it because she didn’t see it? Or it wasn’t recorded? Jennifer talks about how she can’t sleep at night. Let me ask this….if Jennifer cares about the Gospel has she confronted or challenged the leadership of her movement for all the corruption pouring out of it that can keep people away from the Gospel and Jesus? Does she care about child sex abuse cover up in Sovereign Grace and the role John Piper has played in enabling C.J. Mahaney? As a woman does Jennifer grieve that John Piper taught that females like her should submit to their domestic abuser? Don’t believe me I linked he video earlier on in this post. If Jennifer and other Christians honestly cared about the Gospel they would confront that corruption because in all honesty that corruption is like gasoline for many atheists. It justifies atheism and helps keep many people away. I mean you can’t preach the Gospel and engage in criminal activity or the cover up of child sex abuse as alleged against C.J. Mahaney.
The sad thing is that Romans 1 says that everyone, however worldly, however Buddhist, however nonreligious, knows in his conscience that there is a God. Funerals awaken this knowledge more than anything. Paul says that many will suppress the truth and deceive themselves, only returning again and again, and in deeper ways, to their sin (Romans 1:18–21). As a result, they either refuse to believe that God is real, or they simply reject who he is for the sake of continuing in the sin they love.
So Paul says that many people suppress their sin and return to their ways of sin? Does that explain T4G? Does that explain why people still attend Sovereign Grace after Mahaney’s blackmail of Larry Tomczak became public knowledge? Why do Dever, Piper, and Mohler continue to support someone who is no longer above reproach? Is it because they are returning back to their sin and in the end are not that special as many evangelicals make them out to be?
Why Should God Let You into Heaven?
Did Noura stand before Christ and tell him about all the good things she had done? Maybe. But apart from Christ, all of our good deeds are like filthy rags before him (Isaiah 64:6). Did she remind him of how she went to church with me? Maybe. But many will call out to him about what they have done in his name, and he will say, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:23). Did she explain how she was interested in the gospel and maybe even believed it to be true? Maybe. But the demons believe, and are not saved (James 2:18–19).
Did Mike stand before Christ and tell him about all the good things he had done? Probably not. But if he did, they, too, could never be considered righteous by a holy God. Mike wasn’t banking on his own works, but Another’s. Mike was judged based on the works of Jesus Christ — the perfect, sinless one (2 Corinthians 5:21) who died in Mike’s place, who was punished for Mike’s sins and my sins. Now, Mike does not have to pay the penalty for sin. It’s already been paid for him (Ephesians 1:13–14).
Let’s again ask some questions…I’ve already written about Noura let me ask about the claim of Jesus where he says “I never knew you…” Before I say what I am about to say let me state that in most circumstances I would not say the following. But in this case I am dealing with a group of people who determine who is and who is not a Christian, without having all their facts, or knowledge. So to sum this up I would seldom if ever say the following. When Jesus says, “I never knew you…” would he say that to John Piper? Will C.J. Mahaney stand before the judgment seat and God will say, “I never knew you..” Will the same thing happen to Mark Dever, where Jesus proclaims “I never knew you…” I don’t know what is between a person and God so I would normally not say all this but when I read a post where someone is diagnosing and determining on presupposition that in itself is flawed. Neo-Calvinism has a lot of issues and it fails in many regards, but Jennfier illustrates it in this post in this way. You have a movement that seems to believe if you have the right doctrine that all is well. You say the right words all is well. Yet at the same time you can lack substance and that is fine. It’s like that with C.J. Mahaney, yes he gives nice sermons and talks but the fact is that he blackmailed someone. That doesn’t seem to count. I wonder what would happen at Mississippi College if Jennifer blackmailed another colleague in the athletic department. How far would her career go? 😉
The Christian faith is about actions and words. They can not be divorced from each other. That was one of the things Andrew White taught me…his faith in the end is pretty shallow in that he can’t own up to his false accusation. He can claim that how healthy his faith was, but he can’t practice the basics, of faith 101. Like I said in a previous post if this is evangelicalism then we need a new reformation.
Questions to Ask After a Funeral
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ,
- Do you have a compassionate burden for the lost knowing that many die daily having not put their faith in Christ?
- Have you ever lost an unbelieving loved one with whom you’ve shared the gospel? Does this give you more urgency to keep sharing knowing that some that you share with are chosen by God and will believe (1 Timothy 2:4)?
- Does your heart break for unreached people groups, such as those in Saudi Arabia? Did you know that the gospel is for all nations/people groups and that God commands us to take the good news to them (Matthew 28:18–20)?
If you are an unbeliever or wonder whether you’re a Christian,
- Are you telling yourself, “One day I will believe these things”?
- Are you going to church and doing good things, but aren’t putting sin to death sin and depending wholly on your Father in heaven (Romans 8:13–15)? Are you truly saved?
- Do you ever think about eternity without assuming that everyone goes to heaven? What might that mean for you?
May we, as believers, pray for boldness to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples that some may be saved from eternal destruction into marvelous life and light. The next funeral may be tomorrow. It may even be yours. Repent from your sins, believe in the gospel, and enter into untouchable and everlasting joy.
I think I explained myself enough in the post up above in addressing many of these points and I don’t want to keep harping. Jennifer Brogdon got my point loud and clear. As for repentance I agree. Let’s have John Piper, C.J. Mahaney and Mark Dever repent for their sin, and their trampling of people, and ultimately the very Gospel of Jesus Christ himself. After all as Matt Redmond has said a faith system that protects the celebrity pastor at the expense of the victim is a faith system that is worthless. I totally agree.
Jon Bloom’s “Will You Wrestle with God?”
What do you really need from God right now? What blessing do you want from him? How badly do you want it?
There are times when God only releases his blessings on us after a season of prolonged and even painful wrestling with him.
The Strangest Wrestling Match in History
In Genesis 32, Jacob is on his way back home to Canaan with his small tribe of wives and children after a 20-year sojourn in Paddan-aram. And he is scared to death, because his estranged brother, Esau, is coming to meet him — with 400 men (Genesis 32:6). This is no welcome party; it’s an army.
So after splitting up his household into two camps to try and avoid complete annihilation, Jacob, understandably suffering insomnia, intends to spend the night alone — no doubt in desperate prayer.
But a strange man who shows up and wrestles Jacob till daybreak rudely interrupts his plans. At some point during this weird contest Jacob realizes that he is wrestling God. And when God decides it’s time to end the match, he dislocates Jacob’s hip and demands to be released. And Jacob, in significant pain, replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
This response clearly pleases God, who pronounces this blessing on Jacob: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob [deceiver], but Israel [strives with God], for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
Jacob then limps toward his tense reunion with Esau with a weakened body and a strengthened faith. Having wrestled with God, he knows his prayers regarding Esau will be answered.
Multiple Blessings Came Through the Wrestling
Take note of what God did when he wrestled Jacob. Jacob began the night dreading Esau’s arrival. He was full of fear and desperation. But he ended the night of struggle with God’s blessing and a renewed faith. All of our struggling with God in faith leads to peace.
And isn’t it interesting that God did not simply speak to Jacob in a dream or vision as he had at other times (Genesis 31:13) and reiterate his promise and speak comforting words? This time God addressed Jacob’s fear by requiring him to wrestle all night. This probably felt to Jacob like a badly timed hassle when he just wanted comfort and assurance. But later he realized just how comforting it was. Sometimes when we want God’s comfort, he sends it in unexpected and even unwanted packages.
God even afflicted Jacob with a debilitating injury. This had the effect of making Jacob even more vulnerable to Esau, forcing Jacob’s faith to more fully rest on God and not himself. If necessary, God will cause us to limp to increase our faith.
Lastly, wrestling with God changed Jacob’s identity. He was no longer to be known as one who received his blessing by deception. This time he received God’s blessing by prevailing with God by faith. This struggle turned out to be a profoundly gracious gift of restoration that God gave Jacob, not unlike the gift Jesus gave Peter by letting Peter affirm his love for Jesus as many times as he had denied it (John 21:15–17). Jacob’s tenacious faith pleased God and he rewarded Jacob’s request (Hebrews 11:6). When God calls us to wrestle with him, there’s always more going on than we first understand and God always uses it to transform us for good.
I passed up in writing the first section because I think it is pretty self explanatory and just narrates the classic story of Jacob wrestling with God. I have many thoughts that I need to communicate. Wrestling with God is not simple. It’s not an easy thing. It’s not like a high school or collegiate wrestling match. Words fail to describe how hard it is. There are parts of the evangelical faith that take a light view and I would suggest cheapen stories like that of Jacob and God’s wrestling match. I used to think of such events in a very light hearted way prior to my faith crisis. Not so any more. A wrestling match with God is provocative, ugly, difficult and brutal. It draws a person to exhaustion and it consumes them in the process. I wrote a post about my wrestling match with God right here, and I had a very different view of it after the fact. Now here is another point of contention that is rich…Jon Bloom is in a movement that also discourages such wrestling with God. For example…what would have happened if I had my faith crisis if I was a member of an Acts 29 or Sovereign Grace church? And I pushed back for years? People would have told me that I wasn’t a Christian to believe with, and that doubt is a sin. I in all likelihood would have faced church discipline for not attending church or small group. It would have gotten to a point that it would have hindered and hurt me in the end. Many evangelicals really do not know what a wrestling match is with God. If they honestly did then they would not be as flippant. My wresting match with God brought me to tears, pain, and moments where I thought I was physically dying. It was exhausting. There is no other way to describe it in words.
God Is Not Reluctant to Bless You
When God makes us wrestle him for some blessing(s), it is not because God is reluctant to bless us, even if that’s how it first feels. It is because he has more blessings for us in the wrestling than without it.
Remember, God pursued Jacob for this match. God was the initiator. Jacob was stewing in his own anxiety over Esau and his approaching slaughter squad when God showed up. And the wrestling drew Jacob out of his fearful preoccupation and forced him to focus on God.
I doubt at first that Jacob wanted this forced focus or even believed he needed it. It wouldn’t surprise me if at the beginning Jacob had prayed, “God would you get rid of this guy? This is the last thing I need right now.” But what he discovered was that the wrestling was a means of God’s grace, a channel for God’s blessing on him.
The same is true for us.
Here is the problem with what I have above. Jon writes that the same is true for us, and I am not convinced of that for the following reason. There really are no blesings within the wrestling match due to how exhausting it is, and how difficult it can be. Now I am not disputing that fact that God pursues it, for example I believe my faith crisis was necessary even though I would have resisted it. In the aftermath I see why it was necessary. It purged the remaining parts of Mormonism from me, and it got rid of all the John Piper crap that I had in my system. My faith crisis deconstructed what I had and allowed me to rebuild and start anew. That was the beauty of it but in an evangelical faith system that has more in common with ADD than long term hard faith, there few opportunities to have that kind of deep rich faith. I am realizing this more and more as time goes on. But its still hard.
Do Not Let God Go Until He Blesses You!
So I’ll ask again. What do you really need from God right now? What blessing do you want from him? How badly do you want it?
God will meet you in your anguish, fear, and uncertainty. But he may not meet you in the way you expect or desire. Your greatest ally may show up looking at first like your adversary, inciting you to wrestle with him.
If so, remember Jacob. There are multiple blessings in the wrestling. You may not need soft words of comfort, you may not need to be left alone with your thoughts, you may not need sleep, you may not even need a healthy hip! What you need is God’s blessing!
So when God calls you to wrestle with him in prayer, it is an invitation to receive his blessing. Stay with him and don’t give up. Do not let him go until he blesses you! He loves to bless that kind of tenacious faith and you will come out transformed.
I would venture to suggest that Jon Bloom is flirting with prosperity theology in this last section. God is not obligated to give anyone anything, and what we still get we still lose in time. I went through a faith crisis and I still deal with doubt form time to time. Lazarus was raised from the dead but he still died in the course of time. Wrestling with God is hard and challenging. But God is not obligated to give you, me, Jon Bloom, Jennifer Brogdon anything at all. The other aspect is that the faith you will have after this kind of wrestling match will be disliked and distrusted by many Christians. Why? Because you live in the tension and live in the uncertainty. There are too many in the church that want simple, easy answers. They want someone to tell them want to believe. That is not faith, that is laziness and more of a “soap opera” approach to faith. Its mind numbing and it dishonors God. God wants people to pursue him, yet many don’t do that and follow their pastor, celebrity pastor or something else. I hope all this makes sense as always I welcome differing points of view and pushback. As always I love you guys! 🙂