Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Suffering? PART ONE

Why Suffering?    PART ONE      PART TWO      PART THREE      PART FOUR       PART FIVE

Dear Friends,

On July 20, 2012, a gunman entered a movie theater in Colorado, killed twelve people and injured 70 others. A few days later, a newspaper columnist wrote that “it was God or voices in the shooter’s head” that caused him to do what he did. After my anger had subsided at what I had just read, I tried very hard to let that one go and I just couldn't. God was not responsible for the evil that took place that night! 

It's one thing when someone expresses an incorrect theological statement in private and another when it's a respected and well-read columnist on the front page of a major Los Angeles newspaper with a large readership. That morning, I sent the columnist an email and this is what I wrote:

“I have always enjoyed reading your columns but today's column surprised me. You concluded that it was either God or the shooter’s mental illness that turned him into a mass murderer. Do you really believe that what happened could have been a premeditated and intentional act of God? Do you believe that God is the initiator of evil in the world? In the midst of pain, grief and unspeakable horrors, do you see God as the perpetrator? Do you really believe in a cruel and unholy God who used James Holmes as a puppet in order to orchestrate mayhem and destruction in God's own Creation?
If you do believe that, then somewhere in your life experience, you have received an understanding of God that is not believed or taught by the church or by any of the major religions. If you don't believe that, but you mischaracterized God out of your own anger or hurt, then perhaps you owe your readers an explanation and owe God an apology...”

This columnist and I then had an interesting exchange of emails. He told me he had been raised Catholic but never went to church. He remorsefully admitted that, “maybe we too easily blame God for things that aren't His fault.” He told me that his daughter died from cancer in the past year and it was then that I understood the source of his pain and the reason for his anger at God. It's understandable for a grieving father to wonder where God was in the middle of his daughter's suffering. I wrote him back and told him some things about God that I hope were helpful for him to hear and think about. Just a few months ago, I read about the columnist’s own death and remembered our email exchange about his Heavenly Father. If he didn’t get it before, it’s for certain that he knows the truth about God now...

Probably the question that Christians hate most is “If God is so good, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” We hate it when non-believers ask us this because most of us aren’t certain about the answer and, to be honest, many of us have asked it ourselves. But we need to know the answer, because this question has caused more permanent and temporary atheism than any other. Surveys of non-believers have shown that this one question is the biggest road-block to accepting Jesus, and that’s why, when they come to us for answers, we need to have a good theological understanding of how the reality of evil and suffering plays out in God's Creation. We need to be fully prepared to answer the basic questions about our faith. (1 Peter 3:15)

We understand why this is such an important and difficult question. People suffer in unspeakable ways and die in horrific circumstances every moment of every day. How does a good God allow this? None of this seems to make sense to us. I know that God is good. God is love and kindness and mercy and compassion. Because God is good, God hates evil. God is also Sovereign and Omnipotent – meaning He rules and reigns and is all powerful. Evil and suffering are pervasive throughout the world. They touch our own life and the lives of those we love and cherish. So I don't get it. If God is so good, and He loves us so much, then why does He allow all this evil and suffering when He has the power to wipe it out forever?

When a non-believer asks this question, we can’t just toss off an answer composed of platitudes and a Bible verse. It’s an important question and it will take the next few AMEN Corners to answer it...

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