Explore God – Why Pain and Suffering? by Rick Shurtz

Explore God is a citywide conversation in Austin. No matter where you come from, what your beliefs are, Explore God is an experience that will help you on your journey  through life as you search for meaning.
Join us on Sundays at Gateway at one of the following locations:
  • McNeil Campus (7104 McNeil Dr 78729) at 9:30am, 11am, or 12:30pm
  • The Internet Campus (http://live.gatewaychurch.com) at 9:30am, 11am, or 12:30pm (CST)
  • South Campus (Crockett High School – Manchaca and Stassney just south of Ben White Blvd)
This week, Rick Shurtz spoke at the McNeil campus, and I spoke at the South Campus on the topic: “Why Would God Allow Pain and Suffering?”
To hear the entire message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.
For other messages on this topic, see the following:

The Dirty Truth: Becoming Tenacious

How Do We Know God Cares?

Rescued

Here are some of the ideas we shared:

We hear a message that God is love, and we are inspired. John 4:8… “God is love.”  We find great comfort in knowing that love is who God is and motivates all that He does.

Then we hear the message: “Nothing is impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37
We like the idea that God is powerful, that nothing is impossible with God.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long, and we bump into a problem: we can’t help but ask the blaring question: Then why, God? If you are love, if that’s your very essence, and if nothing is impossible with you, then why so much hardship in my life and why so much hardship and so much suffering in the world?

It’s an old question, actually. Greek philosopher Epicurus is often credited with articulating the question well. Philosophers refer to his objection as The Epicurean Trilemma or the Epicurean Paradox. It comes in three statements…

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is good
  3. Evil exists

These three things, how do they co-exist? Or do they? Does this mean that God either doesn’t exist or if he does exist he’s not who we say he is.

18th Century philosopher David Hume picked up on this when he wrote: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion).

Who among us hasn’t asked: “Why, God? Why are you doing this or allowing this or supporting this? This doesn’t make sense in my life or in the world.”

We realize that pain and suffering test our faith. It is easy to trust in God when everything is going great since very little faith is required! A deep faith is necessary to trust God when things are not going well.  Shallow faith gives up.

Our faith is made real in the midst of suffering.

But maybe I don’t want my faith strengthened! Why do we have to suffer to help us grow in our faith?!

Why does God allow pain and suffering?

We’re going toe to toe with this question today. We will not be able to answer every nuance of the question. We will also bump up against mystery here.

This question gets especially hard when we’re not talking about hardship generally but hardship specifically. Not just, “Why is there evil in the world?” But, “Why did THIS particular event happen?”

Sometimes we get answers. Many times we do not.

So let’s consider what we do know, and what has been revealed, because what we do know, although it doesn’t resolve all mystery, can be very helpful in our spiritual journey.

Consider this one thought before we jump into Scripture on this: Pain tells us when something is wrong.

Pain tells us when something is wrong or something is off. With that in mind, carry this question with you through our time today. What might the pain in our world be telling us?

For our purposes today, we’re going to consider Scripture in three parts. The beginning, the middle, and the end.

  • The beginning is taught in the book of Genesis.
  • The end is taught in a book called Revelation.
  • The middle is everything in between the two.

To understand the problem of evil and God’s response to the problem of evil in this world, we have to look briefly at each of these three sections.

The beginning

Genesis begins with a common refrain. God creates something, and then it says: “God saw that it was good.” – Genesis 1:12

God creates the first man and woman and places them in a beautiful setting, a garden. And Scripture describes a wonderful existence. There are rivers and trees and fruits. It’s a perfect little eco-system for living.  It’s a good world.  Or as God described after creating it… “It was very good.”

We all rightfully ask, “Why’d God create a world with so much evil in it.?” If we are using Scripture to answer that question, the honest answer is, “He didn’t.”

The world God created was good, innocent, and desirable, at least at first. Now that does not mean God is off the hook here. If He’s all-knowing and all-powerful, He would have known that evil would soon enter the world, but it’s still a critical observation. The world God initially created was in many ways the world we wish he would have created and the one we are asking about when we ask, “Why, God? Why did you do this? Why didn’t you create a world where these kind of things don’t happen?”

So, what happened?

In Scripture’s next scene God gives the world’s first inhabitants instruction.  He tells them to not eat from a certain tree. The tree is referred to as the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

So consider this observation:
First, God didn’t create humanity with a bent toward evil.  God created humanity good, in a good and innocent world, but He did create humanity with the ability to choose whether or not we would follow him?

It would make more sense to us if God had told Adam from the beginning: “Adam, be good to your wife…. Be kind to her… Don’t yell at her… Don’t do abusive things to her… Don’t kill her…”

Instead, we get: “Don’t eat that fruit over there.”

If God didn’t create the world with people bent on evil, had God given the kind of instruction we would expect him to give, that instruction would have been pointless. God created people who didn’t even know what evil was. If God were to say, “Hey Adam, don’t abuse your wife” that wouldn’t have made sense because he didn’t know what abuse was.

This story sounds foreign to our ears, different than our world. Which is precisely the point! It sounds different than our world because it IS different. It’s a different world. It’s the world you and I want every day. It’s a world without evil, a world without people bent on harm. It’s the world we would fully expect a good God to make where at least two things are true… it’s good and without evil…and…people have a choice as to whether or not they will follow God.

You put those two together and you discover that the world as it is described in the beginning is pretty much the world you’d expect a good and loving God to create. It was good and innocent, and it had people who could make a legitimate choice as to whether or not they would follow God. Following God, and loving God, was not forced upon them.

So what happened? Things change very quickly. The first humans exercise their ability to choose. God said don’t eat from the tree, and in time, they ate from the tree. The result? The world you and I know is quickly ushered in. It’s a world where evil is now known. It doesn’t take long to see the implications. Genesis 4 has Cain, Adam and Eve’s son, murder Abel, their other son. That’s the world you and I live in.

When the first couple rebelled they brought about the knowledge of evil and this evil was passed on to their children, just as we see generational problems passed on today.

The End

That’s the beginning.  Much more could be said about it, but let’s skip to the end and read the last chapters and find out how this story ends.

In the closing pages of Scripture we are given a vision of the future. There’s a future creation, a new order, a new world described.  It’s described as a new earth with a city on it called The New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw “a new sky and a new earth,” for the first sky and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of the sky from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Here’s what I hope we hear in this. Not only does Scripture describe a past Garden of Eden that sounds a lot like the world we hoped God created, Scripture also describes a future world that sounds a lot like the world we long for. It’s the world we wish was here right now. No more death or mourning or crying or pain. Evil has been eradicated. God lives with us and restores us completely.

You and I exist somewhere between these two ends.

  • Genesis tells of the past.
  • Revelation tells of the future.
  • We live somewhere between Genesis and Revelation.
  • We’re in the middle.
  • We live somewhere between the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem.

So what’s the difference between the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem?

When humanity rebelled, when the world turned away from God, was God surprised?  Did God let out a cosmic sized, “Oops, I didn’t think they’d do that!”?

Ask yourself this: Is this lengthy and painful process that makes up the middle portion all about simply restoring the Garden of Eden? Is that all there is to it? People rebelled and God set out on a long journey to get the garden back? Is that what this is about? What’s the difference between the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem?

To be sure, there’s some mystery to this, but there is at least one important aspect of this that bellows out at us when we take a step back and consider the difference between the beginning and the end.

The Middle

The difference between the beginning and the end is this: It’s the middle.

Every person who has walked this earth has tasted, experienced, and participated in a world that from the beginning chose not to follow God. Every person who steps into God’s New Jerusalem will have tasted, experienced, and participated in the this middle portion, a world that so often chose to not follow God.

We all know what it is like to live in a world, not where God dwells among us, as is described in the Garden of Eden and in the New Jerusalem, but where God feels further away. Why would he seem so far away? Because humanity effectively asked him to pull back by choosing not to fully follow him.

Let me ask a question: When does a wealthy child, born into great wealth, know he or she is wealthy? I’d suggest, the child doesn’t recognize it, until he or she sees poverty. When do we understand light? When we see darkness. When do we really understand pleasure? To a certain degree, we understand pleasure more fully when we experience pain.

In the book of Romans, God is described as bearing with great patience the wickedness of this world. He sees the evil, and like us, he hates, but he endures it. Why? Why not just do something about it now?

Hear carefully Scripture’s response:

What if God did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy… Romans 9:23, NIV

What’s that mean? What are the objects of his mercy? The context explains that it is those who experience his grace, his forgiveness. Why would you tolerate evil, God?  Why not just end it right now?  If you’re so powerful and so loving why don’t you do something right now?! And this tells us: God endures the wickedness of this world in part, despite his desire to stamp it out, to make his riches known.

Did they know the riches of God’s goodness in the Garden of Eden? I would suggest no.

Will they know the riches of God’s goodness in the New Jerusalem? I would suggest yes.

If that’s true consider, then, this thought: We hear about the Garden of Eden, a land of no evil, but where people are naïve, and we think, why didn’t God create a world that is absent of evil, but where people are NOT naïve? If he’s all powerful, he could do that. To which Scripture quietly responds… What if that’s exactly what God is in the process of doing right now? What if God is in the process of creating the exact world for which we all long? And this isn’t it.

And it gets me, I have to say, that so many will have rejected God, because he didn’t create the world they think he should have created, when all the while, that’s exactly what he’s in the process of doing, and he’s bringing us along in that process, because he doesn’t want a naïve people. He wants a people who get it.

Let’s go back to that Epicurian Trilema

1.God is omnipotent
2. God is good
3. Evil exists

The problem with this is that it is incomplete.  There’s a fourth item.

4. God is all-wise

God knows what he’s doing. He’s not creating a second rate world where there is great wealth without understanding. He has no interest in spoiled, entitled children who don’t get what they have. He’s creating the best of worlds where there are the riches of his goodness coupled with depth of understanding and the absence of naivete.

I’m convinced pain and suffering in this world tells us something is off. Something’s not right. Something’s out of alignment here.

According to Scripture, from the beginning, humanity set off an adventure to find out what life would be like apart from God, and history, that middle portion, has clearly answered that question.

Scripture is showing us, and history is showing us, that God is a bit like the Sun in our solar system. Push him out of the picture, choose to go our own way, and our lives and our world, they spin out of control.

In Matthew 16 Jesus says something that only makes sense when you see it in the context of the big picture.

Matthew 16:24-26, NIV
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for those who gain the whole world, yet forfeits their souls?

What an odd calling Christ has for us. He tells us to gain our life we have to lose our life. But as you consider the big picture, might you hear the wisdom? God’s up to something.  He’s working out an eternal plan. The wise align themselves with that plan.

God’s creating a world in which people will freely choose to do good, follow him, love each other, and enjoy God’s goodness to us. God’s creating that world, but guess what…this isn’t it. It’s not here yet, so don’t live for this world.  If you want to gain your life, then don’t live for this world. Don’t think you have it made by coming out on top of a world that is passing away.

The old order of things, the order in which you and I live, will pass away.  There will be a day when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  The dwelling of God will be with us. God’s in the process of bringing this about, and this middle section in which you and I live plays an important part in making that far greater reality possible.

  • We will understand the riches of God’s goodness, because we will have experienced the poverty of turning from him.
  • We will understand light because we have tasted darkness.
  • We will understand good, because we will have experienced evil.

So we must not do the very foolish thing of living and obsessing over this world that is not the world we long for anyway. We long for a better world, and God is in the process of making it.

In the midst of the pain, God can bring good. We can allow the pain to draw us closer to God and to others.

Maybe the struggles you are currently facing are the direct results of your prayers for something better in your life? Maybe God has allowed pain to come into your life to refine you and help you become the person He created you to be.

How do we know God cares? He came to us. He lived for us. He suffered for us. He died on the cross for us. He rose from the dead for us. He hears our prayers. He sends others to our aid. He mourns when we mourn. He laughs when we laugh. He is there for us.

In the midst of suffering, we can feel God’s presence even more. He cares for us, and sometimes we will not know how much until we are in the midst of painful times.

Somehow God can take tragedies and bring about good. What we feel as a trial now may later be one of the most meaningful moments of our lives.

Other times, we face struggles that don’t seem to make any sense. We don’t truly understand why He allows some things to happen. One thing is for sure – we also have no idea what tragedies He has prevented. For now, He allows us to experience pain in this fallen world. One day, He will bring all suffering to an end. One day, this broken world will be made right, but He is patient wanting to give all of us a chance to discover His love for us – never forcing us always pursuing us.

God’s ways are mysterious, but there is one thing that is certain – God loves us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even the most tragic moments of our lives.

For some of you, today’s topic is the one with which you struggle the most. You believe you have a purpose and you believe there is a God, but you’ve suffered and seen others suffer so you’re unsure if you trust God.
This series is designed to help you explore God. Really seek after Him. Keep asking him “why?” God is not afraid of our questions. We may never know why some of the bad things have happened to us or to others on this side of eternity, so let me encourage to ask God another question: “what now?”
In the midst of so much pain and suffering, what do you want me to do now? Now what good are you wanting to bring about out of this struggle? What can I do now to help others who are facing worse than I’m facing?
Take advantage of this day, and pursue God and ask Him for help trusting Him even when we aren’t sure how to respond to the challenges we face.
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