ARE THERE ANY ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING?
I am married to Janet – we have 3 children Andrew , Stephen  & Vicki . – average family with the usual — ups and downs of family life. – car gives trouble, the washing machine overflows and floods the kitchen – the children argue with each other on and off – just normal everyday things.
In 1995 – September – I woke up with abdominal discomfort; by 8:30 am I was vomiting from the pain – the doctor came – probably kidney stones – pain killers – “See me is two days” – Blood tests – The consultant haematologist wants to see you – bone marrow biopsy – My wife is a nurse teacher – we suspect what it could be – two weeks later after all test are complete
“Gray you have cancer – non-Hodgkins lymphoma – cancer of the lymph system – it is in the blood and the bone marrow!”
“It is early BUT there is no cure!”
“It is impossible to say!”
I went home in a daze! and stayed like that for 10 days – Janet and I could not stop crying – we told the children – I wanted to cry every time I looked at them – Those 10 days were the worse of my life! Up to that point!!
WHY me God??! Is this my fault? God’s Fault? Satan’s fault? Is it simply random bad luck? God, why done you pick on someone else – someone bad?? ILLUS.: Fiddler on the Roof – Yiddish comedy about Jews being relocated in Russia – The father (fiddler) “God I know we are your chosen people but do you think you could choose someone else for a change!”
- Suffering – everyone at some time. You only have to live long enough and a loved one will die or become seriously ill. You yourself will eventually become ill and die!
- Parents suffer when their children go off the rails – families suffer because of financial crisis’s – the list goes on …..
Suffering on a wider scale.
History is littered with suffering – wars / famines / earthquakes / floods / slavery / abuse / rape / murder / torture /….
We in Western Europe live in a time and place of unprecedented political stability and economic prosperity – Yet there is tremendous suffering and heartbreak all around us.
Suffering and pain creates big questions in our minds – “Why doesn’t God do something?” — Isn’t he able to do something?
- A Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book  [after he lost his son – died from ageing disorder- “When bad things happen to good people?” a best seller overnight because it is a question that bothers us. (He makes the assumption however that we are good!!)
No easy answers!
trepidation – many written about suffering – I am not going to solve the dilemma!
– many suffered more than me and therefore are more qualified to speak.
We can say that much suffering is caused by man’s inhumanity to man…
– to a degree that is true
- Distribution of wealth
- crime ………………….
but not all suffering can be explained this way.
– there are natural disasters (Acts of God) – Illus.: Turkey – earthquakes x2.
– unexplained suffering on individual level – Illus.: Paul De Vere – Why? fair?
The dilemma summarised!
“If God were good, he would wish to make his creature perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, he would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”
C S Lewis
- people who really struggle – believers in a supposedly all powerful, good God!
- Atheist – no problem – he says that such a God doesn’t exist anyway! >> People simply products of matter + time + chance so consequently no moral basis for any absolute values. No right or wrong, good or bad. Suffering and pain is not evil or wrong — it simply IS. Simply a randomness in the evolutionary process – survival of the fittest!
Should be no ‘problem of evil’ for genuine atheist – no God so how can he be blamed!
Interesting how often a so-called atheist will curse a God he says he doesn’t believe in!
The person willing to entertain the existence of God has the problem.
We want to explain suffering – (What Rabbi Kushner tries to do)
2. If God Is All-Powerful, Is He Not Able To Stop Suffering?
The God of the impossible?
- “If God is all-powerful then surely nothing is impossible for him!”
- Can God do anything?
- Some things are logically impossible – outside realms of what even God can do for the simple reason that what is described is incoherent.
- Can God do anything?
Illus.: It is logically impossible to argue that God can draw a square circle OR that God can create a stone too heavy for him to lift – or that he could make 2+2=5.
- These are pseudo-tasks which are possible to describe in words but are logical nonsense. God can do things that are humanly impossible but NOT things that are incoherent or illogical nonsense.
Freedom and God’s power.
- ISSUE – Why doesn’t God stop suffering?
- Question – What are we asking God to do? To stop suffering? – BUT much suffering is cause by abuse of freedom SO to stop suffering God would have to stop our freedom to choose!
God can’t give a creature freedom & at the same time withhold freedom from it.
We need a stable world if we are going to relate meaningfully to each other!
- ILLUS.: boys playing football without a Ref. = chaos (unstable)! With a ref. Rules/order and freedom to play within boundaries = enjoyment!
- Impossible to relate to each other if the goal posts are constantly moved. We need a stable world!
On the other hand …
- Relationships are meaningful because we are able to make free choices about how we treat each other. [ILLUS.: If Janet was programmed to love me it wouldn’t do much for my self image]
- KUSHNER p.87 Choices — free choices must be genuine if they are going to be meaningful.
God can’t give freedom and at the same time withhold that freedom!!
A Stable world can be used by evil people to hurt others!
- A stable world with Natural Laws and Moral Laws (given by God) will mean that I need to adjust my own behaviour to it – or bear the consequences.
- Fire – benefits and dangers – if I move beyond the boundaries of legitimate freedom with fire it will destroy me.
- Many things can be used to show kindness or evil!!
- Illus.:. Recently I went over to my neighbour’s house – an old lady ( widow) – with a screwdriver in my hand. I could have used it to attack her BUT as it happened I had a few screws in my pocket and I went to mend her gate!
- Why doesn’t God intervene to prevent abuses of freedom!
- God does occasionally intervene like this, but it is rare, and for a reason.
- “Our capacity to make a free choice to follow or not to follow God; to love or not to love our neighbour; to serve or not to serve our communities, is only a genuine free choice if there is no constant interference!”
– not saying God cannot intervene miraculously in suffering. The fact that he doesn’t intervene does NOT mean that he lacks the power.
Because God doesn’t act it doesn’t mean he is unable to act!!
– to create human being with “freedom” is a fundamental necessity. If God was only interested in creating robots then we would need a different world and different laws to govern it.
3. If God Is All Good [Loving], Does He Not Want To Stop Suffering?
What is good — what is love? We usually equated these with kindness / benevolence
- Is God like a benevolent old Grandfather who likes to see his grandchildren enjoying themselves -“What does it matter so long as they are all contented!”
Would this be the best way for us to live – though many would choose to!
Can goodness & love simply be equated to kindness! (giving what is wanted)
- “Kindness to animal” may mean putting them down – to prevent suffering
- So Called ‘Kindness’ may not produce concern for the development of a person [spoilt children are not necessarily loved children]
What is love? … [different types of love in order of value]
- The love an artist feels for the painting.
- The love of a man for his dog.
- The love of a wise man for his young, inexperienced son..
- The love of a man for his wife.
Christianity and God’s love for man. [God’s love is different]
God’s love is not – senile benevolence
– simply wanting to make us comfortable.
Problem is – we look at human love and then attach that kind of love to God.
We wouldn’t do it like that therefore if God acts differently – he does not love!
IF we see people and their happiness as the centre of everything, existing for their own sake then we will have problems reconciling suffering and a God of Love!
God’s love is not a pampering love – rather – when God loves he becomes a man and gives himself completely in service and sacrifice for us!
Christ’s death on a cross is a practical demonstration of that love – even to the unlovely and unlovable.
We are usually drawn to love only that which we find lovely and loveable!
- The kind of love that God has for us – which demands that we acknowledge and worship him is based on the fact that this is the ONLY way we will find fulfilment in this life – and the life hereafter.
God knows what is best for his creatures – i.e. to have a relationship with HIM
SO FAR …
.. I’m not saying that we can recognise the loving hands of God behind all suffering in the world.
BUT … to allow suffering when it could be alleviate it in the short-term is not necessarily a sign of greater love. It depends on what the long-term picture is.
The positive aspects in the longer term need to be enormous for God to allow so much pain in someone’s life, BUT simply because we don’t have a complete picture of the full benefits it doesn’t mean that they do not exist!
— Because we may not foresee the benefits it does not mean they are not there!!
4. What Has Gone Wrong? [ Kushner book has 2 problems – here is one!]
- With mankind.
- God made people for a perfect relationship in a world free from suffering and pain.
- They were free (freedom does not mean no boundaries – boys and football match) – only one command was given whereby they could demonstrate their submission and love for God OR their independence and rebellion. They choose independence / rebellion!
- That disobedience of mankind the Bible calls SIN.
- With the world.
- Sin affected not only mankind in his relationship to God and to each other BUT it also affected the physical world –
cf. ROMANS 8:18-25 – the whole universe is out of balance
5. Are There Any Benefits To Pain?
Suffering may have good effect but is not good in itself !
NB. These are NOT reasons for suffering!
a) It shatters the illusion that all is well.
Our ultimate good is to surrender to our creator!
We will never begin to surrender self-will /-centredness as long as all seems well.
Everyone knows something is wrong when he is being hurt – the pain insists on being heard. (Medically those who don’t feel pain are in more danger than those who do)
- “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C S Lewis
NOT saying that when I experience suffering it is a direct result of personal evil!
BUT pain brings us face to face with the evil of the real world! Suffering reminds us that we are finite / mortal.
Suffering does not automatically bring us closer to God – anger and bitterness against God can drive us away from him
b) It shatters the illusion that the good things we have in life at present are actually enough.
Many – happy with present lot in life – everything is fine ‘Why bother with God?’
Illus.: Janet and I – Jesus Video – response “No thanks! I’m fine!”
Family, home, good job, health, etc. are NOT enough to give ultimate meaning to life – all the things we enjoy in this life will come to an end — if we do not come to know God personally no ‘good things of this life’ will be enough!!
It is possible not to have the slightest idea of what one is rejecting when ignoring God!
ILLUS.: People – ‘I don’t believe in God!’
I – ‘Tell me about this God you don’t believe in!’
= Description usually not biblical =
I – ‘I don’t believe in that God either!’
A Personal word. [Benefits]
- Illus.: Jayne and Esther killed – Dad came to salvation – and then died 2 years later. – Leigh a wonderful bereavement counsellor – God through circumstances leads to a distorted view of God – circumstances from God perspective correct view of life!
- My cancer – closer to my wife – always had a good marriage – now better than ever. Closer to my children. —— been able to help others to face death as I have to face it myself!
- Helped me understand God better – (last years in hospital in so much pain I wanted to die) I was angry with him – I shouted at him – not wanted to talk to him – BUT now I have learned / am learning that God is patient / has broad shoulders and he is not put out when I tell him how I feel. (I never stopped believing in him or doubting that he was there). MOST IMPORTANTLY – I am learning that God is the centre of existence NOT me. UNTIL I recognise that God is in control and surrender to him life has no ultimate meaning or purpose!
- helps focus on important things in life – some things are more important than death – e.g. the salvation of my children – my own relationship with God .. “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul!” (in hell)
- God gives us strength to cope – a wonderful experience — ILLUS. Corrie Ten Boom “Train Ticket”
6. What Is God’s Response?
What do we want God to Do about evil?? Come down and destroy everything evil? Where do we want him to draw the Line? [ Saddam Husseins, Hilters, Rapists, murderers, fruadsters, wife-beaters, liars, ….] We all admit we are flawed and have done wrong must he destroy us too?
[Said – Kushner’s book 2 problems here is the other!]
Death and resurrection of Christ!
The past – God is not detached from the world – 2000 years ago he took the very cause of the world’s suffering on his own shoulders – Jesus suffered for mankind’s rebellion – ..’a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering’. God is a suffering God – he enters into our suffering world to ultimately (not immediately) rescue us from suffering IF we trust Him. NOW he will give us the peace and assurance of knowing him IF we come to him in faith and acknowledge that he is Lord.
Wm. Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said this, “ There cannot be a God of love,” men say, “because if the was and he looked down upon the world, his heart would break.”
“It is God who made the world,” we say. “It is he who should bear the load.”
The Church looks at the cross and says. “He did bear it.”
Today – God wants us to discover him and his support in suffering. When we turn to him we discover his special comfort; He is the one who helps those who suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Sometimes he takes suffering away – to show his compassion and that he is still in charge.
Tomorrow – God takes a long term view of this world – our perspective is very small.
Justice is promised – those who continue to cause suffering and those who to reject God will not escape God’s judgement. We don’t want to sound condemning BUT if there is no justice, there is no hope.
This world is not all there is!!
I can’t makes sense of suffering if this world is all there is!! There is a new era coming the Bible promises.
Because of what God has in store for us that we live in hope! 1 Peter 1:3-7
The problem of pain and suffering continues to exist!
BUT not forever – this is only for the present time – Jesus died and rose again to make a new order of things possible – Rev. 21:3-5 “…Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God Himself will be their God. He will wipe away 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.”
“If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, he would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” C S Lewis
“Our capacity to make a free choice to follow or not to follow God; to love or not to love our neighbour; to serve or not to serve our communities, is only a genuine free choice if there is no constant interference!”
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
C S Lewis
William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said this, “There cannot be a God of love,” men say, “because if there was and he looked down upon the world, his heart would break.”
“It is God who made the world,” we say. “It is he who should bear the load.”
The Church looks at the cross and says, “He did bear it.”
Are There Any Answers To The Problem Of Suffering?
The dilemma summarised
If God is all powerful,
is he not able to stop suffering?
- God of the impossible
If God is all good,
does he not want to stop suffering?
- Four types of love
- Christianity and God’s love for people
What has gone wrong?
- With mankind?
- With the world?
Are there any benefits of pain?
What is God’s response?