2nd Look

Hello friends,

Instant disclaimer – this is a long email – please take some time to read it over the week – you don’t need to read it all today.

If you were here on Sunday – you may recall we spoke about God and the problem of evil. We looked at several underlying beliefs people have when they say they don’t believe in God because there is evil in the world. The underlying beliefs are:

1. There is such a thing as evil and we can define it. We discussed this and looked at how difficult it is to define evil without a God who can give us an absolute definition of what is right and wrong. Without Him we are limited to each one of us determining what works for our lives and morality – which then makes defining evil and suffering very difficult.

2. God, if He exists; is morally and logically obligated to stop evil. This is a big argument. If God is all powerful and all good why doesn’t He stop evil. Either He cannot stop it – in which case He’s not all powerful – or He doesn’t want to stop it in which case He’s not all good. It seems very clear that both God and evil cannot logically co-exist…. That is true… unless God has a reason for why He allows evil/suffering. It may be difficult to understand what that reason may be – but the truth is – just because we don’t see a reason doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  

That is a hard truth to live with. We want to know why these things happen. We want to know what possible reason He could have because then it might make some of this make sense. I wish I could tell you God is in the habit of giving us reasons. He isn’t always very forthcoming with this. As a matter of fact – if you have read the book of Job you’ve likely noticed that at the end; When God and Job have their big showdown and it’s God’s turn to give Job a reason for why He allowed all of this horrible suffering in Job’s life – God doesn’t answer him. He just asks more questions and talks about leviathans and other creatures. He basically says: “Job – were you there; when I created everything? Do you know how I did it?  Can you possibly understand me?” But I think there is something else going on in here.  I think this is also God saying: “Job – do you see you can trust Me even if I don’t give you an answer?”  

God tends to do it this way. But there are some things that God does say about why He allows evil. Interestingly enough these things have more to do with what evil and suffering produce in us than why He allows it. Let me give you three examples:

1) Evil/ Suffering Removes Our Illusions

    One of the biggest illusions we buy into as humans is the illusion of control; or power. As Americans we have been bred to believe that anything is possible for us as long as we put our minds to it – that we determine our own destiny – that we have power and control. Evil/suffering removes that illusion for us. For many of us this is frightening and extremely painful. We love our illusions. But this is a very necessary truth for us to learn; we are not in control. Evil and suffering may fight against our tendency  to live life as if its guaranteed and thus take all the good things in our life for granted: our family; friends; our calling from God. We sometimes live life as if tomorrow is guaranteed to be there – so why not worry about that thing tomorrow – and yet the world is a place where tomorrow is not guaranteed. Evil/suffering are powerful reminders of this.

       Jesus was teaching about this once. He spoke about a man who was very wealthy trying to figure out where to put all of his wealth. He devised plans to build huge barns in which he could store everything and yet Jesus says: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20). The only thing guaranteed in our story is death. 

The apostle Paul needed suffering to blast a hole in his illusions. Here’s what he says in his second letter to the Corinthians:  “Because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfected in your weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

     Paul had seen great things and learned many powerful truths from God. He had an amazing walk with Him and yet there was a danger there; that Paul would become conceited; that he would trust in his own power and his own wisdom – in the things he apparently “knows” instead of trusting in God moment by moment. The more Paul learned, the greater the danger became, that his illusions of power and control would grow – so God allowed him to be tormented. And when Paul asked for God to remove this suffering – God said “No, Paul this thorn will bring you to the edge of your power and force you to grasp a hold of mine.”     

 Evil/suffering removes our illusions about control – which then opens us up to living more in the moment with Him. We don’t take things as much for granted – we may get more serious about our calling and the time God has given us on this earth to do something for His kingdom.   Did you watch the Super Bowl? There was an unforgettable commercial. Two people are driving in a car and in the passenger seat is a woman who is looking out the window at a beautiful sunset. Something looks off about the woman. She seems fragile, tired or ill. As she views the sunset her eyes become glassy as they fill with tears and she reaches across and grabs her husband’s (who is driving) hand. He smiles and then the commercial advertises national cancer month. Gut wrenching. But this woman has seen then edge of her control – has had her illusions removed and now she sees a sunset completely differently. She relishes the moments of quiet beauty with her husband. The illusion has been removed and with it – her eyes are opened.

Here’s the link to the commercial:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vhMpXMPvdU

2) Evil/ Suffering produces the life of Christ in us

Evil and suffering produces the life of Christ in us. The apostle Paul writes about this in that same letter to the Corinthians. He starts by talking about how they are greatly suffering and this great treasure that they carry; the treasure of the gospel is in their perishable bodies so that it will be clear that all the great things they do are done in God’s all surpassing power. But then he says this: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesusso that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So thendeath is at work in usbut life is at work in you.”

The death of Jesus – his suffering – is something they live with but in that the life of Jesus is revealed in them. This is a powerfully deep thought. Somehow and someway; the sufferings of Christ lead them more deeply into the life of Christ. Jesus is more powerfully revealed in and through them. They become more like Jesus not in the fact that they know more stuff about Him – but rather that their lives literally look more and more like Jesus – their characters are transformed; and God moves powerfully through them.  Paul goes on to say: “Therefore we do not lose heart; though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes on what is unseen rather than what is seen – for what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”

The suffering they experienced led them to renewal which leads us to our final point.

3) Evil/ suffering points us to real  and true hope

Hope shines brightest in places where there is none. This seems to be true. In those places where nobody is struggling; everybody feels comfortable and at peace; hope is not very powerful – but it’s in those moments of darkness; powerlessness and hopelessness where hope really shines. There is something about suffering that leads us to a deep yearning and desire to grasp a hold of truth and hope. In the Scripture above we see Paul’s hope that he has – that their suffering in comparison with the eternal glory they had placed their hope in; was light, and momentary. Paul lived with this hope at the forefront. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he encouraged them to set their minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. They were to set their mind on the things of God and the gospel; and on Christ rather than all the things down here-  they were to take hope in Christ.    

    Dana Madsen shared this verse with me after church on Sunday and I thought it was apropos to what we are talking about.  it’s in Isaiah 57 – here it is:

The righteous perish,

    and no one takes it to heart;

the devout are taken away,

    and no one understands

that the righteous are taken away

    to be spared from evil.

Those who walk uprightly

    enter into peace;

    they find rest as they lie in death.

What is at work in this passage – the truest hope we can hold on to. In a world that is full of chaos; living in bodies that are truly mortal – this passage gives us a picture of hope – peace for those of us who walk uprightly. And we know – we simply cannot even get upright without Jesus. He is our hope in the midst of suffering.

My hope is that these three lessons – while not necessarily explaining to you why God allows evil and suffering in our lives – it might show you what He wants to do with you in the midst of this. If you are suffering or know people who are – my prayer for you is that you will be bolstered in times where you are being pounded by the storms of life – that God is with you even if He feels a million miles away and that He will redeem this experience whether here or when you are home with Christ. 

May you be blessed this week. 

Pastor Ryan