God Didn’t Make Me to Suffer! (Part Two)
In considering this assertion, we are forced back to our belief system, and how we have formed our beliefs over the years. We are forced to question the reliability of our belief system. Most of us have a belief system that is a combination of TV shows, talk radios, Sunday sermons, and talks with friends. All of these items change with time; each season brings its new advice. But there is a Truth that remains unchanged through all of Time; it flows from the heart of God Himself, who is changeless. Only His Truth can withstand Life and its sufferings. Only His Truth gives a correct understanding of Life, and that Truth is found only in the Scriptures, the writings of the true and living God, as taught by the Holy Spirit.
Over the past 8 months, I have thought much about this assertion made by a young man suffering in Ethiopia. And I have thought about the belief system from which it springs. In Part One, I shared how it is very important that we build our beliefs only from reliable sources. The only completely reliable source is the Scriptures, those words written through men by the Holy Spirit. And when we study those words, we must allow ourselves to be taught their meaning by the Holy Spirit, and we cannot be taught by Him unless we and our sinfulness are “covered” by the purity of the Lord Jesus.
Surgery is coming to me in only a few days, and I know that there will be much physical pain in the weeks following the surgery. Even in the past week, tears have been shed as I consider the possibility of parting with those I love here. Like most people who have lived to my age, this is not the first time pain has been experienced; there have been many, many times of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual “pain.”
How can I make sense of why a loving God would allow such pain? I cannot gain assurance and confidence apart from the Scriptures. All other rational grounds are suspect, cracked with the flawed thinkings of Man. So, having covered myself with the perfection of the Lord Jesus, and yielding to the teaching of the Holy Spirit as we opened the Scriptures together, this is what I have learned about suffering in the Scriptures.
Suffering came into the world of human existence in the Garden of Eden in direct response to the declaration of independence made by the first man and the first woman. The anguish that immediately followed their act of independence has echoed through the centuries to us today. By reason of my connectedness to them, by my association within the human family, I am feeling that anguish. This is the first reason why we suffer.
The consequence of that first declaration of independence has spread to the whole universe! The Scriptures state that “all creation groans (suffers, agonizes)….” Much that we suffer is the fall-out of that decision made in the Garden. Our bodies age, we get exhausted, we have misunderstandings, infections overwhelm us, etc. These are a natural part of life, a normal suffering that falls to us because we are living this side of the Fall and the Curse.
And how do we handle this suffering? We cannot escape it. The suffering covers the whole universe! But we have hope…we look for the Savior to come!
You see, the Scriptures teach that one day the Lord Jesus will come and make a new Heaven and a new Earth. He will completely remove all traces of sin’s debt, and the Curse will be lifted. Until then, we suffer from the Fall, but we do not suffer in despair. We suffer with one eye upon our situation, and the other eye upon the Heavens, looking for the Promised One to return. His first coming was prophesied thousands (yes, thousands!) of years before He came. Just as those prophesies were fulfilled, so the prophesies about His second coming will be fulfilled.
I believe this Truth. If He has promised to wipe away all traces of sin, to make a new heaven and earth, then He will do it, because He cannot betray His character. He cannot lie. He cannot be unfaithful to His word. He cannot fail to save fully those whom He has promised to save.
So as I suffer the things that all persons of Humanity suffer, I sorrow for the rebellion of Adam and Eve, but I do not sorrow with despair. My eye is upon the Heavens, looking for the One who will return and repair all things in His Time.
The second reason we suffer is a personalization of the first reason. “That isn’t fair!” some cry out. “Why should I suffer because of what they did back in the Garden?!”
But let’s be honest. Isn’t there within each of us the same spirit of independence that was in Adam and Eve? I know there is in me. All I have to do is see a “line in the sand” that God has drawn (for my own good, by the way) and everything within me says “NO! I will be my own boss! I will run my own life!”
How foolish we are to think that we can question God, as Eve did, and not suffer. But daily, overtly or covertly, we declare our own little independence from Creator God. We refuse to come under His authority. And when we do, we suffer, just as those first rebels suffered. And like them, many suffer with us.
Our culture says that our private lives are our own. As long as we hurt only ourselves, it’s OK. And we’ve swallow the lie that sin (ANY sin) can be kept to ourselves; we believer that only the perpetrators of the sin will suffer from the sin. Our society says that as long as we are willing to “be adult” about it, and bear the consequences of it, then it’s OK. We’re told that as long as it won’t hurt anyone else, then it’s OK to sin.
What a lie! Since when did the consequences of sin stay to the one who did the sin? Name one single sin where there is not a ripple effect in its consequences. A “little white lie,” a “discrete affair,” an “alternative lifestyle,” a “fixing the books” – the consequences of all of these things are not limited to those who commit them.
We suffer, not only because of that first Fall, but also because of the repeated falls of ourselves and those around us! There is a price to be paid for that little spirit of independence, that heart of rebellion, that self-deception. And the price is often paid by the suffering of innocent parties.
Today, perhaps you are carrying in your heart or body the consequences of someone else’s sin – or perhaps your own. Just as that first choice for independence drove a wedge between Adam and Eve, so our choices drive wedges between us, and we suffer.
What do we do when we suffer for this reason? We confess and we forgive. The pain, the suffering is still there, but now healing oil has been added to the suffering. And it is no longer a suffering until death, but a suffering unto Life.
Sometimes we think that if we confess and forgive, then all pain is removed. Not so. For our own good the pain, the scar, remains. In my own life, I have asked the Lord, “Please, don’t remove the pain; don’t clear the scar. Keep it there, so that I will not be tempted to repeat that sin!”
My dear brothers and sisters, to live a pain-free existence is not the end all and be all of life! Holiness is the end-all and be-all of Life! Pain is very useful. And as long as residual pain from personal sins (ours or others) can help us grow in holiness, in purity of thought and choice, in greater dedication to submission to His way, then let us embrace that pain as our companion and our helper!
So the first reason for our suffering is the fall-out of what happened in the Garden; our identity with the human race causes us pain. But our suffering is borne without despair; we have an eye heavenward, looking for His return to erase the Curse.
And the second reason for our suffering is the fall-out of repetitions of the Garden in personal lives today – ours and others with whom we are associated. When this becomes our lot, we must confess our sin and forgive others’ their sin. In this way our suffering is blended with healing oil. And we must embrace the residual scar so as allow it to help us to grow in holiness, in deeper commitment to His way, in a firmer solidarity with His Person.
(Recommended readings: Genesis 1-3; Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 5:1-19 and 8:16-39; Hebrews 4:13-16 and 12:5-13; Titus 2:11-14; James 5:14-16; Revelation 21:1-5)
(Coming in Part Three: the other reasons for suffering.)
August 15, 2009