Finding Hope in the Midst of Darkness
Well, we have some encouraging and happy stuff to talk about today…not really. Whenever sin is on the menu it’s going to be a bitter meal. A common question many Christians have is why people choose freely to commit idolatry and wickedness and then seek to promote it among impressionable souls. How can an honest person be in favor of murdering children in the womb or where is the mindset grown which can think that God would approve of the bodily mutilation of underage teens? It can be hard to comprehend, but the situation isn’t new. Whether it be the Babel folks building a tower to challenge the LORD or the Israelites thinking they could make an idol and somehow Jehovah would be proud of them our catechism questions this morning point us to an answer. Also when we think of the punishment due to sin our minds are likewise drawn to illness, disasters, and other more physical realities that exist because of the eating of the forbidden fruit.
Here we see one of the places where the Larger Catechism expands on the teaching of the Shorter Catechism so that we can better understand our faith and how the world works in light of the Fall and the consequences which flow from it.
Here are the two Q/A’s:
Q. 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?
A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.
Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever.
It seems like repetition, but it is important to comprehend that all sin is punished, both generally and specifically. Our God is a God of justice and sin requires a response. Yet that being surely the case we need to rightly understand what that means. A common attack by atheists against Christianity specifically and religion more generally is that if childhood cancer exists how can any god be said to be good. It’s a serious question that requires something more than a glib “because Adam” answer. However, to explain that more deeply part of the response involves taking a step back to consider something about the nature of God Himself. When for instance believers reference Genesis 50:20 and Joseph’s word to his brothers about what they had meant for evil, God had meant for good there is a similar teaching happening as when the disciples ask Christ about the man born blind. You’ll remember in John 9 that Jesus tells them that neither had this man sinned nor had his parents sinned to cause his lack of sight, it was so that the glory of God might be shown through his healing. In both of these cases, Joseph and the blind man, there was a purpose in the outward manifestation of the effects of sin on the world, those being human trafficking and bodily deformity. Neither of those become good merely because the Lord uses them for a larger reason. Childhood cancer, even when we see the miraculous application of providential blessing in the gift of knowledge and understanding in the healing of the toddler affected by the malignancy, it is always bad. It is an evil, lamentable reality. There is no holiness in wickedness.
It cannot be said either that God is responsible for the existence of the vile truth of disease or that He is powerless to do anything about it. Some responses to everything from Nazism to hurricanes posits a Jehovah who “mourns alongside” as if when it comes to natural wicked things our Lord is without the ability to do anything about it and so is in some way incapable of dealing with it. So when it comes to things as awful as these what exactly has God done about it? The answer like all answers to questions preachers ask is Jesus. Paul speaks obliquely, yet certainly about these types of issues in Romans 8:20-25:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
Notice what the Apostle says about our present evil world. It has been subjected in hope, in other words that while the Creation does not fulfill its inherent purpose due to the Fall, of which it had no “part”, yet it was not brought to this place for no reason. Our God in His gracious mercy from before the foundation of the world has ordained all things that come to pass for His glory. He even uses the Fall, and the punishment due for sin to do this. It may seem odd to say it like that, but consider the alternative. There is no hope for those who are perishing. There is no light at the end of the tunnel that promises deliverance from the destruction of the body and the world. Only the Christian faith has a legitimate and true answer to the question why do children get cancer. Otherwise the world’s response can be nothing more than “thems the breaks”. What a horrid thing to consider.
In closing, as we spend time meditating upon why things are terrible and hearing the reply as to why they don’t need to be this way next week in our Larger Catechism Q/A we’ll get a more full testimony as to how this present evil world is not to be a source of anxiety or fear, but founded in the hope of Jesus Christ and His promise we as pilgrims on the way have nothing to worry about despite the realities of sin and the punishment due to those who transgress God’s law. In the world you have tribulation, but in the Redeemer you have eternal life.
Another word on the subject:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church