I heard a brief but excellent sermon by Allistair Begg on the radio the other day related to why God allows suffering to come into the lives of Christians. (http://www.truthforlife.org/broadcasts/latest-aired/) It was brief, as I said, but really very good; it explained in much more comprehensive terms a topic that I have wondered about for many years. This man can preach! I have borrowed liberally from his 10 point outline in this blog, but as you will see, related it to my own life experiences. I’d be willing to bet that the readers of this blog have some thoughts and experiences of their own in this area, though time has proven that most of you are too timid to share them. Still, if you can muster the courage and spare the time, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
There is a popular phrase – even expressed in pop music – these days which says: “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” It’s complete rubbish. Many things that bring great pain in our lives, but which stop short of killing us, make us weaker. As a guy who has messed up his back, I can tell you that I am far weaker as a result, and will be for the rest of my life. No amount of physical therapy or surgery will ever turn my back injury into an advantage. So why did God allow that to happen to me? I imagine all of us have questions about things like that in our lives. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, my mother-in-law, a very dear woman who loved the Lord, was killed in a head-on car crash back in 1974. 3 of 6 children remained at home to raise, and although the family survived, it had a devastating impact on all of us. She was driving toward home from a ladies fellowship meeting at her little country church at that time, and was the victim of teenagers drag-racing down a two-lane highway in the opposite direction. Bad things – truly awful things – do often happen to good people; even to those whom the Lord loves.
Over all, according to Pastor Begg, the secret to understanding this situation lays in our willingness to “bow under God’s sovereign purposes”. Some argue that some events are not a part of the fabric of God’s will, and are the product of evil – they are cases where evil wins a battle, even though God ultimately will win the war. Mr. Begg does not agree with that perspective, and provides 10 reasons that he believes God permits these things to happen.
Pastor Begg asserts in the course of his message that “with God things don’t just happen; everything is planned.” I sometimes wonder about that. I do understand that God knows everything that has occurred, does occur, and will occur. He created all things, set all things in motion, and knew from before that time what would happen. He knew that Satan would fall before he created Satan. He knew that mankind would sin before He created mankind. He knew that the result of the events He was setting in motion would be that His own Son, Jesus Christ, would have to suffer crucifixion and death in order to reconcile believers to Himself. But in the same way that this doesn’t make God responsible for our sin, it doesn’t mean that God planned every event. God created an environment where sin was permitted to occur, in order to provide free will to mankind so that we could – of our own volition –accept of reject Jesus Christ as our individual personal Savior. But God did not sin, and he did not plan sinful events. He simply knew they would occur, and He did not prevent them. This is a bit of a theological knot, I think, and I do not pretend to understand how God’s unwillingness to prevent sin is better than preventing it, but there it is.
One more personal story: Several years ago, we attended a Baptist church (I believe it is Southern Baptist) in the St. Louis area where the pastor’s family included triplets (two sons and a daughter) who were then 13 years old. They were lively, energetic children who loved the Lord and were loved in turn by everyone, as far as I could tell, in the 200+ member congregation as well as their classmates and teachers. While we attended that church, the daughter contracted cancer. With the love and support of her family and friends, she fought bravely right to the end, but ultimately succumbed to the disease. Stories were related throughout this period of the testimony this little girl reflected into the community and congregation. Hospital nurses and doctors were turned toward Christ, and many among the congregation – and probably well beyond – were drawn to God in many different ways as a result of the life, the suffering, and the death of this young girl. Without a doubt, her suffering brought forth a tremendous outpouring of people’s hearts, and reflected an enormous witness of faith and genuine courage that changed the lives of many, and some, I imagine, forever. Certainly it demonstrated the nature of this family’s faith, the depth of their conviction, and caused an enormous wave of turning on the part of many toward God. So, in light of the 10 points outlined above, I have to ask: Did God actually cause that little girl to develop a terrible, fatal disease to bring glory to Himself? Or did He use a tragic result of the fact that sin entered this world back in the days of Genesis to bring about all the good possible? I choose to believe the second is true.
What do you think?
Pastor Chris Huff of Grace Baptist Church in Nokomis, Illinois posted an outstanding daily audio/video blog on his Facebook Page on July 9th entitled: “Why Are You Afraid?” It focused on a passage of scripture in the book of Mark (Chapter 4, verses 35-41), where Jesus was awakened from his sleep in the midst of a violent storm aboard ship. Beginning in verse 37, we find: “And there was a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow; and they awakened Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest Thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was great calm. And He said unto them, Whay are ye so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
Chris made it the question of the day: Knowing that we serve an all-powerful God, why do we so often find ourselves afraid? I think the question is a good one. A few weeks back, a pretty powerful hail storm was moving through our area, and I was have a text message based conversation with my daughter Erica. She had heard from friends that large hailstones were falling in the area and, knowing that I was out and about, cautioned me to be careful about walking around outside. I remember replying: “Erica, I can’t imagine that God brought me safely through 13 months in Afghanistan just to kill me with a hailstone in St. Louis 6 months later.” My response was a little flippant, and I did modify it immediately by admitting that I don’t know the mind of God – nothing is impossible; it just seemed pretty unlikely and illogical to me. So in many respects, I understand Chris’ point, and understand the point that Jesus was making to his disciples on the boat. However, following His ascension, many of Christ’s disciples suffered terrible deaths at the hands of the enemies of Christ. They were imprisoned, tortured, beheaded, stoned, or beaten to death. They met their deaths heroically, and went on to Glory as faithful servants. However, on a human level their fears were entirely justified.
Most Christians today do live with serious fear. In one blog last year, I described the fear of conviction and commitment that keeps the vast majority of us from full time Christian service. (http://biblicallythinking.com/2011/fear-of-conviction) But there are other fears that I believe are not only reasonable but healthy. They keep us from making unwise choices that could place us and/or those we love in danger. They cause us to use good hygiene. They prevent us – even when our consciences sometimes do not – from things like speeding. They keep us from saying things we might otherwise say to our superiors in the workplace. Whether it is the fear of a traffic citation or the fear of losing one’s job, some fears are healthy responses to internal and external environmental factors. We learn to fear unwelcome consequences of our actions as we grow up, and it’s very fortunate that we do.
In the case of the disciples on the water, do you think it was appropriate to be afraid? I suspect that the theologically correct answer is a product of reasoning like this: Am I where God wants me to be right this minute? If so, am I doing exactly what God wants me to be doing right this minute? If the answer to these questions is “Yes”, then the Christian should not be afraid. Right? And yet New Testament Apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ were almost all killed – many very painfully killed – for proclaiming Christ, just as Jesus Himself directed them – and us – to do in Matthew 28:19. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;”. Since that time, many missionaries and their families have been attacked and even murdered on the mission field. Many others have suffered assault, abuse, verbal diatribe, and imprisonment. In recent months, I know of one missionary family – newly deployed to Africa – whose family was stricken with Malaria. And I think of my own dear mother-in-law, who was killed by drag-racing teenagers as she drove toward home from the ladies’ fellowship meeting at their small country church, leaving three children at home; an event from which the family never fully recovered.
So, when I read passages of Scripture where God instructs us as Christians to “fear not”, I do feel inadequate to the task, even when I pray for courage. I cannot set aside human fear, even though I know my God is omnipotent, because I am not; I feel pain, and more than that, I know that those whom I love feel pain. I fear not only pain but the pain of those I hold dear in this world, because I know that just as God did not set aside the pain and suffering of the Apostles and Disciples, He will not always set aside the pain and suffering of Christians today. He says as much in Matthew 10, beginning in verse 37: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” That’s no surprise to me; I don’t believe any human can count himself worthy of God. I know I am nowhere in that realm. Only God’s unfathomable grace makes it possible for Him to have any relationship with me.
And the passage in Matthew continues: “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (Again, I refer the reader to my earlier blog on the fear of Commitment.) He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Clearly, those apostles, disciples, missionaries, and other Christians who have been martyred for the cause of Christ qualify here. The rest of us live in fear; at least that’s what I think.
What do you think?