I have been reflecting on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it has made me think about “the problem of evil.” In fact, at the end of the book Tom himself, one of the spiritual heroes of the book, is wrestling with the problem himself. In the book, there are all sorts of terrible realities that represent actual events. Injustice after injustice happen to the people in the story, and again, these stories are based on actual real life events.
One could try to do away with these sad and confused thoughts by just saying that slavery ended long ago. However, this does not solve the problem. Evil continues, injustice continues, ramifications continue. Further, there is still slavery. There is still abuse. Some live life as a mere dash in-between agony and futility. That is all they know, tossed on an endless wave of seemingly nothingness. So one does not escape the question by saying things are now good, or at least not so bad. What then is the answer to the pain, the suffering, the injustice?! Why do people, millions of people, live painful lives, just to die in greater pain?
When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.
However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering.
Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.
Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.
The suffering we experience is not just the result of various kinds of sickness. It is also the result of being sinned against. People afflict others with emotional and physical pain and fail to love as they should. So we see, sin brings upon the world sickness as well as psychological sorrow. Sin is not good.
So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not all. We, thankfully, are not left there. We also see…
God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering. God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.
First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.
Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.” Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!
Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.
God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.
So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!
Actually, even now we, in Christ, have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).
Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Read More…
Thought provoking song and video.
“This Is War,” Allen Swoope and Dustin Kensrue:
“This is war like you ain’t seen.
This winter’s long, it’s cold and mean.
With hangdog hearts we stood condemned,
But the tide turns now at Bethlehem.
This is war and born tonight,
The Word as flesh, the Lord of Light,
The Son of God, the low-born king;
Who demons fear, of whom angels sing.
This is war on sin and death;
The dark will take it’s final breath.
It shakes the earth, confounds all plans;
The mystery of God as man.”
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, Come!
The sovereignty of God is perhaps one of the most difficult doctrines in Scripture and yet one of the clearest. However, just because something is hard does not mean that it’s not helpful.
To think about and discuss the sovereignty of God can be challenging but also sweet. I think for instance of the rough shell of a coconut but of the reward contained inside. Or the difficulty of building a house but of the protective refuge you have at its completion. It may at times be difficult to wade through the deep waters of God’s sovereignty but we will never get to the island of peace if we don’t.
Our knowledge of God’s sovereignty is limited but Scripture certainly does not shrink back from saying that God is in absolute control. The Bible is replete with texts that teach us that is LORD of all (see e.g. Dan. 4:35; Is. 40:13,14; Rom. 9:15-18; Eph. 1:5, 11).
The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way:
“God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy… God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.”
The word “sovereignty” is nowhere in the Bible, yet the teaching is all over the place. We see that God declared the “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” God says “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose” (Is. 46:10). Daniel tells us that “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” Job tells us that “He is unchangeable, and who can turn Him back? What He desires, that He does. For He will complete what He appoints for me.” Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases,” says the psalmist (Ps. 115:3; cf. 135:6). That is what is meant by the sovereignty of God.
A.W. Tozer said this in his excellent book The Knowledge of the Holy:
“God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. The reasons are these:
Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all the creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign.
Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign” (Knowledge of the Holy, 115).
God is Meticulously Sovereign
I learned an important thing from a good friend, a young Christian that was struggling with drug addiction. He told me one night he was really upset so he turned on the radio hoping that it would help him. As he turned on the radio he prayed that God would play an awesome song. And my friend’s song came on, and no it wasn’t “My Heart Will Go On” (you know, the Titanic song); instead, his song is “I am Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave. And it came on not at the end of the song, but at the very beginning. One of the lines he heard, since he heard the whole thing, was: “I’m not who I used to be. I am redeemed.” This song had a big impact on my friend and helped him fight his enslaving sin of drug addiction that night.
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight — and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
(“How Did You Die?” by Edmund Vance Cooke)
Christian ministry whether pastoral or other is in large part about suffering. We follow the Lord. We deny ourselves. We die. Yet, it is in this way that gates of hell do not prevail against us. It is in this way that the gospel goes forth and prevails. It is in this way, the way of the cross, that we glorify our crucified Messiah and Lord. It is this long painful faithful suffering in the same direction that brings the reward.
And guys we’ll soon be dead, we do this, we labor to the point of exhaustion, we run on, not for an earthly wreath but a heavenly one. We run for the prize. We fight and suffer for the cause, because there is a cause, and it is great.
Look to the reward! Look to the reward! It is great. And go on. Fight the fight of faith. Your labor, though great and beyond your ability, is not in vain. And the God that holds the stars in orbit holds your hand.
Keep the reality of the resurrection before you. Keep Revelation 21 close by. Praise Jesus for drinking down to the dregs the cup of wrath and ask that you would continue to suffer faithfully. Brothers, here we have no home. We’re looking for the one to come.
O’ God, help us. We are weak and weary. We need need You.
In the book of Genesis we read of societal progress. There are advances in technology and the arts. Yet, the problem remains: We have sinful hearts. Thus relationships and truly the world remain fractured. Like humpty dumpty; we can’t put it back together again. The answer to my problem, humanities problem, and the world’s problem is external to us.
One would think that
“Auschwitz destroyed… the idea that European civilization at least was a place where nobility, virtue and humanizing reason could flourish and abound… It seems remarkable that the belief in progress still survives and triumphs… People still continue to this day to suppose that the world is basically a good place and that its problems are more or less soluble by technology, education, ‘development’ in the sense of ‘Westernization.’”[i]
However, today’s problems, like that of all history past, is not solved by advances in technology or even any sort of knowledge or morality. It is solved by a Savior. It is Messiah Jesus that will once and for all eradicate sin and suffering (see e.g. Rom. 11:26-27; Heb. 12:23; 1 Jn. 3:2; Rev. 3:12; 21:1-8, 27; 22:3).
When we control the measures to make a utopian society the way we think it should be, it fails. Whether we control “the stirrings” (e.g. The Giver), emotions (e.g. Equilibrium), everything (e.g. The Lego Movie), or the socioeconomic structure (e.g. The Hunger Games) the result is not paradise; it’s a sort of hell, at least for many. We messed up utopia, we can’t with our fallible minds design a new one. Only our Lord can. He has the only infallible and incorruptible mind. He perfectly balances justice and grace. And He alone can make us and all things new.
So the recent movie and classic The Giver does more than entertain. It teaches us a profound truth, one we would do well to remember: There is no utopian society outside of Christ. We can’t fix it. There have been many botched attempts throughout history. They lay died with their victims.
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team…” As catchy as The Lego Movie song is, it is not exactly right. Everything is not awesome, not yet. However, it will be. But not from our own doing (Notice I am not saying we shouldn’t work for social justice. We should! Yet, it will not bring the ultimate and forever peace that we long for.).
Heaven comes down (Rev. 21:2). We don’t, nor can we, build it here. I am with you and Miss America in saying I desire world peace, yet it won’t ultimately come until our Lord does. When our Lord comes He will wipe away all evil, pain, and tears, not some charismatic leader or government (Rev. 21:1ff). Jesus will make all things new. Jesus will bring utopia.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come!
Sin is not good. But Jesus is. He will bring the shalom we all desire. Live for Him.
[i] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 22-23.