The Problem of Pain – Part 4

The problem of pain – the REAL problem of pain, at least as we see it – is when the innocent, or at least those we believe are innocent suffer. When children are abused, women are raped, drunk drivers cross the centerline and hit a car head on killing an entire family. Things like this offend our sense of justice. But what really upsets us the most is when WE suffer, when WE get hurt, when something bad happens to US. However, there are problems with our view of things. One is, whose rules do we judge by? As I look around, I see those rules we call “justice” getting more and more lenient. I mean, since when is being too rich an excuse for murder? Too rich to know right from wrong? Really? – since when? And why should having a particular skin color make it OK for you to do something that someone else, whose skin color happens to be different than yours, would be fined or face jail time for doing? And why is it OK for something bad to happen to other people, but it’s not OK when it happens to you? Why should you be exempt?

And that is where our problem with pain starts. Why do we think it is unjust for bad things to happen to the innocent? And by the way, just who is really innocent? And more importantly, in our world where everyone is a victim and no one is responsible for their actions, WHO IS REALLY GUILTY? Who DESERVES bad things to happen to them?

This is what the Bible has to say about who the really good people are, those who are really innocent; “You [God] come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. (Isaiah 64:5-7 NIV) The Hebrew word translated as “unclean” means – unclean, impure, defiled, or polluted. And as we see so often, things have been cleaned up for us in the English translation – the Hebrew for “filthy rags” is actually “used menstrual cloths”. Not a very nice picture of how good our best efforts are is it? But, you say, that is talking about really bad people, I’m not like that – I’m a pretty good person.

The Bible describes King David as a “man after God’s own heart” which sounds to me like he would be a “pretty good person” doesn’t it to you? (See Acts 13:22) But in spite of that this is what David had to say about how “good” he really was, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” (Psalms 51:5-6) David says he was even conceived a sinner, and that God wants us to be faithful to Him even in the womb! How is that even possible? It is beginning to sound rather hopeless isn’t it?

And a man calling himself “The Preacher” wrote, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) A bit depressing isn’t it? Doesn’t look good for us being all that “good” does it?

And if that wasn’t enough, this is how Paul summed it up; “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.’ ‘The poison of vipers is on their lips.’ ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.'” (Romans 3:10-18) And if that isn’t clear enough, a bit latter he adds, ” . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, . . . ” Romans 3:23)

Not a very pretty picture is it? No one, not even a baby is truly innocent. Why? How could that possibly be true? I mean aren’t we all good people who occasionally do bad things?

For that we need to go back, way back, all the way back to where it all started, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

The Bible tells us that after God finished creating (literally cutting out, paring down, shaping this world (the same word we discussed in Isaiah 45:7 – see The Problem of Pain – Part 1), He made this comment, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31a) So what God made was “exceedingly, greatly, fully good, pleasant, pleasing to the senses, and wholesome” according to the Hebrew words translated as “very good”. So could we say it was perfect? I think so, it was exceedingly good in every way, so there was nothing wrong with the world He had created, but there was this one . . . Well, we’ll will get to that later.

Then God made Adam and He even made a special place for him to live, “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:8-9) In the middle of this exceedingly good world, God plants two special trees, one is the tree of life and the other He says is the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Why would something like that need to be there? Why would anyone living in an exceedingly good world want to know what evil was? What would even make them want to know? I don’t know about you, but if I was living in paradise, I can’t think of anything that would make me want to know what its opposite would be like.

Well, it seems there was a problem and it actually started in heaven. Jesus once told His disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18) So for some reason there was a problem with someone named Satan in heaven. In Revelation we are told it was so bad it actually started a war. “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (Revelation 12:7-9) So what was it all about? What happened that was so bad it started a war?

The prophet Ezekiel writes this, “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.  Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; . . . ‘”‘” (Ezekiel 28:11-17a) Now the prophet records that God told him to write this about the king of Tyre, but he was a human and could never be considered a cherub – a heavenly being. Nor could he be considered to be perfect. And besides that the only humans in the Garden of Eden were Adam and Eve. No human was ever recorded as being in heaven on the holy mount of God. And the king of Tyre was born to a mother and father not specially created by God, so clearly, he was just a “stand-in” for someone else – someone who was thrown to the earth. Sound familiar? Sound like God is really talking about Satan?

So Satan got proud of how beautiful he was and that pride corrupted his wisdom and that caused his problems. But what exactly did he do? So he was proud of how beautiful he was, so what. Is that really so bad? There is a clue in the odd phrase “Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence . . . “. The word translated widespread means greatness, magnitude, abundance, largeness, etc. And the word translated trade means trade, traffic, merchandise, etc. in other words, your job or business. So he was filled with pride because of how important his job was and how beautiful he was and for some reason he became violent about it.

We are given another clue about what happened by another prophet. This time it is the prophet Isaiah and the “stand-in” is the king of Babylon. He records this, “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'” (Isaiah 14:12-14) Again we see things that can’t apply to any human, so we need to look to someone else – once again someone who was “cast down to the earth”. And now we can see why there was war, Satan wanted to “raise his thrown above the stars of God . . . to make [himself] like the Most High”. Satan wanted to take over God’s thrown! He wanted to be like God! So he used the importance of his position to start a rebellion, and apparently he managed to convince a third of the angels to go along with him (see Revelation 12:4).

Now we need to get some things clear. Satan is NOT God’s equal. They are not two opposing gods fighting it out. As Ezekiel records, God created Satan. He made him beautiful. He gave him the job he had. But that turned out to be less than Satan thought someone of his beauty and importance deserved. He thought he deserved more and decided the only way to get it was to take it by force. But God’s forces were stronger than Satan’s and Satan was thrown out of heaven and “cast down” to this earth.

But there is something else interesting here. Ezekiel also records that according to what God told him, Satan was ” . . . in Eden, the garden of God . . . ” apparently before he started his rebellion as God is still describing how perfect and “blameless in his ways” he was when He makes that comment. (See Ezekiel 28:13&15) But after he rebelled things changed. Because of his rebellion he sinned and violence and evil (wickedness) were found in him and he was cast down to this earth. And therein lies the “but” in the “exceedingly good world”. Exactly when he was cast down is not clear, but the Bible says he was perfect when he was in Eden BEFORE wickedness was found in him. And at that time he still had access to the “holy mount of God” in his position as a guardian cherub. However, at some latter point he rebelled and was cast down to the earth and now we see the reason for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – Satan’s presence after his rebellion brought evil into God’s exceedingly good world.

Now that we know what the problem in God’s good world was, let’s go back to Adam. We left him in an apparently perfect creation, in a special garden God made just for him, but it had an unusual tree in it. One God called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Now we can see why it was needed. He had a choice to make, did he want to know only God’s way or did he want to know what evil was? Did he too want to rebel against what God ask of him?

Now God had told Adam about the tree, in fact He had given him very specific instructions about it. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.'” Genesis 2:16-17) The only restriction was “don’t eat from it.” That was all. In fact, that was the ONLY restriction God placed on ANYTHING. God gave Adam all of ONE rule he had to follow, that was it! However, it did have a pretty big penalty for not following it. If he were to eat from the tree, the result would be death. The Hebrew is interesting here, it says if he ate from it he would “die die”. In Hebrew, if you want to make something more definite – to increase its absoluteness or magnitude you repeated the word. To say that someone was running as fast as they could, you would say they “ran ran”. So, when God said that Adam would “die die” if he ate from the tree, He was saying that Adam would die absolutely and irrevocably.

However, each word is expressed slightly differently and this has caused much discussion among the “experts” as to what it “really” means. The first die is what usually causes the most discussion. It can be rendered two ways. one indicates a process, i.e., “you will start dying”, and the other indicates the absolute results, “you will die absolutely”, but gives no actual time of when that might happen. The second “die” can also be rendered several ways, but it is a lot more subtle. It can indicate a process that has started but is not finished, is starting and will continued until finished, or will start sometime in the future, but once started will continued until completed. Or it could simply refer to the absoluteness of the action.

However it is rendered. God says that “in the day you eat” or “at the time you eat” it will happen, whatever it is. So that seems to argue for the process starting at that point in time and continuing until finished at a later date. So, he wouldn’t drop dead on the spot, but would start to die and the process would be continuous and could not be stopped.

Now, back to our story. At this point Eve had not yet been created, so it apparently fell to Adam to pass on God’s instructions about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil once she was created. However, it is also possible that God Himself told Eve about the tree. Either way, the story goes on with Adam naming all the animals, but in the process he doesn’t find a “suitable helper” for himself so God puts him to sleep and takes a part of him (literally part of his side) and creates Eve from it and brings her to him.

In between the creation of Eve and the rest of the story there seems to be an orphan comment in the Biblical narrative. “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25) It doesn’t make much sense where it is as it has nothing to do with the verses before or after it, but it takes on great significance a bit latter.

Now sometime later, how long we do not know, but it was long enough that Satan has now started his rebellion, lost the war in heaven and been cast down to the earth, the story continues.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”‘” (Genesis3:1-2) Now hold on, when did God say that? All He told Adam was “don’t eat from it.” Where did the “don’t touch it” come from? Is that something Eve added or did Adam add it? Remember, as far as we are told, God never told Eve anything about the tree, that seems to have been Adam’s job. Either way somewhere along the line someone added to what God had said. And it is never a good idea to add anything to what God says. And what about this talking serpent? Did snakes really talk back then? I don’t know, but from Eve’s reaction, she doesn’t seem to think it unusual. But I don’t think it was a normal snake. As we saw earlier, one of the things Satan is called is “that old serpent . . . who leads the whole earth astray”, (see Revelation 12:9) so that seems to be who Eve is really talking to.

Back to the story, “‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:3-7)

Now we see why that “orphan” comment was there. Before they ate from the forbidden tree, they were naked and didn’t care, after they ate, they were naked but now they knew it. Something had changed. Shame of their nakedness appeared and they felt the need to hide themselves. Yes, their eyes had been opened, but what they saw was no longer the beauty of another human being created by God, but the shameful nakedness of someone like them self – someone with something to hide. And they also learned something else, they could not be like God. They could not know good and evil like God does, they could only know it by experience, by doing something wrong.

And now we come to the real problem of pain, the only way we can know what evil is, is to experience it, to live it. God is perfect and His knowledge is unlimited so only He could know what evil is without experiencing it. As created beings with a limited capacity for knowledge there are some things we can only know through our actions – by doing – and the difference between good and evil is one of them.

We have seen that Satan is at war with God and accuses God of playing favorites. We have seen that Satan accuses us before God. Just as we saw in the case of Job. (See the Problem of Pain – Part 3) We have seen that Satan is out to deceive the whole world – to get people to believe that his way is better than God’s way. We have also seen that we are free to do whatever we want, we can go against what God wants us to do, we can “do our own thing” whatever that might be, and Satan is more than willing to lead us down that path. And therein lies the problem of pain. Our own way can hurt people. We can abuse people, rape them, and even kill them. Hitler had the Holocaust, Stalin killed nearly 4 times that many. Then there were the killing fields of Cambodia. Child abuse, incest, rape, drug addiction, alcoholism. The list goes on and on. Doesn’t sound very fair to the victims does it?

So let me ask you this, do you like your knowledge of evil? All this pain we experience is all because two people wanted to know what evil was. And the worst of it is, the question still hasn’t been fully answered. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24 things are going to get worse, much worse. “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.'” (Matthew 24:21-22) So as bad as the Holocaust was, as bad as Stalin was, as bad a Pol Pot was, as bad as any period in history you care to name was, there is going to be a time when it will get worse! It will get so bad, that if God doesn’t step in and stop it, no one will live through it!

I believe things will continue to get worse until EVERYONE has either decided that they like doing their own thing and don’t care how much pain they cause others, and have absolutely no desire to change, or that, thanks to the saving Grace of God, they absolutely abhor evil in all its manifestations, from the “little white lie” on up and want to be remade into the image of Jesus. And when those who claim to be followers of Jesus finally realize that all sin is exactly the same no matter how “innocent”; that all sin actually leads to death; when they finally see sin as God does, then and only then will God be able to say, “The questions have been answered, all accusations have been resolved.” Until then the pain will continue – and even get worse.

So, does evil abhor you? or are you entertained by it? That is a question that really haunts me when I think of the movies and TV I watch and the books I read. Is God changing me? Yes, but sometimes I wish I didn’t get in the way so much so He could do it faster. How about you? Are you entertained by evil or revolted by it? It is easy to point the finger at movies like Friday the 13th or Elm Street or any of the Zombie movies, but what if they turn them into a comedy like Scary Movie? Or what about all those sitcoms? Rosanne? Two and a Half Men? All those are easy for me to point fingers at, I don’t like them. But what about NCIS, or Castle, or Leverage? Now it is getting a bit personal, and a lot harder to accept and deal with isn’t it?

Do we really HATE evil? Do we REALLY want it to end? Or do we just pay lip service to the idea of it ending? Do we really continue to flirt with it? Say “It isn’t REALLY that bad. It’s not like I’m steeling or killing or abusing anyone, I’m just . . . ” And therein lies the problem, “I’m just . . . ” “What I’m doing is OK. I know I shouldn’t be doing it, but it is not THAT bad so it is OK.” God doesn’t see it that way. To Him all sin is the same. Any sin separates us from Him. It doesn’t matter how small. After all, all Adam and Eve did was eat a piece of fruit – how bad can that be? The only problem was, they had been told not to eat THAT piece of fruit. That was the ONLY restriction they had! There were no other rules for them to obey, just that one! DO NOT EAT ANY FRUIT FROM THIS PARTICULAR TREE! That was it. So God considers even the little things to be just as important as what we think are the big things.

The biggest problem of pain is that it doesn’t hurt enough yet. We are still willing to put up with it so we can continue to do our own thing. To go our own way, even as followers of Jesus. How long before we have had enough? How long will it take before it hurts too much? How long before we realize that our acceptance of the way things are is causing others untold pain? That those “innocent” people are suffering because we are not fed up enough with the evil in our own lives to do anything about it? The biggest problem is – there is nothing we CAN do about it! WE CAN NOT CHANGE OURSELVES! If left to ourselves, we will continue just as we are, enjoying the pleasures of this world. It is only when we turn our lives TOTALY over to the sovereignty of God can things start to change. When He is the Lord of my life, then He will change me to be like Jesus, a little bit at a time, but more and more each day – as long as I let Him. I can hinder the process – I can fight it all the way to the grave even. And that is the sad part. Paul says you will still make it to heaven, but it will be like just making it through the flames. (See 1 Corinthians 3:10-15) So is that good enough for you? Are you going to fight God all the way to the end, just so you can still hang on to that little bit of “Doing My Own Thing”? There is a danger in doing that – if you do, have you truly given your life over to God? The Apostle John tells us that in the end people will leave the body of Christ, not because they have lost their salvation, but because they never truly had it in the first place. In fact, even though they were in the church, John says that they are actually “antichrist”, that is – against, instead of, or in place of – Christ. In other words, they actually oppose everything Jesus stands for and strive to set themselves up in His place as the sovereign of their lives. (See 1 John 2:18-19) And Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Notice Jesus never says they didn’t do all those “good” things they claim to have done in His name. He just says He “never knew them” – they were never part of God’s family. So there will be people in the church who act like Christians, talk like Christians, and even work like Christians, that we will praise for their wonderful service for God, but who have never truly given control of their lives over to God. And there will be people in the church who we will wonder, “How in the world can they call themselves a Christian and live and act like that” who will make it to heaven, who Jesus calls brother or sister.

So, back to my question, Do you want to hold on to what seems to be that last little bit of self determination, that last little bit of “I’m in control”? It could very well mean that you are still in complete control, that you really haven’t let God have anything yet. That you are perfectly fine with the pain in your life and how much pain you are causing others, and you truly have no desire to change.

Or are you tired of all the pain? Does the evil around you sicken you? Are you ready for it to end? Then let go of the control of your life – turn it ALL over to God. Surrender the thrown to Him and let Him be in control. Sure you will still try to run things at times. And, yes, you will still make mistakes, but as long as you keep turning back to Him, and asking Him to take over those parts that you keep trying to run, He will change you. He will make you to be more and more like Jesus. Paul likens the process to a crucifixion, and that was not a quick death, it was a long and painful struggle. And so is our transformation into the likeness of Jesus.

God’s desire is for us to be healed, to be free of all our pain and suffering, but until all of Satan’s accusations have been answered, and all of the questions about the nature of evil have been answered for everyone, He will still be forced to work within our freedom of choice and allow us and those around us to do whatever it is we want to do, as long as we do not cross those ultimate boundaries He has set in place.

So what are you going to do about it? Do you want the pain to continue or do you want it to end? Are you going to continue to be entertained by evil or are you going to turn control of your life over to Jesus and let Him teach you to hate evil as He does and let Him use you to fight it wherever it may appear – even if it is fun – even if it is in your life?

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