The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
NOWHERE, perhaps, are man's theories and God's thoughts further apart than on the means of dealing with sin. This divergence is limited to theology, however, for in other walks of life man finds his ideas will not work, so reverts to the true and practical solution.
Man "atones" for misdeeds by good conduct. God demands another wrong to make a matter right. Let us admit that this seems so far wrong that few will even consider it. We have the proverb: "Two wrongs never make a right." Indeed, in man's moral ethics, uncontrolled by God, it would be a dangerous doctrine. For it is only when two wrongs are properly related to each other that they are mutually corrective.
Not long since I had a striking experience of how two mistakes may combine with a very happy effect. We were building an evangelistic van. Someone, unknown to me, jacked up one of the rear wheels. After the hardwood framework had been carefully set so as to be square and the posts perpendicular, the jack was found and taken away. Then the whole rear end leaned over to one side an inch or two. I tried hard to force the frame into position, but it had been securely bolted, and would not budge. After losing nearly a night's sleep over it, it suddenly occurred to me that the large swinging door would have a tendency to throw the posts out of perpendicular. On testing it out it was found that the weight of the door exactly counterbalanced the slant of the posts and made them perfectly plumb!
Here we have a practical example of a mistake and its justification. I acknowledge freely that it was my mistake to get the door post out of plumb, but I insist that I was justified by the outcome. Any carpenter or builder can appreciate the possibility of making such a mistake, but they do not issue instructions to make them, for their happy outcome is beyond human control.
In other spheres, however, the principle is recognized and applied. In all commercial transactions and in bookkeeping it would be exceedingly silly to try to correct a mistake by doing right. If a man is overcharged, he is not satisfied to be charged what is right on other items, but wants a rebate. This, of course, is essentially wrong, for it is a payment for nothing. A friend recently forgot to deduct ten dollars from the bill for printing the magazine. How is he going to make it right? By not doing it again? No, but by wrongly deducting it from the next bill.
God's earliest lesson in "atonement" or covering is full of significance. Adam had sinned. He tried to cover himself with fig leaves. He did not do another wrong to cover his first offense. But God is not satisfied. He sacrifices an innocent lamb to provide a covering. On what ground could we have justified Adam if he had taken the life of a lamb to clothe himself? But are we not doing this very thing every day? Creatures against whom no charge can be laid are slaughtered for peltries to provide our covering. The sin that brought the need of covering demands another wrong to provide it.
Sin and sacrifice are constant associates--far closer in the vocabulary of the original than any English version. In the fifth of second Corinthians many margins make "He made Him to be sin," "He made Him a sin offering," on the ground that, in the Hebrew, the phrase sin offering is simply sin. Our translators have not always been clear in their own minds how to render it. Thus, when they had always translated "for a sin offering," in the fourteenth verse of the fourth of Leviticus they suddenly change to "for the sin." Whether it is rendered "a young bullock for the sin," or "for a sin offering" may not seem to matter much until we see that it applies to the sacrifice of the bullock, not to the sin of the congregation.
But, some will say, how can a sacrifice to cover sin be itself a sin? The point we wish to press at present is that, in the inspired language of scripture, there is no other term for it, and were we speaking Hebrew, we must always refer to the sin offering as the "sin." Nor can we convince ourselves that this is merely accidental, a curious circumstance, without reason or significance. On the contrary, it points to the path of truth. Let us consider carefully just what the offering of a sacrifice involves. Is there any aspect in which it too partakes of the nature of a sin, or mistake?
Since the flood, it has become necessary for mankind to slay animals for food. Occasionally it is right to kill some unfortunate animal to put it out of its misery. But what would we think of the farmer who deliberately chose a young bullock, a perfect specimen of its kind, and killed it for no other purpose than to burn it up? He would be called a fool, or worse, a criminal. It was wrong to take the bullock's life. It did not deserve death, and its death served no useful purpose. Such an act would surely be a mistake, a sin. Yet this is precisely what the sacrifice for sin was, viewed apart from its sacred associations. Do we then wonder that it was called a sin by God Himself?
Let us consider the real nature of the sin offering, quite apart from those religious prejudices (which have no place in the Scriptures), which hamper our thought and chain our reason. The hunter who slays wantonly, for no other incentive than the lust to kill, justly forfeits the respect of mankind. Some may justify it as a sport, but who would consider the sacrifice of a young bullock in that light? Were the flesh or the skin needed or used for the support of human life, it might be condoned. But no. The only reason for its death is that its owner has done wrong!
Can the slaying of a perfect, inoffensive, useful creature be regarded in any sense as right? Does it compensate for the sin for which it is offered? Does it alleviate the loss of the one who suffers from the sin? From the human standpoint, apart from the illumination afforded by divine revelation, it was a huge mistake.
Propitiation, a shelter for sin, was by means of a sin [offering]. One mistake, contrary to the Divine precepts, was temporarily met and covered by another, which was in accord with His ritual. Does not this account for the fact that the bullock was not burned on the altar, in the sacred courts, but at a distance far from the divine dwelling, outside the camp? Being a "sin," it was brought far from the holy dwelling place of God and consumed with fire.
It was thus that Elisha healed the waters of Jericho. Being so near the salt sea leads us to suppose the waters alkaline and thus unfit for use. What is the remedy? Elisha cast salt into the water. This should have made it worse, but, by the divine alchemy, it cleared the waters. God's ways and man's are not the same. We would not commend salt as a purifier of water unless the Divine Chemist prescribed it. Neither would we advise anyone to sin, in order to cover a previous sin. Only God's will and wisdom can correct sin by sin.
The cross of Christ is the touchstone of truth. If we find that it confirms our faith we need have no fear of its falsity. But if it fails to confirm it, we may well view our theology with suspicion and distrust.
We now desire to consider the great crisis in the career of Christ entirely apart from all else but His dealings with God. Man's attitude and acts, and Satan's persecution we reserve for another time.
It is evident on the surface that the latter part of our Lord's ministry was weighted with His impending doom, which even caused a clash between Himself and one of His disciples. But it is not till we reach Gethsemane that the veil is torn aside and we get a glimpse of the awfulness of the cross as it affected His fellowship with God. Hitherto the will of Christ was in perfect parallel with that of His Father. True, He did not do His own will, but He acquiesced in the divine will cheerfully and with His whole heart. But now He begs that the cup pass from Him. His will was not at all in line with the will of God. But the will is not the final arbiter. The heart may furnish motives deeper and more powerful. So He adds "Not My will, but Thine, be done!"
We need not even ask the question whether He had a right to refuse to drink the cup which God had put to His lips. God Himself had opened the heavens and testified that He was delighted in His beloved Son. Christ had challenged anyone to convict Him of sin and no one even dared to try. Pilate washed his hands of His case. Heaven and earth and the very demons declared His righteousness. There were no flaws in Him. Was it right, then, that He should suffer so severely that the very anticipation drew clots of blood from His agonized brow?
We are not now concerned with the physical pain and shame inflicted by men. How undeserved that was we shall see again. Men are ignorant, as He Himself declared when He prayed "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Men are unjust and hateful, so we have no difficulty in understanding their attitude toward the holy One of God.
We are now concerned only with those most mysterious and terrible of all His sufferings, the loss of fellowship, the averted face, the active hostility of God Himself, which wrung from Him the orphan cry "My God, My God, why didst Thou abandon Me?" The terror of those three hours of darkness, when the Sun of His life was hid from His soul, surpass the power of the pen, yet the psalmist compares it with the force of fire and water and the sword.
This was God's dealing with His Son. Our present question is, Was it right? Did Christ deserve such suffering? Was there any ground, in His relation with God, for the distance and despair which He endured? All will agree, even an infidel will concede, that, if anyone ever deserved the opposite it was that lowly, holy Man. We are face to face, then, with this great truth, that God did visit with direst evil the dearest object in His universe. God does inflict evil even where no direct cause exists.
The fact that sin had invaded the universe is no reason why Christ should suffer. The penalty of sin applies to the sinner, not to the only One Who was not corrupted by its contact. We are now confining ourselves to a consideration of the justice of His case, and exclude all higher thoughts.
It will not destroy this truth to say that His case was exceptional and that the apparent wrong was justified by the results to mankind and the whole creation. This is most true. It is the very truth for which we contend. God uses evil to attain a higher good. It is the means He employs in turning His creatures from neutral indifference to an active and affectionate response to His love.
The attitude of God toward Christ on the cross is, in reality, a much deeper "problem" than the entrance of evil or sin. When evil came into the creation, creation was neutral--neither good nor bad. If it did not deserve evil, neither did it deserve good. Not so with our Lord. The glories He had before he emptied Himself to become a man entitled Him to respect and honor. The life He lived, the service He performed in His humiliation called forth praise and demanded a suitable reward. There was not the slightest cause in Him for divine condemnation.
If we are backward in acknowledging that evil came into the world in accord with God's purpose, what shall we say of His treatment of Christ? Christ did not want to drink the cup set before Him, yet this was God's will. The shame and indignity heaped upon Him during His ministry were not deserved. We acknowledge that men were awfully wrong in their treatment of Him. What then, shall we say of God Who forsook Him in His deepest need, Who sent fire from above into His bones, and more than this, delighted to crush Him! (Isa.53:10). There was only one greater wrong in all the universe than that He should be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and that was that His sorest affliction should come from the heart of His God and Father.
Let everyone who imagines that God has no connection with evil listen to that lonely forlorn cry of the forsaken Son, "My God, My God, why didst Thou abandon Me?" In vindication, we point to the infinitely blessed results flowing from it. We find that even the Sufferer Himself shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. And this is the answer which suffices for the first entrance of evil as well as for its foremost example.
Murder is an evil of the first degree. To take the life of an enemy is usually punishable with death. To take the life of a friend is far worse, and one who slays his own beloved ones is usually adjudged insane, for it is a crime too terrible for a rational being to commit. It is this thought which intrudes itself upon us when we read of the faith of Abraham, when he offered up his son Isaac. He doubtless felt the same as we do about it, for we know that he consoled himself with the thought that God, Who was in reality responsible for the apparent crime, could take care of its consequences, for He could rouse Isaac from the dead.
The chief interest for us lies, not in Abraham's deed, for he did not actually slay his son, but in the great antitype, when God and His Son came to Calvary. Then there was no substitute, but the Father's knife found its sheath in the Son Whom He loved, and in Whom all His hopes were centered. Our purpose in referring to it is to point out that, from every human standard, Abraham's intended act was insanely criminal. It was absolutely without justification apart from the revealed will of God. What had Isaac done to deserve death? And, infinitely more deserving as was the Son Whom he represented, why should He be slain? If we confine our inquiry to Christ and God, in their past relationships, and exclude the sin of man and creation and the benefits to come to all through His sacrifice, we must confess that it was a temporary wrong to the Victim. Is not this the thought underlying the statement that "He was made sin?" And this was for our sakes, that we might become God's righteousness in Him. No man made Him sin, and certainly Satan had no such laudable object in view. It was God Who did it, and to such purpose that it rectified and justified all other sins.
The prevalent conception of the perfected universe is one scarred and marred by sin. God's thought is infinitely higher. The cross of Christ has transmitted sin into righteousness, transgression into obedience, offense into reconciliation, hate into love.
Temporarily, during the earthly kingdom, sin is pardoned, offenses are forgiven. But eventually, sin is justified, or vindicated. In itself it is criminal; in combination with the crime of the cross, it is an essential factor in the revelation of God's heart.
To capitulate: God settles sin by sin. Every sin is transmuted by the sin of sins into an act essential to God's highest glory and the creatures' greatest good. All the righteousness and glory and honor which are Christ's, either before His incarnation or after His glorification do not offset sin. His undeserved humiliation and distress and shame and death are sufficient to transform all sin into righteousness and holiness and bliss.
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