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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