The Problem of Pain and Suffering
A message in our series The Problem of God. We are preaching on Faith to build your hope. Find all the Problem of God messages here and build your faith, so you can be filled with hope!
I’ve got a bunch I want to share with you this morning and a short window to do it. BTW, you’ve probably noticed these messages have been about 25% longer than our standard- even with going longer I have left a lot on the editing room floor and left a lot in my notes that I didn’t get to in my presentation.
Today’s Problem with God is the #1 problem people have.
The problem of Pain and Suffering.
People were asked in a survey if they could ask God 1 question what would it be? The most popular response had to do with this problem, why is there suffering, why is there evil in the world?
This is a vital question, because how we deal with it has drastic circumstances. Many people attempt to ignore it and hope that their personal experience of suffering is limited or not too tragic.
Other people experience suffering and choose to avoid it or compensate for it through pleasure, substances, and distractions.
On April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado senior students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher.
They injured 21 additional people.
The highly planned attack involved a fire bomb to divert firefighters, propane tanks converted to bombs placed in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and car bombs.
After exchanging gunfire with responding police officers, they committed suicide.
Reading of the journals the two students started keeping as they planned out their attack revealed that Harris, the mastermind was practically a Nihilist. Determining that life was meaningless and that suffering was just an expression of the meaningless of life.
Nihilism: extreme skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence.
Harris worked out the full degree of Nihilism determining that if life is meaningless that he had every right to take life as he saw fit. Many people think that Harris was just exacting revenge on people who had bullied him, but the truth his he had planned to kill hundreds. He had explosives in the cafeteria that we designed to kill hundreds. There were bombs in the school parking lot designed to kill rescue responders and fleeing students.
So how we deal with suffering, is drastically important. For many people their wrestling with suffering does not lead them to take the lives of others, but if they come to the same bottom lines, that life is meaningless, they’ll take their own life, of engage in harmful behavior because why does it matter?
The Problem of Suffering has been called the Atheist’s rock.
Ronald Nash said,
Every philosopher believes that the most serious challenge to theism (belief in God) was, and is, and will continue to be the problem of evil.
David Hume put the atheist argument on suffering simply:
Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able to but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Why then is there evil and suffering?
I need you to see first of all that the problem of suffering is an affective but not logical or reasonable problem to have in coming to faith in God.
The problem of suffering is quite personal. Much like the issue of hell, we think emotionally on this issue, because how could we not?
Our perspective on this particular topic is very much skewed or biased based upon our experiences.
This is not a theoretical or philosophical problem, it’s a highly personal problem.
We feel this question. I see you feel this question. I see you suffering…
I’m going to offer some philosophical and biblical answers, but I want you to know I feel this too.
This is a question that the poetry of the Bible wrestles with big time. The psalms constantly ask God, why? When will you deal with evil God?
This is a tough problem that all the religions and philosophies of the world must answer. I think Christianity answer it best.
Atheism and Naturalism say suffering doesn’t really matter.
Easter Religion teaches that suffering is the result of Karma.
Karma meaning that what goes around come around.
People like the idea of Karma because they think, people who did me wrong will get what they deserve… but what they don’t realize is that karma means that what you just experienced at their hands is because of the evil you did in a former life…
Mark Clark writes about traveling to India and street kids are begging for food and money and the guide says, don’t give them anything. Karma is judging them for their wrongs in past lives.
New Age Philosophy says there is no suffering. Suffering is an illusion.
We need to get in touch with the true oneness. I didn’t just experience that sickness, it’s just in my head. I am not really even me, I am everything and nothing, so how can I suffer….
Christianity does not avoid this problem, it faces it head on.
I need to point out as Clark does very well in his book, that there is a small element of “Christianity” (big air quotes there) which approaches evil with a mix of eastern religion – Karma and Suffering is an illusion.
Name and Claim it. We just need to speak authority over the sickness. We need to bind the disease in the name of Jesus.
If we had enough faith then we’d be sick.
I had some friends in high school who were serious charismatics. I went to church with them because “you just have to experience this.”
People were chanting and speaking in tongues and they were getting slain in the spirit… There was this guy in a wheel chair. My friends said to me, they’ve tried to heal him a few times, but he just doesn’t have enough faith….
Let me just put it plainly. That is garbage.
It’s just another form of saying that our suffering is our own fault.
Now there is some suffering that is of our own making. A lot of suffering is because of our own foolish decisions. Probably the majority of your financial suffering is because you make bad choices….
But clearly, there is suffering that is not of our own making.
We see this pretty plainly in Genesis 4. Look there with me.
Cain suffers. He feels less than. It’s his own fault.
God says, if you do well you will be accepted. In other words, you can fix this Cain…
But then Abel suffers, and what did Abel do wrong?
Abel did nothing wrong.
Why did this happen?
It happened because one chapter previous Cain and Abel exercised their free will and ate of the tree that they were not supposed to eat of, they chose sin and sin flooded into the world. Sin mixed with our free will and brought about untold suffering that would last for generations and generations…
The reason for suffering in the world is sin.
Why doesn’t God just fix it?
Right after Adam and Eve sinned God laid out his plan for fixing all that was wrong.
He proclaimed he would send his son to take all the sin of the world.
He provided covering for Adam and Eve.
He then put them out of the garden so they could not eat of the tree of life.
God did not allow Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of life and live forever in their broken condition.
God knew a short season of suffering and brokenness was better than an eternity of suffering and brokenness.
The purpose in the suffering of the world is grace.
Let me try to give you an example…
If you put your hand on my elbow when I twist my arm, you can hear what sounds like gravel in the joint. It’s because I broke my arm a few years ago.
The most painful part of that experience was not the fall that caused the break… the most painful part of the experience was the X-ray…
The X-rays were painful, but they revealed exactly what was wrong. It revealed that surgery would be necessary. That I couldn’t just set it in a cast. I would have lost the ability to bend this arm.
If God removed all the suffering of the world, we would not be able to discern that we are broken and in need of divine surgery.
In scripture we have a few pointers to this.
The Blind man.
Paul’s Thorn in the flesh.
Think about Jesus’ time on earth? He was alleviating suffering and then walked toward the cross… Because while he cares about the suffering of this life, he is most concerned with the peace we will have in eternal life…
I recognize that can sound disjointed and aloof,
but it’s extremely personal.
I’ve watched this work out in people’s lives up close. I’ve seen God be near in the middle of tragedy and I’ve watched people draw close to God in the midst of tragedy.
In fact, this past year I saw this on display in a big way….
Let me talk to you for just a second about post traumatic growth.
God brings post-traumatic growth to all that love Him.
Not only is there this major divine, cosmic reason behind suffering, God can give purpose and redemption to your personal suffering.
The advantage of disadvantage… Malcolm Gladwell…
In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.
He who has a “why” to live for can bear almost any “how.”
Don’t call it a blessing in disguise. It’s no blessing and there’s no disguise. It’s a tragedy, but there are things to be gained.
God is near to the broken hearted.
He is acquainted with our griefs and familiar with our sorrows…