January 16, 2010

On Suffering

Driving back from my week long intensive 'Sacramental Theology' class at Asbury Theological Seminary with Dr. Stamps yesterday I was able to catchup on some recent podcasts that I haven't had a chance to listen to. One of those comes from The Village Church in Texas (of which Matt Chandler is the lead pastor) and happened to be a message from John Piper talking about the issue of suffering. In this particular context, Piper was talking specifically about the suffering the Chandler family and The Village Church was going through as Matt has recently begun a battle with cancer. In light of the devastation that has taken place in Haiti, the topic of suffering seems, as always really, to be quite timely.

The main text for Piper's message was Romans 8:18-25, a passage where Paul talks about the suffering of all creation and the future glory that will be revealed. It also helps, as Piper mentions, to put suffering in a global context which often times we can forget as we tend to focus on individual sufferings while also helping us see that suffering is a sort-of prerequisite for glory, which makes our present sufferings not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed (vs 18).

Piper spent time focused on vs 20-21, which is what really got me thinking. He came at this "subjection to frustration" from the perspective of God passing judgment upon humanity for sin in the form of disease, natural disasters, fragility and death. He points to The Fall in Genesis 3 and said, "God judiciously sentenced the world to what it is today, it was a judgment on the world in response to sin." Piper goes on to say, "God subjected creation to futility not because we wanted it but because it was right. All disease, tornadoes, floods are dramatic statements from the Creator of how serious sin is." Like Piper, I believe Paul was saying that God is the one subjecting creation and that it was right but I'm wondering if it was in judgment or love?

I absolutely agree that sin is detestable to God and that He is the Divine, Holy, and Just Judge of the universe. I guess I'm wondering if the subjection of creation to frustration was an act of love rather than judgment. I'm not saying that I disagree with Piper but maybe what I mean by this is that God as Love gave creation the freedom to choose, which opens up the possibility for making the wrong choice resulting in being subjected to disease, natural disasters and even death. We clearly made the wrong choice and as Love, God had to allow us to make that choice, even if it was the wrong one, and as a result live with the suffering consequences.

When I think about things like a tsunami that kills 250,000 people or an earthquake that kills possibly 50,000+ or even acts of murder and terrorism, I'm not sure I think of them as God causing them as a means of passing judgment upon His creation for our sin. Instead I think I see them as the aftermath of sin with God being the first to shed a tear at the hurt, loss and destruction.

Does God hate sin, YES! Will God judge His creation, YES! Are we found righteous because of Christ, YES! Is God Love, YES! Will we continue to experience suffering until creation itself is liberated from its bondage to decay (vs 21), YES! Is this hard for us to understand when we only know in part (1 Cor. 13:12), YES! Can we trust and hope in the One who is faithful, YES!

Welcome to the tension that is the Gospel.