James Meehan - How Does God Respond to Suffering?
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We're in questions for God part three. Where we're wrestling with the question, if God is real and God is good then why do evil and suffering exist? This is actually the question that started me on my journey away from faith. When I was younger, being confronted with all of the wrongs in the world. All of the injustices that were taking place. And honestly, the fact that my own personal life was so full of chaos and turmoil with my parents filing for divorce, my older sister selling drugs, being just an angry middle schooler who had no idea how to deal with the frustrations that I was experiencing. I was over and over again praying and asking God to make things better. But things weren't getting better. And it planted the seed of doubt that maybe, just maybe the God that I was told was real, wasn't.
That may be the reality of suffering and evil is actually evidence against the existence of God that I was told to believe in. So that's what we're gonna be tackling today. The idea that the existence of evil and suffering makes it really unlikely that God is good or that God is real. But before we dive in, we've got to clarify which God we're talking about. Because I would agree that the existence of evil and suffering absolutely contradicts certain versions of God. But that is not the case with the God of the Bible. In fact, I would argue that Christianity does a better job of explaining the problem of evil and suffering than any other worldview. Because more than any other worldview, Christianity makes sense of, gives meaning to and offers a solution for the evil and suffering we experience.
The God we're talking about is the God of the Bible. The God who revealed himself most clearly through his suffering death on a Roman cross. The Christian God is the God revealed through suffering. He's the God who left heaven and entered history in the person of Jesus. He had all the power, but he chose to become powerless. And he allowed himself to suffer and die at the hands of evil men. This is so important for us to understand. Is that the problem of evil and suffering is not contrary to the story of the Bible. As a matter of fact, the problem of evil and suffering is central to the story of the Bible. Because the Bible is telling the story of God's plan to deal with the problem of evil and suffering once and for all. And that plan is made most clear through the person of Jesus.
The apostle Paul tells us that, "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God". And then John, one of Jesus' closest disciples says, "that no one has ever seen God, but the one and only son who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the father has made him known". God made himself known in the person of Jesus. And it is in the person of Jesus that God showed us how he responds to suffering and how he responds to evil. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Jesus showing up to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. Because when he arrives, he's approached by Lazarus his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Now Martha comes to see Jesus first. And she says to him, Hey Jesus if you had been here my brother wouldn't have died. And Jesus responds to her suffering with truth. He tells her that Lazarus will rise again because he Jesus is a life and resurrection in human form. In the middle of her pain, what Jesus did is he shared her the truth of the good that's to come. But to comfort Mary, Jesus takes a very different approach.
In John chapter 11, starting in verse 32. We're told that, "Mary reached the place where Jesus was and she saw him. She fell at his feet and she said, Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And Jesus seeing her weeping and the Jews who had come along also seeing her weeping". Jesus is deeply moved in his spirit and he is troubled. So he asks her, "where have you laid him"? "Come and see" they replied. And then in verse 35, we get these two words, "Jesus wept". This is how Jesus responds to suffering. For people like Martha who need hope, He responds with truth. For people like Mary who need to know that God cares, He responds with tears. Because Jesus is not distant or detached. He is close and compassionate. He doesn't respond to our suffering with a, hey, that sucks for you. Instead he responds by choosing to suffer with us. By going to the cross to die for us.
What other God would lower himself and allow himself to be humiliated like that. To die for people who had rejected him, had cursed Him, had turned their backs on him. You see it is in Jesus's sacrifice on the cross that we most clearly see the way that God approaches suffering. And it's in Jesus's death on the cross that we most clearly see the way that God approaches evil. God takes what is meant for evil and he uses it for good. What is the cross? The cross is a torture device designed to humiliate, shame and execute criminals, slaves and terrorists. It was a tool intended to send a very clear message to anyone who challenges the power of Rome. But now around the world the cross is not a symbol of death and destruction. The cross is a symbol of life and salvation. Why? Because God took what was intended for evil and he used it for good. He took what was designed for destruction to bring about salvation.
This is the way that the God of the Bible, the God revealed through Jesus responds to evil over and over again. He uses it for good. And these ideas didn't just randomly show up out of nowhere with Jesus. They have been a consistent theme running through the entire story of the Bible from the very beginning. Because the problem of evil and suffering is not contrary to the story of the Bible. It is central to it. Because more than anything else, Christianity makes sense of it gives meaning to and it offers a solution for the evil and suffering we experience. Starting from the very beginning in the book of Genesis, where we are introduced to the biblical story. We're introduced to the God of heaven and earth who created everything as an act of love. And he looked at his creation, He said it was very good. And he created us human beings in his image to rule over creation on his behalf. But that wasn't enough for us.
You see God wanted to partner with us. But we wanted to rule over him. The result is what we call the fall. It was the act of rebellion where humanity first sinned against God. And sin is so much more than just the mistakes that we make. Sin is a disease that has invaded and corrupted God's good creation. What is sin? Sin is missing the mark. It's taking what God created for good and misusing it in ways that are not good. And it is because of sin that evil entered the picture. Now, remember God created everything and he called it good. What we've got to understand is that evil is not a created thing. Evil is not a thing. It's the lack of a thing. It is a distortion of the good. In the same way that dark is the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good. And is through sin that we were introduced to evil. And is from evil that we experience suffering.
Evil and suffering are not just unpleasant things. They're not just things that we don't like. They are a departure from the way things ought to be. They are a violation of ultimate goodness and true justice. And this is what the Christian worldview offers us. The reality that sin and evil aren't just unpleasant, but they are wrong. Now you might be wondering, okay, but if God giving us free will is what resulted in sin and evil and in suffering. Then wouldn't have been better to just not give people free will, right. Wouldn't have been better if Adam and Eve could have just never rejected God, then none of this would have happened. I think that's a really good question. Because you would be right to say that a world without free will, a world without humans would be a world without sin and suffering. But a world without freewill would also be a world without love. Because love isn't something that can be forced.
Love requires choice. And the God of heaven and earth didn't want rocks or robots, He wanted a relationship. And in the first few chapters of the Bible we are shown where evil come from. We're given a picture of the horrors that evil leads to, but that isn't the end of the story. In fact, just a few verses after the fall in Genesis chapter three, God promises that a day will come when a child of Eve will be born and this child will crush the head of evil and so doing he will lose his life in the process. Literally, just a few verses after sin enters the story, God for shadows. Jesus's future victory power of sin and death. And then, at the end of Genesis, we're introduced to another significant character in the biblical story.
So at the end of the book of Genesis, we're introduced to Joseph. Now, Joseph was one of 12 sons who was actually sold into slavery by his brothers. Later he was accused of sleeping with his master's wife, a crime he did not commit. After which he was imprisoned and enslaved for years. But somehow God works through all of those circumstances and elevated Joseph to a position of power in Egypt. Where he was able to provide for the entire country and the surrounding nations during a time of severe famine. And it was through that process that so many years later Joseph was standing in front of the brothers who had betrayed him. The brothers who had sold him into slavery. When he says these words.
In Genesis chapter 50 starting in verse 19, Joseph says to them. "Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God"? He says, "you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. To accomplish what is now being done. The saving of many lives. So then don't be afraid I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and he spoke kindly to them". So the introduction to the Bible, the book of Genesis. Is written to show us that evil and suffering are the result of human beings taking what God intended for good, freewill, choice and using it for evil. And the book of Genesis tells us that God's response is to take what we intended for evil and to use it for good. Because even though God didn't create evil, he still uses it to bring good out of the bad.
Later we're introduced to the person of Job. Job is a story of a good and righteous person. Who through no fault of their own has their entire life ripped apart. This book is 42 chapters wrestling with the question, why do bad things happen to good people? Wrestling with the question is God still good when everything goes bad? It's a story where God's character is called into question. Where Job after having lost everything somehow he remains faithful God. And even though he remains faithful to God, he's still wrestling with why God would allow all these things to happen to him. And the next 35 chapters of this story, follow Job but bringing his questions to God and his friends offering unhelpful easy answers and overly simplistic explanations as a response. But eventually, God speaks. He responds to Job. But when He does, God doesn't give an easy answer or an empty promise to Job's questions.
Instead, God gives Job a glimpse into the complexity of our world. He invites Job to trust that then when he doesn't understand it or can't explain it, that God has good reasons to allow this evil and suffering to take place. That even when Job doesn't see it, that God is using the suffering and evil for good. So much so, that at the center of this book, Job admits that what he is really lacking is wisdom and perspective. And he makes us claim that the wisest thing that he can do is continue to trust that God is good when everything goes bad. And to do what right, when everything seems wrong. This is what The Book of Job is all about. Not giving us easy answers to the question of evil or suffering, but help us develop wisdom. The wisdom we need live hopefully in the middle of our suffering. And while story of Job doesn't give us easy answers to all the big questions that we might be facing. It does give us the wisdom we need to live well in our fallen and broken world.
You see Job reminds us that God's solution to the problem of evil isn't an easy answer or empty promise. Instead God's solution is the person of Jesus. Jesus, the God revealed through suffering. The God who meets the evil of this world with grace. Who meets the corruption of those that are in power with truth. Who meets the wrongs being committed by the religious leaders with justice. And all along the way, Jesus is building this movement of forgiven and redeemed followers. That he is going to send out to bring that forgiveness and redemption to our fallen and rebellious world. You see on the cross and through his death, Jesus disarmed the powers of sin and death. And he made a way for all of humanity to be rescued from sin, reconciled to God and restored to our rightful place as partners in his mission to deal with evil once and for all. Because remember the Bible is telling us the story of God's plan to deal with evil and suffering. And that plan is made most clear in the person of Jesus.
This next part of our story is judgment. You see after Jesus's resurrection, he spent 40 days with his followers. Before ascending to heaven sitting down at the right hand of God. But before he went, he told them that eventually he would return to finish what he started. To deal with evil and suffering once and for all. And so on the other side of the resurrection we look forward eagerly anticipating Jesus's return. The day when he's gonna come back to finish what he started. When all things are made new. When good will finally triumph over evil. Suffering will be no more and every tear will be wiped away.
Now, quick side note. The way that most people understand the Christian view of judgment is so broken. And while I don't have time to get into all of it right now, so much of that misunderstanding is a result of a settling for really bad caricature of heaven, hell, God and a complete disregard for the Bible actually says. I'm go on record right now saying that revelation is probably the most misunderstood and misinterpreted book of the Bible. And unfortunately, because of how horribly we've misunderstood this book and the final judgment. So many people see it as a bad thing, right. For some reason we assume that when Jesus returns all the love, grace and compassion he had in his life will be gone. And instead, he's just gonna show up as a vindictive jerk looking for people to punish. That is not picture that the Bible presents. The kind of judgment that the Bible speaks of, is the moment when the King of Kings and the Lord of lords, the Lamb of God and the suffering servant Jesus deals with sin, evil and suffering once and for all.
And it is this God, the God revealed in Jesus. Who is full of grace, who is full of a mercy that will judge the world in a way that is the most just and the most possible. Because that is who he is. And in the same way that so many of us today crave for justice to be done when people are abused, mistreated and taken advantage of by others. The Bible tells us that all of creation is groaning for the day when God will bring justice to his world. When all of the wrong things are made right. When the disease of sin is finally dealt with. Martin Luther king, Jr. famously said, "that the moral arc of the universe is long and it is bent towards justice". That is exactly the arc of the biblical story. It's an arc that starts with a good beginning. And eventually it arrives at a place where every wrong has been made right. Every injustice has been undone. Every heart has been healed. Every captive has been set free and death is no more. The Bible calls that the new creation.
You see, the problem of evil and suffering is not contrary to the story of the Bible. The problem of evil and suffering is central to the story of Bible. And more than anything else, Christianity it makes sense of, it gives meaning to and offers a solution for the evil and suffering we experience. You see the story of the Bible is a story of God's plan to deal with the problem of evil and suffering once and for all.
Now I know that these words I've shared don't take away the pain of the suffering that you might find yourself in. That's not the goal of this message. The goal of this message is to help you understand that the God of heaven and earth, the God revealed in Jesus. He sees you. He notices you. And he cares for you, in your suffering. Please don't turn your back on the one who has the truth that you might be searching for. Please don't turn your back on the one who has the tears that you might be desperate for. Because God is not distant or detached. God is close and compassionate. Psalm chapter 34 verse 18 tells us that, "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He rescues those whose spirits are crushed". And so whatever situation you might find yourself in know that God loves you. God sees you. And there will come a day when every wrong is made right. When every tear is wiped away and every heart is healed. Until that day, we have been called by God to play a part in his plan to deal with the problem of sin and evil in our day. To follow Jesus faithfully, to bring and hope to those who are hurting.
Heavenly Father, I thank you so much that you care for us in the middle of our pain. That God, even when we might find ourselves wrestling with the questions of, if you care or you're even there? That we can be reminded that your character, your nature, your love is most clearly revealed through Jesus who is the God that is with us. The God who suffered for us, the God who invites us to know you and to find the healing that so many of us are desperate for.
Right now, as we're praying this, I know that there are probably some of you who you are struggling. Because there are things that are happening in your life that you can't explain. There are struggles that you're facing that you don't know how to deal with. And I just hope and pray that you would choose to bring whatever questions you have to God. To process your doubts with people you trust and commit to follow Jesus because he wants to draw near to you. And so if you're finding yourself in one of those situations right now, I would just love to pray for you. So either raise your hand or type something in the chat to let us know so that we can pray for you to have the strength and the comfort that you need during this difficult time.
Heavenly Father, for those students that are saying, yes God I need your help. Right now I'm struggling and I just need your strength. God I pray that they would feel your presence. That they would know that You are with them in the middle of whatever challenge they are facing. That God they would trust that you are the God who takes everything and uses it for good. That you bring people closer to you and closer to one another through the hardships that we face. And that even though this isn't the way things are supposed to be, that you take what is wrong and you use it for good.
I know that there's probably another group of you right now who this question of evil and suffering. The question of all the wrong things in the world is exactly what has kept you away from God. Maybe it's what drove you away in the first place. What I hope you will understand though, is that this idea of suffering and evil is not contrary to the story of the Bible. But this is the story that the Bible is all about, God. Doing whatever it takes to undo the damage of sin. To rescue us from that disease. To undo the evil that is loose in our world. To reconcile us to him through the person of Jesus.
This is why the gospel is good news, because the gospel is the announcement that the God of heaven has not abandoned us. That the God of heaven was willing to show up in history to die on a cross for you and for me. So the powers of sin, death and evil could be disarmed. So that through his resurrection from the grave we could be made right with God if we're simply willing to put our trust in Him. And that is exactly what God is inviting you to step into. Of relationship with Jesus. To be made in new, to be forgiven of your sins. And that's exactly why some of you are here today. You're about to take that step to make the most important choice you can make in your life. To turn your back on your past and to turn towards the God who has been searching for you from the very beginning.
If that's you and you're saying, yes God, I want a relationship with you. I need your love. I need your grace and I need your truth. If that's you simply lift your hand right now. If that's you type it in the chat, click on the link. Let us know that you're making that decision because it's the most important choice you could make in your entire life. Because when you choose to put your trust in Jesus. In that moment, you become a new creation. No longer defined by the sin or shame of your past, but defined by God's love for you. And as people are making that choice to say yes to Jesus. Even though you had to make that choice on your own. You're not gonna have to pray alone because here at Switch, we are a family. We want to pray with you. So everyone together, out loud repeat after me:
Heavenly Father, forgive me. I'm turning from my sin. I'm turning toward you. I need your love. I need your grace. I need your mercy. I give you my life, in Jesus name. Amen.