The Challenge of Suffering and Evil to Faithby Myron Heckman on September 30, 2015
The Challenge of Suffering and Evil to Faith
Pastor, Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church
We know Christ suffered for us; let us also remember He suffered with us.
1) The reality of suffering and evil is a great challenge to faith. It is a reason some say they could never have faith, and some who have professed belief to turn away from faith. And believers may be discouraged in their faith and lose fervor.
2) Using evil to deny the existence of God is logically untenable
3) The cross of Christ is God's ultimate answer to our questions about suffering. May we always uphold the message of the Cross on Cape Cod.
One of the toughest challenges to our faith is evil, pain, and suffering, especially when it seems senseless. It's a challenge to make sense of it emotionally and intellectually. A seemingly random tsunami kills thousands. A murdered toddler's body is washed up on a Boston Harbor shore. And you go through it personally, or you remain in an oppressive situation even now, and you wonder "How does this fit with a good and loving God?"
I) Charles Templeton was a a colleague of Billy Graham and a successful evangelist. He won many to Christ, including a woman in our congregation who was converted in one of Templeton's public meetings. She was stunned years later to learn he had turned away from the faith and then against the faith. In 1996 he wrote a book titled: Farewell to God : My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.
His main reason for rejecting Christianity was the existence of unjust suffering.
"I can't believe the God of Christianity exists. God allows terrible suffering in the world. So he might be either all powerful but not good, or else he might be all-good but not powerful enough to end evil and suffering. Either way the all-good, all-powerful God of the Bible couldn't exist."
"I have trouble believing in a God who allows suffering. If such a God does exist, he can't be trusted."
Here's another point Templeton makes:
"Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze, mouths to suck blood, coils to constrict and smother—even expandable jaws so that prey may be swallowed whole and alive? . . . Nature is in Tennyson’s vivid phrase, “red in tooth and claw,” and life is a carnival of blood.
Templeton then concludes:
"How could a loving and omnipotent God create such horrors as we have been contemplating?" Those are powerful arguments Templeton makes. You may know someone who resists all arguments and testimonies for faith in God on the basis of there being too much evil and injustice in this world. We can find our own challenge to faith when inexplicable suffering comes in this world, or to a loved one, or in our own lives.
II) The existence of evil is clearly a problem for believers. It has caused some, like Templeton to turn from their faith. Other believers may not turn from faith but falter in it, wondering what purpose could be in suffering.
To those who believe suffering and evil are powerful arguments against the existence of God, Pastor Tim Keller in his book "The Reason for God" makes a surprising assertion. "The effort to demonstrate that evil disproves the existence of God is acknowledged on (almost) all sides to be completely bankrupt."
Really? It turns out, when the problem of evil is thought through it's a problem for unbelievers as well.
A) Go back to Templeton's objection based on nature.
"Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze. . . Nature is in Tennyson’s vivid phrase, “red in tooth and claw…."
Death, destruction and violence are part of the theory of evolutionary process - it is perfectly natural. But if one says that is evil, it can't be a judgment made on the basis of nature. Having a concept of evil is part and parcel of a worldview that includes good and evil, justice and injustice – that is, a moral world, and that idea must come from outside of nature. Who could it be outside of nature but God?
Put another way… if we are here by chance who can say what is good and evil, just and unjust? You cannot get a standard of good and evil from nature itself. To speak of good and evil presupposes God's existence. The alternative for the unbeliever is to deny the existence of evil and that position is untenable to the human heart.
B) It is argued that much suffering is pointless. What does a tsunami or a violent hurricane accomplish beside destruction? How can a God who allows pointless destruction be trusted?
But that question assumes we can understand all purposes for suffering.
If evil appears pointless to us, it doesn't mean God doesn't have a purpose. It means we can't see it. Job is the major Old Testament treatment of suffering. The story begins with an accusation that Job serves God only because God has treated him so well. To prove Job’s accuser wrong, God steps back, removing divine protection and allowing Satan his attacks. In calamity upon travesty upon tragedy Job loses everything and he sits in anguish, confusion, and frustration. His suffering appears pointless to Job. The destruction of his life seemed so random. At one point Job cried to God with agonized longing in the midst of his pain: “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand on us both” (Job 9:33). Yes, someone who can resolve with God the "why" of my suffering. By story's end the accuser knew that Job’s faith was grounded in more than God’s blessing and God was glorified. But Job also learned much - the central point is that God is too big for us to understand.
You may find that very frustrating….but you may also find it very liberating. You don't have to understand everything. You can rest in leaving it in God's hands.
III) The ultimate answer to unjust or seemingly pointless suffering is in the cross.
The cross and the events leading up to it inflicted the most unjust and cruel suffering we can imagine.
-Jesus suffered emotional pain, seen clearly in the Garden of Gethsemane Mark 14:33-34 3And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. 34 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. "
-Jesus suffered relational pain in the betrayal by Judas. The Psalmist anticipated it in
Ps 55:12-14 "…it is not an enemy who reproaches me, Then I could bear it; Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, Then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend;… with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers."
-Jesus went through the most tortuous physical pain physical pain in six hours of slow death by loss of blood and suffocation as His lungs filled with fluid. Someone once told me that to understand what it is like to live with lung disease that deprives of oxygen, use a coffee stirrer straw to breathe through. How robbing of life and vitality. Jesus went through that stage and beyond to His final breath.
-Jesus knew the deepest pain of all - spiritual pain. He who had known nothing but perfect fellowship and harmony with His Father for all eternity past and all his days on earth, came to this excruciating point:
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”[
What is in those words?
They are an affirmation of relationship - Jesus said "My God, my God…" There is a faith in the confusion of despair.
They are also an affirmation of human questioning and crying out - "Why?!!" The Father does not turn from our broken-hearted cries.
We know Christ suffered for us; let us also remember He suffered with us. God who is all-wise and all powerful, infinite and eternal, does not carry out His sovereignty and redemption by staying above this world. He entered into the suffering and thus brings meaning into it, even if we can't see it.
Malcolm Muggeridge, a journalist with the BBC and an agnostic who came to faith in Christ wrote: “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful… [and] I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained…This of course is what the cross signifies. And it is the cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.” A Twentieth Century Testimony
Six years ago I went through a dark night of the soul as I had an mysterious malady that caused weight loss, insomnia, weakness, and chronic muscle pain. A barrage of medical tests were excruciatingly normal as I searched form some explanation, some name for this disease. I was afflicted for four months, plus two more for full recovery. The only plausible but improvable theory is post-viral syndrome where the body continues to be under attack after a virus has ended its visible symptoms. Near the end of my ordeal I read in the devotional "Streams in the Desert" (recommended reading for those in great trial) something like this question: "You have prayed fervently to be released from your trial. Have you prayed just as fervently to learn God's lessons in your trial?" Well, no, I had not. God has a point to suffering even if we can't see it. We may see it on this earth, or we may not. And I did learn to be more empathetic to the suffering and those undergoing medical tests and the wait for news, and to be more grateful for such things as challenging physical labor, as being able to do it should not be taken for granted. I'm sure there were other benefits I can't identify, but the cross tells me God has His purposes, however inscrutable to us.
For the glory of God to be known on Cape Cod we must always uphold the message of the Cross.
And we must always apply it - one place of application is to suffering.
Think of your greatest suffering, your greatest wound. It may be fresh and bleeding now, or it may be decades old but still it pains.
Bring the crucified Jesus Christ into your pain.
And bring your pain into the crucified Jesus Christ.