Sin, suffering, and salvation
In struggling to comprehend the reasons why we suffer, why God allows or brings pain into our lives, my thoughts lately have been captured by a new awareness of an age-old reality: we are worse sinners than we realize. This idea may offend some, but please don’t click out before giving it some consideration. It may change your life.
Every good parent properly disciplines his or her children, and that discipline is going to involve suffering of some kind. So it stands to reason that at least some of the pain in our lives is discipline from the hand of our heavenly Father. But the child who believes she’s done nothing deserving correction feels unfairly treated and thinks the father unjust. And likewise do we question God’s justice when we look at the suffering around us and believe it undeserved. Though I’m not (and don’t expect ever will be) equipped to fully explain God’s ways, I do believe a proper conviction of sin, together with a clearer vision of God’s perfection and holiness, will go a long way towards understanding suffering, and will result in less of it as we accept and learn from the discipline.
These days we think we’re pretty good if we’re relatively pleasant with our family and friends and don’t harass strangers. If we’re non-violent, tax-paying citizens who mow our lawns and welcome trick-or-treaters on Halloween. If we put in a decent 8 hours a day and don’t scam the company. But God’s standard is so much higher than that. God’s standard is himself.
The “A” in each of these graphics is the same color. You can see that surrounded by gray it looks fairly white and clean. But lined up against pure white, its dinginess is obvious.
In the same way, when we compare ourselves with others – we don’t cheat on our spouse, beat the kids, or abandon our pets – we may not see ourselves as sinful and think God should be rather pleased with us. But on the backdrop of God’s perfect holiness, the contrast is clear and our sin becomes “utterly sinful.”
So because God is love, and he commands us to love one another, every act, thought, or attitude directed towards or in relation with another human being that is not animated by love is a sin. Do you seek your own pleasure and comfort above meeting the needs of your spouse? That’s a sin. Do you prioritize your work and leisure time over the personal attention your children need to feel secure and loved? That’s also a sin. Are you hot-tempered with your coworkers or employees, rude to the server at lunch, aggressive and inconsiderate on the road, absorbed with your own cares and needs and blind to the needs of those you say you love? Am I?
Are you arrogant, critical, greedy, proud, angry, envious, divisive? Are you given to drunkenness or a consumer of pornography? Are you sexually immoral? Do you get exasperated with an aging parent? Do you enjoy ridiculing politicians you disagree with? All of these behaviors or attitudes are contrary to God’s design and his standard and are rightly labeled sin.
When we know God, whose very being is our standard of morality, we see how far short we fall. Who among us, with chocolate all over our face and our hand in the cookie jar, would dare stand before God and call him unjust for bringing on us the consequences of our sin?
So we suffer because we sin, and because others sin. God’s justice demands it. We like justice when it falls on someone else – not so much when we are the guilty party. But God’s justice is meant to encourage repentance more than to exact retribution. If there were no consequences of our sin, it is unlikely we would understand the gravity of it, recognize our perilous position because of it, nor confess and turn from it to avoid further and more painful consequences. And unlikely that we would seek mercy if we don’t realize we need it.
Thank God, Mercy seeks us. Conviction of sin is a merciful intent for the salvation of our souls, because it is designed to lead us to the Savior. All of our human suffering, though disciplinary and refining in nature, cannot atone for our sins. Only the suffering and death of the Son of God can.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7