The Bible has shown me time and again why this is so, but it is not a very easy topic to explain. So I asked Gerald, our minister, to tackle this hard question. Click on 'read more' to see how he explains the different ways of viewing suffering, depending on how you view God.
Craft Talk – Cancer Council Morning Tea. 2011
Diana asked me to do a talk on suffering, because today we have an opportunity to raise money and awareness in regards to cancer.
They say that cancer will affect 1 out of 3 Australians which means that a third of the people in this room have had cancer or are likely to get cancer. Those statistics bring home to us the reality of cancer and when someone gets a lump the first thing our minds do is to think cancer.
When I was younger my first experience of Breast Cancer was to see someone at church who had a wig on and Mum said that this woman had breast cancer. It hasn’t stopped since then! I remember Mum crying one day because she discovered a lump in her breast and how hard it was to wait for the results of the biopsy. She was a bit of a mess till it was revealed that it was not malignant. My wife’s mother passed away in her early 50’s because of Breast cancer; I never met her. Since then, as a minister pastoring people who have cancer, I have come across it quite a lot
The problem of evil and suffering in this world is a big one. How do some people answer that great question?
Solution Number One: - Deny that God exists. This of course doesn’t answer the problem of evil. Evil and good are simply part of the universe we live in. Solution number one is simply to ignore the question. If I went to a tree in my garden and asked, “Why is there suffering in the world” I really couldn’t expect an answer. If God doesn’t exist there is no answer an all. We cry alone at the cemetery.
Solution number two is to deny that suffering exists. There are some religious groups that say that it is all a product of our imagination. The Christian Science movement believe that and some Eastern religions. A boy asks a Christian Science practitioner to pray for his father, who is sick. The practitioner replies that the father only thinks he is sick. The next day the boy comes back and the practitioner asks him about his father. The boy says, “Today, he thinks he is dead.” The power of positive thinking cannot erase suffering and death. This sort of belief results in believing there is no cemetery.
Solution number three is to place God beyond good and evil. The people that believe that place God outside of the universe. It is as if God created the world like a clock. He wound it up and left it to itself. Such a God doesn’t interfere. God exists but we are left alone at the cemetery with our tears.
Solution number four is to say God’s power is limited. Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Krushner, a Jewish Rabbi, lost his son and his grief drove him to question his Jewish faith. He concluded, “I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die.” The massive problem with Kushner is that he has created a God who is impotent. A God who stands by ringing his hands at the death that takes place before him in our world but who cannot do anything about it! In this picture we have a God who cries with us at the grave side. He is as helpless as we are.
Solution number five is that God created evil to achieve a greater good. The massive problem with this, as far as a Christian is concerned, is that God is the author of evil. The truth is that sometimes suffering and evil do not create a greater good. Sometimes evil simply leads to more evil. The God in this picture stands with us at the cemetery but he is now the reason why our loved one lies in the grave.
Solution number six is what I want to speak to, which is the Christian response to suffering and evil in this world.
The Bible contends that God is good and he created a universe that was very good. Where did sin come from? Sin came from human beings who turned their back on the creator and the consequences are all around us. The simple, three letter, one word answer to suffering and death is “sin”. The first sin happened in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve rebelled against the God who created them. God had said to them, “If you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will surely die.” Adam and Eve were tempted by the Devil, they ate and sickness and death entered the world. Sickness and death are a consequence of their disobedience and rebellion and the whole of creation has been affected by their decision. It is like a cancer that affects everything.
Our God is a just God and he did as he promised he would do. If God had relented at that point he would have been a God that didn’t keep his word and therefore was not to be trusted.
As we look at the world then we see the decaying effects of sin all around us. We see it in ourselves, we see it in the things that we build, we see it in all aspects of creation. We can build the best cars but they will rust and end up at the wreckers. We can construct buildings in concrete but they will one day get concrete cancer and be demolished. All of us will one day die. Cancer is a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.
According to the Bible, God could have ended the story of the human race already at the beginning but God is merciful as well as just. God devised an alternative plan. He would bear the punishment for his creatures. God himself would enter our world to suffer the judgment and death that sinful human beings deserve and that is what he did through the God man Jesus Christ.
In terms of the graveside, God is there with us but he is not helpless in regards to suffering and evil but he overcame suffering and evil. He points to the resurrection of his Son and the perfect future that lies beyond the grave.
Is there something positive in suffering and evil?
Without suffering and death, we human beings would simply go on in our rebellion against God. It is only through crisis that we start to question ourselves and often through sufferings we are brought back to God in repentance and faith. Augustine, the great church father said, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil at all.”
Suffering and death are a consequence of human rebellion. Suffering and death cause us to re-evaluate our lives and God uses it to bring us back into his family. The Apostle Paul looked forward to a new creation and said, “I consider these present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
I know it is a lot to take in but the Christian believes God overcomes suffering and death. Thanks for listening.
References are taken from Don Carson’s book, “How Long O Lord” as well as Charles Colson’s book, “How Now shall I Live.”