Daily we hear new reports of the brutality of ISIS and Boko Harman. We are appalled by the news of kidnappings and mass beheadings. The question, “why”, rings in the air. Politicians dance around the issues, trying not to offend anyone. Editorialists expound a vast array of reasons for the violence and give their answers. In all of the discussions, there is one word that is rarely, if ever, used to explain our global disease. It is the word “SIN”.
In my daily devotions, I have been reading in the book of Leviticus and in a book by Tim Keller, titled Walking with God in Pain and Suffering. Today, those two books came together for me in a new way. Keller has been advancing the argument that secular society has no satisfactory answer for pain and suffering. If God, or any spiritual reality, is left out of the equation, then our only response to pain and suffering is a shrug of the shoulders. We are just meaningless byproducts of the evolutionary process. There is no higher meaning and purpose in life than survival. The best we can do is try to minimize pain and suffering as much as we can. This approach leaves the vast majority of people cold. Even people who do not believe in God, are appalled by the idea that their life is meaningless.
Keller contrasts the secular view with the historical, religious view that has been held by millions of people in the past, and even still today. Whatever the religious philosophy is, it seeks to interpret pain and suffering from the perspective of a higher purpose. Religion gives meaning to both life in general and the struggles of life in particular. Of all the religious players in the field, Christianity rises above the rest. Christianity offers meaning and purpose that transcends pain and suffering. It doesn’t try to excuse it or just eliminate it. Christianity defines pain and suffering in ways that help people navigate through extremely difficult situations in positive, meaningful ways.
The Bible makes it clear that the ultimate cause of all pain and suffering is sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin and death entered the world. We have all been living with the consequences of the fall ever since. Jesus came into the world to deal with the problem of sin and death. He took the sin of the world on his shoulders, and paid the penalty for our sin on the cross of Calvary. The Gospel promises us that, if we will accept what Jesus has done for us by faith, we can be forgiven and set free from our sin.
The Gospel does not put an end to pain and suffering in the world. The Gospel gives us the strength to face pain and suffering with courage and strength. We do not have to just endure; we can overcome. Jesus made a promise in Martha, in the face of death, that still applies to us today. Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26
This brings me back to our current situation and the book of Leviticus. There is no doubt that evil is running rampant in our world. There are many superficial reasons given for this; poverty, powerlessness, politics. These are really only symptoms of the root problem; sin. Sin is the cause of all pain and suffering in one of two ways. In general, we live in a world that has been tainted and twisted by sin. We all face the consequences of this. Many tragic things that happen are a result of the prevailing sin nature of our world. More specifically, much pain and suffering is the result of personal sin. James warns us that our evil desires lead to negative results. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3
So, the skeptic asks, why would a loving God allow this to go on. I think the answer may be found in Leviticus 26. Here God tells the people of Israel that if they will obey God and follow him with all their hearts, He will shower blessings upon them. But, if they choose to rebel against God and go their own way, He will allow disaster to strike them. He will remove His hand of grace and allow them to face the consequences of their choice.
We live in a world that increasingly wants to live as if God does not exist. Paul has aptly described our world and the consequences of turning our backs on God in Romans 1.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:18-32
God is allowing us to face the consequences of our rebellion, just as a loving parent allows their child to face the consequences of their rebellion. God’s desire is not to make our lives miserable, but to awaken us to our sin and our need for the Savior. The solution to pain and suffering is not found in removing the transcendent. It is found in embracing the transcendent.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.”