Sunday, September 11, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 2

A God Who is Great but Mysterious

One response to the problem of evil that is necessary but ambivalent is to acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. God is greater than we are, with purposes that may differ greatly from ours. Even though we may not be able to see any reasons for our suffering, it is always possible that a God of such wisdom and creative power might have reasons for the existence of evil that are simply beyond human understanding.

I hear a lot of people, especially atheists say things like "Well if God is so loving how can you justify His killing of thousands of innocent people in the Old Testament?" But who is to say they were innocent? If a man or x number of men break into your house and try to harm or kill your family and you end up killing them in self defense to protect your family, are you no longer a good man or woman? Are you an unjust murderer? Where do we draw the line? How are we in our finite understand supposed to judge the actions of someone, or something (God) beyond our understanding? What is evil? Which leads me to my next point on how can we suffer if there is a God and can God use suffering in this world for the greater good.

A provocative Biblical story of suffering is the tragic tale of Job, a righteous man greatly blessed by God and successful in all that he did. Satan challenges God with the claim that Job only worships God because he is so blessed. So God allows Satan to torment Job to prove Job’s faithfulness. Job tragically loses his property, his children and finally his health. Long after one would expect, Job finally cries out to God to explain his suffering, a call that goes unanswered. Instead, God simply reminds Job of God’s divine majesty and power. Job withdraws his complaint, returns to trust in God, and his bountiful life is fully restored. Job’s story offers no answer to why he suffered so much, beyond the apparent discussion God was having with Satan about Job’s faith. The story does offer a powerful example of someone who remains faithful and acknowledges the limits of his own understanding:
"Then Job answered the Lord and said, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes."
Through his suffering, Job came to know the reality of God in a new and more personal way.
The Biblical story of Joseph also reveals that suffering can lead to good. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongfully accused of sexual assault and thrown into prison. God uses these events to make Joseph a great leader in Egypt. As a result of his leadership, Egypt and the surrounding countries are saved from starvation in a terrible famine. Joseph makes this point to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph’s story illustrates how God can use suffering for good purposes.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Keller describes a man from his church who lost his eyesight when he was shot in a drug deal that went bad. The blindness humbled the man and led to spiritual transformation. Reflecting on the experience, the man said, “It was a terrible price to pay, and yet I must say it was worth it. I finally have what makes life worthwhile.”

Our tragedies are often terrible: losing a child, watching an elderly parent suffer, being betrayed by those we trust. But if we are open, we can often see ways that our pain is being at least partially redeemed by God working purposefully through these experiences. As Keller suggests, God can no doubt see ways to bring some good out of our pain.

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