Waynedale United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
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Sept 11, 2016 Sermon

Why Does God Allow Suffering? - Lee Strobel – September 2004

(Ted shared Part 1 on Sep 11, 2016)
 

            In Luke 13:1 – 5 Jesus shares that some Galileans who were killed by Pilate’s soldiers were not any worse “sinners.” It is a statement from Jesus that reminds us that God does not target people with suffering or tragedy.   But what do we do with the issue of suffering?  I am going to share in the next two Sundays a message that Lee Strobel shared in 2004.   

 

Part 1

            Life ought to come with a list of side effects. There should be a tag on every newborn baby saying life can be full of fun and adventure and excitement and joy, but there are side effects. There’s illness . . abuse . . . broken relationships. . . betrayal . . . sorrow . . . loss . . . injuries. . . disappointment . . . heartache . . . crime . . .and death.

Actually, life did come with a warning. Jesus said in John 16:33 that in this life, there will be trouble. But why? Why these side effects? Why is there suffering and evil and pain?

That “why” question goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda, and the attacks of 9/11. Why all of this if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?

 

I commissioned a national survey and asked people what question they’d ask if they could only ask God one thing. The Number One response was: “Why is there suffering in the world?” Interesting, I found statistical quirk: people who are married were much more likely to want to know why there’s so much suffering.

If you’ve never asked why our world is infected with pain and suffering and evil, you will when they strike you with full force or come to a loved one. And I really wish I could stand in the shoes of God and completely answer the question, but obviously I can’t.

First Corinthians 13:12 says that on this side of heaven, we see things dimly, because we can’t understand everything from our finite perspective. And, yet, this is equally important: THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT WE CAN UNDERSTAND ABOUT SUFFERING.

 

Let me give you an analogy. Leslie and I were driving up to Door County, Wisconsin, which is that thumb-shaped peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. We were driving up Highway 42 in the dark, when it started raining heavily and we hit dense fog. I could barely see the white stripe on the edge of the road. I didn’t stop because I was afraid someone might come along and rear-end us, so I just crept along.

But then a truck appeared in front of us and we could see his tail-lights through the fog. He apparently had fog lamps in front, because he was traveling at a confident and deliberate pace, and I knew if we would follow those tail-lights, we’d be headed in the right direction.

And the same is true in understanding why there is evil and suffering in our world. We may not be able to make out all the peripheral details of why — they may be obscured from our view — but there are some key Biblical truths that can illuminate some points of light for us. And if we follow those lights, they will lead us in the right direction, toward some conclusions that I believe can satisfy our souls.

What are those points of light? Let me go through the points that I’ve personally found helpful whenever I’ve been prompted to ask the question “why.”

 

The first point of light to remember is this: God is not the creator of evil and suffering.
This answers the question you hear so often: “Why didn’t God merely create a world where suffering and evil didn’t exist?” The answer is: He did. Genesis 1:31 says: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” 

But if God is not the author of pain or evil or death, where did they come from? Well, God decided to give human beings free will, which is necessary if we are to be able to express love to God and to each other.

Unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from Him. And that has resulted in the introduction of two kinds of evil into the world: “moral evil” and “natural evil.”

 

Moral evil is the immorality and pain and suffering that comes because we choose to be selfish, arrogant, uncaring, hateful, and abusive. And Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Some have estimated that 95 percent of the world’s suffering results from the sin of ourselves or others. For example, people look at a famine and wonder where God is, but the world produces enough food for each person to have 3,000 calories a day. It’s our own irresponsibility and self-centeredness that prevents people from getting fed.

In other words: look at your hand. You can choose to use that hand to hold a gun and shoot someone, or you can use it to feed hungry people. It’s your choice. But it’s unfair to shoot someone and then blame God for the existence of evil and suffering. Like that old cartoon said: “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

 

The second kind of evil is called “natural evil” — these are things like earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes that cause suffering. But these, too, are the result of sin being allowed into the world. As one author explained: “When we humans told God to shove off, He partially honored our request. Nature began to revolt. The earth was cursed. Genetic breakdown and disease began. Pain and death became part of the human experience.”

Genesis 3:18 says it’s because of sin that nature was corrupted and “thorns and thistles” entered the world. Romans 8:22 says, “For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain like the pain of childbirth.” Nature longs for redemption to come and for things to be set right. That’s the source of disorder and chaos.

Let’s make this crystal clear: God did not create evil and suffering and death. Now, it’s true that He did create the potential for evil to enter the world, because that was the only way to create the potential for genuine goodness and love. But it was human beings, in our free will, who brought that potential evil into reality.

Some people ask, “Couldn’t God have foreseen all of this?” And no doubt He did. But look at it this way: many of you are parents. Even before you had children, couldn’t you foresee that there was the very real possibility they may suffer disappointment or pain or heartache in life, or that they might even hurt you and walk away from you? Of course — but you still had kids. Why? Because you believed there was the potential for tremendous joy and deep love.

And it’s the same with God. He knew we’d rebel against Him, but He also knew many people would choose to follow Him and spend eternity in heaven with Him — and that it was all worth it for that, even though it would cost His own Son great pain to achieve redemption.  It helps me to remember, as I ponder the mystery of pain and evil, that God did not create them.
           

The second point of light is this: Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to ACCOMPLISH GOOD.  There are several ways He does that; I’ll mention four of them.

 

First, God uses pain to DRAW PEOPLE toward Christ.  Philosopher Peter Kreeft put it this way: “The meaning and purpose of suffering in history is that it leads to repentance. Only after suffering, only after disaster, does Israel, do nations, do individuals turn back to God. Suffering brings repentance. We learn the hard way. As C.S. Lewis says: ‘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.’”

You know that’s true. When we’re happy and trouble-free, how often do we forget God? Often it’s when we suffer, when we experience heartache or loss or disappointment that we’re more likely to turn to Him.

Second Corinthians 7:10 says: “For God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life. We should never regret his sending it.”

Why shouldn’t we regret it? Because this is how God attracts us toward the greatest joy in life, which is an intimate relationship with Him and heaven forever. And the truth is that it’s worth any price if it means coming to know God personally.

Some of you have heard the name of Joni Eareckson Tada, who has suffered for more than thirty years ever since she broke her neck as a teenager and was paralyzed. Listen to her words about the pain that has drawn her to God: “I’d rather be in this wheelchair knowing God than on my feet without Him.” In other words, if it took paralysis to bring her to God, it was worth it a thousand times over.

 

Second, God uses pain to SHARPEN our CHARACTER; to help His children become more like Christ.

Romans 5:3 says: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” 

It’s like the old saying — “No pain, no gain.” A friend of mine competed in the decathlon in the Olympics, and he’s told me about all of the pain he endured as he trained to increase his strength and endurance and skill.

The pain was necessary. And improvements in our character, our virtue, and our wisdom usually come through a process involving sacrifice or difficulty or trials or even pain. That’s how we learn and mature and grow. For instance, there could be no such thing as courage in a world without risk.

Look at what the Bible says in Hebrews 5:8: “But even though he was God’s Son he learned to be obedient by means of his sufferings.” If Jesus learned obedience through suffering, then why would that be any less true of us?

 

Third, the Bible also says God uses pain to lovingly DISCIPLINE His children for their own good. . . so that we might learn the right path to take.

Hebrews 12:10-11 says: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Discipline is not punishment. Punishment is retribution for misdeeds of the past. Discipline is the loving way that we correct behavior so their future will be better for them. 

In other words, the worst thing you can do as a parent would be to not correct your child when he or she is straying. So you use something you may not particularly like — discipline — to accomplish something you love, which is protecting your children from the harm that will result if they continue to walk in the wrong direction.

But here’s the problem when it comes to God: He has the big picture and we don’t. He can see the good that will result from the discipline He allows, but sometimes we can’t see it when we’re in the midst of it and we don’t have His perspective.

Let me give you an analogy. You’re walking in the woods and come across a bear with his leg in a trap. You have compassion for the bear and want to help him, but he’s afraid of you and not cooperating so you have to shoot him with tranquilizers. But the bear thinks you’re trying to hurt and kill him. He can’t understand why you’d intentionally inflict harm that way.
Then, to get his leg out of the trap, you have to first push it deeper into the trap to release the tension on the spring. If the bear were still semi-conscious, he would be even more convinced you were out to hurt him. But he would be wrong! He can only see the situation from his limited perspective, and wonders, “Why is he making me suffer?”

And we see things from our limited perspective. We wonder why God is allowing pain in our lives, when actually he’s allowing it because he sees the big picture and knows it’s the best thing that can happen to us.

I love the way Joni Eareckson-Tada put it: “Every sorrow we taste will one day prove to be the best possible thing that could have happened. We will thank God endlessly in heaven for the trials He sent us here. This is not Disneyland — this is truth.” And that from a woman who has suffered in a wheelchair for more than 30 years.

 

Finally, fourth, God can accomplish something POSITIVE out of our NEGATIVES.”

He does this by fulfilling His promise in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
In other words, God will take the bad circumstances that befall us and cause good to emerge, if we’re committed to following Him.

The Old Testament gives us a great example in the story of Joseph, who went through terrible suffering, being sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused, falsely imprisoned. Finally, after a dozen years, he was put in a role of great authority where he could save the lives of his family and many others.

This is what he said to his brothers about his suffering in Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

And if you’re committed to God, He promises that He can take whatever pain you’re experiencing and draw something good from it. And if you doubt that, listen to this.

God proved it by taking the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe — deicide, or the death of God on the cross — and turned it into the very best thing that has happened in history of universe: the opening up of heaven. So if God can take the very worst and turn it into the very best, can he not take the negative circumstances of your life and create something good from them?

So, let’s review: Point of Light Number One: God didn’t create evil and suffering, but it entered our world due to the sin of people like you and me. Point of Light Number Two: Though suffering isn’t good, God can and does use it for His good purposes.

 
Closing Prayer – Lord, be with us as we learn about suffering and your purposes.