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“The problem of suffering is an age-old one and I would not presume to give the definitive answer for it...but what I do want to do is point us in the right direction for how we should think about it.”
Watching the news is sad. Every day, there is some great tragedy or evil happening around the world or in our city. And with the technology available to us, we can hear and see it all. It’s relentless. Political corruption. Racial injustice. Economic inequality. School shootings. It’s overwhelming and easy to fall into despair. Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?
The problem of suffering is an age-old one and I would not presume to give the definitive answer for it in this post. But what I do want to do is point us in the right direction for how we should think about it. To do so, we must be students of the Word.
Not everyone is called to go to seminary, but every believer is called to think and study what God has revealed to us (II Timothy 2:7; I Corinthians 10:15; John 12:48-50). We are students of Jesus, God’s ultimate revelation of Himself (Hebrews 1:1-4). We are students of His special revelation, the Bible (II Timothy 3:14-17). We are students of His general revelation, creation (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1).
The suffix -ology comes from the Greek word “logia,” meaning study. Hence, biology (the study of life), anthropology (the study of people) and theology (the study of God). There is one other study we have that can be of great help to us as students: hamartiology. From the Greek word hamartia, meaning “missing the mark” or “error,” hamartiology is the study of sin. How could studying the curse of sin be helpful to us? By having a deeper understanding of sin, we are better able to identify it when we see it. Awareness of sin improves our engagement with it in battle and helps us not to be overcome or overwhelmed by its presence.
We all know the story of how sin came into the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3). It’s one of the first stories in the beginning of every children’s Bible. We’re quite familiar with it. And that’s exactly the problem. It’s too familiar. That moment was nothing short of cataclysmic. It was literally earth-shattering. Not just people, but the earth itself and all of creation felt its effects. Before the fall: health and life. After the fall: decay and death. Sin broke everything, and all of creation waits with bated breath for its undoing (Romans 8:19-23).
This cannot be overstated. Sin has absolutely ravaged our world; so much so, that it tries to trick us into thinking it’s not that bad (Hebrews 3:13b). Sin would deceive us into doubting God, as Satan continues on a warpath of death and destruction (I Peter 5:8). This is not exaggeration for effect; it is the real spiritual reality that we face. Understanding the depths of this reality is absolutely necessary, like a doctor getting all the details before a diagnosis.
Armed with this knowledge, we move forward to another field of study: soteriology, the study of salvation. With a robust understanding and appreciation of the dire situation we are in as slaves to sin, we can revel and triumph and thrive in the salvation we have received in Jesus Christ. Sadly, it is far too easy to gloss over Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf. But when you allow yourself to linger over our true predicament, over just how bad things really are, Jesus’ death and resurrection brings about a whole new level of gratitude and thankfulness, as well as a desire for others to know Him, too. Like a lifelong beggar being given a billion dollars, knowing how poor we are helps us appreciate Christ’s riches given to us (II Corinthians 8:9) all the more.
So, with every sin we see on the news, in others, or in ourselves, we groan and mourn over it with the rest of creation. But, thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, it can also be a means of helping us to savor our Savior and all that He has saved us from, as we weather the storms of life, fight back against the scourge of sin, point others to the refuge we’ve found, and patiently wait for His return when He will make all things new.
Reggie is a member of Cornerstone and serves the church as Sunday Morning Director and as a non-vocational elder.
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