WHY IS THERE SUFFERING?

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Could there be a more difficult question for those who believe in an all-powerful yet loving God? Why do babies die, the innocent suffer and injustice reigns unchecked? And while we're at it, what is up with all the natural disasters? As if we don't create enough problems on our own, why all the floods, fires, earthquakes and volcanoes erupting? It seems like the earth is trying to squish us like a blood-sucking mosquito. Where is the loving Creator God in all this – how can this be his plan?

Troubling questions indeed for those of us who call God our loving Heavenly Father and the Supreme Ruler of the universe. No wonder many atheists and agnostics scorn Christianity. They reason that even if there were a God who would want to acknowledge let alone worship such a being?

So the problem of evil seems to raise its ugly head in every debate and leaves most Christians feeling like they’re stuck in an unanswerable paradox. Either believe God loves us but sometimes can't keep really bad things from happening to us. (not Omnipotent) Or believe that God is in fully in control but not always very kind to those he has created. (in other words not good)

I don’t think I can completely resolve this debate with these few words. Nor do I think I have the intellectual capacity to answer a question that has been argued for as long as man has existed. (Read the Book of Job) I also believe I don’t know everything about everything. (Though don’t tell that to my children) If I did then I’d be God and that’s not me. (Please don’t tell that to my dog, I think I’ve got him fooled)

But lately something has occurred to me that helps me respond to all the pain and suffering I see around me.

And here it is …

Really bad stuff happens because the world is broken … and we know it is broken because really bad stuff happens.

“What?” You say, “how is that the least bit comforting?”

This is how my simple mind works. If I were to feel a sharp pain shooting up my leg I would immediately assume that something was wrong and all my attention would be focused on resolving it. I would then come to realize that my toe had just collided with the coffee table and therefore the pain would be reasonable and my throbbing toe is a warning sign that I have done damage to my foot. The pain reveals the damage I have done to my foot and impedes true purpose of my foot. When I walk with a broken toe it is unnatural and terribly frustrating. So it is with all the terrible stuff that happens around us. If suffering were natural we would have no problem with it but because it would be the way things are, as natural as walking without a limp.

Our awareness of the pain and suffering we experience is shouting to us that we were meant for something far different. Now I’m not going to get into why pain is the preferred course of action God uses to reveal this truth but there are good reasons to trust in both his sovereignty and his goodness.  We need to stop and recognize that the pain is one enormous sign pointing to the reality that this is not our ultimate home and that we are destined to live in a place free from suffering and death.

You may ask; “What kind of answer is that? How does that help when I’m in the midst of pain?”

To that I say, it brings comfort, hope, perspective and revelation. When facing a particularly difficult event.

Comfort: Knowing that my suffering is understood and shared by my Creator. Look at the life of Jesus. God didn’t sit up in heaven and offer platitudes and advise. He participated in our suffering by becoming a man and experiencing the pain that we experience. (Philippians 2)

Hope: That our suffering is not forever and that there is something better ahead. When we realize that our true citizenship is not here but in a place where there will be no suffering, no evil and no death we can find the courage to persevere through whatever comes. (Romans 8:18)

Perspective: Seeing what I am going through in light of the big picture and that it is not everything. The hardest thing about going through difficult times is not knowing why. We are given a view into the eternal purposes of God when he says that he not only has a better place for us but he is working in us to become better people. God’s purposes are far greater than providing us a comfortable existence – his plans are for us to become fully and completely glorious. That means a transformation of our character not just our circumstances. (James 1:2-4)

Revelation: When we come to realize that we are missing something - when we finally come to the place where we question our existence and wonder why death has such a sting. We reach out for answers that only God can provide.  Jesus said, "seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened" Matthew 7:7 Pain and suffering make us seek - it drives us to a place of honest questioning and ultimately into the waiting nail-pierced hands of Jesus. 

I know this is pretty heavy and if you read this whole blog then you’re seeking truth and honest answers.

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Miss This One Thing and Nothing Makes Sense

Ever wonder why things turn out the way they do?

As a Christian Counselor I am with my clients at a time of their deepest sorrows and often the question that is most asked is – why?

Why did I lose my job? Why did my spouse leave me? Why am I faced with this health issue? Why? Why? Why?

At times like these, there are no quick and easy answers. Pulling out the systematic theology book and explaining original sin or the curse does nothing to comfort a broken heart. So I want to take these few moments to see if we can come to a basic understanding of how the universe works so that when we come to those inevitable times of crisis we have something solid to under-gird our faith and bring perspective to our suffering.

And this is it –

This universe does not revolve around you and it was not created for your comfort and ease.

Does that sound harsh? Maybe, if we somehow hold the belief that the greatest possible good is that we be happy, satisfied and free from pain. Not too many Christians would outwardly express this belief but many of us live this philosophy by de facto. We see anything in light of how it betters our lives. Therefore anything that would cast a shadow over our dreams and ambitions is considered contrary to the way the world is “supposed” to work.

But that is not what God says. He holds exclusive rights over the purpose of the universe and he has that privilege since HE CREATED IT.  

So what does God say is the purpose of the universe? One thing – to show forth his glory!

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
— Psalm 19:1 NIV

Glory: The outward manifestation of the invisible character and attributes of God

And when it comes to us humans we were also created to bring God glory.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do
— Ephesians 2:10 NIV

It this narcissistic of God? Is he some sort of self-aggrandizing despot who demands all the attention? That would be correct if it weren’t true that he rightly deserves all the glory. Just as air and water are to life so is God’s glory to the universe. It is a fundamental fact we must understand, otherwise we live in a continued state of confusion and frustration. If we deny this reality nothing else makes any sense.

Like it or not we live in God’s world and we find our true place only when we are in alignment with this true purpose – to bring him glory.

So how does this affect the way I live?

I just received an email from a friend who was ranting about another friend who was about to go through cancer surgery. This person was saying that it was definitely God’s will that they are healed and that this surgery was a lack of faith. Is that true? Let’s look at the premise.

  1. Cancer causes pain.
  2. Pain is bad for humans.
  3. Whatever is "bad" for humans is not God's will
  4. Therefore, it is God’s will that we are healed.

This premise is based upon the belief that whatever is perceived as “bad” for humans must not be God’s will. Therefore, our “good” is the primary goal. But what if it gave God greater glory that we go through the trial rather than escape it? You see, when we stop and ask the question – “Lord what would bring you the greatest glory?” it completely changes the dynamic of the trial. We become open to the new possibility that God can grant us the strength to go through the trial and in that time reveal himself and deepen our character. This is how we find ourselves in alignment with the true purpose of the universe. This is why God answered Paul the way he did when he was going through a time of trials.

“My grace is sufficient, my power is perfected in weakness”. 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV“My grace is sufficient, my power is perfected in weakness”.
— Corinthians 12:9 NIV

Our cry to our Lord is “Lord glorify yourself”

How else can we make sense of what Jesus prayed to the Father the night before he was crucified?

Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you
— John 17:1 NIV

Jesus’ death on the cross was the physical demonstration of his great love for us – it showed us beyond any doubt that we are cherished beyond measure and have unimaginable value. It revealed the heart of the Father and the Son to us.

We are an extraordinarily blessed people for it is God’s will that he shows his glory through loving and redeeming us. But never mistake his love, mercy, and kindness as somehow diminishing his rightful place.

I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
— Isaiah 42:8 NIV

So our prayer when we enter into hardship must be, “Lord, show me how you can be most glorified in this situation – help me to show you as you truly are and reveal your greatness”

This attitude requires real maturity. But if we ever want to find true life we will inevitably come to this place. Because apart from this understanding this whole existence thing just doesn’t make sense.

Love you

James