So, I didn’t forget to post, I’ve just had a lot going on. I actually left all my notes to the class at church two weeks ago, and then with my gout attack last Friday, I didn’t go to church. I am feeling all better now, hopefully no more attacks in the near future 🙂
Below is a synopsis of my class with the major highlights. If you have any questions/additional comments, leave me a comment or e-mail.
The question of evil and suffering and why it is present in the world is not a new question. In 300 BC, the Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote:
“If God wants to prevent evil but can’t, he is not all-powerful. If God is powerful enough to prevent evil but won’t, he is not all-loving. If God neither can nor desires to prevent evil, he is not divinity. If God can and desires to prevent evil, why is there evil in this world?”
Even prophets in the Bible asked God the same question!
Habakkuk 1:3 – “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.”
Jeremiah 12:1 – “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”
And there was the whole story of Jonah and how he ran away from God because he did not believe the people he was to preach to deserved God’s forgiveness.
To put this in perspective, we need to start at the beginning with Adam and Eve. When God made the world, he proclaimed it was “very good”, which is Hebrew for complete/perfect. As we know, they were tempted by Satan and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the course for humanity was forever changed. Romans 8:20-22 summarizes it nicely:
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
A common question is why did God create such a world? Thinking about it, our world was the only viable option of three:
1. God could have chosen not to make us.
2. A world where there is no choice and we always do good. We would be nothing more than robots.
3. A world as God created, where the potential to chose between good and evil exists. Only in this world could love exist, which is what God desires from each of us.
4. The world as we know it – a variant of the third choice where we have corrupted it through our actions.
The next common question is why God doesn’t intervene? In some cases it is attributed to freewill, others to the natural laws of the world (which he created), and sometimes directly he will (miracles). However, two thousand years ago, he did intervene by sending his only Son Jesus to die on the cross. And Jesus did suffer intensely, much more so than we will likely see in our lives. In fact, his pain on the cross was so unbearable that a new word was created: excruciating, which literally means “out of the cross”.
From a logical standpoint, what people want is for God to intervene only in some acts and not others. If God was to really stop and/or intercept every evil thought by every person, then we would ultimately end up back in a world with no choice.
No discussion on suffering is complete without mention of Job. If someone suffered, it was this guy for sure 🙂 It serves as a stark reminder that our simple logic of how suffering works is seriously flawed. If the average person was told that “God is almighty”, “God is just”, and “Humans are not innocent”, the common conclusion is that your suffering is directly related to your sin. However, we know that this doesn’t match human experience. There is a third person, in the mix, Satan, and he is doing all in his power to alienate men from God. Satan accused Job of praising God just because he is blessed, in essence mocking God. Job then proceeds to lose almost everything, become severely afflicted with boils, and while he does curse the day he was born, he never turns his back on God.
Job asks God very tough questions, which should serve as a reminder for us that we shouldn’t hide our true feelings with God. He is confused about his suffering, and does not hide it, similar to the verses from Habakkuk and Jeremiah. This brings to mind a man who was asking Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son (Mark 9:22-24):
‘But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’
‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus wants us to trust him, and bring to him all our problems, doubts and concerns. Of course, what may happen is that Jesus may answer in a way we don’t like it, and try to ignore it. In the case of Job, God never directly addresses any of Job’s questions, but instead asks Job rhetorical questions that possibly can’t be answered. In essence, God was saying that what may not make sense to you from your limited point of view, I have a master plan.
To end, Paul experienced a similar case, where he had a “thorn” (we are not told what) that caused him immense suffering. God’s answer was (2 Corinthians 7-10):
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
An important aspect of being a Christian is hearing God’s voice and following it, even when we don’t agree. He can see the big picture while we can’t, and His way will always allow us to grow and prosper more than ours.