Two years ago, a friend of mine from seminary experienced an incomprehensible tragedy. His almost two-year-old daughter—a surprise baby and their fourth child—began having seizures. A day or two later she died. A little girl—so full of life, so innocent—now dead and taken from her loving parents…
As a father of three little boys—four, two, and four weeks old respectively—I can’t imagine the questions, the grief… words aren’t enough.
Of course, almost every minister has faced or will face equally debilitating tragedies—either as individuals or within the corporate body. And really, the world has no answers for these events; frankly, many in our congregations do not either. People struggle to know to whom to turn in a world that seems deterministic, fatalistic, and cruel. Where do we turn for answers, comfort, relief in a world dominated by naturalistic worldview devoid of meaning and God? To friends? Family? Escapism? The nostalgic, postmodern spirituality as witnessed in response to the 9/11 tragedy?
Of course, as good evangelicals, we know the right answers. We know that our God invites our expressions of grief, and we know that He is good, and we know that He is sovereign and faithful. We know this intuitively. But it is when we face the darkness that we see our true theology coming to the forefront. This is the “rubber meets the road” theology.
You may say that you believe that God is sovereign, but do you believe it when an earthquake takes everything you own? You may say that you believe that God is good, but do you believe it when God calls your two-year-old home? You may say that you believe God is faithful, but do you believe it when you lose your job and you have no prospects?
When the darkness of life comes, what is your theology? What is the theology held by your congregation members? John Piper has rightly stated that he preaches the character of God in the present, so that when darkness comes in the future, he doesn’t have to and can focus on just “being there.” As preachers, then, we must consistently preach robust, biblical theology.
So, if you preach a series on any biblical book, don’t forget to preach the character of God that emerges from the text.
A great book to use for this purpose is the oft-neglected book of Ecclesiastes. Perhaps no other book speaks to our postmodern mindset and its struggle for a sense of purpose than Ecclesiastes, a book known for dwelling on the darkness, the futility, the crisis that is life.
One thing that I appreciate about the book is that no matter how much the author (called Qoheleth in the Hebrew) struggles with questions, no matter how much he bemoans how everything under the sun is “chasing after the wind,” he still maintains an orthodox view of God.
Qoheleth does not deny the darkness, but he (especially at the end of his work in the last few verses) brings light to the darkness. He invites us to maintain a proper perspective, grounded in a proper theology.
Qoheleth sees God as sovereign. He is sovereign over time (3:1-14). He is sovereign over all events (1:15; 2:26; 7:13; 9:1). Like other biblical works, Qoheleth grounds God’s sovereignty in God’s creation. He is over all things because He made all things (11:5).
Inseparable from sovereignty are God’s omniscience and omnipotence. God has decreed all that has happened and will happen (3:11). He is the source of knowledge (2:26). God knows all things, whereas man does not (11:5). God made everything appropriate (3:11), even death.
Qoheleth sees God as just and righteous. God rewards men on an ethical basis for both good and evil (8:12, 13). And God will judge men’s deeds (11:9, 12:14, 3:16-18). Regardless of what happens to us, God’s justice is immutable. God’s works are forever unchangeable (3:14).
The theology presented focuses on a God who brings light to darkness, which is why Qoheleth in the end states that only a fear of God brings ultimate meaning (12:13). This is robust theology. This is a biblical theology.
So when your congregation members face the darkness of their seemingly random circumstances and tragedies, direct their attention to the light of a unchanging God and the fullness of His nature and character.
When you do, you may see them facing the tragedies of life the way my friend did.
Several hours before the death of his daughter, he wrote the following in an email: “Whatever lies ahead, to God be the glory.”
No, during darkness, our congregations must be grounded in the true character of our God—the holy, awesome, sovereign, righteous, omnipotent, omniscience, omnibenevolent, all loving, all consuming, El Quanna.
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.