Friday, November 19, 2010

Acknowledging Sin's Role in Suffering

After learning from Jeremiah that one way to suffer righteously is to identify with and suffer along with those who are suffering, we come to this next lesson: we are to acknowledge sin to be at the root of suffering.

Just as it is significant that Jeremiah identifies with the suffering of his people even though he had little to no part in bringing it about, it is also significant that in his deep mourning Jeremiah acknowledges Israel’s sin. Unlike Job, Jeremiah’s lamentations in response to suffering contain no protest of innocence. He confesses that this judgment is due to “the multitude of her transgressions” (Lam 1:5) and that she “sinned greatly” (Lam 1:8-9) and “rebelled against His command” (Lam 1:18). He goes on to say that Israel’s iniquity had exceeded even that of Sodom (Lam 4:6), and that even the prophets and the priests worked unrighteousness (Lam 4:13). He makes no excuses for the people, but accepts their responsibility for the suffering they are experiencing.

Now, it’s important that we make the point that not everyone who suffers suffers as a direct result of particular sin. That’s an error that Job’s counselors made, and they were severely rebuked for it when God showed up at the end of the book. It's also an error Paul's opponents made against him in 2 Corinthians, and throughout that letter he presents his suffering as evidence for the authenticity of his apostleship, not as evidence for its falsehood.

However, we do need to acknowledge that on a general level, all suffering is a result of the condition of sin that we find ourselves in as children of Adam. Had we not sinned in Adam, and had the human race never fallen into sin, we would never have known suffering (Gen 3:7-24; Rom 5:12; Rom 8:19-25).

And because of our sin, we all deserve to suffer infinitely and eternally, to a horrifying degree and all the time. The comfort that we do receive when we suffer from the “Father of mercies” (2Cor 1:3) is just that: mercy. And that the comfort is mercy implies that we do not deserve it, for mercy is the withholding of deserved punishment. Part of our problem in responding to suffering righteously is thinking that we are entitled to something other than suffering. Yet really, we deserve much worse than we even experience.

2 Peter 2:4 – …God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.

That we are all not suffering eternally in hell at this very moment is a sheer gift of God. The only difference between our sin and the sin of the angels who were damned without mercy is that our sin was graciously paid for by the perfect sacrifice of Christ (cf. Heb 2:16).

And so when we undergo intense suffering, we should not act surprised as if we deserved something better (cf. 1Pet 4:12). We should acknowledge what Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3:39-40: “Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins? Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to Yahweh.” When in our times of suffering we are tempted to complain, we should be reminded that we are but dust, are entitled to nothing good at all, and thus -- because in ourselves we are hopelessly sinful -- even in intense suffering we get better than we deserve.

Jeremiah's Five Lessons

  1. He identifies with, and suffers alongside, his people.
  2. He acknowledges that sin is at the root of suffering (even though not all suffering is a direct result of personal sin).
  3. He acknowledges God’s absolute sovereignty in his suffering.
  4. He recognizes that although God is sovereign, He is not the enemy.
  5. He sets his hope entirely on, and rests in, God’s character.

1 comment:

Janna Riccardi said...

Living life in view of our sin and in view of His mercy (in view of reality) really turns around our perspective! No complaining, no questioning God's goodness; only gratefulness and complete trust in God's perfect will.