According to Oxford Dictionaries, the word ‘tarnish’ means, ‘lose or cause to lose luster, especially as a result of exposure to air or moisture.’ Synonyms listed are: corrode, discolor, oxidize and/or rust. 1
In his book, Rust: The Longest War, Jonathan Waldman takes us chapter by chapter into the world of oxidation and the problem of rust. He tells the story of how America almost lost the Statue of Liberty to corrosion, the constant struggle needed to maintain oil
Many of us remember when on August 1, 2007, a bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota suddenly collapsed during the evening rush hour. One hundred eleven vehicles rode the surface of the bridge down 100 feet to the surface of the water and riverbank, with 13 people killed and 145 injured. A school bus with 63 children returning from a field trip ended up resting on a guardrail at the bottom. What caused the bridge to collapse? Iron in the bridge reacted chemically with oxygen and the result is a reddish-brown product that we call rust.
What does this remind you of?
Every time I see an orange cone it reminds me that asphalt degenerates and concrete crumbles.
In fact, every time I see rust or tarnish or orange cones I am reminded that everything on this planet is either tarnishing, rusting, rotting, crumbling, decaying, decomposing, dying.
Last Thursday I gave my Disciple Class a tour of the universe in which we viewed this awe-inspiring photo of the innocent-looking good earth. And from this vantage point who could ever believe that our planet is what I am calling ‘the tarnished planet.’ But we know it is and because that is so, we at times experience anguish, despair, frustration, grief, heartache, tragedy, sickness and death.
When the experiences brought about by our tarnished planet rudely intrude into our otherwise peaceful lives, it is natural for us to ask questions.
Sometimes we ask, who? Is God responsible for this happening to me? Or is it someone else, or perhaps even me.
Sometimes we ask, what? What did I do to deserve this?
Or when, when is this sad period of my life ever going to come to an end?
Sometimes we ask, where? Where is God when I feel so alone?
Most often we ask, why? Why does life have to be so cruel? Why do bad things happen to good people? And ultimately, why does a good God allow bad things to happen?
These are some of the questions I want to address in the next few weeks as together we explore what the Bible says about two concepts:
- God’s role in pain and suffering
- Our response to pain and suffering.
But before we dig into those two topics, I think it would be wise for us take a step back in order to grasp the bigger picture of what the Bible says about the origins of pain and suffering. If we could somehow take an Empire State
Paradoxically, the Bible traces the entrance of pain and suffering into the world to a wonderful, yet woeful characteristic of human beings . . . FREEDOM.
“You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat this fruit, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16).
Adam and Eve were not only the first humans,
Of all the animals that were created, God gave the species we call human the freedom to choose what we do and do not do. It’s what makes us different from all other species on the planet. We alone have been released from living purely instinctual lives that characterize the animal kingdom. We have been given the freedom of choice; a bane as well as a blessing. For, given our freedom, we introduced a new element to the planet: rebellion!
Last Tuesday, we walked into an antique shop in South Haven, Michigan and were greeted by a full-grown grizzly (Kodiak) bear. My sister said she was glad she was stuffed, because how frightening it would be to run across a wild animal like that. It’s so easy for us to talk about wild animals but I propose to you that humans are really the wild animals. All other animals are tame; that is, they follow the bounds of their God-given design. We are the real wild animals because we alone of all God’s creatures stand up to God, shake our fists at Him and dare to say, “I’ll do what I want to do so You’d just better but out and leave me alone.”
Most remarkable of all, God listens carefully and then He says, “Okay . . . okay . . . if that’s the way you want it . . . okay. And He allows us the freedom to do what we wish, but not without consequences; those pesky consequences:
Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in
painyou will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”
And to the
manhe said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dustyou will return” (Genesis 3:16-19).
Certainly, any discussion of pain and suffering must begin with human rebellion, for the Bible teaches that pain and suffering were unleashed as necessary companions to misused human freedom. When we chose to go our own way, Eden was spoiled and the good earth became the tarnished planet.
Now, if that was the end of the story it would be the saddest story of all.
But I have good news for you today: God was not about to abandon the most cherished of all His creation.
His purposes are always redemptive in nature; that is God in His infinite wisdom will always pull a silver lining out of every dark cloud.
And though this sermon is not so much about God’s plan of salvation, we would be remiss to ignore that fact that before He expelled them from Eden God offered a sacrificed in order to clothe those wayward children. That sacrifice was the first of many sacrifices in the Old Testament that point to the final sacrifice on behalf of humanity when God’s Son laid down His life for all humanity.
But since our
If I stub my toe or twist my ankle, pain shouts to my brain that something is wrong and that I need to get help. Similarly, the existence of pain and suffering on this earth is a scream to all of us that something is wrong and we all need help.
All you have to do to experience a microcosm of this idea is visit an ICU in a big city hospital. For the intensive care ward is the one place in the world where all the things that usually make a difference no longer make a difference. No economic differences there, no racial tension, religious differences fade away as all the people are united by their love for a dying relative or friend. Many people call for a pastor or priest for the first time.
Pain and suffering can bring people to their knees before God.
Yes, it is true that pain and suffering can drive me away from God. We can hate God for allowing misery.
Or we can choose to be indifferent; being satisfied with this world the way it is, thinking that the only purpose of life is to eat, drink and be merry. In which case it is as though we have stuffed our ears full of cotton; for as C. S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 3
Or we can choose to believe God Him when He says that this world is not all there is; He has prepared a perfect place for those who follow Him on this pain-wracked planet.
Philip Yancey tells the story of Roger Bowlin, an 18-year-old high school student who worked on a Seattle, Washington Search and Rescue Team.
Week after week, Roger and his partner went through some pretty harrowing experiences. Once they climbed on a live glacier on the face of Mt. Sloan, searching for a missing hiker. They saw tiny crevices in the glacier open into yard-wide caverns and had to retreat for his own safety; the hiker never was found.
Roger was called to hunt for a suicide victim on an island in Puget Sound. She had left a note and disappeared. Roger followed a trail of hardened blood that led to her body lying in a pasture, next to a picture of her husband.
He remembers another body that he pulled out of the ice-cold Sound; how white she looked and her skin all wrinkled and stiff, thinking about what she had been through and how just a few hours before she was a real person like him. It shook him horribly.
He wanted to talk about it with friends, but all they wanted to talk about was the weather or football. Nobody wanted to discuss the things that really matter.
Pain and suffering; not even his own, rather the suffering of others drove him to consider the Bible’s viewpoint that we indeed live on a tarnished by sin planet. And yet God in His grace through Jesus has created a way, One Way, that yield’s forgiveness and eternal life for all who choose to embrace Him and then eagerly look forward with all creation to a future restoration that we can only imagine.
Paul writes the Romans:
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently (Romans 8:18-25).
So, that is pain and suffering’s general message to all of humanity.
God can use pain and suffering to encourage us to trust him, as a child trusts a father.
Consider Job; he had it all. And then lost it all; servants murdered, wealth stolen, health gone, sons and daughters and bounce on your knee grandchildren dead. And Job sat on a pile of ashes lamenting over a life that was supposed to be, but never was.
And where was God? Read Chapter 42. God made His way over to Job and sat with him amidst the charred remains of his life. A tender thing, a graceful thing given the immensity of God and the smallness of Job. But then God knows our pain. And in His grace, He offers to share it with us.
2 Waldman, Jonathan. Rust: The Longest War. [New York City: Simon & Schuster, ©
2015] from https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/jonathan
3 Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. [New York: Harper Collins, © 1946/1991]
4 Yancey, Philip.