December 9, 2010

Evil & Suffering III: God's Good Purposes

Paradoxes: Sin-Evil-Suffering-Pain and God’s Good Purposes

So...if sin and evil are ontological parasites of good and are the opposite of holiness we need to assume that pain, suffering and evil in general are not holy in and of themselves and are also possibly a by-product of ontological parasitism? This was a mouthful so let me explain. God did not directly create sin, evil, suffering or pain but they are allowed to exist now that they are already here and because God is all-powerful he can work through all things including the evil actions of men (Genesis 50:20) or a sequence of events in a fallen creation. Because of this we also have to assume that evil actions can sometimes have good end results as in the case of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. It is in these circumstances that we as Christians begin to get a clearer picture of just how powerful God really is. Until we begin to see God in these terms we cannot truly understand His sovereignty and purposes.

Yes, God is that powerful. He can actually find ways to work through the pain and suffering to produce and end result that is good and dare I say holy. Why would God work through the actions of evil men such as Joseph’s brothers? We know the answer to this because of how the story of Joseph ends up. Joseph is exalted to the second highest position in the land of Egypt. There were a few reasons for this but the foremost was Joseph’s faithfulness and obedience to God. In his obedience we see him early in life often driven down and subjected to suffering but God lifting Him up and rewarding towards the end of his life seems to outweigh the bad. Again I ask the question, why? God is glorified. God lays down the rules people obey and they are rewarded. People disobey and they inevitably are subjected to punishment. If the punishment is in this world it is done to humankind to hopefully produce a positive affect I the person.

We see this same paradox and its culmination in Jesus Christ and the Kenosis in Philippians and it is the pattern for believers and believer’s suffering. It is also here that we see suffering of a humbled innocent man in stark contrast to the backdrop of injustice. In the closing verses of the kenosis we see the reason why and for what purpose and its impact when fully understood is striking.

The Humble Innocent:
“…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (MacArthur ESV, Philippians 2:8-9)

The Purpose:

“and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:11)

Within this passage we can see the example of an innocent suffering. When the world says that God shouldn’t allow suffering of an innocent they clearly fail to understand God’s purposes in His actions in history. It was only through an innocent's suffering that sin could be forgiven. The sacrifices of the Old Testament which were shadows of the once-and-for-all perfect sacrifice or Jesus Christ, the unblemished sacrifice-a holy sacrifice to gain the forgiveness of God. All so humankind could be restored to the relationship they had first had with God in the beginning.

This paradox or “lowering to exalt” or “suffering to gain” usually stops people dead in their tracks because it goes outside the scope of “reasonable” outcomes for most human minds. It is the paradox of being torn down so that we can be lifted up or emptied so that we can be filled. It is a catharsis or purging of the self and a refilling of God or the Holy Spirit. To the sinful or reprobate human mind it is counterintuitive. How can a negative + negative + negative = a positive? Having been presented with this second paradox we can begin to see that even though God is not directly responsible for evil and did not create it, because He is abundantly merciful and full of grace he is patient with mankind giving them every opportunity to repent he allows evil and suffering to exist for sovereign purposes and can work through it or use it. Again I will revert back to the example of Christ, this time at his crucifixion. We see in Jesus’ crucifixion the most horrendous and evil miscarriage of justice and example of brutality towards an innocent man in history. Not just any man but the God-man. In Christ’s crucifixion we see the most supreme example of a sovereign God working through evil providentially. Working through an evil that He did not create to exact a redemptive transaction that ultimately glorifies Him, the Son of God. It also glorifies anyone that will believe in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as it was prophesied in Scripture.

I have only addressed one aspect of theodicy and it is the aspect or one angle that deals solely with humankind and its relations to God during the experience of evil, pain or suffering. To surmise, it would suffice to say that sometimes, to be able to fly, man needs to be driven to his knees. This only scratches the surface of man and his suffering subsequent to The Fall of Genesis and its direct aftermath: Humanity’s damaged relationship with God. There is more and it will be elaborated on further posts.

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