Study Guide

The theme for 2019: Answers: What God has said about important life questions



Theodicy: Biblical Motifs (Week 2)



Remind your group that we are looking at seven biblical motifs for suffering and evil.
Ask them if they can remember what the first five motifs were.


Answer:suffering and evil’s original cause: human choice/sin; cause and effect world: ongoing human choices; soul building; God’s glory revealed; Satan. Today we’ll look at mystery, and next week, the cross.


Key Point: Remember that all of the motifs work together in answering the question of pain and suffering.



Terry began his sermon with a fictitious story about a professor whose belief about the value of life was not thoroughly thought out to its full conclusion. You might help your group think back to the story and get them to share their thoughts.


Questions: How did the professor’s conclusions about life work out for him personally when he was confronted with the reality of his own beliefs? Did his beliefs line up with reality? If not, how so? What was the point of the story?


Read and Discuss:Os Guinness wrote, “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.”



It’s important to think about what we believe, to make sure that our beliefs are livable and that they line up with reality. Today we’ll be discussing the 6thbiblical motif, “Mystery”biblical motif number six on pain and suffering.


Mystery defined simply: There are some things (like pain and suffering) on this side of heaven that we will never fully understand.


The Tapestry Analogy: “On one side you see nothing but the knots seemingly random, but on the other side is the design of the tapestry full of beauty and clear design.” (E. Shaeffer) Sometimes we get a look at the design-side;sometimes we will only see the knot-side.


Important note:The thought of mystery as an answer can be unsatisfying for people on the hunt for the “easy button.” But mystery is very important for people who actually want to know and trust and experience God personally.


OBJECTIVE:The objective for today is for us to understand that when wrestling with the question of suffering and evil, know that there will always be some degree of mystery.We can learn to do quite well with mystery if we learn to see our self and God in proper relationship. It is important that we understand that:
1. Sometimes mystery or “I don’t know” is a good answer.
2. It is through a right relationship with God and others that mystery becomes a satisfying answer. 







Question:How is it that mystery or “I don’t know” is a good answer to the problem of pain and suffering?
Does it seem like a strange answer to you? Why?


Note:Remember that no single answer addresses every situation. So again, all seven motifs need to be considered as “the answer.” When all motifs are taken together, mystery is an appropriate answer.

Key Point:I don’t know” is an appropriate answer to any question and is a better one than is often given.
“I don’t know” is not the same as saying, “nobody knows” or “there isn’t an answer.”

Read the following passages and discuss:

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.


Isaiah 55:8-9 ’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.’


Questions:What do these passages tell us about what we can know? How are they different from someone saying, “Just shut up and believe!” or a blind leap of faith?


Answer: There is already a lot that has been revealed to us in scripture. We can only know in part. Ultimately, God’s thoughts and ways are far above ours. There is a balance between the things we can know and things that will remain unknowable. You can know God through his revealed word, but you can’t know allof God through it.
It is foolish to try and fit God into our mold. Terry made a great point when he said, “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 be worthy of your worship and trust and love?”
(I know there’s a lot in this answer; just trying to give you as much info as possible.)


Note: Remember as you read Deut. 29:29that “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 and revealed knowledge. It is a book of all kinds of things revealed. These things “belong” to us, and all who come after us, like our children. So, we can know, love and obey God. This verse gives an important balance to the overall message of the law.”


Discuss: This would be a good time to ask your group members: What are some mysteries that you’ve seen or experienced that have caused you to ask the question, “Why Lord?” Did you ever get an answer? How does this verse speak to you and your own experience? Does it comfort you? Why or why not?How do you deal personally with this tension? (These questions are to get your folks talking and connecting personally with the idea of mystery.)




Question:Terry said that relationship is how mystery becomes a satisfying answer. How so?

Think back to Job, what does he teach us about mystery?


Answer:1. Job suffered at every level possible: 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.

  1. In the midst of his suffering, the purposes 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.”


Read Psalm 10:1-18  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. 11 He 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.


Questions: What are the “why” questions? What evil did the writer see happening?


Answers:1. “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (v.1)

  1. An evil man hurting the weak; a man who was boastful, greedy, arrogant and prideful and yet prosperous; a person who was cursing and yelling out threats…basically not a good guy at all. (vs. 2-13)


Question:Now reread verses 14-18. What are the expressions of trust?


Answer: 1. You do see trouble and grief, and you do something. 2. You are the helper of the fatherless. 3. Break the arm of the evil and call him to account. 4. The Lord is King forever. 5. You hear, you encourage, you listen, and you defend.


Note: We must learn to trust God when the answer to “why” is a mystery at least for now. Mystery as a satisfying answer to suffering and evil is about having high faith in low light situations.“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… and trust that he is good.”


Psalm 16:8I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.




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.”

How do we do this?Living with: Honesty:  Be honest with God; if it stinks tell him it stinks. The Psalmist did.

Relationship:Keep the reality of his love before your mind; he cares for you. Commitment:Realize he’s not going anywhere; you can turn from him; he will not turn from you even if it feels like he has.


Then apply those three things to others


Honesty:Let others know you are suffering.

Relationship:Build trust with others. Know that this takes work.  It is on you, not them to build this.

Commitment:You must stay engaged over the long haul.  You cannot phase in and out of community and have what you need when you need it.

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