From the book
WHEN GOD DOESN’T MAKE SENSE
We have been discussing those occasions when hardship and difficulty come sweeping into our lives for no apparent reason. Accidents, death, sickness, earthquakes, fires, violence, etc., naturally lead the survivors to ask, "What did we do to deserve this?" Their inability to link these inexplicable "acts of God" with their own misbehavior often creates a sense of betrayal and victimization. It just doesn't seem fair. There is another source of pain and suffering in our lives, however, that must be considered. It was described by Dr. Karl Menninger in his book Whatever Became of Sin? He wrote about the almost-forgotten concept of disobedience to God and how it undermines our well-being. Indeed, much of the heartache for which God is often blamed results from old-fashioned sin. I'm referring not to the curse of Adam's sin, but to specific sinful behavior that wreaks havoc in the human family. Scripture makes it clear that there is a direct link between disobedience to God and the consequence of death. James describes the connection this way: "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when its full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:14-15).
All sin bears that deadly characteristic. It's not that God sits in His heaven and determines to abuse those who make mistakes. But He forbade certain behavior because He knew it would ultimately destroy its victims. It is not God who leads to death, but sin. And sin becomes a cancer that consumes those who embrace it.
The Apostle Paul used these words to describe the malignant nature of sin in his own life and the wonderful remedy available to the believer: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—[it is done] through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25).
What is the "body of death" to which Paul referred? This term described a horrible method of execution used by the Romans in those days. A cadaver would be attached to a condemned person in such a way that he could not extricate himself from it. Then the rotting flesh of the carcass would begin to pollute the body of the prisoner. Inevitably, terrible diseases and infections would lead to a slow and painful death. This, said Paul, is what sin does to an unregenerate person. It attaches itself to its victim and pollutes everything it touches. Without the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, all of us are hopelessly condemned by this plague of wickedness.
This link between sin and death applies not only to individuals, but to nations as well. During the eighteenth century, for example, American plantation owners and businessmen embraced slavery as a source of cheap and convenient labor. Surely they knew it was an evil proposition right from the beginning. Slave traders abducted peaceful African villagers and hauled them off in chains.
They were packed so tightly on filthy, disease-infested ships that up to 50 percent died en route to this country. Every one of those deaths constituted a murder, yet there was a willing market in America for the survivors. They were bought and sold like animals, without regard to family integrity. Children were taken from parents and husbands were separated from wives. Some were beaten, some were raped, and some were worked to death. The entire system was reprehensible, yet it was embraced by a society that professed to be God-fearing. The seeds of destruction were planted.
When sin is full grown, said James, it brings forth death. Alas, the terrible sin of slavery reached its full maturity in I860 when it contributed to a shameful and devastating Civil War. An entire nation was soon bathed in its own blood. More Americans were killed in that struggle than in all our other conflicts combined, including the Revolution, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and every skirmish in between. Indeed, 600,000 husbands, fathers, and sons paid the supreme price for the folly of a nation's greed and exploitation.
Now here we go again. Nearly 30 million unborn babies have been killed since the Supreme Court issued its despicable Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. That number represents more than 10 percent of the U.S. population, and it is growing by 4,110 per day. Such bloodshed and butchery, now occurring worldwide, is unprecedented in human history, yet we've only seen the beginning. Don't tell me this crime against humanity will go unpunished! Those voiceless little people cry out to the Almighty from the incinerators and the garbage heaps where they have been discarded. Someday, this "unborn holocaust" will rain death and destruction upon our nation. Just wait. You'll see. It is in the nature of the universe. Sin inevitably devastates a people who embrace it.
Read the words of the Lord spoken to the children of Israel almost 4,000 years ago: "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). Alas, we have chosen death! And we will have hell to pay for it.
Permit me another example. There has been a general understanding for thousands of years that premarital and extramarital sexual behavior is dangerous. Those who broke the rules put themselves at risk for syphilis, gonorrhea, unwanted pregnancy, and social rejection. Women, even more than men, understood the dangers of promiscuity and tried to protect themselves from it. There were exceptions, of course, but the culture generally recognized and supported Christian standards of morality. And you can be sure that those principles were passionately defended on behalf of the nation's teenagers. As late as 1956, Elvis Presley's suggestive hip movements on stage, which are tame by today's standards, produced a storm of protest from parents. They understood where that road would lead.
This commitment to premarital chastity and marital fidelity was widely supported in our society from 1620 to 1967. Then, suddenly, adherence to the biblical standard disintegrated. It has been said that never in history has a culture rejected its primary system of values more quickly than in the late sixties. Promiscuous behavior became known as "the new morality," which was neither new nor moral. But it was fun. And it became almost a cause celebre. Indeed, there was a striking defiance of convention and tradition among the young of that day. They've paid a fine price for it.
The tragic thing about the sudden crumbling of sexual mores in the late sixties and early seventies was the waffling of the mainline Protestant church. At a time when Christians should have risen to defend biblical morality, many denominations were having their own doubts about its validity. A great internal debate raged about whether or not the old prohibitions still made sense. That period in church history was reported in an article entitled "The New Commandment: Thou Shalt Not—Maybe" in Time magazine (December 13, 1971):
On Mount Sinai, God was unequivocal: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Traditionally, most devout Christians have interpreted the Hebraic commandment to extend to all sexual relations outside marriage. Jesus even condemned lustful thoughts, saying that the man who indulged them had "already committed adultery in his heart." But in recent years, pressed both by changing sexual behavior and by liberal theologians, the churches have reluctantly come to grips with a "new morality" that questions whether any "sin"-—including adultery or other nonmarital sex—is wrong in all circumstances.
The movement began in the 1960s with a group of writers who championed "contextual" or "situation" ethics. As defined in a widely read book by Episcopalian Joseph Fletcher, situation ethics holds that there are always circumstances in which absolute principles of behavior break down. The only valid ethical test, the argument goes, is what God's love demands in each particular situation.
The article went on to describe four mainline denominations that were undergoing efforts to loosen standards of sexual behavior for their members. Each had received reports from prestigious internal committees that had recommended a redefinition of immoral conduct. One of the larger churches was considering a resolution that specifically condoned sexual intercourse for unmarried people, homosexuals, and those living in "other" styles of interpersonal relationship. Another denomination weighed a report that indicated premarital sexual behavior was not intrinsically wrong unless it was selfish and exploitative in nature. Another was considering a recommended "sliding scale of allowable premarital sex, geared to the permanence, depth, and maturity of the relationship." This report also described "exceptional circumstances" in which adultery might be justified. The fourth denomination had received a statement written by six Christian education executives who maintained that "sex is moral if the partners are committed to the 'fulfilling of each other's personhood'—pointedly omitting marriage as a prerequisite."
The Time article ended with this statement:
Against the traditional concept that God wants men to conform to a fixed divine design, the new morality stakes its case on the idea that God would prefer men to make their own responsible decisions.
What a perversion of the biblical standard! Nowhere in Scripture—not once in 66 books—is there the slightest indication that God wants us to make up our own rules. Yet that was the tenor of the times.
Now, more than two decades later, we find that the radical ideas being introduced in 1971 are widely adopted in society. The old morality has been severely weakened, and in its place has come a freer standard of behavior. Some churches have gone on to endorse homosexual life-styles and even, in a few cases, the ordination of homosexual and lesbian ministers. Teenagers, even in conservative churches, are only slightly less "sexually active" than those who are unchurched. America and most Western nations have successfully thrown off the shackles of legalism. A new day has dawned! But before our celebration hits a fever pitch, it seems appropriate that we ask how the "new morality" has worked out so far. What has been the consequence of the revisionism that was debated so vigorously in the early 1970s?
Well, you know the answer to that question. The cancer of sin has matured and is yielding a staggering harvest of death. Read the statistics—and weep:
* One million Americans are infected with HIV (and 110 million worldwide).1 Every one of these unfortunate people will die of AIDS eventually, barring the improbable development of a cure.
* One million new cases of pelvic inflammatory disease occur annually.2
* 1.3 million new cases of gonorrhea occur annually3 New strains have developed resistance to penicillin.
* Syphilis is at a 40-year high, with 134,000 new infections per year.4
* 500,000 new cases of herpes occur annually.5 It is estimated that 16.4 percent of the U. S. population ages 15-74 is infected, totaling more than 25 million Americans—among certain groups, the infection rate is as high as 60percent.6
1. Pamela McDonnell, Sexually Transmitted Diseases Division, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, telephone interview, March 16, 1992.
2. Ibid., March 18, 1992
3. STD, CDC, HIV Prevention, p. 13.
6. Robert E. Johnson, et al, "A Seroepidemiologic Survey of the Prevalence of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 Infection in the United States," New England Journal of Medicine 321 (July 6, 1989): 7-12.
* The most common killer of women among the sexually transmitted diseases is not AIDS, as is widely believed.7 It is the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cancer of the cervix. 6,000 women die of this disease each year in the United States. 24 million American women are now infected with HPV.8
* One and a half million unborn babies are aborted each year.9
* Up to 20 percent of brides are pregnant at the altar.10
* The divorce rate in America is the highest in the civilized world.11
We are a sick people with weak, ineffectual families. The United States Centers for Disease Control reported recently that 43 million of our citizens (nearly one in five) are infected with an incurable sexually transmitted virus. Some will die of it. Others will suffer for the rest of their lives. Can anyone doubt that sexual liberation has been a social, spiritual, and physiological disaster!?
It should have been anticipated. Mankind has been
7. Joseph S. Mcllhaney, Jr., M.D., Sexuality and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), p. 137.
8. Kay Stone, Sexually Transmitted Diseases Division, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, telephone interview, March 20, 1992.
9. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1991, 111th ed. (Washington, D.C., 1991), p. 71.
10. Patricia McLaughlin, "Wedding Symbolism," St. Petersburg Times (June 2, 1990): p. ID, citing unpublished data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
11. 1990 Demographic Yearbook, 42nd Issue (New York: United Nations, 1992), p. 752.
trying to sin with impunity ever since the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. He told her, "You shall not surely die." He lied. The deception continues today. Sex educators and Planned Parenthood types are still telling our kids they can beat the system by the use of condoms. Alas, the federal government has spent 2 billion dollars to promote the notion that premarital sex is fine for those who simply "do it right." But their program has failed miserably. Why? Because the moral foundation of the universe is an expression of God's own nature, and everything is governed by it. Those who attempt to sin without consequences are destined to fall on their faces!
I sometimes ask people if they can remember the first thing created by God when He set the worlds in place. They try to recall from Genesis 1 whether He first made light, the firmament, or the heavens. None of those answers is correct. We find in Proverbs 8 that the creation of the physical universe was preceded by something else. In this passage, God's value system— His "wisdom"—speaks in first person. Let's read it together:
“The Lord brought me [wisdom]forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. "Now then, my sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:22-36)
What a clear statement of the divine nature! The moral foundation for the universe was not an afterthought that came along when mankind was created. The Ten Commandments did not occur to the Lord after He witnessed the children of Israel's disobedience in the wilderness. No, the meaning of right and wrong emanated from God's own character, and it has always existed. Certainly, it predated the work of creation described in Genesis 1.
What does this mean for you and me? It illustrates the authority behind the moral laws found in Scripture!
They actually outrank the physical laws in significance. In fact, the physical universe will someday pass away and be replaced, but God's moral nature is eternal. And anyone who opposes it "love[s] death."
Now, why have I offered this explanation in a discussion about God's intervention in our lives? Because I believe many of the trials and tribulations that come our way are of our own making. Some are the direct consequence of sin, as we have seen. In other cases, the pain we experience is a result of unwise decisions. We make such a mess of our lives by foolishness and irresponsibility. When one considers the range of sheer nonsense that human beings can generate, it is understandable why author Mark Twain once said, "At times it does seem a shame that Noah and his party didn't miss the boat."
I'm reminded of a deep-sea fishing trip I took with my son, Ryan, when he was about 10 years old. The captain of our boat located a huge school of albacore, which sent 25 weekend fishermen into a frenzy of hyperventilation. We began pulling in fish like crazy. I was so busy with a tuna of my own that I failed to notice what my inexperienced son was doing. Then I looked down at him and saw that he was up to his elbows in a record-breaking backlash. I still can't imagine how that kid could get a perfectly spooled reel of line so thoroughly tangled. It was a hopeless case. Houdini himself couldn't have unraveled it. I had to cut and discard about 150 yards of what Ryan called "string" to get him straightened out.
His knotted, twisted line is symbolic of what many of us do with our lives. We drink too much or gamble compulsively or allow pornography to possess our minds. We drive too fast and work like there's no tomorrow. We challenge the boss disrespectfully and then blow up when he strikes back. We spend money we don't have and can't possibly repay. We fuss and fight at home and create misery for ourselves and our families. We not only borrow trouble—we go looking for it. We toy with the dragon of infidelity. We break the laws of God and then honestly believe we have beaten the odds. Then when the "wages" of those sins and foolishness come due, we turn our shocked faces up to heaven and cry, "Why me, Lord?" In truth, we are suffering the natural consequences of dangerous behavior that is guaranteed to produce pain.
I would not imply that every physical illness or heartache is the result of sin, of course, and we discussed that trap in chapter 5. There are situations, however, where the connection is undeniable. I think of sickness that emanates from abuse of one's body, such as lung cancer resulting from cigarette smoke, or cirrhosis caused by alcoholism, or mental illness precipitated by narcotics usage. These are self-inflicted wounds.
A more relevant example today is the HIV phenomenon. The question is often raised, Has God sent the AIDS epidemic as a punishment for homosexual behavior? I believe emphatically that the correct answer is no! Many innocent victims, including newborn babies, are suffering and dying from the disease. A curse from God would be more specific to the perpetrator. However, the HIV infection is spread by sodomy, drug usage, and promiscuity, so sinful behavior has helped to create the epidemic that now threatens the human family.
Think of it this way. If I choose to leap off a 10-story building, I will die when my body hits the ground below. It's inevitable. But gravity was not designed by God to punish my misbehavior. He established physical laws that can't be violated without great peril. So it is with His moral laws. They are as real and predictable as the principles that govern the physical universe. Thus, He knew (and we should have known) with the onset of the sexual revolution back in 1967 that this day of disease and promiscuity would come. It is here, and what we do with our situation will determine how much we and our children will suffer in the future.
Perhaps a concluding story will help us wrap up this discussion and illustrate where I believe we are headed in the struggle between good and evil.
I heard about a missionary in Africa who returned to his hut late one afternoon. As he entered the front door he was confronted by a huge python on the floor. He ran back to his truck and retrieved a .45-caliber pistol. Unfortunately, he had only one bullet in the chamber and no extra ammunition. Taking careful aim, the missionary sent that single shot into the head of the reptile. The snake was mortally wounded, but it did not die quickly. It began frantically thrashing and writhing on the floor. Retreating to the front yard, the missionary could hear furniture breaking and lamps crashing. Finally, all was quiet, and the man cautiously reentered his house. He found the snake dead, but the entire interior of the hut was shattered. In its dying moments, the python had unleashed all its mighty power and wrath on everything in sight.
Later, the missionary drew an analogy between the python and the great serpent named Satan. Our adversary has already been mortally wounded by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (In Genesis 3:15 the Lord said to the serpent, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.") Thus, the serpent's days are numbered and he knows it. In a final desperate effort to thwart the will of God and deceive His people, Satan has unleashed all his fury. He is fostering hate and deceit and aggression wherever human interests collide. He especially despises the institution of the family, which is symbolic of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His church.
How can we survive in such a dangerous environment? How can we cope with the fury of Satan in his final days? Admittedly, we would stand no chance in our own strength. But listen to what Jesus said about His followers: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all" (John 10:27-29).
Because of the Redeemer, we need not fear the great deceiver—the father of lies. We are promised throughout Scripture that we are never left to fight our battles alone. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, penned these words of encouragement after a lifetime of service to his Master: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2).
The Apostle Paul confirmed that sin need not hold power over us. He wrote:
So now, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has in mind for us to be. (Romans 5:1-2, TLB)
That is great news for all who are weary and burdened by the stresses of living. It all comes down to this simple concept: God is not against us for our sins. He is for us against our sins. That makes all the difference.
TO BE CONTINUED
YES BECAUSE OF SIN; BECAUSE WE FALL AT TIMES; BECAUSE WE LACK WISDOM AT TIMES; BECAUSE OF SATAN THE DEVIL AND HIS WORKERS OF THE UNSEEN WORLD ARE EVER TRYING TO DESTROY US, WE SOMETIMES HAVE TRIALS AND TROUBLES COME OUR WAY.
WE NEED TO PUT ON THE AMOR OF GOD [EPH. 6] EACH AND EVERY DAY. AS THE APOSTLE PAUL SAID, “LET THIS MIND BE IN YOU THAT WAS IN CHRIST JESUS.”
WE NEED TO READ THE BOOK OF PROVERBS MAYBE ONCE A YEAR; IT IS THE BOOK THAT GIVES US WISDOM IN HOW TO LIVE UNDER MANY DIFFERENT SITUATIONS.
THE APOSTLE JAMES SAID IF ANY MAN LACKS WISDOM HE IS TO ASK GOD FOR IT, AND IT WILL BE GRANTED.
WE SHOULD ALSO LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES, SET THEM IN OUR MIND, WRITE THEM DOWN IF YOU MUST, BUT LEARNING FROM ERRORS OF YOURSELF OR OTHERS YOU KNOW, AND REMEMBERING THEM, WILL HELP A LOT FROM GOING INTO TROUBLES.