The problem of suffering is amongst the most difficult and perplexing of all problems in life.
There are those who on the basis of suffering would confidently affirm that there is no God.
If there is a God He ought to be able, because He is all powerful and willing, because He is good to prevent suffering, since there is suffering, either God is not able to prevent it and so is not all powerful, is not willing to prevent it and so is not good or simply He does not exist.
Where is the problem in that argument?
The problem / the flaw lies in the assumptions stated and unstated:
That suffering can always, be categorised as bad, evil, futile and unproductive and as such is invariably undesirable. Is that true?
God has a moral obligation to order the universe, natural laws, circumstances of life, in such a way as to preserve man in a state of maximum peace and pleasure irrespective of mans behaviour or other factors in that universe. In other words there is a central assumption that the plans and purposes of God and the path of time and history and the processes of the universe revolve around man. They don't, they revolve around Christ (Eph1:10; 3:11). I am not saying that my suffering doesn't matter to God – it does, but I am saying that there is a bigger picture, of which my suffering is a part and that me and my suffering is not the conclusion of the matter.
That in the absence of all suffering, which we are suggesting God has a moral obligation to provide for His creatures, and in an atmosphere of optimal peace and pleasure man would attain to the greatest good and would achieve his highest goals. Is this true? Consider Roms chp1; consider the fall of the Roman Empire; consider Belshazzers feast; a man who has it all, all the world can give, a throne, a palace, security, wealth, an empire made for him by his father Nebuchadnezzar, plenty to eat and drink, no one giving him any snash:
“Dan 5:1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” - Gluttony and drunkenness
“Dan 5:2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.” - Descration of holy vessels and sexual immorality, basically prostitution.
“Dan 5:3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.”
“Dan 5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.” - Idolatry and materialism
You say, well that was just a one of?
Consider the kingdom of Israel under David and then under Solomon?
The Kingdom under David: he had his trials:
2 sons murdered
A son dead in child hood
Persecuted by Saul
Running as an outlaw
Warring with the Philistines and Amalek
Yet Davids kingdom was Israel at its hay day.
The Kingdom under Solomon; a kingdom of peace and tranquillity, yet degenerating into idolatry and polygamy and immorality.
So if in the absence of problems and suffering man does not achieve his greatest good and highest goals, would it not be the case that if God did provide man with a an environment of perfect peace and pleasure, God in fact would be promoting, aiding and abetting, He would be a willing accomplice to mans sin?
A perfect environment of peace and pleasure can only be provided for a perfect man otherwise we have a sinner in Eden and that is a disaster which God has guarded against from the very beginning.
The argument then that God is morally obliged to maintain His universe in a state which is maximally conducive with mans greatest comfort and ease is inherently faulty therefore.
What has suffering to do with Romans 8?
Notice the setting / the context of Roms 8; the inner struggle with sin (chp6) and the flesh (chp7) and the pressure of outer suffering (chp 8).
Roms 8 is set in the environment of pressure without and pressure within.
'Pressure': 'thlipsis' : tribulation (8:35; 5:3)
Roms 8 is in the vice grip of inner turmoil and outer tribulation!
What does that kind of environment produce?
Likeness to Christ (8:29)!
Relationship and Resemblance!
Anecdotally I haven't met a spiritual Christian who has had an easy life!
There is no book in the Bible so full of inner turmoil and outer tribulation as the book of Job!
At the heart of that book, describing Jobs subjective experience of his suffering lie chps 16 + 19 – a total of 51 verses.
About ½ of those 51 verses are also found in Ps22, 69, Is 50,53 and Lam3!
What is God doing in that crucible of affliction in the life of Job?
He is making Job just like Christ!
Job is entering into the mind of Christ (1Peter 4:1,2)
The bottom line in Roms 8:1-17 is that God imparts His Spirit to man for a purpose, in order to bring man into:
Relationship with God
Resemblance to Christ
And these ends are achieved in an environment of suffering!
For the Spirit to blossom, the flesh must die!
The work of the Spirit of God affects man in his:
As Gods Spirit is active in man we will discern:
Law of the Spirit (8:2)
Longing of the Spirit (8:5-8)
Life of the Spirit (8:11,13)
Leading of the Spirit (8:14)
Language of the Spirit (8:15)
What is the effect of the Spirit upon my walk?
I say that this is a Spirit conquered walk, marked by:
Righteousness fulfilled by:
Compulsion from within (8:2): “the law of the Spirit of life” (7:21,23)
and not by:
Conformity without (8:3)
The Spirit conquered and controlled walk is not a walk brought into conformity to a set of rules, regulations, traditions, formalities or patterns of behaviour, it is rather the working out of the all consuming passion for Divine life brought about by the possession of my person by God Himself.
It is not so much that I try to live a righteous life, although the will is clearly involved, but rather I have to, I am compelled to live a righteous life, or I have a thoroughly miserable existence!
Conformity to a set of rules can paradoxically result in less rather than more spirituality!
Replace the Spirit – well I've got my rules, follow them and I will be ok!
Resist the Spirit – human nature likes rules, you can work around the rules! Illust: Margos flat mate, didn't read Sunday papers but kept them till the Monday!
Restrict the Spirit – rules are always inadequate and will never allow us to break new ground for God! New people, new places, new problems – the old rules sometimes can't cope! Gods Spirit can! Columbus didn't discover America by following the map! There wasn't one!
Christopher Columbus made the European discovery of South America over 500 years ago which was to become predominately Catholic. He recorded how he accomplished this extraordinary voyage to the New World in his "Book of Prophecies":
"...It was the Lord who put into my mind — I could feel His hand upon me — the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies-All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me... There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because he comforted me with rays of marvellous illumination from the Holy Scriptures... For the execution of the journey to the Indies I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics, or maps. It is simply the fulfilment of what Isaiah had prophesied... No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Saviour, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His Holy service... the fact that the Gospel must still be preached to so many lands in such a short time — this is what convinces me".
“the law of the Spirit of life”
What was it that:
Compelled creation to completion? Gen1:2 – The Spirit of God; Gen 2:7 – the breath of God blowing into the nostrils of Adam.
How did Enoch's walk with God end? It didn't A walk with God is a life giving, a life preserving, a life perpetuating experience. Walk with God and you live (Gen 5:24). “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not se death...” (Heb11:5)
How was it that God dealt with Noah and his family in the days when He had decided that His Spirit would not always “strive with man” (Gen6:3)? God covenanted “to keep them alive with thee” (Gen6:19).
What about Gods dealings with Abraham and Isaac in Gen 22? “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”(Heb 11:19).
How did God move in the days of Joseph and his brothers? “To save much people alive” (Gen50:20)
How did God work with His people in the days of Moses in Egypt?
How did God work in the days of Jonah? (Jonah 4:11)
What about Daniel in the lions den? “O King live forever” (Dan6:21)
The crowning Glory to Gods Spirit of Life: the resurrection of Christ!
To be linked with God and His Spirit is a life giving event, a life preserving experience!
Gods Spirit is the Spirit of Life!
In many of these occasions when the “law of the Spirit of life” moves we can also discern His operation against the background failure of the “law of sin and death”:
Noah – breaks free, lifted above a world condemned in sin
Egypt – God judges and destroys Egypt and its false gods
Jonah – 3 days and nights in the belly of the whale because of his sin and disobedience.
To be motivated by the “law of the Spirit of life” is to be motivated and moved by an all consuming passion for the Glory of God in my life beyond any other legitimate interest!
What was it that motivated:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo to choose the furnace rather than compromise?
Daniel to chose being at the prayer meeting even if it meant facing the lions in the den?
Elijah to risk his life and face the false priests of Baal on Mt Carmel?
Elisha to leave his farm, his field and his family behind and follow Gods call?
This law of the Spirit of Life motivates men beyond personal safety, personal convenience, fatigue, tiredness, embarrassment and business!
This is an all consuming passion for the life of God above and beyond all things!
Why bother fulfilling righteousness in me?
Never be content with ½ answers from preachers!
Because righteousness overcomes a barrier:
“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Rom 8:6-7)
The flesh pursuing sin brings separation and enmity with God
The Spirit producing righteousness brings relationship with God
How does Christ condemning “sin in the flesh” (8:3) result in the fulfilment of Gods righteousness in me (8:4)? Because we have His Spirit in us (8:4,9-11).
An exceptional movement of the Spirit of God is invariably marked by an exceptional righteousness:
Ex 20: Moses on the Mount
Job 42:6 – God speaks: “I repent in dust and ashes”
Zech 3: Joshua the High Priest
Matt 5: The Sermon on the Mount
Acts 5: Ananias and Saphira
What is the effect of the Spirit of God upon the mind?
Peace between which parties? Me and God (v7)
The carnal mind – enmity with God
The spiritual mind – peace with God.
Peace is the product of a restored relationship with God.
What is the effect upon the Spirit conquered body?
Whose life? The life of Christ (8:9,10)
“The body is dead because of sin” (v10) – seems to be alive? Is this:
An honest mistake? Hard to miss!
Ultimately the body will die? True but not the meaning here:
The present tense, in contrast to v11 where future events are accorded a future tense.
“dead” is an adjective describing this body, this body is a “dead body”
The body is dead presently because of sin. Sin originally inherited from Adam. That is Adam not simply as federal head which does not explain why I die when he sins, nor simply Adam as a representative man which would hardly satisfy the righteousness of God as defined in Ezek 18. Be careful about linking Adams federal headship and representative character with the universal condemnation of all men! Christ is of course the Head of a new creation (Col1) and He is also the representative man (Rom8:3) but that does not result in universal salvation to all men! The important point in Roms 5 is our connection with Adam and Christ! Who and what they are remains unaltered, the issue is am I connected to them? Do I have a relationship with Christ as I did with Adam? Adam as the first and only directly created man corrupted by sin and thus actually passing on the effects of and a fallen human nature to all mankind (Rom5:12). In other words the corruption from Adam flows to me not by any philosophical argument, nor by a legal fiction as some suggest but as a result of my relationship with Adam, which is the reason for the digression into Adam in Rom 5:12ff; as a means of explaining how I can receive righteousness from Christ (5:11). If I can receive sin and death from Adam by relationship, then I can receive righteousness and life from Christ by relationship, corrupted too by my sin, unfit for Gods presence and awaiting final redemption and transformation. This is also biologically true: Hayflick limit and apoptosis.
What is the effect upon the Spirit conquered Spirit?
A cry that arises out of crises:
Samson (Judges 16:28) – the only time “pray” is used in the life of Samson.
David (Ps 22:1-2; Ps51; Ps 42:9)
Elijah (1Kings 19:4)
“And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psa 50:15)
The cry out of crises that brings confidence in our God
He hears an answers in our crises!
Notes from our bible study teaching series of messages preached systematically, verse by verse, through Paul's letter to the Romans. Free to download audio mp3 recordings of this sermon and other sermons are available at the end of this blog and on the website page.
Yours by Grace in Christ
Dr J Stewart Gillespie