Archives For suffering

The Real Problem of Evil

Chris —  November 12, 2014 — 7 Comments

Image of woment comforting one another.The reality that so few struggle with the problem of evil is a major warning sign that many are not considering the reality of a sovereign and good God.

John Stott wrote, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” Virtually all theologians agree. There is no tougher area of theology to considerAnd yet, today fewer Christians wrestle with the problem of evil – – and that may be the biggest problem of all.

The problem of evil is the question of how it can simultaneously be true that:

  1. God is all-powerful and all-knowing.
  2. God is good.
  3. Yet, evil and suffering exist.

(Note that Dan Phillips worked on this syllogism in several forms a few days ago!)

From the finite vantage point of our minds, it may seem as though the only reason that suffering exists is because God can’t stop it (he’s not sovereign or all-powerful) or he won’t stop evil (he’s not benevolent or good).

I won’t lay out a Christian response to the problem of evil – – though I’m doing that in my current sermon series at The Red Brick Church – – and I believe there is a completely satisfying answer. But here I want to make the point that as troubling as it may seem to consider why God allow suffering, it is far more troubling to never wrestle with the question of why God allows children to be harmed or for hurricanes to come.

Let me explain why it is a problem if we are not somewhat conflicted about suffering. First, understand that the problem of evil is unique to people of the Bible.

  • Polytheists don’t struggle with the problem of evil. They believe that suffering flows out of the conflicts of many flawed gods.
  • Atheists don’t struggle with the problem of evil. Suffering is simply another aspect of material reality.
  • Monism (Hinduism or Buddhism) believes in the unity of everything which will one day be achieved.
  • Deists holds that God wound up the clock of the universe and is now watching it tick. He is not involved.

Only people who believe in one, sovereign, good God wonder why God allows suffering. And struggle we do! Given that we live in a fallen world where little girls are sold into sex slavery, why wouldn’t anyone struggle with the problem of evil?

Fact: right now, somewhere in the world there is someone being raped or murdered.

Fact: God hates rape and murder.

Fact: God could stop rape and murder.

The question is not why has so many pages have been written about the problem of evil. Rather, the question is why aren’t people asking about it more? While preaching through Job I’ve considered why aren’t thinking about the problem of evil more. I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  • A person might not struggle with the problem of evil because he or she has a thin understanding of the experiences of life. A five year, who has been protected from suffering, has probably never cried out, “Why?” But those who have watched loved ones waste away to cancer, or lose their minds to Alzheimer’s wonder why God allows it.
  • A person who is cocksure or cavalier about theology might not struggle. I’ve heard people say, “There is no problem of evil. God allows pain for his glory.” While this s a true statement – – it is amazingly insensitive and non-pastoral, and it is unhelpful when comforting someone whose child has been murdered.
  • Others have personalities that are not given to theological reflection. They are blessed with a deep and child-like faith.
  • Admittedly, some no longer struggle over the difficult question of the problem of evil because they have very mature faith. They have worked through their concerns and now they trust God.

I would call those first two possibilities shallow Christian responses to the problem of evil. Many of us are guilty of them at some point to one degree or another. But the above reasons are not the alarming explanations for why  people are not struggling with the problem of evil. Here’s another set of reasons people aren’t wrestling with the problem of evil.

  1. Many people do not wrestle with the problem of evil because they do not really believe that God is sovereign. Deep down they have accepted the answer that God feels bad about evil but he isn’t really big enough to stop it.
  2. Others don’t wrestle with the problem of evil because they are what Christian Smith has called “moralistic therapeutic deists.” That is, they believe in a distant God, who is easy to please, who exists to make us feel better. They comfort themselves with simple platitudes like, “Well, it must all work together for good,” but they do not consider their relationship to God or who He really is.
  3. Still others don’t wrestle with the problem of evil because they do not believe God is just – – deep down they do not believe that wrong behavior must given an account to an all-powerful God who will judge evil. They never picture themselves giving an account to God.

If you think about this latter list, what you see is that these reasons have in common is that they are characteristics of people who do not  believe in the God of the Bible.

Again, the problem of evil is a question posed to those concerned with the God of the Bible. When people stop asking the question, it shows that people are not really contemplating a good and sovereign God.

In my decades of pastoral ministry, I have done many funerals for those who are not Christians – – and, of course, many for those who are – – and I have had very few people say to me in anger – – “Why did God let this happen?” And to be honest, I think it is a problem. Job was upset with his suffering because he believed in a good God who is in control and he wanted to know “Why?” The fact that we so rarely face people asking Job’s passionate questions is because we live in a culture where, increasingly, people do not believe in a sovereign, good God. Indeed, it may be that most people with whom we rub shoulders are deists, not theists.

Which is to say, the real problem of evil is when we stop believing enough in the sovereignty and goodness of God to ask the really hard questions.

See also:

Four Wrong Answers to the Question “Why Me?”

Andy Naselli Interviews John Frame on the Problem of Evil

Frame on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Interacting with the problem of suffering, Christopher J.H. Wright writes:

Whereas we often ask “Why?” people in the Bible more often asked “How long?” Their tendency was not to demand that God give an explanation for the origin of evil but rather to plead with God to do something to bring about an end to evil. And that, we shall see is exactly what God has promised to do (page 27).

In our series on Job, A Journey With Job, I continue to be helped by Christopher Ash’s commentary. Ash helps us understand how Job could be considered right even when he was wrong.

In Job 9-10, Job is in agony. The heart of Job’s pain is that he longs for dialogue with God – – yet, there seems no possible way forward. Commentator Christopher Ash breaks down Job’s struggle in the following way. Job can’t:

  1. “Will” himself through the suffering (Job 9:27-29) – – he can’t just cheer up and move.
  2. Job cannot cleanse himself. There is no hope of Job being his own savior (Job 9:30-31).
  3. Find a mediator (Job 9:32-35) – – Job longs for one to stand between God and him, but there is no one immediately forthcoming.

So Job’s complaints give way to despair. He raises four agonized questions:

  1. Why are You Against Me God? (Job 10:1-3)
  2. Why Do You Watch Me? (Job 10:4-7)
  3. Why Did You Create Me? (Job 10:8-17)
  4. Why Don’t You Kill Me? (Job 10:18-22)

At this point, much of what Job says is flatly wrong. He is wrong to say that God treats the innocent and the wicked in the same way (Job 9:22-23). We begin to wonder why God does not rebuke Job in a harsher way. Ash explains the way in which Job is right even as he is wrong.

Whatever Job says, the fact that he says it to God and says it with such vehemence suggests that he knows he has not yet reached the end of his quest for meaning. There is in Job the inner energy of faith, the mark of a real believer. Job may be wrong in his perception of God and of the reality of his situation, but he is deeply right in his heart and the direction of his turning and his yearning. Thank God for that. (Ash, 151).

At the beginning of the same chapter, Ash writes:

It is possible to be wrong and right at the same time. God will say that Job has spoken rightly about him (42:7). And yet Job says a great many things about God that are not right. How are we to reconcile this apparent contradiction? When we listen to Job’s speeches, we need to bear in mind the distinction between Job’s perception and Job’s heart. His heart is in the heart of a believer, which is why the Lord commends and affirms him at the end. But his perceptions are partial and flawed. We hear in these speeches the honest grapplings of a real believer with a heart for God as he sees what he thought was a secure worldview crumble around him. This is why we will hear Job say some things that are plain wrong, and yet we hear him say them from a heart that is deeply right (Ash, 139).

See also:

Why Did God Allow Satan to Harm Job and His Family?

A Summary of Job’s Friends

The Head in the Sand Approach to Suffering is a Bad Idea

Hope: This is Just the Beginning of the Beginning

Why is God Harder on Job’s Friends Than on Complaining Job?

Hitting Hard Questions Head-On

Would You Agree That Time is the Hard Part?

Job: Preaching Propositions

Current Questions for the Study of Job

Ash Helps Us Move to the Heart of the Matter on Job

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Andy Naselli’s interview of John Frame regarding the Problem of Evil

Men seek an understanding of suffering in cause and effect

Job: A Writer of Superb Genius Has Erected a Monumental Work

When Suffering Avoid “I Hate Thee” and “I Hate Me”

Job is a Fireball Book

Does the Book of Job Offer An Explanation for Why People Suffer?

Christian Books on Pain and Suffering

If You Never Did Anything in Advance, There is Relatively Little You Can Do At The Time

Once You Are In A Crisis, There is Not Time

Four Wrong Answers to the Question Why Me

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.45.57 PMI am thankful for the ways that the Internet and social media allow others to suggest worship music to accompany sermon series. My youngest sister, Erin (see her blog here), suggested this song to go along with our Job series at the Red Brick Church. The video is worth watching! My sister wrote:

I don’t know how familiar you are with Steven Curtis Chapman, but this song always reminds me of the book of Job because of the message behind it. And if you know anything about the testimony of the Chapmans, they are no strangers to tragedy. Last year at this time, Chad’s grandpa was dying. Chad was extremely close to his grandpa. The week after coming home from his funeral, on Chad’s birthday (which he happens to share with SCC who also happens to be his all time favorite artist), we were able to attend The Glorious Unfolding Tour at Harmony Bible Church in Danville, IA. It was during that concert that God began working on our hearts toward adoption. In March we decided to take the next steps. Now we have two new daughters in China who wait for us to come and bring them home. I should also mention that some of our best friends through this adoption were also at the concert and we didn’t even know them then. Now, today, we are praying for their daughter, Evie, as she will have life-saving heart surgery on Monday. This song is very deep and meaningful to us. “This is just the beginning of the beginning!”

“Job stays married to God and throws dishes at him; the three friends have a polite non-marriage . . .” Peter Kreeft

Anyone who studies the biblical book of Job knows that in between Job saying, “blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21)” and “I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2),” Job complained bitterly. By his own admission, Job said things that were rash (Job 6:3).

Yet, at the end of the book, God told Job’s friends that his anger burned against them (Job 42:7). God tells Job’s friends  that their future depends on Job’s intercession on their behalf (Job 42:8).

So why did God view Job so much more favorably than Job’s friends?

Peter Kreeft helps us move toward an answer by pointing out that, unlike his friends, Job is directly concerned with his relationship with God. While Job’s friends are apathetic and indifferent:

Job sticks to God, retains intimacy, passion, and care, while the three friends are satisfied with correctness of words, “dead orthodoxy”. Job’s words do not accurately reflect God, as the three friends’ words do, but Job himself is in a true relationship to God, as the three friends are not: a relationship of heart and soul, life-or-death passion. No one can be truly related to God without life-or-death passion. To be related to God in a way that is only finite, partial, held back, or calculating is not truly to be related to God. God is everything or nothing. Job thinks God has let him down, so that in a sense God has become nothing to him. That is a mistake, but Job at least knows it must be all or nothing. God is infinite love, and the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Job’s love for God is infected with hate, but the three friends’ love for God is infected with indifference. Job stays married to God and throws dishes at him; the three friends have a polite non-marriage, with separate bedrooms and separate vacations. The family that fights together stays together.

I wouldn’t say everything in quite the same way as Kreeft. Isn’t it a bit much to say that Job’s words are infected with “hate”? Yet, we can all agree that God despises mediocrity. He spits out that which is “luke warm (Revelation 3:16).”
 

 

Why would God allow Satan to harm Job? Is God placing side bets while we battle cancer or lose loved ones? Here are some preliminary thoughts in response to those questions.

Our church continues our series on the book of Job, A Journey With Job: Seeing and Savoring the Beauty of Christ Amid the Long Walk of Suffering. You can listen to the first sermon, “Someone You Need to Meet,” on our church web site.

Any study of the book of Job raises questions about the debate between God and Satan. We wonder, why would God allow Satan to harm Job and his family. I will be speaking to this question more in our next sermon, but let me make some of the points in advance here in this blog post. The idea is that these points are all part of the answer.

So what should we say in response to the question, “Why did God allow Satan to harm Job”?

  1. The objective of the book of Job is not to teach a comprehensive view of the workings of Satan. Satan – – more literally, “the adversary” — in Job is a minor character. He appears in the first two chapters and is not heard from again. This tips us off from the beginning that Satan’s role is “incidental” in Job. We shouldn’t bring all our questions to Job. Rather, we should listen to those answers it gives. God does not intend for the book of Job to comprehensively explain his dealings with the Satan.
  2. Satan is only a pawn in God’s sovereign purposes. Just as God allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery in Egypt, God sometimes permits those motivated by hate to inflict temporary harm. But we can be sure that even when God allows harm, ultimately all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).
  3. We do not have the capacity to comprehensively understand why God allowed Satan to harm Job. God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not ours (Psalm 103:11-12). We cannot process all the ways of God. When my children were babies, and Jamie bathed them, they usually screamed loudly because they were temporarily naked and cold. Babies can’t understand their mother’s care. You see the analogy- –  the gulf between us and God is infinitely greater than the gulf between a baby and her mother. Loving parents allow temporary pain for reasons that their children do not understand.
  4. The Cross shows us that we can trust God even though we don’t understand everything. When considering the interaction between God and the Satan in Job, we must understand that this is not anywhere near the most notable instance of God allowing someone to be harmed. The ultimate example of unjust suffering is that God sent his one and only Son – – – to enter into our space and history – – – and to be crucified. The Cross shows us that it is reasonable to trust in God even though we can’t understand terrible pain. As Kelly Clark wrote: “A God who shares in our pain, who redeems our sorrows and our shortcomings, who wipes away ever tear, is surely a good God.”
  5. We cannot imagine how the pain of this life will be undone by Christ. There are wounds that we face in life that hurt so badly we cannot imagine ever healing. I suffered the first major blow of grief over 40 years ago and it is still hard for me to think about. I can’t imagine how that pain can be healed. And yet, the resurrection shows us that Satan will not have the last word and that pain can be undone for those who know Christ. While God’s people cannot understand the beauty of all that Christ is accomplishing, we can be sure that He is doing immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

If we are to take our heads out of the sand, and hit the hard questions head-on, so that we can be prepared for suffering, as we plan to do in the book of Job on Sunday, then we need to be sure about what we believe to be true.

In explaining how to begin considering what we believe to be true, Ravi Zacharias points out that every thinking person must confront four basic questions: the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

  1. How did life come to be in the first place?
  2. To what purpose is my life?
  3. How may I choose between right and wrong?
  4. What happens to me when I die?

Ravi goes on to explain that the answers we arrive at and give must correspond with reality and fit with one another. Ravi encourages us that “Answers that correspond with reality and fit into a coherent system provide the individual a world-view by which all of life’s choices may then be made.”

*Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil, 219.

See also:

Hitting Hard Questions Head-On

Would You Agree That Time is the Hard Part?

Job: Preaching Propositions

Current Questions for the Study of Job

Ash Helps Us Move to the Heart of the Matter on Job

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Andy Naselli’s interview of John Frame regarding the Problem of Evil

Men seek an understanding of suffering in cause and effect

Job: A Writer of Superb Genius Has Erected a Monumental Work

When Suffering Avoid “I Hate Thee” and “I Hate Me”

Job is a Fireball Book

Does the Book of Job Offer An Explanation for Why People Suffer?

Christian Books on Pain and Suffering

If You Never Did Anything in Advance, There is Relatively Little You Can Do At The Time

Once You Are In A Crisis, There is Not Time

Four Wrong Answers to the Question Why Me

 

Don't Bury Your Head in the Sand About SufferingEveryone needs to prepare for suffering. It’s sure to come. Step forward in preparing for suffering by being part of the Job sermon series at the Red Brick Church beginning on October 5, 2014.

Suffering is a fact of life. We all have suffered.  We all will suffer. There is no choice. Cancer and car accidents crash into lives. Betrayals break hearts. Disease and disaster destroy health.

We should prepare. But many don’t. They take the ostrich’s approach of closing their eyes to reality. People will their heads buried in the sands of denial are in a place far more dangerous than any ostrich. Pretending suffering will never happen leaves people completely vulnerable to the worst kind of future.

Beginning October 5, Pastor Chris Brauns will begin preaching a new series on the book of Job. This series will equip us to see how we can be prepared to face whatever suffering comes our way.

Together we will learn and deeply own the wonderful truth that those willing to “take their heads out of the sand,” and look to God’s Word answers in Christ and the cross that are more beautiful than we ever could have imagined.

The Red Brick Church has worship services at 9 and 10:30 on Sunday mornings. There is a nursery during both hours. Children’s Sunday School for all ages is offered at 9:00 and Children’s Church for preschool through third grace is offered at 10:30.

See also:

Hitting Hard Questions Head-On

Would You Agree That Time is the Hard Part?

Job: Preaching Propositions

Current Questions for the Study of Job

Ash Helps Us Move to the Heart of the Matter on Job

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Andy Naselli’s interview of John Frame regarding the Problem of Evil

Men seek an understanding of suffering in cause and effect

Job: A Writer of Superb Genius Has Erected a Monumental Work

When Suffering Avoid “I Hate Thee” and “I Hate Me”

Job is a Fireball Book

Does the Book of Job Offer An Explanation for Why People Suffer?

Christian Books on Pain and Suffering

If You Never Did Anything in Advance, There is Relatively Little You Can Do At The Time

Once You Are In A Crisis, There is Not Time

Four Wrong Answers to the Question Why Me

Hitting Hard Questions Head On

Chris —  September 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

iStock_000000166691MediumOnly Christianity can truly hit the hard questions head-on. A new sermon series at the Red Brick Church will address the central questions of life.

Thoughtful human beings encounter vexing questions:

·      Why are we here? What’s the purpose of life?

·      Does what I do matter?

·      Why do good people suffer while others get away with murder?

·      Is there real hope?

·      How can I step off the mental gerbil wheel and the inner turmoil I face?

·      How can I help someone I love who is hurting?

Thankfully we do not have to dig for answers on our own. God is there. And He is not silent. He has spoken clearly in his Word.

Beginning October 5 Pastor Chris Brauns will begin a new series at The Red Brick Church, A Journey with Job: Seeing and Savoring the Beauty of Christ Amid the Long Walk of Suffering. In this series Chris will show how the Bible hits these questions head on. And in this series, those willing to look to Christ will begin to see that the biblical answers to hard questions are more beautiful than we could have imagined.

The Red Brick Church has worship services at 9 and 10:30 on Sunday mornings. There is a nursery during both hours. Children’s Sunday School for all ages is offered at 9:00 and Children’s Church for preschool through third grace is offered at 10:30.

Do you agree – – “time” is the aspect of suffering that makes it so difficult?

I have been preparing for months a sermon series: A Journey With Job: Seeing and Savoring the Beauty of Christ Amid the Long Walk of Suffering. Preaching on Job means preaching on suffering – – so I have been prayerfully reflecting on suffering a great deal.

One point which I have considered for some time is that “time” is what makes pain so difficult. We could stand any amount of pain for an instant. We could bear losing the person closest to us this morning if we knew we would see them in the afternoon.

But instant relief is not how it goes. And so pain becomes . . . painful. Time intensifies pain.

Having said that – – I would treasure your input. Does that point make sense? Would you agree?