Category Archives: The Problem of Evil

How To Respond to Our Suffering

Yesterday (Thursday) evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Nine attended the meeting, and we considered these sections of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010):
– “What’s the Right Way to Respond to Our Suffering?”
– “Jesus–The Only Answer Bigger Than the Questions”
As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

Actually we began by returning to this paragraph in a section that we’d read in our previous meeting: “It [Suffering] can also increase our effectiveness in talking to others about Christ. People hear the gospel best when it comes from those who have known difficulty” (booklet, page 66). I illustrated it by reading the story of Graham and Gladys Staines, missionaries to India, from Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2009); pages 436-37). The story also appears in Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries blog at The World Was Not Worthy of Them: Martyrs for Christ.

We then discussed the four suggestions in “What’s the Right Way to Respond to Our Suffering?”:
1. Look to God’s promises in the Bible for comfort. Alcorn quotes 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
2. Anticipate God’s rewards. Alcorn quotes Luke 6:23, “Rejoice…and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
3. Lighten the load through prayer. Alcorn quotes Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
4. Share your life with others who suffer.
In connection with 1 and 2 I read and commented on Psalm 73, and in connection with 3 I read a quotation about prayer from Joni Eareckson Tada given in If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (pages 464-65).

I closed our study of If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? by reading its closing section, “Jesus–The Only Answer Bigger Than the Questions.” It concludes, “When it comes to goodness and evil, present suffering, and eternal joy…the first Word, and the last, is Jesus (page 75).

In the next six weeks our Life group will be discussing our pastors’ Easter sermons. I won’t be reporting on them here, and so there won’t be any Friday posts here for the next six weeks.

Three More Questions about God’s Allowing Suffering

Yesterday (Thursday) evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Nine attended the meeting, and we studied these sections of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010):
– “Why Hasn’t God Made the Reasons for Our Suffering More Clear?”
– “Can We Really Trust God to Use Our Suffering for Good?”
– “Is Suffering Really Necessary to Build Our Character?”

In our previous meeting I’d asked the group to read the three sections before yesterday’s meeting to see how Randy Alcorn answers each question. Observing that Alcorn answers the questions posed in the second and third sections with “Yes,” I’d explained that what they should look for in those sections was why they can be answered with “Yes.” Under the weather with a cold, I didn’t contribute much to yesterday’s discussion of the three sections. However the others came well prepared and we had a good (but short) discussion of them. As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

Why Hasn’t God Made the Reasons for Our Suffering More Clear?

Randy Alcorn’s answer is that because of our limited understanding God just lets us know what we really need to know, which may not be all that we want to know, and asks us to trust Him. He gives two examples–Job, and Scott and Janet Willis. The latter was a couple who lost six of their children when a truck driver allowed a large object to drop onto a freeway in front of their van causing their gas tank to explode. Although describing their pain as “indescribable,” they told Alcorn when he interviewed them fourteen years later that they had a stronger view of God’s sovereignty than ever before, a strength gained by turning to God for help in dealing with their loss.

Can We Really Trust God to Use Our Suffering for Good?

Randy Alcorn answers “Yes” and supports his answer by considering Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). The “all things” in the life of the author of the verse, Paul, included sufferings as well as glorious experiences. Alcorn describes how once he tasted each of the ingredients that his mother had out to make a chocolate cake with. Most of them tasted terrible by themselves, but the cake that his mother made from them tasted delicious. Similarly many parts of our lives may taste bad by themselves, but God mixes them together to produce something good.

Is Suffering Really Necessary to Build Our Character?

Randy Alcorn answers “Yes” and supports his answer by comparing God’s turning us into the image of Christ with Michelangelo’s making his statue of David and by considering Romans 5:3-4, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (ESV). Michelangelo made his statue of David by choosing a stone that other artists had rejected and chipping away everything that wasn’t David, changing the huge marble block into something beautiful. Similarly we may need the “chiseling effect of loss, hardship, sickness, and even tragedy before we adequately recognize our true weakness, and need for and dependence on God” (booklet, page 66) so that He can turn us into the image of Christ.

The Health and Wealth Gospel

Thursday evening (this is Sunday) Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Twelve attended the meeting, and we studied the section “How True Are the ‘Health and Wealth Theology’ Claims About Escaping Suffering?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. It was also followed by a lunch in recognition of the next day’s being Valentine’s Day.

Alcorn opens the section with this story:

A woman lay dying of cancer. She had believed the teaching that says God will always bless with material abundance and good health those who obey him and lay claim to his promises. But now she also looked into a camera during an interview and said, “I have lost my faith.” She felt bitter that God had, she said, “broken his promises.” This woman correctly realized that the god she’d followed does not exist. But the God of the Bible had not let her down; her church and its preachers did. God never made the promises she thought he’d broken.” (How the Health and Weath Gospel Perverts Our View of Suffering and Evil)

Alcorn continues by commenting on the popularity of the “name it and claim it” message among religious people and by quoting how Crefto A. Dollar Jr., the author of Total Life Prosperity, defines it:

Biblical prosperity is the ability to be in control of every circumstance and situation that occurs in your life. No matter what happens, whether financial, social, physical, marital, spiritual, or emotional, this type of prosperity enables you to maintain control in every situation. (Crefto A. Dollar, Jr. Total Life Prosperity. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999. page x; quoted inĀ How the Health and Weath Gospel Perverts Our View of Suffering and Evil)

Alcorn goes on to assert that the view is a false one, claiming that it misrepresents the Gospel and sets people up to believe with the woman in the opening story that God has been untrue to His promises.

Alcorn devotes the rest of the section to presenting the Biblical view of what Christians should expect regarding health and wealth. However before reading it in our Life group meeting, we read some Bible passages often quoted by teachers of the health and wealth gospel and discussed how those teachers might use them in support of their view:
– “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
– “Ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7).
– “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
– “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:23).
– “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).

Although God will us from eternal suffering, He doesn’t promise that He will deliver us from present suffering. In fact He tells us in such passages as the following that we will experience it:
– “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
– “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).

However He offers us encouragement:
– “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13; I understand “no temptation” to refer to trials in general rather than just to the temptation to idolatry that Paul warns the Corinthians against in the surrounding verses).
– “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12).

Alcorn suggests that we should use times of financial hardship to repent of past greed and foolishness and should accept that God can accomplish His purposes even when we lose our health and he chooses not to heal us. He observes that although sometimes God heals people, such healing is temporary and all of us going to die eventually unless Jesus returns in our lifetime. As Alcorn observes, “Only resurrection healing will be permanent!” (Alcorn, If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? page 59)

Thus instead of supporting the “name it and claim it” teaching of health and wealth theology, the Bible challenges Christians to proclaim with Paul, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).

Heaven and Hell

20. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
22. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
23. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! </ul
24. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
25. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
26. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
27. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
(Luke 6:20-26, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Thursday evening (this is Saturday) Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. All ten members attended the meeting, which was held at Rosalie Lane’s instead of Roland and Sherry’s, and we studied the section “Can We Be Sure That Someday We’ll Be Free of Suffering and Evil?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

We opened the study by reading Luke 6:20-26 (quoted above), after which I read from the introduction to Chapter 28, “Heaven, Eternal Grace to Unworthy but Grateful Children,” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good : Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil book (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2009). Alcorn observes that in the Bible passage Jesus addressed the same problem as If God Is Good is about, the problem of the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering, and indicated that God’s solution to the problem is Heaven for the righteous and Hell for the wicked. We then discussed the images that came to our minds when we thought of Heaven and Hell.

I noted that in the Bible Jesus spoke more about Hell than anybody else did and that he referred to it as a real place. Then I had read these passages in which Jesus spoke about Hell and we discussed after the reading of each passage what it tells us about Hell.
– “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:40-42).
– “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48).
– “The sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).
– The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

I had read what the booklet says about Heaven, including these Bible passages:
– “I consider that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
– “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).

We closed with an interesting and somewhat entertaining discussion about what and whom we’ll remember from this life when we’re in Heaven.

Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?

I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They cried out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:9-10, NIV).

Oh, oh! Bob’s memory is failing–he’s started this post with the same Bible passage with which he started last Friday’s post. Yes and no. Yes, I’ve quoted the same Bible passage; but no, my memory isn’t failing. In our last meeting before Christmas the Life group which Leonora and I are part of gave me a daily devotional book by Randy Alcorn, Life Promises for Eternity (Carol Stream, Illinois, 2012). One of today’s Bible verses being Revelation 6:10-11 prompted me to quote it again.

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the group’s weekly meeting. Eight attended the meeting, and we studied the section “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. However not as usual, the meeting was held at Rosalie Lane’s rather than at Roland and Sherry Loder’s; the singing wasn’t accompanied by music, Roger Bragg (and his guitar) not being able to attend; and we had a new attendee, Mary Froude.

I opened the study by reading the introduction to Chapter 35, “Apparently Gratuitous Evil and Pointless Suffering,” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good : Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil book (Colorado Springs:Multnomah Books, 2009). It tells what happened to a young couple, David and Svea Flood, who served as missionaries in the Belgian Congo. Shortly after giving birth to a young girl, Svea died. Disillusioned, David buried her, gave his baby girl to another young missionary couple, and returned to Sweden, blaming God for ruining his life. Alcorn asks, “Why did this happen? What possible good could have come from it?” (Alcorn, book, page 370).

Next I asked another member of the group to read the opening paragraphs of “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” They tell of two incidents so horrible that one’s natural reaction on hearing of them is that the suffering caused by them was pointless. However, as Alcorn observes, our not seeing any point in such suffering doesn’t prove that there is none.

Then, having requested the group in our previous meeting to read “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” in preparation for our studying it, I asked what answers Alcorn gives in the rest of “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” to the question that it asks. One of his answers was remembered, by Pat Peddle. It is that the experience of suffering may cause us to grieve over the human rebellion that caused suffering and to long for God to complete His plan to redeem the world.

After considering that answer, we read and discussed the other answers given in “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?”:
– God promises not to allow anything to happen that He can’t use to bring ultimate good to His people and to glorify Himself. A prime example is His allowing Jesus to be crucified.
– Sometimes suffering causes unsaved people to turn to God and Christians to grow in faith and character.
– 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “He who restrains it [lawlessness] will do so until he is out of the way,” and 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God…will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” indicate that God is restraining the tests and temptations that we encounter. (Both passages are quoted from the ESV.)

I closed by reading the full story of David and Svea Flood as it is told at A Story of Eternal Perspective on Randy Alcorn’s website. It certainly demonstrates that events which seem cruel and pointless at the time may result in eternal good. I encourage you to read it too.

Why Doesn’t God Immediately Bring Evil and Suffering to an End?

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:9-11, KJV).

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Nine of the group’s ten members attended, and we studied the section “Why Doesn’t God Immediately Bring Evil and Suffering to an End?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. We also had a snack during the after-study singing.

We began our study by reading the opening paragraph of the section and (quoted above) Revelation 6:9-11. Then we read the second paragraph, which suggests these reasons for God’s delaying His final judgment on evil:
– He is giving the unsaved more time to get saved.
– He is giving Christians more time to mature as Christians.
– He is bringing more glory to Himself.

We considered these Bible passages in connection with the above reasons:
– “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient to you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV; all Biblical quotations except Revelation 6:9-11 are from the ESV).
– “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Between the two passages we read two paragraphs from the booklet which explain how experiencing suffering can help Christians grow.
– “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

We closed our study by reading the last few paragraphs of the section in the booklet, which bring out the ideas that God has a purpose for whatever He permits to happen, that He will eventually punish all evil, and that His reason for delaying His punishment of it is to give us more time to share the Gospel with others.

At the end of the study I drew the group’s attention to the address given in the booklet for Randy Alcorn’s website, Eternal Perspectives Ministries.

Is God’s Love Limited?

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. All ten of the group’s members attended, and we studied the second of the two parts which we’d planned to study last week in the section “Doesn’t the Reality of Evil and Suffering Expose God’s Limitations?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010)–“Is God’s love limited?”. As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. An innovation was members’ accompanying the after-study singing with a tambourine, a pair of cymbals, and a pair of spoons as well as with a guitar.

We opened our study by reading the last paragraph of the section that we’d studied the previous week, “Is God’s power limited?”. It cites these New Testament passages which show God to be all-powerful. They, and all other Bible passages quoted in this post, are from the ESV.
– “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; the angel Gabriel to Mary).
– “With God all things are impossible” (Matthew 19:26; Jesus to his disciples).
– “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
– “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'” (Revelation 1:8).

I pointed out that in the next two parts of the section Randy Alcorn presents Biblical evidence that God is all-knowing and all-good as well as all-powerful. A few of the passages which he cites are:
– “Do you know…the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37:16; Elihu to Job).
– “God…knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
– “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:68; cited in Alcorn’s book but not in the booklet).
– “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).

I observed that often when bad things happen to Christians who believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, they start to doubt that God loves them. I gave as examples Job’s asking God, “Why do you hide your face and count me as an enemy?” (Job 13:24), and Jesus’ asking His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Then I had the first paragraph in “Is God’s love limited?” read, its responding to such doubts by referring to passages like Psalm 51:1 which speak of God’s “steadfast love.”

I went on to observe that some people claim that if God really loves us He wouldn’t treat sin so strictly and harshly, even threatening Hell. A member of the group observed that the answer to those people’s claim was Jesus’ dying on the cross for us. Then I had the rest of “Is God’s love limited?” read. It g9ves the answer, bringing out that God is both holy / just and loving and explains how the two were united at the cross, concluding, “By giving his Son to die for us, God gave us the most compelling proof possible of the infinite greatness of his love” (booklet, page 59). We spent some time discussing what the cross meant to God and to us.

Postscript

In preparing for our reading of “Is God’s love limited?” I revisited a topic that I’d considered in an earlier post, my December 29, 2013, “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” post. I reread the chapter in John M. Frame’s No Other God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2001) that I’d focused on in the post, “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” (pages 49-56). Since Frame wrote the chapter in response to the claim by some open theists that love is God’s most important attribute, I also read what two open theists say about the topic: Richard Rice in Clark Pinnock et al’s The Openness of God (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994) and John Sanders in his The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998); I read pages 18-22 and 175-81 of those books, respectively. I also read a section called “God’s Love and Justice–A Point of Tension?” in Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013; pages 267-68). Erickson concludes, “Love and justice are not two separate attributes competing with one another. God is both righteous and loving, and has himself given what he demands” (Erickson, page 268).

I didn’t share any of what I read on the topic with the Life group, feeling that Alcorn had demonstrated sufficiently that in Jesus’ dying on the cross for us God showed that His love for us is such that we can trust Him even when we can’t understand such things as why He allows bad things to happen to us.