Tough Questions (HSM teaching on June 24)
So I was asked to teach on the topic of evil in student ministries yesterday. Here is my basic outline:
Hi, I am Miriam and I am the one who sends you all the emails that you don’t read! I work here at church and I teach at Trinity as well. I was a youth pastor in ministry as a team with my husband in 3 states. I have 2 kids and one is here this morning; Clayton is a core group leader. So we are looking at answering some of the tough questions of the faith this summer. I got “stuck” answering the question of why a good God could allow suffering and why there is evil in the world. There are so many corollary questions included like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Where is God when it hurts?” and Why me? Where is God when tragedy strikes? Why is there evil if God is Good? Why me? Where’s God? Etc. (On a side note, I actually think it is a bigger mystery to consider how there is any human goodness at all)
Let me just touch on a few things before we get started:
Anyone here have something bad happen in your life? Is anyone here a victim of divorce, bullying, cancer? Anyone here ever go hungry or been homeless? How about molestation, gang violence, car accident? I could go on and while I don’t expect anyone to answer I know we all have been impacted by sin and evil. Let me start with a bit of a pre-discussion question. Why would God create evil in the first place or allow the possibility?
Imagine that you are given a magic potion and you can give it to any person you want and they will be yours forever. You find the perfect person and you give it to them and they fall in love with you. You get married and live happily ever after. But a few years later you begin to ask yourself if they really love you or if it is just the potion you gave them that makes them respond to you. You will never know, will you? Having a choice which is called “Free will”is key in relationships. That is like God and humanity. He does not want robots or puppets. He loves us too much which is why he allows the possibility.
God wants us to know who he is and what he is like. God is so great that he can even use sin and evil to show how great he is. If there was no such thing as sin/evil then there would be many things we would not know about God. Could God show us how forgiving he is if there was no one to forgive? Would we know how much God hates sin if there was no sin to hate? Can God show his great love for sinners if there are no sinners to die for? Would we understand grace or justice or ? Also, there is theology that teaches that God is unknowable, incomprehensible
Another comment before we get to the real question is a reminder that Man is not what he once was as God designed us to be. We have changed. God did not change us but we changed ourselves because of sin. This still does not let God off the hook. Even though humans are to blame for evil because of sin, God who is sovereign and powerful allowed evil to happen. He permitted it to infect and infest creation. Everyone suffers because we live in a fallen broken world. Even though that includes everyone, I would tell you that everyone’s pain is unique.
Now I want to give you a few other definitions as we get into it.
Evil – the active intent to do harm.
Suffering – the passive result of evil. It is what happens to you.
Modern times have changed evil.
1. Evil is different because we live in a culture where we fix everything. We have aspirin, antiseptic, anesthetics so we can live a life without pain. We are shocked any time we experience it.
2. We have made it much more efficient. We drop a bomb from thousands of feet in the air and don’t even see the humanity we are destroying, one another.
3. We have made evil good and cool. And with technology we have even made it a game! Everything is impersonal and we are numb to its devastating reality.
Now let’s get into answering the question of the day:
I have an answer to the question at hand but you wont like it:I don’t know!
Ultimately we cannot understand God’s purposes. The Bible says that no one can fathom God. Does good stuff come out of bad stuff ? Absolutely! And that is because God is good. (Job – the book to read for all the wrong answers to the question of evil and suffering!)
Here is what I do know // 3 things:
1. Evil is evil. It is not a watered down game. It is not a fairytale stepmother who is mean. It is really bad. God is not to blame for it. People are.
What is wrong with the world? I AM (GK Chesterton)
God hates evil. Jesus was outraged and indignant at the intent to cause harm and despair by the Jewish leaders. In Mark 3:5 it reads “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand.” Instead of the discussion being around the power of God’s miracle for healing, the onlookers accused Jesus of doing good works on the Sabbath. Their loyalty to legalism prevented them from having a right heart before the powerful presence of God. When the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ questions, He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts
Not only does God get mad about the evil, it makes him sad!
John 11 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?”, he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
He grieves with us over it. Shortest verse in the Bible. God’s face is wet with tears.
2. God is Good – ALL THE TIME! He cares. He came. He acts. He hears the cries of His people. He took care of our needs every day as a family and he still does!.Just as the Israelites had to rely on God in the wilderness for food, he takes care of us in a harsh and broken world. The jews had what they needed each day and could not store the manna longer because then they would not have to trust God to provide tomorrow. When they got to the promised land, they did not enter a utopian paradise but had a really harsh land without water so they would need to rely on God to take care of them every day. We too learned to lean in every day- dependence is not a highly valued trait in America, yet it is in God’s economy!
We all have bad stuff. Everyone here has dealt with death, bullying, hunger, sickness and other evils and suffering. For our family, the worst was when Jim, my husband and the kids dad got brain cancer. He lived for 22 months before he went home to heaven. It was hard and we still miss him everyday. But in the process we learned in a very personal way that God is good all the time!
This year for Father’s day Clayton wrote: college was the first season of life that my dad wasn’t able to be a part of. I can’t help but imagine what it would’ve been like to have him around at Biola. Seven and a half years later, many of my friends now have never met him, seen his magic tricks or heard his jokes, but I wish they could! I wonder sometimes what it would’ve been like to take one of his classes or sit in his office on campus, or for him to be able to come to my soccer games. I also wish I knew more about the lives that he impacted while he was around on campus and even before we moved here, at Trinity and in his youth groups; and I wish I could’ve known him as an adult. Biola was a time of joy and growth for sure, but it also came with difficulty and a continued process of grief. yet I can see and acknowledge the ways that I have come to know God more intimately and trust him more deeply through this season and in this loss; and I can be grateful for how God has pursued me and worked in my life throughout college. God is still good! I’m grateful for the impact that my dad has made and continues to make on my life and many others, even in his absence, and I hope to someday make an impact like him too
We ask the questions: I asked the tough questions when Jim got sick. Why me? Why not me? We like control but we live in a world that is not fair. Unjust. Irrational. We ask this so we won’t despair. Where is God? We feel we must blame someone and that someone is responsible. Jesus even asked this on the cross. In the thick of suffering we cry out in faith and pain! But we know that God works all things together for our good and his greatest glory. God loves us enough to fix the brokenness and to be present with us in the middle of it! That is amazing!
3. GOD is all powerful. Can He be trusted even if I don’t know what he is doing? I’m in the dark about he is doing but I am not in the dark about God because of Jesus!! He acts to stop it. He Gives an escape. He Uses it. He Acknowledges it. He Frames it. He Defeats it. God will abolish evil one day soon. He has the power to finally obliterate evil and he has perfect timing. We just think he has no power because we want it fixed NOW! Just because God doesn’t change the evil now does not mean that he can’t! Underline this verse in your Bible:
2 Peter 3:9 New International Version (NIV) 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind – this man had to live his whole life blind for this moment! Sometimes we have to wait what seems like an eternity and not understand any of it. But we can trust the Lord and put our hope in him because he does have the power and the desire to make it all right again!
John 9 ::As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Silver Linings These are not answers or explanations but are things that give me hope
- Evil actually deepens faith.
- The darkest night allows the light of Jesus to shine through. Jim saw a vision of Jesus in dark praying for our family!
- God is there with me in the dark. We are never alone. I have felt his presence.
- Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face Job 13:15
- One day the last tear will fall. Rev. 21:4
- God is turning it upside down and uses it for his glory, What was meant for evil he used for good. (story of Joseph.)
- Daniel 3:17 “ If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
- One day secrets will be explained and God’s goodness and justice will be seen
- God’s presence is enough
Responses – God expects a response from us when bad things happen.
- We forgive. Forgiveness cuts off the past and liberates the future.
- We have Courage to do something for others – evil triumphs when good men do nothing
- We pray for his kingdom to come
- We trust. We depend on Him for all of our needs every day.
- We have received comfort so we can comfort others. (2 Cor. 1)
- Do Not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21)
Review & Blessing