Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Problem of Pain

I'm going to be speaking on this subject shortly so I thought I'd share a few thoughts in advance. This problem seems to be a "sticking point" for many people in their search for God. The question is often phrased something like this: "If God is so good, why did this happen to me?" It was apparently the question of pain that kept Albert Einstein from believing in the God of Christianity. Is there a good answer?

There's not an easy answer, but let's explore it for a minute. In the first place, let's try to put some boxes around the discussion. When we think of pain, we're not talking about inconvenience; we're speaking of the real bad stuff, like cancer, and child abuse, and mass murder. If there is a God, and if He is all-powerful, why would He allow cancer to invade someone's body; why would He allow a sexual predator to defile a child; why would He allow a serial killer to go on a rampage. The argument of some would be that either God is not good (that He is in fact, evil), or that He is not all-powerful, or that He doesn't exist.

What answers does the Bible give?

It begins with the creation story, which was concluded with God's pronouncement that everything He made was "very good." His final act of creation was humanity, into whom He breathed "the breath of life, and man became a living soul." He created us in His own image, which infers a number of things. One of the characteristics of humans is that we were created with a will. We have been described as "free moral agents." What this means is that, while we were created to love God, we can choose not to; while we were created for relationship with God, we can choose to reject Him.

This is, in fact, what the Bible teaches us occurred with our original parents. Rather than remain in relationship with God they chose to rebel against His authority. The consequences of that action had been spelled out in advance: death and decay entered the world. The fallen angel, Lucifer, usurped man's position and claimed a place of power in the world. Jesus called him "the prince of this world." Succeeding generations would no longer be born into innocence, but inherited a "sin nature" from our first parents.

The world quickly changed, violence has been a part of human civilization ever since. Sin has been a universal bane on our existence. The Biblical teaching is that the origin of sin, pain and death was man's first disobedience. Which leads to the second question: why hasn't God dealt with it?

What this suggestion usually implies is that God somehow separate the good people from the bad people. But, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in ‘One word of truth’, his Nobel address: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart.”

So God chose, rather, the more difficult task of redemption. This culminated in the death of Jesus Christ - God in the flesh - as a sacrifice for our sin. Christ's death on the cross was an identification with the sin of man. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:24: "Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God's approval. His wounds have healed you." (GWT)

Further, God promises that ultimately He will judge evil and will renew this world. So, why does He wait? Again in 2 Peter 3:9 it says: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his word, as he seems to some, but he is waiting in mercy for you, not desiring the destruction of any, but that all may be turned from their evil ways."

So, according to the Bible, God's answer to the suffering brought into the world was to enter into it with us and bear the full weight of it Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ. He suffers with the innocent, and He also suffers for the guilty. His desire is reconciliation with the fallen race of man.

Those who respond to His invitation are also invited to become a part of this reclamation project. In return, we receive His promise given in Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." The gist of this is that God promises to use even the difficult times of our lives to bring about some good - if we entrust it to Him.

As an example, many of you will remember the famous photograph of the little 10 year old girl fleeing her village in Vietnam which had just been napalmed. Her clothes had been torn off in an effort to stop the burning, yet the chemical fire continued to burn through her skin. This iconic photo was one of the most-recognized of the 20th century. Her name was Kim Phuc, and she is now in her early 40's, and living in Canada.

She is now a Christian, a wife, and a mother and has used her story to make a positive difference in the world. While that event in 1972 was unbelievably painful and was followed by abuse at the hands of the communists, the road is still leading many to find purpose and hope in suffering.

While this is obviously an extreme situation, I've heard many similar stories with similar results. We live in a fallen world - that's a fact. We will experience pain in our lives - also a fact. But Jesus said in John 16:33 "...In the world you will have trouble: but take heart! I have overcome the world." (BBE) We'll likely deal with this subject again later - I'd love your comments.

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