And the man said, “The woman whom THOU gavest to be with me, she gave me of he tree, and I did eat. (Gen. 3:12)
I am sometimes baffled that the church seems to be perpetually stuck in this phase of trying to figure out why God ‘allows’ suffering in the world, in our lives, etc. Baffled not because I don’t understand it, but baffled because we just don’t seem to move on from it. I have, from time to time, received from certain relatives literature on coping with hardship, loss, difficulty, etc. from the perspective of ‘coming to an understanding of why God allows such things in our lives.’
I can surmise that to a large degree these relatives, in compassion, are passing such literature to me because from their perspective I must be (because of of certain things they know about me) in a place that I am wrestling with such issues in my belief. I believe these are attempting to show me that in he end, God’s will and plan will work out for our good no matter how they might currently seem. I appreciate the concern shown by these certain relatives, but I am not on the same theological footing that they may assume I am on, and the question of God’s ‘allowance’ of difficulties does does not plague me, but I do understanr it is a consistently prevalent question in the Church, so much so, in fact that it seems I cannot avoid discussing the issue with other Christians who I attwmpt to encourage in the Lord. Such a prevalent issue it is that it sits directly in the roadway: smack in the center of prevalent theological thought.
I realize that a large part of the reason reason why is because this question lies at the foundation of many Christian ministers’ theological perspective and their teaching is seasoned with it clear through.
One of the books I recieved (somewhat) recently from one of these relatives – for example – was a discussion of the book of Job, and God’s ‘allowance’ of his suffering, from the perspective of understanding his ‘allowance’ for suffering in our life.
Now, I’ve written a couple of posts about the book of Job, and its overall meaning which is lost on us entirely when we are of the mindset to lay blame for our suffering on God. That is, in fact, the one thing Job was rebuked for as well as his counsellors: that they all blamed God for the suffering of Job… but since that statement alone is in such contrast to what you’ve probably been taught, I’ll take a momment to show that:
The three counsellors of Job – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar – are rebuked of God (Job 42:7-9), and so likewise was Job. But the fourth man, Elihu was not rebuked of God. Elihu is, in fact the type of Christ in the book of Job; he justifies both God, and Job, and he teaches the way of salvation (search my blogsite for my other posts about the book where I make a more thorough case about Elihu being typologically Christ, the redeemer).
Elihu points out the thing that Job WAS wrong about – the reason God rebuked Job:
Job hath spoken without knowledge, and his words without wisdom.
For he addeth rebellion unto his sin, he clappeth his hands among us and multiplieth his words against God.
Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, “My righteousness is more than God’s?” (Job 34:35 & 37; 35:2)
When God rebuked Job, the bottom line was this: that he put he blame on God:
Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct Him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it
Wilt thou dissanul my judgment? wilt thou reprove me that thou mayest be righteous? (40:2 & 8)
Both God and Elihu rebuke Job for just one thing: with the words of his mouth, in his suffering he was so concerned about justifying himself that he attributed evil to God: that the Lord was unjustly afflicting a righteous person.
But as Elihu points out, God does not afflict us:
Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: he is excellent in power, and in judgment and in plenty of justice:He will not afflict. (37:23)
Again, search my posts on Job for a more detailed discussion, the point I want to draw out is that Job and his friends were rebuked for holding this same prevalent theology.
I started this post with Adam’s response to God after the first sin. Adam sinned. Yet, when God asked him whether he sinned, Adam first blames God, before admitting: “The woman THOU gavest me…” he also blames his wife… but really only as the tool through which he blames God.
Whenever I have this discussion (or one that dances close to it), people ALWAYS ask me: ‘Then why did God make man if He knew man would sin?’
Since I’m always asked that, I will assume you wonder the same. This is my response to that question: think like Elihu.
The question itself blames God for sin. The base assumption is that God is responsible for sin either directly or indirectly, the very fact that we ask such a loaded question – and it is a loaded question, there is no way to answer the question without making God culpable for the fact hat WE sin because the question has already assumed it.
Put another way, the question is human self-justification at the expense of the righteousness of God. Like Adam, we don’t want to accept responsibility for our sin, so we put it back on God. ‘Well why did He make me then, if He knew I was going to sin?’ Like Adam’s: ‘YOU gave me this woman, SHE led me to sin.’
Perhaps there’s another way of seeing this that is more tangible to us. Consider a mother. Many women long to be mothers, want to have children. Ah, but they know when they really think about it that their child will do something wrong. Does that mean it’s the mother’s fault when the child does do something wrong just because she knew it would happen eventually, and desired to have children anyways?
Now, in some sense it may be the mother’s fault if the child does something wrong: in the instance that she did not try to teach the child any better. If she didn’t tell the kid “Don’t touch the burner.” Then the child would not be responsible if she burned her hand; but as long as the mother does everything in her power to teach the child correctly, it is not her fault if the child chooses to do wrong. Yet we blame God for sin, sickness, suffering, affliction – all of which we bring into the world through disobedience – even though He taught Adam NOT to eat of the tree.
When we justify ourselves in wrongdoing, we automatically blame someone else. Even Eve blamed the serpent; and even this in the end blames God, because: ‘Who made the serpent?’ This is a primary message to the book of Job; Job justified himself, and thus blamed God for his affliction.
This is the typical human response. Some might say that we received this tendency with the original sin, but more accurately: the story of Genesis 3 simply reveals that this is the common response of our flesh when we let it reign over us (There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man… (1 Cor. 10:13)): we justify ourselves; in doing so we assign the blame to someone else. Someone is to blame, for evil WAS committed, and someone IS responsible.
We may sympathize with Adam’s blaming everyone else (in fact we do sympathize with it, which is why we do it ourselves), or at least with his wife’s blaming the devil, but they were in charge of the whole of God’s creation (Gen, 1:26-30). If that creation resisted the law of God which man knew full well, it was man’s prerogative to rebuke that created thing, not to disobey God on account of a creature’s testimony above God’s.
The end of our self-justification is that God, our Creator, is the one indicted for our evil committed by us (“did He not create us? It is His fault, then that WE did evil”). And so we blame God for doing what was good: creating all things.
Self-justification is a sin (…and all our righteousness are as filthy rags… (Is. 64:6)).
Additionally, when we justify ourselves, not only do we indict God but we also leave ourselves no room for God to justify us. Adam did not throw himself on the mercy of God when he sinned, and I wonder how different his judgment would have been if he did.
Just as I pointed out, there IS blame, but the blame for sin (and other things) is upon the one who committed it. Because there is guilt, blame must be determined, and God is not fooled by our blaming others – nor certainly Him. Blame must be determined because the guilty party must be punished – which is the very reason we don’t want to accept blame. While we’re at it, you don’t sin because you have a ‘sin nature’ (which, again blames God, who would have created you with that ‘nature’?) you sin for the same reason I do: you choose to do according to the desires of your flesh over what you know is right. We choose to sin.
HOWEVER God does not want us to die in our sins – He did not create us for wrath, but to be in fellowship with Him. Therefore, despite the fact that He is not to blame for our evil, yet He took upon Himself the punishment for it so that we – who are to blame – might be justified.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
When we justify ourselves, we disqualify ourselves from the grace of God who would justify us perfectly through His own sinless blood. On the judgment day, would you rather attempt to justify yourself, and so lay blame to your innocent Judge, or receive the true and complete justification through His sacrifice by confession of guilt?
I know what I would rather do. Throw yourself on the mercy of the court for far from being culpable of evil, your Judge is Good, and merciful to them that confess their sin.
He that covereth his sin shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. (Prov. 28:13)
This is why I am not of a theological persuasion that declares God absolutely sovereign over all events (specifically I’m speaking of Calvinism) – the theology, itself, relieves us of culpability for sin and indicts God for it. It seems to be a theological perspective which canonizes God’s culpability for evil. The we look at it (even those who believe it) and say: “We’ll never understand the ways of God!” Yes, just as God told Job when Job blamed God to justify himself:
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? (Job 38:2) And as Elihu said: Job hath spoken without knowledge, and his words without wisdom. (34:35) Because we recieved a theology which blames God for evil.
Okay, so I’ve been dealing specifically with sin, and our blame of God for it, but I started with suffering. This fundamental Gospel principle I’ve been speaking about applies to suffering. Is God to blame for our suffering? No, the blame is not God’s. At the outset, suffering, sickness, death all have come as a result of man’s sin.
Just as God gave us Christ to justify us of our guilt even though we lay the blame upon Him, even so God also works ceaselessly in our behalf to redeem us even though we are surrounded with sin and iniquity that we created. In fact, He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). All of the wickedness, and suffering, and evil and death that we are responsible for, even these He IS WORKING for our good. Everything He does is good.
Can God use suffering to build us? Absolutely He can, but that doesn’t mean the suffering is His will, it means He can take something bad and use even it for good. Is there a suffering ‘according to God’s will’? Yes, Jesus Christ suffered according to God’s will that He might redeem us. Likewise all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). All suffering according to God’s will, though, will be redemptive either for you, or for someone else. If we are striving to be like Christ, suffering with Him should be a joy, not something we blame God for.
God’s primary goals are that the lost might be saved (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9), and that the saved might be sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3). These are he ends He is working toward, howbeit, man is working against Him. You and I get to live in this world that we might be witnesses of His goodness: that God is not to be blamed, but is righteous and redemptive even toward the wicked. It is with Him that we suffer – if we suffer according to the will of God – and not because of Him.