A month ago, I shared a question “Why is the world imperfect?” Didn’t you wonder if the question made sense? The world was not perfect, is not perfect, and is unlikely to become perfect in the future, despite our optimistic perspective. Then, why should we ask if the world is perfect or not? What is your thought?
We do not expect something impossible to happen, we do not strive for what is unrealistic, we do not seek something unachievable, because it causes pain in us. Longing for something impossible is pain in itself, isn’t it? So, when it comes to the corrupted world, we simply say, “The world is not perfect, anyway.” This kind of fatalistic judgment works for us in a way that it gives us a sense of relief and reduces our pain. We may call it a psychological mechanism for self-protection.
This is the reason why we at times say, “The world is not perfect, anyway,” whenever we watch nasty things on TV, encounter bad news on newspaper, or experience unpleasant things in life. Nevertheless, I will continue asking this question: “Why is the world imperfect?” not because I am a sadist who derives pleasure from pain but because I see my brothers and sisters in Christ and my neighbours suffer in this corrupted world.
So I hope and pray that the world may become perfect, even though I do not believe that this corrupted world will become a paradise, where there is no sickness, no sorrow, and no violence, through the evolutionary process. I won’t give up this prayer as long as I see my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer, and as long as I hear my neighbours cry in pain. If we cannot say “You deserve it” to our neighbours in suffering, we cannot say, either, that “the world is not perfect, anyway.”
Today’s sermon is the second half that follows the first one that I shared a month ago. I am not sure how much of the first half you remember. I think it would be wise to review briefly what we talked about a month ago. I raised three big questions in a form of Panel Discussion: Why is the world not perfect? Why all the suffering in life? How can we be liberated from suffering? And we listened to the responses from three different perspectives: Mr. Science, Dr. Wisdom, and Sister Grace.
Why is the world not perfect?
Our first guest, Mr. Science, an atheist who values scientific methods in understanding the world and supports the evolution theory, said, “The world keeps evolving.” He said, he believed the evolution process would continue to make the world perfect. And yet he doubted if the world would become a place without any life-threatening danger such as earthquake, flood, cyclone, or famine.
The second panellist, Dr. Wisdom, from a Theravada Buddhist background, represented the relativist circles which claim, “life is an illusion.” He threw to us an enigmatic riddle, “The world is the world.” He pointed out human subjectivity in perception. He suggested that we should let the world just be the world—without any label—because the world is bigger than us, human beings.
The last panellist, Sister Grace, a Christian who believed in God as Absolute Being, said, “the world is not perfect because it was fallen.” She quoted from the Bible that “the world was created as perfect and safe as God said “It was good.” She introduced the Bible and explained that it was fallen by the sin of the first couple, Adam and Eve, who committed a boundary violation. Consequently, suffering became a due course for human life in the world.
Why all the suffering in life?
Mr. Science responded that finding the genesis of suffering or evil was not the business of science. He said it was what philosophy or theology is keen to explore. Dr. Wisdom was not much interested in the question because he believed that suffering was given as part of life. Sister Grace said, “Suffering is the result of human rebellion against God.”
How can we be liberated from suffering?
Mr. Science argued that it was almost impossible for humanity to be liberated from suffering. And yet he hoped, human life might continue to evolve to the extent that it would be liberated from suffering.
Dr. Wisdom’s answer was this: The cause of suffering is human desire. Therefore, when we detach ourselves from all desires, we will be free of suffering. And he suggested The Eightfold Path. (1) Right view. (2) Right intention. (3) Right speech. (4) Right action. (5) Right livelihood. (6) Right effort. (7) Right mindfulness. (8) Right concentration.
Sister Grace: It is not possible for any human being to be freed of suffering in life. But the Day is coming, when our tears will be wiped away by the gracious hand of the One who created the world. That will be the day when we will be free of suffering, completely.
Today’s sermon is a complementary to what Sister Grace talked about. If Sister Grace shared a futuristic biblical perspective on human suffering, I am going to talk about human suffering from an existential perspective, which means, how we comprehend and experience it here and now as we carry on our journey of life on earth.
Life in Pain
We all believe that when the day comes God will restore His Creation so that we may enjoy life in fullness and in eternity in the Kingdom of God where God Himself will be with us, where He will wipe every tear from our eyes, where death will be no more, and where mourning and crying and pain will be no more (Revelation 21:3-4).
We believe so. Now, what about today? Where is your God when you are sick, aging, discouraged and depressed? Where is my God when I feel angry, anxious, worried, and fearful for no reason? Where is our God when we get distressed, frustrated, and disappointed in our relationships? Today’s reading from Genesis 47 offers an answer to our questions.
Now Jacob is standing in Pharaoh’s court. It was a sign of welcome from Pharaoh who was in favour of Joseph. However good intention it might be, the occasion was not quite enjoyable for Jacob, because he had left behind his home land. He was the head of the tribe but he lost his face. He felt sorry to Abraham, his grandfather, and to Isaac, his father, that he was not able to keep his tribe in the land that God had given them since his grandfather Abraham’s time.
The only comfort was his reunion with his believed son, Joseph, who was in power as Governor over the Egyptian Empire. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have stood before Pharaoh. No. He wouldn’t have left his homeland He wouldn’t have chosen the land of the pagans as a new dwelling place for his tribe. In a nutshell, Jacob must have felt miserable as he stood before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh respectfully asked Jacob, “How many are the years of your life?” (v 8) Jacob replied, “The years of my earthly sojourn are one hundred and thirty; few and HARD have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn” (v 9). Jacob defines his life as “hard.” Other translations for the description include “difficult,” “unpleasant,” “painful” and “evil.” So, now Jacob says, “I am one hundred and thirty years which has been painful.”
(I am not going to share the whole story of Jacob and how painful it was. Instead, I recommend you to read the story of Jacob, during the week, written in Genesis 25 through 49)
Pharaoh welcomed Jacob to his land and Jacob came out of Pharaoh’s royal court.
The Promise of God
When he walked out of Pharaoh’s court, Jacob was crippled not only because he was old but also because he got hurt when he wrestled with an angel of God by the Jabbok river. How do you see him walking out of Pharaoh’s court? Does he look tired, deflated , and miserable? Some of you may see him that way. But I see him differently.
When he came into the room Jacob blessed Pharaoh. and when he went out of the room he blessed Pharaoh again. In the presence of Pharaoh, Jacob shared blessings, not whining about his tough life. Jacob offered blessings, not making any personal request. Jacob showed composure, not a feeling of resentment. Jacob described his life as “painful” but he did not look angry, resentful, regretful, or self-pitiful. So I see Jacob not weak, not fragile, not feeble, not pale, and not miserable. Rather he looks bold, unyielding, calm, quiet, transcendent, unshaken, and composure.
Jacob experienced successes and failures in life. And his late years in the land of Egypt was not quite pleasing. That was reality that he was in. However, Jacob was aware of another dimension of reality, which could be experienced only in faith. That was God’s grace that had shaped himself and his life.
A long time ago when he was running away from his brother, Esau, Jacob was sleeping in the field where God appeared in his dream and said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15). To Jacob what matters was God’s grace, which was God’s promise given in his dream in the wilderness. As for him, God’s grace was enough. He was more than satisfied when he remembered God’s promise that “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Here we come across a question: Jacob was very young when God appeared to him in the field. Did Jacob trust in God immediately after he was given the promise? No, he did not. Jacob relied on his brain and his plan for a long time even after he had been given the promise. He abandoned his plans of mind and trusted in God only after having wrestled with an angel of God at the Jabbok river. In other words, his crippling was the sign of his trust in God.
It took a long time for Jacob to be able to experience the promise that God gave him long before. It was only after many successes and failures in his life that Jacob was able to live out the promise. As you read the whole story of Jacob, written in Genesis 25 through 49, you will find Jacob who was so brainy, smart and diligent that he thought he was able to manage all life issues of himself, by himself and for himself.
Jacob’s heart was distant from God, even though God gave him a gracious promise, even though God was with him all the way through, even though God kept him wherever he went. It took a long time for Jacob to be thankful for the promise. Through many years of pain, God led Jacob nearer to God Himself.
Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyxXGdG3-Io
Nearer to Thee, My God
When Jacob was coming into Pharaoh’s court, he left behind his land far away. And yet, it was the very moment that he felt far nearer to God than any other times because there was nothing but God for him to trust in. When Jacob was standing before Pharaoh, he was not in fear, not because his son, Joseph, was the governor of the empire but because he knew that God had kept him all the time. When Jacob was coming out of Pharaoh’s court, he was crippled. His crippling was the sign of his trusting in God, which he had learned not only by the river Jabbok but also all through the journey of his life, which was full of pain.
The world in which Jacob lived was corrupted, so is the world where we live now. As shown in the journey of Jacob’s life, the corrupted world is a place of discipline for us, where God teaches us how to trust in Him. We experience many successes and failures in life, as Jacob did. We are led nearer to God through such experiences, just as Jacob was, which we call grace. We give thanks to God because we have the same promise that Jacob was given: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15).
Let us pray: God of Grace, we are not overwhelmed by the troubles, problems, and challenges that we face day after day in this corrupted world, because we believe that You are with us always. We don’t get panic with things bad, terrible, nasty, unpleasant, horrible, that we see or hear day by day in this imperfect world, because we believe that You keep us wherever we go. We pray for those who suffer in this fallen world that they may experience Your Kingdom on earth. Lead us nearer to You, O God, through our journey of life in this corrupted world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Reading: Genesis 47:1-12. “The Corrupted World – Part II”. 27 May 2018. Rev Joohong Kim. Crossway Community Church.