Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why God Allowed Sin & Suffering

Reading through Genesis and Job these past few weeks caused me to go down a personal rabbit trail and grapple with the whole reason for sin and suffering (as I'm sure others have). Be warned! The conclusions that I am drawing may not put to rest the question, “Why does God allow sin and suffering?” for you. In fact, it may even raise more questions. That’s ok. I’m not sure it is possible to truly resolve the issue on this side of heaven to everyone’s satisfaction, but read on if you’re brave enough (or curious enough) to join me in chasing this rabbit. While there are myriad Scriptures I could quote in support of the concepts I espouse, I have resisted the temptation to cite them for the sake of readability. Here goes:

God was, in the pre-existent fellowship of the Trinity, completely and perfectly satisfied, overflowing with pleasure and joy. God considered it a great good to share the joy and satisfaction he had in himself with others—with humankind—creatures he made for that very purpose. So in creation, after making everything in the universe to foster life—both lower and higher forms for the ultimate support of human life—God finally made human beings in his in his image, giving them the capacity to know him and experience the joy and satisfaction he has in himself.

He must have determined that for his overwhelming joy and satisfaction to be experienced by humanity, there must be sin and suffering. How do I come to this conclusion?

First, the existence of actual sin and evil was necessary for God to define himself to his creatures. He defined himself to them as holy (morally good), which requires that both moral good and evil must be defined. God spelled out both reward for good (vis. pleasure) and consequences for evil (vis. suffering), which are also tied to being like or unlike his character. Just as to understand light one needs to know what darkness is, evil and suffering stand in stark contrast to good and pleasure.

Second, sin was made possible when God granted humans a free will. Free will is necessary for true love to occur. C.S. Lewis wrote:
...free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other…. And for that they must be free.

Without a morally significant free will, our “goodness” (or obedience to a good God) means nothing and is not praiseworthy, any more than it is praiseworthy for a machine to do what it was designed to do. Likewise, if it were impossible to not choose good (or to not choose at all), “badness” (or, disobedience to a good God) is without meaning and God would be unjust to punish it. Instead failure to do good would be a design flaw, which might point to an inept or corrupt designer (God). Therefore, Adam and Eve were created free in the truest sense. Since they were truly free moral agents, they were responsible for their actions. They sinned, and the consequences affected the world and all people who descended from them. All humans born since the fall are sinful, blind, and are “dead in our trespasses” (Eph. 2:5, Col. 2:13).

Unlike Adam, who was previously untainted by sin, our tendency is already toward sin. Therefore, we must be drawn by God and given the ability to see his light/goodness/beauty. Then we are “made alive” by his grace and in response to his love. This results in new birth and the ability to understand and desire good for God’s glory, and experience the joy that God gives (in shadows now while we still live in this world, and fully when our salvation is one day realized in heaven).

Third, sin made it possible for God to show himself more fully to his fallen creatures (humans) who were originally created with the capacity to know him. Without sin, we never would have known some most important aspects of God’s character: his grace, forgiveness, longsuffering, sacrificial love, and mercy. Indeed we would have never known Christ or had need of him. Therefore, the second person of the Trinity and/or his nature would have remained a mystery and we would have never needed his presence with us as Emmanuel and Savior.

Finally, sin and suffering must be viewed in perspective of the exceeding great joy God has in store for those who he has called in heaven. This is a joy that, by comparison, FAR outweighs the pain we experience on this side of eternity. The greatest suffering we experience here will be a faint memory for us in heaven—if, that is, we can remember it at all. Even in this world we experience this phenomenon in a much less-significant way, as in the case of women who endure the pain of pregnancy and childbirth (part of the curse after the fall) soon forget it at the sight of their new baby.

There are even more ways that God uses pain in our lives. As a perfect Father, he grows us and makes us more like Christ as we “share his sufferings.” He reveals himself to us as we seek him and rely on him. He corrects us, heals us, comforts us, and uses us to bless others. Am I saying that suffering is good, and by extension, that sin is good? No. Not in themselves. But as they drive us—flawed people in a fallen world—toward God who allowed them to occur, even they can be used for his glory and our good; both here and in heaven. In this way, “there is beauty in the fall of man.”

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Does God Care Whether Tim Tebow Wins on Saturday? - The Atlantic

What an awesome article! Job makes us ask, "Would God really make bad things happen to good people?" Tebow (at least right now as I write a few hours before his playoff game with the Patriots) makes so many ask, "Does God really make good people win?" It all boils down to the same issue. How does our goodness (or badness) affect what God does? Or does it? This article is true. And in light of Job, it gives much to think about!

Does God Care Whether Tim Tebow Wins on Saturday? - The Atlantic

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Readings from Job

Like many in our Providence family, I'm reading the Bible through chronologically. Right now we're in Job. I've enjoyed it more than I ever have--particularly the "middle" part. It seems I always think of Job in terms of the beginning and ending being the "good part" and the friends' advice and struggle of Job as being the long dry part in the middle. Not this time. Here are a few passages and thoughts from the last few days.

Job 23:8-9
8“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
9on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.

Where is God?
A common experience when we suffer is to ask, "God, where are you? I don't see you in this." Feeling abandoned by God while in pain is how God grows us. Like a parent watching when her child looks around and thinks he is all alone, God is watching. Even more, he is in control of all variables.

Job 23:10-12 ESV
10 But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
11 My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
12 I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.

God knows I've kept his ways.
Another normal way we handle suffering, we make our case to God. "I've been really trying to do things your way, Lord. You know how much progress I've made." Although I'm not able to say like Job that "I have kept his way and have not turned aside" completely, I have sought God's pity by citing my good deeds or intentions as if that makes it unfair that I should suffer. And isn't the point of Job that pain comes to both the just and unjust? That God has providential purposes in blessing and hardship?

Job 23:13-14
13 But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
14 For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind.

God's unchangeable purpose.
What a great statement by Job of God's determination to accomplish his purposes. What he has decreed can not be changed. In his providence, all variables are working together for good.

Job 23:15-17
15 Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
16 God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
17 yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
nor because thick darkness covers my face.

I'm afraid of what else God has for me.
Job comes full circle, in a sense. He starts wanting to see God and to present his case. Now, after thinking about it, he is afraid of what God might do if he actually did show up. Perhaps he is afraid of what secret sins exist in Job's heart that he doesn't know about. More probably he's afraid that God's will holds more suffering for Job.

Job 24:1-4, 12-17, 21-22
1 “Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days?
2 Some move landmarks;
they seize flocks and pasture them.
3 They drive away the donkey of the fatherless;
they take the widow's ox for a pledge.
4 They thrust the poor off the road;
the poor of the earth all hide themselves.
12 From out of the city the dying groan,
and the soul of the wounded cries for help;
yet God charges no one with wrong.
13 “There are those who rebel against the light,
who are not acquainted with its ways,
and do not stay in its paths.
14 The murderer rises before it is light,
that he may kill the poor and needy,
and in the night he is like a thief.
15 The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight,
saying, ‘No eye will see me’;
and he veils his face.
16 In the dark they dig through houses;
by day they shut themselves up;
they do not know the light.
17 For deep darkness is morning to all of them;
for they are friends with the terrors of deep darkness.
21 “They wrong the barren, childless woman,
and do no good to the widow.
22 Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power;
they rise up when they despair of life.

It's not fair.
This whole chapter is Job pointing out the irony: Bad people oftentimes prosper—in this world.

Job 25:1-6
1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
2 “Dominion and fear are with God;
he makes peace in his high heaven.
3 Is there any number to his armies?
Upon whom does his light not arise?
4 How then can man be in the right before God?
How can he who is born of woman be pure?
5 Behold, even the moon is not bright,
and the stars are not pure in his eyes;
6 how much less man, who is a maggot,
and the son of man, who is a worm!”

Bildad's right.
I agree. God is great. By comparison to his holiness (or, "light") no man is pure. We are maggots and worms by comparison.

Job 26:2-4
2 “How you have helped him who has no power!
How you have saved the arm that has no strength!
3 How you have counseled him who has no wisdom,
and plentifully declared sound knowledge!
4 With whose help have you uttered words,
and whose breath has come out from you?

Sometimes speaking truth isn't what the hurting need.
After Bildad speaks sound truth to Job, he gets a well-deserved ear full. Job, in what seems to be a very sarcastic tone, makes a good point. Sometimes we offer truth to people hurting when it is not truth that they most need. Maybe these friends would have gone down in history differently if they would have just kept their self-righteous mouths shut. I can learn here. Being right is sometimes not as important as being there.

Job 27:3-6
3 as long as my breath is in me,
and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
4 my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.
5 Far be it from me to say that you are right;
till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
6 I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.

Stubborn determination for integrity.
I love that Job persists in his determination to do right. He will not lie by conceding to his friends that there must be some buried sin in his life.
Sometimes being falsely accused can be as painful as loss or physical pain. Sometimes more. Job is undeterred in his insistence of innocence.

Job 27:8-10
8 For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off,
when God takes away his life?
9 Will God hear his cry
when distress comes upon him?
10 Will he take delight in the Almighty?
Will he call upon God at all times?

The wicked ultimately lose.
Even though Job struggles in previous chapters with the fact that wicked people sometimes prosper, he recognizes an important truth. Ultimately they lose. And when bad things do happen (as they do with both good and evil people), the ungodly cannot "call upon God" or "take delight in the Almighty" as can those who trust in him. I don't think we appreciate this truth as we should. Even in the darkest days of the believer, we can "take delight in" and trust our God.

Job 28:12-13, 20-21, 23-28
12 “But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13 Man does not know its worth,
and it is not found in the land of the living.
20 “From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air.
23 “God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
24 For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
25 When he gave to the wind its weight
and apportioned the waters by measure,
26 when he made a decree for the rain
and a way for the lightning of the thunder,
27 then he saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
28 And he said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

Man's wisdom...and God's
Even though humankind has figured out how to do so much, we don't understand all of God's ways. His wisdom is much higher. It is hidden from us.
Job seems to state these truths in realization of the fact that the God of all wisdom can be trusted even when we are clueless about what he is doing. What is wise for us is to fear him and turn from evil. Good focus, Job.

Job 29:2-17
2 “Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me,
3 when his lamp shone upon my head,
and by his light I walked through darkness,
4 as I was in my prime,
when the friendship of God was upon my tent,
5 when the Almighty was yet with me,
when my children were all around me,
6 when my steps were washed with butter,
and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
7 When I went out to the gate of the city,
when I prepared my seat in the square,
8 the young men saw me and withdrew,
and the aged rose and stood;
9 the princes refrained from talking
and laid their hand on their mouth;
10 the voice of the nobles was hushed,
and their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.
11 When the ear heard, it called me blessed,
and when the eye saw, it approved,
12 because I delivered the poor who cried for help,
and the fatherless who had none to help him.
13 The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me,
and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.
14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
my justice was like a robe and a turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind
and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy,
and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.
17 I broke the fangs of the unrighteous
and made him drop his prey from his teeth.

Reminiscing about the good 'ole days.
Job is still doing what all of us experience when we suffer. He daydreams about how good he had it before things went wrong. He longs to have it as it once was. God's blessings were his and so were the praises of men. He speaks of how he was able to help the poor and needy.
He's still making a case to God that allowing these things to happen was a bad idea. Not only is it not fair, it is hurting the advance of good in the world.

Job 30:1-2, 9-11
1 “But now they laugh at me,
men who are younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
to set with the dogs of my flock.
2 What could I gain from the strength of their hands,
men whose vigor is gone?
9 “And now I have become their song;
I am a byword to them.
10 They abhor me; they keep aloof from me;
they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.
11 Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me,
they have cast off restraint in my presence.

Job pities his loss of esteem.
When times are bad, we all tend to look around ourselves and imagine that everyone derides us. Everyone considers us losers.

Job 30:20-21
20 I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you only look at me.
21 You have turned cruel to me;
with the might of your hand you persecute me.

God is silent and cruel to me.
I have to think that every believer has felt this way. As soon as suffering comes we pray like we have never prayed. As it continues, we begin to think that God is not hearing--because nothing happens. Like Job, we wonder why an all-seeing God would let us hurt like this. Our sinful hearts (with Satan's assistance) whisper to us that God must be less than concerned with our plight. He must be cruel.
This is a significant change of tone from Job's laudatory proclamation at the beginning of his suffering: "The Lord gives and he takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Continued pain, like waves of a stormy sea, erode our nobility. Even the best of us can lose some battles in the war with despair.

Job 31
1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?
2 What would be my portion from God above
and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
3 Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
4 Does not he see my ways
and number all my steps?
5 “If I have walked with falsehood
and my foot has hastened to deceit;
6 (Let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity!)
7 if my step has turned aside from the way
and my heart has gone after my eyes,
and if any spot has stuck to my hands,
8 then let me sow, and another eat,
and let what grows for me be rooted out.
9 “If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,
and I have lain in wait at my neighbor's door,
10 then let my wife grind for another,
and let others bow down on her.
11 For that would be a heinous crime;
that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;
12 for that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon,
and it would burn to the root all my increase.
13 “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
when they brought a complaint against me,
14 what then shall I do when God rises up?
When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb?
16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
17 or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the fatherless has not eaten of it
18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
and from my mother's womb I guided the widow),
19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or the needy without covering,
20 if his body has not blessed me,
and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
because I saw my help in the gate,
22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
23 For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.

God knows I've been good.
In this chapter Job makes a case for his character by citing ways that he has disciplined himself and lived with integrity where most other men have compromised. He has not looked at a young woman lustfully, lied, taken advantage of a subordinate, not helped the needy, loved riches, etc.
He says in effect, “If I have committed any of these common sins, then let something treacherous happen to me or my wife.” He becomes even bolder in daring God to accuse him.
Like David, Job seems to be growing angry with God over the unfairness of his great suffering. Again, he expresses what many have felt.

Job 38:1
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind...

Is this a literal whirlwind, or figurative? I know that God "speaks" to me in the midst of confusion and pain. When I am at wits end and all my pat answers and proof-texts have failed to bring comfort or understanding, that's when God impresses on my heart his truth.

Job 38:3
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

Suck it up.
Something in me really likes how God finally addresses Job. Like a coach to a slacking player, a sergeant to a private, or a dad to his whining son. “Get ready and be a man!” Without ever giving an answer to Job, God starts asking JOB questions. They are all questions Job can’t answer. All of them are to prove a point: some things are for God to know. He is under no obligation to explain why he does what he does or tell us how it will turn out. The point God makes is obvious. We can be confident in him. He knows what he’s doing when we don’t. Our only proper response is to trust him.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A great start to 2012!

This morning we kicked-off the long-awaited and much-anticipated Journey for 2012! There seems to be a lot of buzz and excitement. A lot more people were at church today than I expected. I just figured with holiday traveling, sorry weather, and the fact that it was New Year’s Day that attendance would be way down. I even noticed two lawyers in our congregation getting on their iPhones to sign up for the YouVersion reading plan. That’s got to count for something!

It was great to see Jesse Cragwall at church today. He got a holiday leave of absence from Afghanistan and will be in for a couple of weeks. I hope to have him share with the church on the 14th about Global Planting Initiative, the new missions organization he’s starting after his deployment is finished. He’s an incredible guy. And you can see the joy on his and Leslie’s faces that he’s able to be home.

Next week we’ll get to hear about Hope Resource Center from Lisa Hardin, one of our members, who is the Executive Director. I think it will be awesome—and perfect—for at least two reasons: the message is about the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which tells how humanity got its start. Gen. 1:27-28 (from today’s reading) says:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply...”

Tragically ironic, isn’t it? We intrinsically bear God’s image. He gave us the gift of sex and told us to multiply in the context of marriage. But now we shamelessly disregard his purpose for sex and make legal the taking of human life by abortion. Hope Resource Center is a way Christians can show Christ’s love to women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies and many times save lives of children who could be aborted.

I already can’t wait for next Sunday! It’s going to be a great year.