Suffering and God
Ecclesiastes 2:1-26 & John 1:1-18
Introduction: Suffering is the great argument against the existence of the Christian God. There is no neat answer to the ‘problem’ of suffering,
Sooner or later we will be asked “How can you believe in a totally true and powerful God given the evil which exists”.
The logical options seem to be:
- deny God’s goodness,
- deny God’s power or
- redefine evil so that it doesn’t really exist.
None of these responses work for the Biblical Christian.
Neither can we simply say, “It will be OK in the end”. Glib/platitudes.
Even the words of Romans 8:28 “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”, can seem sickening in the face of awful evil and suffering.
Important > the Bible gives us a perspective on suffering and evil which is deeper and more mysterious and more satisfying than a straight-forward explanation.
In the face of suffering there are two things we need to know/remember:
- How far the world is from what God intends and
- The wonder of God’s work of redemption.
Ecclesiastes. The Preacher says life is a puzzle with key pieces missing.
The puzzle is that the world seems to be both wonderfully good and unjustly brutal.
Ecclesiastes doesn’t give us the whole Christian story.
It focuses on the confusion of living in the ruined world.
We can only start to make sense of that world when we know more about it.
And what we need to know can’t be guessed from how things are now.
Bible > only the message of God’s great redemption in Jesus gives us a way of making sense of things, including God.
Although the world has gone wrong, God has not given up on it.
John’s Gospel starts by saying that there is a “darkness” (John 1:5),
and that the world does not accept the Creator’s Word (John 1:10).
Yet the Word became flesh. (John 1:14)
John 3:16 > God’s love for the world means that he sent Jesus to save, rather than condemn.
So the Christian message is that how things are now is not what God intended, nor how they will remain.
We only know that God is powerful and good because of Jesus.
God’s is committed to redeeming the world through Jesus.
A day will come when “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to sin and decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-21).
That only happens through Jesus.
What has gone wrong with our world because of human disobedience, is undone by God when he takes on humanity for himself and lives the life we should have lived and dies the death which is the curse for our rebellion against Him.
When Jesus rose from the dead God was redeeming his people from sin and corruption, and also repairing and glorifying the whole ruined cosmos.
God redeems our ruined world and us as ruined creatures from the inside…
He does it by the incarnation and the fully human life and death of Jesus.
God puts himself into his creation, he bears our pain and suffering, he carries the curse we deserved in order to put things right.
God does not stand apart from our suffering and pain and struggle, he saves us by taking part in that struggle.
God’s great work of redemption in Christ is the reason that Christians have hope.
The promise that death and corruption and pain will be done away with is based on God’s victory over them in Jesus.
This means that we don’t have a neat logical answer to the problem of evil and suffering.
Important > However the logical problem is not the real problem of evil.
The real problem is that we are trapped in it and suffer from and are guilty of it.
What does Gospel tells us we can say about evil and suffering?
Don’t talk as if suffering and evil make sense
Christians sometimes talk and write as if we can explain why there is evil.
I’ve heard people claim that there had to be evil so that God’s glory would be shown fully, or so that humans could exercise free choice, or so that God could save sinners. None of those are explanations that the Bible gives for evil, and they are too neat/simple.
Christians do not have a nice neat answer to the problem of evil,
The Christian answer is not to explain evil.
There is a mystery about God and His will which we can’t explain…
but the Gospel declares that God is good & loving and has overcome evil and will end it.
What the world is like is no guide to what God is like.
When people decide there is not a good God because of the way things are now they are making up their mind without getting the whole story. (for example, A.B. Facey).
If we leave Jesus out of the picture it rules out the most important way in which God shows his power and goodness.
Recognise the reality and depth of the problem of suffering and evil.
Of all the questions people ask about God this is the most penetrating/painful.
We must not treat it as if it is dealt with easily.
Logically it is difficult.
Experientially suffering and evil can be crippling and soul-destroying.
God will save his people from the suffering of the world, but now he saves them through the suffering of the world. Christians of all people, as we follow a crucified messiah, demonstrate how to deal with the reality of suffering.
People need the hope of the Gospel not clever answers about evil.
As with the Apostles we are to acknowledge the question of death and then declare the hope of the gospel.
When we ask questions about God and suffering, we are asking about a God who has entered into our suffering in order to undo the mess.
Can atheists really ask about evil?
We can ask atheists what basis they have for knowing what is good and evil.
How do they know that the world is wrong and not the way it should be?
Why are human atrocities really atrocious?
An atheist can’t develop an answer which is fully convincing.
However, Christians recognise that no one can escape the ideas of goodness & rightness.
We live in a world that still echoes with God’s goodness.
Even when people are trying their hardest to get away from God and his ways; they still feel the powerful pull of His goodness, beauty and truth. (The next sermon focuses on this point).