Friday, April 03, 2015

Revisiting the Gospel as the Answer to Evil and Suffering

Earlier this week, I posted a manuscript of a talk I gave on the Gospel as the answer to the problem of evil and suffering. You can find that manuscript here, and if you have not read it, you should before going further in this post.

If you have read that post, you will recall that I categorize all evil and suffering in the world into three categories. These categories are not original to me. I first came across this line of thinking in seminary in a course on the Problem of Evil taught by Dr. Bruce Little. His lectures and his books, A Creation-Order Theodicy and God, Why This Evil?, are primary influences in my approach to the problem of evil and suffering, though there are shades and nuances of difference in how I present the case and how he does. That is not to suggest that I think I have improved on his argument. I think it has more to do with how I have implemented some of his reasoning in ways that he either does not address or differs. The main substance and thrust of my argument, however, is closely connected to his.

The three categories of evil and suffering that I discussed in the previous manuscript are:

1. Moral evils: Evil and suffering that is the result of the sinful decisions of someone, e.g., terrorism, murder, rape, assault, slander, persecution, suicide, etc.

2. Natural evils: disturbances in nature, e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning strikes, etc.
3. Physical suffering: illnesses, ailments and injuries to the human body, e.g., cancer, heart attack, stroke, arthritis, etc.

I previously made the case that all of these categories of evil have come into the world as a result of human sin. Because of human sin, beginning with the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, we live in a fallen world and inhabit corruptible bodies. In my earlier manuscript, I tried to make the case that even though God has the power to stop evil and suffering, He does not do it by raw power because to do so would be to violate His own Word, by which He promised these consequences would follow human rebellion. The categories of evil and suffering are not the root issue, but the fruit that comes into bloom from the root of human sin. So, in the case that I attempted to set forth, I argued that God did not act in raw power to remove the fruit of evil and suffering from this fallen world, but rather that God came into this fallen world and took upon Himself one of these corruptible bodies in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and that He dealt with sin at its root in an act of gracious redemption -- namely the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

This brings me to the reason for the revisitation of the subject today. I am writing this post on Good Friday, April 3, 2015. Moments ago, I was gathered with my church family for corporate worship and meditation on the cross of Jesus Christ. During a moment of silent reflection during the service, having heard afresh the Gospel accounts of the suffering and death of Jesus, the thought came to my mind that in the death of Christ and the events surrounding it, we see a dramatic breaking forth of all three categories of evil and suffering. 

We see moral evil being carried out in the betrayal and arrest, the trial and sentencing, the torturing and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

We see physical suffering taking place as Jesus suffered, bled, anguished, and died upon the cross.

We see natural evils occurring in the sudden darkness that enveloped the earth (Luke 23:44-45) and the earthquake that occurred (Matthew 27:51) as Jesus died.  

In the silence of worship and reflection on the atoning death of Jesus, I was overwhelmed to realize that He literally experienced the fullness of all of the divinely appointed consequences of human sin. The moral evil, physical suffering, and natural evils that came into the world because of the disobedience of Adam were being fully manifested in perhaps unprecedented and unsurpassed ways, but they were poured out on the Substitute for us and for our salvation. 

Truly when we behold the cross, we see the full measure of our sin and its destructiveness; the full measure of the consequences that it deserves and the wrath that it has earned; but moreover we see the full measure of God's love, mercy and grace. Jesus literally took all of the evils of this world and all of the sufferings of humanity that are rightly ours because of sin, so that we could be delivered from evil and its effects for all eternity. As Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE." Because Christ became that curse for us on Calvary's tree, we have eternal access to the tree of life, from which man could eat freely in the Garden of Eden before the fall, but from which man was forbidden to eat as he languishes under the curse of sin in this fallen world. This tree is available to us once more in heaven, where the Bible says that it yields its fruit every month, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations, for there is no more curse, no more sin, no more suffering, and no more evil (Rev 22:2-3; 21:4). 

When we pray as the Lord Jesus taught us to, "Deliver us from evil" (Matt 6:13), we can also utter a prayer of thanksgiving, because He has, and He will. And that is why this Friday is called "Good."  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome messages about suffering and evil - loved reading them and I've shared them with others. CM