Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 2: Buried Truths of Origins
Chapter 4: The Fall: The Buried Truth of the Origin of Evil
Lesson 17 – Evil in Nature: Sin Damage to Nature’s Design and
Sin Damage to Man’s Rule over Nature;
Living With Evil, Part 1: Pagan Coping Strategies
29 Feb 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We are on the event of the fall, and because we’re on that event we’re dealing with the history of evil. Each great event of Scripture has an emphasis and by approaching things event by event you have something in your head to meditate on these events. Let’s get in our minds again what God reports about this momentous period in Genesis 3:17-19. Tonight we’re going to move to the effect of evil in nature. I show this again and again because I think this is the heart of the issue, it comes back to this again and again, it keeps coming up, the issue of evil, and the issue of creation. The other thing we want to review is that though there are thousands of reputed answers out there, what you want to do as a Christian is to remember the broad outlines, because in the broad outline sense there are not thousands of answers, basically there are only two. There’s the answer of the Word of God, and the opposite, the negation of the Word of God. Everything else is a permutation combination of this.
To review, we have the Creator/creature distinction, and if you deny that you don’t have a distinction, so everything is united as one. That has repercussions, as we’ve studied the doctrine of the fall we’ve seen that there are repercussions to that, all interrelated. One thing always leads to the other. When we look at the fall and look at the point where evil begins, it’s dislocated from origin. That may seem like a very small point but the implications of this is mind boggling, that creation was one event and the fall was a separate event. And in Genesis 3:17 is the cursing. We want to remember this. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” that’s not, while it’s self-destructive of the creation work of God it actually is an outworking of the creation work of God because God when He curses, curses within the design that He already built in.
Notice that the ground is cursed “because of you.” What was the cause of the curse on nature? Man was. Why is man the cause of the curse on nature? When we first had the creation, who was pronounced to be the lord who would rule over creation? It was man. Therefore by man comes blessing and by man comes cursing. The text is all interrelated. “Cursed is the ground because of you, In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” That blends with what we learned in Gen. 1, what was the mandate? To subdue the earth. How was man to subdue the earth? What are some examples of subduing the earth?
The first job that Adam had, tilling the Garden in Eden. So what does the curse look like, in verse 17, “In toil you shall eat of it,” you’ll eat of it all right, you have to get a living out of the ground, but not it’s going to be by toil. Verse 18, “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” one of the most poignant Scriptures in the Canon.
We want to be careful; there are three ways of coming to Genesis, or coming to any part of the Bible. You can come in the spirit of submission to the authority of the text, you can come in a rebellious spirit and say I don’t buy into this, it’s all fantasy, or you can be sort of a middle-of-the-roader, an accommodationist, where you want to keep a cultural respectability but at the same time you want to be a Christian. Therefore, every time we go into one of these events we want to say to ourselves, how do other parts of the Bible interpret this part of the Bible. So if we have this event spoken of, where could we get some commentary on this event by the Bible itself? The classic place for doing that is Romans 8, where Paul enlarges on this text. I do this again and again so hopefully after weeks of this there won’t be anyone here who is under the delusion that the New Testament can be separated from the Old Testament. If you want to write off the Old Testament you have to be forthright and write off the new with it, because they’re interrelated.
Here’s another example. In Romans 8 Paul is dealing with suffering; Romans 8:20 is Paul’s commentary, how he read Genesis 3 that we just read, in the context of suffering and notice what is the practical problem of life that he’s dealing with when Genesis 3 comes up? It’s evil, suffering. That’s when it comes up. Verse 20, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.  That the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption,” as this particular translation puts it, “into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Here’s an exposition of the fall by the New Testament, because the New Testament always presupposes the historicity and accuracy of the Old Testament. You cannot be a New Testament Christian and kiss off the Old Testament, they are interrelated. We’ll see more of that.
We want to, as we approach the issue of evil, review a few more things that we’ve learned. We said that God is the Creator; we are in the creation, which has two parts, man and nature. We’ve been dealing with the effect of evil on man, and it wasn’t a very pretty sight. That delicate design of man, both his body and soul, is contaminated body and soul, all parts. That’s why in the Reformation the theology was the total depravity, when you hear “total depravity” you have to watch it because if you think about the word “total” you unintentionally may get a wrong idea. The Reformers were not saying that we are as depraved as we possibly could be. A better way of stating what they were trying to communicate would be our word “comprehensive” depravity, meaning that across the board from A to Z every area is affected by the fall, there’s not one area that’s not touched by the fall. It doesn’t argue that God hasn’t restrained His grace and everybody’s as depraved as they could be. Obviously if everybody is as depraved as they could be we’d all be dead. It’s true that the sentence hasn’t been permanently and fully carried out.
That’s what we’ve studied so far, we’ve studied the effect of evil on man, and that’s fundamental because any theory of economics, any theory of psychology, any theory of literature, any theory that involves any activity of man has been touched by evil. And any time you academically approach a subject and the issue of evil is not substantively dealt with, you’re entertaining a delusion. What you’re doing is creating castles in the air because you’re not coming to terms with the fact that everything we do is contaminated; EVERYTHING that is produced by man has been contaminated. So we say then that there’s a basic distinction and that is that from the Bible standpoint the universe is abnormal. From the Bible’s point of view what we see today in ourselves and in the universe is not normal; it’s not what it was when it left the hand of God.
On the other hand, the pagan view is that the universe is normal, and that evil always existed, evil has always been there, is now and ever shall be there. Those of us who have been raised in Christian circles should think about this. We will not ever understand the frustration and the urgency, the despair, that dimension of unbelief if we don’t grasp what the awful implications are. Usually the more incisive the unbeliever the more depressed they really are. By “depressed” I don’t mean necessarily psychologically depressed but intellectually depressed, seriously depressed. Cindy told about why as an English teacher she can’t find any great literature in the 20th century except that which was written by existentialists, because the entire intellectual climate of our world is depressed. And it’s depressed because men have had centuries to think through this, and over the centuries of thinking there’s never been another answer than that of the Bible. ALL other answers hold that evil always has been there and always will be there.
The other part that we’ve examined as far as the contrast between the Biblical position and the pagan position is that there’s such a thing as responsibility. The fall is the greatest illustration of the awesome responsibility man has. It was the first fundamental act of man and is the first demonstration of the awesome responsibility. What we have here is that man is responsible for every bit of evil in the world. That surely is a revelation of responsibility. Man is responsible for death in every area. Man is responsible for the cursing of the ground; because of your sake this was cursed. So man is to blame and that is responsibility. The other side always holds to some sort of theory of the victim.
That was true in ancient Egypt, you can read the text, I put some of the text in here that deal with evil from the standpoint of ancient Egyptians, because it’s useful because this is where Moses was educated, and if Moses was really educated in the culture of Egypt then how come he didn’t write like the culture of Egypt. You can tell that whoever wrote Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy is not writing out of an Egyptian world view. And we know Moses was trained in an Egyptian worldview so obviously something happened, something changed his mind, and we don’t even get a glimmer of the radical difference between what we read in the Genesis narratives and what Moses came of in his schooling. But in Egypt men were always considered to be the victims, the passive victims of evil and sorrow, sickness was something that just happened and we were victims of it. That theory holds true today, it’s the same thing. What you want to learn as a Christian is to realize that thoughts have not changed down through the centuries.
If we really believe the gospel is the only answer, then it’s got to be the only answer in every century. It’s got to be the only answer in every language. It’s got to be the only answer in every circumstance. And the only way it can do that is that ideas really don’t change from century to century, they just change their clothing, but it’s still the same idea. So while the Egyptians denied responsibility and had a theory of the victim, we do too. What’s the search for the great gene that causes homosexuality all about? What’s the search for the gene that causes this or that behavior all about? It’s the same old thing, it’s not science. Science is the method of doing it, but the motive isn’t scientific. Don’t kid yourself because the vocabulary has changed. The idea is that the age old idea that hasn’t changed a bit in 3,000–4,000 years, because we’re still arguing the case that the universe is really normal, in spite of what we see, this is really normal and we’re not responsible for it. That’s the whole deal here.
Since that’s the deal what we have to do as Christians is say to ourselves, now through the light of the Holy Spirit illuminating my heart to Scripture, how do I set myself against that. We are to be in the world but not of the world, so how do I separate myself from that sort of thing. That’s what we’re training ourselves to do, to see the issues. You can’t have repentance if there’s nothing to repent. That’s the issue here, in between these there’s something called repentance, and repentance is something between something, something has to change. What is it that’s changing? I’m changing from this to that, that’s what’s changing, that’s part of Biblical repentance; exception and acceptance of this awesome responsibility. Put in a nutshell, what the Bible is teaching is choices and consequences.
So we’ve looked at Paul’s rendition of the fall, Paul’s amplification and interpretation, now we want to look at page 62 in the notes I want to point some things out. We outlined the overall picture where we’re going and now I want to show you some quotes, just to fortify yourselves that I didn’t just make this up. Look at the title, “Sin Damage to Nature’s Design.” We’ve looked at “Sin Damage to Man’s Design.” The first sentence in that paragraph is important because sometimes in your home schooling or in Christian books or even in Bible College in your reading you’ll hear what is called the teleological argument for the existence of God.
The teleological argument for the existence of God comes from the Greek word teleiosis which means an end in its maturity, and what it’s saying is that there’s purpose in the universe, therefore there’s a purpose-er, or there’s design in the universe, therefore there’s a designer. While all of us intuitively sense this, that is a very difficult argument to sustain against a sharp opponent, because what they will do to you and what they have done to us Christians over the years, particularly in the 20th century because it was in the 19th century when the teleological argument was developed with great finesse by the name of Paley, he developed the phrase “the watch maker.” That came out of 19th century apologetics because he argued that nature is like a watch, it has an order, it has a design, therefore there’s a designer.
In the 20th century one of the great unbelieving intellects of our time has written a counter book called The Blind Watchmaker in which he is arguing that there’s so much evidence of non-design and chaos that you can’t possibly believe in a designer. For example, they’ll take Paley’s argument about the eye, Paley’s argument about the ear, and they’ll say yes but there are parts of the body that are useless, the appendix, etc. and they’ll go on and say there’s irregularities in the design and surely God could make a perfect design and didn’t.
Wait a minute. Remember what we said when we first started this whole thing—you’ve got to keep all the Scripture together. Don’t defend a piece of Scripture and leave it by itself. That’s like sending a bomber in over an enemy target and not having any other bombers to cover him. You don’t send a piece of Scripture into battle without backup and here’s the backup. The answer to the problem here is that nature isn’t normal now. So yes there’s chaos in nature, but it’s a fallen nature we’re looking at. So there are evidences of design and there are also evidences of mal-design and the mal-design came about because nature is in a state of disarray caused by the text, it’s “cursed” ground. So the teleological argument is very slippery to work with. As Christians you want to be aware of the fact that someday when you flippantly talk about design and Designer, don’t be surprised if someone says yeah, what about this, and they trot out something that’s evidence of chaos. Don’t be shocked because that’s what they’re going to do to you, so just know that’s the game they’re going to play.
In that paragraph I give one of my favorite illustrations. Last summer I was involved in a research project where we were part of a nationwide network trying to measure and characterize the atmosphere on days of high ozone content in the summertime. The problem here was that the government had gone ahead and passed all this legislation against pollution, but they did so before they really knew what they were doing, as usual. And so before the problem was really thought through we had this rush to legislate, got to solve the problem, but they don’t even know what the problem is. So we got into a dilemma.
Let me illustrate the problem. You’re a factory owner in Philadelphia and you get this notice in the mail saying you have to shut down your plant. Why? Because the pollution content in the air around this part of Philadelphia doesn’t meet federal regulations and you’re causing the problem. But you’re smart, and you realize that most bureaucrats aren’t too smart. So you say wait a minute, did you tag all the pollution particles that fell and came out of my stack? No, we just measured this. Then how do you know what you’re measuring, maybe it came from somewhere else. People got to thinking about that and Philadelphia in the summertime is downwind from Baltimore and Washington.
So guess where most of Philadelphia’s pollution comes from? It doesn’t come from the smokestacks of southwest Philadelphia. That was the nature of the project. So in the course of this project we’re trying to measure pollution all over the northeastern United States because nobody knows where it’s going. It turns out at night it moves like 30-40 miles an hour, they never knew that before, they found out about that last summer. But all the legislation is made, lawyers know everything, so we got it all in [can’t understand word] now. They don’t know anything. They don’t know where it goes, where it’s coming from. But we’re fining people, shutting down their plants, because we know …. No they don’t.
In the course of all this study it turned out that I had a chance to talk to some of the nation’s leading students and professors working with pollution, and one of them gave me this story, and this is a classic. What city in America do you think of when you think of air pollution? Los Angeles. And he said isn’t this an interesting story. “A classic example is the Los Angeles basin. Long before the automobile and white man’s industrialization, native American Indians referred to the area as ‘the place of the burning eyes.’” That was the name of Los Angeles in Indian language. “It seems that trees growing in the basin area secreted a volatile organic compound that strongly irritated human tissue.” Los Angeles has an inversion, so nobody ever lived in L.A., even before the automobile. The Indians wouldn’t even camp there. Was that caused by pollution? No. It’s nature polluting nature, a profound idea that nobody ever thinks about, but if we’re Christians and we believe that the ground is cursed, it is not true that man directly pollutes it. Man is the cause of it ultimately in the sense that it’s cursed because of man, but it’s not because man is doing all the polluting. Nature pollutes it. Cows make more gas in the atmosphere than half the plants in the United States. But we haven’t legislated against them. I don’t know one cow that’s been fined. So this is an example of how stupid you can be when you have a false view of nature, and you have this arrogance that thinks that you know everything there is to know and you can tell everybody else how to run their business.
As we go on, notice the next two paragraphs. The idea is that nature, see paganism interprets natural evil as a normal thing, so once you grab that now you begin to profoundly misinterpret things, and watch how quick and disastrous the pagan mind is here. Look at this quote: “Once this ‘revelation’ is accepted, a counterfeit moral code quickly arises. For example, Sir Arthur Keith, a British anthropologist who had just survived Hitler’s bombing of Britain could write these amazing words in 1947,” WWII ended in 1945, this guy is writing two years after WWII, and watch what he says, he’s in Britain, he’s an Englishman and he writes this: “To see evolutionary … morality being applied to the affairs of a great nation we must turn to Germany of 1942. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy.” Do you believe that, this guy’s writing two years after WWII?
Look at the next quote. This is another typical thing, because what are we getting at, what does evolution say is going on? What is the great grand vehicle for the creation of life inside an evolutionary world view? Struggle, chaos, out of death comes life. Think about that for a moment. Evolution is profoundly wrong, it’s exactly wrong, you can’t be more wrong than that, that the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, death over millions of years, death, death, death, death, death, death is the grand selector, it’s death and the differential rates of death that drive the evolutionary process according to Darwin. So out of death comes life? Isn’t something backwards here? So the result of that if you really go along with this and you buy into this, Sir Arthur Keith makes sense.
Look at Rockefeller’s quote, this was written back in the Sherman Antitrust days when they were defending the idea that big business, the railroads, the big oil companies could crush any little guy, any small business guy they wanted to, and they were allowed to do this all over the country, and he defended this and said: “The growth of large business is merely survival of the fittest … This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working out of a law of nature.” It’s very easy to start setting up that morality if you buy into this. What I’m saying is we can draw little charts up here that look cute, but in practice this has very BIG ramifications.
Let’s go to the “Sin Damage to Man’s Rule Over Nature.” We’ll go back to Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground…” by the “sweat of your face” and earlier “in toil you shall eat of it.” This is a profound observation in Dr. Gary North’s book on Genesis and Economics, not that I buy into everything he says but when you get to economics he’s got some tremendous insights. What he is arguing for, the paragraph on page 52 is kind of the lead in, “We are forced to work together to produce whether we like it or not. A number of other effects also follow.”
As I tried to show you when we dwelt with the event of creation, learn to read your Bible for every area of your life. I picked out economic illustrations because it’s the last thing the average church going person ever dreams that the Bible addresses, economics is sort of a neutral thing that’s out there and we Christians go walking into it and we use it, but the Bible explains the structure of economics.
Here’s an example. I want to read Dr. North’s quote. “There are no free lunches in a cursed, scarce world … Given the perverse nature of man, a less productive world is a necessity.” Look at that, “a less productive world is a necessity. Having to work is … a way of draining energy that might have been put to perverse ends. Men have less free time to scheme and pillage. They have less strength … An expenditure of time, capital, and energy in increasing the productivity of the land could not be used simultaneously in order to commit murder and mayhem … The curse of the ground is also a blessing for the ground. Men in a scarce world must treat the creation with care if they wish to retain the productivity of the ground.” Two powerful observations in economic theory.
Again, the cursing in one way is a blessing, because the very nature of this curse compels us to limit evil. The curse makes you less efficient, but that works great because if you’re going to be an evil person it renders your evil less efficient. So the cursing has this restraining structure to it, and it’s a very interesting observation that comes right out of the text, that you work, yes, but it’s going to be thorns and thistles, and if you want to build a tower of Babel it’s going to take you some time to do that, you can’t do it quick. Sin, in other words, isn’t too efficient.
The conclusion: right after the North quote there are some conclusions about work and labor. “Again the pagan mind can’t interpret the situation correctly. Thinking evil has always been part of existence, the carnal mentality sees labor as inherently toilsome with no higher calling.” That’s something else that grows out of this. If you look at the top part of this box, if biblically this universe is abnormal, then when I go to work and I have a series of frustrations, what I have to do as a Christian is be able to separate the frustrations from the work I’m supposed to be doing. It’s not the work that’s causing me the frustration, it’s the impediments involved in that work process which weren’t there had I lived in Eden.
I find that healthy when I get so frustrated when this happens, that happens, etc. to think it’s not the work that’s the problem here, it’s the “thorns and the thistles” in the work that causes the problem. Learn to separate the effects of the curse on your work from the work. But on the other hand if you are convinced that the universe is normal you can’t separate it. All work is frustrating, and you’ll never learn to give thanks because you can’t give thanks for something that’s inherently screwed up. “The biblical Christian, on the other hand, knows that labor was the first occupation of God and of man. A creative person cannot help but labor over nature to produce worthwhile fruit.” We’ve explained that.
Go to Genesis 4:7 because it uses this imagery of subduing the earth for our own flesh. And when God speaks to Cain, remember verse 7 is an exposition of the analogue verse in chapter 3 about the curse on woman, but here we’re not thinking about the reflection back to chapter 3, we’re just looking at what God says. “…And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” This is not an invitation to salvation by works or sanctification by works, it’s just saying that you are responsible and you’d better figure out how to do it. And of course, the gospel is the tool that we use to do it. Nevertheless, the goal is that sin wants us, the power of sin wants us, and its operative in that part of nature nearest to our spirit. What’s the part of nature nearest to our spirit? The body. And we program our nervous systems, the body is just predisposed, our brain is predisposed, it’s what thinks simple thoughts, and we react simply, our mouths are hooked to the brain and they have all kinds of automatic patterns in them. So the sin principle is there, God says, and you’ve got to learn to master it. It’s your job, I didn’t make your body that way, you guys did it, now you’ve got to figure it out.
Those are some of the results of the curse on nature. Nature is out of control. Nature is cursed, nature is abnormal and we are responsible for it.
Beginning with page 66 we list 11 different patterns of suffering. What we’re dealing with now is the practical coping with suffering, so we’re going to deal with the coping strategies. All people have coping strategies, you already have a coping strategy, I already have coping strategies, we’ve already, just because we’ve lived and breathed for the last 20 minutes, have coping strategies. They’re automatic, most of them. We haven’t thought through them too carefully, but we have already kind of got our coping strategies down. But what I’m challenging you to think about is to critique your own coping strategies in the light of the truth of the fall. You can look at evil one way, the pagan way, or you can look at it another way, the Biblical way. Depending on those two viewpoints that controls your coping strategy. So let’s see how this works out.
I want to take you through some Scripture, turn to 1 Corinthians 15:17, and as an introduction to that passage we want to look at the non-Christian coping strategies. One of the principles or axioms of the non-Christian is that everything’s normal, so that evil is unlimited (in this view), it’s not bounded, it has no controls on it, it’s always there. The second great axiom of the non-Christian pagan mind is that we have the idea that I am not responsible for it, I am passive to it. Out of these two axioms comes coping strategies. We want to dissect coping with evil from a pagan perspective. Then we’ll come to the other side and look at the same kind of evil, and ask ourselves how shall we be coping with it from a Scriptural point of view. Let’s start with the pagan view. The pagan view accepts these two axioms, and out of this he can get a variety of different coping strategies. I cover two or three of them here, so let’s look at them. There’s nothing new under the sun, and you realize as you get older, read wider, talk to more people that there are not that many viewpoints around.
On page 64 is one of the pagan coping strategies, a very famous one put forward in the cult of Christian Science in its purest form. Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “Sickness, sin and death are … illusion; the mirage of error,” she said. Toward the end of her life she had a very persistent toothache and she received injections of morphine for the unreal pain that was going on in her mouth. Obviously this strategy breaks down, but what this tries to do is say that what we call evil is just an appearance, this troublesome thing is an appearance so we try to excuse it, it’s just an appearance. Most people can’t do this, and Mary Baker Eddy never was successful doing it either. But the point is, people have tried.
A second approach, the next paragraph, is what Keith did, that I quoted earlier; he tries to say not that the appearance is wrong but that our evaluation of evil is wrong. In other words, the fact that we think that something’s wrong is wrong. Why does he say that? Because on his basis the universe is normal, so what he’s telling us to do is if we get bent out of shape by stuff it’s our problem. If you see a kid run over by an automobile that’s your problem, if you see a loved one dying of cancer and they’re gagging on their own juices, if that upsets you you’ve got a problem with that, that’s just the way it is, sorry.
Most people can’t do those two things, so most people wind up with another strategy, that is the next paragraph which what most of our English literature people try to do, what they call the sense of the Absurd. And this is capitalized; this is the proper way of doing it. It’s a technical word, and what they mean by Absurd isn’t just what we call something’s absurd, they mean something very serious by this noun. What they mean is that on the one hand there’s this awful experience of evil and discontent, and on the other hand I can’t do anything about it. What they’re saying is that the universe does appear to be abnormal, there’s something inside me (we know its conscience) that testifies it’s wrong that little babies die, something’s wrong with this deal.
But on the other side of the problem is that I can’t do anything about it, it’s just there, evil is forever. So if evil is upsetting, and it’s also forever, and I can’t be like Mrs. Baker Patterson Glover Eddy was and excuse this and say it’s an illusion, I’m not blind, I can’t do her thing, and I’m really not sold on Keith’s thing, I can’t deny my conscience, when I look at somebody suffering I know they’re suffering and it’s wrong, so what do I do? On a non-Christian basis there’s nothing you can do except live with it, and that’s called the Absurd. You’re living with this thing you can’t resolve, it’s a tension that goes on and on and on, and it’s unresolvable fundamentally … fundamentally it is unresolvable; never ever will you ever solve this thing. And the sooner you realize that give up the better off you’re going to be.
It’s my observation that that has caught on in our society in a profound way. We have people, I doubt it not, that walk through this door every Sunday, sit in these chairs, hear Bill, hear Mike, hear any of us and walk right out the door and haven’t got a clue as to what was said, week after week after week. I say wait a minute, they heard; we’ve got tape recordings of this. Yes, it happened, but when it went in here something’s screwed up because they’ve already come to this conclusion, maybe not in an articulate way but they’ve already come to the conclusion that the whole thing is hopeless, evil is forever, I know it’s wrong, so what.
If you’re caught in this, practically speaking what do you try to do. On page 64 we have an atheist who tells us… [blank spot]. … wrote a book called The Faith of a Heretic and look what he says. Learn to listen to what the non-Christian is saying because some of us who have grown up in the Christian culture don’t understand what they’re saying and we miss it when we try to communicate. It’s not easy to communicate the gospel. The gospel is simple but if the other guy is speaking another language we have a translation problem. [Walter Kaufmann said] “Man can stand superhuman suffering if only he does not lack the conviction that it serves some purpose.” Is that true or false? That’s true, that’s a true observation. So Dr. Kaufmann is right with that sentence. “Man can stand superhuman suffering if only he does not lack the conviction that it serves some purpose. Even less severe pain, on the other hand, may seem unbearable, or simply not worth enduring, if it is not redeemed by any meaning.” A person goes start raving mad over a pimple if it’s really absurd and meaningless.
Here’s where we get into something really cute, and this is a classic of a brilliant atheist trying to deal with the Absurd. Keep in mind this guy knows all the answers, he’s read the Bible and he’s consciously rejected it, so he’s been around, this is not some kid on the street. Look what he says, look at this, this is the best that the non-Christian can do, this is the very best they can do. “It does not follow that the meaning must be given from above; … that nothing is worthwhile if the world is not governed by a purpose…. We are free to give our own life’s meaning and purpose, free to redeem our suffering by making something out of it… The plain fact is that not all suffering serves a purpose; … and that if there is to be any meaning to it, it is we who must give it.” What a thrilling thing if I’m dying of cancer in a hospital bed to be told this thing really doesn’t have any purpose, no meaning, it’s just part of the Absurd, try to make something of it. That’s a comforting thought? But this is the best the non-Christian can do, because if God isn’t there to give meaning to it, where’s the meaning going to come from? Tell me that.
By reading this it ought to make you appreciate what we have in the Scripture. If you want to test if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, jump the fence and see… we just did, I’m taking you on the other side of the fence, that grass that always looks so green over there is looking very brown, pretty gross grass, to sit there and all of the meaning has got to come from me. Talk about salvation by works, this is it. In other words, even though you know the whole cosmos is purposeless, this is on a pagan basis, pretend as though it isn’t inside your head, and you’re knowing that you’re pretending it because you know that there is no purpose. It’s self-deceit, so now who are the hypocrites? If you’re a non-Christian and you claim to have meaning, you’re the hypocrite because you know fundamentally there is no meaning out there, and you’re just making it up. Don’t come to me and talk to me about hypocrisy in the Christian church, I’ll talk about your hypocrisy, your pagan hypocrisy.
Let’s see what the Bible does about looking at this problem, that’s why we turned to 1 Corinthians 15 because Paul knew it. Again, ideas are not new. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19. When you start seeing this you no longer have to hold your head down and go through life like “poor me, I’m a Christian and I’ve got this big burden and I look so queer to the world.” NO! Stand up straight; you can look anybody in the eye. We have looked at God and we have heard His Word and we are not going to be ashamed of it, and we’re not going to deny it.
And here’s a case in point. “And if Christ has not been raised,” Paul thought this through, he said ok, if you don’t believe the resurrection let’s see where that takes us. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless;” that’s a great one for a liberal minister. I grew up in a liberal church and I can remember every Sunday hearing this little sermonette and book review, and whenever the Bible was taught, for example the Gospel of John, it could have been taught by any one of 3,000,000,000 except the Apostle John. Then we came to Matthew, Matthew couldn’t have written that, it had to be somebody else, and we got all this theory about who wrote the Bible, when the Bible quite clearly says who wrote it. But we have to make all this stuff up.
But what Paul says is if you don’t buy into this, your choice, but now your faith is worthless. Why is it? Because “you are still in your sins.” What’s your faith all about in the Christian faith? The fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead? That’s history. If that didn’t happen this whole thing is a big farce and you can say I feel good coming to church. That’s not going to make any difference, if you feel good, maybe the pigmies feel good when they hit somebody’s head, but that doesn’t make it right. Look what else he says. 1 Corinthians 15:18, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied.” We are sick if this stuff isn’t true. You see how Paul had thoroughly thought it through, he had gone to every culture, he had thought through all the answers, not every detail but he had it all outlined, and no guy was going to come up and outsmart Paul, because had already had the case, he said this is your case, I’m not impressed.
In 1 Corinthians 15:32, he draws the grand conclusions, “If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Is that practical? Of course it is, and that’s why we come to this last strategy.
The fourth coping strategy from the standpoint of unbelief is some form of anesthesia. Let me explain that? What does anesthesia do? Why do you normally take anesthesia? It deadens the pain. That’s exactly the coping strategy of the non-Christian when it comes to this sense of the Absurd and they can’t deal with it, they will get rid of the pain somehow. Let’s think of some of the ways you can get rid of pain. Paul says let’s “eat, drink and be merry.” Hedonism is a way of laughing off the pain: alcohol, drug addiction, musical ecstasy, to the point where music controls you, people lose themselves in this, sexual ecstasy. What is all that about? It’s to deaden the pain of this, and that’s why all the anti-drug therapy programs that don’t recognize this problem fail.
My wife has worked for years in a drug therapy thing supported by the state of Maryland, with thousands of dollars a month, and they cure one out of ten. She goes to work and three weeks later she’s got the same person coming back for another four week treatment at tax payer expense. Unless you solidly collide with the cause of the pain, you cannot blame the person for reacting this way. Each person has their own brand of anesthesia. I’m not saying it’s right to go out and get drunk but I’m saying you have to think about why they are getting drunk? Because life is painful. Instead of addressing the drinking, why don’t we go deeper and find out why is it so painful. What’s your problem, why are you looking at life like this, what basis are you approaching your problems with? Then the drugs and alcohol take care of themselves. But this has to be coped with, and any coping strategy has got to solve this problem. And a pagan system built on these two axioms will choose one of these four. It always will happen, and you can see it all over the place.
I have numbered four steps in this thing, this is not the only way to look at it but I’m trying to do this so that it appears most highly in contrast with the non-Christian position. So let’s look at a coping strategy from the standpoint of the Bible. We’ve already dealt with the Job passage and some of the other passages, and when we did that we noticed that God confronts Job in an almost cruel fashion, and I want to comment about that. There are two places where you see this most clearly in the Bible, Romans 9, Paul’s counterpart to Job. Paul was in deep pain over his fellow Jews and he tells you a little about his pain in Romans 9:1-2, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,  That I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.  For I wish that I could go to hell for the sake of my brethren,” that’s what he’s saying. I look at my fellow Jews and they are unbelievers, and it grieves me to the point that I would go to hell for those people. You can’t get much more grieving than that.
Paul’s dealing with deep grief, and what is the chapter in the Bible, of all the chapters in the Bible that deal most with the omnipotence and sovereignty of God but Romans 9. Look at verse 15, he comes back for comfort and he quotes this passage from Moses, “For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Basically I run the show! Remember the dialogue that God had with Job? He kept asking him questions, who built that, were you around when I built this, and He went on and on and on, and you sit here and think that really doesn’t look like swift counseling theory, where’s the compassion in all this. And it’s something to ask; why when you get severe grief in the Scripture in these kinds of things do you have God coming off like He’s so uncompassionate. I’m not sure I have the whole answer but I suggest that one reason why that starts, and this is sort of the beginning of a Biblical coping strategy, is that we’re never going to cope with the problem unless we go face to face with who God is.
When we’re in the middle of a suffering situation are emotions are so twisted out of shape that our body chemistry is all off, we can barely think in the middle of a suffering situation, so somebody has to come in and shock us into awareness, and I suspect that that was what was going on in Job and I think it’s the same thing with Paul, that God comes in reminds us of that first distinction that we learned in creation, “I am the Creator and you are the creature, period!” Get that! And He has a number of ways of making us “get” that. It’s not being uncompassionate, it’s to deal with shock, and apparently is a way, it’s not saying that God doesn’t always do this, sometimes He’ll be very compassionate, but I’m saying that there are these times in Scripture where He comes on pretty heavy and you wonder why, is God not a God of love? Yes, He is a God of love, that’s precisely why He’s doing it, He’s creating a shock so that we’ll realize and go back to basics.
That’s the first thing, to go back to the Creator/creature distinction because if you lost that you’ve lost the whole thing. All you’re going to wind up with in the end if you don’t get that straight is you’re going to go shooing off into another non-coping strategy. So that’s why in that last paragraph I close out with those sentences: “Does He [God] have a plan in His omniscience for you that your mind may not now know much about?” That’s omniscience vs. our knowledge, finite, infinite finite knowledge thing. “Is His sense of justice better or worse than yours?” I have to come to grips with that when God says that to me. Who am I dealing with?
The second step is now that we’ve established that He is Creator and if He is Creator what does that mean—it means that He is sovereign, that He is omnipotent, that He is immutable, that He is eternal, and once we’ve established that, that creates the second thing, evil therefore is bracketed. If He is really sovereign then the conclusion must be that evil is being shaped by Him. So while this looks like it’s a shocking uncompassionate intrusion by God, actually it’s very compassionate because He wakes us up to who He is, and then He forces us to think about evil and now we’re not arguing that evil is hopeless, we’re just kind of angry because it got aimed at us. But at least we’ve advanced one step.
The problems change, it’s not just “I can’t do anything about it,” but “something could happen about this thing and how come You’re not doing something about it.” Now we’ve moved to discussion. So by the time you get to the second step the discussion has moved from an evil that’s hopeless to an evil that’s being manipulated and controlled. Now we’ve got to deal with why. Why is this particular evil at this particular point in my particular life? That’s the kind of dialogue that God wants us to have with Him, because that respects His sovereignty, that’s respect for who He is.
We come then to the third step which I have all those patterns on and I suggest 11 different kinds of patterns of suffering that you can observe in Scripture. The idea is to review those for next time, to think in terms of the fact that each one of those, while not giving a total answer to evil, show reason # 1, reason #2, #3, #4, etc. in other words, it’s showing that there are reasons why God shapes evil the way He does in people’s lives. And you go on and on past that and come over to page 68 and you get to the end, the goal of the biblical strategy toward evil is an inner peace that comes from looking at your Lord and knowing, really knowing that He has a perfect plan for your life. But you can’t get this quiet conviction by thinking and reacting with a carnal mentality. You’ve got to deal with it and it takes hours, days, it may take weeks, it may take months to get right in this area. You may have to carry on quite an extended conversation with God. I’m not denying that it takes time to do this. All I’m pointing out is that the biblical strategy is based on truth.
The biblical strategy is the opposite of anesthetizing yourself, and there is, I think, one reason why in Ephesians 5 when it says “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit,” it’s not talking about a comparison, it’s probably somewhat a contrast, or stop anesthetizing yourself and start thinking, because if you look at this next paragraph there’s something very interesting about how Jesus dealt with suffering in His own life, and one of the most graphic illustrations, you’ll see this as you read the notes, I give you some passages in Matthew, and one of them deals with how Jesus dealt with suffering on the cross.
It’s interesting that while He was still doing the work of the cross He rejected an anesthesia that was offered to Him, and He said no, I don’t want that, but after He finished the work on the cross He accepted it. Why did He do that? What was the meaning of that little transaction? I suspect it was because Jesus’ way of coping with suffering was He was so skilled in His perfect humanity that He would talk to His Father, remember the struggle in Gethsemane, He dealt with Satan with an open mind, He didn’t flee it, He didn’t mask it, He didn’t put it off, He dealt with it and He dealt with it in His spirit. Then it would be dealt with, and then He could rest, and then He could do whatever He had to do. But I think there’s a model there and that’s why I’m trying to say look at these patterns, there’s a lot of verses that I packed in there, go through some of them and just see that the Scripture shows there’s reason for suffering under God’s plan.
We’ll have a few minutes of discussion. The thing that you want to keep going back to is that what we’re dealing with is specifics, like those patterns of suffering, that makes sense only if you buy into the world view of the Bible. They are not going to be accepted if you don’t accept that. So it gets back to the fundamental starting point, your basic world view, where you’re coming from as far as your total view of reality. It’s got to be Biblical and if that isn’t then these are just little props and anybody can really knock you out by attacking the props.
Question, something about trying to comfort somebody. Clough replies: When you deal with somebody that’s suffering and you’re not sure where they stand, the safest thing is to maybe try… because most people will say they kind of agree that God’s there, etc. You basically have a choice of one of two approaches, one is a direct approach, the other is an indirect approach. The direct approach is to simply apply the comforting verses that God has a plan, all things work together for good, you want to say it more compassionately than just spitting out a Scripture, but that in essence is what you’re saying. [person says something else] Then at that point, now you’ve identified that the person has problems and is not going to buy into this, right then. So now you’ve uncovered something, so now you have to deal with that, so the best way of dealing with that is go back to start questioning them a little bit about where they’re coming from. Do you think that God really is a bad God? Let’s get it out on the table. And after doing that just simply say, well now let’s suppose that God isn’t there, let’s look at it from this perspective, in this perspective the universe is just there, evil is just there, etc.
This is an odd approach for most people, but what I’ve tried to show you tonight is in 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul’s thought through that approach. So the issue there would be why don’t we just “eat, drink and be merry” because there’s no purpose to it at all, why bother trying to find any purpose. So you have to kind of work both polls, the book of Scripture that most clearly, which I didn’t say tonight, but the place where Paul got that (quote), “eat, drink and be merry,” we think that came from the Greeks, it really didn’t, it came out of Ecclesiastes. The whole book of Ecclesiastes is written to this point of view, because Solomon had already thought this whole thing through, and the book of Ecclesiastes shows that, that if you want to start with this position, then here’s where you’re going to go with it.
And sometimes, very reluctantly, I have pushed people away from the gospel to make them come to the gospel. In other words, I always think of it as a chair, as saying ok, you don’t want to look at the Scripture, fine, let’s go through this, and I want to push you to the logical conclusions of your own position and the logical conclusion of your own position is that you live in a meaningless universe, dark and evil, that evil is forever, how do you cope with that? Sometimes that’s enough of a shock, they don’t like that either, and what they want is enough of the comfort that God is there, but still want to blame Him. And that’s where it’s very difficult to work with because at that point they’re angry, their emotions are high, they are in shock, soul shock from suffering, and they have to sit back… when a person is that hurting often times it’s your demeanor and how you would handle suffering or how somebody else has handled suffering to show them the reality of what you’re talking about. But you can’t compel belief, you can’t compel ascent, you have to let them vent, let them give you their stuff because at least in letting them give you their stuff, what you’re really doing is hoping their conscience works, no matter who they are they have a conscience, so you want to kind of get that activated inside, and that may be activated as they talk through with you.
But once they’ve talked it through and once they say, well I disagree, God could have done this, and I’m angry at God for doing this, this and that, oftentimes if you ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight into that you can make comments and the comments can be very gracious, not attacking the person, but you could just say “well, have you thought that perhaps…” or “have you thought about” this. Oftentimes it doesn’t pay you to defend God too quickly, like I said, sometimes you have to take the chair the other way. So there’s a variety of approaches in doing that, but there’s no way that you can just lay on a verse and the person buys into it, because you know from when you’re hurting, a person comes up to you and just drops a verse in your lap, and that may help, but you need more than that, and that really doesn’t help.
In response to how do you cope with a suffering person, it’s person-variable, and I can’t give you a form, you have to just kind of operate within the Christian position, knowing that sometimes you can directly deal with it, if they are Christian it’s just remembering who and what God is, remembering His attributes, He is sovereign, He is righteous, He is just, etc. but if they’re real stubborn and obstinate about it, I kind of let them feel the result of their own view, and push the chair the other way, say ah, forget the Bible, forget God, let’s just see what you’ve got? That’s the whole way the 20th century is going anyway, so join it, don’t fight it, join it.
That’s why Cindy has the problem in the classroom because she tries to teach English literature, and what has she got? Ernest Hemingway. That’s a great comfort, he lived his philosophy out, he blew his brains out with a shotgun; it’s a very logical result. If I thought the way Hemingway did I’d probably blow my brains out too. It’s a very rational solution to his problem. But in the classroom the problem is the kids have already bought into this hopelessness, and the literature she can find in the 20th century literature class just plays into it, so all she has to be is an advocate against it, saying what’s wrong with Ernest Hemingway, and by implication what’s wrong with you.
It’s a very bleak century, we have not had freedom of optimism against this issue, probably for at least 50–60 years in our culture, the intelligentsia has all bought into this. That’s why the black humor, I don’t mean black racial humor, the black humor kind of thing, that’s what it’s all about, it’s a laughing at the idea of purpose. It makes sense, if you’re going to be blind to God’s existence and you shut your eyes, you’re going to act, walk, speak and talk like a blind man, and this is what’s happening. But it makes it very difficult for practical things like you’re talking about, medical people see suffering people all the time and here you are, you’re an employee of a secular organization, and you know as a Christian the only answer to this person’s suffering is giving this person the gospel, which means I’ve got to kind of get around the policy of the organization.
That’s why I believe that if our culture continues to deteriorate we will see what happened in the Middle Ages, when the Roman Empire fell apart, who was it that had the hospitals? It was the Christian church. Who was it that had the sanitariums? Who was it that took care of the elderly people? It was really the Christians that started all these institutions, and what we call hospitals today are just secularized temples leftover from Christian civilization but the Christianity is long gone from them.
It’s a very difficult problem and this is probably one of the most difficult problems, I consider the issue of suffering more difficult than evolution to deal with because this really grabs people, and it’s almost ironic that in their horror, their suffering, and their pain they will curse God to His face, God did this to me. It’s always intrigued me to think about it, why is it they are so insistent that God is sovereign, at no other point in their life, if they had a blessing and they won the lottery, or they made some great investment that worked out, or their business just flourished, they’d never say oh, thank God that He did this for me, but let there be suffering and sorrow and it’s damn Him for allowing this in my life. What kind of spirit is that?
But when they do that it shows you that they know God’s there, let’s drop the façade, they know very well that He is there, they know very well that He’s sovereign and He’s in charge, because the cursing of God makes no sense if He’s not a cursable object. So the very act of cursing Him for doing something is a confession that you already believe in Him.
A Christian woman told Carol one time, she has a quick sense of humor, I always admire someone with a quick sense of humor because I don’t, but this lady was so slick with this straight-laced humor, she had this boss that came storming out one day cursing and raving mad, she’s the teller and she yells over, well Bob, are we having another prayer meeting today. And it was great because she had the ability to make a joke out of it, but he got the point. It’s neat to be able to do it that way, I don’t have that skill but she did.
The idea behind suffering, I think we have to come back to the basic issue, and I think if nothing else happens in our hearts in the middle of a suffering situation, the exercise to do is to just go back over the attributes of God. When you’re upset, angry, frustrated, first of all you need a break, and you may have to take a walk or do something, but you’ve got to get your spirit functioning again. In anger and when we’re overtaken in shock I think what’s really happening is our regenerate spirit has been totally suppressed and it’s just our brain and mouth blowing off, and what we have to do is reestablish control, but it’s not this self-discipline stuff you learn in somebody’s seminar, it’s rather the conscience listening, going back to the conscience and the basic spirit and thinking about who God is, nothing more complicated than that. Who is sovereign here? The next thing, who is powerful here? Who loves me and has shown me in history that He does? Who knows me better than me? Psalm 139.
And if you’ll notice this, you’ll see in those patterns of suffering there’s some Psalms there that you want to look at, and look at how the Psalmists handled their suffering, and you’ll see inevitably they go back to God’s character, they’ll remember something He did for them, but they’ll remember it as a revelation of His omnipotent hand, they’ll use some expression like that. It won’t just be “I remember God’s blessing,” they’ll remember “I remember the God who blessed me,” that’s how they do it. If I can’t do that, I don’t recover well. And the times I can recover well from a suffering situation, or a shocking situation, is only when I say all right, Clough, let’s go back, now God, who are you, where am I in this situation, and get back to A, B, C, D, and it’s humbling because it’s just basic truth that we all know, we sing hymns to it every Sunday.
But the act of pausing to go back to that, I believe, gets your spirit going again, and that’s what has to happen, and I think that’s why you see Jesus on the cross behaving the way He did, where He refused, when He was in that awesome suffering situation, He refused to compromise His mental alertness; it was only after the Work that He rested. Remember when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, what did He want? The one think He asked the disciples, stay awake, just be here with Me. They couldn’t even do that. Of course, they didn’t realize what was going to happen. We look back and say well if I’d been there I would have helped the Lord. Not really. But what happened was that He prayed, and then it was done, He seemed to pray intensively for a period and it’s like, ok, that’s finished, done, and now go on to the next thing. So it looks like from His pattern that that’s what He did all the time.
If you look at David in the Psalms it’s what he apparently did all the time, because in so many of his Psalms, whether he confessed his sin, you can tell the processes, the thought processes that he used, if you want to look at how he confessed his sin there are 3 psalms that do this, you have to read all 3 of them to see how he does it, Psalm 32, 38, and 51. And you watch how David dealt with it, and you’ll see at one point he says “God, against Thee and Thee only have I sinned.”
That’s a strange thing because he had sinned against Bathsheba, he had sinned against her husband, he had sinned against the people of Israel, but it was because he had gotten focused on the fact that the real sin was against God, and he became God-centered. That’s what we don’t do when we’re involved in suffering, and you only can get there with your mind working with your spirit, and you can’t do it when you’re drugged. I’m not saying don’t take medicine or anesthesia, that’s not what I’m saying, some Christians have said that. I’m just saying that there are times when you shouldn’t, there are times when you should not even eat until you can deal with this problem, before the Lord, quietly and privately, and then comes a time of peace and we can go eat, and we can take our medicine and do whatever we have to, but you can’t be drugged and do spiritual battle, the two are incompatible.
Next week we’ll conclude the coping strategies then we’ll get on to the next chapter, the flood, and God’s judgment.