The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 2
Good day, marathoners for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Timothy 4:7)! Let’s get to chowing down…
Please recall, we’re gathered ‘round the table for Part 2 of 10-part series. Parts 1-4 provide an overview of “God’s Story” SO THAT by way of Parts 5-10 we can apply “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering”, a) in it’s’ best and proper context and, b) as I experienced on Christmas night 2002 while with my father after he took his life; and as it is explained in great detail in my book.
Last we met, we were reminded of Creation—when everything was as God meant it to be.
Also, as a reminder: “An Apologetic on Suffering”
Christian apologetics is that which deals with answering any and all critics, cynics, seekers who might oppose or question the revelation of God in Christ and the Bible. Every Christian to some degree of competence should be an apologist—offering a logical answer, argument, vindication, rejoinder, buttress or explanation, and a personal witness—for the faith.
Unfortunately, due to the absence or meagerness of Christian discipleship and the mixed blessings of our condition of many comforts, most Western churches—especially in our day of the prevailing cultural milieu of relativistic thinking; a gross misunderstanding like “don’t ever judge”; the apparent irrelevance of religious thinking or life for the everyday post-modern; or supposed disconnect between “faith and reason”—far too many Christians wilt when it comes to a reasoned, faithful, or testimonial defense of the faith.
This Training Table offering is the second in a 10-part series to help race-runners for Christ get settled the often-unanswered, poorly-answered, or avoided-at-all-costs… answer to, “How could a loving God allow such horrid and widespread suffering?” The majority of the content is taken from my book, The Weeping, the Window, the Way.
Part 2: The Fall—the tragic intrusion of sin and death into the universe, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made.
[As quoted from my book:]
A Most Dreadful Change Of Heart
Adam’s heart, though finite, nevertheless mirrored the unblemished ecosystem of the infinite Creator’s own heart, mirrored it in goodness, truth, wisdom, justice, holiness, mercy, patience, compassion, righteousness, and sacrificial love. Adam shared—though in a finite, limited way—God’s own limitless beauty, his creativity, and his delight in him. Such was the heart of Adam in the beginning.
Adam’s heart was perfectly created by God’s love and truth. But, within the context of the definition of love, Adam was given a choice to love and obey God, or not. Adam chose poorly. Sin entered into Adam’s heart, and the hearts of all of mankind ever since (Genesis 3; Psalm 51:5).
Our planet [the entire universe] lives under the shroud that Adam’s sin drew over humankind. Even Sunday school children know the story of Adam’s rebellion and exile from Eden, but I invite you to look with me in a fresh way at the account, considering the “change of heart” that resulted from the first sin:
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’”(Genesis 2:15-17).
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:6-7).
Adam’s heart, the glorious culmination of God’s creative act, changed immediately. A moment earlier, it had mirrored God’s own character and many of his most wonderful attributes, but now it was filled with self-trust and idolatry, shame, and fear. Gone were Eden’s sweetest smells, its most glorious light, its freshest streams, and most beautiful glades. Gone were the shameless nakedness, and the joy of intimacy with God. Gone was the ability to worship God perfectly, freely, and within the realms of his own majestic love and truth.
The heart turned from God died (Genesis 2:17), and Adam and Eve began the decline toward death in every realm, incrementally turning into a hardened and decaying version of the clay from which God had formed them. Their hearts, now scarred and misshapen, no longer reflected the peace and joy the Creator had intended. Adam’s heart moved from being “sacred-centered” to being self-centered, and we have all inherited that same self-centeredness, hardness, and damnable decay:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?
Scripture paints a bleak picture of the heart as:
- Bent, on suppressing the truth (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 4:19; 2 Peter 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:11)
- Idolatrous, worshiping lesser gods (Leviticus 26:30; Deuteronomy 30:17; Exodus 20:1-7; Psalm 24:12; Ezekiel 11:21; Luke 16:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:5)
- Empty cistern imbibers, prostitutes (Jeremiah 2)
- Uncircumcised (Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7; compare Acts 7:51)
- Hardened (Exodus 4:21)
- Wicked (Proverbs 26:23)
- Perverse (Proverbs 11:20)
- Godless (Job 36:13), and
- “Split Spiritual Personality” (Romans 7:15-20).
The Westminster Confession so clearly and completely expresses the results of sin, particularly as it relates to human beings:
“By this in they [Adam and Eve] fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. They, being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity [all human beings] descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do precede all actual transgressions.” (The Westminster Confession, Article 6:1-4)
We are sinners not because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners—by nature and by habit. And therefore, as King David bemoans his state, “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).
This is Hard Stuff to Accept… Unless You’re Self-Aware and Fully Accepted
Foreign or repugnant as it may seem to us, ever since the Fall, all human beings, without exception, have had to “fashion fig leaves” (Genesis 3) to cover our shame, to whitewash over the enmity we carry in our hearts toward the Creator and Sustainer, who with such grace and love breathed life into our being.
But once we have removed God as the centerpiece of our heart’s origin, our highest duty, and deepest desire, lesser gods (idols) of all sorts rush into the vacuum created by the void. Idols destroy the heart. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14; see also Exodus 20:1-7).
But as we’ll see in Part 3—Redemption, God’s has an answer and has made a way. In fact, The Way; The Truth; and The Life.
[Not quoted from my book:]
When Acculturated Humanism CANNOT ACCEPT Total Depravity… It’s a Very Big Problem
This point is crucially important to grasp: As counterintuitive as this may seem, I would posit that one of the most pertinent reasons we have so much of a problem understanding so philosophically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and practically seminal a question as, “How could a loving God allow such horrid and widespread suffering?” is that we have an impossible time accepting the fact of The Fall and our resultant TOTAL DEPRAVITY before a perfect, holy, unblemished-in-any-way God.
In his book, Body Life, Chuck Colson tells the story of a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, Yehiel Dinur, called to testify against Adolf Eichmann. As the two men locked eyes, Dinur began to shout and sob. Finally, he collapsed, falling to the floor. Observers concluded that a flood of horrific memories had overtaken Dinur and had rendered him unconscious.
Dinur later said no. Rather, he had seen Eichmann as simply an ordinary human being, a person in whom sin and evil were at work as they are in all of us. Dinur said, “I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this… Eichmann is in all of us.
Beloved of God, this is an amazing insight that all of us would be well-advised to heed. What do you find most interesting or applicable to your own life in this story? Perhaps you’ve come to a similar place of self-awareness about the nature your own heart? Of EveryMan’s heart?
Please hear this, if you have not you will never know and experience NOT ONLY the extreme LOVE and TRUTH of God in Christ which has mitigated in every conceivable and inconceivable way the effects of The Fall… But you will not be able to know and accept reality… Period!
As thoroughgoing as the effects of The Fall were to the known and unknown [by us] universe, the birth, death, resurrection, and consummation [Jesus’ return to make all things new] of Jesus Christ has been and will be to reverse the curse!
Remember the Gospel message as we have put it many, many times, dear friends: It’s a perfect reflection of “Part 2 [The Fall] and Part 3 [Redemption]” of our series: “That I am more sinful than I could ever dare imagine, and yet more loved than I could ever dare hope for.” (Jack Miller)
In Christ, We Begin the Process of Redemption… And We Should Be Much More Realistic and Hopeful Along the Way
If we could move just a bit closer—as did all more wise and real Bible-based generations before us—to seeing the utter and complete and systemic and holistic infection of Sin upon every aspect of God’s Creation, then, when we or anyone asks, “How could a loving God allow such horrid and widespread suffering?”, we would immediately begin by saying to ourselves:
“Okay, wait just a minute… Time out. If me or anyone thinks they have experienced even a miniscule of the level of utter darkness and decay that came of our forbearer’s poor choices, then we would not even begin to NOT JUST question God’s providential and unspeakably merciful design for subduing it by common grace; for orchestrating it; for allowing it; for using it, for redeeming it… BUT we would be much more realistic about that fact that IT WAS MANKIND THAT BEGAN IT! And we don’t deserve any of the manifold mercies God showers on us to USE the suffering mankind caused to help us love Him as we should.”
Please, Tender Warriors, try and wrap your heart [core beliefs], spirit [emotions], and faith life lived out around the reality of The Fall—the tragic intrusion of sin and death into the universe, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made.
If we have not really and truly moved into the breadth and depth of all humankind’s total depravity—and the wholesale impact on the deterioration of ALL things as well—that we will MOSTLY ask questions of God that are based on the presumption that we DESERVE SOMETHING GOOD FROM HIM.
But what we truly deserve is death. And accepting anything more than that… is the beginning of answering this question, “How could a loving God allow such horrid and widespread suffering?”
The first and most fundamental beginning point must be, “Because God is surely merciful and loving.”
As we move to the next part of God’s most glorious story, Part 3—The Redemption, it will be that much sweeter a place seeing the height of His grace and truth… Until He comes again in glory!
Love and blessings,