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Why do we suffer, and more importantly, why does God allow us to suffer? Why doesn’t he just step in and stop bad things from happening?

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Welcome to part two of an updated and improved version of a series I first wrote six years ago. I approach this subject from a Biblical point of view: how does scripture answer such fundamental questions?

So much of our suffering results from the way we humans act, towards others and towards ourselves. We can easily understand that. If a thief robs our house we’re suffering because of his deed. But the next thought that enters our mind once we realize that the house was robbed by a scoundrel is “Why did God allow this to happen to me?

An unavoidable issue to consider in the quest for answers to the opening questions is that of free will, because with free-will comes the likelihood that someone will suffer at the hands of someone else’s bad actions.

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God clearly planned for mankind to have a mind of his own.  According to Genesis, when He first made the world and everything in it he made one tree-and only one-which Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat from. It was called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. God warned them that if they ate from it they would die. It seems to have been a simple, easy choice in a simple world. Everything was created for their happiness: all they had to do was avoid that one tree.

What happened? They believed the lie fed to them that they would be better off not following their maker’s instructions, and they ate the forbidden fruit.

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Why, we may ask, did God do such a thing as to make a deadly tree in an otherwise perfect world? The answer is really quite straightforward, if you think it through. With God’s intention to give mankind true intelligence and the ability to choose there had to be an opportunity to disobey, to make a wrong choice and to enact the decision. The potential for a wrong choice had to be real, the deed had to be allowed to happen, and there had to be real consequences, or free will would not be free will. Do we want to be pre-programmed like a robot, and be made to behave in a certain way, and be made to go to heaven and worship God, or would we rather make our own choices?

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In any case, that particular decision has already been made for us: we have the conscience and the ability to choose, and we’re stuck with it!

True, some people don’t live long enough to think it all through, and some don’t have enough information to make a very informed choice about God or right and wrong: that’s a subject for another day.

Unfortunately Adam’s bad decision-making didn’t end at eating from the forbidden tree. From our ultimate progenitor until this day the history of man is marked with bad decisions and bad living. We harm each other, and we harm ourselves. As we look around our world and at our own lives we can see the affects of those decisions.

THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF FREE WILL

When God created the world he never wanted Adam and Eve and their descendants to disobey his warnings. However, even before he created the world he had “Plan B” ready (1 Peter 18-20). God didn’t “lose” his creation when Adam and his descendants disobeyed and essentially rebelled against his perfect nature. It wasn’t suddenly beyond his reach so that he gave up on it. Humanity didn’t become independent of him in the sense that the world is now ours to do what we want with it. Scripture speaks plainly of consequences for our actions, the ultimate one being the future judgment of all mankind before the world is restored to its pristine condition.

Humanity through the ages has included a mass of people who’ve willingly chosen to seek God. It’s these people who’ve used their free-will to try to obey and to love God who will populate his heaven and his universe for all eternity, and who will have incredible, intimate fellowship with their maker. This is the ultimate purpose of free-will. Please note that I’m not advocating salvation by works: salvation from our sin is found in the gift of God, his son Jesus Christ.

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Jesus in a parable likened the world of mankind to a farmer’s field. The farmer waits patiently for his crop to grow, though there are weeds in with the good grain. Those who have rejected and opposed him are compared to weeds. The farmer tells his workers not to pull up the weeds too soon, as they may pull the good plants up with them-don’t forget that this parable was given before weed-killing chemicals and other intense farming methods were developed.

The workers were to wait until harvest, at which time the crop and the weeds would be separated. The harvest represents the end of the age of human government (see Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43). If you read about the return of Jesus Christ to bring both salvation and judgment (Matthew 24) you will find that these passages fit together perfectly.

God’s heaven will be populated by multitudes of people who were not necessarily perfect in their earthly lives, but who at some point acknowledged that God’s ways were right and theirs were not, and who then attempted to live in obedience. They will fit perfectly into the new world, and they’ll be happy there. In contrast, those who chose to reject him and his ways now would certainly not be happy there, and if they were sent there, they would only make heaven into the same confused, violent, cold-hearted, rebellious mess that we see around us now.

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Yes I believe in answered prayer. However, God does not stop all suffering in this world, because his plan is not to patch up a fallen world (as an example, read about Paul’s physical ailment, for which he prayed for healing three times (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Instead, God’s “Plan B”, which is really part of the original plan, is for us to find salvation from our sin and bad decisions and actions through his Son Jesus Christ. God is preparing a ‘crop’ of followers for his heaven: people who love his ways and who choose his will above their own.

Suffering is a universal problem: sooner or later, it grips the lives of all of us in one way or another.

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Welcome to an updated and improved series I first published six years ago…

Why do we suffer? Surely, if there’s a loving God, there should be no suffering, or it should be short-lived and quickly fixed…

The problem of suffering is used by atheists, agnostics and unbelievers as a reason (or excuse) to ignore God or to preach against his existence. If there really were a God, particularly a loving God, they reason, either there would be no suffering, or he would show up at the first sign of any trouble and put things right. We would all be free to live our lives just as we want, without hindrance, trouble or problems of any kind.

Some people, having no answers to the questions we all ask in the middle of trouble, suffer to the point of losing any faith in God that they may have had. Others maintain their faith and even emerge stronger than they were to begin with. It seems that while most churches have some degree of ministry to those who are suffering, not many prepare the flock in advance, even though we all know it’s a universal problem. And we as individuals choose not to consider the prospect of trouble in our own future.

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All religions and philosophies either have an explanation for suffering, or attempt to sidestep it in one way or another (we don’t really exist and any suffering is caused by our own minds: that kind of thing). I intend to tackle the subject from a Biblical viewpoint. It’s my conviction that the Bible contains most (not all) of the answers to why we suffer, and that they are solid, logical, reasonable answers. While I freely confess that I’m no formally-trained expert, and that I’ve not suffered anywhere near as much as some people do-yet-I think I’ve grasped the main causes of suffering in our world-intellectually. I intend to go into some detail on each cause in following installments of my series, but here I will list them.

Some causes of suffering are of far more consequence than others: this list is not in any particular order:

  • The Curse. The choices and actions of man have brought a curse on a world which was once perfect. The curse affects our bodies, our minds, and all of nature. Nature is running down.
  • God’s judgment. God is patient with us, but eventually sends judgment and trouble upon a rebellious nation, city or individual.
  • Testing. We’re all tested to assess and reveal the condition of our hearts.
  • The consequences of rejecting God. By consistently rejecting Him, we’re not protected by His providence. This also applies to nations, cities and individuals. By going our own way, we are inviting trouble.
  • We reject God’s guidelines for a healthy, successful life.
  • Satan and the spirit beings who have sided with him are against us. We all have an enemy who hates God, his children, humanity in general, and His creation.
  • Free will. God chose to give humans the capacity to choose between right and wrong, rather than create a race of robots who were incapable of true love. Free will necessitates wrong choices and consequential suffering.
  • Discipline. God ‘disciplines those he loves’ in order to make us more like Him.
  • Humbling. Sometimes only suffering breaks our pride.
  • A wake up call. Sometimes only suffering gets our attention. Our refinement is more important than our comfort and ease.
  • Suffering may be allowed to teach dependence on God
  • We harm ourselves with bad choices. For example, we’re too eager to get romantically involved with a person we don’t really know, or we throw our money into a dishonest or suspect business deal;
  •  We harm others with our actions. We may be violent, selfish or greedy.  If we drive while intoxicated we’re risking lives. When we steal, we’re taking what belongs to other people and what they may have worked hard for.
  • We harm ourselves with bad attitudes. For example, we may wallow in destructive self pity rather than looking to God and being thankful.
  • We harm others with our words. The old ‘sticks and stones’ rhyme is not valid: words can be very destructive.
  • We harm others when we fail to love them. Children in particular are in great need of expressed love and kindness.
  • We harm others when we keep them from the truth, and when we teach them the inventions of man, such as evolution.
  • Suffering may be allowed to bring glory to God, in the long or short term. We are His servants-not the other way around.
  • Murphy’s Law/ Sod’s Law/ Fate/ Determinism/ Bad luck. (See my post on Murphy’s Law).

How do Biblical adjectives which describe God as “a consuming fire” and as being “dreadful” square with John’s declarations that:

“God is Love” (1 John 4:8)

and:

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 NIV)?

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There’s no getting away from the fact that the Biblical God, while being loving, and caring for his people, and providing for all our needs, can also be a God of terror. Of course I’m not talking about the kind of terror we see in the news in which some vicious coward wreaks misery on innocent, unarmed people in order to simply frighten the population into seeing things his way.

The only way around the fact that God can be a God of terror is to deny half of the Bible, which doesn’t work, as I explained in the first part of this article. Against all the wishes of mankind, God is not all sweetness and smiles at all times, willing us to do whatever we want and providing everything we need to do it. He is both Love and Terror. How can this be: isn’t it illogical?

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This can be because God is both perfectly holy, and perfectly merciful: a paradox, perhaps, but not illogical. Look at it this way. God, in order to be what he is-eternal, faithful, unchanging, omni-present-must remain true to himself. In fact he has no choice-he can’t and won’t weaken his own standards. If he allows imperfection or rebellion without responding to it, he is no longer a perfect God.

This could be seen as something of a problem for a God who also loves his creation. He didn’t create the world and mankind in order to provide himself people to pick on. In fact, when he created the world in its original perfect condition, along with mankind, as only a perfect God can do, we’re told that:

“…God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 2:31).

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So what could a perfect God do when his creation began to be imperfect and to rebel against him and to betray each other? The answer is that he provided for himself ways of forgiving that imperfection and rebellion. And such provision is seen repeatedly throughout the Bible in many characters.

An early and clear example found in the Old Testament is Moses. Moses was chosen by God to deliver his people from slavery. But it wasn’t just physical deliverance from Egypt that God had in mind for Moses, it was deliverance for the people from his own perfect standards and his wrath against those who would break them. God chose a man who he knew would stand between his holiness and man’s fallen nature.

God’s desire and compulsion was to punish and destroy those who were rebellious, and sometimes he did. But there were also times when Moses stepped in, particularly when God planned to destroy the entire nation:

I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you”

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But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people…?  Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people… And the Lord relented from the disaster… (Exodus 32:9-14).

God provided Moses to protect the Israelites from himself. Many examples of people who stood between God’s wrath and man can be found in the Bible, but the greatest, and the most important one, is Jesus Christ. The gospel, or the “good news” about Jesus Christ is that he, being the only son of God, was sent by the Father to pay the price of our own rebellion and imperfection, which is God’s wrath:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed…and the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all… (Isaiah 53:4-6).

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Remember the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, when he knew what was about to happen to him, and yet he surrendered to the will of the Father:

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless , not as I will, but as you will… (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus Christ suffered God’s wrath in our place when he was crucified and left to die. This was the Father’s, and the Son’s, ultimate expression of love and mercy to his creation:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him…he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins… (1 John 4:9-10).

 

 

 

false start…

Hey, have you ever had one of those moments when you got ahead of yourself-a kind of false start? I just had one of those, so if you came to see a post which isn’t here, I apologize-it’s on the way…cooking, so to speak…

Fortuitously, this little blunder of mine reminds me of my favorite Oscar Wilde quote  (though not really relevant) expressed through one of his novel characters:

“Punctuality is the thief of time…”

Bring on AI and the super-comedians-I don’t see how they can be any worse than the real ones…

Being originally British and a beneficiary of the fine and outstanding tradition of British comedy, I was conducting a little search for “British Comedy” last night on Youtube for something fresh or fairly recent to have a giggle at. The conclusion of my search was that BC is both dead and buried. Not one to want to say that whatever occurred in the past was always better than what goes on now, I must reluctantly admit without any hesitation that in the case of BC the past was better. “Better” may not really be the correct word to use here: it assumes various levels of “good”.

Of course, it wasn’t always good, it wasn’t always funny, and it certainly was sometimes pathetic. But now on a scale from “hilarious and uplifting” to “pathetic, sick and putrid”, the laugh-ometer is definitely pointing very close to the latter. Why anyone can find a string of “f” words so gut-rumblingly funny is completely beyond me. Of course, the same thing goes on in the US, but at least once in a while Hollywood manages to produce some real laughs for real people…

One of the strengths of British comedy was self-effacement and the willingness of the purveyor of humour to make himself or herself the butt of the jokes. But what’s now called “comedy” is mostly designed to attack, to denigrate, to humiliate and to shame someone else, and to brainwash an audience of cabbages unable to think for themselves into believing in a certain politically-correct way, and to accept things that people would not normally accept: it’s the old bitter pill wrapped in sugar trick.

Comic irony has become vilification, propaganda, and hate-speech for the twenty-first century. I suppose it had to happen that once the four-letter word barrier was broken and all the taboos trashed, the sights of the wanna-be funny guys would be turned on the enemies of the day: the Donald Trumps of the world. Yes, lets all humiliate someone who isn’t here to defend themselves or set the record straight.

The saddest, most inexplicable part of it all is that these “comedians” and their producers manage to find an audience willing to hoot, howl and shriek with what on the surface could be called “laughter”. Can hate really be expressed in laughter? I personally can’t do it myself, but I’m convinced that many can, and do.

The death of comedy and natural, hate-free fun has to be another sign of the near-death state of the Western world.

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