A sermon delivered on February 10th, 2013.
Do you suffer? Have you experienced a broken heart or a broken arm? Have you been betrayed or falsely accused? Are you alone and misunderstood? Why in an otherwise decent world, full of beauty and good things, do events occur that have no apparent upside? Why does a good God allow suffering?
We have to turn back to the beginning to find out. Have you ever wondered what Jesus was thinking at the moment that Adam ate the fruit, God the Father, commanded Adam not to eat? Adam bit into the fruit and by his action Adam called Jesus’ Father, our father, a liar. The father whom Jesus loved. Who Jesus adored, served, obeyed and revered. Adam bit into that fruit and called God’s Holiness, evil. In that act, in the midst of a paradise, as the king of earth, Adam bowed down and worshiped Satan before the face of God. Adam chewed the fruit and each bite was a tear and gnarling wrench of God’s heart. And at that moment, Jesus entered His suffering at the site of God’s chief creation, God’s image bearer, prostituting himself for the promises of an idol.
At the dawn of time, still rejoicing over the creation made in and through him, Jesus not only witnessed the treachery of man but Jesus was, in that moment, sentenced to death. And that suffering of the Father and the Son and the Spirit would continue as generation after generation proved themselves to be just as treacherous and evil as Adam.
That suffering continued until Jesus laid down His life only to take it up again as the resurrected LORD. And that suffering continues as Christ’s blood spreads from the rivers to the ends of the earth, cleansing everything Adam stained. And what is even more profound about this moment is that it was decreed by God. It was not a shock to Him. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” it says in Job 5:7. Man’s fall plunged God’s world into suffering.
We are fallen creatures and the evil that we experience is the result of what we’ve done to God. No matter what we suffer or experience. Evil that befalls evil creatures is not evil. It’s par for the course. The only one who experiences true evil and who truly suffers is God himself.
Why would God write His own suffering into the story? John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” I don’t want to oversimplify it. But who are you more likely to believe loves you? The God who tells you so or the God who takes on flesh and is willfully executed on your behalf, to save you from yourself? Today we are going to meditate and ponder on how much God loves us. God is the only one who truly suffers; He suffered from us, so He came and suffered for us, so that He could suffer with us.
God suffers from us
The laws and commandments of God are not some created, impersonal force. God is love and it’s no coincidence that love is the summation of the law and prophets. Love is the greatest commandment because the commandment is a codified summation of God’s character. Sin is any act or thought that is contrary to love and love is God. Sin is personal. Sin is one person depriving another of what is rightfully theirs whether it’s Glory due their name, their means of provision, their purity, etc. The suffering of God is caused by man acting contrary to love and so our sins are direct attacks on God’s essence. There is no sin or evil without community. Sin only exists in community. Sin is not committed against a code; it’s committed against a person. We fall short of a standard that is a tri-personal being, not a list of impersonal rules. We sin against God or man by depriving them or harming them, to gratify our own desires.
Evil cannot exist within the Triune God. The Triune God is defined by selfless, other focused sacrifice. The Son cannot deprive or harm the Father to gratify the Sons’ desire or will. The Son can only serve, give and glorify the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit cannot harm or deprive the Father or the Son of anything. The Father cannot harm or deprive the Son or the Spirit of anything. It’s not in their nature. The Triune God is love; selfless, others focused love. God cannot commit evil. No person of the Godhead can gratify their own desires at the expense of the other two.
The first evil was Adam breaking his relationship with the Godhead. Adam gratified his own desires at the expense of his relationship with God. The first evil was harm committed against God. Adam transgressed against the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for his own pleasure. But it did not end at the garden. God has continually suffered at the hands of men for this very same reason. God is the omni-victim of all wrongdoing. No sin can befall you or anyone else, without first befalling God. Every sin is an act against love, against God himself. He is the first victim of every sin. And so God has suffered at the hands of everyone who has ever sinned, which is every man and woman who has ever lived. Since the dawn of time God has suffered at the hands of mankind.
Now, I am not saying that God is some defenseless whelp, incapable to cope with the wretchedness of sin like He’s just a big punching bag. But why isn’t God’s response in the garden just wrathful destruction of fallen man? There is always a tension in scripture between mercy and justice. Look at Exodus. God was revealing himself to Pharaoh through plagues, destruction and judgment, as much as, He was revealing himself to Israel through protection, guidance and redemption. Yet, God is longsuffering and persistently lowers himself to the depths of fallen man to drag us kicking and clawing up out of the filth. God is the healer who is abused by the sick He is saving. And so those who are saved are saved against their will and those who are not saved are graciously given that which their hearts so deeply desire. God doesn’t suffer at our hands against His will. He does it willingly even though we all deserve destruction. He endures man’s rebellion to set us free, if we believe He loves us that much.
Here are a few examples of man’s continual attack on God.
Genesis 6:6 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
David says of Israel in Psalm 78:40 “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!” A good summary of human history is found in Isaiah 63:10 “But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.” And isn’t that the story of God. He has to fight us into submission so that He can give us His love.
We couldn’t list the ways and the men and women who have willfully fallen short of the standard of love that is God. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons, Joshua, Saul, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Peter and the Apostles and Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon and you and me. Every child from Adam to the baby born in the middle of this sentence, has taken out a huge knife of iniquity and stabbed God in the heart with it. Even when we do something right, even when we can produce, as a race, a “good guy,” we read Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Take us away from what? The embrace of love Himself. And all because Adam wanted to be a god instead of honoring God. And if you think you wouldn’t have hurled yourself at that fruit, shoving Eve aside to get at that juicy goodness, than you are kidding yourself.
You do it every day. Your lies call Truth evil. Your covetous hearts and grasping hands call God’s provision evil. Your lusting members call God’s gifts evil. Your backstabbing and backbiting call God’s image-bearers evil. Look at the Ten Commandments. Which one haven’t you broken? And what did you break? God’s heart. You grieve him every day with your relentless rejection of love; with your rejection of God himself. The God who made you suffers at your hands. There are many victims of your desire to serve and please yourself and the first and chief victim is God himself. Your transgressions are spread over many people, but every one of them is a direct assault on God himself. And what is God’s response?
He came to suffer for us
I said just a moment ago, that our sin makes God our enemy. And so God has gone to war against mankind. His champion is a man of no reputation; a plain man, a man with mysterious and suspect origins, an uncultured, uneducated, poor, homeless vagabond who lounges about with prostitutes and crooks, eating and drinking all day. But this man of no reputation heals the lame, the broken and the dead. He speaks into the heart of our pain. Distributes living water that eternally quenches our thirst. He lifts up with a word and forgives. A man whose calling was to suffer. Jesus did not enter human history to become something. He came to reveal. To teach. To cast light into our darkened hearts.
Jesus is the God among us, who entered human history to show us how much our sin has cost Him and how much He is willing to suffer at our hands to win us back to himself. Jesus’ earthly suffering did not begin at His arrest. It began at His birth; it was His profession. Christ is an artist. His life’s work was suffering and His masterpiece was the Cross. But he performed smaller works, like all great artists, in preparation. God has suffered at the hands of mankind since the Garden and to teach us this truth; Christ came to put that suffering on full display.
I am not saying that Jesus only experienced suffering and no joy or happiness while He ministered to mankind. But His vocation was suffering. His role within the Godhead was to be the king who defeated the enemies of God. That required putting to death, death. And He accomplished that by suffering and dying. We see that His works were full of suffering that lead up to His masterpiece of suffering on the cross, which transformed heaven and earth. What kind of Messiah Israel would receive is prophesied in Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces – he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’
And this is precisely what we find in Jesus’s life. In Matthew 2:11, one of the gifts of the Magi is myrrh, which was used to embalm dead bodies. Can you imagine getting that as a baby gift? It would be like someone in our day giving a mother a casket as a gift at a baby shower. Here’s a baby and here’s what He is going to need; embalming fluid. In Luke 2:34-35 Simeon tells Mary “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Why? Because her boy was going to suffer. It says in John 11:35 that when His friend Lazarus died, “Jesus wept.” The God of heaven and earth, who transcends our understanding, weeps at the death of one creature.
What kind of God is this? As Jesus approached Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-42 he said; “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” He laments for Jerusalem again in Luke 13:34 “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! As it said in Isaiah 53, “He was a man whom His own people turned their back on. He came to gather them in like a mother hen and they hated Him, ridiculed Him and sought to kill Him.”
Herod attempted to murder Jesus as a baby in Matthew 2:16. The Pharisees attempted to stone Him in John 10:31. Jews in a synagogue tried to throw Jesus off a cliff for preaching the Gospel in Luke 4:29. A plot to kill Jesus was begun after He brought Lazarus back to life in John 11:53. But that is not all, Jesus is moved with compassion for people’s circumstances in Luke 7:13; Mark 6:34 and 8:2; Matthew 9:36; 14:14 and 15:32. To have compassion means to feel sorrow for the circumstances of others; to make their suffering your own. What kind of God is this?
Jesus bowed His head in the Garden of Gethsemane and sweat blood. Even with everything he had suffered in preparation for this moment, He wasn’t sure He was ready. Could He do it? In Him everything that is made was made. In Him is all life. Would it be enough to swallow the immense void of death that separated mankind from God? Would His Holiness be enough to wash away every filthy thing every man had ever done? It wasn’t just the betrayal of a friend, or the punches, blows and scourging. It wasn’t just the nails driven through His flesh and the abandonment of His friends. After all the suffering Jesus endured throughout His life, God poured out on Jesus every disease, sin, pain, affliction, rape, murder, sorrow, abuse, addiction, loss, turmoil, cancer, curse, deformity, terror, molestation, indecency, indignity, shame and every other evil you can and cannot imagine. And Jesus hung there with His arms spread wide to embrace it all. To suffer it all again, but not as the one to whom it was done to, but as the one who did it.
Death was swallowed up by life and overcome. The Suffering of God himself took away all the suffering we had caused Him since the Garden, so that He could do what He had always wanted to do; be our God and have us for His people. Why? Why would He do such a thing for the very people who had caused the suffering in the first place?
So that he could suffer with us
It says in Isaiah 63:9 “In all their affliction he was afflicted, in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them.” God knew the result of our fall. We plunged the world into death and suffering and God knew we couldn’t overcome it. He knew we couldn’t endure it. God looks on what we have done and has taken pity on our brokenness. We fell so God rescued us. We caused Him to suffer and He suffered it faithfully. We made God our enemy and He fought us with His own suffering and love to stand with us in our suffering because He knew the result of our sin was too much for us to endure. He wanted to win us back to himself.
God was separated from us by sin which caused our affliction and His affliction. We abandoned God, we stabbed God in the heart and God’s heart swallowed up the knife and the mal-intent. Sin has utterly overcome us. In ourselves, we do not have the ability to reconcile with one another. To forgive those who do us harm. To forget the guilt and shame of our own wickedness. To endure longsuffering. We are finite and we are broken. To overcome the weakness of our affliction we need the strength and power of God. God could not dwell with wicked creatures opposed to love. So, He removes the wickedness and enters our hearts to draw us into His life, so that we can overcome our sorrow and suffering.
Ephesians 3:16-19 “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”
Jesus overcame our self-imposed separation from Him, so that He could carry us through our afflictions.
I am not saying that if you accept Jesus as your LORD and Savior that you become immune to sin and suffering. Your afflictions and pain are real. Sometimes they are severe and the only way to overcome them is by living in the power and strength and love that overcame Sin, Satan and Death. In Jesus, we are more than conquerors, even of the brutal, the tragic and the obscene. But you are going to be defeated by the brutal, the tragic and the obscene as long as your rely on your own strength and understanding.
To teach us, God trains us with Grace as it says in Titus 2:11-12. How does God do this?
Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
Pleasure and joy do not cause us to reflect on our condition as fallen men. Sorrow causes us to closely examine our lives. Don’t be surprised when mourning and trial come to your house. The house of mourning and trial is the place we are trained by Grace. Your afflictions are the means God uses to train you in grace and love.
Now I am not saying that God never sends us to the house of mirth or that the House of mirth is wicked. The wise man’s heart dwells in the house of mourning because it forces him to consider the result of sin. In the house of mirth we ignore God just as Moses warned Israel in Deuteronomy 6. The wise man does not merely go about amusing himself, ignoring his fallen condition and the plight of others. And if our hearts do not dwell there, always keeping before our eyes the result of sin and our need and our dependence on God, than God takes us there for a refresher course. But God knows we cannot bear up in the house of mourning. We all need the house of morning to grow up in faith, but the house of mourning is too much for us. We go there alone and it crushes us.
The house of mourning is only bearable if God meets us there with comfort. Just like the Lion’s den is only safe when God is there to close the mouth of the lions. We all forget God in the house of mirth, but in the house of Sorrow we turn to God. We are confronted with our need. C.S. Lewis wrote “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In Christ, the house of sorrow becomes the house of fellowship with God. The more deeply we are confronted by our need and weakness, the deeper we are comforted with Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Our suffering is the hammer and tongs God uses to shape us into eternal vessels of His glory. We go to the house of mourning, we encounter afflictions. Our pride is overcome and our weakness exposed. And if our heart remains there and we honestly confront our fallen state then we willingly turn to Scripture, to fellowship with God’s body the church and to prayer. Then we are mindful we of our need and God’s abundant provision. We reside in the peace that transcends understanding. We come to see that we need help. That we need rescuing. That we need saving. That we need power and strength that we do not have in ourselves.
Why do we suffer? We are sinners who chose our own pleasure over faithfulness to God and so this world was abandoned by man to suffering. But God wants to restore us to joy, to love and to fellowship with Him. So He removed the impediment and joins us in our suffering so that we can survive it and enter the community of love, where we will reside forever more.
Let your heart dwell in the house of mourning. Consistently reflect on your dependence and need. Learn the story of redemption and your place in it. God suffers at your hands. Our sin is a personal rejection and attack on Love Himself; The Triune God. We don’t sin against a code, we sin against a tri-personal God. Because our sins separate us from God’s love and provision and fellowship, He came to suffer for us; to redeem us. Jesus did not enter human history to become something. He came to reveal. To teach. To cast light into our darkened hearts. His vocation was suffering. His role within the Godhead was to be the king who defeated the enemies of God. That required putting to death, death and He accomplished that by suffering and dying. And Jesus hung there with His arms spread wide to embrace it all. To suffer it all again, but not as the one to whom it was done to, but as the one who did it.
He suffered for us to restore us to fellowship with Him. So that he could suffer with us. To show us how much He loves us; to help us bear the suffering of this world that resulted from our sin. We made God our enemy and He fought us with His own suffering and love to stand with us in our suffering because He knew the result of our sin was too much for us to endure.
In Christ, the house of sorrow becomes the house of fellowship with God. The more deeply we are confronted by our need and weakness, the deeper we are comforted with Christ. So when you look around this world and see suffering and evil and wonder why, look to your own heart and what it’s capable of. We are consistently confronted with events that defy our understanding, because we are being directed to something that transcends our understanding; God. Don’t rely on yourself. Don’t put your hope in your determination. You are dependent and God provides and He is faithful. Look to Him. He wants you to be His people and He has proved He is our God; Our savior and our LORD
- The Triune God (theologyaspoetry.wordpress.com)