Friday, September 29, 2017

Why Does a Loving God Allow Suffering?

Perhaps you have heard this question. In fact, it is likely that you have asked it yourself. 

Why does God allow people to suffer?

This is the nice way to express the sentiment. There are other, more 'attitudinal' ways. 

One is to say 'When I stand in front of God, he is going to have some explaining to do.' This one is usually accompanied by a picture of poor, starving Africans or children severely disfigured from disease or genetic abnormalities. 

Any fan of the series 'Supernatural' will have heard Dean rail against God for allowing all those innocent people to suffer at the hands of demons or other supernatural creatures, even coming to the conclusion that God is cruel or does not even exist.

It seems to be the prevailing attitude in the modern era. 

Most people who ask the question fail to understand an important concept. This is probably due to the modern church's insistence on emphasizing the fact that God loves them. Clearly, in and of itself, this is not untrue. The Bible tells us in I John 4.8 that 'God is love.' The most famous verse in the Bible starts by saying 'For God so loved the world . . ..' So clearly, God loves people. There can be no doubt about that.

However, that brings us back to the question: Why does God allow suffering?

This, in reality, is the wrong question. This question makes God out to be the bad guy, as if he is wantonly walking down the street slamming random people into a wall with no rhyme or reason, sometimes nailing a bad guy but usually breaking Grandma's hip. 

The correct question is 'Why doesn't the bad thing happen to each and every one of us?' 

If the Bible teaches anything, it tells us that we are all sinners. One way to understand Romans 3.23 is 'Everyone has sinned and failed to meet God's standard.' Similarly, the first part of Romans 6.23 can be read 'What you earn for being a sinner is physical death and eternal separation from God.' Based on these two verses alone, we can see that everyone is condemned to death because of their own sin. 

'But the little girl with the malignant growth on her face? Or the children sold into slavery every year? Or, Mr. Religious Person, what about that Baptist family who lost their youngest six children in a fiery car accident in Wisconsin a few years ago? They were "saved" so don't they get some kind of special indulgence?'

No, they don't. 

What is true in each of those cases is that those people are sinners and they deserve what they got. Please note: This is not me, looking down my long nose with an air of superiority, thinking that I do NOT deserve any of that. 

Jesus addressed this issue while he was here on Earth. In Luke 13, some disciples told Jesus about some Galileans that Pilate had apparently killed. 'Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? . . . 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? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."' 

What was he saying? He was saying that everyone deserves to die. Some will go peacefully in their sleep, others will suffer debilitating diseases or torture for years before passing away. Furthermore, there is no rhyme nor reason as to who gets which scenario. 

Listen to me carefully ~ you don't have to LIKE this fact. You do, however, have to ACCEPT this fact, and deal with it in your own life. 

'Dealing with it' is what the Gospel is all about. The Bible clearly teaches that everyone is a sinner and deserves to go Hell. The 'standard' that I mentioned earlier is not a set of arbitrary principles that God put in place for the sole purpose of frustrating us. Those rules have their origin in the very character of God. 

I heard that snort that just came from your nose, the one that says 'Yeah, right. Why does it make any difference to God's character if I wear clothes with two different types of material, like it says in that one verse that I have no idea where it is?' 

Here's my answer ~ I don't know. Probably someone out there will have an answer, but it won't satisfy you anyway, so why bother?

What I WILL say is this: God could have chosen to hide this aspect of himself, and therefore be more acceptable to his creation. Instead, he chose to tell us the truth about himself, which has aspects that, honestly, we don't like, even when we know the reasoning behind it.

You know what we want? We want a god (sic) that is easy to understand, easy to love, easy to obey (i.e. without onerous rules to follow).  You know what's funny? That's what we want in a husband or wife also. Anyone out there want to tell us how easy it is to understand that person you're living with? If it's hard to understand, get along with, and yes, love another FINITE being, how do we expect to come anywhere near doing that properly with an INFINITE one?

So what does all this add up to? 

Everyone, every single individual on the planet, is deserving of death, for having failed to live up to the righteousness found in the character of God. Some of us will have fairly easy lives, some will have harder ones, and some will live through deplorable situations until their time is up. 

However, there is hope. Since it was clear that there was no way man could save himself, Jesus came to Earth to live a perfect, sinless life, in order that he could take the punishment ~ death ~ which would serve to pay the wages of any sinner who put their faith in him. That is what the rest of the most famous verse in the Bible tells us: 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (to die on the cross), so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.'

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Love Story

I came across a wonderful love story the other day, a poem of sorts. It spoke of a couple, madly in love, facing the challenges that life throws at them. The wife works long hours as a waitress to help pay the bills. The husband has a job, but finds himself out of work at the moment, owing to a labour strike. Feeling the pinch, he has pawned off his guitar, causing him no small amount of grief, as he appears to be an excellent musician. His wife is concerned for him, and resting her head on his chest, begins to weep in the darkness. He tells her not to worry; they have each other, and as long as they stick together, they'll be able to overcome any difficulty that comes their way. 

Tommy used to work on the docks
Union's been on strike
He's down on his luck
It's tough, so tough

Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man,
She brings home her pay
For love, for love

She says, "We've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't matter a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
For love, we'll give it a shot."

Tommy's got his six string in hock
Now he's holding in
What he used to make it talk
So tough, it's tough

Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night
Tommy whispers
"Baby, it's ok, someday . . . "

He says, "We've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't matter a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
For love, we'll give it a shot."

"Oh, we're halfway there,
Oh, living on a prayer
Take my hand, and we'll make it I swear
Oh, living on a prayer."

By now you realize it is actually a song, performed by the group Bon Jovi. Hard rockers, true, but they seem to have a grasp of what marriage is, better than a lot of professing Christians. There is even a religious aspect to the song, entitled "Living on a Prayer." Here are the theologians in all their glory:

Some may not like the manner in which the message is delivered, but this positive, affirming declaration of the importance of sticking together in a marriage was the number one song of the 1980's, going triple platinum with 3 million downloads in 2013, 23 years after its initial release, and the video has been seen about 250 million times. 

Some may scoff at me for lauding a rocker, because they are all about "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll." You should know, however, that lead singer Jon Bon Jovi has been married only once, eloping with his childhood sweetheart, and remains married to her today, 28 years later. 

Consider, by contrast, that my ex-wife and I ~ both lifelong fundamental Baptists who graduated from Baptist Bible colleges ~ lasted only 22 years.  

A lot of things could be said, and will be, about what went wrong between us. In fact, this blog is dedicated to helping, in some small way, any others who might find themselves in danger of a similar situation. It is not an insignificant issue. I did survey of over 4,000 people, in which 2,257  described themselves as some sort of evangelical Bible believer. Of those, 279 (12%) were divorced, 136 (6%) were on their second marriage, and 35 (1.5%) had been married 3 or more times. That is, 1 out of 5 evangelical marriages falls apart.

I hope you will join me in a journey of discovery, of what to do, and perhaps more importantly, what NOT to do as you attempt to build your lives together.