From “And Jesus Wept,” by Pastor K. David Oldfield
Labor Versus Management
It was a hot Canadian afternoon at Shouldice Park on the banks of the Bow River. My sister and I were permitted to wade along the edge of the river. Off came the shoes followed by the socks. Up rolled the pant legs, or at least moderate effort was made towards that end.
As I gingerly stepped between the larger rocks and grew accustomed to the very cold mountain river, a hot, searing pain suddenly shot up my leg. I froze in the water, screaming for rescue and relief. Relief came only under the medical care of my father and the comfort of my mother.
Seven-year-olds don’t dauntlessly seek for causes and effects. Simple explanations usually satisfy: “It looks like you stepped on a broken bottle, son.”
I was pacified, but still in pain.
Seven-year-olds don’t remain seven very long.
What caused that nearly forgotten pain over forty years ago?
Well, it was the breaking open of the tough epidermis and then the tender corium on the bottom of my foot and the introduction of foreign material into a usually closed and protected environment.
Or, we might say that my pain could be blamed upon the careless or stupid people who threw their garbage into the river rather than into the trash barrel down by the road.
My parents, in a sense, caused my pain by letting me wade in a dangerous river without due care and caution.
I caused my own pain by placing my foot down on the glass; but, then, young boys can’t be held responsible for where they walk.
The glass brought about my pain.
“The seller of the glass is criminally liable,” says one lawyer.
“No, it’s the manufacturer of the bottle, says another.”
The wound was caused by the property of glass which usually creates jagged, rather than smooth edges when it is broken.
Actually, the Creator, Who either allowed or deliberately designed glass to bear that dangerous characteristic, must be the one held accountable.
Or perhaps from another angle, the Sovereign God, who permitted or commanded that small boy to step where he did, is the One ultimately culpable for the pain.
The first major subsection under the stabbing cry, “Lord, why do I hurt?” must be: “Lord, who, or what, is the source of my pain?” “Who is the producer of this terrible sensation slicing through my body?
“Am I the cause of my own suffering?”
“Can I blame Satan?”
“Do I dare blame God?”
In some cases the answer is obvious, but sometimes the obvious answer gets more and more complicated. There might be a third, fourth or fifth level cause, then at other times there seems to be no initial agent at all.
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (Jn. 9:1-3).
We don’t have to look far to see that in some people’s thinking pain is always and inextricably linked to their sin. As Jesus and His disciples journeyed through the streets of Jerusalem, they passed a well-known, blind beggar. With typical human apathy, the question was not, “How can we best assist this man?” or “Lord, will you heal him?” but it was rather, “Whose SIN caused this suffering?”
Why must people assume that sin is always the direct cause of misery? It seems sometimes that there lies in our wicked and deceitful hearts a certain sinful hope that this is true.
In a similar manner the “friends” all knew that Job was suffering because he had well-hidden sins that now were festering within his soul and coming out on his body in the form of boils. “After all doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out?'” (Num. 23:32).
James Stewart in “The Strong Name” has given us four very good sermons on the subject of suffering. In his first message, he rightly pointed out that “All sin involves suffering. But, what I want you to see is that it is not true to turn that around the other way and suggest (as some unthinkingly do) that all suffering is due to sin, as if a man’s troubles were necessarily punishments, indications of some flaw in his character.”
Someone has said that like the birth of Jacob and Esau, sin and pain are twins, and the latter grabbed his brother’s heel. Sin and suffering are indeed related, but they don’t always afflict a single body at the same time. Yes, sin and suffering are brothers, and sin is the elder; they have the same mother, but like Jacob and Esau they often go their separate ways.
Despite this fact, the scriptural pastor cannot dismiss the possible relationship of sin and suffering when his member comes to him with a breaking heart or broken body.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption…” (Gal. 6:7-8).
That corruption can be a very painful process. I can remember, as a young Christian, a deacon in the church of which I was a member. This man took it upon himself to try to drive the pastor out of the pulpit through lies and congregational politics. It didn’t work, but within a year the trouble-maker was in the hospital, suffering from a very painful medical disorder. Related? Who can say.
That situation is somewhat similar to what we find in Numbers 12 where the rebellion of Miriam and Aaron is described. In this case their action was clearly sin: sedition, jealousy, and treason. “And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us?” (vs. 2). The Lord’s judgment came swiftly; “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them…” (12:9). “And, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow…” (12:10). At this point one of mankind’s most hideous diseases fell upon the sister of Moses as punishment for her sin. Clearly, it was SIN-caused disease and pain.
Looking at the subject from the other side, God said, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all this statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26). “Israel, if you choose sin, you will feel the painful consequences, but if you obey me, I will insulate you from suffering.”
What is the Biblical explanation for the Noahic flood? “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” “And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them, and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:5-7, 12-13). There has never been a period of more universal grief, as one by one each sinner’s family, young and old were swept by the currents unto their deaths. The cause was clearly sin.
A different kind of pain can be found in the lives of the ten older brethren of Joseph, the son of Jacob. In Genesis 42, when Jacob sent his sons to purchase grain in Egypt, their disguised brother, the one they had sold into slavery and probable death, was the governor that negotiated with them. Joseph demanded that his brothers prove themselves to be true men by bringing the youngest family member, Benjamin, to Egypt. The pain of the guilt within their hearts sang out immediately, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” (42:21). For years, as they watched their sorrowing father whither away, these men carried an intense emotional anguish, and it was brought about by their sin.
Matthew 14:28-31 provides us with a different kind of illustration, describing Peter’s adventure upon the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee. As he stepped out of the fishing boat, walking towards the inviting Saviour, everything was fine. But, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). As that bold Apostle looked about him, his faith began to fail, and the pain of fear crept into his heart. It was his sin that caused his suffering as he sank beneath the waves, calling on the Saviour’s assistance.
There once lay at the pool of Bethesda, a particularly sorry example of human suffering, but the Lord was gracious, and he was healed. “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (Jn. 5:14).
On and on we could go with Bible illustrations linking sin to suffering:
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Tim. 6:10).
“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (I Cor. 11:29-30).
“Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins” (Ps. 25:18).
When the Lord says, “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head” (Obadiah 17), He is speaking about the pains of judgment– for sin.
“And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season” (Lk. 1:20).
Leviticus 26 and other passages are devoted to reminding Israel of all that they would suffer if they failed to serve and obey the Lord. They suffered in a number of ways including captivity– due to their sin (Lam. 1:8).
“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:” (Deut. 28:15).
Moses, the great servant of God, bore the pain of not entering the Promised Land because of his sin in Numbers 20:11-12.
Gehazi, inherited the leprosy of Naaman because of his greed and deception (II Kings 5:27).
“O LORD, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness….” (Ps. 38:1-5).
The fiery serpents of Numbers 21:6 were sent among the people inflicting great suffering both upon the people bitten and upon their loved ones, all as a result of the nation’s murmuring against the Lord.
Yes, suffering is related to sin and may shadow its every step. But just as the boy wading in the stream committed no sin to cause his pain, neither is that always the case with adults.
Going beyond them both, what about the unborn? Is it possible to sin in the womb? Despite their sinful Adamic natures, the Bible seems to indicate that children are not held liable for their personal transgressions of the law of God because of their undeveloped mental and spiritual conditions (Deut. 1:39; Jonah 4:11). Certainly unborn children have none of the opportunities or tools for sin, like tobacco or a revolver, and their minds and imaginations are not developed enough to even contemplate sin. Yet, despite being without personal sin or any kind of culpability in that most innocent of sanctuaries, unborn children feel pain. They will pull their arms and legs away from the hypodermic needle drawing out natal fluids, and they jerk their heads when mother does something unexpected or harmful. These children can be made drunk with the wine that their mothers drink and feel a similar hangover. The withdrawal of the unborn from their mother’s drug addiction is no less acutely painful than is the woman’s who caused it. And then abortion; oh, abortion! If wombs had microphones and the unborn had air in their lungs what screams their murderers would hear as the innocent are torn apart in some of the most insanely cruel methods imaginable! No, sin is not the direct cause of every pain!
When Bethsheba’s seven-day-old baby died, what sin had it committed? (II Sam. 12:19). I Kings 3:19 describes the death of a new born baby that was accidentally smothered by his mother. What was his transgression against the Lord? And what crimes had the infants and toddlers of Bethlehem committed before Herod had them all slaughtered (Matt. 2:16)?
And besides these, who is going to convict the Saviour of sin (Jn. 8:46)? Did the Babe in the Bethlehem stable cry in pain with his first gasp of air as most children do? Did the child Jesus ever stub His toe or feel the pain of a broken heart over a lost or damaged toy? “Oh, but our sins were laid upon Him, and thus did He suffer. We can still blame sin.” But was the sin of humanity laid upon the CHILD called “Jesus?” No sir, sin is not always the cause of pain!
We can argue forward: “I am contemplating sin, and I should expect judgment and pain,” but we cannot argue backward: “I see someone in pain, therefore I assume he has sinned.” Sin plays a role in pain and is never very far off, but it can’t be made a universal scapegoat, robbing men, Satan, and nature of their responsibilities in these great human tragedies. May God forgive the pitiless soul that rashly accuses the suffering Christian of sin, just because his dog died or his wife left him!
Strange things are being done today in the mysterious world of jurisprudence. It seems that sufferers can go to court with almost any complaint, and then with the right lawyer and copious tears they can win enormous settlements. Note the recent cases of families suing drug manufacturers after the death of people who misused their products. Recently too, there have been suits against tobacco companies on behalf of customers who painfully died of lung cancer and emphysema.
If it wasn’t for the basic atheism of some legal organizations one day the evening news would be telling us that someone had gone so far as to sue Jehovah for creating the material used by one man to make a baseball bat, that a second man used to kill a third man.
The illustration may be extreme, but it points out the indisputable fact that the Lord is still God. In this case, the Chairman of the corporation is responsible for the actions of his officers.
Achan, with his family, sinned in stealing property out of Jericho that had been devoted to the Lord (Josh. 7:20), but it was the Lord who gave the order for their painful executions.
David chose to sin with Bathsheba, but it was God’s will that the child die (II Sam. 12:14).
Jephthah made that rash oath to sacrifice as a burnt offering the first thing to come out of the door of his house (Judg. 11:30-31), but God could have cancelled that vow, spared Jephthah’s daughter and saved a father’s life of grief and pain.
When James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (1:17), he says it with the understanding that God is supreme and sovereign. Is there some theological way to separate the Lord’s sovereignty over “good” from His sovereignty over “evil” and “pain?”
No matter which way someone approaches the subject, the Lord’s relationship to pain demands to be examined, but it must be a search for God’s glory and not with an extremely critical frame of mind. In other words, don’t be so foolish as to judge God. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4). As every amateur biologist or naturalist knows, when working with a microscope the source of one’s light is critical. In this case none of this world’s light is suitable to operate the microscope set to examine the wisdom of God. Perhaps, just perhaps, Heaven may some day give us answers to some of our questions, but then maybe not.
Some of humanity’s suffering is clearly God-designed or God-ordered.
When God commanded, or sanctioned, the wars between Israel and her neighbors, He took the responsibility.
It is the Lord, sometimes, who gives us the bread of adversity (Isa. 30:20). It is He who sometimes gives us “grief” (Lam. 3:32).
When fire and other judgments fell from Glory to consume Achan, Nadab, Korah and Ananias, they came from the will of the Lord.
God ordered David away from the relative safety of Moab into the pain and hardships of the Judean hills and the possible clutches of murderous Saul (I Sam. 22:5).
Uzzah, the man who touched the Ark of the Covenant was struck down by God without mercy, bringing pain to David and all his loved ones (II Sam. 6:7, I Chron. 10:13).
Do you recall the family of Naomi and Elimelech, who forsook their home in Bethlehem to take shelter from famine in Moab? There in that foreign land Naomi lost her husband and both sons. When she finally returned home her old neighbors shouted, “Naomi is back, Naomi is back,” but that grieving lady responded, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me … The LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me” (Ruth 1:21-22). The word “testified” means that the Lord “answered” Naomi. Answered what? This may be a half-hearted acknowledgment of sin. Whether that be the case or not, Naomi felt that her heart-ache was the will of the Lord.
Where did Jacob’s limp come from (Gen. 32:25)?
Israel was promised: “The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed” if they chose sin over the Lord (Deut. 28:27). But if Israel chose righteousness, “The LORD will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee” (Deut. 7:15).
It was the Lord who ordained the pangs of child-birth (Gen. 3:16).
Jehovah smote Azariah with leprosy (II Kings 15:5). The Lord afflicted Israel (II Kings 17:20). The Lord commanded the oppression of Judah (II Kings 24:3). Surely, sin was involved in every case, but the Lord ordered the judgment.
“And I (the Lord) will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers (Jere. 24:10, see also Jere. 29:17-18 and 34:17).
Our God performs the things that are appointed for us. Therefore we ought to be like Job, “I am troubled at his presence” (Job 23:13-15).
Do thoughts of the hand of God in the pain of humanity disturb you? Remember that Paul said, “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation….” (II Thess. 1:7).
Some of the natural disasters that befall our race are so complicated that only the Lord could be given credit. Things such as the life-cycle of the producer of malaria. This dreaded disease has tormented and killed more human beings than any other malady. During the Second World War on some fronts more soldiers died from Malaria than from battle. Even as late as the 1960’s there were as many as 100 million cases of malaria and over a million fatalities. Sufferers experience chills, fevers, delirium, comas, blood clots and death.
Malaria’s cause, the sporozoan “plasmodium,” has by all accounts a complex life cycle; so complex that evolutionary chance development are mathematically impossible. Only through the creative hand of God could all the pieces fit together so smoothly. When a female Anopheles mosquito bites a person or monkey carrying malaria (the males neither bite nor carry the disease) she ingests plasmodium into her body. Those few cells then reproduce in the lining of her digestive tract, producing spores. When she bites someone else, the spores move through her saliva to the recipient’s blood. From there they travel on to the liver. The spores once again reproduce in the recipient, but in a different manner than in the mosquito, and these invade the red blood cells of the host. Every 48 to 72 hours the spores break out of the blood cells, destroying them and secreting poisons into the system. The spores may develop into either male or female cells, but they do not re-mate until they once again enter an Anopheles mosquito. For plasmodium to have developed by evolution, everything would have had to already be in perfect order: the complete mosquito life cycle, warm-blooded animals, developed liver, insect digestion, red-blood cells, etc. This is just impossible to explain without a super-human mind behind it, and this means that God must, in some fashion, be held accountable for malaria; He created it that way.
And the Lord is also the creator and governor of the killer tornado and the hurricane: “The LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm (Nahum 1:3). He “called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains…upon all the labour of the hands (Haggai 1:11). Jehovah laid the mountains of Esau and his heritage waste (Mal. 1:3). Yes, it was the Lord!
And then there is death, the final pain in these mortal lives. Many people have a confused idea of death. Some seem to think that man governs it: a doctor, a murderer, or our dietitian. Others think that Satan is the king of death. The reality is that the key of death hangs close to the key of hell at the Saviour’s side (Rev. 1:18). The implications are that death cannot touch anyone apart from the permission of the Lord, and after this comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
But why is it that some die without pain, but for others the story is distressingly different? Why is one person taken in a car accident, while another must endure months of agony with cancer? Why does one go into a coma and then silently pass into eternity as another suffers and succumbs to terrible burns? The answer can only be: it is God’s will!
That divine will was seen in Bethany, at the house of Lazarus (Jn. 11:1-4). We are told that Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, was very sick. Nothing was said of the cause. Was it attempted suicide? Was it going out into the night without proper clothing? Was it bad food or water? The only thing that we can say with confidence is that it was God’s will that Lazarus be sick. Word was sent to the Saviour/Physician, but when Jesus heard the news, “he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus Christ, the lover of souls, deliberately chose to extend the pain that His friends were suffering. The pain was not just in Lazarus, but in Mary, Martha, and even in Jesus Himself to some degree, yet it was permitted to go on for days. There is no way to release the Lord from the responsibility of Lazarus’ death, nor from the glory that was gained from his resurrection!
There was glory, too, on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6) The blasphemer and persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, knew what pain was for he saw it on the face of Stephen during his stoning (Acts 7:58). But he also felt the pain which was brought about by the blinding light of Heaven. He felt the sting of conviction and the wrench of confusion as his whole religious life was stripped bare. Paul’s pain was a definite factor in his conversion to Christ. Certainly the Lord was in this, choosing this special tool to bring the sinner to repentance.
But not every sinner listens to the screaming of his own flesh, and they often die still bearing the guilt of their own sin. Those souls then face an eternity of very real pain and suffering in Hell. Sophocles is quoted to have said, “Call no man fortunate who is not dead, for the dead alone are free from pain.” No, this is not the case! Although pain was not specifically created by God to minister in Hell, it is impossible to picture Biblical Hell without it. The Lord Jesus taught us that the pain of this world is not to be compared to the pain of eternal judgment (Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9). It is a place of weeping and the gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30, etc.), and those are real teeth in a real body (Matt. 10:28). It is a place of fiery torment (Mk. 9:43; Lk. 16:24; Rev. 21:8), and it is unending torment (Rev. 20:10, 15). All the pain man can feel on earth is only the little finger of the Lord, but the full strength of the Lord’s wrath shall be felt in Hell.
I have had the privilege to pastor a gentleman who was never without some degree of pain during the years that I knew him. His spirit was always good however, and he had a commendable grasp on the purpose of pain and its victory. Despite his own suffering he shared this with me: “I have found one pain worse than the physical. It is to see someone you love on the way to Hell because he won’t repent and turn to our Lord for forgiveness. To me that is a burning pain.”
Truly, the relationship of pain to both sin and the Lord, must have a sobering effect on the observant Christian. Yes, your sin WILL find you out eventually, and some variety of judgment is guaranteed. The obvious lessons are these: fear, fight and flee sin with all your strength in the power of Christ, and then turn in humble repentance to the One who is both Judge and Saviour. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Ps. 2:12).
An honest search of the Word of God magnifies the sovereignty of Jehovah, and at every turn it glorifies His wisdom. Nothing happens to man but what passes through His protective will. Yet His permission does not mean His direct participation; He does not very often directly lay His hand upon us. For that there are many instruments with varying degrees of responsibility.
A most notable example of Satan’s participation in pain is seen in the life of God’s servant Job. There came a day when God presented Job to Satan as an example of service and devotion. He was a man perfect and upright, one that feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:8). In an attempt to discredit the Lord, Satan proposed that if Job should be made to suffer a bit he would turn from God in utter disgust. To disprove the claim, permission was granted to the enemy of the soul to afflict the man, “only upon himself put not forth thine hand” (1:12). When Job passed that test, the limits were extended: touch his bone and flesh, but save his life (2:6). So Satan made the life of Job miserable, robbing him of everything but the Lord. His pain was marital, parental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. He was afflicted in just about every possible way, and it came from the hand of the Wicked one.
In another case found in Luke 13:10-17, our Lord gave us the details of a medical problem that He treated. A woman interrupted the Lord in the midst of a mission of mercy by touching the hem of his robe. Instantly her suffering ceased. Jesus explained that it was Satan who had bound that daughter of Abraham into an eighteen year period of suffering.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh was described, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as a “messenger of Satan to buffet me” (II Cor. 12:7).
The Lord came upon a terrible scene as He descended from the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk. 9:14-22). His disciples had been asked to assist a man whose son was demon possessed. This Satanic angel had afflicted the boy and, thus, the father as well, with great suffering: he was tossed into fires and into pools of water; he ground away his teeth and was cast upon the ground. But, praise the Lord, he was eventually delivered!
Likewise, the man called Legion was greatly hurt and distressed by the power of Satan (Mk. 5:2-5).
It was even prophesied that Satan would afflict the Son of God Himself, by “bruising his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
And isn’t there a kind of ache in the heart of the Christian every time Satan and the flesh get together to tempt the soul? Wasn’t it the Devil himself that pained our Saviour in that great battle in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11)? Righteous Lot was vexed, that is, worn down, by the filthy conversation of the wicked of Sodom (II Pet. 2:7). Wasn’t this Satanically prompted?
Yes indeed, the Devil has his place in the production of pain.
There is a sense in which Eve is the mother of pain, as well as “mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). We humans may look at ourselves as different races and nationalities, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that there is a certain solidarity to our species. When we hear music, in most cases, it matters not what language we speak; we understand its message. In a similar way, when we watch on the television newscast the child just blown apart by a terrorist bomb, we also feel the pain.
There would certainly be a lot less pain– and a lot less music – if we were all isolated units, sequestered monks or remote hermits. But no one really is. Even when we think that we have made it to “our side of the mountain,” someone else is always there. As a nine-year-old child, I remember going to the hospital to visit a man who had been beaten up by a gang of thugs. The elderly gentleman was a kind of folk hero in that part of Nebraska, for he was usually a hermit, living in a cave and coming to town very, very rarely. Yet his solitude didn’t keep him from human-caused pain.
It seems that we can’t touch each other for good without touching each other for evil.
But how much “evil touching” have we done to each other? Some of our modern philosophers think that between 80% and 95% of all human suffering is causes by other humans.
Where should we begin in trying to describe that inhumanity? The 40 million Baptists that were slaughtered in the Dark Ages? The 617,528 soldiers who died in the American Civil war? The 300,000 Armenians slaughtered between 1894 and 1896? The ten million who died under Stalin? It has been estimated that the number of people killed by other people from 1900 to 1969 tops 110 million. The holocaust, some people say, claimed as many as 35% of the world’s Jews who were alive at the outbreak of the Second World War, but what is this compared to the more than a million per year slaughtered in this country alone through abortions? There are many historians who feel our century is without question more violent than any previous era of human history. And it appears to be getting worse with every year.
But ancient history is just as replete with the stains of human blood as modern history. Take as an example the desire of Haman, the Agagite, who came very close to the complete genocide of the nation of Israel (Esther 3:13).
Look about you. How much suffering would be eliminated from the lives of your friends and neighbors if everyone loved and treated one another as they should?
Oh, but even love causes pain! Not too long ago a man sat in my office with tears streaming down his face because his wife had left him. If it were not for his love there would have been no hurt. As John Stott says, “If love is self-giving, then it is inevitably vulnerable to pain, since it exposes itself to the possibility of rejection and insult” (The Cross of Christ, Pg. 332). Don’t most of us marry, knowing full well that some day we will be separated from the one we love? Death will do it if nothing else. Don’t we bring children into the world, realizing that they will leave us and likely disappoint us? Yet the succession of marriages and babies never stops. Some people try to avoid pain by trying to avoid love, but it doesn’t really work.
Jesus, at Lazarus’ tomb, hurt and wept because, for one thing, He loved Lazarus and the people that he left (Jn. 11:35).
Going back to the Bible we see a continual stream of humans wounding humans. Even the good man, David, precipitated the death of the priest Ahimelech (I Sam. 22:22); Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (II Sam. 11:15), and Uzziah, the man who steadied the Ark of the Covenant that was being improperly transported by the King (II Sam. 6:7).
On the other side of the coin, a man’s confused report caused great grief to David by saying that Absalom had slain all of David’s sons (II Sam. 13:30).
Pilate made many a grieving widow by butchering some of the Jews sacrificing in the temple (Lk. 13:1).
On and on we could go with illustrations of man’s cruelty to himself. Sure we could blame the sin that resides within the man; we could blame the Devil which “made him do it,” or the God who permitted such atrocities, yet it is still the hand of one man against another.
Who has not been stung by a bee some time in his life? How many of us have completely avoided a sunburn? Even the absence of food in the stomach causes a certain kind of pain.
We are being taught today to picture nature as a beneficent mother, but is this accurate? Tennyson said, that nature is “red with tooth and claw.” Need we recount the thousands who have died in recent earthquakes in Armenia, Mexico, Italy and Guatemala? How many are suffering with cancer and arthritis at this very moment? Do we need to speak about tornados, storms at sea, avalanches and train derailments caused by the actions of frost and rain?
Into the Word of God we go. Was the Noahic flood (Gen. 7:23) a “natural disaster” and how many did it kill? Was the fire that fell on Sodom natural (Gen. 19:24)? No, we say, but if the same thing happened tomorrow, most of society would refuse to acknowledge the hand of the Lord. Did they cry, “Look at the work of God,” when Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted, killing 60 and destroying 230 square miles of timber? Was “mother” nature kind when she sent locusts into Egypt (Ex. 10:13)? What amount of suffering was caused by the seven years of great famine in Genesis 41:54? Think of the fear and perplexity of the sailors battling the stormy wind, Euroclydon (Acts 27:14).
Nature is governed by several definite and clearly understood natural laws. If people choose to break those laws, someone will have to pay the price. In Judges 9:53, Abimelech paid that price when a woman of Thebez tossed a millstone over the city wall and gravity propelled it onto his head. Judas tried to hang himself on a bough that couldn’t support his weight, and he, too, suffered the consequences, falling to the ground below (Acts 1:18).
It is the Lord who created these laws of nature, and He has the ability to over-rule them at His will. In a sense He is responsible for them, but those laws stand alone in their effect.
The Christian Calling
As much as we might dislike the thought, there is a sense in which simply being a New Testament Christian will produce a certain amount of pain.
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves…But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles…And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:16-22). Is this to be taken only in a prophetical sense for the Apostolic few? Then is Matthew 5:10-11 only for a few as well? “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Paul said, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall SUFFER persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
Surely Israel caused much of her own sorrow during the 40 years in the wilderness, but to read the Pentateuch, ignoring those chapters of sin and its resulting punishment, we still see the pain, sorrow and difficulty that lay in their pathway. In each case when Israel had no pure water to drink, it was not as a result of their transgressions. After the disaster at Kadesh-Barnea, when Israel turned her back on the Promised Land, the road that they took south was difficult, but not because of sin (Num. 21:4). That highway was simply the road that they were to go. And so it appears to be for many of the Children of God today.
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Phil. 1:29-30).
Furthermore, the Christian is supposed to make things painful and tough for his Adamic, sinful flesh, especially when he is prone to give in to his lusts and transgress the will of God.
“Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:9-10). We notice in this passage that there seems to be a building of verbs one upon another: afflicted, mourn, weep; then follows a multiplying of nouns. Godly mourning is an exercise in separation. We mourn for our dead loved ones, and through that mourning we come to grips with our loss. Spiritually the process is the same. As Thomas Manton (1620-1677) put it in his lectures on James 4:9, “Mourning is a holy exercise, by which the soul is every day more and more weaned from sin, and drawn out to reach after God” (Thomas Manton, The Complete Works, Vol. 4, pg. 374).
When our Saviour preached, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4; Lk. 6:21) He was referring to mourning over sin and not over a death in the family.
To the Corinthians Paul said, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (II Cor. 7:9-10). When God’s people get themselves into sin, it is the preacher’s job to make them miserable, to give them grief and spiritual pain, in hopes that this will bring them back to a place of repentance. Pain in this case has a very beneficial effect and is produced as a sometimes necessary part of the Christian life.
In another context Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” (II Cor. 5:11). The pain called “terror” was something felt in the depths of the Apostle’s soul. It was a spiritually transferred pain, from the ignorant lost man to the sensitive soul-winner. Would to God, more Christians felt this pain!
If you were the mother of one of the servants of Job, one who died under the blade of a Sabean sword (Job 1:15), how could a study of this question calm your grief? Who caused your son’s death? God? Satan? Job, who hired your son? The foreign thieves? Your child himself who took that second job to buy a breeding ass? Who?
Struggling over this particular question rarely relieves the hurt. Even when there is an obvious answer, what comfort is there in that? No, we need to look to other questions to really deal with our pain.