SCHOOL of SUFFERING SERIES PART I.1a
by Augusto Y. Hermosilla
Throughout the history of the ages, particularly even in the history of the church, mankind has been asking the rhetorical questions:
If God is so good, why has He permitted evil and suffering for mankind?
Where is God when life hurts? Does He really care?
Since the dawn of mankind, suffering has been an inescapable fact of life. Saints and sinners alike suffer and have been nagged by such painful questions, that even philosophers have been jousting as to what the satisfying answer should be. Pain and suffering have been such undesirable topic to people who only expects good things from life and God. And the bible clearly answers these rhetorical questions to provide comforting divine perspectives that can help us strengthen our faith in our pilgrimage on the narrow way to Him.
In the University of Life, after graduating from the elementary and secondary schools of experiences, God requires all His disciples to undergo a General Education curriculum in the School of Suffering. Sometimes, He may require His disciples even to pursue the progressive degrees of spiritual education by pursuing the progressive degrees of B.S. (Basic Suffering), then further on to M.S. (More Suffering), and finally to the Ph.D. (Phenomenal Difficulties).
And as long as man is alive, he never stops learning, even to the point of death. For the true disciples to appreciate the General Education curriculum of God for our spirits’ learning, we need to know the following:
I. SEED OF SUFFERING: SIN
The seed of all seeds of suffering, or mother of mother of all sufferings due to sin is given by the:
1. SIN OF PRIDE
A. SATANIC PRIDE OF SENNACHERIB
God created both angels and men as intelligent creatures possessing moral natures which could determine and choose between right and wrong. Had God stopped Lucifer and Adam one second before their sin, in effect, he would have violated their moral natures and reduced them to mere walking robots which only mechanically follows as a computer is programmed.
God created a perfect world, which He declared as good as what we can read in the Creation account in Genesis. No part of the world God created was to be intrinsically evil, but left evil only as a possibility, under His permission and providence, after the fall of Satan from God’s favour, as can be read in
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
17 That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
18 All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
20 Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.
These verses have double meanings, viz. historical and metaphorical, or literal and allegorical. In historical context, these verses describes the downfall of the very proud, arrogant, narcissistic, and megalomaniac Assyrian tyrant Sennacherib (whose name means “the moon-god Sin has increased the brothers”), who conquered Babylon, and who represented the prehistoric Accuser and Adversary, Satan, who also fell from his formerly lofty position as Archangel and who was known to lead all the angels in worshipping God. Sennacherib was a very fearsome tyrant who cruelly conquered many nations, just as Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs are so known for their cruel pride.
Lucifer, in Greek, means the shining light bearer. Bible scholars have pondered for centuries over why Lucifer sinned in the first place. Two suggestions have been proposed: First, Satan may have doubted God’s word that he had been only created. Maybe, he may had thought that God was lying. Second, he was no doubt jealous over man’s nature (especially his ability to reproduce himself—something angels cannot do), and the responsibilities given to Adam to manage, care, and be a stewards of God’s Garden of Eden. (See Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:3-6; Heb. 2:5-9.). This last suggestion would of course indicate that Lucifer did not sin until after the creation of Adam. In trying to understand God’s character and personality, prior to man’s creation, God had ample opportunities to express many of His multifaceted attributes. His omnipotence was shown in creating the stars. His omniscience was seen in fashioning angels. His holiness was demonstrated judging Lucifer after his fall (which is considered before the creation of mankind). But one attribute very close to His heart had not yet been exercised before the creation of man, viz. His grace. Therefore, to suggest that God created Adam knowing full well he would sin in His foreknowledge and omniscience (but in no way encouraging him to do so) is not unreasonable. So then, in the fullness of time, God planned to send His only Son to die in man’s place, and thus display His marvelous grace! All this is indicated in the following verses:
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Like Lucifer, the brilliant morning star in the very high position among the angelic host in the presence of God, the very powerful Sennacherib, who arrogantly thought himself as godlike, just like Lucifer as the bright morning star, would suddenly vanish in the early dawn when the sun rises. Supremely powerful kings in the ancient Near East were deified by their subjects, just like Lucifer who demanded worship from his fellow fallen angels. Ascribing godhood with his great power, Semitic peoples believed that the gods lived on Mount Zaphon, as allegory of the arrogant demigod to ascend to heaven …. above the stars and being enthroned on … the sacred mountain (i.e., Mount Zaphon, similar to the Greek’s Mount Olympus, the habitation of their gods), as being on top of the world kind of position of power. With hyperbolism, by ascending the high mountain above the clouds, he sought to make himself like God, the Most High. However, Sennacherib, like Lucifer, was brought low to the grave or pit, representing hell in eschatological terms. Nothing can save him from death and decay in the grave, just as when God throws those who rebelled against Him to hell.
In Isaiah 14:25, we can read:
I will break the Assyrian in my land.
Sennacherib brought a very formidable army into the land of Judah. But there God broke his army, broke all his regiments by the sword of a destroying angel. Note that those who wrongfully invade God’s land shall find that it is at their peril: God is the Protector of His people. And those who with unhallowed feet trample upon His holy mountains shall themselves there be trodden under foot. God undertakes to do this by Himself, His people having no might against the great company that came against them said:
“I will break the Assyrian; let me alone to do it Who have angels, hosts of angels, at command.”
The breaking of the power of the Assyrian would be the breaking of the yoke from off the neck of God’s people: His burden shall depart from off their shoulders, the burden of quartering that vast army and paying contribution to the invaders. Therefore, the Assyrian must be broken, that Judah and Jerusalem may be eased. Let those that make themselves a yoke and a burden to God’s people see what they are to expect. Now we can further note the following:
• This prophecy is here ratified and confirmed by an oath (v. 24): The Lord of hosts hath sworn, that He might show the immutability of His counsel, and that His people may have strong consolation, as can be read in
17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:
18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
What is here said of this particular intention is true of all God’s purposes: As I have thought, so shall it come to pass; for He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? Nor is He ever put upon new counsels, or obliged to take new measures, as men often are when things occur which they did not foresee. Let those who are the called according to God’s purpose comfort themselves with this, that, as God has purposed, so shall it stand, and on that their stability depends.
• The breaking of the Assyrian power is made a specimen of what God would do with all the powers of the nations that were engaged against Him and His chosen people (v. 26):
This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth (the whole world), all the inhabitants of the earth (so the Chaldee), not only upon the Assyrian empire (which was then reckoned to be in a manner all the world, as afterwards the Roman empire was (see Luke 2:1)). And with it many nations fell that had dependence upon it, but upon all those states and potentates that should at any time attack His land, His mountains. The fate of the Assyrian shall be theirs. They shall soon find that they meddle to their own hurt. Jerusalem, as it was to the Assyrians, will be to all people a burdensome stone; all that burden themselves with it shall infallibly be cut to pieces by it (see Zech. 12:3,6). The same hand of power and justice that is now to be stretched out against the Assyrian for invading the people of God shall be stretched out upon all the nations that do likewise. It is still true, and will ever be so, Cursed is he that curses God’s Israel (see Num. 24:9). God will be an enemy to His people’s enemies (see Exo. 23:22) if they are obedient to God, just as their leader King Hezekiah was in following God’s righteousness.
• All the powers on earth are defied to change God’s counsel (v. 27):
“The Lord of hosts has purposed to break the Assyrian’s yoke, and every rod of the wicked laid upon the lot of the righteous; and who shall disannul this purpose? Who can persuade God to recall it, or find out a plea to evade it? His hand is stretched out to execute this purpose; and who has power enough to turn it back or to stay the course of his judgments?”
In 681 BC, after coming home in humility after his army was decimated by God’s angel, Sennacherib was violently murdered even by even his own two sons (2 Kings 19:37), who were lusting for power to usurp their father’s throne. Esar-haddon their younger brother, who was at the time conducting a campaign against Ararat, was declared king in his stead.
In parallel, the verses in Isaiah 14 talk about the fall of Satan due to the first sin of pride in the universe, represented by the proud king of Assyria as fallen from heaven—like the bright star of the morning, speaking of him in contrast as the most magnificent and proud of the monarchs of the earth. They introduced him as expressing the most extravagant purposes of ambition: to ascend to heaven, and to make his throne above the stars, and as aiming at equality with God, and then speak of him as cast down to hell, and as the object of reproach by all those who shall behold him. Lucifer wanted to usurp the throne of God, to demand worship from his followers, which is only due to God’s worthiness to be worshipped!!
Five foolish, futile, and fatal “I wills” led to Satan’s downfall :
1. “I will ascend into heaven”
Obviously Satan had the third heaven in mind here, the very abode of God!
(See 2 Cor. 12:1-4.) He aspired to the highest of positions, in direct confrontation against and competition with God himself. He desired to enter and command the very habitation and inner sanctum sanctorum of God.
2. “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”
This is probably a reference to angels. Satan desired the worship of angels whom he deceived with his lies which he himself deluded with!
3. “I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of thenorth”
Lucifer now sought to enter God’s “executive office” allegorically somewhere in the north and sit at God’s very desk. He would attempt to control not only the angels, but the size and number of the starry galaxies that represented angels.
4. “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds”
This may well refer to that special Shekinah glory cloud of God found so frequently in the Bible. God’s Shekinah glory is covered by clouds, because His quintessential holiness is a consuming fire, and direct shining of His glory to sinful mankind might burn him dead. No one should foolishly touch like the Arch of the Covenant where His glory rested on the mercy seat.
5. “I will be like the most high”
It is revealing to note the name for God that Satan uses here. He wanted to be like El-Elyon, the most High. This name literally means, “the strongest strong one.” The title El Elyon stresses God’s omnipotence, sovereignty, and authority over His creation (Gen. 14:18-20). The devil could have picked other names for God. He could have used El-Shaddai, which means, “the breasted one, the one who feeds his children,” but he didn’t. He might have selected Jehovah-Rohi, which means, “the shepherd God,” but he avoided this title also. The reason is obvious—Satan wanted to covet God’s all-powerful strength, but was not the least bit interested in God’s feeding, lifegiving, and leading attributes. He only lusted for power that God surely exudes in His glory.
These expressions together mark the epitome of arrogance in creation history. They led to a conspiracy among the angels where it is believed that one third of the angelic hosts followed Lucifer in rebellion against God (Rev. 12:7). Eventually, this led to the temptation and fall of the human race, and injected evil into human history. When God has allowed evil to run its course, it will be finally and ultimately judged and confined to the Lake of Fire for all eternity.
These passages should serve as warnings to all. No matter how fantastic and significant our talents, treasures, possessions, positions, and powers might be, they are all only derived from God who created the heavens and the earth. They are only to be used under His authority and for His glory. When turned only to willful, selfish, and self serving and self-glorifying purposes, the end result will always be destructive to the creature.
A lesson to be learned from Sennacherib’s humiliation is that the death of such great conqueror only shows that no matter how invincible, mighty, exalted such tyrants can be, they will be humbled by God Himself to just fade away from the scene as if like a vain vapour. People may ponder about Sennacherib’s fate, finding it hard to believe that the same one who made everyone tremble in fear by his devastating cities and taking many people captives but would just die such an ignoble and shameful death. In his death, he was not given a decent burial fit for kings who lie in state. He would be cut off completely, killed by the sword of his own son, and trampled underfoot.
Comparing with pagan religions, one clearly salient distinctive of Christianity is that evil is restricted only in time in the universe. Evil had a beginning, originating with the free choice of a creature, and it will have a permanent termination at the end of history and be confined for eternity to a place of judgment called hell. All non-christian religions and philosophies run aground on the shoals of the problem of evil and suffering, and cannot explain its origin, purpose, or destiny. If these passages do not speak of the origin of evil and suffering in the universe, then the Christian has no biblical revelation to support the claim that evil is not eternal, and therefore has a weakened defense against dualism. Evil and suffering are only temporal, not eternal, and to be ultimately judged by God in infernal hell.