See below for an outline on the Problem of Pain and Suffering.
THE PROBLEM OF PAIN AND SUFFERING
(and of evil)
I An apologetic/intellectual problem. How should I think about this?
II A human problem. How should I feel about this?
I Pain and Suffering: an apologetic problem.
The argument goes like this:
Agnostic says: The Christian God is supposed to be completely good and all-powerful.
→ The Christian God is not real.
Given the pain and suffering in the world, this cannot be true. He could be either:
A. All-powerful, but certainly not completely good.
B. Completely good, but certainly not all-powerful.
This is a serious question. Possibly, this may be the single most common/significant apologetic question. It is a legitimate question.
We will see, God does not ignore this question. Not at all!!!
Kinds of suffering:
1. Acute and chronic pain (cancer, etc.), burns, etc.
2. Disease, both acute and chronic. Cancer, lupus, leprosy, heart disease, malaria, etc.
3. Broken relationships. Emotional devastation. Loneliness Sticks and stones….
4. Poverty, hunger, etc.
5. Violence, terrorism, genocide, violent crime, political crimes.
6. Chronic fear. (point 5. above, rape, natural disasters, failure, etc.) Living under a totalitarian system. Deuteronomy 28:65-67.
7. Disappointment, feelings of failure, loss of hope, loss of job.
8. Death of a loved one, bereavement, mourning.
Many of these we will explain below but, bottom line, there are kinds of suffering that will be extremely difficult to explain for emotional reasons.
Brain cancer of a little child, birth defects, Tsunami, 2004, genocide of the Jews, Pol Pot, etc.
There is a lot of suffering in the world!!
Q: How can a good God allow these things?
A very serious question: What is the cause of all this suffering?
Is it a lack of power on God’s part?
Is it because God is not loving and good?
A strong caution here: There is no simple answer.
A serious question: Does this prove God is evil, or at least not completely good?
CAUSES OF SUFFERING:
A. FREE WILL. Note: the phrase "free will" is not in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (exp 19-20) Now choose life.
A loving God gave us a choice.
Would you prefer the alternative? (not living at all, or being a "robot"?)
Is it better if we did not have freedom to choose good or evil?
Illustration: parents who totally control their kids
God is loving enough and powerful enough to give us a choice to love or hate, to do good or to do evil.
God took a huge risk. Why? Because he loves us. Parents take the same risk. Our kids may become career criminals and may totally reject our love. It is definitely still worth it.
Go back to Adam and Eve. Their choice led us down a bad path to sin.
B. HUMAN SIN.
The vast majority of all suffering can be attributed to human choice to sin.
· addiction, lack of self-control
· sexual perversion and abuse
· anger, violence
· pride, arrogance, jealousy, desire for control, power
· selfishness (but not all… AIDS, Tsunami, etc.)
God’s moral law, which cannot be violated, says such sins cause suffering, both to the perpetrator and to the victim of such sin. This is a law; as inviolable as the law of gravity.
Exodus 20:4-5 "… punishing the children for the father’s sin to the third and fourth generation." A biblical principle.
Ezekiel 18:19-20 Both are true…
Here is the real question: does the existence of these things prove that God is evil or powerless?
Most suffering because of sin, but….
Do not judge. Consider Job
Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar: You are suffering because you sinned!!
Job: not true. I am righteous. Who was right? Neither, but on suffering, Job was right.
His suffering was a test which proved Job and brought glory to God.
Another note about Job: God never explained to him why he suffered. Can you live with some ambiguity/without clear answers? That is part of faith.
C. NATURAL CAUSES OF SUFFERING.
There are natural physical laws, just as there are natural moral laws.
ARE THESE THINGS INHERENTLY EVIL?
Job 38:1-7 God’s reply: Brace yourself like a man.
C. SUFFERING (most) suffering is not evil.
1. Psalm 30:5 Weeping may endure for the night. No suffering = no joy.
ex.: being hungry makes food taste good.
Is joy joy without suffering?
2. John 9:1-3 Who sinned, this man or his parents?… that the work of God
might be displayed. To give glory to God.
Q: How many of you became Christians, at least partly, because of some sort of trial and suffering God caused you to go through
3. Romans 8:28 (Virtually) all evil can be used by God, ultimately, for good. (but this does not make evil good!!)
4. Romans 5:3 suffering → character, hope James 1:2-3 trials → lack nothing spiritually. Suffering is a principle way we become like Christ. Even the world recognizes this.
5. Suffering is the natural result of doing good. 1 Peter 2:20-22 If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, that is commendable before God.
2 Tim 3:12 All those who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
A sure solution to avoid suffering: do nothing.
"Great" figures in modern history: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Therese…. What are they all known for?
6. Coll 1:24 share in Christ’s suffering (so that others might come to Christ) Luke 9:23 In suffering we share with Jesus. Phil 3:10.
I Pet 4:1-2.
Part II Suffering: a human problem.
Our response to suffering depends on our world-view.
Hindu, Buddhist, Stoic. Greek. This world is an illusion (maya). Suffering is an illusion. Avoid suffering by escaping from this world. This will explain a lot about those societies.
Who does most of the benevolent work in India, Cambodia, Thailand, etc.
Muslim. Fate. It is God’s will. There is nothing I can or should do about it.
Atheism. USSR 20 million. China 30 million Pol Pot 2 million The individual does not matter, so suffering is not important.
Christian: This world is very real and God cares about suffering.
The Christian Response: Compassion
Jeremiah 22:15-16 Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? Declares the Lord.
Note: not just helping them, but defending their cause.
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
For us: Single moms and old people
Prov 14:31 He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Not just helping, but being kind. Treating them as people, not just as a problem to be addressed.
"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."
Isaiah 58:6-7 Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Conservative/Evangelical Christianity has a shameful record on illegal aliens. Obviously laws are being broken and we do not condone law breaking, but what would Jesus do for these people? Would he go down to the border to protest illegal immigration?
Leviticus 19:34a When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
1 Jn 3:16-18 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possession and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with action and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.
Julian "the apostate." (332-363) Reviving pagan religion
"Atheism (i.e. Christian faith) has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of
the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them."
How should I feel about all this?
Suffering is a very emotional thing. It is OK to hurt over things. Look at these men of God:
Surely suffering is problematic for you. If not, you are not real with your emotions.
Jeremiah 12:1 I would speak with you about your justice.
Even Jesus! My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
God, if there is any way you can take this cup from me…
Believe it or not, God can relate. That is part of why Jesus came.
Heb 2:17-18 (Heb 4:15)
Here is the question: What is your response to suffering?
What am I willing to do about suffering?
Am I making a difference?
Am I part of the solution?
If you want to know God’s response to suffering, look at Jesus!!! John 11:35 Jesus wept. Why?
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
What to do:
Like Job, live with integrity despite your own suffering.
Empathy. Our suffering will allow us to help others come to Christ, and to alleviate suffering in general.
People do not want answers, they want understanding/empathy.
Suggestion: You cannot do everything. Find an area of need, social justice, poverty, loneliness,…. Something you are passionate about. Commit your energy to that.
Help stop crime.
Fight addiction. Prison ministry
Jan and I…. Gifts of HOPE
Let us alleviate suffering, not because it is evil, but because that is the heart of God. That is what love does.
Matt 9:36-38 Compassion: bring them to church.
The best advice to alleviate suffering: Help someone become a Christian!!!