Suffering

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How can the All-Powerful, Loving, and Just God allow evil and human suffering?

The conclusion in the modern mind is that God either does not exist or if he does, he is neither all-powerful nor all-good.  This results in a Theodicy, an effort to defend the existence of God (and his power and goodness) in the face of evil in the world.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil – How do you make a rational argument for the coexistence of an all-good, all-powerful God with evil and human suffering?  (This is the subject of the apologists.) 

The Intellectual Problem of Evil has vexed philosophers and theologians for centuries.  It presented the main intellectual attack against Christianity.  By and large this was a problem for the academics, until World War I, The Great War.  So terrible and horrible was the suffering on a world-wide basis, that Western Culture was stunned that God allowed it to happen.  And so began the slide of churches, universities, and indeed most institutions in Western Civilization away from Christianity in earnest.  No educated or thinking person could believe that God existed after the horrors of WWI.

However, in 1967, Dr. Alvin Plantinga published the Free Will Defense Argument.  Using the classic logical arguments of secular philosophers, Plantinga convincingly proved that an all-good, all-powerful God had morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil and human suffering to exist, such as giving man Free Will, which necessitates the existence of evil and its resulting human suffering.  (You can easily search the internet for a more thorough explanation of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.)

Today the Intellectual Problem of Evil is an interesting study, but thanks to Plantinga, it is no longer the main attack by academia against Christianity.  All but the most ardent and narrow minded atheists have acknowledged Plantinga’s significant work.  As proof of the universal, although begrudging, acceptance of the Free Will Defense and its many subsequent forms, the main attack by academia against Christianity and the existence of God is now focused on evolution vs intelligent design.  Those academics on the forefront of the fight against Christianity are no longer philosophers but biologists and others in the hard sciences.

(As an aside, for those of us who are not philosophers, theologians, and scientists, the main attack against Christianity in our society is led by those in the entertainment industry, media, and the courts, and the attack is focused on the approval and acceptance of homosexuality.)

The Emotional Problem of Evil – How to comfort those going through intense suffering? Sympathy, not explanation, is the key.  It is not necessarily a questioning of God.  This page further explores the Emotional Problem of Evil.

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Why am I suffering?

I can tell you why there is suffering in the world, because there is sin in the world.  

What I cannot tell you is: why you are suffering.  I also cannot tell you why our personal suffering sometimes appears to be disproportionate to our sins. but there are several things about personal suffering that should bring us comfort:

  • Personal suffering must be placed in the larger story; man is a pawn in Satan’s struggle against God, and Satan’s tactic is to alienate God from man by causing men to suffer.

  • Suffering is never outside of the sovereignty of God, in other words, God knows what we are going through and puts limits on our suffering.

  • Suffering is often undeserved and disproportionate to our sins.

  • Suffering is quite often a mystery; we simply don’t know why this is happening to us. 

  • But suffering is never without purpose, even though we unaware of the purpose.

  • Whatever the cause or purpose of suffering, the one who is suffering is always asked:  in light of your suffering, will you still worship God?

Based upon the Book of Job

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Why do bad people prosper and never seem to suffer?

Yes, apparently good things happen to bad and wicked people, but do not envy them because there final destiny is judgment and destruction.

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 So what then are the advantages in being good and not being wicked?

  • The Lord is always with the righteous in fellowship.

  • The Lord holds the hand of the righteous to protect them.

  • The Lord guides the righteous with his counsel.

  • After this life, The Lord takes the righteous into glory.

Based upon Psalm 37

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Is there a purpose for suffering?

For Followers-of-Jesus, the New Testament teaches the following four-fold reason or purpose for suffering:

There is an internal purpose for suffering. All suffering and trials of any kind strengthen and mature the Christian’s faith. From the Book of James we know that if a Christian responds to the suffering brought on by the various trials and tribulations of this life with an open heart to God that the Lord Jesus will give him a crown-of-life for his perseverance when he stands before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

There is an eternal purpose for suffering. When a Christian perseveres in suffering through various trials and tribulations, he is a witness to the unsaved. For some unsaved people this witness is positive, and the suffering of Christians will lead them to salvation. For other unsaved people this witness is negative as they are not moved by the suffering of Christians, and as such are left with no excuse on the Day of Judgment.

A third purpose of suffering is identification. When a Christian suffers unjustly for Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit rests upon this person in a special way. We are told that Jesus Christ personally knows who is suffering unjustly for him and blesses this person. By way of example we read in the Book of Acts that when Stephen, the first martyr, was being stoned to death, he could see Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father waiting to take him into Heaven.

The fourth purpose for suffering is fellowship. A person who suffers unjustly for Christ Jesus understands in some way how Christ suffered unjustly on the cross for him. The person who suffers because he is a Christian has a special bond of fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow this person literally participates in Christ’s suffering, not for purposes of salvation but for fellowship with Christ. While this may seem strange at first, we can all identify with the concept. When we are suffering a particular loss or trial in life, only a person who has suffered through a similar loss or trial can really understand and sympathize with what we are going through.

No one wants suffering, yet suffering in this life is not optional. The difference between a follower-of-Jesus and an unsaved person is that the follower-of-Jesus suffers for a reason, and the unsaved person suffers for nothing.

Based upon:  Phil 3:10-11; 2 Tim 1:8; James 1:2-4, 12; 1 Pet 1:6-7, 2:18-21, 3:1-2, 8-9, 13-17, 4:1-2, 12-19.

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