January 4, 2011

Evil & Suffering XVII: Suffering To Sanctification (or Beyond)

Potential Reasons For Existence of Evil  and Suffering II:

Evil and Suffering to Build Character

The Bible is replete with examples of evil being used to shape individual people and mankind in general. I will briefly outline a few the I believe have their undergirding based in the bible. What I will say in preface to this is that these examples and explanations bring glory directly to God because in most of them it is God clearly working providentially behind and through these stories/narratives. This idea in and of itself is the primary overriding "acceptable" reasoning for any evil or suffering in my mind (as if God needed my acceptance of it). Any other reason to me seems passe and nearly or totally unacceptable from any human perspective.  When humans themselves are unsettled by the existence of these evils and sufferings, how much more would man's Creator be moved by it and wish its eradication? If it has not been eradicated...then logic and reason points towards an ultimate purpose or even a need for it.

To Assist In Sanctification

As we become more sanctified we become more holy. When we become more holy we become less like the world and more like Christ (John 17:16-19). As we become more like Christ we become more kingdom/heaven minded. Suffering is part of Christ’s story and its part of His life. In this way it is also part of our story since we have accepted His supreme acts of sacrifice which also included endurance of pain. It is through this suffering that we begin to share our humanity with Christ in a way that makes us become like Christ (Romans 8:29). In our sufferings as humans we begin to “be conformed to the likeness of his Son” [God’s]. When we share in his suffering and His death we share in His life (as mentioned elsewhere). The more we become indwelt by the Holy Spirit and the more of Christ we take on in our lives the more we die to self. God brings trials and suffering into our lives in way that builds us and makes us stronger in the Lord, just as the heat brought to bear on steel in the right amounts tempers the steel or case-hardens it to make it stronger or more durable. Justification (in righteousness) and salvation happens in an instant but sanctification (made more holy) takes an individual’s remaining life to take effect. This view is similar to the Irenaeus/Hick view except that it does not implicate God as the cause of evil and suffering. Instead He works through it now that it has been put into motion by His creation and their free will. The truth is that we need to be chipped and chiseled away and to die in multiple ways (figuratively and literally) in the process of sanctification to achieve our true glorification in Jesus Christ. We need to have the world scraped out or us and off of us before we can be presented in our glorification at physical death to the Father. The multiple “deaths” or chipping looks are done as noted below (Howard 133-139, 152).
(1) Death to Sin - Legal death: It happens to all Christian by the fact of our union with Jesus Christ, His death and His Resurrection. In this union not only are we forgiven but we also share in the benefits of God’s gift of eternal life but we also share in His death as is symbolized in our baptism. Where we can we must kill the sin in our lives and/or resist it. Sin cannot be free to manifest itself whenever it feels like it wants. You are to control it through a sanctification process with Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

(2) Die to Self - Moral Death: It is called self-mortification, to denying one’s self or taking up one’s cross. The result is a committed fellowship with a fellow suffering servant. It is not a death that we have done directly to ourselves but rather something that we do to ourselves through the power of the Spirit. We kill our old nature (Col 3:5-11).

(3) Carrying Christ's Death in Us - Physical Death: We must carry the life and the death of Jesus Christ in us so that it is revealed to the world in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:9-10). This is clearly carried out plainly in our bodies. It speaks of our infirmities, weaknesses and our mortality. It is why Paul said, “I die daily” in 1 Corinthians 15:30-31. It is human frailty. The subsequent resurrection is the inward vitality or renewal in a Christian’s life with Jesus that continues to renew us in hope until our last breath (Stott, 273).
It is this last “death” that fits squarely in the area of theodicy because no matter how you go, physical death is not pretty. We are brought down in our physical bodies either quickly or slowly. If we die slowly there is an element of suffering involved more so than if we went quickly. There is pain and anguish involved in some way usually physically, mentally or both. At some point we will need to be weaned from this world anyway. It is better to start early and make it a gradual process than have it be a traumatic event towards the twilight years of our lives (or not; death stinks...period). The sooner believers can accept that their mortality is inevitable the sooner they can think clearly on things that are of heavenly importance and realize that everything they see around them is transient and temporary, especially the evil and suffering (Howard 156, 158) unless of course they have not repented and accepted Christ.

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