Did He Who Made the Lamb Make Thee?

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Did He Who Made the Lamb Make Thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? [1]

“The Tyger,” quoted above, is a stunning and sublime work of poetry by the English romantic painter, poet, and printmaker William Blake. But beyond its beauty, it probes into one of the most troubling existential questions of life: the dual presence of beauty and horror, pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, goodness and viciousness. Though the tiger is dazzling, what kind of God could design a beautiful creature with such a horrible and terrible capacity for violence?

The contrast grows even more graphic with the line “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” How could “the same God who made the gentle, obedient lamb” also make “the frightening, powerful, and bloody-minded tiger”?[2] Thus, “in more general terms, what does the undeniable existence of evil and violence in the world tell us about the nature of God, and what does it mean to live in a world where a being can at once contain both beauty and horror?”[3]

Like the book of Job, Blake’s poem raises a series of serious questions that are crying for answers. This need becomes even more striking for theists, and Christians in particular, who believe in a good God who “looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Gen. 1:31).[4] The very presence of evil, violence, injustice, and suffering from the boundless spectrum of pain seems to stand up against all that God claims to be in Scripture. The goodness, wisdom, benevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence of God seem to fly in the face of interminable violence and oppression and the coexistence of good and evil.

This conundrum has bent many toward cynicism and skepticism, as echoed in the words attributed to Epicurus: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

The Bible’s Disclaimer

The coexistence of good and evil dots the landscape of the entire natural order. The Apostle Paul recognized this centrality of pain and suffering in the book of Romans when he declared, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22). However, the Bible does not just declare that everything God made was “tov meod,” that is, very/exceedingly good. Beyond that affirmation of the created order at the beginning, the Bible also contains a huge disclaimer. Jesus Himself, the Word incarnate, in one of His parables declared concerning the presence of tares (evil) that “an enemy has done this!” (Matt. 13:28).

Thus, in answering William Blake’s question, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” the answer is both yes and no. Yes in the sense that God made the lamb and the tiger, and no in the sense that God did not make a horrible, terrible, and bloodthirsty tiger. With this disclaimer, what then accounts for the undeniable coexistence of good and evil in the created order?

The Intrusion of Sin

This is the singular question that has engaged the attention and time of philosophers and religious thinkers alike. It is also the watershed that separates the biblical worldview on the presence of evil from others. In the biblical worldview, sin is responsible for the groaning and disorder in nature. Not only has sin created horror and terror out of the tiger, it has most devastatingly created violence, bloodthirstiness, cruelty, crookedness, and ineffable wickedness out of men and women who were created in the very imago dei, the image of their Maker.

More than the destructive effect of mutations in the biological order, sin has the power to transform beauty into brutality and holiness into horror. These are only the footprints of sin.

Minimizing the Doctrine of Sin

It is a tragedy that the doctrine of sin has been and continues to be minimized in Christianity. The Bible states plainly that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12, NASB). Simply put, all that is wrong with our world harks back to the primal culprit of sin.

It is thus outrageous that in the name of tolerance we have muted and sanitized our proclamation of the horrendous nature of sin. In today’s world, to talk about sin is to be intolerant. Thanks to pop psychology, sin has assumed different names that are now palatable to our debased minds and tastes, though sin itself is no less ugly.

Has Sin Ceased to Be Ugly?

I had barely finished wrapping up this piece of reflection on Blake’s poem when a twenty-four-year-old suspect, James Eagan Holmes, walked into a Century movie theatre showing the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises and gunned down innocent victims. Yes, the Dark Knight rose that day. We might see the perpetrator as the monster but fail to see that the real fiend called sin lurks within the heart of us all.

This is how serious sin is. To excuse it is to bury our heads in the sand like ostriches. We have invented various schemes to mitigate the effects of sin. As someone wrote in Christianity Today after the Aurora mass shooting:

National pop-psychology is one of our favorite pastimes, as we try to find a reason for the shooter’s actions. He’s already being labeled a “loner,” for example, as if the gregarious and outgoing are incapable of such violence. We’ll come up with some theory that comforts us in the dark of night, that if only we as a nation did X, Y, or Z, we could prevent people from going over the deep end like this. Some of those things may indeed help in some ways. But we are kidding ourselves if we think we have within our national grasp an educational or psychological or political solution to evil. [5]

Sin: It’s Not Done With Us Yet

The ills of society keep on rising because we have failed to come to terms with the ugliness of sin. A wrong diagnosis could hardly lead to the right cure. The saving grace of God offered through Christ is fully appreciated only against the background of the horrible nature of sin. Only then can we all appreciate His grace that transforms.

Pop psychology is helpless and useless here. No twelve-step program can fix the sin problem. Here all our resolve to live by sheer force of the will is powerless. This is not just an extreme makeover. The Enlightenment project, which was shattered by the ugliness of humanity as manifested in the world wars and the horrors of the twentieth century, is a marker forever etched in the annals of history and a pointer to the powerlessness of human effort to attain any form of utopia. The panacea to the sin problem of our world is the transforming grace of God through Christ, which alone can transform the social order by beginning with the individual.

The very mission of Christ’s incarnation was to meet sin head-on, because it is the source of all the woes in this world. Thus the angel could announce, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, NIV, emphasis supplied). And about thirty years later John would exclaim, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). For “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

It is therefore clear that the mission of God in our world is not to trivialize and minimize sin but rather to totally eradicate sin and its effects. Yes, though there are still depressing reminders of sin—violence, rape, cancer, accidents, pain, suffering, etc.—there is evidence that God is silently but seriously working to eradicate sin. Wherever hearts are open to Him, the evidences of His transforming grace are clearly seen.

Very soon the virus of sin that has created a paradox out of the beauty and symmetry of the tiger, that has infested our hearts and marred our souls, turning the very imago dei in humanity into monuments of evil, will be wiped out. Violence, crime, hatred, and pride with their concomitants of suffering and pain will be eradicated, “roots, branches, and all” (Mal. 4:1).

Now we fail to understand why God has chosen to deal with sin the way He does. Sometimes we wonder why He remains silent in the face of human pain and tragedy. But God’s will, we know, will ultimately triumph. Ellen White captured this hope when she looked into the future:

The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love. (The Great Controversy, 678)

We cannot deny the paradoxes in our sinful world, but we can be assured that someday God’s purpose for His creation will be restored so that not only the tiger but also the entire created order will no longer be a living paradox of beauty and terror.

_______

[1] The Norton Anthology of Poetry (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1983), 505, 506.

[2] http://www.gradesaver.com/songs-of-innocence-and-of-experience/study-guide/section29/

[3] http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/blake/section6.rhtml

[4] Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the NLT.

[5] http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/2012/julyweb-only/making-non-sense-of-colorado-shootings.html

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Derick Adu serves as youth pastor for the Ghanaian Adventist Church in Columbus, Ohio.