We all go through periods of intense disappointment and struggle. Often it may feel like God has abandoned us. In times like that I often feel like God is angry with me. The story of Lazarus in John 11 deals with all these issues. I am always really surprised when I read John 11:6 and see that Jesus when he heard that Lazarus was really sick, waited 2 more days before he came to his rescue. It seems heartless that Jesus would allow someone that he was so close to and considered to be such a close friend, die so suddenly. In a similar way, often we feel like Jesus is delaying needlessly when we need him most. But God has not forgotten us. He has not forgotten who we are. Check out this week’s sermon “LIFE and DEATH” at Green Hills Church to hear the rest of the story. Just click the link to listen: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=274809927.
I have found that most of us struggle with a fundamental distrust of God. Even if you are a devout believer in God, when tough times come it is easy to begin to doubt the fundamental nature of who God is. That is because at our core we believe that bad stuff shouldn’t happen to good people. We think only good things should happen to good people. We believe subconsciously in a cause and effect relationship with the universe. Subtly, we begin to see God as someone who spends his time averting evil from people who follow him and rewarding them for doing good. At the same time he is punishing people for doing bad things and bringing chaos into their lives.
Unfortunately in the real world, bad things do happen to nice people. Good things happen to bad people. It seems really unfair. When pain enters into our life we doubt whether God is good, omniscient, and all powerful. We may even wonder if God exists at all. This is because we do not have a good understanding of the God of the Bible.
It is easy to lose hope in God when we think that he allows evil things to happen and for justice to be withheld without a good reason. But just because we can’t fathom a reason why bad things may happen to us or to those we designate as good, does not mean that God doesn’t exist. It’s a form of pride in our own mental abilities, to imagine that with our finite understanding of the universe and the limited time we have on the planet we could figure our all of God’s reasons for why we experience pain. But as we look at the Bible we can find an answer to the question of evil.
In the Bible, we find a God who is good, all powerful, and hates evil. However, he allows evil to exist in the world for an important reason.
The reason that God allows evil to exist is rooted firmly in the gospel. This is Christianity 101. God allows evil to happen because he loves people. I understand this seems very counter intuitive. Why would God allow pain and suffering in the lives of people that he loves. Isn’t that sadistic and cruel? That doesn’t seem very loving. According to the Bible however, God allows evil to exist because he wants to rescue humanity from its clutches. God has vowed to end evil, pain, and suffering forever someday but he has held back because he is extending grace to those who are perpetuating this cycle of evil, namely you and I.
You see, if God was to destroy evil and suffering today, then he would have to destroy all people who are currently under the domination of sin. It is a package deal. If he were to destroy one part of the construct of this world he has to destroy all of it. Humans are tied into the story of suffering and injustice because we are the ones who initiated it into this world. We are not exempt from the system of this world that we are born into. God does his work of limiting evil by setting constraints upon it. When he finally does away with evil, all those who do not come to a repentant relationship with Jesus Christ will be destroyed along with evil, injustice and pain. God is extending mercy upon humanity by waiting to do away with evil.
An interesting side effect of God extending mercy on humanity is that God has not exempted himself from the human problem of pain. Jesus entered into the world and experienced pain and suffering first hand. God has not chosen to keep pain at an arms distance but has instead chosen to enter into it. He understands what it is like to suffer. He understands what it is like to be mocked, because he was scorned by the religious crowd. He understands what it is like to hurt when a family member dies young, his earthly father Joseph died before his time. He understands what it is like to be different, he was seen as an interloper by the leaders of the Jews. Jesus knows what it is like to be beaten and cursed at. He even understands what it is like to die for what you believe in. He understands pain. And he has chosen to weld his story with ours so that God no longer has the choice to opt out of human suffering.
This is why we can have confidence in God. Because God has said that we are now his people. That we have been shown mercy. 1 Peter 2:10 says ‘Once you were not a people but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” God now offers us a chance to get away from the consequences of sin and pain through Jesus.
The problem is that we struggle when times get hard. We quickly stop trusting God when pain enters into our life. That is because we are really in it for ourselves. However, God does promise to redeem terrible situations for good. God is in the redemption business. God wants to use our hard times to show himself to the world through us. God uses our suffering as a stage to reveal himself to people far from him. There is a purpose behind the things that we go through. I love John 9:3 what Jesus says when he is asked about a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples wanted to know whose fault it was that he had been born blind. Jesus said, it was neither the mans fault or his parents fault, but it was so the works of God might be displayed in him. That is amazing. God allows the pain of this world to exist so that he can show himself to be God.
I don’t know if you are struggling today with some sort of suffering or pain, but I know that God is at work within you if you let him take the stage. If you say God, I trust you with everything, then he is able to take your pain and make something amazing out of your life. God has not forgotten where you are and what you are going through. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast your care upon him because he cares for you.” The first step to casting you cares/suffering upon him is to trust Jesus. Trusting someone that you have an innate tendency to mistrust is a difficult process but it is one that brings eternal dividends. It is a leap of faith that God really has your best interest in mind.
I talk more about this on this week’s podcast from Green Hills Church:
Just click the link to listen: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=274809927