Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Does God Allow Suffering In The World?’
© October 5, 2014 by Steve Mickelson
Based Upon a Message Originally Shared With BLCF on August 31, 2008
Announcements and Call to Worship:
Responsive Reading #650 (Trials and Temptations – from James 1 and 1 Peter 1); Prayer
Opening Hymn #410: O What A Wonderful, Wonderful Day; Choruses
Prayer and Tithing Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings
Scripture Verses: Mark 15:34, Genesis 2:16-17, Job 1:1-12, Matthew 3:16-4:17
Let us pray…
I would like to begin today’s lesson by reading a couple of recent news articles which were posted online:
The following headline comes from bbc.com, last updated at 08:27 ET on October 2, 2014:
Ebola Outbreak: Five Infected Every Hour in Sierra Leone
A leading charity has warned that a rate of five new Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, cases an hour in Sierra Leone means healthcare demands are far outstripping supply.
Save the Children said there were 765 new cases of Ebola reported in the West African state last week, while there are only 327 beds in the country.
Experts and politicians are set to meet in London to debate a global response to the crisis.
It is the world’s worst outbreak of the virus, killing 3,338 people so far. There have been 7,178 confirmed cases, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea suffering the most.
Save the Children says Ebola is spreading across Sierra Leone at a “terrifying rate”, with the number of new cases being recorded doubling every few weeks. It said that even as health authorities got on top of the outbreak in one area, it spread to another.
The scale of the disease is also “massively unreported” according to the charity, because “untold numbers of children are dying anonymously at home or in the streets”.
The second article published by the Toronto Star online comes from The Canadian Press News Service, published on October 3, 2014:
Toronto Doctors Testing 3 Kids with Muscle Weakness for Enterovirus -D68
Three children suffering from muscle weakness are being tested in Toronto to determine whether they’ve been infected with enterovirus – D68.
Dr. Upton Allen, chief of infectious diseases at the Hospital for Sick Children, says they expect to receive the results early next week.
There have been dozens of confirmed cases of enterovirus-D68 in western and central Canada, which usually causes only mild cold symptoms such as fever and runny nose.
But a small number of infected children have developed polio-like symptoms, including one in Hamilton and two in British Columbia.
Doctors in Hamilton are testing three other patients who have displayed similar neurological symptoms to see if enterovirus D68 is the cause.
Alberta health officials say they’re investigating whether four children with respiratory illness coupled with paralytic symptoms are also infected.
Everybody knows of someone or has personally experienced a personal tragedy which has caused us to question our faith. While suffering to the point of death on the cross, Jesus asked a question often spoken by others in the wake of tragic circumstances, Mark 15:34 (ESV):
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So through his son, God has experienced the human suffering that happens in the world to innocent people. Jesus was innocent of any sin, yet he died a horrific death.
Suffering and pain was not brought to this world by God, but as a result of disobedience to God. In Genesis 2:16-17(ESV), we read:
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[a] of it you shall surely die.”
Footnotes: a. Genesis 2:17 Or when you eat
We know the consequences of the temptation by the serpent and the consequences of disobedience to God is the judgment of death. And that Jesus took upon himself the punishment of death so that we may be good or sanctified unto God, if by faith we accept the gift of salvation.
This verse from Genesis 2:17, helps us understand the consequences of disobedience to God. But how do we reconcile tragedies which occur to an innocent person or someone who has strong faith in God?
You may remember the story of Joseph, a son favored by his father, but seemingly forsaken by his God. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph rose to a position where he could have measured revenge upon his family.
Instead, Joseph showed them compassion and was instrumental in saving the Jewish people at a time of famine. God had a plan for the Jewish nation and it was implemented after Joseph endured much suffering.
In 1997, I experienced job loss twice within a year. Danka had taken over Kodak Service and my 17-year term of employment was lost to a corporate restructuring. My next employment was a four-month contract, which ended at the term’s end. In our society we often tend to mistakenly identify who we are with what we do. And if our job is lost due a corporate take-over, we may feel that we have no value if our job falls victim to a corporations restructuring.
For me, the next year was a time of personal challenge to my confidence and faith. At this time of challenge, I returned to reading the Book of Job, a man of faith who was tempted and challenged, but who never allowed his circumstances to diminish his faith in God.
Job 1:1-12 (ESV) Job’s Character and Wealth
1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed[a] God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Satan Allowed to Test Job
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Job was tempted over and over by Satan, but Job never renounced his faith in God. Even Jesus was tempted by Satan and Jesus met the challenges with scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:16-4:17 (ESV)
16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,[a] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,[b] with whom I am well pleased.”
The Temptation of Jesus
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Jesus Begins His Ministry
12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
After a year of searching for employment, a head-hunter found my resume, which led me to getting a job with Deiphax Systems. I remember my dad remarking: ‘Sometimes good things happen to good people.’ This comment spoke volumes to me, as my father had seen that through my suffering I was faithful to my God and, as with Job, He did not allow me to endure more than I could bear.
In the years to follow, I would be personally challenged three times again by corporate restructuring and down-sizing. However, each time I kept my faith and the Lord provided for my needs.
Harold Kushner authored a book which made popular the phrase my father quoted to me, as Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner observes in aish.com:
Harold Kushner, a Conservative rabbi, followed precisely such an approach in his best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Few “Jewish” books in recent decades have had a greater impact upon those dealing with life’s personal tragedies. Kushner is regularly cited, in both the Jewish and non-Jewish media, as an expert on suffering and a variety of other ethical issues.
Kushner came to the topic of suffering through a terrible tragedy in his family: He and his wife lost a young son to a particularly perverse degenerative disease – premature aging syndrome. He has thus paid a heavy price for the right to talk about suffering. Though we shall be very critical of Kushner’s conclusions, nothing we say should be seen as a personal criticism of him, or an attempt to in any way diminish the awful suffering he had to bear. It would be contemptible to pass judgment on another’s experience of a tragedy of such magnitude.
If we are critical of Kushner’s ideas, ¡t is only because he has offered his views to the public as a consolation to those suffering emotional distress or pain and as an authentic Jewish response to the problem of suffering. As we shall see, they are neither.
While Kushner is in some sense a believer in God, his own faith was severely tested by the prolonged agony that he and his wife endured. He felt the need to construct a theory that would reconcile his tragedy with Judaism’s belief in God’s benevolence.
He concluded that to maintain his belief in God he must reject either God’s benevolence or His omnipotence. He chose the latter course. God, in Kushner’s view, created the world and provides the foundation of moral principle. But He cannot quite control the world He created. He hopes for our good and He sympathizes, as it were, with us in our pain, but He is powerless to do anything about it.
As to why a God Who had the power to create the entire universe in the first place would create one that He is powerless to control, Kushner basically shrugs his shoulders and contents himself with noting that the world is relatively good for most people most of the time. We might designate this theory as “randomness plus God.”
Unable to understand why a good God would allow individuals to suffer, Kushner ends by neatly defining the question away. He cannot even conceive of the possibility of any understanding, and so concludes that we have no answers because there are no answers. Much of what happens ¡s nothing more than random chance. Pain and tragedy are a necessary consequence of a world over which God does not exercise complete control.
This illustrates the great danger to Christians who are challenged by personal tragedy and give in to the temptation to feel that they are victims of overwhelming circumstances beyond their control and that God has no power or interest in intervening, as God is aware in tragic circumstances, but content in strictly observing them.
If this were true, God would have not likely created Adam and Eve and would have never intervened through the messages of the prophets and God would have never have chosen to give us Jesus, to die for our circumstances. And further, God would not have allowed Jesus to perform his miracles, the most noteworthy being his resurrection from the grave or the gift of the Holy Spirit. As far as bad things happening to good people, this only happened once and He volunteered! And the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ for our salvation indicates that God, through His Son, Jesus, provides the means for good things (our salvation) to happen to bad people (sinners – all have sinned).
In his publication, I Wonder Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, posted on the site day1.org, the Reverend Charles D. Reeb comments on the experience of H.G. Spafford:
H.G. Spafford had the following experience. In 1873, his wife and four children sailed from New York to France on an ocean liner. Mr. Spafford was unable to make the voyage with his family because of business commitments in Chicago. He told them goodbye, promising to meet them in France in a few weeks.
At two o’clock on the morning of November 22, 1873, when the luxury liner was several days out, ¡t was hit by another liner. Within two hours, the ship sank. Nine days later when the survivors landed at Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband these two words, “Saved alone.” When he received her message, he quickly booked passage on a ship to Europe to join his wife. On the way over, the captain called him into his cabin and said, “I believe we are now passing over the place where your family’s liner went down.”
Well, that night in the mid-Atlantic, filled with much pain and sorrow, Mr. Spafford wrote five stanzas, the first of which contained these lines:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea-billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul!”
And these words have been a part of one of the most popular hymns in the church today. Little did Spafford know that his words would give comfort to so many people. God turned his scar into a star.
We can’t control the fact that bad things will happen to us. They just do, and one day we will find out why. But the one thing we can control is how we respond to the bad things that happen to us. We can get bitter or better! We can stay angry at life and at God and never move on, or we can give our pain to God and allow him to do something beautiful with it. Then we’ll be able to say with confidence:
I will be untouched in the midst of fire
I will stand firm in the midst of a storm
I will not crack in the midst of chaos
I will not lose heart when the world is torn
I will not fear when the heat blazes
I will not fret when drought comes
I will bear fruit in the midst of all of it
I will march to a different drum
I will discover victory in tragedy
I will trust in El Shaddai
I will laugh in the face of death
I will wave evil and pain goodbye
Going back to Jesus’ words cried in pain and anguish atop of the cross in Mark 15:34, which led us to explore why does God allow bad things to happen to good people, perhaps we should ponder why, through the salvation of Jesus, the Lord allowed good things happen to bad people?
Think about the example of an egg: if it is broken by an outside force, life ends. But if an egg is broken from the inside, life begins. And by faith in the sanctification and the gift of the Holy Spirit inside of us, our new life begins.
Let us pray…
Communion Observance: Responsive Reading #663 (1 Corinthians 11)
Closing Hymn # 401: When Peace like A River Attendeth
Benediction – (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17):
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.