God and the Problem of Pain and Suffering

Originally Posted December 21, 2013

“The front page of the Evening News of India, Tuesday, October 12, 1976, ran the following story:

“All 89 passengers and six crew members were killed when an Italian Airlines plane, crashed within minutes of takeoff at Santa Cruz airport, at 1:40 am, today. The plane was only some three minutes airborne when its pilot noticed a fire in one of the engines. He was reported to have told air traffic control of the fire, and said: “I am coming back.”

“Eyewitnesses, including friends and relatives who had come to see the passengers off saw the plain burning in the night sky, like a red ball before, before it crashed. The passengers had no chance.”

“I remember that night well. I was watching TV-the Sullivan’s, I believe-with my two brothers, Rob and Jaime. The phone rang. Mum answered. It was the news she’s been dreading ever since she heard the midday radio bulletin. “Mrs. Dickson’, said the nervous voice at the other end, “I’m afraid I have terrible news.”

“Dad was on the plane.”

“The days following are a bit of a blur in my memory-I was only nine years old-but my mum recently told me that I approached her a day or so after the accident to ask: “Why did God let Dad’s plane crash?” Mum can’t recall anything of what she said in reply. Ours, like so many modern Australian homes, was not ‘religious’ by any stretch of the imagination: we never went to church, never attended Sunday school and, as far as I can remember, never even discussed spiritual issues. It was a stable, loving home, but one completely without God. Nevertheless, somehow, as a nine-year-old boy, I still held the conviction that the Creator was meant to be responsible for keeping the world together, and on this occasion he had mucked things right up.”

“This is a feeling shared every day by thousands and thousands of people, some of whom experience a level of pain and tragedy most of us will never know. Every time a marriage is betrayed, a business collapses, or a child dies of cancer; every time a country is bombed, a flood rages, or a famine decimates, the cry goes up: WHY?”

“There is no point denying the force of this question. Indeed, despite the confidence I may at points exude in a faith-based perspective on evil and suffering, I want to confess that my own faith is not untroubled by this question. I feel deeply the weight of the problem which suffering presents, and at times I still find myself asking, “Why, God?” I am not sure that the Bible, the main source of my perspective, answers all of my questions, let alone all of yours. It will soon become apparent that my own view is not that the Good Book presents a complete and final explanation for all evil and suffering-far from it. However, I think that it offers the best explanation, the least incoherent one. I cling to the Bible’s perspective not because it has some ‘knock-down’ argument to offer, but simply because, to me, it appears to be the only perspective on suffering which is not itself ‘knocked-out’ by the force of this age-old question. It seems to be the last one standing.”

Quoted in the excellent book, “If I Were God I’d End All The Pain,” by John Dickson Pgs. 11-13.

In another one of his insightful books, “A Sneaking Suspicion,” Dickson says that, “A few years ago, I was touring in Adelaide with the band I used to sing for. After one of our shows, I was walking through the almost empty concert hall when I passed a girl in a wheelchair.

“Excuse me, can we talk please?” she said in very slurred speech.”

“Sure we can,” I replied and grabbed a chair to sit down.”

“For the next half an hour or so, she explained her story. She had been in a serious car accident with some friends and had been severely injured. For the first eleven weeks, she was in a coma and it was not clear what her situation would be. When she eventually came out of the coma, the doctors realized that she had lost her ability to walk, talk and write. She remained in hospital for many more months and recovery was slow. The night I met her, she was still unable to walk, but her speech was improving steadily. Her name was Tiffany. She was 18.”

“As she told me this story, I was really quite disturbed and moved. I asked if we could keep in touch, and so she reached into her handbag, pulled out a couple of photos of herself and began scribbling her name and address on the back of one of them. I took the photos, looked at them and could hardly believe my eyes. They were shots taken just before the accident. She was beautiful.”

“As I said goodbye, I couldn’t help thinking of all that she had lost-her modeling ambitions, friends and her fair share of guys, as you might imagine. Strangely, though, she doesn’t quite see her situation like that. For all her loss, she also feels that she has ‘gained.’ Her letters to me since that time contain some of the most uplifting and positive things you could hope to read. The tragic experience has taught her things, which I think many of us need to learn if we are to know anything about true happiness. She has discovered that the most valuable things in life are ‘inside qualities,’ not ‘outside images.’

“Meeting her has caused me to do a lot of thinking. About what has recently been described as ‘the beauty myth.’

“As I’m writing this, about ten copies of various teenage and fashion magazines lie at my feet-not mine, of course, it’s just research for the book! Browsing at the front covers, one topic steals the limelight-IMAGE. Here are some front cover headlines:

“Keep it off! How not to be fat at thirty”
“20 essentials for dressing like a model”
“Hair cuts that could change your life”
“Fashion with passion”

“There was no 33 billion dollar-a-year diet industry in 1st century Palestine. There wasn’t even a 20 billion-dollar-a-year cosmetic industry. But the following wise words of Jesus show His timeless significance:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…But seek his [God’s] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:22-23; 31-32).

“According to Jesus, there is ‘something more’ to life for my friend Tiffany whose modeling dreams were cut short by a severe accident.”

“I was amazed to discover that while she was in hospital, she became convinced that there was indeed a God who cared for her and valued her life. She became a Christian. No, things did not get better over night and she still has many difficulties. She occasionally gets depressed and from time to time she really misses her old life. What she did gain though, was valuable beyond description. She gained perspective, a larger view of life. Once she thought looking beautiful was the same as being fulfilled. She now sees how hollow that was. She now knows there are far richer things to live for. To use the analogy I just mentioned about being tricked into believing only in the room, it’s like she discovered the door into the beautiful outside world.”

“Here is part of a letter she wrote to me a while ago. Notice what it is that motivates and enriches her life.’

“I couldn’t possibly be angry at God. God gave me another go at life, to make a better person of myself. I feel privileged to be chosen to tell young kids about God and let them know of the great and marvelous things he has done in my life.”

“Great and marvelous things-really? Is living for other people and for God personally fulfilling? I know she would answer with a resounding ‘YES’. To Tiffany, beauty is enjoyable, but, if it’s not matched by ‘inside qualities,’ such as peace, fulfillment and concern for others, it’s a hallow and small approach to life.”

“Tiffany has discovered a beauty that lasts beyond the whims of fashion, and has learnt to accept herself. She has also discovered the wonder of knowing she is accepted by God. Tiffany sought and found the kingdom.” Pgs. 28-29.

“A friend of mine is a Qantas pilot and one evening as he looked out of the flight-deck window at the thousand of bright stars in the night sky he said to his first officer, “Look at that. It’s hard to believe there’s no God.” The first officer quickly replied, “Not when you’ve been through Vietnam and seen the violence I’ve seen”. My mate changed subjects.”

“Essentially the argument suggests that the presence of evil in the world can’t be reconciled with the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God. It is reasoned that, if God were all-loving and all-powerful, he’d be willing and able to put an end to suffering. The fact that suffering continues in the world is proof, or so it is thought, that an all-loving, all-powerful God does not exist.”

“The conclusion God does not exist is by no means a logical deduction from the phenomenon of suffering. The existence of suffering could be used as evidence only if you can first prove that an all-loving God does not have good reasons for allowing suffering to continue. In other words, the problem in the above equation is the assumption that an all-loving God ‘would desire’ to end suffering. Until we could show categorically that there could not be loving purposes beyond the continuation of suffering, the logical force of the argument dissolves, even though its emotional force remains. Thus, ironically you could restate the equation to promote an entirely different, though equally reasonable, conclusion.”

“An all-powerful God exists.”
“An all-loving God exists.”
“Suffering exists.”
“God must have loving reasons (which he is able to achieve) for permitting suffering.”

“Now, this is not proof for God, of course. I am simply trying to show that whether or not one accepts the argument that suffering disproves God’s existence, depends not on logic per se, but on the assumptions with which one comes to the problem. And assumptions are tricky things to validate.”

“Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not for a moment suggesting that this settles the problem of suffering. It doesn’t even come close. I am just pointing out that the existence of suffering in the world presents not so much an intellectual dilemma for faith in God but an emotional one. The real question of suffering is not, ‘Could a god coexist with a suffering world?’ but ‘Why would God allow it?’ and ‘What has He done about it?’ pgs. 13-16.

“One of the most striking elements of the Bibles treatment of suffering is the way it endorses our right to question God, to plead with Him for some kind of response to our predicament. In fact, rather paradoxically, the psalm immediately before Psalm 23 opens with a cry of doubt you’d expect from the pen of a skeptic rather than a believer. But in fact both psalms may well have had the same composer. Psalm 22 begins:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” (NIV)

“I suspect most church folk today would feel uncomfortable repeating the sentiments of this psalm. Sometimes we in the church feel we must declare “The Lord is my Shepherd” even if the Shepherd seems to have gone walk-about. But faith isn’t like that. At least biblical faith isn’t like that. Faith is not a denial of reality, nor does it involve repeating a mantra to dispel the doubts. The presence of Psalm 22 in the Bible, right before Psalm 23, reminds us that we have God’s permission to express our disappointment. The true God is one you may surely doubt. He is big enough never to be overwhelmed by your anger or surprised by your questions. Whatever pains or injustices you’ve experienced or witnessed, we are invited to join the biblical poet in asking, “Why have you forsaken me?” pg. 35

I wonder how many of you folks can in one way or another relate to the following account I have taken from another excellent book entitled, “On Suffering,” by Paul David Tripp who writes,

“My dad was a hard working man but he never saw much for his work. He didn’t make a lot of money and we didn’t live in a great neighborhood. We never had a big house. Despite all of this, he managed to save enough money for his first, brand-new car. He was such an excited man. He bought a two-toned, 1959 Plymouth Belvedere, peach-colored, with pearl white trim. Two-toned cars were cool. The car had those big fins. It looked like a plain with an identity complex. It was a funny-looking car, but he was proud of it. It had push button automatic. You just press a button on the dash, and it would go. They don’t make cars like that anymore.”

“He brought the car home on a Friday afternoon. Our whole family walked around that car, admiring its beauty. He let me, a nine-year old boy sit in the drivers seat and hold on to that big white steering wheel. “It doesn’t get any better that this!” He said, “Saturday morning, we’re going for a ride, and I’m going to sign us up for AAA.” He had dreams of driving that car around the country on family road trips using marked maps from AAA. When we got up on Saturday morning, he was in a celebratory mood, so he took us out for some good, old-fashioned, handmade donuts. He beamed as he looked out the window of that donut shop at his shiny new car parked alongside the curb. This car had power! It had push-button automatic! You could see the look of pride on his face. Fifty-nine Plymouth Belvedere. I made it! Finally, there’s something I can see for all my years of hard work.”

59Plymouth03“We were proud of Dad and we were proud of that car. We got back in the car and headed toward the AAA building in downtown Toledo, Ohio. He wheeled that brand new, 1959, peach-colored and pearl-trimmed, big-finned Plymouth Belvedere into the AAA lot, got blinded by the morning sun… and totaled the car on a lamppost in the middle of the parking lot. You have never seen such a slump-shouldered man. He slogged to the front door of AAA to call for help, only to discover that it was closed on Saturdays. My dad stood in front of his one-day old car that he had just destroyed. With fists clenched, he said, “What in the world is going on? This doesn’t make any sense!”

“His comment wasn’t just about that car. It was about years of hard work and thinking he would finally get something for all that he had done. It was about how life doesn’t work out. And, yes, it was about a brand new car destroyed before he ever got a chance to take that first trip with a AAA marker map.” Pages 2-4.

I would be very surprised if you folks didn’t identify with some of the people and the examples I used in today’s message, a message that concerns GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF PAIN AND SUFFERING.

Lord willing, Next week,….

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December 27, 2015 Posted by Categories: Uncategorized Tagged with:
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