Friday, March 17, 2017

A Freeing Realization about Suffering

I have been really proud of our youth in the youth group these last months as we have been talking about the issue of why there is suffering, "bad things," loss, etc. in the face of a God who we say is all powerful, loving, and good. They have been sticking with this important and hard question which is often a stumbling point to people coming to faith ("If God is real, then why is there ______?"), and to Christians who find themselves in places of great loss, or suffering, or "unanswered" prayer.

Over the last many meetings I've given them many reasons for suffering and bad things. There is the natural result of the Fall and the curse on the earth—everything decays and dies, Creation groans and is in upheaval, etc. There are people's choices which God gave us to have, knowing it would cost Him His life on the cross—and our lives bear the consequences of both our choices and others choices. There is spiritual warfare—the Gospels and Acts show a multitude of times demonic work explained sickness, mental issues, etc. There is protecting us from our own sin, as in Paul's thorn in the flesh keeping him from pride. There is correction from a loving Father who is bringing us back on course, or shaping us into something we can't yet see His purpose in.

These are just some of the reasons we've talked about, and often times in the midst of hard stuff we can examine things and the Holy Spirit can point to one of those as the reason and we can often correct or address it. But . . . then comes those moments that loss that seems to have no explanation, nothing done wrong, to someone totally "innocent," and all in the face of a God we know could have stopped it. A God we say loves us and is good.

I asked the youth a very powerful question last night, one I believe God gave me to ask, and one I was hesitant to ask because the answer could rattle some people. The question was, "If you experienced some horrible loss of no seeming fault of you or the person lost (i.e., loss of a baby, parents killed by a drunk driver, etc.) and you asked me 'why?' what answer could I give you that would fully explain it and make it OK—make you say, 'Oh, now I understand. OK.' " Basically I said they could write their own perfect answer. The answer I knew would come, and which ultimately did, was, "None."

The youth had some good hopes and insight in the face of the question—recognition that we travel different paths and God works good from things, hopes for people to hold them and stand with them, etc.—but in the end we recognized that when you've just experienced that huge loss no theological explanation is going to make it OK in that moment. There are just some things that aren't going to make sense when we know in our heart God could have stopped it. And it always comes back to that. God could have stopped it. He is, after all, God.

When I first came up with this question, I asked it first of myself and I realized that there was no answer I could formulate that would even fully explain and make OK a situation like that for myself. All of the theology, and all of the explanations, fall fully short of a satisfying answer when we know God is sovereign, holy, good, loving, and all powerful, and we are weeping and broken in the face of horrible loss. Realizing I couldn't even fully come up with a "perfect" answer for myself freed me and some of the youth as well, and helped us see that often we spend so much time trying to understand (or explain to another who is suffering) a reason for something, when God is calling us to instead focus on trust. That is where we ended last night, with having to come to the answers to some basic questions in our hearts:

1. Do I believe God is good?
2. Do I believe God loves me?
3. Do I believe God is trustworthy?
4. Did I give my life to Him, as His?

So often we demand an understanding that we aren't going to get, and it becomes a hindrance to our realizing we can trust Him. So often we try and explain something to someone else that has no human explanation and we end up making it a lot worse. I've cringe when I hear Christians tell someone who just had a horrible loss, "God meant it for good" or somehow saying it is good. If everything was good then there would have been no point for Jesus, and Acts 10:38 would make no sense, "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." If everything was good, and God's desire, then Jesus wouldn't have wept. More than once. And the Bible wouldn't command us to weep with those who weep.

God tells us He loves us, He promises to never leave us, and He promises to work all things to good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. In those truths and others we can offer someone (or ourselves) hope for the future. But He doesn't call all things good, and to someone who has just lost a child or had some other loss calling it good defiles the character of God. There are bad things, there is evil, and trying to understand why God allowed something we know He could have stopped can too often cause us to focus on answer we can't arrive at, or that will undermine our faith in God's love, instead of focusing on the cross that cries out, "I love you!" and trusting in that love . . . the same way we ask our children to trust in our love even when they don't understand why we are, or aren't, doing something.

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