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Desiring God Conference – Session Three

After a sleep which was far too short (Doug likes to talk), we wandered downtown Minneapolis for a while before finally finding a place to eat breakfast. Having done that, we returned to the convention center and I was privileged to meet readers Jack,Boyd, Dave, Andrew and Marc as well as John Piper who let us know that he appreciates our efforts in blogging the conference.

Day two began with another powerful time of worship. The music ranged from contemporary worship to hymns, and from Spanish music to gospel. Never have I seen so many Reformed hands raised – not even at the church of my youth when the pastor would ask, “How many people here have memorized the Heidelberg Catechism?”

Today’s first will be Carl Ellis speaking on “The Sovereignty of God and Ethnic-Based Suffering.” His speech will be built around the following six points:

The origin of suffering
The mystery of suffering
The basis of suffering
God’s awareness of suffering
How should we respond to suffering?
The people of God and suffering

The Origin of Suffering – In the fall, man was guilty of “creaturism,” which is judging the Creator by the standard of the creature. One result of the Fall is “human power differentials” which led to power struggles. This is the basis of the ethnic strife we see today. Power is not inherently evil, of course, for God is all-powerful and there is no power struggle with the Godhead. They are One. Adam and Eve also experienced no power struggle power to the Fall because they were one. But as a result of the Fall, their oneness was broken. This led people to think as individuals and this has led to continual strife within marriage relationships and extending to all human relationships. Human inequality became universal not only between individuals but between people groups.

The Mystery of Suffering – The account of Job clearly demonstrates that not every bad thing that happens to us is related to our sin, and not every good thing is related to our righteousness. So there is a real sense in which suffering is a mystery. We can have confidence that in eternity we will understand in a greater way then we do now. We have to learn to be satisfied with God’s satisfaction.

The Basis of Suffering – The apparent random causes of sin: floods, storm, fire, tsunami, hurricane. And then there are the direct results of sin: ungodliness and oppression. Ungodliness refers to sinning and suffering our own consequences. Oppression refers to sinning and forcing others to suffer the consequences, or imposing our sin upon others. Oppression is sin plus power and thus is driven by power struggles. A person who is in a dominant position and sins has just oppressed another person. Oppression should not be defined only according to race.

One result of oppression is marginalization. Marginalization happens when someone is pushed to a position of lesser importance or power based on oppression. Every society has a dominant and subdominant culture. Everyone in the subdominant culture is exposed to the dominant culture’s agenda, but the converse is not true, and in fact few in the dominant culture are even aware that the subdominant culture has an agenda.

Because we do not have a good understanding of the theory and the roots of ethnic suffering, African-American and Caucasian Christians tend to misunderstand each other.

God’s Awareness of Suffering – Jesus identified with the suffering of Mary and Martha, even though He knew He would raise Lazarus. We should likewise be attuned to the suffering of others.

How Should We Respond to Suffering? – He agrees with VanTil that we are called to restrain suffering in this world. It is our duty to seek to destroy evil not only in ourselves but also in other men. We must also seek to destroy and relieve the consequences of sin. This is our task and privilege. So we must seek to minimize the dominance of dominance of relationships within the world in general and within the body of Christ in particular.

The People of God and Suffering – We, as the body of Christ, are a subdominant group. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. We are called to be strangers and aliens in this world. If we can understand the subdominant position of Christians in this world, this should help us understand the position or plight faced by subdominant cultural groups within our society. To identify with ethnic suffering should be as easy as breathing.

Quote of the Session: “Is bling bling the thing?”

Runner Up: “It’s not just an issue of whether you clap on 1 and 3 or 2 and 4.”

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