Difficult Conversations: Problem of Suffering Part 1

Difficult Conversations wk 1Intro

Today we’re kicking off a series on a collection of difficult question about faith, God and the Church. Now, I recognize that by doing a sermon like this I will spend sermons answering questions that many of you aren’t asking.

However, the truth is that people inside the church and out are spending a great deal of their lives asking these questions. And so often we as the church spend our time trying to show that we have faith, and thus no doubts.

And so people with real questions and real doubts feel as though they don’t, or can’t, belong. It’s in our certainty we push others away. However, if we as a church want to continue to move towards being a church that impacts the world, we need to be willing to create a safe place to ask question. To show others that there is room for doubt, and fear.

After all, if we truly believe that God is who he says he is, then his truth and his word will stand the test of time, and in the end will win the day.

So, today, we’re starting with an easy one. The problem of pain, suffering and evil.

You guys ready?

Problem

Problem of pain, suffering, evil

(Problem of Pain)CS Lewis frames the problem like this:

If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do as he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”

To say a different way, there is a belief that because there is suffering in the world, if God is real, he is either good but not strong enough to stop it, or strong enough to stop it but not truly good.

Suffering is difficult to understand

Let’s distiquish what pain we’re really talking about here.

We’re not talking about the suffering we bring on ourselves.

As people, if we were honest and if we took a look back on our lives,  on the pain we have experienced…if we were honest, we’d admit that many times our pain is the consequence of weak moments and dumb choices we’ve made, and it was out of those moment and those choices that pain was brought into our lives.

We were at fault. We were the reason for the brokenness we experienced.

It’s when this happens that so often we’re unwilling to deal with our part in that play. When they are hurting, people want take the easy way out. In the midst of their struggle, and suffering they now blame responsibility for that suffering outside of themselves. The pain they created they now blame on God.  (Smoking? Example)

Prov. 19:3 says, “A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the LORD.”

A very difficult issue when dealing with pain is the fact that we honestly need to look at our life, examine our role in the course of events, and own to the fact that many times we’re the reason we are hurting. We’re the problem.

But that’s a whole different sermon.

The suffering we’re talking about today is the suffering you don’t plan on or the kind that is not your fault.

In the past decade, we’ve witnessed a tsunami in Indonesia that accounted for the deaths of 250-300,000 innocent lives, we’ve watched in sadness as Earthquake in Japan ended the lives of 18,000+ people, and recently as tornadoes in Oklahoma accounted for 18 deaths. And honestly…this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Many of us have also watched as parents (friends and family) struggled through the loss of a child due to illness, careless actions, or violent acts.

If we took an honestly look at our world, and looked at the events that unfold around us, it’s this kind of suffering that causes someone to question God. It causes us to want to believe that either God is all-powerful and not good, or not powerful and good.

Question of fairness

There’s a sense when people suffer, there is something inherently, deeply wrong with it. There is something deep within us that leads us to believe that things were supposed to be different…that we should not suffer.

So often, we can’t explain why we think the way we do…but we have a deep sense of what is right/fair/just.  Our heart, mind, soul (whatever you want to call it) screams out that this pain, this suffering, this hurt is wrong. Just wrong.

Question: (For those on both sides of the religious fence) Where does this sense of fairness come from?

People often want to use pain as a means for disproving God. Saying, “If God were real, if he were who you said he was, he would have stopped this from happening. This proves either your God is weak, or your God doesn’t exist.”

But the truth is, if you think about it, the issue of suffering and of pain is just as much a problem (or more so) for a non-believer than for a believer. If world is just molecules, and evolution. If we’re all just trying to survive a random explosion, then who is to say what true justice, true fairness, or evil is.

What are we using as our moral compass to guide our sense of rightness?

Ultimately, when it comes to the question of suffering, it is God’s goodness and his power on trial.

So let’s look at God’s power, and his goodness:

First, what does it mean when we say God is all-powerful?

Typically, we would answer that God has the ability to do whatever he wants. That he controls everything we see. He has no limits and no boundaries. And that’s true…to a point.

Peter Kreeft, a theologian from Boston College, once said: “God can do all that’s possible…but not all that is senseless.”  Another way of saying this is to say “what God does he doesn’t negate.”

God has given us the power to choose. We would call this free will. And so, while God is all-powerful, he’s not going to go against what he’s already done. So if God chose to give us free will, he will not take that then away. And so it’s with this free will that we interact with the world around us.

And it’s with that free choice that we now choose for or against God.

It’s with this choice that we find the origins of evil. We find in Scriptures that Evil comes from a choice.

Origin of evil: Gen 1-2

In Genesis 1-2 we see God making a world in which everything is right. The plants, the animals, the birds, the sea, the mountains, the people are all exactly as they should be. We see a world living in perfect harmony.

Gen 3: Adam and eve make a choice evil.

But somewhere along the line, Adam and Eve make the choice to act against God. And it’s out of that choice that we now live in a world reeling from those consequences.

The truth is that evil is a choice. Water, rain, wind, guns, cars, Stuff is not evil. Rather evil comes from the choices we make with the stuff.

So, maybe you’re saying that we’re talking about moral evil.

What about bodily pain?

What about Sickness…cancer…disease.

The Bible understands that there are two parts to a human. The physical and the spiritual. We have a body and we have a soul. They are two dimensions of the very same thing. You can’t alter one without the other being affected.

It’s kind of like if I were reading a book. There are the words, and there is the meaning. You can’t change the worlds without changing the meaning. They go together. Right?

What the Bible understands is that because our souls have fallen into sin, then our bodies have suffered the effects of that. The pain, the sickness, the cancer…come from the fact that we are broken and have chosen sin.

We have chosen to live life other than we were meant to live it.

We can take this out even further.

But you might be asking about natural disasters.  And this is not meant to be a final argument on this. Feel free to come back at me after the service.

Humans inhabit the world, we spend our lives out in the word. Interacting with the world around us. And in our actions, in our day-to-day business, we do things to the world.

So wouldn’t it make sense that world would, in some senses, respond to ways we treat it? Just like our body would respond to our soul.

What happens is, and this is the crux of the argument, that God gives us the ability to choose. When we choose the things that ultimately destroy us we will always end up with pain.

What do we mean when we say God is Good?

In our culture, or in many situations, we would probably argue that a good person is someone who would not allow certain things to happen.

In the Bible, there’s this man named Job. Now Job is fantastically rich and he’s also a God-fearing man. Now, we read in this book a conversation between Satan and God in which God points to Job as a man whom he is loves. A man whom there is no equal on earth.

Satan asks God to challenge Job. Afflicts pain and loss. Through the course of this book, Satan takes everything from Job, and each time God allows it to happen.

Throughout the book of Job we read conversations between a man and God. We read the real, deep problems, feels, hurt and pain that come from Suffering and loss.

So, you might ask, “would a good God do that?”

And so the question becomes “Is this the way God behaves? Or who he is with us?”

CS Lewis wrote about God’s goodness this way:

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception:  I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abun­dantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that. God is Love, I conclude that my concep­tion of love needs correction.

What we do when we try to understand the goodness of God/love of God is we take our understanding of love and goodness, and compare God to our standard.

Instead, Scriptures teaches us to take our standard of love and goodness and compare it to God.

Ultimately, God’s goodness means that he has our goodness in mind with everything he does, and through everything he might allow.

(Still reading? Part 2 will drop tomorrow!)

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One thought on “Difficult Conversations: Problem of Suffering Part 1

  1. Pingback: Difficult Conversations: Problem of Pain part 2 | Michael Palmer

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