Tragedy and the voice of God

tsslogo.jpgOn the evening of Wednesday, December 8th, 1742, John Lyman’s Northampton home burned to the ground. Tragically, his two young daughters perished in the fire.

So far as I can tell, John Lyman was a normal citizen of the town and his story would have long been forgotten except for a man silhouetted in background of the smoldering remains. Looking intently into the scene was a local pastor, Jonathan Edwards.

And he was not alone.

Edwards had walked to the consumed home after gathering his children and a number of local children. His purpose was pastoral, to bring these young souls close to the voice of God.

That same day (Thursday) Edwards preached on Micah 6:9. His sermon had two main points: “I. God’s voice sometimes cries to a city or town in the awful rebukes of his providence. II. The men of wisdom shall see God’s name.” In the rising embers of tragedy, Edwards was encouraging his children to listen for God’s voice. The wise will see, the wise will hear.

Surveying the 35W bridge collapsed here in Minnesota was a similar experience. All the victims have been removed from the scene. The cars are gone and work is well under way to remove the concrete and steel. The once carefully-guarded scene is now open for the public, and Saturday I took my wife and kids downtown to walk over a parallel bridge and look 60-feet down into the valley of destruction.

Personally, it was an opportunity for my son (Jonathan Edwards) to see the extent of the damage and be freshly reminded of frailty. Thirteen people died here including a pregnant mother, her unborn child, and two-year-old daughter. No one, not even the youngest, are exempt from the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23).

Some will see the tragedy and close their ears. Some will flatly deny God is here. But He is here, He has acted, His is working and continues speaking. My prayer is that God was actively speaking to my son and into the lives of the children overlooking the scene.

Edwards reminds us to use tragedy to love young souls. God is speaking and the wise shall hear His voice.

Does He speak to you?








Related: President Bush in MN – pictures
Related: Minneapolis Bridge Collapse: The Morning After

Some verses upon the burning of our house

“Some verses upon the burning of our house”
a poem by Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

tss-baseball.jpgThe Puritans wrote beautiful poetry and Anne Bradstreet, a faithful Puritan wife and mother of several children, wrote some of the most compelling.

Several recent events — a garage and vehicle destroyed in the fire of close family members, Baylor University’s Roger Olson and his now infamous comments, the recent collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis, flooding here in Minnesota and a personal reading through Job – have brought this poem to mind.

On July 18, 1666, at the age of 54, Bradstreet’s home burned to the ground. She recounts the horrors and her godly, humble, Calvinistic response.

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken’d was with thundring noise
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
That fearfull sound of fire and fire,
Let no man know is my Desire.

I, starting up, the light did spye,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse [helpless].
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.

And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
Far be it that I should repine [complain].

He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.

Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.

No pleasant tale shall ‘ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adeiu, Adeiu; All’s vanity.

Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.

Thou hast an house on high erect,
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though: this bee fled.
It’s purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.

A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf [money], farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.


The poem originates from The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings edited by Perry Miller (pp. 577-579).

Personal suffering and personal sin

Christians suffer. So does God cause His children to suffer as punitive judgment for their personal sin? Walter Kaiser today at CT explains why Job’s friends were wrong in saying ‘yes.’ On a similar note, Derek Thomas’ book, Calvin’s Teaching on Job (Christian Focus, 2004) is excellent here, too. As one of Job’s friends (Elihu) realized, suffering is God’s means of instructing (not judging) His children.

“… affliction serves several ends: it is ‘the true schoolmistresse to bring men to repentance’; it weans us from dependence on the things of this world; it provokes us to prayer. Significantly, afflictions are the voice of God and a sign of his providence. They are by God’s appointment; they are God’s ‘archers,’ his artillery. Afflictions are a part of God’s ‘double means’ whereby he humbles us (the other being his Word). Yet, at the same time, they are ‘stirred up’ by Satan. … afflictions show us our sins and cause us to flee in repentance. … Afflictions also drive us to desire more of God’s help, provoking us to return to him, by drawing us to him, taming us, and teaching us to pray” (Calvin’s Teaching on Job, 227-228).

Cross-centered obedience

tsslogo.jpgThe way I see it, the most delicate balance of the Christian life is in maintaining a Cross-centered perspective and pursuing personal obedience. Push a little too hard on the one side, I fall into self-righteousness and legalism, thinking God’s acceptance of me is rooted in personal obedience. This is spiritual suicide. Or I fall on the other side in thinking the Cross demotes personal obedience to the status of “minor importance.” This too is wrong.

In John 15:1-17 Christ gives us a radical alternative. Here He teaches us that the high calling of personal obedience presses us into the Cross-centered life. Let me explain.

Obedience and comfort

I’ll begin with a hypothetical. What if you somehow discovered that your friend was going to endure, over the next week, the most horrible experience of their life? They will learn another close and beloved friend has experienced a ghastly and painful death. What words today would you leave with your friend to prepare them for the coming pain?

My guess is that we would speak only words of comfort. We would weep with those about to weep. God is faithful, we would say. He will be with you. He will not leave you even in the darkest times.

I think we would agree that – on this brink of tragedy – it would be odd and out of place to call our friend to pursue personal obedience.

Yet on the brink of the crucifixion this is exactly what Christ does. As the disciples are about to forsake the Son and see Him crucified, Christ prepares them by calling them to pursue obedience and fruitfulness (John 15:1-17).

‘Abide in my love’

“Abide in my love” Jesus tells the remaining 11 disciples (v. 9). The Cross will forever exhibit the greatest expression of love ever displayed (v. 13). It’s here, on the Cross, that Christ gives His Body to be murdered to bear the wrath of God’s judgement as the Substitute. He will bear our guilt. He will bear our sins. The wrath we deserve will be redirected into the perfect Son. This is the greatest love. So rest, delight, dwell, find your life, “abide” in this love.

This is to say the spiritual life of the Christian is sustained by the Cross. “Abide in my love” is Jesus’ call to live and breathe and find all nourishment and life in the Cross. Paul says it well, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The Christian life is now sustained “by faith” in the Cross of Christ!

All my righteousness before God and all my spiritual vibrancy derive from this love, this Cross!

Fruit for the Father

In light of the Cross I think it is natural (though not accurate) to de-value personal obedience. Quite the opposite! By giving us the spiritual life necessary, the Cross actually strengthens the call of Christian obedience.

For the Christian (those with “new life”) only abiding in the life-giving Cross makes fruitfulness possible! Previously, the sinner outside the Christ was nothing more than a dead branch seeking to bear fruit but dehydrated from all spiritual life. Christ is our life.

Tucked in verse 8 we glimpse at the very heart of the Trinitarian motivations behind the Cross. Jesus says His Father is glorified when we bear fruit. The fruitfulness of the saint is a direct growth from the life and nourishment of the Cross. Think of it this way: We bear fruit by abiding in the Cross, the fruit of the branches is plucked by the Son and then carried to the Father in a bushel basket as an offering of glorification from the Son to the Father. Here we see the profound motives of Christ to glorify the Father.

In this cycle of the saints feeding off the Cross and bearing fruit, of the Son plucking the fruit and offering His Father the glory, we see Cross-centered thinking and diligent obedience come together. It’s important that we fight the tendency to emphasize works over the Cross and the tendency to think the Cross makes obedience an optional or secondary pursuit.

The calling to pursue diligent obedience and bear fruit came packaged with a stern warning that fruitless branches are thrown into the fire (v. 6). So why the hard demands of Jesus to bear fruit? How can He get away with such strong words? Here’s why: His Cross can sustain the weight of these high demands.

The point!

Here is what I’m getting at. In light of the coming tragedy, Christ raises the bar of obedience and fruit-bearing expectations for His disciples. This is how Jesus saw fit to comfort His disciples in the coming storm! He knew the higher the bar was raised in personal obedience the deeper He would drive the disciples into Himself.

We cannot miss this: The high calling to pursue personal obedience will (graciously) press the saint into Christ and into the Cross. And this means, at a profound level, the Cross-centered life is compromised by laziness in the pursuit of personal obedience.

President Bush in Minneapolis: Pictures

This morning (Sat.) President Bush flew into Minneapolis/St. Paul to survey the collapsed 35W bridge. From high atop a bridge on the campus of the University of Minnesota I captured these photos. Three helicopters – two smaller and one large one – all landed near the river, downstream about 1/4 mile from the collapsed 35W bridge. The perimeter boundary around the scene is enormous and provide only a few areas where the collapsed bridge is viewable. I found one tiny hole in the trees and bushes where the 35W bridge was visible (the two photos were taken about 1/2 mile away!). I had a great location high above the valley to photograph the departure of the three presidential helicopters with downtown Minneapolis in the background.

— photos (c) 2007 Tony S. Reinke

Minneapolis bridge collapse: The morning after

If you’ve ever walked through a cemetery with a small group, you know the unwritten rules that dominate; speak quietly, don’t laugh and respect the hollowed ground. This is the same feeling I got walking around downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul this morning. Today, the local officials recover bodies and, with such a gruesome scene unfolding, a huge perimeter has been cordoned off by the police stretching upstream and downstream along the river and well into downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. Public vantage points like five-story parking garages are closed. Every media outlet imaginable is represented, each having their own satellite truck, a reporter with a microphone, a camera on a tripod and a producer on a mobile phone. It was the lead story this morning on the BBC. Students from the University of Minnesota walk around the St. Paul side of the river. Downtown Minneapolis is equally busy. Bicycles zip around. Cars are stacked in traffic. But amidst the tremendous saturation of people, the scene is quiet. Cars don’t honk or boom loud music. The emergency lights flash silently. Even those walking around with friends are speechless. The scene is quiet as people reflect on the obvious: death is inevitable and unpredictable. As onlookers search the cemetery perimeter for the best view, I cannot help but wonder if these souls are looking at a fallen bridge or something more eternal. I came downtown to watch them.

Al Mohler has connected this tragedy to Edwards’s Sinners in the Hands sermon.

John Piper, who lives and works close to the 35W bridge, also published some comments.

Amazing photos from the NYTimes.

posted photos (c) 2007 Tony S. Reinke