God and suffering #4

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the final part of the answer to the third question.

God has done something about suffering
Why doesn’t God do something about suffering? He has done something. He suffers with us. And he suffers for us.

At the cross, God turned evil against evil and brought about the practical solution to the problem. He has made atonement for sins, he has conquered de ath, he has triumphed over the devil. He has laid the foundation for hope. What further demonstration do we need?[1]

God will do something about suffering
The cross is not the end of the story: Jesus rose again. His resurrection is the promise of an end to , an end to suffering, a new beginning, a new creation, without pain, without tears.

Jesus says that his return will mean the renewal of all things’ (Matthew 19:28). C. S. Lewis writes: ‘They say of some temporal suffering, “no future bless can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.’[2] The Bible ends with this vision of the future: ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more or mourning or crying or pain … He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”‘ (Revelation 21:1-5)

In the meantime, suffering is call to repent

‘God put the natural world under a curse so that physical horrors would become vivid pictures of the horror of moral evil. Cancer, tuberculosis, malformations, floods, and car s happen so that we would get some dim idea of the outrage of moral evil flowing from our hearts … Ask yourself an honest question: How intensely outraged are you … when your child is hurt, or your leg is cut off, or you lose your job …? Everything in you rises to say, ‘No!’ How often does your heart say ‘No!’ with the same emotional engagement at your own sin?’ [3]

Where is the God of justice?’ people asked the prophet Malachi. (Malachi 2:17) He is coming, said Malachi. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.’ (3:2) We want God to sort out injustice and one day he will. But on that day he will judge you and me for our contribution to human suffering. In meantime he is patient, giving us an opportunity to repent. Jesus was once asked whether specific people deserved their suffering. He replied: ‘Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’ (Luke 13:4-5) Those who suffer are not more guilty than those who don’t, but neither are they ‘innocent victims’. Suffering is a reminder that we are all guilty before God and we all need to repent. ‘Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?’ (Romans 2:4)

How can I answer the question:‘Why does God allow so much suffering?’

Listen carefully. Some people use suffering as an excuse to avoid God; others are angry against God; others are desperate for comfort and hope. Tailor your response to each person.

1.     Ask people why they’re outraged by suffering. Their answers won’t make sense in a world without God.

2.     ‘Why don’t you do something about suffering? Could it be your real issue is not suffering at all, but a God who claims your life.’

3.     ‘Your anger shows you think you know better than God.’

4.     When Jesus was asked about suffering he did not engage in theoretical explanations, but called on people to repent (Luke 13:1-5). C. S. Lewis called suffering God’s megaphone, warning humanity of his coming judgment.

5.     Tell people who are suffering that: (1) Jesus suffered with us – giving comfort in the midst of suffering. (2) Jesus suffered for us – giving hope for the end of the suffering.

6.     Above all, point people to the cross. The cross reveals evilness of evil (we don’t pretend that suffering is not that bad). The cross reveals the sovereignty of God (see Acts 4:28). The cross reveals the pure goodness and love of God. And on the cross Jesus overcomes evil.

[1] Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross, IVP, 1990, ET 1994, 104.

[2] Cited in Tim Keller, The Reason for God, Dutton, 2008, 34.

[3] John Piper, ‘The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth,’ (sermon transcript, desiringgod.org).

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