Misery: Its Cause and Cure
Video presentation of this lesson
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:17-20)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
All our human misery began in a beautiful place. It wasn’t in a slum or hostile environment. It was in the perfect garden made by God called Eden. There were no bad neighbors, no troubled up-bringings to overcome. There were no addictions, diseases, or disasters to contend with. What’s more, at that time no sin had yet been credited to any human.
With all that going for them, Adam and Eve fell to the temptation that effected all human history. You would think that they would have said “No” to anything God said would be bad for them. But that’s not the way things went.
We were there too, not as individuals, but as a race of humans represented in Adam. When he did what God had forbidden, moral guilt and all the corruption that came from it alienated the whole human race from its Creator.
The misery that marks every page of history, the tragedies that fill our daily news, and the sorrows we face in our own lives all go back to that moment.
Our Shorter Catechism in the answer to question 17 summarizes the result of that fall into sin.
“The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.”
People see and experience misery. They ask, “Why?”
Why would Adam and Eve sin when everything was so perfect for them?
Why would God make it possible for sin to take place in his creation?
Why were we represented by Adam so that his guilt passed on to us all?
Why doesn’t God just stop it all right now?
Even though people don’t have all the facts, they tend to make up theories anyway. The guesses are as numerous as the questions. Some say that everything must have just evolved the way it did on its own. To them, what we call evil and tragedy are simply part of the way things move forward in the universe providing for the survival of the fittest. Others try to deceive themselves by denying the way things are. They believe that evil, sickness, and misery are all just illusions of our undisciplined minds. Then there are those who directly deny these plain teachings of Scripture. They say we didn’t all fall in Adam. We are only held responsible for our own actions, and if given the chance we can all still do good and redeem ourselves. Still others believe that it must be beyond God’s power to keep sin out, or to control evil desires. They see him as unable to do anything about the situation.
The problem with these creative theories is that there are no facts to back them up. They all assume things opposite to what God himself tells us in his word.
To overcome misery, we first need to know what we are dealing with. God made a universe he knew would battle with sin and its tragic results. He had a purpose in allowing things to happen as they did. The present situation is not this way by chance, choice, or chaos.
When we face misery in our lives, the little miseries as well as the big ones, we need to remember the larger purpose, and how we are each a part of it.
The facts which are the results of sin are obvious. They are unavoidably there all around us all the time. All of us face sickness, and someday we will all die. There has always been crime and evil in the world. We each sometimes do things we know we shouldn’t, and neglect doing all we should. There are times when we enjoy God’s care and gifts, but fail to give proper thanks to him.
All this is not there because of a bad environment, or because of the influence of bad people. We are all infected with the congenital disease of sin. This is explained in many portions of Scripture. It is summarized well In Romans chapter 5.
Romans 5:12, “… through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men …”
Romans 5:17, “… if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one …”
Romans 5:18, “… through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation …”
Romans 5:19, “… by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners …”
So just how bad is this moral and spiritual disease?
The answer to Catechism Question 18 summarizes the teachings of the Bible.
“The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”
We are guilty by our inheritance from Adam who represented us. That is what Romans 5 and other passages tell us. We also lack righteousness ourselves. By our natural birth we fail to live morally and perfectly God-centered lives. We are separated from the Almighty by a very real barrier of guilt which we are not able to remove ourselves.
The corruption of that fall into sin leaves us totally unable to do good. Romans 3:10-12 is that classic passage about the extent of our corruption. There it says, “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ”
Paul was quoting from God’s written word in Psalm 14:1-3.
We need to know what things are really “good”.
People believe they are doing good things, things that seem good to them. God says otherwise.
We often think of “good” in terms of how it benefits us with pleasure and comforts. We all agree that it is a good thing to enjoy the wonders of God’s creation and provisions for us. We are truly happy to see the sick taken care of, the lonely visited, the grieving comforted, and the hungry get fed. However, God made all things to be done for his glory, not just for the comfort of his creatures.
When we do good without humbly giving God all the glory through Christ, we fail to do what makes a deed to be truly “good”. To do things for any other motive deprives the Creator of his proper praise. Living for his glory is the whole purpose of his creation. If anything else is the center of our lives, we miss the fullness of God’s blessings. (You might wish to look back at our study of Catechism Question #1.)
In Christ we have a whole new measurement of what things are “good.” We might not have the financial means to endow a new wing of a hospital, but we can praise God for moving those who can do that. They might fail to honor the Creator themselves. They may get their names on a plaque in the lobby, but the names of those who glorify God in all things are written down in heaven.
You do the greatest good with simple praises to God for his handiwork in nature, for his comfort to troubled hearts, for his redemption of sinners, and his restraint of evil.
However, in our natural fallen condition, we are unable to truly thank God as we should. It is not really good if the things we do are for personal glory, to advance our standing among men, or to sooth our troubled conscience.
In our fallen condition, every human experiences
the miseries of sin’s consequences.
The 19th Catechism question asks: “What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?”
The answer brings together what the Bible says from beginning to end:
“All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.”
There are no exceptions except the person of Jesus Christ. He alone was specially conceived and did not inherit the corruption that came from Adam’s sin. All the rest of us are born in this lost condition.
Aside from God’s redeeming grace, no one has true communion with the one true God. Of course God is always present everywhere we are. He is everywhere, even in the places frequented by unbelievers. However, even there, they are isolated from fellowship with him by that barrier of real moral guilt.
God built a principle of justice into his creation. It is there to show this eternal attribute of the Creator. That principle says we deserve our isolation from him. We are offensive to him at our conception. Without the substitute of our Savior who paid the debt for his children, we are rightly condemned to God’s just wrath and punishment.
Those of this lost world take justice and moral responsibility lightly. They have no absolute standard for justice. Everything is relative to what benefits them or the community. They live only by what seems to benefit them at the moment. God’s standard for good is what promotes his glory.
This is why justice is so confused in our fallen cultures. People see justice as a way to correct bad behavior so that the criminal is rehabilitated and morally repaired. God’s justice is not primarily to rehabilitate. That is just a side benefit of justice. Justice is not here simply to teach us a lesson. It is to pay a debt to the offended. It is both restitution to the victim for the damage done, and punishment to the one who committed the crime.
Justice is not satisfied by trying to motivate criminals to do better the next time. It demands specific penalties for violating absolute moral principles.
Part of God’s justice is the misery sin deserves and brings into the human race. It is deserved because offending the Creator is the greatest crime in the universe. One of the evidences of the corruption of sin in the human soul is the common attitude about this matter of what is just.
If you asked people what crimes are the greatest, they would list things like; murder, terrorism, sexual assault, and armed robberies. As horrible as those things are, the greatest crime is to offend our Creator. It might be only in our thoughts or attitudes, but it goes against all we were created and are commanded to be.
Most people think that failing to take worship seriously, or not trusting the Bible are minor offenses that do not matter much. God says that things like those matter the most.
Because of the fall into sin, we live in a world plagued by misery. There are the daily pains, terrors, fears, and agonies that close in on use without relief. There is the certainty of death that comes to every person, often unexpectedly. There is that promise of eternal torment in what the Bible calls Hell. This is what we all deserve.
The price we owe for our sins against God is so great, that we finite creatures can never pay it off. We do not have the means for repairing such infinitely wicked offenses. All the sufferings for all eternity still never remove the guilt or satisfy the debt we owe.
Question 20 turns to the only possible remedy.
God did not leave lost mankind forever to suffer the miserable consequences of that first sin. The answer to Question 20 is,
“God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”
As you read through Romans 5, you see that the work of Jesus Christ as Savior is contrasted with our guilt. Though we deserve misery both now and forever, he paid for that misery in our place. All who trust in that promise are credited with Christ’s own righteousness, a blessing undeserved, but freely given by God’s grace alone. In Romans 6:23 Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is a whole different approach than what is offered my most religious movements today. The facts of Scripture are plain for those who take them for what they say. God elects some undeserving sinner to eternal life. Nothing they did is the cause of it. It was God’s grace alone.
This is hard for the fallen heart to understand, much less to accept. People come up with creative theories to explain it away. They assume they should get credit for their faith, or for the choices they make. It is as if somehow they think they were better than others and earned their place in glory by their acts or decisions. But there it is, clearly stated in many places in God’s word. It is nothing we do that earns God’s redeeming grace.
In Ephesians 1:3-6 the same Apostle summarizes what God says is true. There he writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
It is wrong to be so arrogant to believe that “you trusted in Christ while others didn’t”. To take credit for your faith or choice is to steal away God’s glory. If he did not enliven your heart and implant faith, you would not have trusted in him, or called upon him with confidence in what he has said and done.
There is a remedy for our misery.
It is not found by avoiding the results of Eden’s sin. You cannot ensure that nothing bad will happen to you, that no natural disaster will happen, that you’ll never get sick, be taken advantage of, or that you will be able to avoid death. These things happen as the just results of Adam’s and your own sins.
The remedy is found in the promise and work of God. Jesus paid the debt of sin for all his people on the Cross of Calvary. By his good pleasure alone he marked out certain ones eternally before creation itself, that they would be his adopted and much loved child forever.
While you go through the agony of sin’s consequences in this yet imperfect world, your Good Shepherd, your Loving Savior, is there to strengthen and comfort you. Through sickness, tragedy, disasters, and even through the passage of death itself, you are delivered by the substitution Jesus made for you 2000 years ago. Even the pains of Hell and the terror of eternal isolation from God’s fellowship are paid for in full by the Savior for all who put their trust in him alone.
There’s an old saying, “Misery loves company.” Sometimes we here conversations where everybody tries to out-do one another with their pains. They tell story after story about how bad things are for them. They go away feeling that their situation cannot be too bad since everybody else has problems too. However, after they have shared all their problems and faults, they still go home to face the miseries that are very real in their own lives.
Well run support groups can be very helpful when we go through hard times. We sometimes can learn from others and can be encouraged by them. But the companionship of others who suffer like us, is no real deliverance from the problem itself. The only company that actually delivers is the fellowship of our Savior. He is the one who makes the help of others work for us. Without his blessing, enablement, and care the most skilled and compassionate professionals or friends will not be encouraging to us at all. Come to him in prayer when the miseries come along. Rest in his promises. Be confident in his absolute power and unfailing love.
We have great treasure here, a remedy that cures the worse disease and misery of all. To keep it to ourselves, or to ignore it at any point during the course of our day is criminal. To bring this cure to others is the greatest of joys, and is part of that deliverance Christ offers.
There was a story I reported awhile back during one of our Internet webcasts. Penn Fraser Jillette is a well known magician. He is part of the magic act “Penn and Teller”. He is also an outspoken atheist. He was once handed a Gideon Bible by a man who then explained the gospel to him. The atheist didn’t become a believer, but he was impressed by the man’s sincerity, concern, and honesty. Of course he didn’t really understand the man’s message.
To the unbeliever it seemed like he was just trying to proselytize, to get him to join his religion. In reality the man was trying to explain a truth that is bigger than any religious organizations. What Penn said about this encounter is quite a challenge. He said, “If you believe there is a heaven and hell, and you think it’s not worth telling someone about it, how much do you have to hate him to not proselytize? To believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell people? This man cared enough about me to proselytize.” Penn said he has no respect for Christians who do not share their faith.
We have this one real remedy for facing
and making it trough life’s miseries.
First, we need to take the cure ourselves by trusting God’s promises through Jesus Christ the Savior. Then we need to take that cure to those we talk with this week. We should tell them very humbly but with conviction about this message of Scripture:
- We have offended our Creator. Our sin alienates us from him, and we are unable to fix the problem.
- Jesus Christ repaired the damage by dying in place of his people paying their debt.
- There is no misery so great, that he can’t deliver those he redeems from it.
- God calls us to admit our offenses and to rely upon our Savior’s grace alone for our deliverance.
(The Bible quotations in this Lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)