4.14.18 Suffering & Evil and Good
- Talk about your story growing up. Suffering as a result of people who should be protecting you.
- How did God help you get to where you are now in terms of trusting him with all that happened to you?
- What questions do you still have about all that has happened?
- How has what you have experienced with God helped with the questions that remain?
Chesterton wrote a short story, called Manalive…it’s really more of a parable…a story with a point.
In the story, Dr. Emerson Eames is a distinguished professor at Cambridge and the world’s leading authority on philosophical pessimism.
I would summarize that this as the belief that “human existence is absurd”
-We search for meaning and fulfillment, but cannot find it, it is not there…this is absurd.
In the classroom the professor gave the illustration of a terminal ill puppy that should be put out of its misery.
“So an omniscient god would put us out of our pain. He would strike us dead.” Said the professor.
“Why doesn’t he strike us dead?” One student asked.
“He is dead himself” replied the professor…there is no god and there is no meaning.
Later that day he is relaxing in his office with one of his favorite students, named Innocent Smith…continuing to talk about how life is without meaning…and absurd
Suddenly he finds himself staring into the cold, black barrel of a gun…the student had snapped…now he was testing his professor’s worldview.
“I’ll put the puppy out of his pain, as you suggested” said the student.
The professor jumped up and ran for the 3rd floor window and out he went, landing on a piece of stonework attached to the side of the building…there he clung for dear life.
The student leaned out the window, pointing the gun at the professor and rammed home the professor’s own points…life is without meaning you say…really, you belief that?
Meanwhile the professor begged to be allowed to live.
As he hung on for dear life, he saw the sunrise, heard the clock tower, and birds singing…he noticed his own “love for life”
The student replied…”Before you fall to your death or I blow out your brains…I want the point cleared up. Do I understand that you want to get back to life?”
“I’d give anything to get back” The terrified professor cried.
“Give anything!” cried the student “Then give us a song!”
The professor sang a song of gratitude for existence…a hymn of praise for life itself.
Satisfied the student then let him climb back to safety.
The student then said, to the professors surprise, “You must realize I just had an escape from death.”
“Youhad an escape from death?” Said the exasperated professor.
“Yes, I had to do it. I had to prove you wrong, or die…the thing I saw shining in your eyes when you dangled there was enjoyment at life not the mere “will to live.”
“What you knew when you sat on that ledge is that the world, when all is said and done, is a wonderful and beautiful place; I know it, because I knew myself at the same moment.”
Chesterton…who was a brilliant Christian thinker and defender of the faith… said, in his writing and teaching…he was trying to “Hold a pistol to the head of Modern Man. But I shall notuse it to kill him. Only to bring him to life.”
He pushed people towards the conclusions of their ideas and beliefs…to show they were unlivable.
Os Guinness wrote about what people say they believe and how they actually live…
“Again and again the lesson is simple; all thoughts can be thought, but not all thoughts can be lived. So we should never stop halfway with skepticism, but insist on pressing ideas uncompromisingly to their conclusions.”
We are talking this month about the problem of evil and suffering.
The classic formulation of the question is this: If God exists and he is good and powerful…why is there so much evil and suffering in the world.
*Again…this is a very personal subject…one all humans experience solidarity in…we all have or will suffer.
But I’d like to turn the question on its head today…if God does notexist…why is there so much beauty in the world.
If God does notexist where do we even get our category for calling anything evil…rather than just “whatever is, is?”
If God does notexist how do people find meaning and purpose in life and suffering and in death?
If God does not exist why do people who conclude there is no meaning, no purpose…fail to thrive? Why isn’t nomeaning…normal for us?
Is it because life is actually absurd…or is it more likely…that we are made by God for meaning?
Two weeks I was in Topeka in a meeting with some National Guard leaders in our state and a reporter from the Topeka newspaper
Accusations had been made that the KS Guard was not doing enough to help soldiers and airmen related to suicide prevention and intervention.
We spoke with the reporter about this difficult topic.
In case you are wondering…my personal experience is…senior military leaders in this state and national could not care more or do more than they are.
But suicide rates are going up everywhere…and there is an appropriate push to find out why…to stem the tide.
Using Chesterton’s line of reasoning…taking thoughts to their logical conclusion: Let’s say a person has decided there is no meaning…and therefore they believe that suicide is their best option.
They feel chronic pain, or chronic loneliness, or ongoing anxiety, depression, shame, or just that life is absurd…that none of this has ultimate meaning.
What could the person who really believes life has no ultimate meaning, that there is no God…say to that person?
Why should that person live…why not die by suicide?
They can give their reasons why a suicidal person may want to live…but it would all ring hollow.
If in fact there is no meaning, no God…then living or dying…helping or hurting people…loving or hating people…are all the same ultimately meaningless decisions people make.
But in fact there is a God…I don’t merely think this is true…I know this…I know him, He knows me…just as I know Christy, my wife exists.
There is meaning…and that meaning cannot be taken from us by pain, loneliness, anxiety…nothing that we experience can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus…and the lasting meaning found in relationship with him.
So the question that has been “How could there be so much evil and suffering if God exists”
Could easily be “How could God notexist with so much beauty and meaning in the world?”
The Bible doesn’t give simplistic answers to complex life situations…because it describes what is real.
The Bible gives 7 themes to address this complex issue of evil and suffering.
Last week we looked at the first five…if you are interested in this topic and you were not here it would be good for you to go online and listen.
Here are all seven together.
- Suffering and Evil’s original cause: Human choice/sin
- Cause and effect world: Ongoing Human choices
- Soul building
- God’s glory revealed
- The Cross
Today we look at number 6 and next week number 7.
CS Lewis said there are two ways people try to criticize the Christian worldview:
First they make it overly simplistic then they mock it for its simplicity.
Then, when the full-grown version of the faith is put forward…it is criticized for being too complicated.
In the general media and by the critics of the faith…you often see the straw man argument put forth on a regular basis.
The straw man argument is where you present a simplistic and inaccurate version of what someone you disagree with believes…then easily defeat that inaccurate version in a mock debate.
Like making a scarecrow…then bragging about beating it in a wrestling match and declaring yourself the champion.
But when then the full-grown version of the faith is presented…the entire narrative, start to finish…it is complex and robust and true…it is able to be thought through (but it takes work) and it is able to be lived (but it takes work, and grace, and lots of help).
So…let’s look at number 6 of the 7 themes.
This one is very unsatisfying for people on the hunt for the “easy button”
But this one is very important for people who actually want to know and trust and experience God personally.
It is the answer of “Mystery”
Sometimes we don’t know and can’t know why this suffering is happening…so one biblical answer to “why is there suffering and evil?” is mystery.
- How it is that mystery or “I don’t know” is a good answer?
There is no single answer that addresses every situation so again, all seven need to be considered as “The answer”
God does use suffering to draw us to himself, we live in a cause and effect world, there is a real spiritual being we call Satan…but then there are many situations where we just don’tknow what God is doing or how he is going to bring about good.
Edith Shaeffer in her book “Affliction” uses the analogy of a tapestry…where on one side you see nothing but the knots…seemingly random and without purpose…but on the other side is the design of the tapestry…full of beauty and clear design.
Sometimes we get a look at the design side…sometimes we will only see the knot side…the mystery side.
“I don’t know” is an appropriate answer to any question that you don’t actually know the answer to…and is a better one that is often given…sometimes we make it up, but we really don’t know.
Too often people give answers to questions that they do not know the answer too.
Josh Billings, 19th century humorist and lecturer (friend of Mark Twain) once said:
“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that gets us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.”
“I don’t know” is not the same as saying “Nobody knows” or “There isn’t an answer.”
Good scientific discovery is founded on mystery.
“I don’t know” is where science begins.
Admitting ongoing mystery is where science remains healthy…same in theology.
There are still way more “I don’t know answers” than “I do know answers” when it comes to science.
Let’s look at two important passages related to mystery:
Deut. 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
The context for this verse is a book that is full of God’s self-revelation of his will and his ways…a book of law…revealed knowledge
It is a book of all kinds of things God has clear shown us…these things “belong” to us and all who come after us, our children…so we can know and love and obey God.
So this is very far from the belief that the Christian faith is… “just shut and believe!”
A blind leap of faith.
Here is a single verse that balances the fact that we can know things…with the fact that many things will remain unknowable.
This verse gives an important balance to the overall message of the law…you can know God through his revealed word…but you can’t know all of God through it.
There are some things we are not going to get to the bottom of…we would have to be God to fully understand God.
Which brings us to the next passage
Is. 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts
Again, God has revealed his thoughts and his ways to us…but we can only know God in part.
Ultimately…his thoughts and ways are far above ours…we don’t have the capacity to know and there are things we just don’t need to now, not now at least.
*If you, or someone you know is bothered by “mystery” as an answer then ask this question.
“If you could fully understand God and all that he is doing…then why would you believe in such a being? How could that God possibly by worthy of your worship and trust and love?”
He is after all…no smarter, no greater, no bigger than you are…you can contain all of him in your mind…so he cannot be God.
So mystery is a good answer at times…but how does it become a satisfying one for us personally when we suffer or someone we love is suffering?
- Relationship is How mystery is able to become a satisfying answer.
We looked at Job just a few weeks ago, so I won’t spend much time there.
I will just briefly remind you of the story and the conclusion.
Job suffered at every level possibly: family loss, vocational loss, physical and mental and spiritual suffering.
He did well for a while…then he finally reached his tipping point and wanted to “take God to court” and prove that God had wronged him…he was going to accuse God to justify himself.
God challenged him on this…and corrected his thinking…but never gave him a direct reason why all the suffering happened.
In the end what he had experienced was largely mystery…he certainly didn’t know that thousands of years later…some folks in Kansas would be learning to trust God through his story.
In the midst of his suffering the purposes of God remained a mystery…he did experience the “soul building” answer as indicated in Job 42:5
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”
The Psalms are full of mystery…the question “why” is very common there.
Sometimes…God gives answers and perspective…other times there is just a call to trust God based on what he has done and what is known of his character.
Listen to Ps 10…a Psalm of evil and suffering…of suffering caused by evil.
It is a Psalm that begins with “why?”
Psa. 10:1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? 2In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. 3He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. 4In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. 5His ways are always prosperous; he is haughty and your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies. 6He says to himself, “Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble.” 7His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. 8He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims. 9He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. 10His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength.
I think of many people whose lives and loved ones have been destroyed by evil people…and those evil people often seem to escape justice…until they don’t…justice is a reality…not just evil.
11He says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” 12Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. 13Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”? 14But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. 15Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out. 16The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. 17You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, 18defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
Look at the expressions of trust:
- You dosee trouble and grief and you do something
- You are the helper of the fatherless
- You do bring the evil to account
- You hear, you encourage, you listen, you defend.
There is this resounding “Why is this happening?” “Why don’t you act…now, sooner, at all?”
Then these confessions of trust in God’s character…he does care, he is powerful, he will act.
I said last week when trust is high ambivalence(mystery) can be high.
When trust is low there can be no ambivelence…no mystery.
We must learn to trust…when the answer to “why” is mystery at least for now.
Mystery as a satisfying answer to suffering and evil is about having high faith in low light situations…because you have learned or are learning to trust God.
“I can’t see how this is good or will lead to any good…but I have learned and I am learning to trust God…that he is good.”
Mystery is a satisfying answer for the one who has learned to trust…like a child.
Psa. 16:1 Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” 3As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight. 4The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips. 5LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. 6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. 7I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 11You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Verse 8: I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
You want to learn to trust God in low light situations…then decide to “set him always before your mind.”
Wherever your mind goes, the rest of your life goes with it. (Willard, Life without Lack)
If a stranger tells you “Trust me”…you would be wise to not trust him…in fact you should “run”
Trustworthy people…don’t ask others to trust them…if they have not earned that trust.
Strangers have no right to ask that, and are foolish, and probably wicked to ask for it.
But when someone who has proven to be faithful, and loving, and trustworthy for many years says “Trust me”…then you would be wise to do so.
Next week we will look answer number 7…The final and best answer to this question of evil and suffering.
The Cross of Christ.
There God, after centuries of proving himself faithful…demonstrated once and for all his great love.
Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were sinners Christ died for us.”
Let’s conclude with a dose of simplicity to help swallow all this complexity and mystery.
Getting at the roots of Suicide is complex.
When you read the literature and go through all the training you could conclude…I can never do anything about this…it is all too much.
However, there is a simple model used by many that has done much good and saved many lives.
It is called ACE: ask, care, escort.
If you have any doubts at all that someone might be suicidal…ask the question…”Are you thinking of taking your own life.”
Then…show genuine concern, care…express it, demonstrate it, listen to them.
Then…if need be…take them to help. Escort them. Do not leave them alone.
That’s it…you are trained in ACE
No other special training is needed to help someone in an emergency situation.
More is necessary over the long haul to help the person move to greater health…but to give real, life giving help is not complicated.
But notice what is embedded in that simple model…ACE
Commitment: escort, stay with them.
ACE works best when there is trust…relationship.
This model doesn’t seek to explain all the answers the person has…it seeks to give a life line in a desperate situation based on personal relationship.
Mystery is one of the answers the Bible gives to “Why God?”
But it doesn’t stop with “You can’t know…don’t ask.”
It is “You may not know why…but you can know God if you will.”
You can ask “why?”
In fact that is a good question…and you may get an answer…but even if you do notyou are turning towards God in relationship.
A child lives with constant mystery regarding his or her parents:
“Ellis, where is daddy?”
“Ellis, what is wok?”
That is just the surface of the mysterious…the bulk of Ellis’ life is shrouded in mystery.
Yet…he gets along quite well…he trusts his trustworthy parents.
“But Ellis is a child…I’m not.”
Actually we are children…and he is our Father.
There are good answers…one of them is “mystery”
Everyone lives with it…but it “works” when you have a trust relationship to go with it.
Keep closing the gap on Trusting God.