When we look around us we see a broken world. There is poverty, corruption, hunger and war. There is suffering. It is not only around us, there is suffering inside our homes too – financial stress, chronic illness, and family breakdown.
One of our viewers has written us the question “Why?”. Why does God allow all of this suffering? Why, if He is the God of love, does He not do something? Why does He not step in? When will this suffering end?
Hello, my name is Remmo, and in this episode of Caleb’s Journal I want to look into this question.
The cause of suffering
To address the question, we first need to get to the root of it. What is the cause of suffering in the first place?
To find our answer we need to go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where man was designed by God to bear His image. Man was to exercise dominion over the earth by giving expression to God’s righteousness and justice – meaning that man’s life is designed to be lived in submission to the Word of God.
However, man bought into a lie. The lie that says that he doesn’t need God, that he could determine for himself what is good and evil, and that he could set the standard for what is right and just.
But there is a huge problem with that. No longer does man look upwards and outwards towards a higher authority whom he serves, to something greater than himself. Now he looks inwards, and sees himself as that authority. His purpose is no longer to glorify God but himself.
The relationship between God and man was broken. There was seperation – man was exiled from the Garden, and being separated from God, sin entered the world, leading to suffering and death.
How does God respond to suffering?
But the good news is that God does not passively sit by. He is not distant. He is not sitting up there in heaven somewhere, whilst we are down here, hopelessly trying to muddle our way through this mess.
No, our God has done something amazing! He desires to commune with us, and therefore He has provided us with a pathway to restore this broken relationship.
The apostle Paul puts it this way:
Here Paul expresses two truths:
- Firstly, that sin results in death – which is the rightful destiny of any life that is lived in separation from God, and
- Secondly, that the remedy to this suffering is the salvation offered by submitting our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord.
Here we see that the pathway to restoring this broken relationship requires a response – we need to submit to Jesus as both our Lord and King. The question now is “How?”.
A blueprint for relationship restoration
The conquest of the Promised Land by the ancient Israelites gives us a blueprint to follow. It is a blueprint that follows three steps – illustrated by the the three festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.
The Israelites experienced Passover when they were delivered from Egypt by the blood of the Lamb, and were baptised as a nation when they passed through the Red Sea.
Entering into the wilderness they experienced Pentecost – a time in which they received the Law at Mount Sinai. The Law of God expresses the character, or nature, of God, and over a 40 year period, of being humbled, tested and taught, this Law was written on their hearts. Here in the Wilderness the Israelites learnt to trust the Lord and to believe that He is capable and trustworthy. They had laid down their own ways and trusted fully in their God – their relationship had been restored, the Israelites now projected God’s image into the world, and manifested His power.
Having reached this point, Israel was now ready for the third stage of our blueprint – they were ready to enter into Tabernacles, to take possession of the Promised Land.
Crossing the Jordan River, whilst maintaining their focus on the Ark of the Covenant, they were able to take possession of the land – because the kings were afraid of the power of God that was with the people, and not the people themselves.
Obstacles preventing restoration
For Israel to take possession of the Promised Land required the removal of obstacles, battles needed to be fought. The knowledge that the Lord was with them allowed them to do so.
Similar obstacles stand in our way today as we take possession of the Kingdom.
The first obstacle to be overcome is the City of Jericho.
In previous episodes of Caleb’s Journal we have described how Jericho represents the governmental structure of man. Man’s government, man’s way of doing things, as opposed to God’s government, is the first thing that stood in the way then and it is what stands in the way now.
As a society we may have good ideas as to how to alleviate the problems of suffering. However we will never solve the injustice that is caused if the root cause of injustice is not addressed. If, as a society, we continue down the path of governing without reference to God anything we do to alleviate the suffering caused will be like carrying water to the ocean.
So how do we tackle this issue?
How can Suffering be overcome?
The ancient Israelites overcame Jericho. It is interesting that they didn’t seek to transform the city, and they also did not apply conventional methods of warfare.
They overcame the city by being obedient to the Word of God, and here lies the clue. Land is a gift, and its possession is connected to obedience. This was so at the time of ancient Israel, and the same principle applies to us today.
We read about this in Leviticus 25, where God gave Israel the following instruction prior to them entering into the Promised Land:
This is the pattern we must follow today. Suffering will not end purely by giving our heart to the Lord and by being saved. This is an important first step, the step of Passover. But we then need to move into Pentecost and enter the landscape of Wilderness. Here we will be humbled, tested and taught so that our hearts and minds are restored into conformity with God. After this transformative process, with its resulting restoration of relationship, can we take possession of the Kingdom. We will be walking a new path. We will be bearing the image of God, projecting His righteousness and justice, against which the obstacles that stand before us have no power. Only then will all tears, sorrow and suffering be wiped away.
Unfortunately our forefathers, the ancient Israelites, did not come into full possession of the Promised Land. Their inability to obey the Word of God fully, the compromises they made, resulted in exile – mirroring the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Today, we as the nation of Israel, need to heed this lesson.
In Deuteronomy 28 we see two lists – one listing the blessings that result from obedience to the Word of God, and another listing the curses that result from disobedience. This chapter makes sobering reading. As a nation we can not expect to receive the blessings when we refuse to submit to Jesus as our Lord and King. Our continued rejection of Him results in the curses and the suffering that surrounds us today.
The blessings of returning to covenant
However, Deuteronomy 28 also confers hope. Because if rejecting the Word of God leads to exile and suffering, then returning to this Word and the covenant we have made, will see the blessings manifested as the Kingdom is restored.
Ancient Israel overcame Jericho through unconventional means. Overcoming Jericho today will follow the same pattern. It will not be done through revolution, or by repurposing or transforming the institution in some way. Jericho was destroyed, and today it will be overcome when, having submitted to the Word of God, we follow where He leads.
We must actively identify who is Lord in all aspects of our lives. We must be honest about this. Who is Lord in your life? Who do you serve? Is it Jesus, or is it Jericho? Who do you submit to first – is it Jesus, or do you seek your salvation in Jericho?
Honestly answering these questions is terribly confronting,
When we follow Jesus we follow the Word of God. Previously I’ve explained how the Word of God, the Law of God and the Image of God are in many ways describing the very same thing. By following the Word of God we give expression to His Law and thereby bear His image.
suffering versus persecution
As we bear this image, and as it interacts with the fallen world, we should expect resistance.
You may recognise this. You may have taken a stand for Christ and His Kingdom and this has led to persecution. We may easily equate persecution with suffering, however the two do not necessarily equate.
Suffering results from breaking covenant and leads to death. Persecution, that results from walking in the ways of our Lord, leads to life. It will be uncomfortable at times but it is the way by which the Lord refines us so that we may fully radiate His divine presence.
The resistance that we encounter, as the image of God that we bear interacts with the fallen world around us, is not directed to our person in the first instance, rather it is directed towards the image we are bearing… it is being directed to God Himself.
As Jesus has already overcome He gives us the strength and power to confront this resistance, resulting in an inner peace that will become visible to others.
This inner peace demonstrates the righteousness and justice of God, that results from walking in full commitment with Him. It is this which will in turn draw more people to Him. And once this relationship, between God and man, that was broken in the Garden of Eden, is fully restored suffering will cease.
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See you again next time.