Friday, August 05, 2005

Why does God allow Evil and Suffering?

Why did God allow there to be evil in the world? We are God's creation, aren't we? Why couldn't He have just made us evil-free and then none of this horror would be happening? He's supposed to be all-powerful right? Either He's not as powerful as we're led to believe, He's not as perfect as we're led to believe, or He's just another abusive father who enjoys watching his children suffer. What's the purpose? What's the point?

I read a book once where the author was visiting a man he intended to interview. On the outside of the man's office was a cartoon with two turtles having a conversation. The first turtle says to the second one, "If I got a chance to talk to God, I'd ask Him why He allows there to be so much evil in the world." The second turtle responded thoughtfully,"I'd be afraid He'd ask the same question of me."

Think about this illustration. If you owned a dog and you came home from work each day and the dog met you when you came in the door and jumped up and down and licked you and loved on you, wouldn't you feel uplifted and loved? Filled with joy? If people were watching, wouldn't they see that you had a great relationship with your dog and that the dog really loved you? But what if you had the dog chained to the front door so he didn't have a choice but to be at the door when you got home. Where would your joy be, then? What would the people watching think?

God could indeed have made us sin-free. But to do so, he would have had to make us choice-free. When Eve and then Adam chose to eat of the fruit, they were exercising the right of choice that God had given them. They were lured and lied to, true. But they had the choice to say no. Because they didn't, we have the sin that has been passed down. All of us - believers and non-believers alike - wrestle with the daily struggles of the "Adam and Eve" within us. Only through the power of Jesus' Holy Spirit in us can we truly have victory over the nature that was handed down to us.

But you know all of that. That's what everybody says when we ask "Why, God?" But wait... there's more.

What if it was possible that all Christians had God's total protection and nothing bad ever happened. What did Satan say to God?

"Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face. (Job 1:9-11)

What if God made a hedge about us on every side? Would not people say, "So what that you love God. Anybody would love God if He protected them the way He does you. I'm not impressed. Your God doesn't offer me anything,I live in the real world."

What if, on the other hand, those people were watching us suffer? They saw that we deal with the same issues they deal with. The same pain, the same struggles and heartaches.

...after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40b-42)

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor 3-4)

What do each of these passages have in common? They are all describing rejoicing, not in spite of the suffering, but because of it. And finally, Paul said

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

"But that was Paul. What kind of suffering could he have gone through? Certainly, he was protected by God!" In Paul's words, look at what he's referring to as "momentary light affliction" just a few short paragraphs later... far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor 11:23-27)

Paul ran the race well. People saw that his faith in God was persistent, consistent, and profound. And they learned to trust Paul's God, not in spite of his pain and misery, but Praise God, because of it.

"But it's not like I'm suffering for Christ's sake?" Oh, but you certainly are. Why? Because people are watching.

In your suffering, you need Him more than ever. Show them what a wonderful, comforting Lord you have. Give purpose and meaning to your suffering. Use the comfort you get from God in your suffering as training so you might comfort others. Teach those who don't know the Lord to lean on Him in their suffering by leaning on Him in yours. Show them that you love Him and trust Him and know that He'll see you through even this. Bring them to Him as your faithful, loving father in your times of trouble. Show them who He is. Your good times will never be as productive for Him as your bad times. Rejoice that Jesus has considered you worthy of suffering in His name.

Why does God allow suffering? Because if He didn't, people would stop watching.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Jesus - God of dead things

Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26 While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live." Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. When Jesus came into the official's house, and saw the flute-players and the crowd in noisy disorder, He said, "Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep." And they began laughing at Him. But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. This news spread throughout all that land.

From a recent forwarded e-mail: During World War II, a US marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades. Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed. As he waited, he prayed, "Lord, if it be your will, please protect me. Whatever your will though, I love you and trust you. Amen." After praying, he lay quietly listening to the enemy begin to draw close. He thought, "Well, I guess the Lord isn't going to help me out of this one." Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave. As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave. "Hah, he thought. "What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humor." As the enemy drew closer he watched from the darkness of his hideout and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite a while. "Lord, forgive me," prayed the young man. "I had forgotten that in you a spider's web is stronger than a brick wall."

The Marine had a vision when he entered the Marine Corps that he would be making a big impact on the world, and would save lives. That's what all Marines see in their futures, otherwise the pain of the preparation would be too much. This Marine suddenly saw his dreams dashed. Dead. He was as good as dead.

But God...

The little girl was dead. Everybody knew it. They knew it so well that when Jesus said otherwise, they laughed at Him. So he evicted them. They weren't welcome to watch Him do His work. And Scripture tells us that Jesus took her by the hand... stop there...

In Jewish law, a person was unclean for seven days if they touched a dead person (Num 19:11) and shall be "cut off from his people" (Lev 7:21).

But He touched her. Jesus was willing to touch her because He knew that, although she was surely dead, she would not remain dead. Jesus is a God of touch, and a God of resurrection.

What about you? Do you see yourself as "dead?" Your hopes and dreams. Your future? Your marriage or family? Your "you."

Note a couple of things about this scene. First of all, people were laughing at the audacity. Do people laugh and mock your attempts at life? Do they tell you to be realistic? Do they tell you it can't be done? Then join Jesus' club. Evict them from your decision-making process. Pray to the God of second chances. Ask Him for guidance. Consult His Word. Seek the counsel of people who love and support you - evict the mockers. Feel Him as He reaches out and takes your hand.

Jesus loves "the dead" because He can show His glory in magnificent ways. He's not afraid to "touch" you because He knows a simple touch from the Master's Hand is a touch of resurrection.

Look to Joseph son of Jacob. Look to Sarah and Abraham. Look to Moses, to David, to the disciples, to the Marine in the cave. Look around you.

In each of their lives, God gave them a dream. A huge, life-altering dream. In each of their lives they watched the dream God gave them die. No hope that they could see. In the natural, it was over.

But God...

This girl was nobody special, but the news of her resurrection spread throughout the Land. God was glorified through her death. And He will be glorified through yours. People are watching...

Turn your "death" over to Jesus of the Resurrection and watch what He can do.

God Bless you all, and may God lift you up.