Why is there suffering?
Many, many years ago, in the outermost arm of the galaxy, a civilization of humanoids known as the drotes had their eye on a certain planet which they wished to colonize. It was rich in every sort of mineral wealth. The only problem was that it was hostile to humanoid life. And so, in their tradition, the drotes selected one of their top scientists to design a new form which the colonists would take.
Part 3 - Yin and Yang
The scientist assigned to the task thought long and hard about how he could adapt the drote body to life on this new planet. He thoughtfully combined traits from some of the oldest Earth animals, including wolves, cats and bears, and before very long, his new design was ready. A large number of colonists, including the designer himself, took the new form and moved to the new planet to live.
Many years later, the same scientist, now very old, was brought before a council of young ones to stand trial for gross negligence.
"You did indeed solve many problems." said the council members. "You gave us fur to keep us warm in this icy weather. You gave us hard claws to dig through the hardened soil. You made us very strong in order to withstand the high gravity. But you made some horrible mistakes."
"I made no mistakes." the scientist asserted.
"You left out a key gene in us males which is necessary to produce a vital enzyme. And in the females, you made the toes too short, causing frequent stumbling. These are major mistakes which constitute criminal negligence."
"Do you know why I introduced these factors?" asked the designer. "Were you with me when the planet was discovered? Were you there when I received my commission? Were you present in my lab when I sequenced your DNA? How can you presume to know what I was thinking?" He went on to explain. "When your parents were young, the drote civilization was plagued with an attitude of selfishness. I knew that if this attitude prevailed on this harsh planet, we would never survive. Therefore, I made it necessary for everyone to depend on someone for help. The men, as you know, must consume enzymes present in the fur of the women to survive. Likewise, the women must look to men to help them to their feet every so often. I created these 'flaws' to give you an opportunity to do good, not to make you suffer."
The case was dismissed shortly thereafter.
Yin and Yang. When most people hear this, they think of eastern philosophy and religion, such as budhism, shinto or taoism. But when you think about it, the concept of yin and yang has been part of Judeo-Christianity for millenia. Since the fall of man, even.
(Just to clarify, I use the phrase "Judeo-Christianity" to indicate the one true religion in its two manifestations before and after Christ.)
The idea behind yin and yang is that good and evil are mutually dependant and one is capable of bringing about the other. At first glance, this sounds like a total crock. But let's take a look at this for a moment...
As C.S. Lewis explains in his book "Mere Christianity", there is no such thing as pure evil. You can have 99% evil, but there must always be an element of good. After all, any being, no matter how evil, must be good toward itself. If it were not, it would self-destruct, being evil to itself.
Good does not depend on evil quite the same way. Good can exist just fine without evil. God is perfectly good and was just fine before the creation of the angels. He didn't need Lucipher to fall from grace in order to survive. But good benefits from evil in a different, very important way.
Take for example the Garden of Eden. Everything was perfect there. Food was plentiful, it never rained, the temperature never dropped below 60 anywhere on the planet and never rose above 90. Clothing hadn't been invented because no one needed it. All of the animals were friendly to one another, germs behaved themselves, and every evening, God himself would come down for a visit. There was only one rule: Don't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Why did God put such a tree in the garden in the first place? Everything was so perfect! Yet God did something equivalent to putting a gigantic button in the middle of the garden labelled "push to ruin everything". What is the point?
The point is that without the possibility of disobedience, Adam's and Eve's decision to love and obey God meant nothing. Unless there was the possibility of evil, good carried no significance.
So yin and yang as applies to Judeo-Christianity can be summed up thusly: Evil cannot exist without good. Good without evil is undefined.
As long as Adam and Eve shunned the fruit of the forbidden tree, they were innocent and good, and counted worthy of fellowship with God. We don't know how long this lasted. Looking back at the Genesis account, it appears as if creation and the fall happened in quick succession, but it may have been many years before Eve finally gave in to temptation when she listened to the snake's counsel.
So at that point, Eve, followed by Adam, ate the forbidden fruit. They committed an act of rebellion against God and completely derailed God's plans for the world. Right? Wrong. God never has a plan B.
God did not cause Lucipher to rebel. He didn't cause the fall of Adam and Eve. But He knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew that the actions of these three creatures would bring sin into the world, and He was perfectly prepared for it. Even as He was pronouncing the punishment for sin, God was already promising the coming of the Messiah who would take away the sin of the world.
Mankind now had a knowledge of good and evil. Not simply as the result of the forbidden fruit, but because they were now experiencing both. It was becoming clear to them that God is good, and now tht they were experiencing the alternative, they were beginning to understand just HOW good God is. This in no way meant that the original sin was good, but God was able to turn the consequences of that sin in such a way that good resulted where it would not have been able to otherwise.
As early as the second generation of humankind, God had instituted the sacrificial system. Abel, we know, sacrificed animals to the Lord. By this, He obtained the forgiveness of sin. Not that there was any magic in the blood of his animals. The sacrifice was a picture of Christ's death, which really DOES have the power to take away sin, if we allow it. It is the evil which was inflicted upon Jesus which satisfies justice and makes us once again innocent in God's eyes. It was that act of looking to the future to Christ's sacrifice (though Abel may have been completely unaware of it) that justified Abel. Cain was not justified because he was relying on his own gifts to make him right with God.
So since sin carries such a high price as the shed blood of a god, why did God permit sin in the first place? Why didn't God remove the tree and just let Adam and Eve remain innocent by default? Especially when He knew they were going to sin?
Well, as we've alreay established, love without he option of rejection is meaningless. But there was more to it. Had Adam and Eve never known evil, they would not have been God's children. They would be his creations, but nothing more. They, and we, would be merely pets, indistinguishable from any of his other creations.
But because we have known evil, we can fully appreciate how good God is. We can understand His compassion, his mercy and His forgiveness. We can comprehend the depth of His love and we can copy it. we can adopt His goodness in ourselves. Does this mean that evil becomes good? Or that sin is good because it causes God's grace to flow? Certainly not.
Romans 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
What we must remember is that God never causes moral evil. He does not tempt anyone and cannot be tempted.
2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
It is WE who sin. It is God who turns evil around to bring about His own good purposes.
14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
And just as God allows evil to continue so that we may understand His goodness, so He also allows it to exist to give us chances to do good. Knowledge that God is good can be counted as faith, but faith without works is dead. (James 2:20)
One who is truly faithful and growing into the image of a perfect and loving God must be able to express love to others. We can do this in many ways. A kind word to a saddened heart, a gift of food for the hungry, a visit to one who is hospitalized or imprisoned. A gift of clothing to one who cannot afford clothes. And the biggest of all, sharing the good news of the gospel with those who are yet in need of salvation. Jesus tells us that when we do any of these to even the least of His beloved, he looks at our actions as if they were done to Him. (Matt 25:33-46) and should we fail to do any of these things to our fellow man, it is counted as failure to Jesus as well.
What God wants from us is love, not just to Him, but to all around us. As he says in Hosea 6:
6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Paul reiterates this sentiment in 1 Corinthians 13:
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
In the King James version, "love" is translated "charity". While this is a weaker word, it is not altogether inappropriate. God has given us the task of loving one another by bearing one another's burdens, by demonstrating forgiveness, benevolence, mercy, charity... To take a cue from Charles Dickens, the business of mankind.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
God has left us lots of loving to be done because He wants to populate Heaven with people who have made a habit of loving others.
Which brings us back to our concept of Yin and Yang. Is the cycle of good and evil an eternal thing? That is, will the good need to suffer forever in order to HAVE goodness? By no means. The bible promises that once evil has served its purpose, it will be put away. All those who have chosen evil (and make no mistake, the rejection of God is an act of evil) both human and angel, will be shut away where they can do no harm. suffering and sorrow will be at an end, and death itself will die.
Rev 21:4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
And once it is all over, the universe will be populated not by simple primates who wander about a garden taking their blessings for granted, but by billions of children of God who truly love their Lord and one another. In the end, it will all be worthwhile.
And now, this week's challenge.
To my fellow Christians, I urge you to worship God by looking to see where you can relieve suffering and do so, in keeping with James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
To the non-Christians, I implore you to begin with that one all important step of being reconciled through the atonement of Jesus to the Father who wants to perfect his goodness in you. As Paul says in Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.
And the next verse is for both of you...
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Pastor Oren Otter
February 11, 2006
Today's reading: Romans 5:12-21
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--
13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.