Sunday, May 25, 2014

P3 - Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory - A Christian understanding of evil and suffering

Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

Introduction and Review:
These past couple of days have been dedicated to developing a Christian response to evil and suffering.  We have proposed four key ideas that aid us in navigating this very difficult issue: Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory.  So far we have looked at the first two of those ideas.  Normally when one reads a typical treatment on this subject of offering a response to evil and suffering, very few spend a whole lot of time on the cross.  Yet without the cross, not only can't a Christian view be developed, but making any sense of why there is evil and suffering in a world ruled by a Sovereign, Good and All-powerful God cannot be achieved. 

Why God's Providence and the existence of evil can only make sense when we consider the cross of Jesus
Tim Keller in his book: "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering", page 119-120, notes: "The book of Job rightly points to human unworthiness and finitude, and calls for complete surrender to the Sovereignty of God. But taken by itself the call might seem more than the sufferer could bear.  Then the New Testament comes filled with an unimaginable comfort for those who are trusting in God's Sovereignty. The sovereign God himself has come down into this world and has experienced its darkness. He has personally drunk the cup of its suffering down to the dregs. And he did it not to justify himself but to justify us, to bear the suffering, death and curse for sin that we have earned."

As you study the pages of scripture, you discover that before the creation of the world, God had already planned the cross.  It is this author's contention that if we are to truly make any sense of the presence of evil and suffering, we must begin and end with the cross.  The cross all at once was the most unimaginable demonstration of the evil of men and the most magnificent demonstration of the love of God.  Further thought would contend that the whole of creation revolves around the revelation of God in human flesh and the particular events of the cross and resurrection. 

Mapping out God's plan for redemption, then creation, and ultimately recreation.
Where do we find evidence in the Bible that the cross was planned before creation? Consider the following verses:

1). John 1:29 "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

2). Luke 22:22 "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

3). Acts 2:23 "this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."

4). Acts 3:18 "But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled."

5). Acts 4:28 "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."

6). 1 Peter 1:20 "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you."

7). Revelation 13:8 "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

From surveying other scripture, we understand that the cross was an agreed upon plan or covenant of redemption between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Passages such as Ephesians 1:1-14; 1 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 indicate that the Father planned redemption, the Son agreed to purchase it by becoming a man and shedding blood and the Holy Spirit agreed to apply it to all Whom He calls according to the Father purposes of grace, repents and believes.

The cross shaped what particular kind of history was going to come forth once God said: "let there be light" in Genesis 1.  With creation underway, God made beings who could choose.  Those beings chose against Him.  Despite willing to permit the fall, God already had in mind to graciously redeem our fallen parents and thus begin the process of redeeming fallen human beings who by His grace trust in Jesus.

The goal of creation, and its subsequent fall, includes there being a point when God will restore the creation that was lost.  All who have by grace through faith believed on Christ will be included in the glorious recreation - called in Revelation 21-22 the "New Heavens and the New Earth."

The black cloth that is evil and suffering is used by God to show forth His glorious redemptive purposes.  Two passages in Romans bear out this marvelous truth of how the cross gives us clarity to navigate through this difficult issue of evil and suffering.
Romans 3:24-26 "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

Then we see Romans 8:20-21 "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Personally I think this passage brings us the closest we will ever get to answering the big "why question" (i.e. "why evil"). The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the redemptive purposes of God are at the heart of this answer. 

Again Tim Keller in his book: "Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering", page 121, notes: See what this means? Yes, we do not know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what reason it is not. It cannot be that he does not love us. It cannot be that he does not care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths  of suffering. He understands us, he has been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually wipe away every tear. Someone might say, "but that's only half an answer to the question why? Yes, but it is the half we need."

Closing out with the prophet Habakkuk's central statement of "The Just shall live by faith"
The verse we quoted at the beginning of this post shows us how Habakkuk began coping with all that God was revealing to Him.  Habakkuk 2:4 is among the most frequently quoted passages in the New Testament.  When that verse is quoted, it is quoted in the context of the unfolding of saving faith in the gospel. Consider two examples: Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11 "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” In the Gospel we find the only solution to our sin and the only solution we can offer to a hurting world that is suffering.  The very God Whom unbelieving man rails against and accuses is the very One who sent His Son to suffer and provide the only grounds upon which the believing sinner can be declared innocent of all accusation.  

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