Blessing #4: The Blessing of a Proper View of Suffering
“The believer in God must explain one thing, the existence of suffering; the nonbeliever, however, must explain the existence of everything else.” (Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism)
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.
The next “blessing” we want to consider 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? Thankfully, as believers in Christ —
4. WE POSSESS A PROPER VIEW OF SUFFERING!
THE BLESSING 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 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 evil and suffering is Luke 13 where we read —
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
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. One man’s depravity (Pilate’s) and one tower’s gravity illustrate a basic fact: life is dangerous! Make sure you are right with God!
ACTION STEPS 1. A bit of homework: 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. Take some notes on these passages this week.
2. Interview a believing friend this week who is going through severe suffering (cancer, loss of a loved one, marital unfaithfulness). Ask them carefully what God is teaching them in their trial. Then offer to pray with them.
3. Read the excellent book by Chris Tiegreen entitled Why a Suffering World Makes Sense. Perhaps offer a small group study of the book in your church.
PRAYER 4. Pray for yourself to live a life of faith even in the midst of trials and pain. And ask the Holy Spirit to use whatever challenge comes in your friend’s life that he might see his need of getting right with the Lord.