Waynedale United Methodist Church
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Making Disciples of Jesus for the Transformation of the World!
   

Sept 18, 2016 Sermon

Why Does God Allow Suffering?
Lee Strobel – September 2004
(Allan Woodmansee shared Part 2 on Sep 18, 2016)
 
Stephen was a man who in the face of opposition from the Jewish Ruling Council had the face of an angel.  This angelic man was stoned to death because the Jewish leaders thought he was a blasphemer as he spoke about Jesus Christ.  Why would God allow Stephen to be killed, who had been doing so much good for God in the world?  We wonder the same thing at times when death, violence and tragedy come.
We continue reflecting on the question, “Why Does God Allow Suffering?” from a message that Lee Strobel shared in 2004. 
Lee Strobel shared these two points of what we know about suffering.  1.)  God didn’t create evil and suffering, but it entered our world due to the sin of people like you and me.  2.) Though suffering isn’t good, God can and does use it for His good purposes.
            We will look at three more points to help us answer the question.   
 
Part 2
The third point of light that I keep in mind when I’m troubled by the “why is there suffering question” is this: The day is coming when suffering will CEASE and evil will be JUDGED.
A lot of times you’ll hear people say: “If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, why doesn’t He do it?” And the answer is that because He hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean He won’t do it. Criticizing him for not doing it yet is like reading half a novel and then criticizing the author for not tying up the loose ends of the plot. In fact, the Bible says that the day will come when sickness and pain will be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed.
So what’s holding Him up? One answer is that some of you are. He’s actually delaying the consummation of history in anticipation that some of you will still put your trust in Him and spend eternity in heaven. He’s delaying everything out of His love for you.
Second Peter 3:9 says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  To me, that’s evidence of a loving God, that He would care that much you.
 
Point of Light Number Four: Our suffering will PALE in COMPARISON to what God has in store for his followers.
I don’t want to minimize pain and suffering, and yet it helps if we take a long-term perspective. Look at this verse, and remember they were written by the apostle Paul, who suffered through beatings and stoning’s and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness and far more pain that most of us will ever have to endure. These are his words: Second Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles” — wait a second: light and momentary troubles? Five different times his back was shredded when he was flogged 39 lashes with a whip; three times he was beaten to a bloody pulp by rods. But he says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Think of it this way. Let’s say that on the first day of 2016, you had a terrible day. You had a painful root canal at the dentist. You crashed your car. Your stock portfolio took a nosedive. Your spouse got sick. A friend betrayed you. From start to finish, it was like the title of that children’s book: Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
But then every other day of the year was just plain terrific. A friend receives an inheritance and gives you $25 million. You get promoted at work to your dream job. Time magazine puts your color photo on its cover as “The Person of the Year.” You have your first child and he’s healthy and strong. Your marriage is idyllic, your health is fabulous, you have a three-month vacation in Tahiti.
Then next New Year’s Day someone asks, “So, how was your 2016?” You’d say, “It was great; it was wonderful!” 
And they’d say, “But didn’t it start out bad? Didn’t you go through a lot of trouble that first day?”
You’d think for a moment and say, “You’re right. It was a bad day, no denying it. It was difficult at the time. But when I look at the totality of the year, when I put everything in context, it’s been a great year. The 364 terrific days far outweigh the one bad day. It just sort of fades away.”
And the same will be true in heaven. That’s not to deny the reality of your pain in this life. It might be terrible. It might be chronic. It might go on for all of your years. But in heaven, after 54,484,545 days of pure bliss — and with an infinite more to come — if someone asked, “So, how has your existence been?”, you’d instantly react by saying, “It has been absolutely wonderful! Words can’t describe the joy and the delight and the fulfillment! ”
And if they said, “But didn’t you have a tough time before you got here,” you’d probably think back and say, “Well, yes, it’s true that those days were painful, I can’t deny that. But when I put them into context, in light of all God’s outpouring of goodness to me, those bad days aren’t even worth comparing with the eternity of blessings and joy that I’ve experienced.”
One Christian who lived a life full of pain said: “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on the planet, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”
It’s like the story that British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down some stairs at the age of one and had shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life — and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair.
Reid asked him, “How old are you?” The boy said, “Seventeen.”
“How many years have you spent in hospitals?” he asked. The boy said, “Thirteen years.”
The pastor said, “And you think that is fair?” The boy replied: “Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me.”
And He will. God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever. I love the words of First Corinthians 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
 
Point of Light Number Five: We decide whether to TURN BITTER or TURN TO GOD for PEACE and COURAGE.
We’ve all seen examples of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter, to reject God, to become hard and angry and sullen, can cause another person to turn to God, to become more gentle and more loving and more tender, willing to reach out to compassionately help other people who are in pain.
Some who lose a child to a drunk driver turn inward in chronic rage and never ending despair; another turns outward to help others by founding Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
Peg could have turned bitter when her husband died in 1987; instead, she turned to God and worked through her grief and heads a Grief Support Ministry in her church to help others.
As one philosopher said: “I believe all suffering has at least potential good, an opportunity for good. It’s up to our free choice to actualize that potential. Not all of us benefit from suffering and learn from it, because that’s up to us, it’s up to our free will.”
We make the choice to either run away from God or to run to Him. But if we run to him, look what Jesus says in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
He offers us the two very things we need when we’re hurting: peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future.
You see, God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s the incarnation. Suffering is a personal problem; it demands a personal response. And God isn’t some distant, detached, and disinterested deity; He entered into our world and into our pain. As one philosopher said, Jesus is there, sitting beside us in the lowest places of our lives.
Are you broken? He was broken, like bread, for us. Are you despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do you cry out that you can’t take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Did someone betray you? He was sold out. Are your important relationships broken? He loved and was rejected. Did people turn from you? They hid their faces from him as if he were a leper. 
Does he descend into all of our hells? Yes, he does. From the depths of a Nazi death camp, Corrie ten Boom wrote these words: “No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.” Every tear we shed becomes his tear. 
One theologian said: It’s not just that God knows and sympathizes with you in your troubles, as any close friend might do. For He is so much closer than the closest friend if you’ve put your trust in Him. He is in you. And, therefore, your sufferings are His sufferings; your sorrow is His sorrow.
And when you make the choice to run into His arms, instead of bitterness and chronic anger, you’ll find peace and courage and love and hope and eternal life in heaven.
Let me end with something written by a 15-year-old girl who made that choice. In 1993, Colombia guerillas crossed the border into Panama and went to a village where her dad and two other missionaries were trying to make life better for the Kuna Indians. They kidnapped the missionaries and now, many years later, they’re still missing. Nobody knows if they’re dead or alive.
Most people wouldn’t blame DORA TENENOFF if she became a bitter and angry person. After all, her dad was trying to serve God, and look what happened! Look what she has lost! But instead, Dora ran into the arms of Jesus. Listen to the poem she recently wrote:
There once was a man, a man I once knew,Who told me stories every night,laughed at my jokes, and held me tight.  He told me, "Don’t quit!   Always fight the good fight!" He said, "Love the Lord with all your heart, and serve Him with all your might!" He begged me, "Do right!" 

There once was a man, a man I once knew, Who taught me how to tie my shoe, and gently smiled at every picture I drew.   He told me, "When you start something, don’t stop until the job is through." He said, "I love you." 

There once was a man, a man I once knew.   I saw him in my dream, and it made me scream. I called out, "Daddy!" but he told me nothing. He had nothing to say. For what can you say, 
When you are far — so very far away? 

"Daddy?" I said. . . then a voice echoed in my head.   I lay quiet and still in my bed.   Again the voice: "Your daddy made a choice, a choice to serve Me with all his might, To not give up, to fight the good fight!   He is doing a job for me and is not yet through, So remember, I love you!" 

There now is a man, a man I now know.   He lived and He died to save men from their sin. He made it possible for us to be born again.   I know, because my daddy told me so.   And even though he’s no longer here,my God will always be near To fill in the gaps and show me which way to go. I miss my dad so much, but God has a plan. So for now I’ll just waitand watch the work of His hand. 

There once was a man, a man I once knew. He’s now just a memory, slowly fading away. 
"Dead or alive?" you ask. I don’t know," I say. So I beg you, please pray! Pray my daddy knows that every night I whisper, "Daddy, I love you!" 

There now is a man, a man I now know.   Every day He becomes more real to me.   Every day in Him, I grow.   Every day I pray that my love for Him will show. I’ve made a choice to serve Him with all my might.   To not give up, to fight the good fight.   Here on earth, I may not see my dad again, but that’s all right. ’Cause when my life here is through,   I’ll finally hear them both say, "My child, I love you!" 
 
The Bible says God is a father to the orphaned and a husband to the widow. The Bible says, “God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Does that describe you? You have a choice: to turn bitter, or to turn to God and find the kind of peace and courage that Dora has found. 
 
 

Closing Prayer – Lord, we pray that you might give your grace to us in places that we hurt and are broken.  Remind us through your word what we need to know about the suffering that happens in our world.  Amen.