I thank the Lord for my friend Mike. He does not know the Lord — yet — as his Savior, but God is using him to remind me of the many blessings which I have “in Christ.” This study is multi-faceted and is helping me enormously in taking stock of what I have as a follower of Jesus. And I purpose to not simply coast through my Christian life, oblivious to the many gifts which being in God’s family has given me.
Our next “blessing” might seem odd, but it is a really critical one. This is a broken world; we are broken as people; terrible tragedies and catastrophes happen on this planet (and to us) under the watchful eye of a sovereign God. How are we to understand pain and tragedy? Sadly, my unsaved friends —
23. THEY DON’T POSSESS A PROPER VIEW OF SUFFERING!
The Bible does not sugar-coat this world’s fallenness with all its effects of “natural disasters” (earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.) and man-made evil (crime, betrayal, anger, revenge, injustice, prejudice, greed, etc.). But how are we to understand this world’s suffering in light of the Bible’s picture of a God of love?
Scholars refer to this effort at understanding evil as a theodicy (a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality). Some religious systems deny the reality of evil (the cult Christian Science is an example), compromise God’s omnipotence or omniscience (Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People is an example of the former; Greg Boyd’s open theism an example of the latter), or resign themselves to a kind of deterministic fatalism about evil (Islam is an example of this approach).
The Bible provides the very best theodicy, for it affirms the real existence of evil and suffering while setting forth the goodness and justice of the biblical God. And God’s Word does not hesitate to show us godly people who had wrong views about suffering. One thinks of Job and his friends who were sure either Job had sinned greatly (and deserved what he was getting) or God was unfairly making Job His target (and needed to be sued in court for His [God’s] mistake). Even Jesus’ disciples cut to the chase theologically and thought the man-born-blind’s condition was because of sin (either his or his parents). Jesus corrects them by saying that “this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in his life” (John 9:3).
As God-manifest-in-the-flesh, Jesus allows death to take his friend Lazarus even though He had the power to keep him from dying (John 11). I’ve worked on this passage and entitled it “Friends Don’t Let Friends . . . Die!” But Jesus did.
One classic passage on the issue of suffering is Luke 13 where we read —
This brief theodicy by the Lord Jesus covers two areas of suffering and evil in our world. Notice the victims of a vicious crime in verses 1-3. Notice also the victims of a violent accident in verses 4-5. Neither the sin of the Galileans nor the guilt of those killed by the falling tower were the cause of their catastrophe. An evil man (Pilate) and the effects of gravity (the tower) illustrate one basic fact: life is dangerous! Make sure you are right with God!
There is much more in God’s Word that prepares us for suffering. See such texts as: 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Phil. 1:29; 3:10; Col. 1:24; I Thes. 1:6; 2 Thes. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:3; Heb. 2:18; 10:34; James 5:10; all of I Peter; Rev. 1:9; 2:10; etc. We can fight suffering and evil without fighting God. As salt and light in our culture we stand up for what is right and oppose what is wrong. But, contrary to the devilish perspective of prosperity theology, we are not guaranteed a life with no suffering or deprivation.
So, how do I pray for my unsaved friend? I model for him a life of faith even in the midst of trials and pain. And I ask the Holy Spirit to use whatever challenge comes in his life that he might see his need of getting right with the Lord. (to be continued)