Why Suffering? [Part 1 of 3]
Welcome marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Exhausted, depleted from running the Godly, good, and being-a-blessing-to-others race? Welcome. Sit. Relax. Let’s feast.
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.
Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible
Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed
Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment
Part One: “Why Suffering?” – The High View
Is Theodicy [How God and Suffering?] Meant Only for a Theory About God’s Providence, Our Puniness, and the Hunormous GAP of Mystery in Between?
Short answer? “Hell no!”
Why, how so adamant? Because all the mystery, fuzziness, and lack of detail and depth about the subject of suffering is exactly what the devil desires—which is how we can measure the importance of many things, right? If the devil is fiercely for or against something we’d better pay close attention to it. And if there’s any place where the colloquialism The Devil’s in the Details should be taken seriously, it’s this: Satan does not want God’s children to get into the down-and-dirty details about how to apply Satan’s Enemy [God’s] Plan of Redemptive Suffering!
God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). In in big picture, there’s in no mystery that prevents God’s Image Bearers from knowing and doing something about suffering. Do you believe this deep down inside your heart?
God does not withhold knowledge and a related action plan from His Beloved that sits at the very center of His Plan of Redemption. (Titus 2:14) E.g., His redemptive use of the suffering which is part and parcel of living in a broken world. God has not left us alone in our pain—unless we choose to not include Him in it. In which case it’s not God who’s at fault, missing, or cruel in any way.
God’s Owner Manual for Humankind is the Bible; His teachers are preacher-leaders within His Church; His “welcome mat” is church membership, service, the sacraments, and mission; and His mode of internalization is The Body, the Communion of Saints—a loving, truthful, meaningful, real, committed, and sacrificial community of discipleship and cultural transformation.
Does anyone think it’s a small thing that, a) a knowledge and explanation of God, and b) how and why such horrid and widespread brokenness crushes us everyday… is a small thing to God—The Creator and Sustainer of All Life?! Does anyone think the carnage associated with living in a broken world—that nobody can escape—is a small thing to The One and Only True God Who, as the Father-thought, as the Son-spoke, and as the Spirit-fluttered creation into existence, purely out of His Love and Truth?
We scream, “Maybe God got things going, but now He’s gone off to some other heavenly dimension, hinterland and left us dangling above an abyss of brokenness, replete with all the angst imaginable!”
No possible way…
“The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord preserves all who love him…” (Psalm 145)
I’m certain you noticed the requisite attitude and relationship between those who call upon God in their pain with a sincere and teachable heart: “in truth”, “in fear”, “in tears”, “in love.” And those who do not: many of us in pain call upon God devoid of any relationship; any desire to know God; with no fear or awe of God; careless about whether God’s truth or love actually exists; standing with folded arms, deaf ears, and an impatient toe-tapping attitude demanding God respond in ways suitable to his or her preconceived notions about exactly how God should respond. And this includes many in the church as well.
“How’s that working for ya?” (Dr. Phil) We cannot go to God for help while favoring other, lesser gods over a knowledge and relationship with the One True God.
The reason the biggest question mark imaginable sits between God ?and? Suffering is from the pit of hell: Satan, our worldly ways, and our own sin draws a shroud of darkness, inscrutability, apathy, comfort-ability, and apparent mystery over a reasonable and satisfying explanation. But a sacred and sufficient answer exists. But I’m afraid we are prone to being too lazy, idolatrous, comfy, pretentious, wounded, and often un-led by shallow church leadership to dig deep enough for the answer and journey.
And this is a heartbreaking shame.
We’ve become so worldly that when our world falls apart we look to the world for answers, comfort, and hope.
And this will not work… It cannot.
“However it happens, our shared reality of suffering means that at some point all of us will ask the question: “If there really is an all-powerful and all-loving God, how can he allow such horrible and widespread suffering in the world? And in my life?” After all, if God loved me, how could he have me holding my suicidal, dying father on Christmas night? Truthfully, if God didn’t have a response to this most universal and personal question, he wouldn’t be worthy of anyone’s love and devotion! Beloved, it is impossible for God to be worthy on any level and not be with his Image Bearers at every level—but especially in the realms of dealing with the unavoidable suffering which accompanies living in a broken world.
Got to Go Back to the Beginning – to See God’s Redemptive Ends
This most basic truism about God’s Love, Truth, Beauty, Lovingkindness AND the abject brokenness of this world – will come up again, but hear this: the nature of LOVE must always include UN-LOVE!
a) God created out of love; b) Adam and Eve disobeyed [UN-loved]; c) Original, Inherited Sin, habitual sinning, decay, and darkness entered the universe; d) but God put a plan in place right at the beginning to most grace-fully, intentionally REDEEM the brokenness–to His glory and humankind’s blessing.
When God created ALL things out of NOTHING, (Gen 1-2) He made everything perfect and good in the beginning. And this included God’s final-day creative consummation of His making first Image Bearers Adam, and then Eve. God created them OUT OF love, and TO love Him back. But if God hadn’t provided for the possibility of UN-love in His first progenitor’s response to His love, then God would have been the most uncreative being ever: making robots, pawns, marionettes … that’s all God would have done if humankind were to have no choice to NOT love God. By definition, ANY any act of love has within the transaction the possibility of being shunned.
From The Fall (Gen 3; Rom 1:18-32) on, suffering, pain, tears, heartbreak, depravity is part and parcel of living in a horribly broken world. Period. Christians of all people shouldn’t be surprised (1 Pet 4:12). We will live in a broken world until Jesus returns to make all things new. God had to allow for brokenness when He brought humankind into being out of LOVE. But Sin and sinning didn’t take God by surprise … on the contrary.
Since we know we will experience suffering, the real question is this: do we have the desperation, openness, humility, patience, and trust to hear God’s response, and live it out? In other words, will suffering make you and me bitter or better? These great, timely, and legitimate questions are not simply a philosophical debate but the stuff of real life, touching every moment, of every day.
A God of such majesty and power must have a better way forward than simply “Suck it up and trust me!” Ultimately, it’s not God who is lacking in providing us all the answers we need; it’s us. It’s you and me.” (John Dozier, Take Heart)
See you back at The Training Table on March 8th for “Why Suffering?” Part 2 – The Next Level Down.
Keep running the good race,