A Lesson From Natural Evil

It’s reported that while attending a divine service on a wintery day, Sir Isaac Newton left in his study a favorite little dog named Diamond. Apparently a candle had been left lit upon his desk, which was situated near a pile of papers containing many years of scientific labor. When Sir Isaac returned home, he found his research reduced to ashes, the candle having been inadvertently knocked over by his little dog.

In one fateful moment, his work was irredeemably lost. When the reality of the situation hit him, Sir Isaac turned to his beloved dog and exclaimed, “Oh, Diamond, Diamond, little do you know the mischief you have caused me!”

For Diamond, it was impossible for him to grasp the magnitude of the loss. In many ways, we are like that dog. Sin is infinitely offensive, and because of our smallness, and our callused hearts, we fail to grasp its seriousness. But on the other hand, our Master has not left us without some very definite knowledge of sin’s potency. Instead of saying, “Oh, Adam, Adam, little do you know the mischief you have caused me,” God declared, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:17b-19).

Men do not naturally sit around and worry over their sin. They do not lament their condition, nor do they discern its due penalty. And if they do perceive some degree of ill, they either exonerate themselves with a wave of the hand, or minimize it so fully so as to safely brush it under a rug.

The curse, one might say, is a partial remedy to this. When a man experiences pain, or suffers in the face of a great tragedy, everything within him boils. He cries out against it. He feels in the very depths of his being a hatred of the thing. He wants it gone.

In that very moment, he is being shown in a vivid way how he should feel about his sin. Do you hate it when an earthquake levels your home? Then you understand how you should feel about sin. Do you hate it when the doctor comes into the examination room with bad news? Then you’ve just learned how you should feel about sin. When your car breaks down on vacation, can you not see that your outrage is meant to tell you something about your sin?

In a moving story, John Piper recounted the prayer of a mother he once overheard. By way of background, this particular mom had a seven year old son with serious health problems. His mind was like that of a six month old, and he would seizure every few seconds, straightening and twitching in his wheelchair. The doctors had done everything they knew to do, and the church likewise prayed and did all they knew to do. But the child remained the same and would probably spend the rest of his life in that terrible state.

During the prayer meeting, Piper heard the mother say something incredible. Amazed, he immediately wrote it down, not wanting to forget a single word. The prayer uttered by this saintly woman is a model for us all. Here is what she prayed, “Dear Lord, help me to feel the horror of sin the way I feel the horror of my son’s disability.” After recounting the incident, Piper exclaimed, “Now I just wanted to leap and say, ‘She gets it! Oh, how deeply she gets it!’”

But do we get it? Or is the curse some nebulous concept disconnected from our consciousness, as though the troubles we face on this planet are mere happenstance, or just the way things are?

As Paul wrote in the eighth chapter of Romans, all of creation is subjected to futility, bound to corruption, not willingly, as though it desired it, but by the command of God (Romans 8:20-22).

But what has the ground done? Or the sky? Or the animals? They didn’t sin. So why are they twisted out of shape and made to afflict humanity?

The reason is profoundly simple, and it can be summed up in one sentence:

God has placed the natural world under a curse, so that the physical horrors felt and seen by men would become vivid pictures of the horror of moral evil.

That’s it. If a person wants to know how bad sin really is, if they want to gain some true sense of its moral repugnance, they should reflect on physical evil, for it is an epistle of spiritual realities. In much the same way that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19), so too, but with a different design, natural evil highlights the devastating nature of sin.

One Comment

  1. Jared September 9, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Good stuff, Austin, thanks. I appreciate the helpful perspective this can give on a daily basis.

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