By Jimmy Tuten
This series on human suffering is designed to give more insight into the drama of pain that will hopefully help in our understanding of suffering. We need to know that we can bear up under suffering, that in time of stress God does care for us and that ultimate victory in suffering is ours if we remain faithful. The last installment involved an overview of the book of Job. Following this installment there will appear three other articles that will cover such matters as the problem of suffering itself, the matter of whether or not suffering disproves the existence of God and, finally, why good people suffer.
It is inevitable that this discussion focus itself on that which is most often overlooked, the theory of retribution (suffering is a punishment in proportion to sin). The three friends of Job took this position. They concluded that he must be a sinner to suffer so. In so doing, they misconstrued God’s providence and misjudged Job. In the midst of the agony of pain, many today are heard saying, “What have I done to make me suffer so?” As a matter of fact, I would suspect strongly that every one of us at one time or another has had this question to creep into his mind. Frustration sometimes results because we cannot harmonize this thought with reality and fact. It is compounded by our knowledge of what God has done to relieve pain and suffering. God’s invasion of human history to do something about the predicament of mankind touches in a vital way this matter. The “0 death, where is thy sting?” of 1 Corinthians 15 comforts us with a peace of mind that can never be achieved without the atonement of Christ.
The frustration of the retribution concept has created a swinging in the opposite direction in that some deny that there is any suffering that comes from sin. This is as false as the theory of retribution. As implied above it is imperative that we deal with this question. I believe that it is possible to handle this subject in such a way as to instill a deeper faith and trust in God.
The Way Of The Transgressor
While suffering is not God punishing us for sin, some suffering does come from sin. God does not want us to suffer in this manner. He has warned us of the consequences of violating His law in order to keep us from suffering. He has told us implicitly the way of the transgressor is hard” (Prov. 13:15). Why do men go on sinning when they know that sin brings agonizing hardships? If we knew nothing about the suffering of sin as revealed in the Bible, we would know that sin produces suffering because of our own personal experience and what we see in the lives of others. Simply reading the daily newspaper confronts us with the fact that men suffer because of sin. We cannot deny that sin does indeed contribute to the problem of suffering and that it increases its perplexity. Because God does not want us to suffer the consequences of sin He tells us to leave it alone. The danger is great and the problem is compounded in that the consequences of sin are sometimes slow in coming: “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them that do evil” (Eccl. 8:11). We know what sin does in this respect, yet we push this knowledge to the back burner. We blot it out of our minds just as we do the fact of death. We purposefully forget it or, to say the least, postpone thinking about it. We go on sinning. But the fact still remains, “the end thereof is the pit of hell.” The way of the transgressor is hard indeed!
Cain And His Worship
The Bible says that “in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (Gen. 4:4-5). The reason for Jehovah’s having respect to Abel and rejecting Cain is that Abel offered his by faith (Heb. 11:4). While the Bible does not say specifically that God told Cain and Abel what to sacrifice in worship, the New Testament says that Abel’s offering was by faith. Since “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17), we rightfully conclude that the instructions were the same for both Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4 we are told the what of Cain’s rejected sacrifice (the sacrifice itself) and why it was rejected (Cain’s improper attitude toward God’s instructions). Cain’s heart was rebellious and his sacrifice was a violation of God’s will. That is the meaning of “respect unto Abel and to his offering” (Gen. 4:4). Possibly Cain reasoned this way: “This is something that I have raised and surely it is as good as anything else. The smoke of my field product is less offensive than that of burning flesh. Besides, if the heart is right, what difference does it make. God looks on the heart and not the act.” But he was mistaken. He had not learned that faith must have a foundation to rest upon and that the foundation is the Word of God that cannot lie. The true heart receives and acts upon what Jehovah says even though there is no established precedent to follow, no example to emulate, nor any outward encouragement to stimulate. The difference between Cain and Abel is that Abel’s conduct was not dictated by popular custom or regulated by common sense. Specifically, Abel did not let carnal reason or personal inclination move him to offer a bleeding sacrifice. No indeed! He acted by faith. He did what he did because God
told him to do so. Cain’s cloaked rebellion was such a hypocritical display of compliance as he came before the Lord God in worship in spite of his rebellion. This is the “way of Cain” spoken of in Jude 11.
Look at the agony of his self-will, his unbelief, his disobedience and his religious hypocrisy. “Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward,” says the writer of Hebrews (2:2). “The way of the transgressor is hard,” said Solomon (Prov. 13:15). What was Cain’s reward? Envy resulted, then murder (Gen. 4:5,8). This was followed by lying. Then came that awful hardship of separation (Gen. 4:12). We can understand why Cain cried out in despair, “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Gen. 4:13). A red-handed murderer is transformed into a wandering fugitive doomed to a lifetime of woe a fitting example of the reward of disobedience and transgression. If you could have met Cain in his wandering you no doubt would have seen a scarred brow and rivers of tears flowing from his eyes. If you had asked him, “Cain, what did you learn?” He probably would have replied, “that the way of the transgressor is hard.” Indeed it is.
Abraham And His Son of Presumption
In the book of Genesis, Abraham and Sarah are pictured as past the age of childbearing and childless when God spoke to him in a vision about his seed (Gen. 15). Sarah, with the approval of Abraham set in motion a humanly devised plan whereby they would help God (Gen. 16:1-3). This presumptuous expression had consequences that had to be reckoned with in time. Because Sarah bore him no child, Abraham, following Sarah’s advise, took her beautiful Egyptian handmaid. He lay with her and she conceived. Then what was bound to happen under such awful conditions took place! Sarah and her handmaid started having trouble. You put that sinful situation in your family relationship and you too, will have trouble. Carrying Abraham’s child caused Hagar to hold Sarah in low esteem (Gen. 16:4). Is it not interesting that things like this have a way of getting out of hand? Sarah insisted that judgment be made by Abraham. This resulted in Hagar’s being put out of the household. However, she came back (Gen. 16:15-16). When Ishmael was born, Abraham (now 86 years old) saw his hardships multiplying. Now there were four living under one roof and things really got out of control. God is not going to be out done and he says that Ishmael is not the promised seed. He caused Abraham to lie with Sarah and she begat Isaac (Gen. 17:15-21; 21:1-5). When the child was weaned, Abraham made a feast (Gen. 21:8). Now the problems were displayed by competitiveness between the two half brothers. Mother Sarah saw Ishmael mocking Isaac. She was inflamed with anger (Gen. 21:9-11). Ishmael, you see, is not going to be outdone by his little brother Isaac. He is not going to let him get all the attention. So, he is making fun of Isaac. Sarah is not going to have that so she puts her foot down. “Abraham, you are going to get rid of those two” (Gen. 21:10-11), she insists. Abraham complies with her wishes but the Bible says he was very grieved (Gen. 2 1: 11). Yes, the “way of the transgressors is hard.” Such presumption always brings hardships.
But there is more; the night before Abraham cast out the handmaiden and her son he apparently did not sleep. He rose up “early in the morning” and “sent her away” (Gen. 21:9-14). You can almost see his wrinkled face and the tears flowing down his face, sparkling in the early morning sunlight. Those tears were for the boy he loves. A boy he will never see again. If you had by chance come upon Abraham that morning and ask him, what he had learned from his experience, he would have said, “Sin is hard, sin is hard.” The hardships and failure resulting from his sin do not end there, for they reached down to his descendants who had no promise land and whose bones were left to bleach in the desert. Yes, sin brings heartache and failure. The “way of the transgressor is hard.”
Space forbids that I tell of David’s sin of lust (2 Sam. 11:2-5), and all the suffering that he went through. But they are expressed in those psalms written by David after Nathan convinced him that “thou art the man” (2 Sam. 12:1-6; cf. Psa. 51:-3, 12-13; 6:6). Lack of space forbids my speaking of Judas (Lk. 22:3-6), and others. But the lesson is there, i.e., one sin leads to another sin and a few moments of pleasure are never worth a lifetime of heartache and remorse that is bound upon us. Sin, regardless of its nature never pays! The “way of the transgressor is hard.”
Illustrated in Isaiah 24
The Prophet Isaiah displays five forms of suffering that comes from transgressions and sin (vv. 16-22). Our very theme is expressed in verse 20: “The transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it.” Sin brings as its wage that which in reality is like clouds driven by the winds or wells with no water (2 Pet. 2:13, 15,17). Its rewards are heavy. What are the rewards? Just why is it that the way of the transgressor is hard? What makes it so? Sin brings the burden of:
(1) Impoverishment (v. 16). “My leanness, my leanness, woe is me.’ ” Sin reduces man bodily and mentally. It cuts his resources, impoverishes his mind and despoils the soul. Men indeed suffer because of sin. They are impoverished.
(2) Delusion (v. 16). you think you can escape, but when you run from the noise of your sin, you fall into a pit of destruction (vv. 17-18). The deceitfulness of sin only makes one ashamed. “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”
(3) Agitation (vv. 18-20). Everything becomes unsettled as if the earth is quaking under your feet. Friends fall away, relatives disown you, your confidence and self-esteem are lost. A perpetual black cloud-hangs over your head. Behind is folly and ahead is doom. Within there is agitation and alarm. You are very grieved. How hard, how hard!
(4) Oppression (v. 20). Sin lies with heavy weight upon the soul. The sense of your guilt oppresses the spirit, takes away elasticity, freshness and vigor. As in the case of Judas, it sometimes crushes to fatal despondency.
(5) Imprisonment (vv. 21-22). There is no prison, however dark and strong, that shuts one up like the enslavement of sin. Children of transgression are slaves and wear bonds more firmly riveted than literal chains and shackles. This is the imprisonment of the soul waiting to be made new (2 Cor. 5:17). But it does not have to be this way.
We have Christ who died for the sins of the whole world. All of this guilt and all of the burden of sin is lifted by Him (Matt. 11:28). The blood of Christ brings about redemption and redemption brings peace (1 Pet. 1: 18-23). Matthew 26:28 tells us what removes sin (blood of Christ); Acts 2:38 tells us when it is removed (in baptism); Revelation 1:5 tells us how it is removed (washed away) and Acts 22:16 tells us when it is washed away (in baptism). To have the burden of sin lifted, we must believe and be baptized (Mk. 16:16). Dear friends, do not go on sinning. The rewards of sin are too heavy to bear. “The way of the transgressor is hard.” Obey the gospel today. Christian friend, you too must keep in mind God’s cleansing power. You must remember that if you are willing to repent and confess your sin, he will cleanse you (1 John 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 1:9-10). Why live the hard life of a transgressor? Sin, and you will have the devil to pay.
All things God can do, but this one thing He will not: unbind the chain of cause and consequence, or speed time’s arrow backward . . . there is no waste with God; He cancels nothing, but redeems all.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 11, pp. 335-336
June 7, 1984