I once worked for a fast food restaurant.  One day, we had a huge group of people coming in for lunch.  There was a community function, and our place was the choice for lunch.  They called ahead and let us know about how many were coming.  The manager gave us a pep talk about what to expect and his plan for meeting the rush.  Someone asked him what we would get if we did as he planned (like a free shake or something).
                His answer:  “You get to keep your job.”
                Life can be that way, can’t it?  Tough, stingy, even cruel.  Part of “growing up” is learning to deal with life “in the real world.”  I recall seeing a sign in a break room at a factory:  “Your mother doesn’t work here.  Clean up after yourself.” 
                As small children, many of us are exposed to a great deal of fantasy.  We may experience these in stories, like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, or Cinderella, whose destiny was changed by a fairy godmother.  Many children experience fantasy through television cartoons.  In some of those, gravity may be temporarily overcome by treading the air with one’s feet so fast that one is suspended in air.  In some cartoons, life-ending accidents—such as being flattened by a steam roller—do not really end life:  the character returns as good as new to chase or scheme or otherwise entertain us. 
                And even the children who watch the cartoons know that these fantasies are only ways to entertain them.  The real world has been with them from the beginning.  They have known hunger and thirst, though their parents or caretakers met those needs.  Nevertheless their needs were quite with them.  They have experienced the power of gravity:  their little muscles worked and developed, along with their nervous systems, to bring their bodies into the upright position.  They have known deprivation, struggle, chaos, insecurity. 
                They have also known the blessings of life.  Most children grow up in the care of loving, generous adults.  Those adults guide the child’s life in ways that bring a certain degree of security, confidence, and wisdom so that the child grows into a sense that, someday, he or she will enter the adult world with the ability to live an independent and productive life (listen to the speeches of high school valedictorians).  During those growing up years, almost all children and youth spend a great deal of time having fun.  They climb trees, hike along river banks, go swimming, play tag, sneak a kiss with a girl, play with a dog, catch fly balls, and wait for Christmas. 
                Life, from our earliest years, is a strange mixture of harshness and joy.  Many young people experience the sadness of a death in the family.  Many know what it is to be told “We just can’t afford that this year.”  Many bring home grade cards with less than satisfactory grades or know what it is to struggle over homework.  Most experience the breakup of a friendship.  Many these days watch on the sidelines as their parents go through divorce.  For most young people, the disappointments come relatively infrequently—often enough to bring realism, but not so frequent so as to bring utter devastation.
                As we settle into adulthood, we continue to deal with this admixture of joy and sorrow.  People develop coping mechanisms, more or less successfully, that help them to keep their psychological machinery functioning reasonably well in the face of THE WAY
THINGS ARE.  No doubt, many of these coping mechanisms are the product of how we have been brought up.  I shall not go into detail about these, nor shall I attempt to delve into what psychologists call “defense mechanisms.”  I shall only list a few of our styles of dealing with “reality” or THE WAY THINGS ARE.
                1.  Hard-nose realism
                2.  Extreme dependence on one or more other people
                3.  Worrying and fretting
                4.  Escape through entertainment, recreation, or fantasy
                5.  Extremes of control over other people
                6.  Chemical dependency
                Most people employ combinations of these and other coping styles.  Few people can sustain any one of these styles (including “hard-nosed realism”) for long periods.  We all need some escape from time to time.  We generally lean on other people to some degree.  We often strive to control our small corner of the universe in order to create some sense of security.  We don’t survive long if we do not at least occasionally live as hard-nosed realists. 

                In the midst of all of these coping styles, there is generally very little evidence of a philosophical-religious perspective.  I find this to be true even among many professing Christians.  My observation is that most people live their lives and cope with life mostly by instinct.  They largely react to life rather than having any sense that there is an overarching plan for life. 
                Now, a person may tell you he or she has a plan, but, when you examine the plan, it generally is focused on two or three areas of life.  A person may have a VOCATIONAL PLAN.  She may become a doctor and see the medical profession as the vehicle that gives her identity, security, and fulfillment.  He may have a RELATIONSHIP PLAN.  He may plan his life around the family and friends he has always known.  They give him identity, security, and fulfillment.  Or, he may have a FINANCIAL PLAN.  He may understand his life in terms of income, savings, investments, etc.  These give him security and fulfillment.  The things the money buys give him identity. 
These are the kinds of “plans” that I have seen people build their lives around.  They really are part of the coping styles for life.  When difficulties come, these plans may be tested.  In some cases, people have invested a great deal of energy into their “plans.”  If the “plan” comes through in the time of trouble, there is an even deeper investment in the plan.  On the other hand, trouble can shatter the plan.  A woman who has invested her life into her marriage, in her RELATIONSHIP PLAN, will surely be shattered by divorce.  On the other hand, if her “plan” was financial, she may draw comfort from the financial arrangement of the divorce decree.
None of these “plans,” however, can deal with all of life and bring complete security, identity, and fulfillment.  Perhaps some “mid-life crises” come about when the “plan” begins to seem empty and unfulfilling.  Moreover, none of these plans, not to mention the instinctual reactions with which many people approach life, attempt to view life with a broad understanding.  There is an absence of a philosophical-religious perspective.
I shall attempt to give such a perspective.  The first step is to understand how things got in the shape they are. 

                I believe that the Bible offers explanations for THE WAY THINGS ARE.  As a brief summary for the present order of existence, I offer the following list:
1.       There are many good things around us.  Life, at least at times, is good.
2.       There is offered to us the means to live.  The environment of natural resources provides to us a great abundance of food and the means to make a living.
3.       Human society has given to us many good things.  Technology and science, industry, government, institutions, culture, the arts—all of these provide for us a universe of joys, pleasures, provisions for order and security.
4.       Life also has dealt to us a lot bad stuff.  There is death, disease, war, birth defects, mental retardation.
5.       We also observe that none of us are perfect in all our ways.  We find ourselves and others to have strong tendencies to evil behavior.  Some of this behavior is down-right monstrous:  one could mention pedophilia, child abuse, the Jewish Holocaust, slavery, etc.
As a Christian explanation of these (very simplistic) observations, I propose the
following formula: 


This understanding is based on the witness of the whole Bible.  I shall refer to some important passages, but many others could be cited.  I might say that this formula, though it is understood by most Christians, is strangely neglected at times.  I find that many people, even conservative Christian writers, stress Creation but neglect the second part of the cause of THE WAY THINGS ARE, which is the Law of Sin and Death.  The result of this neglect is that many people are puzzled about much of what they observe.  Moreover, a second result of this neglect is that many people have poor understandings of the victory that God has won and of The Big Picture. 
In addition, because this formula is poorly understood, many people really have a hazy understanding of THE WAY THINGS ARE.  That is, they fail to recognize that our Present Order of Existence is a mixture of the blessings of the Creation and the curse of the Law of Sin and Death.  This failure of understanding creates problems in understanding Scripture and in understanding life. 
In the next two sections, I shall develop the Scriptural basis for Creation and the Law of Sin and Death.

The first statement of the Bible is that God created everything: 
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
                                                                                                                Genesis 1:1[1]
This is one of the profoundest of all statements.  Everything, in the beginning, was God’s idea.  Everything, in the beginning, came from God.  Everything, in the beginning, had its purpose and destiny from God.  Everything, in the beginning, belonged to God.
Genesis 1 emphasizes that God’s creation was good: 
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
                                                                                                                Genesis 1:3-4
Similarly, God pronounced the following to be good:  separation of water from dry ground (verse 9), vegetation (verse 12), the sun, moon, and stars (verse 17), aquatic animals and birds (verse 21), land animals (verse 25).  Finally, God pronounced all that He had made to be “very good.”  (verse 31)
The last things that God made were human beings, who were made in the image of God (verse 27).  It is obvious from the whole context of the chapter that humanity is understood to be the crown of creation.  Thus, humanity is a good creature, at home in the very good creation of God.
As we look around in wonder at this beautiful creation, we get a glimpse of magnificence of the one who created it. 
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
                                                                                                                                Psalm 19:1
The “glory” of God, for the Hebrew, was a manifestation of the full significance of God.  God has manifested Himself through creation, setting an agenda for Himself as well as what He has made.  When we turn our eyes up to the stars or see the sun blaze at noonday, we have some idea of the awesome power and deep wisdom of the great God who is king of the universe and all of creation.
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
                                                                                                                Psalm 145:9
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 
                                                                                                Matthew 6:25-29
These quotations from Scripture—the second quote is from Jesus—give us a picture of God’s sustaining His creation.  So that, not only has God created all things, but He also continues to care for it.  In Hebrews 1:3, we read that the Son of God sustains “all things by his powerful word.”  The following is another description of God’s care for creation:
He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.  They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.  The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches….He makes the grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth….The trees of the Lord are well watered….There the birds make their nests.…The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God…These all [all living creatures] look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
                                                                                                Psalm 104:10-27
The witness of Scripture is to a good God who has made a good creation.  Through that creation, God provides to us the means to sustain and enjoy an abundant life.  In James 1:17 we read:  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  I think that it is consistent with the witness of Scripture that the many, many good things that we enjoy are ultimately from the God who has made us.  If humans have made things or have discovered things, it is because God has given the ability to do so.  Moreover, God’s faithful sustenance of Creation has made it possible for us to explore our environment and to develop the remarkable science and technology that we enjoy today. 
What is good in your life?  For each person there are many different gifts from God, yet surely all of us can find an abundance to be thankful for:  family—parents, siblings, extended family, children; friends, community, country, job, civic clubs, cars, rods and reels, beef stew, microwave ovens, electricity, pet dogs, swimming pools, forced air furnaces, air conditioning, Daylight Donuts, giraffes, beavers, largemouth bass, CAT scans, computers.  On and on we could go.  All these remarkable, wonderful, beautiful, joyous, fun, intriguing, loving, comfortable, poetic, awesome things come from God to bless and sustain our lives.
I think we can say the following about God’s Creation and all the blessing and provision that He supplies:
                1. It is good.  It is full of blessing and enjoyment and brings about our ultimate good.
2. It is abundant.  A lush rain forest is a fitting symbol of God’s good creation. There are innumerable life forms from the five biological kingdoms (Monera—the bacteria-like organisms, Protista—organisms similar to the ameba and Paramecium)  Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia).   (I have just learned that there is a possible sixth kingdom Archaea.)
                3. It is beautiful.  From the constellations of the heavens to the intricacy of subcellular structures, all the universe is gloriously beautiful. 
4. It is orderly.  From the atom to the galaxies, there are remarkable systems that sustain themselves through complex processes.  Living things, especially, exhibit such awesome order and control.
5. It is the basis for God’s provision for our lives.  Even in our non-agrarian society, we can recognize that the sustenance for our lives rests on God’s good creation.
6. It is ultimately about life and not death.  We can talk of the “law of tooth and claw” or the need for death to make life possible in ecosystems, but all of creation carries a message of the beauty and glory of life.  Even aggressive instincts are means to self-defense and the preservation of life. 

A.  The Origins of the Human Condition
                There is another principle that operates among us besides the principle of creation.  It is the principle that the Bible calls The Law of Sin and Death.  The following quotation is given at this point simply to emphasize the existence of this Law.  I shall refer back to this passage in other places to explore its meaning.
                So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 
                Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  [italics added]
                                                                                                Romans 7:21-23, 8:1-2
                I want to explore the origins of this situation.  The Bible describes how the human race entered into a condition that is marked by these twin diseases—sin and death.  This incident is described in Genesis 3, but the groundwork for that chapter is laid in chapter 2.  The following is a synopsis of Genesis 2: 4-25: 
After God had formed the earth, He made a man and placed him in a garden.  The man, named Adam, lived a simple, peaceful life in the garden, with responsibility for the garden and its animals.  God made a woman for the man, to be his wife.  The two became husband and wife.  They had available the fruit of all the trees of the garden.  There were two special trees in the garden—The Tree of Life and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They could eat of the Tree of Life, but they were warned not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. 
The key background in chapter 2 is the command to Adam: 
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” [italics added]
                                                                                                Genesis 2:16-17
                The following are excerpts from chapter 3:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree [of knowledge of good and evil] was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
[After the Lord discovered that the people had disobeyed him,] To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree…Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God
banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
                                                                                Genesis 3:6-24 (in part)
In the following chapters of Genesis, we are given a series of snapshots of the human condition.  These stories are given without comment, but it is obvious that the human condition that began with the disobedience in the Garden of Eden was being played out.  The following are some of features of those chapters:
              In chapter 4, the first son of Adam and his wife Eve kills his younger brother, Abel.
              In chapter 5, we see a series of “obituaries”:  the descendants of Adam are listed.  In each case, the age of the man is given at his first son’s birth.  Then, the total years of the man’s life is given.  The final statement is:  “And then he died.”
              In chapter 6, the wickedness of humanity has become so great that God decides to destroy the whole human race except for Noah and his family.
              In chapter 11, the entire human population, descendants of Noah, decide to build a tower, the Tower of Babel.  But God sees it as only concentrating human willful disobedience of Him, and so He confuses the languages of the people so that they scatter away from the central location of the Tower.
                It is evident from these chapters that the sentence of death that God pronounced on humanity came about.  Adam and Eve did not die suddenly upon eating the forbidden fruit, but they did die eventually.  Moreover, it is obvious that the human race showed signs of degeneration, not only in the sense of dying, but also in the general tendency toward sinful behavior, human pride, and disintegration of human society. 
B.  The Nature of Sin
                This human condition is called the Law of Sin and Death.  It has two components—sin and death. 
                Sin is wickedness, evil-doing, transgression of God’s law, rebellion against God, and failure to trust and believe in God.  I shall not attempt a detailed analysis of sin, but I shall try to give some indication of what it is all about and why it is so serious.
                In Romans 14:23b, we read:  “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”  When we think about the story of the Garden of Eden in this light, we gain some insight into the nature of the lapse of Adam and Eve.  The following is part of the conversation between Eve and the serpent:
                Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
                The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
                “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
                When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
                                                                                                Genesis 3:1-6a
                My impression of this story is that the woman—and the man after her—began to believe that God was holding something out on her.  This is a rejection of the goodness of God.  The couple had, up to that time, lived a life of simple trust in God.  They accepted His vision for their lives and enjoyed His provision.  But, when they reached out for the fruit, they reached beyond God’s provision and vision.  In doing so, they rejected the whole basis of relationship with God:  trust in His goodness.  And the consequence of that was to plunge them into a new state of being.
                Their new condition was one no longer sustained by the Tree of Life.  It was a condition of limited access to God.  And it was one in which the human race explored the limits of the knowledge of good and evil.  As I have already indicated, the following chapters of Genesis outline the degeneration of humanity. 
                Sin, then, is marked by a severely crippled relationship between God and people, so that there is enmity between God and people.
                Sin is also marked by specific evil that is relevant to the way we live.  In the fourth chapter of Genesis, we find that Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel.  The crippled relationship, and moral darkness that resulted from the crippling, brought about a crippling of the relationship between people (this is foreshadowed in chapter 3).  The rest of the Old Testament looks with eyes wide open at the inhumanity of the human race:  murder, enslavement, war, rape, oppression, cheating, lying. 
                Not only do we see that sin is an expression of brokenness of relationships between persons, but also we see that sin breaks human dignity and self-respect.  The sad story of Saul, the first king of Israel is an example.  He started as a champion of the people, one who would deliver them from their foreign oppressors.  But his life degenerated into weakness, jealousy, and depression (his story is found in I Samuel chapters 8-31).
                Briefly, sin can be characterized in the following ways:
·         There is distrust in the goodness of God.
·         There is a fear of relationship with God.
·         These “relationship problems” result in false and inadequate worship and devotion to God.
·         There is distrust of other people.
·         The poor relationships with people result in personal evil committed against other humans—crimes of violence, theft, abuse, etc.
·         There also are systemic, societal evils perpetuated upon peoples—totalitarian regimes, slavery, wars of domination and hegemony, oppression, terror.
·         Mixed with all of these there are incidental and systematic systems of false belief systems that perpetuate darkness and evil.
                It is important to recognize that sin is both spiritual and specific.  By “spiritual,” I mean that sin is a condition of enmity with God that may express itself in many different ways.  It has a certain power of its own.  At the same time, sin must be understood as specific, and by this I mean that sin is very relevant to our individual lives.  We cannot “spiritualize” the concept of sin in a way that avoids the specifics. 
                To expand on this latter concept, I should point out that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, details a number of sins and posits laws against them.  It does not always explain the spiritual nature of such sins (nor does it always explain the spiritual nature of obeying positive admonitions).  But it should still be understood that to disobey these laws has spiritual consequences.  For example, to enter into homosexual practice is both a symptom of spiritual decadence and can lead to further spiritual decadence (see Romans 1:18-32).  So, sin is a spiritual force that brings about degeneration, and it is the direct disobedience of God’s moral law:
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
                                                                                                                I John 3:4
C.  The Universality of Sin
                We also must report the Bible conclusion:  sin is universal.  In Romans 1-3, Paul makes the case for the universality of sin.  In the following passage, he quotes several Old Testament passages to make his case:
There is no one righteous, not even one;  there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.  The poison of vipers is on their lips.  Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.
                                                                Romans 3:10-18 (poetic style omitted)
Paul concludes his long discussion of the degeneration of the human race by saying:  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  In Romans 5, Paul traces this sin back to Adam:
                Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—for before the law [the Mosaic Law] was given, sin was in the world… 
                                                                                                Romans 5:12-13a
In Romans 2, Paul discusses those who sin in the absence of the Mosaic Law:
                All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law….[They are governed by the law of conscience—see verses 13-15.]
                                                                                                Romans 2:12
                From these two passages, together with passages which we have already discussed, we can construct an understanding of universal human sinfulness.  First, with the sin of Adam, the human condition of sinfulness entered the world.  Keeping the idea that sin is a broken relationship with God, then the human condition is one of estrangement from God.  Second, this heritage which we have from Adam carries with it a tendency to sin.  In Romans 7:14, Paul says:  “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.”  That is, Paul observes that his condition is such that he is going to displease God in some way.  Third, the result of this tendency to sin is sin itself.  This is true for those who know the Mosaic Law and for those who are only guided by their own conscience.  The human condition is such that all have broken specific laws of God and all have acted in ways that have alienated themselves from God and from one another.  Fourth, the result of these sins and the universal human condition of sinfulness is the universal sentence of death upon the human race.
D.  The Sentence of Death
                The punishment for sin is death.  God had warned Adam that, if he disobeyed by eating of the fruit, he would die.  In fact, he did die.  It is important to understand the nature of death.  If we follow the narrative of the early chapters of Genesis, we can see a number of ways that death works itself out.
·         First, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, which meant they were denied the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22-24).  They lost their connection to the very source of life.
·         Then, too, Adam and Eve lost companionship with God.  Though they still had a relationship with God, it seems obvious that it no longer was of the same quality as it had been before their lapse.
·         They were sentenced into a new harshness of life.  Food would come only through the sweat of the brow.  Pain entered their life.
·         Their son Abel died before they did.  They found themselves, by the grave of their son, faced with their own mortality.
                These consequences of the sentence of death have been the universal human experience.  We could add to it that death works its way out in as many ways as medical textbooks and forensic pathologists can describe:  miscarriages, abortions, still births, infectious diseases, genetic disease, birth defects, cancer, degenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases, blows to the head, knife wounds, gunshot wounds, car wrecks, bombs, chemical warfare, cardiovascular disease.  On and on we could go. 
                Moreover, all of these causes of death have their sublethal varieties, so that every sickness is a “little death,” just as Jesus pointed out that hate is a “little murder” (Matthew 5:21-22, see also I John 3:15).  I do not believe it is stretching things too much to add that much of the “negative” of life can be understood as a manifestation of this sentence of death upon the human race.
                Consistent with the human experience of death is the experience of the non-human environment.  Though we can take delight in the natural world—its beauty, the delightful variety of life forms, the awesome vastness of outer space, we also find that nature can be harsh and random.  Sometimes nature is described as “tooth and claw.”  Death is as much a part of the life cycles of ecosystems as is life.  Trees get old and rot out and die.  Coyotes run down rabbits and kill them without mercy.  Sparrows lose many of their young before they reach maturity.  Tornadoes rage through forests and trailer parks.  Hurricanes swamp Central American countries quite regularly.  All of nature reflects the creation, but nature also has a disintegrative character that reflects The Law of Sin and Death.  In Romans 8, Paul discusses the present condition of creation:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subject to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
                                                                                Romans 8:19-21 (italics added)
                There is another form of death which we should be aware of.  Jesus said:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
                                                                                                Matthew 10:28
                I have not given much attention to the afterlife and what theologians call last things.  I shall discuss many positive aspects of the Christian understanding of last things in another place.  But, in discussing The Law of Sin and Death, it is necessary to understand something of final judgment.  The Biblical understanding is that there is an accounting that people must face after death:
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…
                                                                                                                Hebrews 9:27
You, then, why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you look down on your brother?  For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written:  “’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’”
                                                                                                                Romans 14:10-11
All who sin apart from the [Mosaic] law will also perish [in judgment] apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.
                                                                                                                Romans 2:12
For I [Jesus] tell you that men will have to give account on the day of
judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
                                                                                                                Matthew 12:36-37
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.  Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. ….The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
                                                                                                                Revelation 20:11-15
                These are sobering Scriptures that warn us that an accounting awaits us in the afterlife.  Notice that the sentence that is pronounced upon those who fail this judgment is to be thrown into the lake of fire.  This punishment is called “the second death.” 
                This judgment and punishment in the afterlife is an extension and culmination of the sentence of death that has been pronounced upon humanity for its sinfulness.  We can say the following about final judgment:
·         It places the blame upon humans for their own sins.
·         It individualizes sinfulness (notice above:  “books were opened” and they “were judged according to what they had done”) and is specific.
·         The relationship with God in the earthly life is one of estrangement, of a broken relationship based on distrust and characterized by lack of knowledge on the part of humans.  At the judgment, people “meet their maker,” now in the role of their judge.  This is an extension of the brokenness of the relationship.
·         The sentence of the second death extends into eternity the condition of estrangement from God. 
                This picture of a God that judges us and sentences us to the lake of fire is not compatible with modern understandings.  Nevertheless, it is the Biblical understanding.  No amount of sentimentalizing will help us deal with the revealed truth of Scripture. 
                Keep in mind that I am telling the bad news first.  It is important to get an accurate understanding of THE WAY THINGS ARE so that we can understand what God has done for us.
E.   Summary of The Law of Sin and Death
·         The human condition is one of sinfulness.  This sinfulness includes an alienation from God, marked by distrust of God on the part of people.
·         This sinfulness manifests itself in specific sins that affect every aspect of our lives, including our worship of deities and our relationships with people.
·         This specificity includes things such as violence, abuse, oppression, property crimes, sexual deviance, and deception.
·         This human sinfulness is a universal trait, inherited from Adam.
·         God has pronounced a sentence of death upon human sinfulness.
·         This sentence of death works itself out in a myriad of ways, resulting in disease, suffering, and death.
·         The sentence of death has even invaded the non-human world, so that all creation expresses an inexorable tendency to disintegration and death.
·         Suffering can also be attributed to sin itself and to secondary consequences of both sin and the sentence of death.
·         The sentence of death extends into eternity in the afterlife and is finalized at the last judgment.

                We all encounter trouble and suffering.  It is helpful, at times, to understand the cause of our trouble.  The following analysis may be somewhat incomplete, but I hope that it is helpful.  Many times, our reactions to trouble is because we misdiagnose the cause of our trouble.  Sometimes we feel guilty about things that we should not feel guilty.  Sometimes we are unwilling to take responsibility for (and feel guilty about) things that we should take responsibility.  Sometimes we fail to realize that we live in the present order of existence and that it brings with it pain and suffering.
                The following is a summary of the causes of suffering.  Keep in mind that all of these causes originated in The Law of Sin and Death. 
1.       I cause my own suffering.  I do this when I do foolish things.  For example, if I do things that are harmful to my health, like smoking or excessive drinking, then I very likely will suffer the consequences.  I also may do evil things for which I suffer.  If I commit a crime, then I may be arrested and spend time in jail or prison.  If I am cruel to my wife, then she may leave me.  The sinful tendencies within me can lead me into evil that brings consequences to my life.
2.       I live in this Present Order of Existence, which is under a sentence of death.  As a consequence, I may experience suffering.  For example, sinful people may bring harm to me.  The destruction of the World Trade Center was the result of the fact that there were evil people in the world who were willing to do such a terrible deed.  We also observe that the sentence of death in the world often acts through nature, so that nature brings suffering.  It may be a flu virus, a tornado, or cancer.  The natural world can bring good and blessing, but it also can be hostile and destructive.
3.       I am persecuted because I do the right thing.  Whereas I may do things that bring suffering upon me, I also may experience suffering for the very reason that I am doing what I should be doing.  I see two categories within this category.  First, I may suffer simply because I do good things, without any particular “spiritual” connections.  For example, a person may be a “whistle-blower.”  She may observe that her corporation is engaged in illegal activity.  She may confront her bosses about it, and they ignore her warnings.  So, she goes to the government with the information.  She then is promptly fired.  She may, in fact, experience a vicious smear campaign against her.  She is suffering for doing good.  The second type of suffering for doing good is when I suffer because of my identity with Christ.  Chinese Christians in the “house church” movement experience imprisonment, torture, and even death.  Two young women were in prison in Afghanistan because they taught Christianity along with giving out humanitarian aid.
                This final point brings us to a topic which I have not discussed yet, and that is the existence and activity of the devil.

                The Scripture depicts a personal devil or Satan.  This subject is difficult because the Scripture does not give us a lot of detail to help us understand who the devil is and what his role is. 
                Many people have difficulty believing there is a personal devil.  However, people who have “been around” for any length of time eventually have to admit that there is some sort of organized evil in the world.  But I believe that the Bible teaches that the devil is a personal being with the capacity of decision and emotion.  He (the Bible refers to him by the male pronoun) is depicted as having considerable power. 
                There are two passages that many believe refer to the origins of Satan:  Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11b-17.  The first passage is taken from a longer passage about Babylon and the king of Babylon.  It is an integral part of the longer passage.  It uses poetic exaggeration to refer to the king of Babylon as a “morning star” who has fallen terribly.  The Hebrew word, roughly transliterated helel, was translated “Lucifer” in the Latin.  That name has stuck in reference to Satan.  The term is not used elsewhere to refer to Satan in the Scripture. 
                The second passage is from a longer passage about Tyre and its king.  It is similar in its extreme exaggeration about a cherub, beautifully adorned, who lived in Eden, but who also fell morally and was destroyed by God. 
                I do not believe that these Scriptures can be proved to refer to Satan.  It may be that they  are referring both to the subject at hand (Babylon or Tyre) and to the fall of Satan from moral purity as an angel, but it is difficult to establish that.
                In Revelation 12, the devil is described as a dragon.  The chapter begins by describing a woman who is about to give birth.  Then, John the Revelator, introduces the dragon as follows:
Then another sign appeared in heaven:  an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.  His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.  The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.  And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne….
                …Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:  “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down…But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.
                                                                                Revelation 12:3-12 (parts omitted)
                This passage describes much about the nature of Satan.  First, he is not like any ordinary earthly creature.  He has enormous power and cosmic influence.  A third of the angels follow him.  Second, he had or has (placing this passage in a chronology that we can understand is difficult) access to heaven, even to the point of accusing God’s people before God Himself.  Third, he opposes the people of God and Christ.  This seems to be the focus of his activity.
                I John 5:19b says:  “The whole world is under the control of the evil one.”  Ephesians 2:1-2 says:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
And in Ephesians 6:11-12 we read:
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Thus, we get a picture of Satan as having a great deal of power and influence in the world, even reaching toward heaven.  His activity is organized, seemingly with considerable strategy, opposing the people of God and Jesus Christ. 
                First, Satan is active in temptation to sin and to false religion and heresies.  He tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).  He inspired Peter to oppose Jesus’ mission of the crucifixion (Matthew 16:21-23).  He is certainly the same character described as a snake in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-24). 
                Second, Satan is the author at least of some of the suffering in the world.  Jesus healed a woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  He said that she had been bound by Satan during all that time (Luke 13:16).  The book of Job describes the activity of Satan to bring great suffering on Job (Job 1-2). 
                Third, Satan accuses the people of God (see the Revelation passage quoted above and the passage from Job).  The idea is that Satan constantly undercuts the position of people with God by accusing them of sin.
                Fourth, from the passage in Ephesians 6, we can infer that Satan interferes spiritually with the work of the church (see II Corinthians 10:1-6 and I John 2:18-23,
                Fifth, Satan is said in Hebrews 2:14-15 to have the power of death.  One interpreter believes that we should understand that Satan’s power of death is the power that he has to lead people into sin, which has led to death.  (Kenneth L. Barker, General editor.  The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Bible Publishers,  1985), p. 1861.)  I have already made the case that God’s sentence upon sin is death.  Hence, it seems to me that Satan does not have the ultimate power of death.  Satan does have a powerful grip on the world, and this holds people in their sin and destines them for death. 
                We should not infer that Satan is the one who is the stoker of the fires of hell.  I cannot find that idea anywhere in Scripture.  There was a comic strip years ago that depicted hell as this place run by little demons who made life miserable for the residents.  But, in fact, the Bible is clear that hell is a place that is reserved for the devil and all his demonic helpers (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 20:10).
                The New Testament refers to demons or evil spirits or unclean spirits.  These are described as possessing people and causing them to bring misery to those persons and to others (see Mark 1:23-27, Luke 6:18, Matthew 12:22, Matthew 8:28ff).  In some cases these demons caused illness, and in other cases they caused the person to speak or do mad and self-destructive or gospel-opposing things.  It is evident that these beings are in concert with the devil, or Satan, and do his bidding.
                In II Thessalonians 2:7, Paul refers to the “secret power [or mystery] of lawlessness.”  He is referring to the future Antichrist, but he indicates that there is a complex and mysterious scheme of evil that is at work now and will continue until it is completely overthrown.
How do we reconcile these understandings of spiritual evil and the suffering that comes from it with the idea of The Law of Sin and Death that I have already described?  I believe that the two are compatible. 
·         I do not believe that evil was God’s idea.  Evil is a potentiality that exists because authority, goodness, and love exist.  It is always possible to resist and oppose these.
·         Satan seems to be the originator and pioneer of evil.  He “has been sinning from the beginning” (I John 3:8). 
·         Human sin was in cooperation with the Satanic rebellion.  It may not have been originally an idea to join with Satan, but it had that result.
·         The nature of evil is to bring misery.  Because Satan is forever busy doing evil, one of the consequences of his activity is to bring about human misery.
·         The sentence of death, which is part of The Law of Sin and Death, removed the blessing of God.  That loss of blessing included a removal of protection from the evil of the Satanic Empire.  Hence, Satan has been free to harass the human race with all sorts of evil. 
·         Thus, The Law of Sin and Death must be extended to include the work of Satan both to entice people into evil and to inflict evil upon them.
·         Satan and lesser devils work in concert with The Law of Sin and Death to bring about human suffering. 
                Related to these ideas is the understanding that Satan has, to some degree, this present order of existence as his territory.  In Matthew 12:25-29, Jesus described His own work to be in opposition to Satan.  He described His work as plundering Satan’s goods.  The inference is that as Jesus brings life and hope into a person’s life, He overcomes and reverses the work of Satan.  In order to do that, Jesus disarms Satan or “ties up the strong man” (Matthew 12:29).  So, God’s work through Jesus Christ is not only a work of rescuing us from the consequence of human sin but also a work of extracting us from the grasp of the very originator of sin.

                Sometimes people try to justify suffering as serving some sort of higher good.  I call this the “chess match” mentality.  When something bad happens—someone dies of cancer or someone loses a job, then someone tries to explain this in some way:  “Well, if she had not died, then her husband would have never come to the Lord.”
                There are some Scriptural bases for this sort of thinking.  Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery.  He ended up in Egypt, and, through a long series of events, he eventually became a high Egyptian official who was able to supply his brothers with grain and was in a position to give his family the favors of Pharaoh.  At one point Joseph told his brothers, referring to their evil deed and the fact that it led to Joseph’s position of favor and power:  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).  Then, there is a favorite of many people:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
                                                                                                                Romans 8:28
                These two passages must be understood in the light of God’s redemptive work.  Joseph’s story is the culmination of the book of Genesis, which takes its major turn in chapter 12, when God calls Abraham.  That is, in the call of Abraham is the beginning of God’s great redemptive work.  That work continues to the end of Genesis and includes the life of Joseph.  So, Joseph is an instrument of God.  The evil scheme of the brothers was used by God to bring immediate good but also to advance the history of the people of God. 
                Romans 8:28 is part of a passage that is a panoramic view of the work of God in redemption, and that verse should be understood to be part of that big picture.
                But it is a mistake to extend these ideas by seeing God turning every evil into a good.  God does not get His way in every matter.  I realize that that concept is foreign to some Christians, but I believe the Bible plainly teaches that God does not want anyone to perish in hell (II Peter 3:9), and yet many will.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the people had rejected Him (Luke 19:41-44). 
                I believe that God is opposed to evil, which is not His idea. I believe that God has a plan to bring an end to evil.  But that plan is not to be engaged in some sort of secret, behind-the-scenes chess match that somehow creates a little evil here in order to advance His plans there and eventually everything works out for the best.  In the next part of this essay, I shall present what God has done and is doing about evil.  That great plan is powerful and will be ultimately victorious.  But we need to understand that, in the meantime, we live in This Present Order of Existence.  That order includes evil—horrible, devastating, and ugly. 
                It is a deception and an attempt to grasp at straws to try to explain every calamity as only a temporary setback that God will eventually turn into good.  That sort of thinking is not consistent with the message of the Bible.  Therefore, whereas it is intended to reassure people and increase their faith, I think that it only ultimately leads to their disappointment.  I believe there are better ways of thinking about evil and about what God is doing about it.  But it will require that we understand The Big Picture of God’s redemptive plan.

What is God’s role in trouble?  I have already indicated that the devil has a role.  It may seem counter to all that I have said, but we also need to understand that God does have a role in evil. 
                There are a number of places in Scripture that are somewhat troubling, because they seem to portray God as the author of evil and trouble.  For example, King Saul was troubled by an evil spirit sent from God. (I Samuel 16:14)  God is depicted in the Psalms as the God who sends frightening storms. (Psalms 18:7-17, 77:16-19, 107:23-32)  Our temptation is to dismiss these as ancient understandings of God that are not appropriate for today.  But I think we should understand that God does have a role in evil.
                First, God is the judge of all the earth. (Genesis 18:25)  The Law of Sin and Death is part of God’s judgment on sin.  That Law works itself out through the various means that I have already described.  In many cases, those means are impersonal, random assaults on our well-being.  Someone gets cancer or a contagious disease.  That person is experiencing The Law of Sin and Death, the judgment of God.  If that person is a Christian, we understand that he or she is experiencing The Law despite his acceptance by God.  We know that ultimately a Christian will not suffer eternal death, but, in this present time, we are not totally immune from the effects of The Law. 
                Second, God is the One who sustains the universe. (Hebrews 1:3)  He maintains a universe with consistent physical and biological laws.  Those laws, I believe, have been altered by The Law of Sin and Death.  Nevertheless, they are consistent, and, in general, good laws.  For example, the seasons cycle around.  They include deadly processes, such as the loss of life potency for vegetation in fall and winter, along with the ravages of ice and snow.  Yet, the fallen leaves provide food for decomposers and detritus-feeders the next spring and summer.  The ice and snow provide moisture for the next year.  And the ice and snow can serve to break up rocks and renew the soil.  Ecosystems are complex interdependencies, in this present order, that depend as much on living things’ dying as they do on the vigorous life processes of those same living things.  God is the One who sustains all of that.  Thus, we must understand that God sustains processes that bring death as well as being the author of life.
                But, having said that, I believe that the Scriptural understanding of God’s ultimate plans and purposes do not stop with complex ecosystems and “the law of tooth and claw.”  I believe that when the final, eternal state is reached, there will be no more death, even among the animals. (Revelation 21:1-4, Isaiah 11:6, 65:25) 
                So, in this present order of existence, we must understand that God has an ultimate role in evil as well as good.  I say that with great caution, because I recognize that there is a heresy that distorts that understanding.  It is called Monism (from the root “mono” for “one”).  It is the idea that all things ultimately have a single origin.  Thus, good and evil ultimately come from the same thing (that is, God).  This is a false understanding.  We must understand that the Scripture understands things from the viewpoint of directional time.  That is, there is past, present, and future in the purposes and dealings of God.  There was a Fall of humankind. That is to say, evil began at some time in the past.   There has been a decisive, redemptive victory in Jesus Christ.  There will be an ultimate expression of that victory.  We are living in the time between that decisive victory and that ultimate victory.  We still experience the effects of the Fall, but we have experienced the beginning of the victory and live in anticipation of the final victory.  When that final victory comes, evil will be punished forever and good will shine forth.  (Matthew 13:36-43, Revelation 19:10-15)

                Life as we know it is a mixture that results from the blessings of our Creator God combined with The Law of Sin and Death.  We find much that brings joy and happiness.    We also experience loss, pain, suffering, and death.  The natural environment reflects and is consistent with this same mixture of beauty, life, and joy mixed with randomness, disintegration, and death.  We find ourselves and those around us to be fallen creatures trapped within our human condition.  We cry out with Paul:  “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  (Romans 7:24)
                The answer to that question is another law or principle that has come into being through the action of God in Jesus Christ:  The Law of the Spirit of Life. 

[1] All quotations from Scripture are from The Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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