Where Did All This Evil and Suffering Come From?

#2 in a series.
The universe displays breath-taking beauty. Sunsets and starry skies. Soaring mountains and spiral galaxies. Lilies and roses and frangipani. But! Every leaf that fell from the naked deciduous trees proclaims an unpalatable reality; everything has been marred by some malevolent influence. Each leaf bears evidence of the depredations of either insects or disease.

Not only in the leaves, but everywhere we look we discoverr evidence of defects. Weeds continue to choke the iris and day lilies I planted around the edge of our front lawn. Mosquitoes and black flies pester us in summer. Mice and ants may invade our homes. Birch trees die from the top down. Cankers attack beech trees. Our world often seems like a dangerous place. Floods and drought, typhoons and earthquakes, volcanoes and storms threaten populations. Human beings provoke wars, distribute poison in the form of drugs, abuse children, oppress the poor, and enslave the powerless. And too often an atrocity like the deranged gunman who took 17 lives in a Florida school occurs.

Microbes and bacteria infect our immune systems. We come down with colds and flu, hepatitis and clogged arteries, diminished memories and arthritic knees. Despite the claims of the beauty industry, an aging clock relentlessly ticks away within all of us. Whenever we honestly look in the mirror, we see its effect. Let’s face it, we will all die. One hundred per cent of us.

Why is it like this? For the origin of all imperfection and suffering, we must go back to origins; back to the historic, space-time fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. (Read Genesis 3) As the progenitors of all people, they chose to disobey God and as a result fell from original goodness into sin. Their fall not only set in motion their own deterioration and death but fractured the harmony of the cosmos. And all their progeny have inherited a sinful nature with a twisted bent to selfishness and evil. Women inherited great pain in childbirth. Painful toil in tilling the ground became man’s lot. Thorns and thistles arose along with a myriad other malevolent influences. As someone has said, “All nature is red in tooth and claw”.

Since that historic fall, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”(Rom. 8: 22). This is why the incarnation is so central to history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into our world to begin the restoration process. He calls all men and women to allow him to inject the antidote into our hearts, the antidote that will conquer our bent to selfishness and sin. He earned the right to call us to faith and repentance by dying for our sins upon the cross. Everyone who heeds His gospel call finds himself beginning to be changed from the inside out. (The new birth.) Ultimately, Christ will return to right all wrongs and to restore  the earth to a state of goodness and grace.

So, why do apparently good people, even God’s children suffer? It’s inevitable. We live in an imperfect, fallen world where bad things happen indiscriminately. Fortunately, in the lives of His children God is able to squeeze good from evil. So in spite of evil, let’s celebrate Jesus coming and look forward with hope to His return. Jesus is the promise of the ultimate extinguishment of evil and suffering.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject.

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Dealing With Suffering

Among the seasonal letters we’ve received and in the weekly church prayer list we read a litany of troubles and trials. Several struggle to lovingly care for partners with Alzheimer’s. Some face operations or long periods of recuperation. A number struggle with the grief brought on by the death of life partners. Both Mary Helen and I seem to be in a period of physical challenge.

The reality faced by so many dredges up perennial questions. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do those who serve God seem to suffer as much or more than others? Why not just give up and wallow in misery?

Can the cause of personal suffering be found in the sufferer? The catastrophes that burst on Job led his friends to search in Job’s life for some root of rebellion against God, some sin that would cause God to judge him. They were wrong in thinking that Job brought it on himself. The reasons for Job’s trials were not to be found in him but in a clash between God and Satan. Ultimately, God vindicated Job but did not explain why he lost his sons and his wealth. Instead he called upon him to trust in the infinite and inscrutable wisdom of God.

The story of Job tells us that we will rarely understand why suffering occurs. The cause may be rooted in the rage of Satan in the heavenly places. (Read Job 1) The devil knows that his time is short. He hates God. He hates God’s beautiful creation. And he especially hates all God’s redeemed children. Living as we do in a conflict zone, we must learn to trust in God and put on his full armor. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”(Eph. 6:12).

Asaph had a similar quandary in Psalm 73. He was astonished at the arrogance and prosperity of the wicked in the light of the sufferings of the righteous. Why do they have so few struggles? Why are they so healthy? While, “all day long I have been plagued”(Psalm 73:14). It was only when Asaph took the long view that he saw the doom toward which the wicked were racing—the judgment of God.

In the midst of suffering let’s remember that if we believe in Christ as our savior, we “are aliens and strangers on earth”(Heb. 11:13). Like Abel, Enoch, Abraham and Noah along with the whole catalogue of the faithful in Hebrews eleven may God help us to live by faith, “longing for a better country—a heavenly one”(Heb. 11:16). Jesus has promised to prepare that heavenly place for us. (See John 14:1) And what about our aching, failing bodies? Jesus rose from the dead to be the first-fruits of all those who will inherit an imperishable, immortal, glorious body free from pain, a body like unto His. (See 1 Cor. 15:50-57.)

While faith and hope give us glimpses of a glorious future, let’s not forget to look back to the beginning for the real cause of suffering. Remember, “the sting of death is sin”(1 Cor.15:56). And where did sin come from? I’ll tackle that ultimate question in a subsequent blog.

Meanwhile, as Mary Helen and I struggle with physical ailments, we need to remind ourselves that spiritual health is more important than anything. “Be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise…understand what the Lord’s will is…be filled with the Spirit…always giving thanks to God the Father…put on the full armor of God”(Eph. 5:15,17,18,20; 6:11).

Let me know your thoughts about these issues.

What I’m Learning From Unanswered Prayer

For 62 years, prayer has been an indispensable part of my life. Admittedly, it has often been either formal or hurried, weak or stumbling. I’m no model of a praying Christian. But like many believers I’ve often pondered the mystery of unanswered prayer.

After all, Jesus said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). But Lord, why didn’t you answer my plea for X’s salvation or my healing? Oh, I know the standard answer; “God always answers, either yes, no, or wait awhile.” I believe there is at least another reason.

Let me give you some personal background that has led me to this conclusion. Five or six months ago the date was set for my knee surgery. We immediately began to pray for results that did not include complications, as surgery on the other knee had been accompanied by problems. The surgery took place. The surgeon was pleased. Everything seemed good. But shortly we realized that it was infected. Dealing with the infection delayed healing for some time. Why Lord did this happen? Was the answer to our prayers a simple, no? And why did you not answer our plea?

In the months that followed, prayer for ability to sleep at night was also put on the unanswered prayer pile. What’s going on Lord? Do you not want my joy to be full?

Let me be clear. As a couple, Mary Helen and I have no right to complain to God. He has blessed us in abundant and unusual ways. And my quibble about pain and sleeplessness is minor compared to those who suffer with cancer or debilitating diseases or deal with a tragedy. I’m just trying to understand the many invitations in Scripture to bring our requests to our heavenly Father with the assurance of an answer. So what am I learning?

PATIENCE: God has laid bare my impatience. Why do I have to keep relearning lessons about patience? Have I taken my supposed maturity for granted? Unfortunately, for most of us, patience is something we have to keep relearning. And we can’t develop it without going through trying situations. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3).

EMPATHY: I’m also learning empathy for others, especially those who suffer. This will be a hard lesson. I’m not a very empathetic person. I don’t like hospitals. I don’t even want to go near them. But many in my age group have to visit doctors and hospitals often. And each of us need encouragement, comfort and love. I’ve got a lot to learn about compassion and without it I’m not much use in the kingdom. Paul reminds us of a related reason God sends tribulations into our lives. “The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3). We face troubles so we can understand and empathize with the troubles of others.

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP: I’m also trying to remember that I should lean on God for help more than on my own grit, experience, gifts, and abilities. During my missionary and pastoral career, I often faced tasks beyond my ability. During those years several key verses encouraged me to believe that the very unlikely could happen. One was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Another pointed me to the source of help. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God has worked in wonderful ways down through the years. But I wonder today, how much was His work and how much was me trying to accentuate my own efforts and abilities. I’m realizing more clearly, that when Jesus says, “you can do nothing,” He really means it. We may be able to build a chicken coop or send a man to the moon, but we cannot accomplish anything positive for the Kingdom without His help. And before we realize that we have face to situations where nothing we do works.

FAITH: Christians know that faith is foundational. In the case of a leper and a centurion (in Matthew 8) who came to Jesus, their faith led them to trust him for healing. But faith, as in the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, does not always lead to healing. Abraham and the other patriarchs trusted God’s promises of a glorious future—not for them but their descendants. I wonder if for many of us today, faith requires us to trust God in the dark. Trusting God even when our requests are not met. Walking with God in apparent darkness, sure of our ultimate destination. We are to, “walk by faith not by sight.” We need to be able to say, “though He slay me, [doesn’t answer my prayer] yet will I trust him.”

Trusting God during periods when He seems distant or silent is not something unusual. Think of slaves trusting God in their misery. Think of Christians wallowing in foxholes during wartime. Think of Christians waiting for healing in cancer wards.

Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers? Often it is because He knows that we will learn more about Christian living and walking by faith if He doesn’t respond to our every request. When He seems silent, He is probably working to make us more Christ-like in patience, faith, compassion, and a host of other godly characteristics. Lord, help me to learn more and grumble less. Help me to accept these tough but necessary lessons in discipleship.

How do you respond to this blog? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have something to add to this meditation?

ABRAHAM, MAN OF FAITH

The biographies of notable men and women teach us a great deal about how to live and how to be successful. Many have been inspired to innovate by reading about Bill Gates and Paul Allan, co-founders of Microsoft. Others have been inspired to show courage in peril by Churchill, Britain’s leader through the terrible days of the Second World War.

Most bdscn4962-2.jpgiographies are flawed, however. They don’t give an unbiased record of the mistakes and sins of their heroes. Some inflate the good qualities of the subject; others exploit their flaws for sensational effect. The Bible alone can be fully trusted. In the Bible we have an infallible record of the whole story, good or bad. Because of this, the Bible is a peerless source of life principles; giving us both inspiration and warnings.

Let me introduce some of the life lessons we discover from the life of Abraham, who was first called Abram.

Abram’s father Terah, brought up his family in the teeming cesspool of idolatry that was Ur in present day Iraq. The environment of Ur must have grieved Terah. When God called his son, Abram, to leave Ur and go to the promised land of Canaan, Terah immediately affirmed his calling. He “took his son Abram and his grandson Lot,…and his daughter-in-law Sarai…and they went out” (Gen. 11:31). They got as far as Haran where Terah died. When God speaks to our children we should encourage them to follow God’s leading and not throw hindrances in their way.

The Lord “spoke to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great…’” (Gen. 12:1,2). Imagine leaving all you know, trusting in a promise of God, and becoming a wanderer with no fixed address. “By faith Abraham obeyed” (Heb. 11:8). Genuine Christians are called children of Abraham—not liberals or conservatives, democrats or republicans—because they obey God’s promises. In reality, Christians are sojourners on earth, citizens of a higher kingdom, travelling through life on their way to heaven. In this life, they are often called to go to in unknown and surprising directions. Are we open to hear God’s call on our life? Are we submissive to His will even if it means uprooting our family?

God promised Abram “I will bless you and make your name great”. In the 4000 years since few except Moses, David, Elijah and Peter have names as honourable as Moses. A person doesn’t become truly great by winning an election or excelling in sports or getting an Oscar or making millions. No, true greatness comes to those who obey and trust God fully. “Abraham believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness”. Help us to entrust our salvation and our name-recognition to God.

Abraham built altars and “called on the name of the Lord” wherever he traveled. May the Lord help us to make our homes—or our hotel rooms—altars where we call on God’s name daily.

Abram was chosen by God to receive a covenant promise of a land, a nation, a great name, and of being a blessing to all nations. His descendants had to wait 400 years to receive the land, “until the iniquity of the Amorites [was] full.” Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this covenant promise, for through him and by the proclamation of the gospel, all nations are blessed.

Sarai, Abram’s wife, was very beautiful. During a famine in Canaan, Abraham took his family to Egypt, but feared that Pharaoh might lust after his wife and kill him. He persuaded her to pretend she was his sister. Although Pharaoh was attracted to Sarai, he saw through Abram’s lie, rebuked him, and sent him on his way. How could Abram do this? Because he was sinner like all of us. This record of his sin demonstrates the honesty of the Bible. No other religious book is as honest and accurate about its heroes, as the Bible— a mark of its inspiration from God. Lord help us all to trust the Bible as the Word of God. [This study to be continued.]

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

DESIGN & ORDER amidst human disorder

 

Newscasts trumpet misery, scandal and chaos. BUT! As I wander down summDSCN5023 (3)er DSCN4962 (2)pathways and drive along our country roads I’m impressed by a recurring theme. Whether it’s the tiniest beetles I find on leaves or the rising of the moon, there is evidence of design–and of the Designer.

DSCN2805 (2)It’s the same when I gaze on the apparently bewildering display of creativity among flowers. Or the astounding intricacy of a snowflake. Or the various plumages of birds or even the blades of grass DSCN5204 (2)in a farmer’s field. Variety but not randomness fills our world with a richness and interest our busy lives usually lead us to ignore.

From sunsets to cloud formations, from eyesight to dandelion fluff all around us throbs the evidence of an omnipotent Creator. “Day after day they pour forth speech.”  Too often our ears throb with a cacophony of artificially generated sounds.

Lord, help us to pause, to look around, and to lift our hearts in worship and praise–and even appeal. DSCN3181 (2)Truly, “this is my Father’s world.” This Father can bring order and redemption to our disordered and broken lives.

January Sunset

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WHO WAS THIS ADAM GUY?

If we read literature of any kind we can’t escape references to Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Moses, Delilah and Bathsheba, Mary and Joseph. Who were these people? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All these and many more inhabit the Scripture’s story line. Depending, of course, on your view of Scripture they may be historical or mythological.

Personally, I believe that Scripture is the most comprehensive and accurate record of history that we have. Unlike Zeus or Ulysses, these were real people. There is far more proof for the Bible’s authenticity than for ancient Greek or Roman writing. But more important, the lessons they teach us about life, for good or ill, are of inestimable value.

Character defines who we are more than our stature, ethnic background or hair colour. And our family and the people we hung out with have influenced our character for good or ill. In this series of blogs, I invite you to hang out with Bible characters. Let their livDSCN2176 - Copyes impact you for good. Learn to embrace their good qualities and avoid their mistakes.

Of course, if your character is already perfect [tongue firmly in cheek] you might want to follow these blogs just to bone up on universals embedded in Western culture. Allusions to the ten commandments, the good Samaritan, Bathsheba, Samson, and so on.

Consider first Adam, who–as indicated by Jesus Himself–was not a type or symbol of humanity but a real person. God created Adam in His own moral image and gave him responsibility to steward the resources of earth at a time when the environment was ideal. “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed”(Gen 2:8).

Within the godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit enjoy a loving and expressive relationship with each other. God knew, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). And so He created Eve as Adam’s companion to somewhat replicate the divine interaction of the persons of the godhead. Alexander Whyte in this book on Bible Characters describes Eve as “sweet, warm, tender, wistful, helpful, fruitful—a love full of 00008_s_15amtvyymk0021nice and subtle happiness.”

Loving relationships form the foundation of human experience. We were created to relate to others not to live as loners. In relating well to one another, in marriage and in other human relationships we reflect the image of God in us.

As divine image-bearers Adam and Eve possessed qualities that reflected on a limited scale divine qualities. Their intellectual ability qualified them to communicate and investigate. Their creative ability enabled them to originate things and value beauty. Their administrative ability prepared them to wisely care for the world. Their moral image enabled them to be and do righteously. “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”

We should celebrate the amazing potential that God has created within us. That potential should move us to use our abilities to bless the places where we live. As a children’s song tells us, “God don’t make no junk.” As image-bearers we should honour and respect all people. Racism, prejudice, and arrogance are clearly sub-human, evil.

Adam and Eve were placed in an idyllic garden where they could enjoy fruit from all the trees except one–the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One prohibition! They had free will to choose to obey or not. They faced thousands of positive, attractive, nutritious options. Delicious fruits. Only one temptation. WOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhat did they do? What will we do with all the healthy, constructive, godly options that we enjoy? Will we choose obedience or will we be drawn to harm ourselves by choosing hurtful options?

Satan slithered into the garden and temped Eve. He said, “You shall not surely die for in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen3:5). She “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…gave to her husband” (Gen 3:6). Temptation exerts a powerful appeal to us by enticing us through the lust of the flesh (an appeal to our physical appetites), the lust of the eyes (an appeal to something we want to possess) and the pride of life (something to enhance our ego). Let us ask the Lord to help us recognize temptation in these three areas and resist its downward pull.

Eve chose to disobey the one command God gave her. Adam knew it was wrong but yielded to Eve’s offer of the fruit. Both broke God’s command. But when asked by God what they had done they pointed their fingers instead of accepting blame. Eve blamed the serpent, Adam blamed Eve and God! Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.” Eve said, “the serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12,13)

DSCN4987 (2)Both Adam and Eve played the blame game. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve. Part of the fallen nature that we inherit includes the propensity to blame others for our sins and weaknesses. Our parents. Our education. The government. The environment we grew up in. The church. Our friends. God. If we would mature spiritually, we need to stop blaming others and accept personal responsibility.

From Adam and Eve we learn about our need for relationships; the fantastic potential enshrined in ever human; the importance of obeying God’s commands; the need to make careful, moral choices; and about our propensity to blame others for our sins.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca –  Facebook: Eric E Wright –   Twitter: @EricEWright1  –  LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

 

Is Fiction Inferior to Non-fiction?

Many of the people I meet at book tables explain to me that they only read non-fiction. The implication is that fiction is somehow inferior. Just give me the facts whether of history or engineering or finance—write it out for me in logical order.

Non-fiction writing has great value. I’ve written nine non-fiction books and many articles. But soon after my book, Revolutionary Forgiveness was published, a neighbour asked me a question. “Why don’t you write about forgiveness using the medium of a story with descriptions of characters dealing with bitterness and hurt?’

Good question. I still feel it is important to summarize biblical teaching on forgiveness [and other subjects] and give examples of those who have abandoned bitterness and resentment. But in some ways fictional characters and situations can illustrate more deeply the thoughts and feelings, the anguish and pain of unforgiveness. Fiction can also reflect powerfully on the subtleties of joy and peace that comes with forgiveness.Scan_20170327 (5)

Consider historical fiction. It is one thing to read the facts and figures of life and death, of battles and defeats that occurred in World War Two. But when we read, for example, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doer, the effects of the war on allies and enemies become stark. We feel the story. A French family with a blind daughter open up to us the anguish and fears that reverberate deep inside the psyches of an occupied people. In the same book, a German family gives us an agonizing glimpse into the pressures and fears that drove many to conform and even resort to unbelievable cruelty under the Reich.

Rust Bucket jpeg, 288 pixOr take slavery. We are told that there are an estimated 27 million slaves today; men, women and children being trafficked for sale to brothels, farms, and businesses. Telling the true story of one or two who escaped can put a face on this evil. However, fiction, written, as I have done in Captives of Minara and Rust Bucket, helps to illuminate both those who traffic and those who are kidnapped. We can gain a heightened a sense of the unbridled malevolence of its practitioners and agony of the victims.

What about indigenous affairs in North America? The Back of the Turtle or The Inconvenient
Indian
by Thomas King, or Susan Cooper’s The Ghost Hawk probably accomplish more in raising awareness and sympathy than a dozen government studies.

Think of geogrScan_20170327 (6)aphy. In Christy, by Catherine Marshall, we journey back in time to an earlier day in t
he Great Smoky Mountains. We might be able to read depictions of the flora and fauna, the slang of the people and their superstitions in non-fiction books but we would miss the living sense she gives of people and place. We would not feel ourselves walking with Christy among spring dogwoods.

Consider terrorism and Islam. We have myriad books written about Islam, pro and con, but without fiction books such as The ReScan_20170327 (4)luctant Fundamentalist, or The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahanjan, we will miss insights into the influences moving liberal Muslims to become militant as well as the anguish of those affected by their militancy.

But let me hammer in the final nail in the coffin of those who restrict their reading to non-fiction. Do you mean to tell me that the method of the greatest teacher of all time is defective? That is, should we discount the parables and stories Jesus told to teach us about how to act and believe? The parable of the good Samaritan. The Lost Sheep. The Rich Man and Lazarus. I doubt any would go that far. Jesus not only taught straight-forward principles—the sermon on the mount—but a multitude of stories. He was the penultimate story-teller. It is an honourable calling.

Give fiction a try…but be careful of your choices. Not all fiction is created equal.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright  Also check out his books on Amazon.)

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