Bible Text: Revelation 21:1-5 | Preacher: Ray Galea | Series: Ask Anything | To understand the problem of suffering we must go to God's big plan.
In short that plan is, 'God made it, we broke it and Jesus fixed it.'
We today start our ‘Ask anything’ series this January. These questions have been raised by you or your friends. Today’s question is, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”
For some of you, this is an interesting problem, but it has not touched you personally… not yet anyway.
For others of you, this question is as close to the bone as you can get. For you, 2020 couldn't come soon enough. You have experienced a death or a divorce or a long bout of depression. It has left you at the very least disappointed by God. Others of you live in chronic pain. Or you have watched a loved one suffering long and hard. You naturally wonder why God did not answer our prayers (we look at that question next week). Others of you have been victims of pure evil. You have been abused, and that trauma has never left you. You wonder why God did not step in, why he has abandoned you.
Still others of you watch the news feeds, and are confronted with a thousand images of suffering and evil: floods that wipe out thousands in Bangladesh; an earthquake that decimates towns; the White Island Volcano that recently killed holiday makers; droughts that have devasted farming communities; unquenchable bushfires that destroy five million hectares, 1200 houses, and many lives, including two firemen from Horsley Park.
So the question naturally follows, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”
This is only a problem if God is both all good and all powerful. If God is all good but not all powerful, he can’t stop bad things. But the bible is clear that God is both all good and all powerful. That is the problem
It’s a complex problem and you can’t put the answer on a bumper sticker. We need to say that the bible does not have all the answers to this problem.
For example, why is suffering so unevenly distribute in this world? Right now at MBM we have three women—two in their twenties and one in her thirties—who are living with life-threatening conditions. This one is a mystery for everyone.
If you believe there is no God and death is the end, then it is just bad luck. There is no point whinging because there is no God to hear your pain. It’s just a cruel and cold universe
But for many religions, the answer comes in the form of ‘karma’. You reap in this life what you sowed in a past life. What goes round comes round. But the problem with ‘karma’ and reincarnation is that every person who is in pain is getting payback from bad karma in a past life.
Another version is when some Christians say, “You are sick because you don’t have enough faith. Some sin in your life has caused this.” The whole book of Job in the Old Testament stomps on that idea.
So what does biblical Christianity offer to the question of why bad things happen if God is good? The bible does not have all the answers, but it has the best answers.
Here are some of them.
First, Jesus doesn't want us to pretend about suffering. Lots of people in the Bible have cried out to God: “Why, Why, Why? How long, O Lord, before you step in and fix this mess?” On the first Good Friday, Jesus himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It's a legitimate question to come to God with.
Second, Jesus rejects ‘karma’. Jesus was asked about a man born blind. Was he blind because of his sins or his parents’ sins? Jesus said, neither! So why doesn’t God stop the pain? He will, but on his terms.
Third, suffering is better understood within God’s big plan. Let me explain it this way: you came into the world, like people who come into a movie half-way through. The story of the world is like one long movie that started before we were born and will end after we die. To make sense of the pain, you need to know what has already happened and what will happen.
Nothing drives my wife nuts more than when I come into a movie twenty minutes before it ends. I can’t understand what is going on so I’m asking questions: “Sandy, who is that person? Sandy, why would she have said that?” Trying to understand the question, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”, you must think big picture.
Our movie began in Genesis 1, with an all good and all powerful God creating a good world with good people having a really good time with God and each other. Six times we are told there that God said, “It is good, it is good, it is very good!” Even the devil was made as a good angel who turned bad.
A good God made it, and then we humans broke it, starting with our first parents, Adam and Eve. They decided that God was not good and going to rip them off. They decided to reject God in the garden of Eden, and we all have been doing it ever since. That decision to rebel against God caused all humans to be kicked out of paradise and into this broken world. We all now live in a broken world where we all end up dead with broken bodies and broken relationships. That is why we suffer and why we die, for the wages of sin is death, just as God promised would happen. We live outside the garden and after the fall. The bible says that creation is groaning, enslaved to death and decay. With it comes flood and fire. We ourselves are groaning, enslaved to the fear of death. When God reimposes his will on his rebel humanity, it comes with pain.
Part of the pain is that God is giving us what we want. We want freedom to do our own thing. When seven billion humans exercise their free will and play God, then expect a lot of suffering.
Why do so many million starve? Because there is not enough food? No one thinks that. There is enough to go round. It’s due to greed and politics.
One solution is that God could just get right of the terrorist and warmonger. It would be a better place, but not perfect. He could get rid of paedophiles. Better still but not perfect. Let’s get rid of liars, gossips, and bullies. Better, but eventually he will be getting rid of the lot of us. It is God’s goodness that lets anyone live. Be clear that we have each contributed a quota of suffering in this world. God made it, we broke it, but Jesus fixed it.
Someone asked an excellent question: “What does it feel like to be God? What existed before the universe was created?” They are profound questions.
For all eternity there was God—Father, Son, and Spirit—living in love and pure happiness. He creates us knowing what it would do to him. This is the price he paid for not making us robots. Like every parent who has children knowing that they will hurt them, so God made us knowing we would hurt him.
We tend to only think of the pain we experience. We forget the pain our rebellion causes God.
If God is good, why did he make a world where bad things happen to him? Genesis 6:5-6 tells us:
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart. (NIV)
Our rebellion broke God's own heart. His heart was filled with grief, and even though he could have walked away and shut the whole thing down, out of sheer love for us he came to us in person. Unlike any other religion, the God of the Bible came up close and personal on that first Christmas day. He shared in the blood, sweat, and tears of what it means to be fully human in a broken world. Not once did he ever add to the pain of humanity. He sat where you sit, in a broken body and broken world, a man familiar with sorrows, beaten and battered and abused, and then he took your special quota of the pain of hell which you deserved, not him.
A question was raised, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” But God is not just a good God; he is a just God. Do we want him to ignore the evil in this world? What kind of a God is that?
We have no idea what we are asking. We blame God for not being fair or good when we are the ones who are neither fair nor good. We want God to stop other people from doing bad but we don’t want God to stop us from doing bad. We talk as if we are wiser than God, with puny minds shaking our puny fists against the very God who is keeping us alive minute by minute while we rebel against him. We blame God for not doing it another way, like his way only cost us and as if his way didn’t cost him. We forget that before we blame God, but God decided to take the blame for all of us, Isaiah 53:4-5:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)
We often say, “Why does God let the innocent suffer?” Friends, there is only one truly innocent one, suffering for us at the cross. We don’t have all the answers to suffering in this world, but we have the best answer.
I remember when one of our missionaries, Leaf, spoke about her friend who was raped and beaten in India. The man who did it was set free. It traumatized her. She thought to herself, “If this European woman could not get justice, what about those poor Indian women who are part of the untouchable class—known as ‘dalits’—how would they get justice? The weight of this question hung over her. She battled with God. For months she stopped reading the Bible. But in her pain she said that the Bible started reading itself back to her, how Jesus was familiar with suffering as a man with sorrow. More than that, when Jesus faced the tears of two women whose brother Lazarus had died. Jesus sees their tears and Jesus wept. He did what he calls us to do, “Weep with those who weep.”
The God of the Bible is not some detached being with a heart of stone. Our suffering matters to him. And more than that, Jesus then rose from the dead never to die again. For the first time in the history of the world, God raised a human never to die again. Our biggest enemy is death. Jesus not only pinned death to the wall, but he defeated it at the resurrection. And a day is coming when he will destroy it.
To make sure you didn't think that Jesus’ resurrection was like the Easter bunny, after Jesus rose from the dead he appeared many times to many people who were eye witnesses.
God made it. We broke it. And Jesus fixed it.
This movie you are in is not over friends. My daughter Maddy and I were watching the Hugh Jackman film, ‘Prisoner’. It was a great movie, but I had to leave before the end of the movie to pick up my wife at the airport. I was desperate to know how the movie ends.
Jesus has told us how the movie ends. He is coming back to put everything right. Listen carefully. For some, he will put an end to suffering. For others, he will add to them suffering upon suffering, Revelation 20:10:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (NIV)
This is the absolute end of evil as we know it. The beast and the false prophet are now joined by their leader, Satan. All member of this unholy trinity locked up forever, never again to surface, never again to be released. We will never have to worry that what happened in Eden will be revisited in the future. It will be the end of death, but for those who rebelled against Christ, Revelation 20:15:
If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (NIV)
Hitler has not escaped. Stalin died peaceably in his sleep, but he will not rest in peace. God knows who are his, and if your name is not there, then you will be there in the fiery lake.
Please, please, please don't leave here apart from Christ. Jesus is not now a baby in a manger. He is not now a dead saviour on a cross. He is a living warrior who determines who goes where. For those who are his, he will put an end to the suffering. Jesus is coming back to make all things new, Revelation 21:3-4:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (NIV)
What is new about the new creation? Jesus says he will give us new bodies, God will be with us, and there will be no more tears and no more death. No more broken hearts and broken relationships.
God made it. We broke it. And Jesus fixed it.
In the meantime, how will you journey with the quota of pain that God has assigned to you?
First, stop thinking that you are more wise, and more merciful than God. Stop hiding behind this question by not believing in him and refusing to count it pure joy when trials come.
Second, you are allowed to push back on the effects of the fall. God has given humans wisdom to reduce pain—from insulin to anti-depressants—so use them. We can push back on the fall.
Third, our responsibility is to relieve suffering. John Piper said this: “We are committed to relieving suffering in this world, and even more so in the world to come.” We don’t want our loved ones suffering now nor in hell.
Fourth, suffering has meaning and purpose, Romans 5:3-5:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame. (NIV)
Suffering has eternal meaning. Suffering is an unwelcome but good friend. I said to one young women who is suffering right now—she nearly died on Christmas day—“God has entrusted a quota of suffering to you as a compliment to you. He is entrusting you with this gift to glorify him.”
Fifth, do not misread suffering as punishment. God disciplines us but he does not punish us. Suffering is not a form of punishment.
Sixth, in your suffering, know Jesus as your sympathetic high priest. I told one sister who has been suffering all last year, “Jesus is your human high priest who knows your pain in real time. He feels your suffering as if it were his own. Your tears are his tears.”
For some of you, you need to tell God how hurt, disappointed, and abandoned you feel in your suffering. Talk to him as one who fully knows you and is totally for you.
You made this wonderful world and we praise you for it. Please forgive us for breaking your heart. Thank you Jesus for entering our broken world and sharing its pain and wearing my blame at the cross. Thank you for the promise of no more pain and death. Help us to live for you in Jesus’ powerful name.