Creation is saturated with images of the Messiah, just like the Old Testament is. The building blocks of the world are essentially types of Christ, just like Moses and the Tabernacle were types of Christ. Food, cars, chairs, relationships, streets, oceans, business transactions, computers, and everything else in our world are metaphors which point to the Messiah. Just as Noah’s flood dramatized the future salvation of Jesus, so showering, washing hands, washing dishes, and any kind of washing imaginable is also a picture of the cleansing of the baptism and new birth we receive from him.
When we are thinking of the bright side of creation – the flowers, the sunrises, the oceans, the mountains – it isn’t difficult to imagine how this good world might point to Christ. Yet, there is an obvious problem when we begin to consider the dark side of creation. In addition to cupcakes and music there are also spiders, wars, hurricanes, terrorism, rape, and all sorts of evil.
The evil is perhaps as bad as the good is beautiful. There is stark injustice in every corner of the creation. There are intense horrors that are almost impossible to fathom. Lost loved-ones, disease, slavery, natural disaster.
Can the evil and ugly things in creation be considered types of Christ? Do evil things point to Jesus? Or does Jesus have nothing to do with evil things?
The relationship between Jesus and the atrocities of our reality is an extremely important consideration, and the Scripture does not fail to engage with the question.
At first consideration, to think of the bad stuff as having anything at all to do with God seems preposterous. Yet, the Scripture would call us not to turn a blind eye to the pain of life. The human tendency is to only associate God with the positive circumstances. A new baby is a gift from God. A promotion at work is a “God-thing”. The sunny weather is the favor of the Lord.
The theology of Joel Osteen and friends would have us focus on the positive, and let the negative drift into the margins. But the Scripture calls us to come eye to eye with the evil in our life, whether it is sin or circumstance. Evil and pain are front and center in the Christian worldview because of the cross, and Christ commands us to take up our own crosses and follow him. We will be raised with him “provided we suffer with him in order that we might be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17).
Just as the Christ’s crucifixion was not an instance in which God’s plans were foiled, so also the crosses we carry are not instances in which God has lost control; rather, our crosses are part of the salvation which God gives us.
Of course, the heart of the Father breaks to see us suffer and struggle, as it broke to see his Son crucified and killed, and as it broke to see the Israelites hauled to exile by one of the most wicked and evil nations in history. Yet, the Scripture makes it impossible to dissociate pain and suffering from the plan and purpose and design of a good God.
My philosophy teacher described evil as a dent in a fender. Goodness is the fender, and evil is the dent. The fender can exist without the dent, but the dent has no reality apart from the fender. In the same way, evil has no existence apart from the existence of good. Evil is only a perversion of good. It is the dent in the fender.
To be sure, we are foolish or else in denial to say that evil does not exist or that it is merely an illusion. Evil is as real as a dent in the fender. Yet evil has no substance in itself. Evil can only exist as a perversion of a good thing. Evil is sexual immorality, a perversion of sex. Evil is gluttony, a perversion of food. Sex and food are good realities which glorify Jesus. Jesus has nothing to do with the evil of sexual immorality and gluttony, yet he is the source and the meaning of sex and food.
More than merely breaking a legal code, sin is idolatry; we “worshiped and served the creature, rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, amen” (Rom 1:26). Creation, which was meant to point to its glorious source in God (Rom 1:20), became an end in itself. This is idolatry.
This shows us why the Apostle John would end his first epistle with this powerful declaration and exhortation to believers: “He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:20b-21). All the sin and evil we could possibly be swayed toward is essentially idolatry.
One early theologian named Augustine wrote extensively about the problem of evil. Evil rebels against God, he says, “not by nature, but by vice.” In other words, Satan and demons were not originally created as evil beings. They are evil by corruption and perversion. In contrast to dualism, evil exists in the context of a “very good” world which has been hijacked.
Pure evil is an impossibility. “Things solely good… can in some circumstances exist; things solely evil, never; for even those natures which are ruined by an evil will, so far indeed as they are ruined, are evil, but in so far as they are natures they are good.”
A thing is only as evil as it is severed from its original purpose.
The history of Israel is saturated with examples of the Lord teaching his people through types and images. The tabernacle, the priestly garments, and the legal code are all commanded for the purpose of creating meaningful symbols which teach about Christ and his Kingdom.
One among many of these images is found in Numbers 21. Israel is in the middle of their journey through the Wilderness and into the Promised Land, and the people grumble against God and against Moses. Because of their hardness of heart, Yahweh causes fiery serpents to come and bite the people, and many die.
But when the people repent of their sin, Yahweh commands Moses to set up a bronze serpent on a pole. Anyone who had been bit by the fiery serpents will live if they look to the bronze serpent.
Jesus identifies this bronze serpent as a type and a picture of himself: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Yet in the Book of Kings we read that Israel had begun to worship this bronze serpent years after their days in the wilderness.
The good King Hezekiah “removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan)” (2 Kings 18:4).
The thing which was God’s provision of salvation from the poisonous snakes became an idol. The symbol which was designed to point to God and his messiah became precisely the thing which steered Israel from worshipping Yahweh, the true God.
Rape and pornography do not just happen to be evil. They are evil precisely because of the true meaning of sex itself. Sex and intimacy are gifts from God which ought to point us to Christ and his Bride, the Church. Yet sex has been idolized to the degree that it destroys lives and cultures.
There is no sin or vice known to humanity that is not merely a corruption of a sign intended to point to the Glory of God.
The hebrew verb בָּנָה (“bana”) simply means “build”. The Bible develops a powerful theology using this word.
In Genesis 2 God “builds” Eve out of Adam’s “side” or “rib”. Building is a thing that God does, and a thing by which humanity reflects the image of God. Just as God created the world, so humans are able to build.
In Genesis 11, humanity is gathered together as “one” and they are “building” a tower to the heavens in rebellion against Yahweh. In this story, you see humanity working together as a community, employing innovative technology, and “building”. These are all good things which reflect the image and creativity of God. Yet humanity is using these things in rebellion against God.
That’s what sin is. Sin uses God’s good creation to rebel against him.
But evil and suffering involve more than human immorality and perversion. You can’t always point the finger at a human who made an evil choice when you suffer. Sometimes bad things just happen to good people. Nature itself is in rebellion against its Creator.
So, are the more fierce and broken aspects of nature types of Christ? How can we say that a lion eating a gazelle or the tragedies of car wrecks and disease and hurricanes are types of Christ?
Jesus rebuked the storm. The Scripture is clear that it is creation itself which seems to be broken as a result of human sin. Genesis 3 speaks of the increased pain in childbirth and the misery of labor induced in result of human sin.
Paul writes this of the condition of creation: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:22).
There is a “groaning” that we experience just about every day. Our bodies decay. Our stuff breaks. People we love get hurt. All of this, according to Paul, is creation crying out for the revealing of God’s sons and daughters, for humans to be established in the fullness of God’s plan for them, namely, to flourish as God’s children.
C.S. Lewis says that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Truly, there is something of God shouting when we experience pain. The birth of our daughter Acacia was one of the most traumatic weeks of our lives. After a long and intense labor, Acacia was born, but Brittany (my wife) was unable to move without intense pain. The midwives dismissed the situation as a “muscle spasm” that would wear off by the morning. But the next morning she was still unable to move.
Several hours later we were transferred to the ER. Eventually an X-Ray discovered that Brittany’s pubic symphysis was separated beyond what the OB unit had ever seen. After several days of attempting physical therapy to no avail, we were transferred to an orthopedic department at a different hospital. The surgeon pulled the pelvis together and put in a steel plate and screws, and Brittany could walk the same day.
I tell this story not because I believe it gives me a license to lecture about suffering. The experience could have been so much worse, and for many people it is indeed so much worse. Tragic things do happen, yet we were able to go home as a family a week later.
But this experience did bring a realization to light. I wrote this in my journal that week:
“Human motion is a type and a picture of the freedom of Christ. We take for granted the ability to move freely until we suffer an injury that puts us on our back. Then we realize how precious is the ability to walk, run, take a shower, rotate in bed, and ride bikes. These things are precious because they are metaphors of the reality of the life of Jesus. Running freely as opposed to lying paralyzed is a picture of the newness of the life of Jesus. Jesus’ physical miracles and healing are an image and type of the spiritual healing he gives us through his Spirit. When a paralytic takes up his mat and walks, he is dramatizing the reality of all of us spiritually helpless human beings standing on our feet and experiencing the freedom of walking with Christ.”
Everything points to the man Jesus Christ, and part of the story of Jesus is the suffering and horror of the crucifixion. The cross is a symbol of human torture. Perhaps nothing more accurately represents utter injustice than Christ’s crucifixion.
The Cross is the only real answer to evil in this world. To claim that the world is full of images and types of Christ is not to claim that the world is happy and wonderful.
Evil exists not because foreign objects which are not types of Christ have been introduced, but rather because the types themselves are in rebellion against the Creator. The Glory of Christ in creation has been hijacked. That is the essence of evil.
Just as Moses has a darker side and falls short of being the true promised Messiah, so also created things – though pictures of Christ – have a dark side and fall short of Christ.
The thoughts in this chapter do not explain the origin of evil. Nor do they explain the specific meaning of everyone’s individual pain. However, typology places sin and evil within the context of the narrative of the Glory of Christ on the cross. In this way, the entire world points to the story of the Godman Jesus, and tells the power of his redemption time and again.
The story of our world is a story of types and images which were designed to point to the Son of God and to glorify him. Humanity has essentially hijacked these beautiful types and have used them for all sorts of debauchery and atrocities.
And the entire natural realm cries out through the vehicles of pain and suffering, “We are not God! We are only like him.” Happy will be the day when Jesus returns. He himself is the happiness which alludes us in this world. We may lose everything, but we may always have him.