Our friends lost their toddler Emma in a drowning this week. I can hardly think of a greater way to suffer, and such 'innocent suffering' is perhaps one of the toughest challenges to faith in a loving, powerful God. Why does God allow such things to happen? Does prayer do anything at all?
I will be preaching this weekend, and have gathered my thoughts on the problem of evil and suffering. Here's an outline.
- There are only two subjects in the Bible to which we are told that we may not understand it all - predestination/free-will, and the problem of suffering. Where the explanations end and we are still not satisfied, we are told to trust that God is not unjust.
- The classic story is that of Job. In one day he lost ALL of his children and wife and his livelihood, and soon after, his health. And he had done nothing to deserve it. If anyone had a case against God, he did. And yet, from his story we learn that blaming God is not the answer.
- When it gets dark, the worst thing we can do is run from God (who is love and light) into the hopeless night of faithlessness. As Peter the Apostle said to Jesus, "Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life!"
- While the Biblical answers may not totally satisfy the intellectual or emotional questions we have about suffering, other worldviews provide even less. If you ask, for instance, "Where is atheism when it hurts?" the answer is – they can offer NO hope of redemption, NO hope of a life to come, NO meaning out of suffering, and NO comfort from God. Theirs, like other answers to suffering, are even more incomplete and unsatisfying than what God offers.
- God, and Jesus, are not untouched by our suffering. Jesus is reported weeping for others in many places in the Bible. Further, in Hebrews, we read of Him
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
Or as The Message translation puts it:
We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Lastly, we see Jesus' invitation to us when we suffer, not to turn from God, but to turn to Him for comfort.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.