Friday, January 29, 2010

A Glimpse Into the Future of God's Children

The following meditation was written October 1893 by my great-grandfather, Eduard Marinus van der Mass, while he was teaching in Wijnberg, South Africa. It was translated into English by my Aunt.

A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE OF GOD'S CHILDREN

May I, unworthy as I am, encourage the hope of one day entering the Father's house, where there are many dwelling places, in the spotless robes of Christ's righteousness, in the garb of glory, and there forgetting the fears of my soul?

May I nurture the expectation of entering that joyful rest, for which my battle-weary soul so desperately longs?

Shall an angel close my eyes in death and guide my soul to Him, who loved sinners and died to free them from sin?

Shall a palm-branch of peace fan me with a cool breeze that dispels the searing heat of striving; and shall a crown adorn this bowed head, that was bent here under trial upon trial?

Lord, You know it - You alone!

Yet, let me in these quiet hours dream that it shall be so -- let me for a few moments contemplate this wonderful expectation - and these thoughts will revive me and grant my heavy heart new courage.

How good it will be when suddenly the bands of sin are broken, when the burden of trouble falls away, when the sufferings of the body are ended, when the light-beams of the eternal morning shine their friendly light on our souls, never more to be hidden behind the clouds.

Then comes our rest; then comes the love of God in its full measure; then comes union with Jesus - noble, pure, holy and complete.

But only then - when the body has been resurrected - is the glory made perfect. Then the gates of Heaven open to the countless multitudes whose tears God has counted, and surrounded by angels, the citizens of Heaven take occupancy of their unsurpassable kingdom. The Lord is in the midst of them. His friendly eyes recognize each one; his gentle voice gladdens every heart; His hands of blessing are extended over all. No one is forgotten.

The children, who greet Heaven with jubilation, exult in the love of the Great Children's Friend; the elderly, with youthful strength, sing His praises; the martyrs recount the glory of their Lord; the preachers of the Word delight in the fruits of their labours; the merciful receive a full measure of mercy; and the earth has become the inheritance of the meek. All tears are wiped away and sorrow has fled.

Wonderful fellowship! The Almighty Himself is their eternal Light; the Lamb is their Shepherd; and the Water of Life quickens them always.

Shall I be there? Shall I see Jesus? Shall I attend the feast in the company of rejoicing angels? Shall I come face to face with this great company of heroes, martyrs, and the faithful of the land, the Patriarchs, Prophets and Apostles - and delight in their company?

O, how uplifting is this latter thought! I'll meet Paul, and ask him -­0, so many things, that were unclear to me here; I'll surely shake hands with Peter, and hear from his own lips how he loves his Lord - Who didn't reject the Apostle in spite of his denial; I'll see Thomas - the Thomas in whose negative side of character I sometimes recognize myself. I will see the tender, loving, sombre disciple walk the streets of Heaven with not an iota of doubt or depression.

And there I'll see Augustine, whose Confessions were a balm to me; and Luther, united in brotherhood with Calvin; and William of Orange, who is still after three centuries, the beloved monarch; and Bunyan, the Pilgrim on his way to Zion; and Spurgeon, the watchful labourer in the Lord's vineyard.

And the Waldensians, whose bleached bones covered the Piedmont valleys, will also be there; and the Huguenots who fell under the murdering steel of fanatical bigots; and the many thousands whose flesh was consumed by the flames of Karel's burning pyres; and those who were beheaded by the wrath of the Duke of Alva.

Tell me, can you imagine a more shining assembly than this? The lordly Abraham with his son Isaac, forever united; Jacob and Joseph, who will never again be separated; David, the Sweet Singer of Israel, with his bosom friend, Jonathan; Jonah, who certainly won't want to flee from this place!; the Baptizer in the wilderness, whose exhortations will be replaced by hymns of praise - they will all be there, with the holy ones of the New Covenant.

And the King of Sweden, who gave his life striving for Jesus in Lutzen, will there meet the kings of Israel who also served God in righteousness. And poor Lazarus will there wear a crown, just like the magnificent Solomon - for there no one will rank lower than those who were once kings.

There Job will never curse the day he was born; and Jeremiah will find no cause to lament. The Exile of Patmos will be in his Fatherland. No more fearful visions of woe will be revealed to him.

Heavenly music will sound from golden harp-strings, and songs, transcending the finest music earthly skill ever produced, will fill the courts of Heaven with praise to the Almighty Creator, the Loving Deliverer, and the Holy Comforter.

And there will be beauty that the eye may drink in without being tempted to sin; and there will be joy that never turns to foolishness; and there will be no more Fear, or Doubt, or Suspicion, but eternal love will surround and keep all. Each breath will bring JOY, each glance will see glory, and each sound will be melodious.

Is it any wonder that Moses, "looking to the reward", rejected Egypt's treasures and pressed on toward that wonderful inheritance?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Suffering and the Gospel- Part 7 (conclusion)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

At the cross, the curse and condemnation for our sin was exhausted upon Jesus Christ. For those who are trusting and resting in Christ alone, judgment for sin is not a future event waiting for us after we die- it is a past event that happened finally and fully at Calvary. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).

So does that mean that once you become a Christian, you don't suffer any more?

After all, if- as we've learned- suffering is meant to drive us to repentance, and if we have repented and trusted Christ, why would we need to suffer any more? If suffering is a display of our sin, and yet that sin has been paid for in full by Christ on the cross, by what rights do we still endure any hardship?

The logic is sound. And one day it will be true.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."(Rev. 21:1-5)

The crucial question for all this is when. And the answer is not yet.

In the great sweep of redemption, we find ourselves caught in the awkward place between the already and the not yet. The decisive victory was won by Christ on the cross (Col. 2:15), and yet we are still waiting for the final consummation of redemption (1 Cor. 15:24-25). In Christ we are already new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), yet we groan in these mortal bodies (2 Cor. 5:1-4). There is a glory that will be revealed in us, but in the meantime we do suffer. (Rom. 8:18)

This already-but-not-yet tension is shown up in clearly in our experience with sin, death and suffering. These realities were conquered at the cross. They will be gone in the New Creation. And yet we find that, in this time of already-but-not-yet, though they remain a part of our experience, the in breaking of redemption has decisively and drastically altered our relationship with them.

Consider sin. Before we were born again, we were dead in sins (Eph. 2:1). We were slaves to it (Rom. 6:17). In the New Creation, sin will be no more (1 John 3:2, 1 Cor. 15:42-54, Rev. 22:3). In the meantime, the in-between time, the here-and-now, sin still plagues us. But instead of being enslaved to it, we've been set free (Rom. 6:18). It's still there, but it's not the master any more- it's an enemy combatant. And a sword is put into our hands, and we're told to put it to death. (Rom. 8:13)

The same is true with death. Before redemption, death was the end, the inescapable doorway to judgment (Rom. 6:23, Heb. 9:27). In the New Creation, death will be no more (1 Cor. 15:53-54, Rev. 21:4). In the time between, we do not escape death- but our relationship to it is drastically changed. It is no longer the end (John 11:25-26), no longer an enemy. It is now our ally, because it ushers us directly into the presence of our Lord (Phil. 1:21-23). Physical death is still a reality, but because of the cross, it is now gain.

And the same goes for suffering. When we are saved, it is not removed from our lives. But no longer is suffering a warning of the coming judgment- instead, in the words of Romans 8:22, it becomes the "pains of childbirth" for the coming New Creation. In order to draw this out, let's back up a bit and briefly consider the words of Romans 8:18-24.

Verse 18 says "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." The first thing we see is that suffering is very small, and very temporary. There is a glory coming, and it is so great that our present suffering doesn't hold a candle to it.

What Paul does next is roots our suffering in a broader creation context. Our sufferings, temporal as they are, are part of the broader suffering of this material universe. "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility." (8:19-20) That's talking about the curse of Genesis 3. The creation did not subject itself to futility. It didn't choose this. Someone or something else subjected it. That's what the rest of the verse says- "not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope."

Adam didn't subject the creation to futility in hope. Satan can't do that. God subjected the creation to futility in hope. That's just what we read in Genesis 3- that God brought the universe down with man. But follow very closely here: He subjected the creation "in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay, and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." (Rom. 8:21)

You and I are going to be set into a glorious freedom. We will have new bodies, we will be changed, incorruptible, set free from this body of sin and death. That is the consummation our salvation (Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:19-26, 54-57). But the scope of redemption is broader than just you and I. Just asthe creation came down with Adam, it will come back up when Christ restores all things. The whole creation will share the freedom of the children of God. "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (2 Peter 3:13)

We're waiting. It's not here yet. And while we wait, vs. 22, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now."

To the unrepentant sinner, the sufferings of this world are death throes, forebodings and warnings of final destruction. But to those who have trusted Christ, the sufferings of this present creation become the birth pangs of the new creation.

John Piper helps sharpen this amazing transformation with the following illustration:

If you are in a hospital and you hear a woman across the hall groan or scream, it makes all the difference in how you feel if you know you are on the maternity ward and not the oncology unit. Why? Pain is pain, isn't it? No. Some pain leads to life. And some pain leads to death. And what verse 22 promises is that for the children of God, all pain leads to life. All the groanings of this world are the birth pains of the kingdom of God. If you are part of the kingdom – a child of the King – all your sufferings are labor pains and not death spasms. And I mean all of them – even the death spasms!

As Christians, we've been transferred to the maternity ward, so to speak. Cancer, death, suffering- these are not impending threats of judgment, but scream of a new life that is coming forth!

"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (vs. 23-25)

Suffering is an extremely hopeful experience. Suffering takes our eyes off this age and orients them on the age to come. Suffering reminds us of the cross, and all that Jesus did for us in His life and death. Suffering reminds us that Christ is risen, as the firstfruits of the New Creation. Suffering reminds us that we shall be like Him, changed in a moment. And suffering should make us care less about big screen TVs and more about seeing the face of Christ.

So be patient, suffering Christian. Just as a mother chooses to endure the pain of childbirth for the sake of the new life, so we also suffer with the rest of creation, knowing what joy lies ahead of us.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor. 4:16-18)


______________________

So in the end, suffering is all about the Gospel. The gospel is not a just private thing: it is a cosmic thing, encompassing all of creation. Tsunamis and terrorists are shouts to repent. The cross of Christ has effected a cosmic change, and we believers now suffer the birth pangs of the coming new heavens and new earth.

There is so much more that can be said. But know that the gospel is the plot of time and eternity and history. God's glory shines through everything. In the rough and tumble and blood, sweat and tears of daily life, we must never loose sight of this big picture.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Suffering and the Gospel- Part 6

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

The Cross

We have seen the surprising truth that human suffering is actually an extension of grace from our Creator, summoning us to repent and turn to Him.

And the wondrous truth is that those who do repent of their sins find mercy and forgiveness beneath the mighty cross of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not a message that God turns a blind eye to our sin. If that were true, God would be unjust and unrighteous. Rather, the gospel is the message that Jesus died in our place, and satisfied the justice and wrath of God fully.

"But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:5-6)

If you have repented and trust in Christ alone, you are covered in a grace that was bought and paid for the the blood of Jesus. Your sin was laid upon Christ, and God has condemned and judged Him as your substitute.

He drank the cup of the Father's wrath for you. He took your place, He satisfied His own justice on your behalf, and therefore you are free.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

"Chris also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." (1 Pe. 3:18)

"There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1)

No condemnation. The storm is over. The axe has fallen. The debt has been paid. The law satisfied. Justice fulfilled. Satan's grounds of accusation taken away. Death conquered. Jesus risen, victorious. The Triune God glorified.

The true, full-orbed Biblical gospel is the only thing that can truly get to the root of the human condition. So much Evangelical discourse today talks about how Jesus will fix all of our problems, all the while ignoring the fact that each of those human problems stems most fundamentally from the just, holy, settled wrath of God against our sin.

Jesus does ultimately solve our every problem, whether in this age or the age to come- and He did it by bearing sin's penalty in our place, reconciling us to God, purchasing our forgiveness, and conquering death in His resurrection.

This doesn't mean that the Bible doesn't address those other human problems, and it doesn't mean that we shouldn't, either. It does mean that we understand them to be symptomatic, and realize that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true, lasting, real answer to a broken world.

______________________________

If our sin has been dealt with in full, does that mean that those who trust in Christ don't need to suffer any more, and can get on with living their best lives now?

That's the question we'll look at in the next installment.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Suffering and the Gospel - Part 5

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

Unless you repent...

Emerging from Genesis 3 is the reality that being alive on a cursed earth is still a lot better than any one of us deserves, and that pain and suffering are actually extensions of God's grace that summon us to repent before it's too late.

Jesus taught this clearly:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5)

Jesus tells us that extraordinary suffering does not imply extraordinary sin. Fair enough; most people today would agree with that.

And yet the conclusion we tend to reach is this: since those who suffer are no different from those who don't, their suffering is either unexplainable, or just unfair. Buried just below the surface here is the assumption that we are all basically pretty good people, who all deserve something along the lines of a comfortable, pain-free, happy existence.

But that is not the conclusion Jesus leads us to. His answer is shocking: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Extraordinary suffering does not mean extraordinary sin- and that's because we are all extraordinary sinners, and we all deserve suffering and death. We all deserve the worst this world can give us. Jesus points to these horrible deaths, and says: you deserve that too. So repent of your sin.

When a haughty world asks the question, "How can a good God allow suffering?", do we have the courage to respond with the answer of Jesus? "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." That is not the kind of answer that sounds nice on Larry King Live, or makes the front page of a New York Times Bestseller. No, the words of truth spoken by our Lord are far more angular and hard to take than any of us expected.

You are a sinner who has done the unthinkable, rebelling against the glorious Creator of the universe. And you are asking why He allows suffering? You deserve instant, eternal punishment. The fact that you are breathing is unfathomable grace you do not deserve. Let the reality of suffering and death shake you and drive you to your knees in repentance before the King of all.

Suffering speaks of sin and our need to repent of it. Suffering tells us that God is patient- warning us and waking us and giving us time before His final judgment comes. Suffering tells us that we need a Saviour.

When you turn on the TV and see war victims or people suffering from poverty or crisis, your second thought should be, "We need to help relieve their suffering." But your first thought should be, "They need a Saviour to rescue them from their sin and the coming judgment." The God-ordained point of suffering is to shout this to us in the loudest voice possible.

Don't miss the point.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Suffering and the Gospel- Part 4

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

Sin and Suffering

Genesis 3 tells us how the Lord caused the physical universe to display the horror and reality of sin. Another passage in the Old Testament that shows us this truth is Jeremiah 2:11-13:

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

The Lord looks at the horrific sin of His people and, in effect, says to the stars in the sky: "Do you see what they've done? You can't just keep shining on there as if nothing has happened! Be appalled, be shocked, be utterly desolate, oh heavens."

Either God is overreacting, or sin something infinitely serious, so serious that God can justifiably call upon the stars to stop shining because of it. And we know that a day is coming when this will happen very literally. (Isa. 13:9-10, Matt. 24:29, Rev. 6:12-14).

Sin is a cosmic infamy against an infinitely glorious God. And He is not overreacting when He calls upon the physical universe to display it's seriousness. The curse of death and suffering that God brought on the world communicates to us the reality and the seriousness of sin.

I stress this point, because is is common enough to say that pain and suffering are a result of sin. Yet we need to be pressed to realize that they are a result of sin because God made them be a result. He cursed the earth. It was intentional. Genesis 3 could not be any more clear. Romans 8:20 is equally as straightforward. Romans 1:28-31 goes even further by telling us that all our human miseries stem most fundamentally from God's response to our dishonor of Him:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Let me ask what I've only hinted at already: was this all this unfair of God? Was it right for Him to do this?

To answer that, let's consider what would have happened if he had given Adam and Eve what they deserved. What did He tell them would be the consequence of disobeying Him? "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen. 2:17) That's what they deserved: instant, eternal punishment for their infinitely horrific sin against an infinitely glorious God. And that is what all unrepentant sinners will receive the moment after they breathe their last. (2 Thess. 1:7-9)

But like Adam and Eve, the Lord does not give us what we deserve right away. Like them, we keep breathing. We keep living. We see sunrises and the sound of a baby's cry and the taste of food and the love of other people. And all around us is this universe- still beautiful, still showing God's glory- but constantly reminding us of our sin.

There is a word for this: grace. God could have dealt with sin immediately by giving Adam and Eve exactly what they deserved. But instead He extended grace, giving them life and showing them their sin, and therefore giving them every opportunity to repent and return to Him.

That is the next major point that emerges: suffering is a gift of grace that summons us to repentance.

This is a connection Jesus Himself made explicit in Luke 13:1-5, which we'll explore in a bit more depth in part 5.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Suffering and the Gospel- Part 3

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

Desecrating the Masterpiece

In Genesis 3, we read about an event that is infinitely horrific. The first man and woman, placed in the center of this glory-shouting universe, created to see and know and love and worship and glorify God- they chose to do the unthinkable. They rebelled.

They chose a piece of fruit, and what it would do for them, over the glory of God.

Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and they worshiped and served themselves more than their Creator (See Romans 1:18-25).

They willingly chose to disobey God, challenge Him and reject His Word in order to elevate themselves to His place. And they chose to disbelieve His word: that in the day they ate of the fruit of that tree, the would surely die (Gen. 2:17).

__________

As their teeth sunk into the fruit, what happened? As they defiantly swallowed the first bite of the fruit, did Eden immediately disappear, the sky grow dark, and thorns and thistles spring fully grown from the ground?

No. As far as we can tell, nothing happened to the external world right away. Their eyes were open to the reality of evil. But there was no blind law of nature that made death and suffering come into the world in a sheer action-and-reaction type response to their sin.

What did happen, according to Gen. 3:8-13, is that God Himself came down to Eden and called them to account. It was a very personal process. He asked them questions, and He made them answer. This was no blind process. It was personal communication.

God then responded to their actions. He talked to them. He addressed them personally. In vs. 14-15 He cursed the serpent. In vs. 16 He spoke to the woman, telling her of the struggle and pain she would now bear.

Yet the most sweeping statements are reserved for Adam. Adam was the head. Adam should have protected His wife from the serpent, and certainly not followed her into sin. Adam was the one responsible for stewarding the creation. That's why Romans 5:12 says through one man sin entered the world.

And speaking to Adam, the Lord of all said,

"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen. 3:17-19)

God cursed the earth because of Adam's sin. The crucial words come in vs. 17- "because of you," or, as some translations say, "for your sake."

What's going on here?

Here's what's going on: the Lord is calling the physical universe to display the horror and the reality of Adam's sin. "Because of you..." This all happened because of his sin.

Every morning that he woke up to go plow the fields, his work said: "your sin." Every drop of sweat that came down his forehead and stung his eyes said, "sin." Every time he bent down to pull a weed up, and pricked his finger on a thorn, and felt the pain and saw the drop of blood- that all said, "sin." And as Adam felt death began to work in his body, and saw one of his sons kill the other, it all said, "this is your sin."

This is why it is crucial to remember what the universe was designed for from the beginning: the communication of spiritual truth to us. When Adam sinned, God brought the perfect creation crashing down around him. And so, when Adam looked at the cursed creation, he saw the cosmic infamy of his own sin, displayed all around him in graphic detail.

This is the first major point I see in the Biblical teaching on suffering: Pain and suffering are a display of the reality of sin.


Next, we will consider the paradoxical truth that God's actions in Genesis 3 spring fundamentally from His grace and mercy.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Suffering and the Gospel- Part 2

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

Laying the foundations.

Here's a footnote before we begin exploring some of the Biblical teaching on human suffering: much of our discussion will center around the concept of sin. We will be seeing the word sin a whole lot. And that's because the Bible talks about it. We're not allowed to dodge the stuff we don't like.

Beyond the bare fact of its biblical profusion, however, there are many strong encouragements for why we should not shy away from thinking deeply and seriously about our own sin. One of those comes from Ephesians 1:6, which says that the goal of our salvation is "the praise of the glory of His grace."

God's grace is glorious. It should want to make us praise Him with joy. And His grace is glorious precisely because of the seriousness and sheer massiveness of the sin to which is responds. It's inescapable: we can only understand how glorious His grace is when we realize how serious our sin is. The more you understand the horror of your sin, the more you will be left speechless at the magnificent glory of God's grace.

In other words, if you do not think seriously and deeply about sin, you are a killjoy.

Serious thinking about sin leads to serious wonder and joy at the glorious grace of God. So don't be afraid to face up to the reality about sin. It will only help you to worship Christ in a new and deeper way.

There is one more foundation stone that needs to be laid in order to understand suffering biblically. It comes from the very first words in the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

Stop and think about that for a second. This is a profound metaphysical statement.

Spiritual God created a material heavens and earth. The invisible Creator made a visible, physical world of sight and smell and sound and taste and touch. The eternal Trinity formed a temporal universe. The self-sufficient, self-sustaining One created that which was outside of Himself, that which was not Himself, and yet which depended on Him for it's moment-by-moment existence.

Why? What was His reason for doing this? That answer to that question is crucial to understanding all that will come next.

At least two passages in Scripture help us understand the eternal Creator's purpose in creating the physical heavens and earth. The first comes in the familiar words of Psalms 19:1-4: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."

The second is found in Romans 1:19-20: " For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."

God created the heavens and the earth to communicate truth about Himself. From the distant galaxies to the wonder of ten million species of life on earth to the complexities of the smallest cell, the creation shouts to us in ten billion different voices about the creativity and knowledge and wisdom and power and glory of God.

The universe is a megaphone proclaiming truth about God. That's why it was created. "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). The physical, visible world is ultimately all about communicating spiritual, invisible truth. That's absolutely crucial to have in the forefront of your thinking as we move from the glory of Genesis 1 into the horror of Genesis 3.

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