The miseries of this life
Misery is the consequence of sin, and so unavoidable. Death is a consequence of sin and the fall, but death itself is not misery; the prospect of death is miserable. When Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, they had already separated themselves from God. They had broken his covenant when their obedience lapsed and they ate of the forbidden fruit. They were banished from a perfect life, and cast into a life of misery: pain, subjugation, endless toil, hardship, and the ever looming prospect of inevitable death (Genesis 3:16-19). And we share Adam’s legacy of misery and death. “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Answer 16). The consequences? “All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (WSC Answer 19).
Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery? (WSC Question 20). By no means. “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer” (WSC Answer 20).
For those outside of Christ, the prospects of death and of hell’s eternal pains are surely a miserable burden. Cain, although denying his sin, understood the depth of his misery: “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Genesis 4:13, NKJV) Note that he doesn’t say his punishment is greater than he deserves.
WSC Answer 17 states, “The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.” Answer 14 tells us, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Sin and misery are distinguished, because the latter is the consequence of the former. God’s Spirit convicts us both of our sin and our misery: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery… (WSC Answer 31).
Our Savior, because he was without sin, had no limit to the depth of his feelings: his joys were truly full, and his sorrows more profoundly miserable than what we can possibly know. Sin destroys our joy, and it hinders our grieving of itself. But the Lord Jesus Christ did know the miseries of this life. “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time” (WSC Answer 27).
Sometimes, when I think of how my sin makes me miserable, I can get into a loop: it’s like a beltway around a city, but this beltway has no exit, and the city has nothing to offer as a destination if there were a way in. Or maybe there is an exit, and I just keep driving around and around without seeing it. Or maybe I’m just too terrified to leave the loop. I shut down, and I wonder why I can’t be open to life as it is assigned me.
“Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation” (WSC Answer 24). In Proverbs, always anything but proverbial, I found help this morning. The sin underlying my misery is the inadequacy of my fear of God.
“In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence,
And His children will have a place of refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:26-27, NKJV).
We are assured of miseries in this life. I will always have my portion of miseries in this life. May I learn to fear God more –I will never fear him enough, but more — so that I may depart the beltway for the King’s Highway, and find refuge in the city where life is, and not spend my entire Adamic inheritance in one place.