I heard one of Siri’s developers interviewed recently and he said that the number one question that Siri is asked is?
What do you think?
“Do you love me?”
I had to ask Siri that myself I found her to be evasive.
She told me…”I think your pretty great”
Okay that’s not what really what I asked…so I asked her again…”Hey Siri, do you love me?”
She said “I respect you.”
Now, that sounds like she wants to break up with me.
Now what do you think is the number question related to God, that people have asked over the centuries?
It’s very similar…Do you love me?
But more specifically…Since my life is so hard, do you love me?
Since there is so much suffering…do you love us?
Theodicy: Is the technical name for this the largest of all questions and it goes like this…
- If God was really there
- And he was really good…he loves me
- And he was powerful enough to do something about my suffering and evil
- Then there would not be so much pain in my life (or evil and suffering in the world)
So: There have been solutions that include:
- God is not there: atheist solution
- He is not good…or he doesn’t love some people: deist solution (uninvolved)
- He is not powerful
But the Bible: Declares God is there, he good(he loves us), and he is powerful(Able to do anything he wants)…and at the same time it does not deny the existence of evil and suffering.
It does give answers but they are not simple answers…because the issue is not simple
Linda introduced this topic well…She summed up the Biblical response…”He is a good, good Father.”
And the personal response “I just trust him”
But how do you get there from where you are? How do we go from “answers” to “I just trust him?”
This is an extraordinarily personal topic…all us together, experience this.
People can get worked up about the different views of the end times…but no one really has a personal investment in the timing of the end.
Not so for this topic…last week I listened to the story of man whose faith had been shattered by what he had seen…he was really struggling to reconcile what he had been taught about God and what he had experienced in combat.
Suffering is personal and though it can be studied and discussed…it is not merely an academic subject.
Suffering is everywhere…in homes and hospitals around this city, at the border, in Syria…in this room.
It is personal for me and it is personal for you…this is truly something all humans have solidarity in…pain and suffering.
We are all either going into, are currently in, or recently out of some kind of trouble, or pain, or even full-fledged suffering.
To say or think “My suffering is not as great as what others have suffered.”
-Can be helpful in terms of maintaining gratitude and perspective on your life.
-but it tends to not be helpful if used as a way of sort of brushing off your own suffering and not facing the challenges it can bring to your faith.
*In other words…live with perspective on your own trouble, but it’s not healthy to “stuff” real struggles and not get real help when we need it.
There have been people who have endured tremendous suffering and those who have taken their lives after what seems like a “small” amount of suffering…suffering is not able to be measured in comparative ways.
-Like “You have ten pounds, I have 1/2 pound” it doesn’t work like that.
I’ve known people who have endured a great deal, then one seeming small thing…took them down.
Suffering can have a cumulative weight to it.
It’s also not helpful to think of suffering as something vague and impersonal like…the sum of “Human suffering” or “Human evil”
This is too abstract to be helpful…I suffer, you suffer…that person or that action is evil.
There is “sum” of human suffering that any person suffers.
The reason why this distinction is important is because the abstract argument is sometimes used as an argument against the goodness of God.
Someone might say or think…”I can understand how God uses some suffering in individual lives but the amount of suffering in the world is something I can’t come to grips with.”
*So people in combat, or in disasters where they see all at once a great deal of human suffering…come sometimes begin to doubt God’s existence or goodness.
But if you could see all the individual suffering across the globe in a single glance… suffering in homes and hearts and hospitals in normal cities…it would equal or exceed what you see on a battle field or a disaster areas.
It’s always there, across the globe.
It’s when “we see it” all at once…when we experience it personally…it can become a personal struggle.
People have said to me “It seems like there is nothing but sickness and death all around me.”…When they have had several family and friends die in a short period of time.
I understand this, and I am not making light of it…but since we started this service 3000 people have died in the world…the equivalent population of Wichita dies every 2 1/2 days.
The truth is all one person ever experiences is the weight of their own suffering…this can be enormous...but God does not merely deal with “humanity as a mass”.
He deals with individual humans who only experience their own suffering.
Only one human has ever experienced the full weight of human anything…Jesus, who took the full weight of our sin on himself on the cross.
So…the problem of pain is a very personal one…we are going to spend much of April looking at some what the Bible says about it.
This is obviously large topic and we will not deal with every possible angle on it…but the goal is to demonstrate that Bible faces it head on and does so in a way that is wholistic not simplistic.
In the Bible there are 7 responses related to the question of evil and suffering:
- Suffering and Evil’s original cause: Human choice
- Cause and effect world: Ongoing Human choices
- Soul building: Making us more like God
- God’s glory revealed
- The Cross
We will look at Mystery next week, and the Cross on Easter Sunday.
Today we will look at the first five.
- The origin of suffering and evil: Human choice to sin
We began this year in Genesis which answers some our most important questions:
- What or who has always been here: God
- Where did we come from: God
- What is wrong with us: Sin against God
Then the remainder of the Bible is the long story of what God has done about that problem.
Why there is evil and suffering?
Gen. 3:8-19Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
There is a lot packed in this passage but here are some core elements:
- God made us with a choice: God set forth the good, but humans had the chance to choose the bad and they did…we still do.
- What followed that evil choice was a cataclysmic system failure:
-Break in relationship with God that led to…
-Break within themselves: shame and fear and all kinds of internal problems.
-Break in relationship between one another…murder and eventually war
-Break in relationship with the created order…it was now against them and they were against it…nature in a sense now wars against us.
*Very important point here:
God did not set up some random test for the first humans.
“I want to see if these creatures I have made are worthy of me…so I’ll put this really delicious looking fruit right there…then I’ll tell them…”No”…and I’ll see what happens.”
God doesn’t tempt people to sin, he never has.
James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
I don’t know all that was happening in the garden but here is what I do know.
God has not arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good…”I will make these humans such that if they don’t find their life in me they will suffer.”
There is no other way we could have been made by God…because he is God.
God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. (Lewis, Problem of Pain)
There are only three possibilities in the universe:
- To be God
- To be like God, to enjoy him as he is
- To be miserable
“If we will not learn to enjoy the only food that the universe grows-the only food that any possible universe ever can grow-then we must starve eternally.” Problem of Pain, Lewis
We were made by God for God…and with a choice to choose him or not.
To not choose him is to choose spiritual starvation.
But why did God make us with this choice?
You may be able to ask him that someday…but I think I know the answer…“This is the world he wanted to make…and since he is really good and smart…this is the best possible world that could have been made.”
It is a world where the possibility of choosing or not choosing God exists…it is actually quite amazing to think that God could make such a world where that choice exists.
So this explains how evil and suffering came to be…but why does individual suffering happen…is it because of our individual sins?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
- This is a cause and effect universe: our choices impact us and each other
Ex. 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me
Does this seem fair or right?
It’s not saying what you might think it is saying…Moses wrote in another place this…
Deut. 24:16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.
Humanity stands in solidarity with one each other…our choices never happen in a vacuum
These passages together communicate twin truths:
- I am not responsible for your sins, only for my own
- My sins and your sins cost us together because we live together in human community
Generational patterns are passed down and cause ongoing pain…but this is because each succeeding generation makes their own choices…choices made harder by the choices that came before them.
There have been many “curse” breakers in family lines…individuals who stood against the generational winds that blow and made it easier for the next generation to make good choices.
The general point is that we live in a world of cause and effect…choices have consequences…for us and for others…this is one explanation for much of human suffering.
There is a haunting verse in Proverbs…
Prov. 19:3 A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD.
This describes a person ruins his own health, or a marriage, or a career… through poor choices …and then is angry at God.
The lifelong smoker may ask how God could be good and still allow him to have lung cancer.
What about those who get lung cancer and never smoked?…I said, there are 7 themes…they don’t all apply to every situation…this is complex.
But cause and effect is one answer.
This cause and effect factor shows up in choices we make to live in the world as we want to live in it.
If you build a house on a beach to enjoy the ocean view…don’t wonder where God was when the ocean takes your house in a storm.
If you build in a California forest…don’t wonder how God could allow you house to burn.
I’m not saying its evil or even foolish to build in these places…but we live in a certain kind of physical world…and so go ahead and “enjoy the ocean…but it may eat your house.”
-So don’t get mad at God if it does…you didn’t have to build next to it.
“Why did God make a word where hurricanes and earthquakes are possible?”
Remember, first, the world itself is not as it was originally designed…we broke it too.
-I don’t know how all that works, but it’s true.
It’s also true that many of the natural things that occur have physical necessities for the earth as it is designed…earthquakes, fires…all serve a purpose for the earth’s design.
*There is super interesting science on how earthquakes are necessary for our world to function properly, as are fires and other forms of “disasters”.
“Well, He could have designed it differently!”
There are probably plenty of ways he could have done any number of things…but again he is really smart and this is the world he thought best to make.
And to have oceans and skies that support life as we know it… photosynthesis, gravity…a billion things work together to create what we enjoy…then there are some things we don’t like about the world’s…they can hurt us.
But this is the world God has made…it is, I believe…the best of all possible worlds.
Well if he loved us he would stop all bad or most bad from happening?
-This is asking him to remake the world into one that it is no a longer cause and effect world
*So the man starts to curse his child and God stops the air from carrying those sound waves.
-Only kind words are allowed to travel through the air.
*The child picks up a stick to beat the dog and the child’s arm won’t work for that purpose.
-No evil deeds are allowed to happen
*The soldier pulls the trigger and bubbles pop out not bullets.
*But why go to all that trouble…wouldn’t it be easier just to eliminate choice all together…make us automatons…who can only do the good.
But if we can only do the good, then is it good?
Is the machine that helps a person stay alive in the hospital morally “good?”
Do you give that machine an award for it’s many years of sacrificial service to humanity?
*This would be world where choice is eliminated.
Clearly this is not the world God thought worth making.
Think about this from another perspective…If humanity as a whole were to suddenly began to submit to God as his word has revealed;
-Live with balance, make healthy choices, be free from addictions
-Don’t be angry, or greedy
-Love your neighbor as yourself
-Keep the ten commandments…or the Great Commandment.
How much human evil and suffering would disappear in a single day? A single year?
Most of it…not all but the bulk of it would.
People starve not because of a lack of food on the planet…famines in modern times occur because of corrupt governments that ruin economies and wars that destroy infrastructure
So much suffering is the result of the reality of a cause and effect world…and we make choices and those choices have consequences…for us and others.
*Remember again…no individual answer in itself is sufficient for the entire question…the Bible gives a multi-faceted “answer” to the question…so they all hang together.
So let’s go on to the next biblical theme…soul building and combine it with Satan…he doesn’t his own point today.
- Soul building/Satan
Paul had this really cool experience where God showed him some things that most humans won’t see this side of heaven…it was so fantastic it came with a price…there opportunity cost.
*By the way…there most often is…great experiences with God…often come with a great cost of some kind.
Paul needed a constant reminder to not became arrogant about all God had done and shown him.
2Cor. 12:7 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. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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. 10 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.
One point to be made here…Satan was in involved in this suffering even though God was using it for Paul’s ultimate good…but Satan is a wolf on a leash.
He does not have untethered freedom to roam and bite at will…when he wanted to attack Job he had to get permission.
When he wanted to “sift Peter like wheat” …he had to “ask”
But to the main point…suffering can be a tool in the hands of God to “build our souls”
Lewis famously said “God whispers in the pleasures but shouts in the pain, pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world.”
It is most often true that we do not change in significant ways until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing.
The bible is full of too many examples of this to list them all here…but this is a key theme.
It you would like to read a powerful book on the physical necessity of pain read Dr. Paul Brand’s book “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” or the “Gift nobody wants”
He pioneered treatment for leprosy patients in India…leprosy destroys pain sensation and leads to those afflicted with the disease destroying their fingers and hands because they cannot feel the force the are exerting in day to day tasks or they fail to notice infection or injury.
After Dr. Brand had repaired the tendons in one man’s fingers restoring some use of his hands (necessary for his livelihood) the man returned to his village and because of a lack of feeling did not feel the pain when rats chewed his fingers while he slept at night.
They destroyed Dr. Brand’s work…the man’s rebuilt hands.
He said to Dr. Brand in tears “How can I live without pain?”
Brand shows how pain is necessary for physical health and survival.
But as a believer, we know it also how it is necessary for spiritual health.
This theme is common throughout the Scriptures and evident in my life…likely yours as well.
I don’t like it…but its real.
We would often prefer to be left alone…given the choice between “stay where I am without suffering” or “grow with suffering”
I would most often choose to stay where I am…but fortunately…my Father doesn’t give me the choice.
But he does give the choice as to how I will respond to difficulty…whether I will grow from it.
Look again at what Paul wrote: 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.
Paul asked for the trouble to be taken…if given the choice…he would have chosen the “no-pain” path.
And the Lord was the same…”If possible, take this cup from me…”
That is a reasonable and sane approach…feel free to ask God to take the pain…he might.
But in the end Paul and the Lord wanted what the Father wanted for them.
Paul said “that is why (Purpose: his own growth and God’s glory) I delight(Choice: choose to embrace and be grateful for) in weakness, insult, hardship, persecutions and difficulties”
Let’s look at the fourth and last theme for today…
- God’s glory is revealed through suffering: it could be through miraculous intervention or through enduring grace:
John 9:1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life…(then Jesus healed the man)
The common misconception in Jesus’ time and of ours…is that good stuff happens to good people and bad stuff to bad people.
This man was blind…so who sinned…him or his parents?
-It was a simple binary choice…or so they thought.
Jesus replied…”Neither…his suffering has the purpose of revealing God’s glory.”
This was and is true for Linda and for her husband Moses
It could be that God is going to get glory through the grace of healing…or he will get glory through the grace of faithful endurance even unto death.
One time we prayed for my dad when he was very ill and God healed him in an instant.
Over a long period of time we prayed for my mom when she was very ill and God gave her grace to suffer and die trusting him.
One couple…two outcomes…a single purpose…God’s glory revealed in life and death.
God used the life of Moses, Linda’s husband (he suffered well) and his death…to draw her to himself.
We won’t necessarily see how God is using suffering for his glory in the short run or even in this life…but we can have confidence(faith) that he is.
Heb. 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
We hope for but do not see with our eyes…how God is going to use suffering for his glory and our good.
But we do not need to see with our eyes because we can see with faith.
Faith is defined here in two ways:
- Being sure
- Being certain
Sound very close in English but they have different meanings that complement one another.
- Being sure is the translation of a word that means “foundation”
-So faith is the “concrete foundation for our hopes”
- Being certain is a word that has legal connotations.
*So faith is “making judgments based on foundational assumptions or realities”
“What I know is true of God is how I make judgements regarding what I think I see in the world.”
“Certain of what we do not see” might go like this.
“I cannot see with my eyes (or my mind perhaps: how God is going to be able to bring good from this difficulty or terrible suffering…but what I see is not certain, what I know is.”
So I judge this circumstance by faith’s foundation not by sight.
Sight is easily fooled…faith is not.
So how do we become people who are able to live with this kind of certainty?
That is where we will conclude today
In human relationships when there is:
-High trust there is High tolerance for ambiguity
-you don’t have to have all the facts when you trust the person
-Low trust there is low tolerance for ambiguity
-You must have all the facts because you don’t trust the person, and even when you do have all the facts…you don’t trust the person
High trust means you can live with high faith in “low light” situations.
How do you build high trust in God so that you can live with certainty when things in your life become difficult and God’s presence, goodness, and power are not immediately obvious?
How do you live with “high faith in “low light” situations?
Linda was not being evasive or naive when she said…”I just trust him.”
That is a good, reasonable answer.
If we talked longer she could have given many reasons why she “just trusted him.”
What did we learn from the OT about this?
When Israel was in “low light” situations what did God ask them to do in order to trust him?
Remembering is hard work, especially when things are difficult.
So we must practice remembering so that we become good at doing it when we need it the most.
-Worship is remembering
-Conversations with friends should include remembering God’s goodness (not just complaining, or mindless chatter)
-Time to be still should include remembering…I sometimes go back in my short history and speak out loud what God has done for me.
-Reading the Bible is remembering and experiencing God.
-The Lord supper is remembering
-A prayer before a meal is remembering
There are many ways to remember…this is crucial learning to live with high faith in low light.
One final thought for today regarding high trust in low light situations.
What we most need in times of trouble and suffering is God himself.
“That’s not helpful…it’s obvious…but not helpful…what does that even mean?”
When you are having difficult times you need and want people you love close by…they may not be able to “do” anything…but you need them to be there.
Being there is often…what we most need.
God can do something about your situation…and he may choose not to…this can cause you to want to turn away from him…but what you most need is to turn towards him…especially when you are confused.
What we most need…is God.
Linda didn’t have all the answers to all my questions…she sometimes responded by saying “That a good question.”
But her capstone answer to all of it was…”he is a good, good Father.”
You need him…and he may not give you all the answers to your questions…he may not act as you want to him to act.
Don’t turn from him because you don’t understand him…you need him.