Saturday, March 29, 2014
Why does God allow suffering? If God is good, why doesn't He intervene? What does all of this have to do with the Kingdom of God?
In this podcast, Keith looks at our suffering can unleash the power of Christ in our lives, and impact the people around us.
Monday, January 27, 2014
"What do we do about Suffering?" Larry asked.
My good friend Larry had been part of our house church for over a year. During that time I'd seen him grow spiritually and take radical steps in his faith. He had recently started meeting early on Sunday mornings to disciple a co-worker and on Tuesday's he helped to lead some of his family members in weekly Bible Study. The discussions spinning outward from those meetings had sent him back to his own Bible to understand more of God's Word and to answer the hard questions being thrown at him.
As we sat at a local coffeeshop one night, Larry admitted that he really didn't have an answer to the question of suffering in the world today. "It seems to be one of the hardest things to explain to people," he said, "Because they wonder how God could be good and still allow innocent people to die."
Larry was right. The problem of suffering is one of the most difficult questions to answer for most of us who believe in and follow Jesus. For some the question is a smokescreen. They really don't want an answer to the question, it's more of a challenge to a faith they've already dismissed as irrelevant. To them the question of suffering is more like a slap from a leather glove across a believer's face, intended to end any further discussion of faith in a personal God.
For others, the question of suffering is a serious stumbling block. They want to have faith in a God who loves them and is good and who has a wonderful plan for their lives, but the suffering of innocent children due to poverty, or natural disaster or violence leaves them puzzled and full of doubt.
SORTING IT ALL OUT
There have been numerous apologetics written to address this problem. Most point out that no one is truly innocent, or that God has an eternal perspective that transcends our finite, mortal existence in this physical world.
While I do acknowledge that suffering is difficult to endure, on some level I have to confess that it's always puzzled me why people get hung up on this question so often. Part of me wants to ask what world they were born into? Don't they live in the same world we all live in? Aren't we all very acquainted with the fact that people die, accidents happen, sickness is real and tragedy strikes all of us sooner or later? Why do we expect God to step in and prevent every accident, tragedy and act of violence? What has given us the idea that this is God's job function?
As Larry and I discussed this I realized that our desire to have God intervene in our suffering, and the suffering of others, is connected to the eternal Kingdom of God itself. Why? Because for us to live in a world where God prevented every accident, healed every sickness and averted every natural disaster on every continent twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, we would have to live in a world where God was the absolute ruler and King of every minute detail of our lives.
When people genuinely cry out for a world where God prevents suffering and manages natural disasters and eliminates pain, they are revealing an inner desire to live in the Kingdom of God itself. Any world where God plays the role of cosmic policeman and perpetual rescue worker is also one where we are fully submitted to His rule and reign.
A BETTER WORLD IS ON THE WAY
Of course, it is doubtful that most of those who complain the loudest about the problem of suffering would really want to live in a world ruled completely by God, and obey His rules and submit to His absolute authority. If they did, then they would have already submitted their lives to Him and placed their hope in God.
Yet, this is the sort of world that Jesus invites all of us to enter- a world where God is our King and His perfect will is always done in every aspect of our lives. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God and his message, his good news for all of us, was that we could enter this Kingdom immediately, on the spot.
Admittedly, the world we live in today is not a pain-free world. Suffering is part of our daily experience and reality. But this does not mean that God isn't working, even now, to bring mankind to a better reality. He really does have a plan to take us to a place free from suffering.
FROM EDEN TO EDEN
It has been said that all of creation is from Eden to Eden. In the beginning God created an Eden where He and mankind were co-laborers together in the creation, where He was King and there was no sin, or pain or death. At the end of the story we see that God will bring everything back again, ultimately, finally, eternally, to a place where we are co-laborers with Him in His renewed creation, and He is King and there are no tears, and there is no pain or death.
In the meantime, we are invited to step into the story and join with God in His plan. We can become co-laborers with Him in advancing His Kingdom here and now. We can submit to His rule and reign in our actual lives today.
When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God at the beginning of his ministry he invited those who were ready to enter to follow him. He provided the blueprint for all of us who were eager to enjoy the Kingdom reality. His message, his Good News, was that this Kingdom was at hand, even near enough to reach out and touch.
Sadly, even those who call themselves after his name today are largely unaware of this message. In churches across this nation, week after week, this message of Jesus is rarely spoken. Many who consider themselves followers have yet to take up their cross daily and pattern their life after the teachings of Jesus.
If those who are most familiar with Jesus are ignorant of his message, we should hardly be surprised that no one else has heard the Gospel.
The world we live in now is one where suffering and pain and evil are continually present. As we live our lives, day by day, we wait for God to complete His plan and establish His Kingdom in every heart, and in every nation. Until then, we can take heart that God has a plan to use even the suffering we endure as a tool to shape our faith and inner character after that of His own son, who was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with suffering. We can even partner with God to comfort those who are suffering and extend to them the compassionate heart of Jesus in the midst of their pain.
My wife and I have been through a lot of suffering over the last few years. We've endured financial hardship, persecution, miscarriage, and uncertainty. Yet, even as hard as all of that was for us, I wouldn't take any of it back. God taught me things during those times that I could never have learned from a book, or a sermon, or a seminar.
Better still, God has taught me about suffering and enduring hardships so that I can help and encourage others who find themselves in similar places.
"But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;" - 2 Cor 1:16
So often the popular Christian message is that God wants you to be wealthy and healthy and happy all the time - but when we discover that this isn't the Gospel, and that God's Word actually teaches that God works through our suffering and pain to make us like His Son, we can more fully understand why God allows pain and realize that He is "the God who is with us" in the midst of our suffering.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:2-4
So, I just wanted to encourage each of you today that your pain isn't for nothing. It's meant to give you a faith that won't let go, a perserverance that will cling to God in all things.
No matter what suffering and pain you've been through, all of it is (in some strange way) part of how God reveals His love to us. (see Hebrews 12:5-11).
During the darkest times of my own personal suffering, I have often repeated these words to Jesus in the dark, remembering the words Peter spoke when he felt the urge to abandon his faith, "Where else can we go Lord? You have the words of life."
*NOTE: This article originally appeared as part of the [Subversive Underground] e-newsletter.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Earlier this week, a fourteen year old boy at my oldest son’s school collapsed. He was having a seizure. They called the ambulance. He arrived at the hospital unconscious. A few hours later the doctors discovered that he had a massive stroke. They took him off life support a few days later.
These sorts of things, while heartbreaking, are not uncommon. Worse, you and I are not exempt from them.Last week a friend of mine had to say goodbye to his father in the hospital. Even though his dad had lived a long, full life, the pain of his loss was no less than what those parents felt as they let go of their fourteen year old son.
“In this life you will have trouble,” Jesus assured us. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”Still, life is full of pain. Every single one of us will have to let go of someone we love one day. It will hurt. We will not feel that it’s right, or fair, and in the midst of our suffering God will be standing there beside us, weeping alongside of us.
Yet, when we are in the middle of our suffering, we are in no mood to hear about how God works all things for the good of those who love Him, or about how we should count it all joy as we endure trials of many kinds because we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or about how we should endure suffering as the Lord’s discipline because it reveals to us that He loves us and wants to make us like Jesus.All we want is our son back, or our father back, or our life back.
These are the hard lessons of life. This is a painful place. Yes, it is also a place of wonder, and of joy, and of laughter, and goodness, but with all of that comes the darkness and the tears and the pain. We cannot escape it.So, we have to make a choice. We will either go through this life with Jesus, or without Him. We will share our laughter and our joy with Him, and we will lean on Him in the times of sorrow, or we will leave Him out of our lives and live, and suffer, and die alone.
I wish there was another choice. But there is no other choice. The world we live in isn’t the world God intended it to be. He had something so much greater in mind. But that plan was sidetracked – by us, not by Him – and He has been consumed with restoring His creation to its original condition ever since.It hasn’t been easy either, mind you. The process of separating part of Himself into the form of a human, being formed cell by cell in the womb of a young woman, entering the world as the child of a poor family, being laid into a manger, growing up one year at a time, going to school, burying his earthly father, taking on the family responsibilities, transitioning into the life of a travelling Rabbi, being mocked and misunderstood by his own family, opposed by the leaders of the church in His own name, betrayed by his closest friends, beaten, whipped, tortured, nailed to a Roman cross, hanging in the sky for six hours as the hot sun that he created beat down upon his naked frame, and then the last gasp of ragged breath before tasting the cold darkness of death.
Why? For you, my friend. All for you. All for me. All to bring us closer. Because He would rather die than live without you. Because loves you. He’s sincerely over the moon, head-over-heels, crazy about you. He would do anything – in fact He has already done everything – to fix what we have broken and to set in motion the eventual re-creation of the Universe into what He intended it to be all along.So, now when someone tells you that enduring a moment of suffering here is to be considered a joy because it brings you nearer to that supremely selfless being of absolute love, hopefully you can understand how it’s even possible. Or, at least trust Him to show you how it’s possible in a quiet moment of reflection when you’re on your knees, in the dark, eyes filled with tears.
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words..” (Romans 8:26)
“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)