Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Relationship Between Sin and Suffering

Job's "friends" have gotten quite a bit of bad press over the last few thousand years. And for good reason. As the saying goes, "with friends like that, who needs enemies?" Their karma-like understanding of sin and suffering is far too simplistic for this world that God rules and is redeeming. 

So what does the Bible say about the relationship between sin and suffering? I offer the following as a basic outline of the Bible's contours on the subject:

1) All suffering is tied to Sin.
2) Suffering is not always a result of specific sin/s.
3) Suffering is sometimes a result of specific sin/s.
4) You are not necessarily right with God because you are circumstantially prosperous.
5) You are not necessarily under condemnation before God because you are suffering.

1) All suffering is tied to Sin.

Death entered on account of Original Sin. Cancer, disease, dangerous bacteria, defects and deformity, deadly natural disasters, accidents, diabetes, viruses, and violence are all present on planet earth as a result of The Fall.

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 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."

Genesis 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 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.

2) Suffering is not always a result of specific sin/s.

Job’s “friends” were dead wrong.

Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. … 8 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" 9 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." 12 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand."

Job 2:3 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason." 4 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." 6 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life."

Jesus’ disciples needed to be cured of this same theological myopia.

John 9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Job’s friends were dead wrong, and the adoption of their theological system has done untold damage to sufferers. We dare not repeat their error, but we must also guard against over-correction. If we don’t, we will find ourselves in the ditch of theological error on the opposite side of the road. Rightly avoiding the errors of Job’s friends, our fear of “guilt by association” can lead us to deny that suffering is ever tied to specific sin/s. In so doing, we end up an accomplice to our natural impulses to deny and justify and blame shift our sin. We can’t forget our proclivity to keep our sin “safe” under cover of darkness (see John 3:19).

It is true that suffering is not always tied to specific sin/s.
And it is equally true that…

3) Suffering is sometimes a result of specific sin/s.

Psalm 32:1 A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

John 5:5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" … 8 Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. … 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you."

Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God." 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. …
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." 9 But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. …

1 Corinthians 11:27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

You can see how important it is to embrace all three of these points. There are massive soul-care implications for each one. And, there are massive dangers to denying or minimizing any one of them. Examples of the dangers could be multiplied ad nauseum. Implications for soul-care should be considered with comprehensive carefulness, but for now, two big-picture implications are worth noting.

4) You are not necessarily right with God because you are well and circumstantially prosperous.

Psalm 73:1 A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

Luke 13:1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Health and prosperity are not necessarily signs of God’s favor. Those who suffer more than you are not necessarily less favored by God than you. And, the corollary is also true.

5) You are not necessarily under condemnation before God because you are suffering.

Even a cursory glance at the life of Job, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul will establish this point.

Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, …

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It may also be helpful to note that the Bible identifies and distinguishes (at least) the following three categories:  

1) suffering for unrighteousness/wrongdoing – e.g. 1 Pet 2:20; 4:15
2) innocent suffering (includes victimization) – e.g. 2 Sam 13:1-20; John 9:1-3
3) suffering for righteousness sake – e.g. Matt 5:10-12; 1 Pet 2:19; 3:14; 4:16

Friday, March 1, 2019

"Yesterday" and, What if You Woke Up Tomorrow...

...and you were the only person on earth that knew Jesus?

Australian pastor Stephen Mcapline offers a good answer, inspired by the trailer to the forthcoming movie "Yesterday."

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Most Encouraging Sermon I Heard Last Year

Ray Ortlund, Jr. preached at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville this past Sunday. We were visiting my family in the area, so we were able to attend. Ray preached from Romans 8:31-39. It had to be the most encouraging sermon I heard in 2018. I encourage you to give it a listen.

Here are a few soundbites:
God is not tired of you. He is not wishing he hadn't gotten involved. When he sees you coming, he is not looking out his peripheral vision for an exit strategy. He loves high maintenance sinners.
He promises to love out of you everything resistant to his love, and love into you everything receptive of his love.
He himself, at the cross, already removed every reason why he shouldn't love you.
If God gave us his most sacred gift at the cross, his Son (Romans 8:32), is he going to nickle and dime us now? 

And a couple of encouraging quotes he used:

Martin Luther,
When the devil accuses us and says, ‘You are a sinner and therefore damned,’ we should answer, ‘Because you say I am a sinner, I will be righteous and saved.’ ‘No,’ says the devil, ‘you will be damned.’ And I reply, ‘No, for I fly to Christ, who gave himself for my sins. Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by setting forth the greatness of my sins and try to bring me into heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blasphemy against God. On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and weapons against yourself, so that with your own sword I may cut your throat and tread you under my feet, for Christ died for sinners. . . . As often as you object that I am a sinner, so often you remind me of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins. So when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me but comfort me immeasurably.'
John Owen,
A man may love another as his own soul, yet perhaps that love of his cannot help him. He may thereby pity him in prison, but not relieve him; bemoan him in misery, but not help him; suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. … But now the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effectual and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills unto his beloved. He loves life, grace, and holiness into us; he loves us also into covenant, loves us into heaven.