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Coronavirus, Suffering and Psalm 91 The Universal Problem of Pain, Sin and Death

Recently I was asked the question: “What are we to make of Psalm 91 in such times?”

The question of COVID-19 and Psalm 91 must be framed within the larger lens of the problem of pain and suffering. C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book on it, The Problem of Pain. Pain is the problem! Much of our lives is devoted to minimising and removing pain. Whole industries are there for pain relief – whether physical pain (through pharmaceuticals) or emotional pain (through addiction to alcohol, gambling, gaming, pornography etc.) So why is there still pain and suffering if God is good? Christians may ask, why there is still pain when Jesus has paid for my sin?

It would be presumptuous to assume I can adequately address all of such questions. I cannot. However, Scriptures seem to indicate for us certain basic understandings that underpin the problem of pain. There are at least twelve such thoughts, regarding pain, death, sin, suffering and true life before I can adequately address our understanding of Psalm 91. In Part 1, I will consider the universal problem of pain, sin and death. Next, I will address the human problem of suffering in Part 2 and unpack the disciple’s problem of trust in Psalm 91 in Part 3.

  1. Pain is a necessary part of reality. If I touched a hot stove but did not have the nerve endings to inform me about the heat, I would suffer an even greater injury. Pain is therefore necessary for life. Without pain, I would not know how to avoid greater suffering. Pain, in that sense, is a necessary gift for true life.
  1. Pain was increased as part of judgment for sin. The word “pain” was first mentioned in the Scriptures in association with sin. Note however, it was not so much the beginning of pain as it was the multiplication of pain in Eve’s judgment. “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children…’” Gen 3:16a (ESV)
  1. Death is the ultimate representation of sin. Suffering, the increase of pain, is a consequence of sin. We see this from point 2 above. Physical death is the consequence of sin (Rom 6:23) and thus is the ultimate representation of the reality of sin.
  1. Death is not merely about physical dying. Death does involve the cessation of physical life but the picture given to us in Genesis 3 involves more than that. While eventually Adam did die physically (Gen 5:5), but what was more immediate after they sinned was both Adam and Eve being driven away from the presence of God (Gen 3:23 – 24.) Death (Gen 2:17) is the separation from the very source of life itself, God! The life we speak about as believers has to do with the restoration of that relationship with God through Jesus. Life – true life – is found in a relationship with God! “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3 (ESV)This was a small but critical point in my discipleship. To me, eternal life to me was for the longest time more of a “thing” – perhaps like the “force” in Star Wars – rather than a relationship. I had lived with the “idea” of God rather than living life with God, as a Person. If ultimate reality is God and the God we believe in exists not as a singularity but as Trinity (i.e. in loving relationship), how then would we not expect ourselves, as creatures made in His image, to reflect that also? I must learn afresh what it means to truly relate, that true life comes through relationships.
  1. Sin has to do with living our lives independent of God. What did Satan mean when he told Eve that if she took of the forbidden fruit, she would “be like God, knowing good and evil?” (Gen 3:5.) Well, what does it mean to be God in the first place? Apart from the notion of God as Creator, to be God means one has the authority to determine right and wrong. God is the standard and measure of all things. When I choose to live my live apart from God, I then determine what is right and wrong for myself. In that sense, I have become my own “god.” That is what it means to “know good and evil” – I am the authority who determines  right and  wrong. And that is probably why the world is the way it is! There are 7.5 billion little “gods” on earth, wanting to live our lives in our own ways!

This broad, and highly inadequate, sweep of the universal problem of pain, sin and death sets us up to consider the human problem of suffering addressed in Part 2.

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Daily Devo

Daily Devotional Journal

Scripture:
Daniel 4:28-37
Mon, 30 January 2023

Where Is God in This?

Observation:

What can you learn about God from the passage?

Deeper Reflection
Daniel calls us to look at history – past, present and future – theologically. Embedded in Daniel is the theology of history. Daniel is about the sovereignty of God over human history. The history in Daniel spans from Israel’s exile to Babylon (Dan 9:1-2) to the time Jesus announced, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15; Dan 7:13-14), and beyond, until God’s people “reign forever and ever” with God (Rev 22:5; Dan 7:18).Israel was ruled over by the Babylonians (586-539 B.C.), followed by the Persians (539-331 B.C.) and then the Greeks (331-143 B.C.). The Maccabeans revolted against the Greeks (168-143 B.C.) and Israel became an independent nation under the Hasmoneans (142-63 B.C.) until Rome’s intervention in 63 B.C.30 In this long history, God’s people faced “distinctive problems thrown up by the Exile, by consequent involvement with world powers and their totalitarian claims, and by the long delay in achieving political freedom after the return to Jerusalem. As successive empires engulfed Judea, opposition would bring increased persecution, not liberation. The question arose, where was God in this?” 31Daniel is God’s answer to this theological crisis – with four key focuses. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:31-33 and Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:1-8 reveal the superpowers in history. God’s people will suffer in godliness in “a time of distress” under the rule of anti-God kings (Dan 12:1). But they are to rest in the sovereignty of God – “the Most High” who “is ruler over the realm of mankind” (Dan 4:25, 32) and remain steadfast in faithfulness to God (Dan 12:10-12).
29 Isaiah 14:24, 26-27 30 Harold W. Hoehner, Between the Testaments, The Bible Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 1 (Zondervan, 1979), 184-189 31 Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel, Theology of, The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Zondervan, 1997), Vol. 4, 502 (emphasis mine)
Application:

How do I look at the world and history through the sovereignty of God?

Prayer:
O Lord God Almighty, the only wise God, You have determined Your plan and purpose for the whole world, and Your sovereign hand is stretched out over all nations. For surely, as You have planned, so it will be, and as You have purposed, so it will happen. For the Lord God Almighty has purposed and who can thwart Him? His hand is stretched out and who can turn it back.29
Prayer Pointers:
  • Give thanks and praise
  • Pray for Church Board: To be continually guided by the wisdom of the Lord in discerning the times and directing the affairs of the church
  • Pray for significant people
  • Pray for those in need
  • Pray for self
 

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