Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Understanding death and suffering - from a Biblical view (aka Why do Bad Things Happen)

Why do bad things happen?

An earthquake strikes, a loved one dies with cancer, thousands of people murdered each year line the headlines of our newspapers, 4,000 babies are murdered each day in the United States through abortion procedures.  We hear about these and other similar stories and we almost can’t seem to help asking the question ‘Why?’.

Why would or how could a loving God allow these things to happen?  How could a God who IS love allow such suffering?

I would venture a guess that most Christians cannot provide a Biblical answer to that question.  Many Christian leaders go on national television and when they are asked about the issue of suffering, many of them answer by saying ‘Well, we don’t know why these things happen… we just have to have faith.”

And while it IS true that regardless of circumstances we have to have faith, we can provide a better answer that will at the same time show God’s Grace!  I don’t believe that anyone can fully answer such questions definitively.  No one but God knows the specific reasons that any thing happens at all.  But there is a broad reason that encompasses the existence of all ‘bad’ things.

Genesis 1, God creates the world in 6 days.  In 6 literal days, God has created EVERYTHING.  Fully formed and full functioning.  A literal paradise created for mankind to enjoy.  The work of creation done by God and recorded in the first 30 verses of the Bible is supremely vital to laying a proper foundation for your understanding of the ‘bad’ things that happen around us.

Genesis 1:1-3 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

God created everything!  From nothing!  First we see a picture there of an all powerful God.  When He speaks that something be created that it happens.  At the very command of His Word, things were created.  Let that sink in for just a moment.  Before He called forth water, water wasn’t even a real thing.  Before He called forth trees, or fish, or oxen… none of those things existed.  Now show me one person who can create anything out of nothing!  Have you ever fathomed that?  Just what type of power it takes to create something out of nothing?  It is truly mind blowing.

Then on day 6, He devotes a great deal of time and care to the creation of humanity.  Genesis 1:26 - Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; We are the only creation that God created in His own image.  According to His likeness.  Psalm 139 says that God ‘formed our inward parts’ He ‘knit us together in our mother’s womb’ and that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. 

Now God surveys all that He has made and declares it not just good as He had done at the conclusion of all the other days of creation, but He declares it ‘very good’.

Genesis 1:31 - God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

God created all things, very good.  Meant to be sustained forever.  No death, no pain, and no suffering.  None.  Now that is a picture of a world that is a FAR cry different than the world we live in today.

If you believe that the Genesis account of creation is not a literal history, that its figurative language… or you adopt into your worldview any type of macro-evolution then you will never be able to Biblically explain death and suffering to yourself or anyone else for that matter.

Two types of evolutionary beliefs I want to look at just briefly… I don’t want to dwell here too long…

Type #1 – Darwinian Evolution – If you reject God and believe solely in Darwinian evolution… someone who calls themselves an atheist or agnostic… death and suffering shouldn’t alarm you in the slightest.  In fact someone holding to those beliefs should cheer and be excited when cancer claims a life, or someone is brutally murdered… why would I say that?  Because according to their view life is chance, survival of the fittest.  Someone dying of cancer to them, if they are holding true to their own views, would be someone who was weak and they should be excited because it is all part of evolution taking its course.

In fact, the person who brutally murders someone else, they should give that man an award, he was merely demonstrating, according to their own beliefs, that he was stronger than his victim and that he was progressing up the evolutionary chain. 

The atheist can’t be upset about evil and immoral acts in this world because, if they are being honest with their own views, they can’t believe that there are such things as good or evil acts.  Everything is a chance.  You see when they remove God from their worldview; they lose the moral standards all together.  Without God, there is NO moral absolutes.  So they have no claim to what is right and wrong. 

So that offers us no solution to the question of death and suffering.  Other than to say, well that’s just how things happen.  That’s life.

Type #2 – Theistic Evolution – Theistic Evolution says that God created the world, but Genesis isn’t literal, it’s poetic.  God created the world using evolution and it wasn’t in 6 days, it was more like several million years.  Adam wasn’t the first man created, just the first man to walk upright, develop speech, the first stage of man that God chose to speak to. 

Now, could God have used evolution?  Well assuming that something like macro-evolution even existed then yes He could have… He’s God and He can do whatever He wills. He could have, but He didn’t.  IF God created the world using evolution then He contradicts Himself at the end of each day of creation.  It means that He considers death and suffering something that is “very good” as He stated in Genesis 1:31.

Think about this, if Adam and Eve evolved then there would have already been occurring millions of years of death and suffering prior to their account in the Bible.  The Bible tells us though that prior to the fall of man nothing died and nothing suffered.  If evolution were apart of God’s creation then when He pronounced the curse of death in Genesis 3, it wouldn’t have been a big deal to Adam and Eve because they would be well accustomed to death and suffering already.

So if evolution isn’t the answer, what does the Bible actually say?

On day 6 of creation God declares all things to be very good.  Meaning perfect and right.  There was no evil, no suffering. 

In Genesis 3; Adam and Eve chose to abuse the freedom God had given to them by choosing rebellion.  They chose sin.  As a result, sin entered into an otherwise perfect world through Adam.    

Genesis 3:17-19 - Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.  18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field;  19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”

From that day until now, all of us have made a similar choice.  We have all sinned and rebelled against God, just like Adam and Eve.  In fact, Romans 5:12 says Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

Sin spread through all humanity.  Always has, and always will so long as this world exists.  We have chosen to leave God out of our lives and live as we see fit.  So therein lies the problem of evil.  Sin entered the world through Adam.  As a result, God sentenced us to death as a consequence of the curse of sin.

We live in a sin cursed world.  Don’t think for one moment folks that any one of us would have chosen any differently than Adam.  We still choose sin over God from time to time.

The problem is sin.  Whose fault is sin?  Ours...  We live in a world full of suffering because of sin.  Death and suffering are normal in an abnormal world.  But consider God’s grace in the curse of death.  When Adam sinned, God could have chosen to immediately kill him.  Instead He cursed the earth and is patient with us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to know Him.  Patient with us so that we can know Christ as Redeemer.

The suffering of the earth set the stage for God to implement His great redemptive plan.  Ultimately God would cause His Son to suffer and die on a tree.  To wear a crown made from thorns, thorns that were in existence because of our sin.  Jesus Christ would take Adam’s place, enduring the shame of the cross and the pain of our sins.

Christ didn’t enjoy the cross, He endured it.  Hebrews 12:2-3 - fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

He endured the cross, the wrath of God, why?  For the joy set before Him!  But what was that joy that was set before Him that was so great as to enable Him to endure the cross?  Hebrews 2:7-9 - “You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;  8 You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. Jesus Briefly Humbled 9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

He was made lower than the angels, for just a short time so that redemption might be completed and He would be crowned with Glory!  Glory as of the Only Begotten Son of God!  The suffering of Christ gives us hope because we know that God is Sovereign and in control.

Isaiah 53:10 - But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

God was pleased to crush the Son for our iniquities.  He was cruised for every lie you’ve told, every time you’ve held hate in your heart, every time you’ve taken His name in vain.  All of those sins, laid on the Sinless Son of God and it pleased God to punish Him in our place.

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to our own way.  But THE LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on HIM!  ON JESUS CHRIST!

If it pleased the Father to bruise the Son, and we are in Christ, then our sorrow can work together for good.  And that can be a very hard thing to believe and understand sometimes.  I get that. 

Romans 8:28 - And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

We may never see the good on this side of life… But we must remember God’s words to Job.  God set the foundations of the world and He taught the Lion to roar and He set the boundaries. 

Job 38:1-11 - Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,  2 “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?  3 “Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!  4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,  5 Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?  6 “On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone,  7 When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?  8 “Or who enclosed the sea with doors When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;  9 When I made a cloud its garment And thick darkness its swaddling band,  10 And I placed boundaries on it And set a bolt and doors,  11 And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop’?

And He goes on beyond that to question Job.  In short we see God expand on what He spoke through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 55:8-9 - “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.  9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.  Suffering is temporary.  Painful, yes, but temporary.  Even though it seems like the pain will never end and this side of life it may not.  Ultimately though, for those of us who are in Christ.  Pain is temporary. 

1 Peter 4:12-13 - Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;  13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

We are too rejoice!  Rejoice!  God made His Son to suffer, along with all of creation, for a HIGHER REASON! 

Now God let’s believers share in Christ’s suffering AND of the Glory to be revealed.

Listen, Romans 8:22-23 says that all creation groans and suffers pain and not only that but we groan within ourselves.  The whole creation, as a result of the fall of man… as a result of the sin that has entered into the world.

The problem of death and suffering is one of sin.  We live in a sin cursed world and WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SIN.  People often say that if God is all powerful then He should do away with evil and suffering.  But let’s define evil folks… What is evil?  It’s anything that is against God.  ANYTHING that is morally bad or wrong.  It's murder, rape, stealing, lying, cheating, hatred.

But if we want God to stop evil, do we want Him to stop it all or just a little bit of it? If He stops us from doing evil things, what about lying, or what about our evil thoughts? I mean, where do you stop, the murder level, the lying level, or the thinking level? You see we like to isolate some evil things out as worse than others and shake our fists at God for them and never stop to consider the evil of our own hearts.  If we want Him to stop evil, we’ve got to be consistent, we can't just pick and choose. That means you and I would be eliminated right? Because we think and do evil stuff. If that's true, we should be eliminated! But thanks be to God that Jesus stepped in to save us from our sin!

All creation groans as a result of sin.  Earthquakes, cancer, murder, hate, lust, adultery, gambling, addiction, pain, suffering, homelessness, hunger, abortion… all of these ‘bad’ things exist because of sin.

Does that mean that the earthquake in Haiti was because of the specific sins of the Haitians?  Not necessarily… Sin, in general, is the cause.  Without sin we’d still be living in Eden.  Is someone with cancer, whether they pull through it or God let’s the cancer take their life.  Was there some specific sin in their life that caused Him to allow it?  Not necessarily.  Cancer and death is a normal thing in a sin cursed world.

So don’t get too bogged down trying to explain the specific reason for this or that suffering.  Especially in relation to natural disasters.

RATHER use them as a means to tell about Christ!  As a sober reminder of the frailty of life and man’s wicked state.  Luke 13 tells us that a tower fell in Siloam and killed 18 people.  Certainly a tragedy.  Jesus told the Pharisees that those 18 were not any worse than anyone else.  Meaning they were sinners same as everyone else.  Then He said unless you repent, you will likewise perish.

All created beings… you and me, we have two things for sure in common.  We have a beginning, a time when our life started, and we have a time when our life will end.  The question isn’t how will I die, its when.  Because it’s a certainty.

But listen to this.  Hebrews 13:8 - Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  He is eternal and does not change!

Since He is eternal, we must recognize that our relationship to Him has eternal consequences.  The pentalty for those who reject Him is eternal damnation.  For those who believe on Him, the reward is eternal life.

Since He is unchanging we can trust Him.  His character is proven!  His promises are certain!  Because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!  Oh Christian, rejoice in your sufferings.  Christ suffered and then was Glorified.  So too will you suffer in this life and one day be made whole and perfect in Heaven.

Our sin caused all this, but God STILL provided redemption through the work of Jesus Christ and His atonement!

If though, you sit here this morning and you know that you have never forsaken your sin and trusted Christ.  You’ve never responded to the Gospel call to repent and believe.  This is the call, REPENT AND BELIEVE ON JESUS CHRIST and He will save you!

Will you respond?  Or will you once again walk out these doors in rebellion?  Will you once again choose the broad path today? 

If you are one of the people who say to themselves that you want to get saved but you are going to ‘do a little living’ first.  Enjoy some sinning and then get saved when you’re older or bored with sin.  Then you aren’t ready to come because you don’t understand the vulgarity of your sin. 

However, if you’re soul is weary from your sin and you feel the weight of it bearing down on you.  You are terrified at the wrath of God that awaits you and yet in awe of His love provided in Jesus Christ, then come.

At this moment, God COMMANDS all men to repent and believe that today is the day of salvation.  That you are to flee from the wrath to come.  Flee from the Law that condemns you to the Savior, Jesus Christ, who will give you rest.

Repentance is nothing more than giving up.  In your rebellion you’ve striving to live on your own, for yourself.  In your rebellion you’ve mocked God and placed yourself in His place.  Still He says to you… come.  A broken heart and a contrite spirit He will NOT deny.  So come.

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