The Problem of Sin: James 1:14-15 September 28, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Assorted Sermons, Sermons.
Tags: Did God create sin?, God, James 1:14-15, Sin, Why does God punish sin?, Why is there Sin?
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Westminster Presbyterian Church
The Problem of Sin
The difference between this third issue or this third problem that we have been looking at in these verses from the first chapter of James, is that there is a distinction between the first two. The first two are dealing largely with the things that are outside of us. The problem of evil coming into the world—as old as some of my elementary school students think that I may happen to be, I am still not old enough, nor is anyone in this room old enough, remember when evil came into the world with Adam and Eve. Though, as I said, many of my elementary schoolers think that I am older than dirt.
And when we are dealing with the problem of pain, we are again dealing with something that is largely outside of us. It is something that God is indeed using in our lives to conform us into the image of his Son, but again it is something that is largely taking place outside of our being—or at least is beginning there.
This third question that comes out of the first chapter in these verses shifts and no longer is dealing with things that begin largely outside of us or things that begin working from the outside working in, but this is something that in fact that begins on the inside and works outwardly. You see, we still have a remnant of the old man within us, and we are to be about working to tear it down and destroy it, but at the same time he is working against us, testing us and trying us. For the believer is one who pursues righteousness and not sin but we are yet those who are not yet perfect, and those which stumble, and those that yet fall. I heard it once said that the holier the individual, the more acutely aware they will be of the sin that is dwelling in their being. This morning, as a result of that and as a result of what James is teaching us, I would like to essentially do three things:
First, I would like to paint a clear picture of what James is describing in these two verses.
Second, I would like us to understand the very nature of sin itself as a repetition of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin—something that we are guilty of in addition to our own sinful behavior—I want to see those in connection.
And Thirdly, I want to remind us of the hope that we have of forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ. I want to remind us of where James is going with this passage.
But first, let us paint the picture, let us look to see what it is that James is clearly saying in this text. First, remember (you are going to get sick of me saying this over and over again), but remember the context that we have. James had began this question with this statement: that you, as you resist temptation—as you resist trial—it will make you stronger in faith. It will make you and grow you to the point where you will be lacking in nothing. James is speaking ultimately of Glorification here. He is not speaking of something that we will not fully realize as we live on this earth, but he is speaking of something that we are moving towards as we are getting ready to be glorified and spend eternity with Christ. He is speaking of more than purely a restoration, but he is speaking of a remaking of us into the image of Jesus.
Yet, as we get here and look at this verse, James is speaking of just the opposite things. The resistance to sin, the resistance to temptation, builds us up and strengthens us. When we fall into sin, when we pursue the things of this world, that sin ultimately brings death—when it is fully formed. This is something that will ultimately come back to the sin of Adam and Eve in terms of his reference, but we will come back to this.
But do you see the contrast that he is making? He is painting, if you will, two pictures, or two avenues. And he is saying that this is the one that living faithfully leads you towards, yes it will be hard, yes, it will be difficult, yes it will be filled with pain. Jesus never tells us that it will be otherwise, but look at the destination that it leads you towards. At the same time, there is an easy road, there is a road that is filled with desire and the lusts of the heart and temptation and trial and giving in to those things. And ultimately, that path has a destination as well. And that destination is death.
Literally, James, when he writes these words says, “Yet, when each individual…” Note right there what he is saying here. He is not talking about corporate sin. There is such a thing as corporate sin, it happens, but James is not dealing with that sort of thing in verse 14. He is saying that each individual, he is dealing with each one of us personally and individually. And saying, look, when each of you, individually and personally is tempted, this is that same word again that we have been using—tested, tried—by his personal lusts. Note the emphasis that he is making it once again—he is not talking generically about lusts. He is not talking about the things that are just generically in the world, but he is saying, Look, there are things that cause you and me to stumble and fall, and they are not generic, they are different—they are individual. What causes me to stumble and fall may be and probably is something that is entirely different that what causes you to stumble and fall. Certainly we have things in common, but oftentimes the things that tempt one are not necessarily the things that tempt another, and that is why Paul teaches in Corinthians that we need to be sensitive to those things and be sensitive to our weaker brethren, and not by things that we are perfectly able to do, lead them into sin and trial and stumbling with our freedoms.
By our personal lusts. Lusts is language in the Greek, that refers to things that have been forbidden. This is not something that is just dealing with that which is probably okay, but maybe cause me to stumble and fall. These are things that explicitly, as James is saying, have been forbidden to you and to me in His word. He is saying, “Does God use this to tempt us? No!” But, God does use this to make us holy. And he is saying that when we are tempted, when we are tested and tried by our personal lusts, being “drug away” is the literal connotations of this word, and then enticed. I like this language here, because it so often reflects the way that we fall into sin. The language of drug away implies in the beginning that we are kind of fighting against something, that we are kind of resisting against something. That we are saying, “No, I am not going to go there, I am not going to fall into that sin and into that trial.” But then enticed. Enticed is a reflection of the idea that we are kind of going along with this.
How often this reflects our experience. I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we know the things that ensnare, to use the language of Hebrews. And usually, when it comes to those things, we resist them at first. Usually we are aware of them enough and go, “No, God does not want me to do this, this is sin, and I am not going to go down that path.”
But something happens to us. And usually the way it goes is that even though we say, “no,” we dwell upon it. We think about it. We entertain the idea and then constantly say, no, but the more we do that, the more we drift closer and closer—the more our resistances are broken down, and the more inclined we are to move from this idea that idea that I am fighting against it, kicking my heels, burying them into the dirt, and into flirting with it. And when we go from one to the other we fall into sin—over and over again.
Kids learn this technique at a very early age. It is not only the pitting of Mom against Dad, when Mom says, “No,” going to ask Dad. But it is also the pitting of them against themselves and their patience, because if a child asks his Mother or Father for something enough times, over and over again, they know that one of two things will happen: they’ll get a spanking or they’ll get what they want. And oftentimes, in our culture, because parents get frustrated and say, “Enough! Alright! Go get it! Go to it!” we give in. So too, Satan uses this same technique with us. Our hearts use this same technique, seeking to justify and to lure us into sin. John Calvin was one who said that the heart of man is a perpetual factory of idols. And indeed, I think that there is great truth in there, but if that is true, then we need to ask ourselves firstoff, what our minds will be doing. Because our minds really can become one of two things. Our minds can become the guard on the wall, protecting our heart from the things that would entice them to make idols, and stopping them within as a guard or a policeman might do, or they can become the advertising division, helping us to justify sin. As soon as we allow our minds to justify sin, then we will step and go down that pathway.
James continues, he says, “then” or “next”… You kind of get the sense, as he goes through this, that he is taking you down or showing us the slippery slope, and saying that as soon as those forbidden lusts are conceived—they give birth to a child, and that child is sin. And that child, when it is brought to completion—or sin, when it comes to full maturity—to keep this analogy that he is using of a child in our lives—brings forth death. Brings forth death.
Paul wrote in Romans 6:23—“for the wages of sin is death”
How often we fail to think this way. How often we fail to put that seriously before us, when we are being enticed into sin. To understand this fully, though, we must understand the context that James is alluding to in this passage. And I would argue that he is looking back at Genesis chapter 3. Now too often, when we think of Genesis chapter 3, we think of those awful little children stories and that pretty little boa constrictor that is hanging out of the tree and talking to Eve and having a happy little conversation there within—sometimes even poetically written out.
And when we look at the command of God not to eat of the fruit of the tree we kind of see this as a strange and arbitrary command of God. Yet, if we turn back and spend some time in Genesis 3, we will find something that is very, very different. And we will find something that is far more sinister than what we usually introduce our children to in the childrens books.
I want to begin by saying that we do not know how long, or how much time took place in between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve lived together after this wonderful marriage arrangement. After the guy writes poetry to her—and ladies you know that the guy is head over heels, because that is something that it is not so often that macho men—and Adam must have been a Macho man because he was created by God and in God’s image. We don’t how long it took for Genesis 2 to end and Genesis 3 to begin. I would at least suggest—in opposition to some that have gone in our tradition—that it was probably a little bit longer than shorter.
Thomas Watson once said that he felt that he thought that it was the very next day that Adam and Eve entered into sin, and I don’t know that gives credit to the way that God created them—without the sin nature that we have. And I don’t know that that gives credit to what it must have been like to live in the presence of God and in paradise.
Never the less, man had been given the command of not eating with the implication that he was to teach his wife and their children of the importance of this command as well. How important it is to teach our children the things of God. And how often we fail in this task that we have been commissioned to do. Over and over again, scripture commands us to teach our children the things of God so that they might not stray. Of course, to teach something, we have to know it in the first place.
And one of the things that I have found in the past couple of years as I have been teaching is that teaching something to someone else actually helps you to know it and understand it far better than you did when you began the process. There is a great deal of wisdom in these commands to teach our children because as we are teaching our children these things and as we are emphasizing these things in their lives, we are also forced to confront them and emphasized them in our own lives as well.
And man had seemed a pretty poor job of teaching Eve. As we look at her misquoting of the law. As we look at her dialogue with Satan and we see how far she falls and stumbles. She takes away from God’s command in terms of lightening it. No longer does she say that you will surely die—in the Hebrew, “die, die,” it is a strong way of emphasis. But she just says, “you’ll die.” And she adds to God’s command. No longer is it only, “you shall not eat”, but now, “no touchie” is added to it. Satan exploits it by perfectly quoting God’s word-in verse 4, you will surely die—turning it on its head.
The implication at the woman’s presence at the tree is that she has likely been dwelling in this location for some time—wondering about this command that God has given her. Is it not implying perhaps, as she rationalizes and says, “I saw that it was good for food…” You see what she has been dealing with? I want to stop right here for a moment, because oftentimes when we look at this we think of this as an arbitrary command of God. How is it that we are to see it otherwise? Every other command, the command to go and to multiply, to heed the moral law, to work and to keep the garden were commands that made sense to the intellect and really appealed to the desires. Why would Eve not want to do those things? These command were designed to delight and to fulfill, but this one is a little bit different. Yet, beloved, that is the nature of obedience.
See, obedience is not pure obedience if we can rationalize and we do it out of our own desires to do it. If I say to my son after dinner, “Paul, eat your desert!” His obedience in eating his desert, his ice cream or M&Ms or whatever it might be, has nothing to do with his obedience to me. It has everything to do with the pursuit of his own desires because he is doing what he wanted to do in the first place anyway. And he is even nodding his head in the back. Obedience is not pure obedience until you obey even when you don’t understand why you are obeying. Because you obey out of your respect and out of your love and out of your admiration for the one who has commanded this of you. Beloved, this is pure obedience and beloved, this is why this command sometimes seems arbitrary to us. It was designed to teach them about what it means to obey.
And beloved, this is not what we see taking place next. Not only does she see and say, “this looks good to eat.” But she also says, that she desired it as something that would make one wise. You know, even the serpent did not say that. Even the serpent did not say that it would make you wise. He simply says that it will help you discern between good and evil. But as Eve was justifying her sin in her own heart, she took and added to even what Satan had introduced to her.
Beloved, is that not what we also do? And there are two aspects of sin that are involved here. She was denying the truthfulness of God’s command—“if you eat it you will die”—and she is going, “oh, let’s see what happens!” and Adam eats right along with her. Essentially they are accusing God of being a liar. And they wanted to become like God—or “gods” depending on how you want to render this language from the Hebrew. It is idolatry. They basically were forsaking their place in the garden, as being servants, as being submissive and under God. Seeking to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. And beloved, James is saying here by implication, that when you engage in sin, you too enter into these same three sins:
You are guilty of allowing yourself to become enticed to justify sin, to deceive yourself that what is poisonous is not really as bad as it is or as God tells you. You are doubting God’s truthfulness, that when God says, “No!” that he means it. And you are wanting to take God’s place—to obey your own reasoning and not God’s plain commands.
How often we act this way. How often we take our own sins so lightly. How often we place ourselves in situations where we will be tempted and where we will be tried and how oftentimes we are so little different from Eve and not even stay away from the object that will tempt us. But we stroll into its presence. And how often we fail to guard—as Adam failed to guard his wife—ourselves. How often, beloved, we take our own sin so lightly. And beloved, when we take sin lightly, we take redemption lightly as well.
With this in mind, let us briefly remind ourselves of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. And let us begin with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, verse 15. They were given a promise of the coming Messiah. Do you understand how wonderful this promise is? That even in their rebellion, in their opposition of God, God gave them a promise and they did not go to bed one night in their fallen lives without the promise that a redeemer is coming. And throughout scripture we find this same language being used.
Isaiah 1:18, “’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are scarlet they will become white like snow, though they are red, like crimson, they will become white like wool.’”
Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
We could go on and on…
Nehemiah 9:17, “But you are a God, Oh God, ready to forgive, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, you did not forsake them.” Speaking about Israel in the wilderness.
Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you!”
And beloved, we are just barely scratching the surface of the Old Testament alone. We could also cite passages like: Matthew 6:14, Mark 3:28; Acts 5:13, 13:28; Ephesians 1:7, 1 Timothy 1:15, Hebrews 8:12, and I can go on and on and on all morning and barely scratch the surface, but I would like to go back to Romans 6:23, and look at the second part of that passage. Indeed Paul begins, “For the wages of sin is death, but,” notice this wonderful “But” here in the middle of this verse! “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Beloved, there is redemption in Christ Jesus even though we stand guilty of our sin. There is no denying it, there is no excusing it, we deserve the wrath of an angry and a righteous God, for by our sins we have rejected his ways, we have accused him of being a liar, we have rejected his good things and we have sought to set ourselves over God and not under his authority. We are rebels and we are usurpers, yet God has sent his Son to pay the price on your behalf and on mine. He called you to himself. And he has made us rebels into children.
Look at the next verses in the book of James that we will look at. He is calling believers and saying, “Look” (verse 18) “We are a kind of firstfruits.” Firstfruits are things that the Israelites were called to set aside for a holy use, for God’s own use—and he is saying that applies to you! That applies to me! God has done this in our lives.
Beloved, as we come to this point, my prayer is that you would examine your own heart. Maybe you have sought to trust in your own works, your own church membership to save yourself. Maybe, you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ and you hear of this hope and of this promise of forgiveness that is given over and over in scripture. Maybe you have that relationship, but sin and disobedience has dulled it, and made it seem distant. Maybe your relationship is well, but that the trials and the testing that you have undergone as of late seems too much to bear, and you feel just worn out.
Beloved, wherever you are in this mix and mess that we call life in a fallen world, would you pray with me, pray from the depths of your heart, along with me…
The Problem of Pain: James 1:13 September 28, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Assorted Sermons, Sermons.
Tags: God, Is God good?, James 1:13, Pain, The Problem of Pain, Why do Bad things happen to Good People?, Why is there pain in the world?
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Westminster Presbyterian Church
The Problem of Pain
Last week, as we engaged this passage, we raised the question about the problem of Evil. Where did evil come from? And how are we to understand the presence of sin and of evil in light of God’s sovereignty—in light of what Paul writes about in Ephesians 1:11, of God ordering all things according to the council of his own will? And we began at least in doing this at James’ great statement that God tempts no one and that he cannot be tempted. Now James goes on in this passage to talk about sin and about sin’s effect as it grows in our lives. Yet as I look and as I read through this passage, there seems to be a question that bridges the question of the Problem of Evil and the Problem of sin, and that question is the Problem of Pain.
Or maybe to rephrase that problem of pain, we could rephrase it like this: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Now, this is a question that has been approached and tried to be dealt with in a number of ways. In the 1980s, there was a conservative Jewish Rabbi, by the name of Harold Kushner, who still shows up every once in a while in talkshows like Larry King and ones like that. Kushner wrote a book trying to reconcile the death of his son with his own faith and asking just this very question. Unfortunately, the sad conclusion was that there are just some things in this world that God just cannot control. We see in our own modern culture two theologies—both going almost hand in hand—one called Open Theism and the other one that is called Process Theology, which is taking this idea to its logical end—that God really doesn’t know the future, but that God kind of looks out and works in our lives and hopes that he can kind of make the best out of things. But beloved, as I have said before in different ways and in different places, but that is a lie, it comes from the pits of Hell, and it smells of smoke.
But some have taken it to the opposite logical end. They have said that everything that happens bad in this world, that everything wicked and evil by our own measure is a mark of God’s judgment upon us because clearly none is good but God. And while the Bible does affirm in places that while God does discipline his people as a father disciplines his children, Jesus also makes it clear that when bad things happen, there is not a one to one correlation between those things and any one person’s sins and that event. We can go to John chapter 9 for example when Jesus is confronted with the man who was born blind, and understand that in ancient times, if you were born blind, that was a really bad thing. And his disciples came up to him, and said, “Look, Master, whose sin was it that caused this? Was it his parents’ sin? Was it his sin? How do we understand this?” And Jesus’ response is very telling. He said this man was born blind not because of his sin or because of anyone else’s sin, but this man was born blind so that God would be glorified in him (John 9:3). Now don’t lose this idea of tempting and testing and trials in our lives for the glory of God, I want to come back to that idea.
So with this in mind, lodged in the back of our minds, let us begin by framing the question about the problem of pain and let us ask ourselves, in light of the answer of the problem of pain, how now shall we live in light of the pain that we experience?
To begin with, the question of the problem of pain, C.S. Lewis sums up the question in this way:
“If God were good, he would want his creatures to be happy, and if God were all powerful, he would be able to make them so. But the creatures are not happy, therefore God either lacks goodness or power or both.”
Now this very phrasing of the question has led many to either throw up their hands in despair and say, “I’m doomed!” or to say that there are just some things that you have to take by faith and move on. When you do this, that creates in our mind a false dualism, a false division, a division between matters of faith and matters of reason—that there are some things that we just have to take as matters of faith and that reason has nothing to do with it. And the rest of life we live in a rational and in a reasonable way.
But the Bible presents faith in a very different way. It presents faith as something as something that is perfectly reasonable or reason filled or logical and that it is a logical response to the work of an Almighty God. Hebrews 11:1 presents faith as the “assurance,” the uJpo/stasiß (hupostasis), the guarantee, the entitlement, literally this word refers to the underlying or undergirding, foundational condition that other things are built upon. The writer of Hebrews is saying that faith is this assurance, this underlying—undergirding—assurance that the promises of God that we have for heaven is true. That it is absolute, that it is a fundamental guarantee. I think as a side-note that one reason that we must recognize that faith originates with God and not with us is how could a guarantee of the promises of God originate with us? But that guarantee of the promises of God must originate with God because he is the only one who can guarantee them in our lives and in the lives of his people. The writer of goes on and he says that not only is it that assurance, but it is the conviction—the absolute proof—of that which cannot be seen.
Do you hear the finality in this language? This is not a blind faith that is being portrayed for us, but it is a faith that is being described as a response to God’s testimony in the life of his beings. And note how the rest of the Hebrews chapter 11 continues. It reinforces the idea that Jesus says to the blind man that this trial, this problem, this testing was done for the glory of God by looking at all of these people that are listed in what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” These people all demonstrated their faith to the glory of God by facing great trials and great difficulties. In other words, in a sense, we could reword it this way: “The very way that you suffer, when you suffer pain and trial, communicates God’s glory to the world.
My grandmother moved in with us a number of years before she died. I remember when she was diagnosed with kidney cancer that had gone to the pancreas and to other places. The doctor had basically prescribed that she would live for about three months, and she lived for about a year. I remember that he one wish was that she be able to die at home and not in a hospital somewhere. And we as a family said that we would do everything in our power to grant that wish. And we, by God’s grace, we were able to do that. But, you know, I learned more about living in faith from watching my grandmother die in faith than I have ever learned from watching somebody live in faith. Watching her suffer, watching in agony and never losing her faith and never being short of pointing others to the glory of God—even in the midst of her greatest trials. One of the things that you will hear oftentimes over and over in my pastoral prayers, where praying for people who are ill—even to the point of death—that that can be a good thing. Yes, we will long when we miss them, but their witness even to the point of death—their Christian witness, is a powerful witness that communicates the glory of God to those around them.
So if faith is something that is real, and it is something that is substantial, when we are confronted with problems, when we are confronted with objections, we need not feel as if we have to back-pedal from those objections and kind of come up with an easy-pat solution to them.
So how do we deal with this question in the way that Lewis frames it? This question, this statement that the world often raises, that if God were all good he would want his creatures to be happy and if God were all powerful, he would be able to do it. But the creatures are not happy, therefore God is lacking either in goodness or power or both.
Now the first thing that we must do is to assert that God is good and that God is all-powerful. Jesus himself teaches that none is good but God. John in his third epistle commends us to imitate God—to imitate that which is good and to restrain from evil as we live our lives. God is explicitly called, “All-Mighty” 58 times throughout the scriptures, and that is not to mention the nearly countless works of an almighty God that are attributed to Him.
Thus we are left with a question: “If God is good, and he is, if God is almighty, and he is, why aren’t the creatures happy? Doesn’t God want happiness for us? Now, I would argue that the answer to that question is, “Yes!” That God does will our happiness, but true happiness for us is not rooted in worldly comforts, but it is rooted in eternal comforts. And what is thus truly good for us is being conformed into the image of God’s Son so that we might enjoy those eternal comforts. And if we are to be conformed into the image of our Lord, ought we not walk the path, the very same path, that our Lord walked. Jesus said to those who would be disciples of him, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Now sometimes we are guilty in our culture of taking this language all too lightly. “Oh, that’s just my cross to bear, it will be okay.” For Christ, the cross was an implement of torture and of pain—there is nothing comforting about it. That statement of Christ’s, “that if you want to follow me, you too must bear a cross,” is something that ought to make us cringe in our boots as we hear that. Because when we look at ourselves, when we look at our sinful state. When we look at how we have been bent, how we have been broken, how we have been twisted, how we have been gored—inhumanly torn—as a result of the fall, what loving parent, as he looks upon his child, would not long to see that child restored. And as we bear that cross to be like Christ—that is the process—that is the tool—that our loving parent, if you will, uses to unbend us, to put us back together—untwist us and heal the destruction in our bodies and in our lives that was brought on by the fall of Adam and Eve.
If your loved one—does not matter who it is—a child, a parent, a wife—if one of your loved ones contracted an illness or a disease that caused that person to become twisted, warped, or if you will, bent under that disease. You would love that person in spite of that ailment. In fact, your love might be realized all the more in spite of that ailment, but that would still not take away the reality that you would long to see that ailment removed from the body of the one that you loved.
And removing our ailments, our bentness, if you will, hurts. I have cracked or had hairline fractures in a handful of bones, but only once have I ever really badly broken a bone and it was my finger, playing football. The finger was actually broken and shattered out of the socket. But do you know what is amazing about the whole experience? It didn’t hurt. In fact, it didn’t hurt the rest of the day and going home at night and getting it put in a splint and going to the doctors the next day. It didn’t start hurting until the doctor decided to straighten it. It hurts when something that is broken needs to be set back in place.
Let me give you another analogy. One of my buddies, back in Maryland, about seven or eight years ago his wife was involved in a pretty horrendous car accident. She was waiting to make a left hand turn into their development, she was rear-ended by someone who was not paying attention and smacked into her at about 45-55 miles per hour, and because she was waiting to make that left hand turn, when he rear-ended her he forced her head on into an incoming pickup truck, so she was hit from behind and from the front all at once. Her injuries were overwhelming. It is a testimony of God’s grace that she even survived the wreck, having seen the car, and knowing what she went through as a result of that. Had emergency crews not arrived and worked quickly, she probably would have died as a result. But you know, looking at that event, it would not have been seen by anyone involved as a merciful, or if you will, an act of goodness, had on the part of the EMTs, when they arrived, had they said, “Well she is probably going to die anyway, let’s just make her comfortable as she dies here in this car. Instead they did everything in their power to preserve and then restore her life and her body. The multiple surgeries, the physical therapy that she faced in the weeks and in the months that followed, were painful and they were taxing on both her and on her husband. But when she emerged on the other side, she emerged stronger because of the process.
Don’t you see how God is doing the same thing with us as we face our trials and our difficulties? As James says in verse 4 of this chapter is that they are designed to make us complete, to make us perfect—lacking nothing. We often don’t get to see the eternal big picture, in terms of why we are called to do this or to do that, but here is one of those instances where scripture does allow us to do that. Because we are being gloriously transformed. As Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
“And we all, with unveiled face (making reference to Moses), are being transformed (metamorphized to take some liberties with the Greek text) into the same image, from one degree of glory into another, for this comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.”
But beloved, right now, in the midst of being transformed—transfigured even—it hurts. It really, really, hurts. Yet, for us to want less pain—recognizing this—is essentially asking God to show us less love and not more. It is God’s love that motivates, that draws us to being transformed before Him.
So, what then is our response in the midst of pain and suffering? The answer is simple and plain but hard to apply: Obedience. Bare obedience before God. Look back at Hebrews 11 once again and ask yourself how these folks responded to what God was doing in their lives. How Abraham took his son to be sacrificed up upon the mountain, how Moses rejected the comfort of Pharaoh’s household to live in the desert to prepare to lead God’s people, how the saints through the ages have undergone horrific deaths and trials, all standing on the truth of God’s word. And understand that obedience does not require you to understand the whys and the wherefores of what God is doing—it simply requires that you trust the God who does understand and who has ordered all of the whys and the wherefores according to the council of his will and for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes. And all of this is done, beloved, all of this is done through our painful preparation, through what we undergo, what trials that we face to prepare us for our entrance into glory. And ultimately, once we are prepared, and even through the process of being prepared, God is glorified by bringing us to himself as his people.
I want to close with this thought—we began by raising the question—why is it that bad things happen to good people—or perhaps we should reword that question, why do God’s people suffer so much trial and pain? As a result of recognizing what our ultimate good is for—recognizing that what is good for us is to make us more like Christ and not to make us comfortable in this life, the question that we perhaps ought to be asking is this: “Why is it that some of God’s people suffer so little?” Or, “Why don’t we suffer more?”
The Problem of Evil: James 1:13 September 28, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Assorted Sermons, Sermons.
Tags: Did God create Evil?, Evil, God, James 1:13
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Westminster Presbyterian Church
The Problem of Evil
There are some passages in scripture that tend to lend themselves to raising broad questions that may even be beyond the immediate text of the passage that they are dealing with. Questions, that to answer, one needs essentially to look outside of the given text and to look at the breadth of scripture to get at what God would have us to understand. And it seems to me that as I reflect on verses 13 through 15 in particular of chapter one that two of these kinds of questions are explicitly raised in James’ text and one is implicitly raised as you raise those other two questions.
Explicitly, James seems to be making the statement that God is not the author of temptation or sin and that God tempts no one as well. Tied closely with this is the explicit and clear idea that God is not nor has ever been the source of evil. Yet as we look around the world, there is evil. As we look around the world, we are tempted. And if God, as scripture also teaches us, orders all things according to the council of his will, then how do we explain these things in the world around us. Thus for the next several weeks I would like to address three issues: The first, that we will be looking at this morning is the problem of evil; the second will be the problem of pain; and the third is the problem of sin.
Let’s begin by looking more closely at the statement that James is making in verse 13. Now remember the context—context is king when we deal with these passages in small doses—the context is that of dealing with perseverance in suffering for faith—suffering many trials and tests of diverse kinds. Now James begins in verse 13 by saying, “let no one say when he is tempted…” Now this language of temptation is language that can refer to a general testing. I teach in school and I test the kids—whether they like it or not I test them periodically to see whether they have gained said knowledge that I wanted them to get out of the unit which we studied.
But this word can also refer to a different kind of testing, a testing that is designed to entice someone to commit sinful or unacceptable behavior. And this is the broader context of what James is getting at here. This is not the kind of test that one might take in school to make sure that one understands the basic material. But this is the kind of test that were one to fail that test, would lead one into sin. This is the same kind of language that is used of Jesus’ own being tempted in the wilderness. It is the language of the Pharisees, who were seeking to test Jesus and test Jesus in order that they might trap him and arrest him. It is the language that we find in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.” It is also the language of how the disciples were tempted to fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus had gone to pray and he said to the disciples, “stay and watch and pray with me, and don’t fall into temptation and go to sleep.”
That in itself, particularly in terms of the Gethsemane passage, has some very important implications for us. For such language applied is not only to spiritual temptation and spiritual sin but also is applied to physical sin. What it is that Jesus is dealing with the disciples is that they were given an instruction, they were given a command. They were instructed to watch and pray with Christ while he went further into the garden to pray and to prepare himself for his own arrest. The temptation that they faced was not whether to pray or not but to be able to stay awake and to be faithful to doing what Jesus had called them to do.
How often we go through our own lives, as we go to our own time of prayer, as we go to our own time of devotion, that we too struggle, as those disciples did, against fatigue and against sleepiness. How often we have no problem sitting and picking up a magazine and reading it all of the way through, but as soon as we pick up our Bible, three verses into it, our heads are nodding and we are nodding off. How often we have no problem sitting down and watching a television show but when we sit down to pray we find ourselves dozing or we find our mind wandering into a hundred different areas. I think that the implication here that is being made is that this is just as much a temptation into sin as it would have been had Jesus accepted the Devil’s temptation to worship him or something along those lines.
In the book by C.S. Lewis entitled Peralandra, the second of his space trilogy, he describes himself being battered by what he calls “the barrage.” And the Barrage is his feeling doubt, and his feeling distrust, and his feeling discouraged as he goes to do those things that he needs to do that God has commanded him to do. How often we face those same kinds of doubts, those same kinds of worries—am I really up to this test? Am I fairly fearful of what it might mean if I were to step out in faith for this thing or that. This kind of trial, C.S. Lewis describes as the Barrage, and he describes it as the work of the demons that are around us in this world. This causes us by doubt and by fear to not do the things that God has commanded us to do. If you will, even a form of trial and a form of test.
I think that there is a lot of truth in that. So often we don’t think in terms of all of the things that cause us to stumble and fall. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters gives us a myriad of wonderful examples of this. This character that Screwtape is trying to test and tempt ends up going to church and ends up writing to his Uncle Wormwood saying, “I have all these problems, this guy has gone to church, I have lost him.” And Wormwood says, “what are you talking about? Sit him next to someone he doesn’t like. Sit him down next to someone he knows all of the good gossip about, and he will spend more time focusing on the nit-picking thing about the person he does not like or knows all of the gossip about than about what is going on in church. So often we look at these things and say that they are just part of the weakness of our own human nature, indeed, they are part of the weakness of our own fallen sinful nature. But, indeed, they are in a sense a form of trial and form of temptation that we are to resist, that we are to labor against.
When we go to pray at night, when we go to open our Bibles to read, do we ask God to help us resist temptation? Do we ask God to help us keep our eyes awake and alert so that we might grow in our knowledge of Him? That we might grow in our devotion to Him as we go before His holy throne. I think that there is a great deal that we can learn from this.
But now, with this understanding, James goes on to say something very important. He says, when you are tempted or tested in this way, let no one say, that “I am being tempted by God.” And he gives a reason. He says, and here is the reason, he says literally, “because God is untemptable, and he tempts no one.” That God is beyond the possibility of being tempted. It is something that is unable to happen to him. And such a statement, as one who is untemptable, is made of no other person in the Bible. It essentially says that God is so pure and so perfect, that because God is who he is, even the concept of God succumbing to temptation and sin is utter nonsense. It would be like saying that “x+y=4” and “x+y=16.” Both cannot be true.
Sometimes we refer to this as the “Law of Non-Contradiction.” That two contradictory things cannot exist together. You cannot be a boy and a girl at the same time; there are rules and guidelines that set one against the other. For God to be tempted would be a contradiction of his very character, is what James is saying here. But this being said, it raises two very important questions in our minds. First of all, if God cannot be tempted, how then was Jesus tempted? Was his temptation something that was real? Or was it something that was simply played out as an actor upon the stage? And secondly, if God cannot be tempted and does not tempted, how is it that a God who orders all things according to the council of his will allows us to be tempted? Or perhaps we could say, how is it that an untemptable God allows his creatures to undergo that which he is not susceptible to?
First, if God cannot be tempted, how is it that Jesus was tempted? For indeed, does not the writer of Hebrews say in Hebrews 4:15, “for we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted”—same language—“has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This is the same word that is being used so how are we to understand this? Is James just talking about God the Father as being the only one who is untemptable? No, that would make the three members of the Trinity have different attributes applied to them and thus would reduce the Son and the Father to not being of the same essence, thus undoing the Trinity and presenting a polytheistic religion—something that is contrary both to scripture and to the Jewish tradition upon which our Christian tradition is built, for the Old Testament scriptures do explicitly state that God is one.
Then, was Jesus perhaps just play acting as the Devil tempted him? We have to answer, no, as well. Not only would it reduce this passage that we just read from Hebrews to nonsense, for how can he identify with us with that he has not undergone. But also, Jesus, as the second Adam, had to be tempted and tested in the same way that Adam was tempted and tested so that he could succeed where Adam failed. One thing that is interesting to note, is that if you look at the account of Adam failing the test of eating the fruit, that he was tempted or tested in three ways. He was tempted with food that looked to be good. He was tempted to doubt the truthfulness of God’s word, and he was tempted to idolatry, making himself to be a god. Indeed, those are the three temptations that Jesus himself faced in the wilderness.
So with those before us, what options do we have before us in answering this question? Theologians in the early church were faced with this question at a very early date. And the answer that they found was in the description of the dual nature of our Lord. That Jesus, while one person, was both fully human and fully divine. That he was not simply kind of a fleshy body indwelt by the Spirit of God, but everything that makes you and I human, Jesus himself had. He had a human mind, he had a human soul and a human spirit but he also was divine in all three of those ways. And in this way, they understood the temptation of our Lord, that it was Jesus’ human nature that was susceptible to these temptations, even though his divine essence was not. That it was a real possibility for Christ to sin when he was tempted, but as he did not have a nature of sin to compel him to do so all was not lost and Christ underwent the temptation without falling into sin.
We can draw a great deal of comfort from what the writer of Hebrews is reminding us of. For all of the temptations that are common to life, we are told that Jesus underwent. He can sympathize with us in our pain and our heartache. More importantly, he can empathize with us for he has gone through it already. And it is out of that identification with us. It is out of his ability to identify and relate to us that is the driving force behind his passionate intercession with God for us on our behalf. We can take our cares to the cross knowing that the one that we take those cares to understands us in our pain, he understands us in our weakness, he understands us in our hurt, he understands us in our heartache, he understands us in all of our desires and in our weaknesses. How often as we go through life, as we face trials and as we face difficulties, we feel as if nobody understands us, we feel as if we are speaking but we cannot communicate our heartache to somebody because nobody will understand what we are going through. Beloved, let me remind you that Christ Jesus does understand and Christ Jesus has promised never to leave nor forsake you, for he has borne our weaknesses, he has suffered our infirmities, and he knows you. He knows you in your strength and in your heartache, and he knows you better than you know yourself. Take those things to him; take your cares to his feet.
Secondly, if God cannot be tempted, and does not tempt, How is it that a God who orders all things according to the council of his own will allows us to be tempted? Or how is it that an untemptable God allows his creatures to undergo that which he himself is not susceptible to. And that gets at the real question of the problem of evil around us in this world. If God is God and all that he created was pronounced to be good, where does evil come from?
There have been many approaches that have been used to handle this question. Some have argued that it is all the Devil’s fault. That after Satan’s fall and rebellion everything just kind of fell apart and God had to just kind of work things through to make sense out of it. Others have argued that God made man in such a way that God made man with a free and absolute will, and thus we chose to bring evil into this world. While both of these answers have sought to protect God from evil, they raise two important questions: Is God not omnipotent—is he not all powerful? Is God not omniscient—is God not all-knowing? Does God somehow restrict his power and his knowing when it comes to man’s ability to choose right and wrong? Were this the case, it would reduce all prophesy to something that is a little bit more than just a good guess on God’s part. While some in our society would present God as doing just this, God just kind of working, not knowing the future, just working and hoping to bring his good ends about—tweaking history to manipulate it as best as possible. That kind of teaching, beloved, is a lie, it comes from the pits of hell, and it smells of smoke.
Scripture presents God as being God and Sovereign creator over all things. Scripture presents God as the author of the rise and the fall of nations and of men—of God opening Lydia’s heart so that she would be receptive to the gospel and of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he would march on to his own destruction. Isaiah 45:7 presents God as the author of both peace and calamity and everything in between. The words in the Hebrew here are “ra” and “shalom.” Shalom means “peace” or “goodwill.” Ra is the Hebrew word that can mean problems or calamities or trials—that when addressing the problem of evil, and when addressing the problem of its origin, we need to reject those proposed solutions. And the first thing that we need to do is to define what we mean by the word, “evil.”
The Oxford American Dictionary, defines evil as that which is profoundly immoral or malevolent. I think that the Bible helps clarify that a little bit more. As you go through in the language and you are dealing with the question of evil and of sin, and evil is that which is done in rebellion against God. With that in mind, I would suggest that we understand evil a little differently. Just as goodness is not so much a created thing but is a reflection of the character of God, so too, I would suggest that evil should not so much be seen as a created thing but as reflection of the character of sin. Think of it this way—that which is good for us is that which draws us closer to God; and that which is evil for us is that which draws us away from God.
Yet, this still leaves us with an important question: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, if God orders all things according to the council of his will, even, in many cases, our own wills. If all that God does is good—why did God allow, or even ordain, that the angels first and then man would fall? I think that St. Augustine’s answer is right on the mark. Augustine argued that had we not fallen as a race, we would never have understood the depth of Christ’s sacrificial love for us as his people. Though the fall brought pain and it brought misery into our lives, and though it was a sinful action on the part of men and angels, it was yet good that God permitted us to fall. The song that the choir sang a little bit ago, echoes that sentiment. Speaking of Christ with his arms outstretched—speaking of the blood that Christ shed as he was on the cross—writing out to you and to me, to his people throughout the ages, that “I love you.” How we could not have known that level, that expression of Christ’s willingness to die and express his love to us had we not fallen in sin. And thus, as we return back to the book of James, the suffering that we endure is good, for it grows us into the image of Christ Jesus.