Making Sense of Adversity

Isaiah 17:1-14

In the beginning all was good, in fact, very good. Then, in words of Paul, “through one man sin entered the world and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12). It was “through one man’s offense [that] judgment came to all men” (Rom. 5:18). God made it plain to Adam & Eve immediately after their sin that life would get difficult for both them and their offspring: cursed (serpent and ground), enmity, bruise/crush, sorrow, pain, toil, sweat (Gen. 3:14-19). Hard words and hard to hear, especially when you know there’s no going back to the good old days.

People don’t have too much trouble accepting philosophical principle: adversity exists. It’s there, know it happens, people are tough, they can deal with it. Now make it personal, put a face on it, give it a name or list of names – maybe it’s your name, face of a loved one, list of close friends – ahhh, that’s different. And when questions begin: why that person, why now, what possible purpose could it have, the list goes on. People naturally try to make sense of adversity when it’s personal, try to see some kind of purpose in it.

Some, regardless of their particular religious tradition, try to make sense of adversity in terms of God, where he is in all of it. Surprise, surprise, the answers are all over the map. Two examples:

“Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely. …Thoughts like, “this might be all part of God’s plan,” or “there are no accidents in life,” or “everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves” – these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings.” Sam Harris, CEO of Project Reason;

One young Japanese woman spends 15 minutes writing her request in perfect characters. She stuffs her prayer, “… protect my family from nuclear radiation …,” in a waist-high box. “I do not normally come here to pray,” the young woman explains, “but given the disasters, I am not sure what else to do.”

Volcanic eruption, tidal wave, flood, fire that takes lives of 7 children under 12, troubled economy or politics, debilitating or terminal illness (ALS, Alzheimers) – sometimes there is warning, other times not. Is it possible to make sense of the really hard things that come into our lives? How should we respond to these sorts of things when they do come?

A. God’s judgment v.1-6

ghost towns 1-3

capital city of Syria wiped off the map, at least figuratively

surrounding cities if left will be empty of all but wild animals

will lose its power and strength; 650 years without any significance, last destroyed in 8th cent. and not rebuilt since

all Israel had trusted in for help will be no more; political and military power that was supposed to protect Israel from Assyrian neighbors gone. Defenses reduced to rubble, seat of government no longer recognizable as even a city, population centers turned into ghost towns. Just as glory of Israel had faded nearly out of existence, same true of Syria who had been reduced to same circumstances.

Why would God be angry with Syria? Had contributed to delinquency of Israel, agreeing to stand in God’s place as Israel’s protector. Encouraged Israel to trust in wrong thing for security – man-made solutions instead of God.

hard times 4-6

not just Syria would be hurting, Israel also. spillover is no respecter of political boundaries.

for instance – lack of generating capacity, factories in Japan shut down; lack of adequate supplies, factories in US may have to shut down

Israel’s prosperity would disappear – would become like the fields and orchards after the harvest

fertile wheat field would only have stalks

prolific olive trees with only a few scattered olives left

With each verse, adversity came closer to home for Israel. First, outside resources they depended on disappeared. Second, resources within their own boundaries ran out. Exposed and vulnerable, unable to provide for needs of their own people, must respond somehow to adversity. Would they be like the intellectual who thinks God is imaginary? or like the young woman who decides to pray?

B. Man’s response v.7-11

– look to his maker 7-8

or a third choice, turn to their Maker?

A day would come, adversity had begun to accomplish its goal, some would once again trust in Creator rather than creation, the Maker rather than things made. Young woman had right basic idea, knew she needed to trust someone outside herself.

see the Holy One of Israel

recognize the God of Israel as the Holy One, God of the covenant, distinct from his creation, true God with power to act, trustworthy and dependable. They would see in their Maker the One who alone is worthy of worship and obedience, the One alone who delivers from sin as well as adversity. Did the young woman truly see and pray to her Maker in faith believing he would answer? Perhaps.

turn their backs on their idols?

demonstrating the genuineness of their faith. Many pray to God, attend church, get baptized, take communion, still serve their idols. Have confidence in the future based on 401k, BCBS plan, their own intelligence and ability to use it. Nothing wrong with 401k’s, health plans, intelligence or skill; trusting them before God is wrong, makes them idols. True conversion means trusting solely in God our Maker – Apostle’s Creed, opening line: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:”

– look to himself 9-11

same circumstances of adversity cause different response in some – hardens resolve to ignore God and depend on self.

try again, work harder, better seed, more fertilizer, water every day, I’ll make it succeed

most uninformed pagan not ignorant of God – made in God’s image, has enough innate knowledge and external evidence available that he is without excuse (Rom. 1:18-21). Adversity which drove some to turn to God in dependence, some to depend more fully on God, drives others farther away from God. They see God at work and either hate him for what he does or think it’s stupid and callous to give him credit, are determined to make it on their own, are condemned to eternal judgment for their stubborn unbelief.

C. God’s purpose

in a particular circumstance? Unless he has said something about it, no one should presume to speak for God. Pick a disaster or hard situation, fill in the blank: in this ____ it was God’s payback for ____ . You can say that if you like, I won’t. Would God be justified in so doing? Absolutely. “The wages of sin is death”. Is that his purpose in so doing? Not for me to say.

But how can any good come out of it? Does it cause believers to depend more fully on God? Does it cause some to turn to him in faith? Does it cause others to marvel in his greatness? Does it cause you to acknowledge his grace and mercy? Then good has come out of it.

But what about so-and-so? It’s just not fair for God to do that to them! Let’s talk about fairness:

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. (Isa. 53:4-7)

Because Jesus voluntarily accepted and and endured that adversity, God graciously and mercifully spares those who turn to him in faith. Yes, we experience adversity in this life but it’s nothing like the adversity Jesus experienced in our place. Regardless of the particular purpose or purposes God may have in a specific hard circumstance, one response is always right: Look to your Maker, have respect for the Holy One of Israel.



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