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 18 – Living With Evil, Part 2: Biblical Coping Strategies;
Direct and Indirect Suffering Patterns
7 Mar 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Last time we started the end of chapter 4 which was the application of evil, whereas tonight we are going to get into the practical side of matters. The practical side of matters make no sense whatsoever if you do not believe in these basic truths. These are the foundation, without this foundation, everything we say about the practical side is nothing more than psychotherapy, nothing more than some psychological idea in your head, and that lacks integrity. Our consciences aren’t made for just psychotherapy; they’re made for truth, true truth. And so we want to remember that the Christian approach to this whole issue of evil depends on that issue of the fall, that the universe left the hand of God perfectly good, and that the origin of evil is the creature’s responsibility, not the Creator’s. This is very sneaky because in an average suffering situation this never crosses our mind, and the proof that it doesn’t cross our mind and the proof that we ignore it is when we get angry at God for the evil that’s around us.
The very fact that we get angry with God for the evil around us tells you that in your heart of hearts this pagan notion still has a grip, because we intuitively respond to the sufferings as though it was always there, that somehow it either it was always there along with good and we’re just getting an unfair dose of it, that it was always there and God somehow created it or He started things off, He started off with evil in it, somehow He’s responsible for it. The cutting edge of response to the suffering, sorrow and evil question is whether or not we are going to attribute its ultimate origin to the Creator or the creature. And it’s a basic fundamental. So that’s why I keep reviewing this; that’s why the Bible has these set historic events, the creation and then the fall, and the fall is not just a sweet little story about a lady and an apple, the fall is the origin of evil, because of the creatures, not the Creator.
We started coping strategies last time, because every one of us has devised over the years we’ve lived some sort of approach that we use to handling suffering. We start with suffering and we’re going to respond to that suffering some way; we outlined the pagan approach. You can verify this for yourself, it’s in the world’s literature, the pagan coping strategies. We had some quotes that are some important quotes because that tells you I’m not making this up, it’s all out there, it’s all written down, this is the party line of the world system. This is not something that Christians said, this is something non-Christian say and they’re quite honest about saying it. We saw Kaufmann’s quote, who for many years taught philosophy at Princeton University, and he’s a very articulate thinker.
When you study non-Christian thought try to pick the clearest non-Christians, try to pick the systematic guys. Believe me, you’ll waste time reading if you fiddle around with secondary and tertiary authors. Pick the guys that know what they’re saying. Kaufmann is one of them, he wrote a book called Faith of the Heretic an excellent book because he lays it all out for you. The problem that you get into is you’ll read some gooey mess that’s in between and that’s where you get confused, where you have some sort of a pseudo Christian response to the problem of evil.
A rabbi has written a book When Bad Things Happen to Good People or something like that, and his attempt to handle the problem makes a sovereign God non-omnipotent, God’s apologetic about what happens, and it’s a mess. If you want to study unbelief go to the heart of it and take a whiff of it from the guys that really know what they’re saying. That’s why I like to go to Kaufmann, if I want to get unbelief I study unbelievers, I don’t need Christians to tell me what it is.
Kaufmann, at the critical point in his writing, says: “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 this is a classic statement, “if there is to be any meaning to it, it is we who must give it.” To review, it gets back to this diagram we’ve drawn again and again, the Creator and the creature, and on the Christian basis one of the attributes of the Creator is that He is omniscient. If God is omniscient it means that He has a plan; that plan is rational, and if God is holy that means that plan is just. But if the Creator isn’t there, so if you do not have this and you just have the creature, now you really have a problem, because the creature doesn’t have omniscience, he has a finite mind, he has finite knowledge and out of this limited knowledge he has to make a universal, he has to make an absolute, some sort of fundamental statement about what is going on, purpose, purpose not only for today but yesterday, a thousand years ago and a thousand years to come. The problem he has is how do you do that with a finite intellect. That’s why people like Kaufmann know very well they can’t do it, so what they do is make a subjective, it’s a surrender to the subjective, i.e. I create the thing, it’s what works for you is cool, what works for me is this.
Everybody’s doing their “whatever works” for them thing, and that’s subjectivity. And Kaufmann acknowledges it here. Said another way, Kaufmann says “The plain fact is that not all suffering serves a purpose,” how would he know that if he didn’t absolutely have a universal. That’s a powerful statement, how do you know it doesn’t serve a purpose? The point is that that’s a very blanket statement, but the confession of the arrogance of paganism, in other words I don’t believe God’s there but I in my finite intellect have concluded there’s no meaning and no purpose to the universe. Yet in the very next sentence, actually it’s a continuation “and that if there is to be any meaning, it is we who must give it.” Think of what he has said. Think through this carefully.
This is the exact opposite of Scripture. Scripture says that all suffering does serve a purpose and it serves a purpose not because we know it, because remember Job, did Job know the purpose of his suffering? No. But did Job know there was a purpose to his suffering? Yes. It goes back to the hymn, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” That says it all. But what Kaufmann would say is that I don’t know the future, you don’t know the future, nobody knows the future, so to get along for now I’ll think something up. I’ve said it very bluntly, but that’s the best that unbelief can do. You’re looking at the best here, this is the best that the non-Christian can do. That’s sad.
Then I pointed out on page 65 that Paul, in the Scripture anticipated this. Turn to 1 Cor. 15:17-19. Be familiar with this passage so that sometime if you’re tempted to think along these lines or you have a friend that’s tempted to think along these lines, or you meet a skeptic that says we Christians are the obscurantists and we live in our own little separate world, we don’t think about reality, etc., this passage is a tremendous antidote for this because it is an admission in the heart of the Christian gospel that the Christian leaders of the church, the Apostle Paul in particular, knew very well the consequences if you abandoned the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. In effect what Paul is saying here is if Jesus did not rise from the dead, i.e. if the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is wrong, and that can’t be held if you don’t believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, you can talk all you want to about the idea of the resurrection or what an inspiration the resurrection is, but if it didn’t historically happen there are certain consequences. In the apostolic age it was clear to the Christians what would happen.
1 Cor. 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised,” that means historically, literally, measurably if you had a camera, “your faith is worthless; you’re still in your sins.” Verse 19, “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” We followed a delusion. Then I cite verse 32 because he is very quick to point out the behavioral implication of this. The behavioral implication is that if “I fought with wild beasts,” etc., “what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Paul was perfectly willing to take that conclusion if it were true that Christianity was false. But what we always have is people who like to play fast and loose with the Scripture, and like to say I have a right to believe whatever I want to believe and then walk around as though I have purpose in life.
One of the problems we face as Christians is, and it’s hard to do this, particularly if you’re the kind of person that tends to be gentle and doesn’t relish a confrontation, but what we have to do is make that non-Christian realize that it’s dark out there, it’s a delusion to think you’ve got an answer. This sounds arrogant but fundamentally it’s the gospel. There isn’t any other answer, if the gospel isn’t the answer you sure don’t have one, and I don’t intend to apologize for the gospel. You should be ashamed of yourself to walk around in this life as an adult and you can’t even solve an evil question; you have no answer whatsoever apart from this, and this is why verse 32 is so important; Paul says that’s the only thing you’ve got left. And if you read Kaufmann you say yeah, that’s what Kaufmann is saying. So there isn’t any other option. Verse 32 is actually pointing back to Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes was written about 900 BC, five centuries before Aristotle and Plato, and you find themes in Ecclesiastes that totally answer the question that Aristotle and Plato were trying to answer four centuries later. Solomon had already thought about it.
If you want to see the impact of Solomon, the nearest person in history to Solomon, the kind of man he was, is probably Leonardo DaVinci, one of these multi geniuses that no matter what he did, he was an architect, a biologist, an artist, whatever he did it was fantastic, probably one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever seen. Solomon was that kind of person, and Ecclesiastes is his report. It’s like Leonardo DaVinci saying I’ve done all these things and here are my findings. Ecclesiastes is the report of a multi latitudinal comprehensive genius, and that’s why the book of Ecclesiastes, though never preached on in church, very rarely studied in a Bible study, is actually one of the greatest books for our generation, because it unmasks unbelief, it rips it right back to the foundations and says here’s what you’ve got, take a good look.
Now we want to see what we have by way of answers. I’ve tried to outline it, this isn’t the only way of doing it, but this is how I’ve tried to organize this response to suffering from our perspective, the Biblical perspective. So we’ll look at four steps. This is a little long because I’ve spent some time in more of an application mode. Going back to the basics, page 65, the first thing to remember about all suffering and evil when it happens to you or to a loved one, goes back to that first diagram, we have to operate within the Biblical frame of reference, that diagram says that we were created for a non-evil universe. The universe wasn’t evil when it was created; man and woman were created to live in a world that was not evil. And the conclusion is that when we suffer and when we get smashed with evil in a suffering situation, we must understand that we are in spiritual shock, it is a spiritual shock to our systems because we weren’t created for this, there is something tremendously abnormal about suffering and evil, and that’s what offends us, that’s what upsets us, and the non-Christian can’t really put his hand on it, but we can because as Christians we believe we were designed for a universe that wasn’t there with evil in it.
That’s why evil is so upsetting, that’s why we get angry with suffering, besides the fact we have a conscience, it’s a shock. So if we start saying, from the very beginning of our response, that I’m suffering from shock, and keep this in mind, then we’ll understand a little bit how God works with us, because He’s got to deal with that shock. You can walk around and not even be too aware of shock. People can be in shock and not be out cold, if you’ve been around an automobile accident they’re just not all there, and it’s because their whole body is upset, everything is upset.
So in response to the suffering, this is why I point out in the first step, “Back to basics.” It’s not the time for a great theological discourse when you’re in shock. This is why, I believe, God dealt with Job and with Paul the way He did. He came in, almost confrontationally, and I think those who work in medicine with physical shock will see some analogies here, that God did not come in and pat Job on the head and say poor boy. Rather, God came in and almost started an argument with Job. Why did He do that? He did that to activate something. What was He trying to get started? He was trying to get started the fact that in shock we tend to go passive. One of the things that happens in shock is passivity, you’re shocked, your mind is like it goes in slow motion, and you’re not responding fast. So what has to happen is we need to meet God for who He is, to get our spirits and minds back going again. This is why when you look at Job, when you look at Paul, when both of those men faced major crises in their lives, God seemed to deal with that shock of evil and suffering by this overpowering thing that says you look at who I am, and you may not like Me, but I’m here and you’re there, so let’s get back to basics. This is not a very loving approach but it’s an answer to shock.
We move to the second point, after we get back to the basics, notice the last two sentences in that paragraph, “Does He have a plan in His omniscience for you that your mind may not know much about? Is His sense of justice better or worse than yours?” In other words, it’s Him vs. you. Forget everybody else, forget the circumstances, it’s between you and Him. And that’s what He does with Job, He says to Job you’re dealing with Me, never mind all these other guys, never mind the psychiatrists, you’re dealing with Me, so get it straight, in your situation I am here, and there’s nobody else that counts, and if you don’t believe that I’m going to make you believe that, I’ll give you questions until you do believe it. What has God done by acting this way? He’s refocused, He’s dealt with this so the focus now becomes not the circumstance, not the person, not the cause, not whatever happened, but now we’re focused on Him. That doesn’t solve the problem, but what it does do, like a lightning rod, God attracts the anger, so the anger is now focused from circumstance to the Creator.
The next one is an obvious one, “Why did this happen to me God?” That’s all right, that’s movement, because if you’re asking why did this happen to me God, look what you’ve just confessed. Think about that. The very fact that you’re asking the question is pretty good because in asking that question you’ve confessed that you really do believe that God is sovereign in the situation, otherwise if you didn’t you wouldn’t be angry at him. So you’ve got a basic thing going that’s good, sure you’re mad, you’re hurt, but at least it’s in terms of who God is, and you’ve realized that it’s between me and God, and we’re going to argue this one out. We also have an issue of His holiness, or His righteousness, His justice, that’s come into question here, and His omniscience, these things may be dealt with but at least we believe this [sovereignty] and we also believe His omnipotence because He caused it.
If you’re saying to God why did this happen, you’re tacitly confessing that He planned it, He chose it, and He let it happen or He did it. So at least we’ve moved to step 2, now the issue in step 2 is: if He’s in control of it, why is He distributing the evil this way? Why is the shape of the particular situation I am facing the way it is, what’s the deal with this kind of suffering, not suffering in the abstract, I’m beyond that, I understand evil is not some abstract thing that’s out of control, it’s very focused. Now the problem is why this, why this kind, why did it happen to me like so? And we usually say, this is the extreme version, you’ve heard this in unbelief, “how can a loving God send people to hell or have evil like this go on?” But that question can be reversed? “Ask another question, ‘how can a just God send people to heaven and give a gracious respite from immediate judgment right now?’” Why don’t we ask that one? Because that second version of the question acknowledges that evil in general is due to the creature, not the Creator, and somehow we really merit a lot more suffering than we’re getting. Ever ask the question why there’s so little suffering? Think about that. Why did Adam and Eve be allowed to live for 900 years when God said the day that you eat thereof you’re going to die. That death sentence was postponed for 900 years. Why? What’s the deal? Why does God not punish?
The Bible gives an answer to that. 2 Peter 3:9 is the other side of the question when we say “God, take this problem away,” would you get rid of all this evil. There’s a reason why He doesn’t. The second question is the limits of evil, or the shape of evil. Why doesn’t He end it all? “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,” watch this clause, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” In a macro cosmic scale why doesn’t the Second Advent come? When we pray that the evil would be done away with, do you know what we’re really praying for? The end of history, because it’s a fallen universe, the only way that evil is going to be done away with is the whole universe is going to have to go away, so that’s a prayer for the end of history. Why doesn’t God end history? Because He wants to be gracious and let more people into the kingdom.
Here’s something you may not have thought about. The problem is that if God is a gracious God, and if He’s a loving God, it’s precisely because He is loving that the evil is still around. It’s not how can a loving God allow this to go on, the answer is because He’s loving, that’s why it goes on, you’ve wrongly phrased the question. Watch this, this is a real satanic type thing because Satan gets a hold of this thing and he twists the question all around. The question is: It goes on because God is gracious and He wants men to come to know Him; if we literally had our prayers answered, men and women would go immediately to hell.
We want to look at some patterns of suffering. I have isolated 11 patterns along with some verses. I’m going to try to go through some of the key verses; I hope you’ll spend more time with them. I categorized them into two kinds, Direct Suffering Patterns, page 66, and Indirect Suffering Patterns. The reason I do that is because of the parenthesis I put under the title. Notice under Direct Suffering I say the “Clear consequences of creatures’ choices.” In these cases the suffering is a result of a choice and it is quite clear what the relationship is, consequences, choice and consequence, choice and consequence, choice and consequence, etc. But the suffering is more subtle under Indirect Suffering because all those categories are not directly due to an immediate choice anybody makes, that evil appears to just happen, and that’s more shocking. Let’s look at the first 6 which are patterns of suffering that we experience as creatures because of a choice.
The first one, “General existence of sickness and death,” why, because the law of Genesis 2:17, what did God say? In the day that you eat thereof you’re going to die. Is it true or false? It’s true, so we age, we die, it’s pretty straightforward. So the existence of sickness and death is because we knew in Adam and Eve, Genesis 2:17, before we had anything, we knew it and deliberately disobeyed it. The references I give in Romans are just a commentary on it, Romans 5:12-14; Romans 8:19-23. “The ‘fall event’ vindicates God’s Word as reliable.” If we didn’t die, if we did not die after we ate, that would show Satan was right, Satan said you’re not going to die, go ahead and eat it, no problem. So the fact that we have the presence of evil and suffering is a direct consequence of a historic moment.
Second, the “General existence of ‘self-induced misery,’” this is intensified suffering, and it’s the law of Gal. 6:7. Let’s go to Gal. 6:7 because 95% of our suffering is usually due to this, I speak from personal experience; it should be memorized because it’s such a powerful verse that shows creature choice, cause, effect, choice-consequences, choice-consequences, etc. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” That’s the problem that even in addition to the suffering we get because we’re in a fallen universe and because we’re sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, on top of their induced suffering we add our own. So if they spread 5 inches around we add 2-3 more inches of the gook every time we do something stupid, rebellious, we just add some more. So we create more misery just by bad and rebellious decisions to God. Remember the first divine institution, responsibility, responsible labor, and we said that the fruit of our labors are going to be judged. What do we produce? We don’t stop producing so when we do something stupid we produce something, and it’s abominable in God’s sight, and suffering just adds to the total equation.
The third, “General judgment pattern on nations and families.” Galatians 6:7 again, “works out through the third and fourth divine institutions,” that’s the family. Turn to Exodus 20:5-6, right in the middle of the Ten Commandments and a lot of suffering happens because of this principle, but it’s all direct, it’s all traceable to decisions. You can pretty well tell suffering of these kinds because if you reflect on it, yeah, I did do something dumb, so I really can’t blame anybody else, that was my choice, I screwed up, I sinned, and I developed all this stuff that’s going on. What does God say in Exodus 20:5-6, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, because I visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.” People stop there and never read verse 6, But I show lovingkindness to thousands, to them who keep My commandments. That’s one of the most eloquent verses in the Old Testament. You always hear this stuff; the God of the Old Testament is mean. No! Read the text. [“But showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”] What does God say? He says, Look, I am going to curse to the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me. What does He say in the next verse? I am going to bless to the thousands of them that love Me. Isn’t that a little asymmetrical? See, there’s the heart of God in this verse.
He doesn’t get a big thrill out of judging, He’s reluctant to do that, but He has established His creation, He’s a God of order and that’s the way it’s going to be done. So He disciplines to the third… what does that mean? In summary, there’s a pattern in Scripture, you’ll see this with the first chosen family of Abraham, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and you read their stories and you’ll see the same pattern of sin in that family. When it gets so bad in the fourth generation what does God do to the Jews? By the time you get to the fourth generation of that family where does God put them? He sticks them down in Egypt, and it’s not a pleasant place. Why did He do that? Because that family didn’t deal with the sin pattern that was being transmitted from father to son, father to son, father to son. It’s very clear in the Genesis text what’s going on, because the sons commit the same sin the dad did, and it’s always a little bit more. Families transmit heritage, a family will always transmit heritage, and your family transmitted to you patterns of sinning. They may also have transmitted patterns of godliness, but the family will transmit something, and you’ve got baggage, and this is why divorced couples sometimes have a problem raising children, or adopting children may sometimes have a problem because you don’t know where it comes from, especially adopting older kids. When you have your own kids, what infuriates you the most about your children? When they do the stuff that you do, because you recognize “there I go,” I see it, the stuff that I have to deal with I see it in my son, and I don’t like it because I have to deal with it and I say why do I have to transmit it. It’s coming in a new version, but I can still see it.
The point is that families transmit culture, and what God says, I’ll let that go on only so long and then I’m going to take that family out. Pretty sobering, God will cut off a family. In the New Testament one of the great families He did that with was a pagan family, called the Herod’s. Herod the Great was a genocidist; he killed babies because of his hatred for the Jewish Messiah. If you trace Herod’s family to his son and grandson, every one of those Herod’s got theirs in the pages of the New Testament and finally you read in Acts the third generation, fourth generation of Herod’s family the guy dies of worms because he tried to pull the same stunt his grandfather did. That family was a damned family because they didn’t get out of their sin pattern and they were just terminated, God said that’s it, I’m not going to allow this pattern to go on any more, I’m going to bust up that family. That’s a case of how suffering happens.
Suffering happens with nations, Acts 17 is a good example of the theory of how that happens, a great perspective on history, that God sets the boundaries of nations to maintain God consciousness and when a country doesn’t maintain God consciousness—out! And they suffer. This is why there’s so much poverty in the third world. A lot of the areas where there’s poverty on the face of the planet is not because of some innocence. Tragically a lot of children and families die because they’re suffering. [Gives illustration of sending huge water pump to Africa, leader said they couldn’t have it, tariff had to be paid, so missionary sent it back.] The people that run some of these third world countries can’t chew gum and walk at the same time and that’s why they have poverty, it’s usually because of bad management and foolish policies; that’s what causes poverty.
The fourth one, it’s obvious in Scripture, “Eternal existence of Hell and Lake of Fire.” It’s obviously due to choice, Jesus says it is, if you reject grace, I offer you salvation in My Son and you spit in His face, so what do you want Me to do, I’m not going to keep you around forever, I have a little garbage heap off here for eternity, I’m going to get you out of the way so history can go on without you.
The fifth and sixth are judgment for believers, obviously the fourth one is a suffering pattern that applies only to unbelievers. In the fifth one we have “Judgment in Mortal Life of Believers,” a classic instance is in Hebrews 12:5-13. [blank spot] …you don’t hear too much about this, because you often say the sign of salvation is that you have a person who was blessed, who has peace, purpose, etc. and yet look at Heb. 12, one of the signs of salvation is that when we rebel against God we get sharply disciplined, and if you look at verse 7-8, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” One of the signs is that you can’t get away with it because our Father loves us and He’s going to go after us and straighten us out. We all need straightening out. Is that related to choices? Yes, we make bad choices; Daddy comes along and takes care of the problem. I Cor. 11 is read in the communion service. They had people coming in doing communion half stoned; they had a church problem. How would you like guys to fall in the aisle and the deacons serving communion have to step over them because they’re out cold. That’s what was going on in Corinth. So God had to deal with that problem.
Then the sixth, “Judgment after Resurrection of Believers and Denial of Rewards.” That’s a sobering thought. I Cor. 3 things that we thought were such great and wonderful things we did for God and He applies His blow torch and it burns up, it doesn’t endure. I would say that’s a suffering situation. So there are lots of reasons for suffering in the Scripture and it’s refreshing to look at the fact that there are these definite patterns. What does looking at patterns do? It goes back to the fact that it tells us something about our God, that the suffering, when we’re in shock, we deal with God as God, we get angry at Him, we look at the fact that He has a reason for these limits, and then we start looking at all these patterns and we say He really does know what He’s doing here, there is an order amidst the apparent chaos of sorrow and suffering. We can’t always glimpse it, there’s no guarantee we can glimpse it, Job didn’t glimpse all the things that were going on. Often though, I’m sure everyone can give testimony to the fact that you go through these periods of suffering and you can’t see rhyme or reason to it until later, and then you say by golly there was a reason for that. So you acquire meaning and presumably in eternity we will have a complete examination, oh, that’s what was going on back then when you were fussing at me.
Let’s look at the more subtle kinds of suffering. I’m going to take you to a passage in the Old Testament that you’ll never hear a preacher preach on, it’s too embarrassing. When God wants to get our attention as an unbeliever He’ll do it, and some of you can testify to the fact that you were fat, dumb and happy, walking around as an unbeliever, and all of a sudden somebody intervened, something happened. Was that due to your immediate choice, were you really looking for God? No, not really. So why did this, all of a sudden, drop into your life?
The seventh, an “Evangelistic ‘Wake-up-call” to get your attention, a wake-up-call for the gospel. The Bible does have a sense of humor and 1 Samuel 5:1ff is one of these passages. This is a passage of mockery, a passage directed against the paganism of the culture of the time. It is about the Philistines. “Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.” And the story goes on to point out that they had this ark, the Philistines captured it and they thought ha, we’ve got this, so they put it into the temple of Dagon. They set it in the temple, and verse 3, “When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord.” So here’s their little statue god and he fell over right in front of the ark of God. So they took Dagon and put him back up again. The next day, verse 4, “But when they arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of God. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.” The angels had a party in that place the night before. Now what’s the deal? Dagon was the god, these are the Philistines, that’s their sacred god, the integration point of their society, and he’s fallen on his face.
Here’s where God gives them a little suffering. Verse 6, “Now the hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, and He ravaged them and smote them with hemorrhoids, both Ashdod and its territories.” In the King James it’s “tumors” [emerods] and you have to have a little sense of humor to tell what this is all about. You’ve heard of a pain in the you know what, and this is a Biblical passage that shows you where that idea came from. This is suffering as a wake up call. God was not going to allow these people to go on the way they were going on, so He interfered in their life. Was it due to their choices? Not really. They remembered it for quite some time and the Jews would read I Sam. 5 and laugh, because it’s a mockery of their god, it’s not just a funny story, there’s a profound mockery going on. The true God of the Bible vs. the gods of the world; the gods of the world need to be propped up, they fall over.
The next one number eight, “A ‘nudge’ to advance spiritually.” Turn to Deuteronomy 8:2-6, another example in the Old Testament of suffering of believers for training, and there’s a particular wording here that is interesting. “And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you,” watch this, “testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” Watch the wording of verse 3; it’s very particular, pay attention to the verbs. “And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone,” stop and think about that sentence. Here we are, down through history, and the Jews, for forty years they’re out there, a whole heritage, this goes on for 40 years.
During their experience this generation, all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, none of them had ever empirically observed manna. In fact, the word “manna” is the Hebrew word for “what is it,” what is this. Ever hear of a food called “what is it?” That’s what manna is. We don’t understand this, nobody has ever seen this before, where did this stuff come from. They never empirically observed. This is what’s so important about verse 3, what God does is He gets us into circumstances such that there is no way out by our resources. He got them in a situation, they had no food; this is a million people out here. In Desert Storm when we had all those troops out there you should have seen the logistics operation going on. It’s not necessarily battlefield skills that win wars, it’s the logistics, the side that can’t supply their troops loses. And logistics is a tremendous and fundamental effort in all situations. The logistics of taking 2,000,000 people out in the middle of the dessert, just think of the water problem, multiply the gallons of water a person needs a day by 1,000,000 and think about the logistics.
Think about the clothing, for 40 years, how many pairs of shoes would one or two million people going to use in 40 years of walking around in that dessert, and the dessert is not smooth to walk on, there are a lot of hard rocks out there. What about all the clothes? They didn’t have K-Mart in the Sinai, where do they get all this stuff. Look at what it’s saying, it’s saying their clothing didn’t wear out; you had food that you never saw before. So there’s a principle in this where our suffering will be to put us in a box, we’ll say I’m in a box and I can’t get out. That’s right. Try to think back to these people, no food, no water, a clothing problem, and all of a sudden God drops in manna and this is why He says in verse 3, you didn’t know this, your fathers didn’t know it, but I made you to know it, that you may understand that you don’t live by bread alone, by normal processes, you live by trusting Me.
So here’s a case where suffering is a nudge to spiritually advance. We don’t like that, we get comfortable where we are, and then God says okay, I’m going to ratchet things up a little bit. We don’t like that, but it’s really for our benefit. When we were a little kid we didn’t want to go to school the first time. As Christians we don’t like this, it gets us out of our comfort zone.
I want to take one other passage, where Paul had a similar situation develop; we won’t get into the details. 2 Corinthians 12:1, “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” In other words, Paul is sharing his testimony of his tremendous experiences with these Theophanies, where the Lord appeared to him in a personal way. He goes on to describe this tremendous thing, and the other apostles didn’t really share this, they knew Jesus in His humanity, but Paul had these tremendous experiences of Christ in Theomorphic form after the resurrection. Verse 7, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me.”
So here he was in a suffering situation, he said Lord, take this suffering out of my life, and the answer is interesting. Verse 9, “And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, My power is perfected in weakness.” What is going on there? It’s very similar to what’s happening in Deuteronomy. Paul has a tendency in his soul to be prideful; we know that from his earlier pre-Christian days. So he has this tendency to the flesh and a particular flesh pattern of pride. This guy was a genius and he could get very prideful about it. What this suffering does is it humbled him. Some scholars think it was because he never fully recovered from the Damascus Road when he was blinded, and he was partially blinded, some of the evidence for that is Galatians, he said I write with big letters so you can see, etc. That may be true that the Lord appeared to him and it made him study difficult, think of it, here’s a guy that’s well-read so where does God hit him? With his eyes. Maybe he couldn’t see half the people he was preaching to.
Whatever, Paul got in a situation with suffering, he asked the Lord, and that was fine, he went to the Lord to see what was going on about all this, and he got an answer. And the answer was that you’d better go along with this because it’s best for you. We could argue with that one, I don’t agree with that, but who knows us, who is the one who looks on the outward appearance and who is the one who looks on the heart? So this is a case, again a nudge to spiritually advance, you might say this is a nudge to keep from spiritually falling back, because if the Lord hadn’t don’t this Paul might have kind of gone backwards, so it’s a preventive suffering. This is a kind of suffering that comes into our lives to prevent future problems. I encourage you to look at some of those verses; there are plenty of verses in the Bible that deal with suffering.
Nine, ten and eleven are sufferings, all of which are evidences for something outside of ourselves. Number eight is something that is directly related to our spiritual growth, but we also have to remember there are other things going on in history besides us.
Suffering number nine is “Evidence for evangelization of unbelievers.” 1 Peter 2:12-3:17, Peter says your suffering shows the reality of the gospel, when unbelievers look at you and they see that you respond to this situation in a radically different way than they would respond to the same situation, they begin to ask questions. In fact, that’s the context that leads up to the passage, “Sanctify the Lord God in your heart and be ready to give an answer to every man that asks a reason of the hope that is in you.” Why do they ask a reason? Because they’ve watched a suffering situation, they’ve watched how we deal with it.
Number ten is the same thing “Evidence for edification of believers,” it’s for the encouragement of other believers. 2 Corinthians 1:5-15 is a whole passage where Paul says to the Corinthians by suffering and dealing with that in your life, that makes you a counselor in that area. We’ve seen that in this congregation, where the elders will take someone who suffered in a certain situation, and pair them off with someone else who has just started into that situation. What that does for the person who’s just getting creamed to realize here’s somebody who went through that five years ago and they’re still breathing, they’re still alive, that’s encouraging. If they can do it, maybe I can do it too. That’s what that’s about.
Number eleven is the most mysterious of all, “Evidence in the unseen angelic conflict,” that’s the kind you see in Job and that’s related to the angels that watch us. For some reason, they learn from what we do. Some of the suffering, like the suffering of Job was never really explained to Job, we get the scoop but Job never read chapters 1-2, he didn’t know what was going on in heaven, at least when he first went into this. So there’s evidences apparently that go on that our lives are being used to teach personalities in the unseen realm.
We point these out because there are reasons for suffering and some of those reasons we know, some of them we don’t. The encouragement is that when you think about it, there are at least eleven different areas, maybe you can find twelve or thirteen, I don’t know, but at least there are eleven different categories that explain why this is happening in my life.
Finally we conclude number four, the fourth step is where we get down to the fact that after it’s all said and done, we’ve met God, we’ve argued with Him about the limits of suffering in our life, we’ve observed some of the patterns to be encouraged by that, and we start to think maybe there’s a reason and purpose, our goal at the end of coping with suffering, and sometimes we have to keep coming back to this point, is where we can get in a position of worshiping and giving thanks without bitterness in our heart toward God for this situation. That doesn’t come automatically. Don’t think that’s easy to do. Sometimes it will take weeks, days, years on a certain point, but you’ll know when you get there, because then you’re able to give thanks and the bitterness goes away. But otherwise it hangs in there and hangs in there.
I mentioned last week the model of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He faced His maximum suffering, it’s interesting to observe how He did it. In His humanity He always retained His mental alertness, He wouldn’t let Himself go to sleep, or allow drugs or anything else until He could deal with the problem and then He slept, then He would take the medicine that was offered on the cross, etc. But He remained alert, and that gets back to the point where I started tonight, that suffering starts off with shock, and one of the characteristics of shock is that you’re just not functioning rapidly. In shock you withdraw, things slow down, and you just aren’t thinking clearly. It’s the same thing spiritually, we don’t think clearly, and you’ve got to work through that, to that ultimate point where you can say thank you, I don’t know what all you have in mind for me but I can rest in peace that something is happening here, and I trust You that You know what you’re doing with my life. That’s the coping strategy.
The conclusion of this is that you’ll see, if you think about what we said, that all of this is the exact opposite of the pagan coping strategy. What was the pagan coping strategy? To make up a purpose, or to go into some sort of anesthesia, ecstasy of some sort, drugs of some sort, alcohol, what do all those have in common? They all divert your attention from the suffering. That’s why people are like this. It’s not “Just say no” to drugs, it’s hard to just say no to drugs or alcohol, if that is what gives you relief from the pain of life, it’s understandable why, with that coping pattern, you’d do that. But the Biblical coping pattern is exactly the reverse, where you stare the suffering right in its gory face and deal with it. You don’t turn away from the suffering, you look at the suffering, and then you look at Him, and it’s a process, not of anesthesia, it’s a process of profound alertness.
This ends chapter 4 and the event of the fall. We move on to the event of the flood, and we’ll look at the whole issue of salvation.